Looking at options for the family holiday in Europe? At Totally Spain, we’ve been tailoring trips to Spain since 2000 and have put together some facts and tips for planning the perfect Spanish family holiday!
How to Plan A Family Holiday in Spain
Before you book any flights, communication and research is key, especially when travelling as a family. We recommend each person travelling set one or two objectives for their time in Spain. For example, if you want to eat at a Michelin-star restaurant, your daughter wants to see a flamenco show, your son wants to taste tapas in Barcelona and see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral and your wife wants to visit Toledo. Is this achievable in a week, you might wonder? Before we see what is or isn’t possible – let’s start by looking at what makes Spain so great in the first place!
Let There Be Sun!
One of the priorities when choosing a location or locations on holiday for most families is the weather. A dry climate makes travel so much easier especially when you’re taking younger children who don’t want to be cooped up in museums. Spain and the rest of southern Europe certainly get more than their fair share of great weather but we found a great resource by the Norwegian Met Office that tells us that on average it rains for just 2 days in Barcelona in July, compared with 3 in Florence in July and 5 in Milan. If you go further south, you’ll see zero days rain in July and August in Andalusia’s capital Seville.
Money Matters in Spain
Budgets vary hugely from family to family and holiday to holiday so it’s very hard to be general about value for money. That said, the British Post Office commissions a Holiday Money Report every year and finds that families will find considerably better value in Spain and Portugal compared to Italy and Greece. If you’re interested in keeping costs low, check out our post on Savvy Savings in Spain
Getting Around Spain: Trains, Planes & Automobiles
The Spanish high-speed rail network – which is the most extensive high-speed train network in Europe, is a great way for families to explore Spain – you can read all about it in our post here. The road network is also very good in Spain. We came across a handy EU Mobility and Transport Report for driving in Europe on a country by country basis if you want to know what the requirements are when driving in say, Spain, Italy or Greece. In terms of air travel, we came across the Skytrak review of the World’s Top 100 Airports. In Southern Europe in 2015, Madrid came out as best followed by Barcelona, and then Lisbon!
Spanish Food – A Big Hit with Families
We’re not about to say that Spanish food is better than anywhere else (how could we measure that?) but with more and more Spanish bars and restaurants opening up across the world, families everywhere are becoming very familiar with the tapas concept and its typical dishes such as patatas bravas, meatballs and paella. Eating out in Spain has become less of a mystery for families- which makes it so much easier when travelling with children. Of course, the opposite is also happening. In the larger towns and cities here in Spain, you’ll find more and more ‘international’ restaurants of the interesting kind and also of the fast food variety. We’re not exactly championing these places but we know it can come in handy when you can see exhaustion and hunger in the eyes of the younger generation and need something familiar and fast. If you’re going down that route, you might as well go to a Spanish chain. The largest chain and most informal is probably Telepizza (626 branches across Spain), but you’ll also come across VIPS restaurants in Madrid and a handful of other cities and the retro-styled Peggy Sues diners across Spain; all serving pizzas, burgers and sodas. In the smaller towns and villages, most bars and restaurants will rustle up a breaded chicken and chips or an egg and chips or a hamburger, as they always have. If you’d like to know more about eating out as a family, read our Food Guide for Families Travelling in Spain blogpost.
Family-Friendly Accommodation in Spain
It’s essential when travelling with a family to get the accommodation right. We always recommend the state-run Parador chain. Why? The buildings themselves are always in unique locations and are often historically important. Added to that you get buffet breakfasts which always brings a smile to our kids faces, and the big bedrooms and junior suites are great. And if you want to have an evening meal at your hotel, the Parador restaurants are usually buzzing and we also like their well-designed and keenly priced kids menus. Many of the Paradors also have children’s play areas. Check out our post on the Most Impressive Paradores in Spain here. Of course, in Spain you’ll find a huge array of other family-friendly hotels. Plus other options including yurts, tree-houses and campsites as well as self-catering options in the city and in rural Spain.
Our Cheatsheet for Family Holidays in Spain
- Think of activities that will bring the family together – whether that’s paddle-surfing at the beach, rowing on the Retiro lake or cycling along the old railway tracks (now turned into cycling lanes). And book at least one before you travel.
- When considering museum visits with kids, think of focusing on places showing Dali, Gaudi or Goya which are more likely to please the younger generation rather than the more formal Velasquez and El Greco works. Pre-book tickets to the museums in advance to avoid the queues.
- If your children aren’t keen walkers, think of ways to see the city without pounding the pavement. Kids love the sightseeing buses – and it’s a great way for you to appreciate the layout of the city. Sometimes cities have circular bus routes that are worth taking. And you’ll find the metro stations are not only clean and safe but are beautiful – especially in Bilbao. Don’t forget the trams – again Bilbao has a lovely new tramline and is a great city to explore by public transport. (It does rain more a little more than in Seville though!)
- Hire a professional guide. When you are travelling on your own or as a couple you can take a lot of risks. But when you have the happiness of three or more people on your conscience – we recommend getting a guide. Not only will they add some structure to your day but they will customise the tour for the group they see in front of them. They can also set up up with recommendations of where to go after the tour.
- Pre-book some restaurants or at least have a few options researched before you leave home. You’re less likely to do this once you start your trip. Remember that the evening meal in Spain is served after 8pm (usually 9.30pm) so bear that in mind when planning your days and booking your restaurants.
Keep an Open Mind When You Arrive in Spain
Often the really memorable moments on holiday aren’t the museums, galleries or shows we see but the decisions made on the fly. Although we do recommend planning and researching, remember to be curious. If you see a sign saying that a village fiesta is starting that evening – don’t think twice – go! If you find somebody extra helpful at your hotel reception desk, take their advice. Ask them what they’d do on their day off. And do it. Keep an open mind. And a smile always helps too…
Remember the Spanish Timetable!
Although it takes a day or two to get to grips with it (read on post on Spanish mealtimes here), the fact that the kids can play outside in the plaza while you have a glass of wine in the evening is definitely a plus. And though it might strike you as odd to bring a child to a restaurant in the evening, it’s quite common for children to be brought out to dinner until they are old enough to stay on their own at home. That said, you can get a babysitter through your hotel. But if you are only away for a few days, it’s quite nice to be able to eat out together later in the evening or to go for a stroll with an ice-cream. Of course, this is something you can do anywhere in Southern Europe but Spain does have a real buzz about it at night. Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with a statistic on the buzz-factor…
Want to see a lovely family holiday in Spain?
Have a look at our Food Guide for Kids and check out our Suggested Spain Tours for ideas on where to go in Spain. Our page on the Paradores of Spain will also be useful!