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10 best city breaks in Spain with kids

Where should you go for a family city break in Spain? How will you keep the kids entertained and avoid aimless pavement pounding? With our guide to Spain's top 10 family-friendly cities. From the world-renowned museums of Bilbao, to the medieval fairy-tale city of Toledo, we've got info on what to see and do, plus where to stay to make sure you're close to all of the action. Choose one of these fun city break ideas and give your kids a holiday to remember.

1. Madrid

Parque de Atracciones (tickets from €19.90* in advance) is an amusement park located in the enormous Casa de Campo in the centre of Madrid, a huge park that covers an impressive 1,750 hectares. There are all sorts of fairground attractions and rollercoasters to keep the kids entertained, and Nickelodeonland has plenty of more gentle rides for younger children. Also in Casa de Campo is the Zoo Aquarium, which is home to around 500 species of animal, including sea lions, dolphins, lions and tigers. Madrid’s most famous attraction, the Prado Museum (open Monday to Saturday 10am–8pm, Sundays and holidays 10am–7pm, €15), might seem a daunting place to take children, but they’ll love finding all of the fantastical creatures in Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, including a man with a duck’s beak and a pig dressed as a nun. Even better, the museum is free to enter between 6 and 8pm – just one of our top tips for seeing Madrid on a budget.

Where to stay

Hotel Orfila is surprisingly quiet, despite being the in the heart of Madrid. The leafy garden terrace provides the perfect place to unwind after a hard day’s sightseeing.

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Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

2. Málaga

Málaga is the gateway to the beautiful beaches of the Costa del Sol, and thousands of holidaymakers stream through the airport each year, destined for resorts such as Marbella and Torremolinos. But Málaga itself has plenty of family entertainment to offer – and whereas much of the Costa del Sol has suffered from overdevelopment, Málaga remains culturally rich, as befitting a city that dates back 2,800 years. The Castillo de Gibralfaro was originally built in the eighth century and offers stunning views of the city from its ramparts, while the eleventh-century Alcazaba fortress is enshrouded in greenery and soundtracked by tinkling fountains. But if that all sounds a little tame for the little ‘uns, there’s always Tivoli World, an amusement park just a short train ride away. We’ve got more tips on what to do on the Costa del Sol, including where to find the best beach as well as Spain’s most terrifying walk.

Where to stay

Los Amigos Beach Club is an apartment complex just a short distance from Málaga that offers spotlessly clean rooms at bargain basement prices.

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Malaga

3. Granada

Granada is synonymous with the Alhambra, a sprawling Moorish palace that extends across 100,000 square metres. It’s a wonderful place for children to explore, packed as it is with crumbling towers to climb and gardens to investigate – and even better, kids under 12 get in for free. For the more modern-minded, the Science Park on the other side of town promises a ‘Journey into the Human Body’, complete with an exhibit that lets children weigh themselves and then see the exact amount of water they have in their body fill up in a container next to them. The huge park also has a planetarium, a butterfly garden, birds of prey demonstrations and a huge range of interactive scientific exhibits.

Where to stay

Hotel Albero is a comfortable, affordable, family-run hotel in a great location just a few minutes from the Alhambra.

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The Alhambra, Granada

4. Valencia

Valencia is a wonderfully family-friendly city, the highlight of which is undoubtedly the dramatic City of Arts and Sciences. This stunning modern complex was completed in 2005 on an old riverbed after the water was diverted away from the city to prevent flooding. El Hemisfèric is undoubtedly the highlight – an IMAX cinema and planetarium in the shape of a giant eye – but the science museum built to resemble a whale skeleton is also pretty mind-boggling, and kids will love the dinosaur exhibition and ‘electricity theatre’. Slightly more quirky is the Toy Soldiers Museum (open Wednesday to Sunday in August and weekends only the rest of the year, entry €5). Home to more than a million tiny figures, it has much more than just soldiers – the various dioramas have previously included episodes from ancient Rome and depictions of Batman and Lionel Messi.

Where to stay

The Melia Valencia is housed in a huge tower that gives great views across the city, and the huge rooms are perfect for families.

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El Hemisferic, Valencia

5. Barcelona

The Antoní Gaudi-designed Parc Guell in Barcelona is a great place for kids to explore thanks to its colourful mosaic and fanciful lizard statues, and it provides great views across the city, too. Elsewhere, the Aquarium is stuffed with more than 450 different animal species that will get the kids oohing and aahing in wonder – especially as they walk through the 80 metre underwater tunnel while sharks and rays glide overhead. But, if anything, the Museu de la Xocolata (open Monday to Saturday 10am to 7pm and Sundays 10am to 3pm, entry €6) is likely to be the highlight of any child’s trip – it showcases the origins and spread of chocolate, as well as providing a range of activities that show you how to create your own chocolate masterpiece. Find out more about Barcelona in our local’s guide, including where you’ll find the ‘magic fountain’.

Where to stay

The Catalonia Portal de l’Angel has an enviable location in the Gothic quarter, right near the central boulevard of Las Ramblas – but despite the hustle and bustle outside, the rooms are remarkably quiet.

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Barcelona

6. Toledo (nearest airport Madrid)

The ancient city of Toledo is a must-see for children fascinated by knights and fairy tales. It’s a city built for walking, and a stroll along the well-preserved tenth-century walls gives an impression of how well Toledo was defended from medieval armies – there’s a precipitous drop down into the River Tajo, which bounds the city on three sides. Plenty of armies did take Toledo at one point or another though – the mark of Roman, Visigoth and Arab rulers is reflected in the eclectic architecture, and the central Alcázar fortress hosts a fascinating exhibition on the torrid history of Spain and the city. But kids will be most interested in the Mariano Zamorano sword shop, which has a workshop out back where the owners continue to use traditional techniques to make high-quality swords like those wielded by knights of old – if you ask the staff, they’ll be happy to give you a tour. And if you’re worrying about how to get a sword back home in your luggage, don’t worry – they also sell kitchen and pocket knives, all hand made on the premises.

Where to stay

Parador de Toledo is a historic country house that sits on a hill overlooking the city – as you lounge by the pool, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the ancient fortifications.

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Toledo

7. Vilanova i la Geltrú (nearest airport Barcelona)

Vilanova i la Geltrú is perfect if you’re after a family beach holiday but don’t want to join the throngs of British tourists on the Costa del Sol. Although the city is first and foremost a fishing port, it boasts five beaches with a combined length of 3.5 kilometres, the pick of which is Platja de Ribes Roges, a sandy beach with a shallow gradient that makes it ideal for paddling. The city itself has some fine nineteenth-century buildings to see, and the Plaza de la Vila in particular is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by with a drink in hand – but to get the most out of your trip, it’s advisable to book a car. Barcelona is just 46 kilometres away, and the theme park PortAventura World (tickets from €47 for adults, €47 for children) is about 45 minutes’ drive from Vilanova.

Where to stay

Hotel Ceferino is a quiet, leafy establishment just a short walk from the beach, and many of the rooms provide sea views.

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Plaza de la Vila, Vilanova i la Geltrú

8. Palma, Majorca

Bellver Castle is practically the definition of a fairy-tale castle. Situated on a hilltop above Palma, this fourteenth-century fortress has a distinctive round shape and is honeycombed with secret passages that kids will love exploring. Elsewhere, the Palma Aquarium (adults €24.50, children €14) has the deepest shark tank in Europe and some 700 different marine species on display. But if you’re after a day at the beach, hire a car and head to Port de Pollensa in the north of the island, which is Majorca’s number-one destination for families. In addition to shallow, calm waters, the beach has a playground and plenty of opportunities for water sports, as well as various operators providing guided boat tours of the bay. Here are 14 other attractions in Palma, from Arab baths to craft markets.

Where to stay

Palau Sa Font is a cosy, friendly hotel in a beautiful pink building right in the middle of the old town, just a few minutes’ walk from Palma Cathedral.

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Palma, Majorca

9. Seville

The most astonishing sight in Seville is the cathedral, an enormous edifice that ranks as the largest Gothic cathedral and third-largest church in the world. It was built on the site of a mosque, and the adjacent minaret – the Giralda – was converted into the cathedral’s bell tower. It provides wonderful views of the old city, and kids will be fascinated to learn that the ramps up to the top were designed so that a muezzin could ride up on horseback to give the call to prayer. Meanwhile, the Plaza de España is a great place for kids to run around and explore, with its central fountain and intricately tiled alcoves, each of which represents a different region of Spain. And any young Star Wars fans will be especially interested in making a visit – the plaza was a key filming location in Attack of the Clones. From flamenco to fine arts, take a look at these top tips on what to see and do in Seville.

Where to stay

Hotel Casa 1800 Sevilla is a boutique hotel in an old mansion just a stone’s throw from Seville Cathedral – the roof-top pool provides excellent views of the Giralda.

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Plaza de Espana, Seville

10. Bilbao

The Museo Marítimo Ría de Bilbao (entrance €6, children under 6 get in free) on the waterfront is a great way to discover Bilbao’s maritime past, as well as a perfect place for kids to become pretend sailors. An outdoor area bristles with a veritable flotilla of historic boats that are ripe for clambering across, and young ones will get a kick out of taking the helm while ordering mum and dad to hoist the main sail. Nearby is the Guggenheim Museum, a world-renowned art space that might not sound too enthralling to youngsters at first, but in fact there’s plenty to get them excited – not least the bizarre titanium building itself, with its swooping Frank Gehry-designed curves and towers. An enormous metal spider-like installation by Louise Bourgeois is sure to capture the interest of young minds, as will the kid-friendly fountain sculpture that fires off water jets at seemingly random intervals.

Where to stay

Hesperia Bilbao is a colourful, modern hotel just across the river from the Guggenheim with a cocktail bar that provides a panoramic view of the waterfront.

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Bilbao

Looking for more family holiday inspiration? Let us help you out:

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10 of the best places for family holidays in the Algarve

Ah, the Algarve. Easily accessible from Faro, this beautiful stretch of Portuguese coastline is blessed with gorgeous beaches and sublime light. July and August offer the highest temperatures, but book for May, June, September or October if you want to avoid the biggest crowds but still enjoy the sunshine – even in September temperatures can still reach highs of 27°C.

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If you’re looking for budget family holiday ideas, here are 10 cheap, child-friendly destinations that will make for a fantastic family trip.

*Published April 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability

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