The best family holidays in Spain
By Mark Frary, Editor of 101 Family Holidays
For many families, Spain is a no-brainer when it comes to choosing a holiday. Not only does it boast stunning beaches and almost guaranteed sunshine, but it’s also fun, friendly, great value and straightforward to reach, thanks to the plethora of low-cost flights from the UK.
You can avoid the crowded Costas and rowdier resorts by combining quieter stretches of coast with adventure activities in the mountains of the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada or Picos de Europa. Or you could travel off-season to year-round destinations like the Canary Islands. With careful planning, Spanish cities like Barcelona and Seville make rewarding short-break destinations for families, while the cultural and wildlife hotspots of Andalucia combine well with beach time on the Costa del Sol.
Family holidays in Catalonia
From the orchid-speckled meadows of the Pyrenees to the buzzing streets of Barcelona – and all those sun-drenched beaches in between – Catalonia has something for all ages, whether you have 10-year-olds in search of mountain adventure, teenagers looking for city chic or toddlers content with sand and sea.
In the Spanish Pyrenees, the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes is a real beauty – soaring peaks reflected in placid lakes and loads of opportunities for mountain adventures, such as hiking, biking and rafting. Roads unravel from the mountains to an equally dramatic coastline – the Costa Brava – crinkle-cut with rocky coves and pine-fringed bays.
Vintage Travel has a wonderful selection of family villas all within an hour’s drive of Girona Airport, or two hours from Barcelona. Each property has its own swimming pool and many are just a short stroll from unspoilt hidden coves and child-friendly sandy beaches.
Or head to the chic beach resort of Sitges close to Barcelona where you’ll find cobbled streets, art galleries, historic buildings and great restaurants. Check out these family villas.
Els Pins is a stunner. Located on a wooded hillside above the fishing village of Tamariu, the four-bedroom villa has a gated and heated pool and is only 400m from a sandy cove.
If you want to combine activities such as cycling with the relaxed surroundings of a rental villa, check out these active villa holidays with Headwater.
For a great-value holiday village option in Catalonia, check out Bonavista de Bonmont on the Costa Dorada. Its fully equipped self-catering apartments and holiday homes sleep up to eight people, and there’s a superb range of activities, from watersports and golf to circus skills, horse riding and quad biking.
Family holidays in Andalucia
Like Catalonia and Cantabria, Andalucia offers far more than simply a ‘crash out on the Costas’ style family holiday. As well as the lofty Sierra Nevada, other beach-free highlights include the exquisite Alhambra, the clifftop ‘white town’ of Ronda, the wildlife-rich wetlands of the Coto Donana and the mighty Gothic cathedral, flamenco dancing and tapas in Seville.
Don’t miss the Moorish palace of Alhambra in Granada. Kids will want to make a beeline for the rugged 13th-century Alcazaba fortress at the western end of the complex where they can climb the Torre de la Vela for epic views of the Sierra Nevada. However, try to steer them towards other, subtler highlights such as the Salón de Embajadores, a sumptuously decorated throne room, and the Patio de Arrayanes, a peaceful courtyard with a long rectangular pool reflecting the graceful arches of surrounding arcades.
As well as great beaches at places like Cabopino, Calahonda and La Rada, other must-visits for kids along the Costa del Sol include the eerily quiet limestone cave system of Cuevas de Nerja and the less tranquil Aqualand waterpark in Torremolinos. Teenagers (and their parents) will no doubt want to ogle the luxury yachts of film stars and celebrities in Marbella before browsing the stylish shops in the old town and hitting the beach at Playa de Don Carlos.
Whatever your plans, Kirker Holidays has a wide range of countryside and coastal properties in Andalucia with gardens, swimming pools and excellent children’s facilities – along with the services of a Kirker Concierge to pre-book local excursions.
One of Spain’s most luxurious resorts, the Moorish-style Kempinski Estepona has 147 stylish rooms, all with balconies and sea views. A few kilometres north of the hill town of Ronda, and about an hour from the coast, La Fuente de la Higuera is a converted 18th-century olive mill.
If you’re looking for more affordable self-catering accommodation, the Terrazas Costa del Sol holiday village offers good-value, spacious, air-conditioned apartments – each with a terrace looking onto the sea, gardens or swimming pools. Located on the Costa del Sol, 50km from Marbella and with stunning view on Gilbraltar rock, the typically Andalucian style resort has free kids’ and teens’ clubs, while a shuttle bus can whisk you to Chullera beach, five minutes away.
Family holidays in Northern Spain
It might struggle to rival the heat and sunshine of the Mediterranean Costas, but the Atlantic coast of Cantabria oozes family-holiday appeal with its golden-sand beaches (particularly at Laredo and Santander), a spectacular mountainous hinterland, pretty fishing villages and local markets.
Home to eagles, wolves and bears, thick forests cloak the flanks of the Picos de Europa, where adventure activities include mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horse riding, paragliding and 4WD tours. Don’t miss the dramatic cable car ride at Fuente Dé.
There are also caves to be explored – many with prehistoric paintings. The most famous are the Cuevas de Altamira where images of bison, deer and horses were sketched on the walls some 14,000 years ago. You can also see animal drawings and hand prints at the Cuevas del Castillo – home to cave dwellers from as early as 130,000 years ago.
Your own des-res in Northern Spain is likely to have a few more creature comforts. Casas Cantabricas offers a range of villas in the region, some with a private pool. For example, Casa Arco Iris is a cosy, two-bedroom cottage high in the hills of the Valle de Soba whilst El Molina is a characterful former water mill.
You could also take your pick from the various traditional small hotels in the area. Or why not plan an independent touring holiday? With low cost flights and ferries to Bilbao and Santander it’s easy to hit the road in Northern Spain, either with your own car or a rental vehicle. The Caminos programme offers a range of one- and two-week self-drives, including a seven-night round-trip option exploring the natural highlights of Cantabrica and Asturias.
City breaks in Spain
Kirker Holidays has some choice family accommodation in some of Spain’s most exciting cities, including Casa No 7, a boutique hotel in Seville, and Hotel Miramar in Barcelona, which has an outdoor pool and gardens.
The inspirational Kids Collection from i-escape also features fabulous places to stay in towns and cities throughout Spain. With panoramic views across Barcelona, Gran Hotel La Florida has an amazing L-shaped indoor-outdoor pool and superb dining (for both kids and adults). It’s also near the theme park on Tibidabo Hill. The super-luxurious Casa Capella is more centrally located and features all mod cons in an architect-designed, contemporary apartment.
There’s plenty to keep families busy in Barcelona for several days. Take a stroll along La Rambla with its colourful pavement mosaics, cafés and street artists; visit Port Vell, which has an excellent aquarium, IMAX cinema and even a submarine. Boat trips are available, while sandy beaches can be found at both Port Vell and Port Olímpic. A combo of funicular and cablecar on Montjuïc Hill leads to Castell de Montjuïc with its military museum, while Parc Güell showcases the colourful imagination of Gaudí with its weird and wonderful pavilions, benches and archways.
Family adventure holidays
If you really want to get away from it all in Spain, two family adventure operators can take you to parts of the country few visitors ever get to experience.
Inntravel has a range of other family walking holiday ideas, including a seven-night itinerary on the Catalan coast, following easy trails to a succession of sandy beaches and staying each night in a family-friendly hotel with a pool. It also has cycling holidays along the coastline of Mallorca or exploring the medieval villages and unspoiled beaches of Catalonia. In both cases, your luggage is transported each day to your next hotel.
For something really different, you could learn to play polo. If your kids are eight or older you can head to Polo Valley Ranch in Sotogrande. No riding experience is necessary.
Family holidays in the Balearic Islands
Once you cast your net beyond the mainland, deciding where to go on a family holiday in Spain suddenly gets a whole lot harder. The Balearic Islands have something for everyone – from action-packed resorts on Mallorca to quieter, beaches on Menorca and Formentera. Whichever island you opt for, however, children will find no shortage of activities – both on and off the beach – while accommodation ranges from plush villas and rustic farmhouses to lively resorts with waterparks.
Vintage Travel has a handpicked portfolio of private villas in Mallorca – all with private pools and dreamy locations in the more tranquil, picturesque corners of the island. Sleeping up to ten people Sa Marina is only a ten-minute drive from the cove-dimpled resort of Cala d’Or and within walking distance of two stunning beaches. Sitting pretty in nearly nine acres, the villa boasts a large swimming pool, table tennis and five en suite bedrooms.
Another property with ‘wow’ factor, the four-bedroom Ca’n Torres lies at the heart of Pollença – its traditional Mallorquin facade hiding a bright, contemporary interior. The views from the pool terrace take in the town’s rooftops and beyond to the picturesque Puig de Maria and Colonya Valley. Also see Simpson Travel’s villas in Mallorca.
If you are looking for luxury, you must see Sir Richard Branson’s new Son Bunyola estate in Mallorca where just a small handful of villas are set in 680 acres of unspoilt countryside. As well as paying for splendid isolation, you also get a private chef and concierge service.
Splashing out in a different way, Hotel Saturno near Alcudia in the northeast of Mallorca, is one of the ‘waterpark inclusive’ resorts offered by First Choice SplashWorld. Stay here and you’ll get free, unlimited access to the Hidropark with its highspeed flumes and multi-lane waterslides.
There’s another SplashWorld resort on Menorca – the Marina Parc Hotel is on the island’s northern coast, perched above a beautiful sandy beach. Kids can whoop it up at the adjacent waterpark with its supersized Sidewinder ride, multi-laners, tube slides, inflatable ring ride and big wave pool.
If you’re looking for single-parent holidays in the Balearic Islands, Single with Kids offers two options in Mallorca. Based in Porto Colom or Alcudia these holidays ensure company not only for children, but for the adults too, with varied itineraries including beach parties and visits to caves and waterparks.
The Canary Islands
From waterparks and whale watching to riding camels and climbing volcanoes, there’s never a dull moment in the Canaries. Nor is there anywhere better in Europe to plan a winter beach escape with the kids.
For fun-loving families, the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife would be hard to beat. Expect lots of live music, activities and pop-up events. There’s a big focus on music: instruments can be delivered to your room and you can create your own DJ set using cutting-edge technology.
There’s some exceptional family-friendly accommodation in the islands. Highly recommended from Sovereign Luxury Travel, the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Lanzarote presides over the white sand beaches of Playa Blanca and offers a choice of suites, including Kiko Royal Family Suites, with two bedrooms, PlayStation and a couple of hours of free babysitting each day. Kids’ clubs for babies up to 16-year-olds host activities such as treasure hunts, five-a-side football, theatre performances and discos. There’s a gorgeous pool, spa and choice of themed restaurants – not forgetting the ice cream parlour.
Equally desirable, The Ritz-Carlton, Abama from Tots Too offers family-friendly, five-star luxury on Tenerife’s unspoilt west coast. The rooms, family suites and villas have large balconies, marble bathrooms and stunning views of the ocean, pools or golf course. Kids will quickly discover the unlimited sweet treats and drinks at reception. The children’s cinema nights on the beach are also a highlight, while childcare includes the superb Abami Kids’ Club – the largest in Europe with zones covering everything from science and astronomy to crafts, gardening and cookery.
First Choice SplashWorld offers several resorts-with-waterparks in the Canary Islands, including the Lanzasur Splash Resort on Lanzarote and the LTI Paradise Valle Taurito on Gran Canaria. For maximum thrills, however, choose Parc Cristobal on Tenerife – it includes free access to Siam Park, one of Europe’s biggest waterparks, with a giant wave pool, lazy river, mini rapids and a free-fall slide that shoots you through a shark tank.
More water-based action awaits in Fuerteventura where Activities Abroad offers a surfing holiday in El Cotillo. Suitable for families with children aged eight and over, the seven-night trip includes three days of surfing lessons, as well as other activities, such as sea kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
Last updated: 8 February 2017