Where to take the kids in Madrid and Barcelona
Entertaining children in Spain has its challenges but overall this is a country where the little ones have a ball, reports Sarah Morris.Parents visiting Spain with young children often run into one common problem: when little Billy is hungry, the local restaurants haven't even set the tables.
With Spaniards usually lunching from 2pm or later and having dinner at anywhere between 9-11pm, restaurant opening hours can make the country seem anything other than child-friendly.
Once inside a Spanish bar or restaurant, however, it's a different story.
In his book Ghosts of Spain British writer Giles Tremlett contrasts the treatment children receive here compared to the reception they get in his native Britain where some pubs are off-limits to youngsters.
"Whereas small children turn British parents into social lepers, they elevate Spanish parents into privileged human beings," he writes.
"Rather than be shown the door or taken off to a 'families only' quarantine zone, you find the waiters' attention and efforts doubling. There will be crayons, colouring books and delicacies for the kids.
"And when your child karate-chops his glass of mosto, sweet grape juice, onto the tiled floor, the waiter appears not just with a mop, but with a smile and a new, full glass."
If your children are already bringing their Spanish playmates home, you may be tiring of what Tremlett describes as Spain's 'spoilt star-turn – the child', the 'imperious little princes and princesses of the, now typical, one or two child Spanish family'.
However, the Spanish over-indulgence towards children has one distinct advantage – your (of course, beautifully well-behaved children) can have a ball.
Most Spanish cities, towns and villages run regular children's events and festivals.
In big cities, a good source of information is the Guia del Ocio (www.guiadelocio.com) which has a special section dedicated to children's entertainment.
Even if you don't speak Spanish, its list of theme parks, children's films, plays and suitable museums is a useful starting point, if only for the websites and opening hours.
Musical chime rollers: a great way for kids to get exercise
To get you started, here's a pick of some good ways to amuse your offspring in Madrid and Barcelona:
Here, in the east of Madrid, you can introduce city children to the wonders of the planet, with ecosystems like the jungle, the Arctic and the Antarctic recreated.
It's part-zoo, part-theme park and can be a fun place to celebrate a child's birthday.
28 Avenida de las Comunidades
Parque de Atracciones
Don't expect the zing, shine or have-a-nice-day attitude of American theme parks, but this leafy park nevertheless has something for children of all ages and scare thresholds.
There are rides ranging from baby Viking boats to the new Tarantula roller-coaster.
Casa de Campo
Madrid SnowZone (AKA Parque de Nieve)
If you fancy your nippers mingling with the Beckhams' progeny, this may be the best place to find them – having skiing lessons at Europe's largest indoor snow slopes.
With one slope for beginners and another for experts to perfect their techniques, constant snow kept at optimum conditions and children's classes and summer camps on offer, your biggest problem may be entertaining yourself while your Romeo has fun.
Happily for Posh, the slopes are set inside a shopping mall which also contains other entertainment like cinema and go-carting.
Inside Xanadu shopping centre
Autovia A-5, km 23.5 Arroyomolinos
Négone La Fuga
This is like being a protagonist in a computer game. Participants (and here I'm thinking of dads and over eight-year-olds) are set the challenge of breaking out of a maximum security prison in the 31st century. Players are up against a series of tunnels and technologically-controlled traps.
1 Capitán Haya
Madrid has a lively children's theatrical scene – everything from a puppet theatre festival in the summer and puppetry in Retiro park to regular plays for youngsters in both small and large theatres. Check out Sala Montacargas, a small independent theatre which tends to have at least one children' play a week; La Casa Encendida, which has children’s entertainment, whether jugglers, a play or a film, every Saturday and Sunday at noon; and Teatro San Pol, which mounts all sorts of children's plays.
Museo del Ferrocarril
For children who like trains, this museum is heaven. It has one of the largest collections of railway equipment in Europe. On Saturdays, children and their parents can ride on a small steam train.
61 Paseo de las Delicias
This is a slick, modern theme park where you can be flung around eight inverted loops on Dragon Khan (supposedly the largest roller-coaster in Europe) or get soaked on Tutuki Splash. There are also shows with bubbles, birds of paradise, Mexican and Chinese themes.
About a 90-minute drive from Barcelona near Salou/La Pineda, off A7
Buses from Passeig de Sant Joan
Trains from Passeig de Gracia
In complete contrast to Port Aventura, just behind Barcelona, is this more-than-hundred-year-old funfair. Located on the highest point of the city, the ride on the funicular railway is a must, even if your offspring tell you the rides at Tibidabo are tame compared to other theme parks.
3-4 Pl. del Tibidabo
Bus: from Placa Catalunya
Barcelona zoo was known world-wide for Copito de Nieve (Snowflake), the only known albino gorilla died in November 2003. Now the big attractions are the dolphins which have just had two babies and the penguins, which include some from the endangered Humboldt species.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Metro: Barcelonesa, Ciutadella-Vila Olímpica, Marina and Arc de Triomf
Children can be mesmerised for hours here by 35 tanks containing some 11,000 fish and fascinating underwater creatures. One activity is strictly only for adults – the chance for qualified divers to go swimming with the sharks…
Moll d’Espanya del Port Vell
Metro: Drassanes, Barceloneta
There are three screens here showing films using 3D, Imax and Omnimax technologies. This is the type of entertainment to wow mums and dads as well as teens.
Metro: Drassanes, Barceloneta
Barcelona Football Club Museum
This may the one museum the kids won't turn their noses up at seeing, 3,500 squared metres of exhibits including displays on the history of Barca, temporary exhibits and even an art gallery.
7 Aristides Maillol
The article was first published in 2006.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.