With its triple threat of sun, sea and sand, Spain has long been a popular destination for family holidays. So much so, in fact, that a stretch of coastline unspoiled by all-inclusive hotel resorts is sometimes a rare find. I should know – I was one of many pale-skinned kids who spent summers hyped up on too much cola, cannon-balling into their swimming pools.
While I do look back on those summers fondly, as an adult I’ve come to realise just how much more Spain has to offer. Living, breathing history in tiny cobblestone villages; food that will genuinely change your life (hello, churros); awe-inspiring natural and architectural wonders. All it takes to embrace the ‘real’ Spain is a step outside your hotel lobby.
One of the best things about this corner of the Mediterranean is just how easy it is to combine family fun with history and culture. Here’s how.
1. Swap sand for cities
The biggest international travel hub in Spain is, of course, Madrid, and it will likely be your arrival point. Instead of making a beeline for the coast, stick around this sophisticated city for a day or two. Madrid has incredible historical and architectural sights, like the ultra-opulent Royal Palace, and is home to some of Picasso and Salvador Dali’s best works. It’s certain to set off a spark of imagination in young minds.
If you want to base yourself in the sunny South, Seville or Malaga are both excellent choices for city slickers. Gothic bell towers and flamenco dancing prevail in the former (a history lesson ready and waiting), while the latter is where you’ll see how modern Spaniards live their lives. Since Malaga is a port city, it’s also big on delectable seafood. Speaking of which…
2. Get a taste for tapas
Tapas are not just small snacks – they’re a huge part of Spanish social culture. Tapas bars are bustling with life, usually in the form of locals catching up after work, stopping in on the way to run evening errands, or gathering together for a family feast. Want to show your kids all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the real Spain? Just head to a tapas bar.
If you have a picky eater in your midst, fear not. There are plenty of kid-friendly options that don’t contain ‘yucky’ squid or ‘weird’ cold soup. Simple patatas bravas or revueltos will keep them happy – just tell them it’s French fries and scrambled eggs. Tapas supposedly originated in Seville, so there’s another reason to add the southern city to your Spanish hit list (not that you needed one).
3. Fill up on culture in small towns
In between the glitzy cities and sun-soaked beaches, Spain is full of cobble-stoned market towns where history echoes through winding alleyways. Many of them are an easy day trip from major cities or resorts, so younger kids won’t get restless on the journey to and from your base.
Unmissable is Gibraltar with its iconic towering rock that overshadows the whole town. Also definitely worth a visit is the charming white village of Mijas Pueblo where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see Morocco’s coastline from the shore. If you have time to spare, consider heading inland to Ronda, a town teetering between the edge of a gorge and the side of a mountain, spanned by a huge, dramatic 17th century stone bridge. An awesome sight, no matter how old you are.
4. Soak up the sun on Costa Del Sol
Let’s be realistic – there’s only so much history kids can absorb before boredom sets in, and what’s a holiday in Spain without some siesta time? For that, the only place to be is the Costa Del Sol. Stretching from Torremolinos to just past Estepona, the ‘Sun Coast’ is all about golden beaches, dolphin-spotting trips, seaside promenades, and a few sangrias (for adults) and churros (for the kids) along the way. Head to hillside market towns for the morning, while away the afternoons splashing in the waves, then take a leaf out of the Spaniards’ book with a sunset stroll con la familia before dinner.
Costa Del Sol is still one of the go-to destinations for package holidays, so there are lots of options for family-friendly seaside towns. Torremolinos, Benalmadena and Fuengirola have several water parks and adventure activities within easy reach. For something a little more relaxing, head further south to beautiful Estepona, where the beaches aren’t quite as crowded and the vibe is more chilled out.
Cannon-balling into the pool may still be top of their wishlist, but with any luck, Spanish culture will steal second place.
Ready for a family adventure in Spain? Check out our Spain Family Holiday small group tour now.
Feature photo by hidalgophotographer via Shutterstock.