This eight-day vacation is just long enough for you to get to the heart of Spain's two most famous cities: Barcelona and Madrid. Perfect for families, it involves a nice mix of fun activities as well as an exciting day trip. These include visits to ancient cathedrals and palaces, stops at an amusement park, and a tour of the historic city of Toledo.

Highlights

  • Discover the highlights of Barcelona on a family tour
  • Walk the streets of the famous Gothic Quarter a hilltop amusement park
  • Visit Madrid's historic sights and enjoy delicious Spanish cuisine

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Spain - Self-Guided Barcelona Tour Barcelona
Day 2 Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família Barcelona
Day 3 Family Tour of the Gothic Quarter - Ascend Mt. Tibidabo Barcelona
Day 4 Train from Barcelona to Madrid Madrid
Day 5 Family Tour of Madrid's Royal Legacy Madrid
Day 6 Tour the Prado Museum & Kids Activities Madrid
Day 7 Family Day Trip to Toledo Madrid
Day 8 Departure from Madrid  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Spain - Self-Guided Barcelona Tour

Welcome to Barcelona
Welcome to Barcelona

Welcome to Spain!

Upon arrival at Barcelona's El Prat Airport, a private driver will take you into the city where you can check into your hotel and unwind. You'll then have the afternoon free to explore on a self-guided tour.

We recommend first visiting Mt. Montjuic and the surrounding area. Montjuic is a famous hill that stands 1,988 feet (606 meters) high and overlooks the Port of Barcelona. Take the Montjuic Cable Car from the metro station near Olympic Park, which takes you up to the 17th century Castle Montjuic and offers panoramic views of the city.  You can also access Montjuic via cable car from Barcelona Beach and by funicular elevator adjacent to the cable car. 

The Poble Espanyol is also fun to visit. Constructed in 1929, this open-air museum features over 100 recreated buildings in the style of traditional Spanish villages. When the sun goes down over the city, make sure you're near the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, named for the dazzling display of water and colored lights that occur after dark. It's the best free show in the city, one whose effect is heightened by the hundreds of spectators and a communal atmosphere.

Day 2: Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família

The gothic-modernist marvel that is the Sagrada Familia
The gothic-modernist marvel that is the Sagrada Familia

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll meet a local guide who will whisk you away in a chauffeured vehicle for a half-day tour. The destinations are two of the most impressive works by the legendary Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí: Park Güell and the Sagrada Família.

First, you'll visit Park Güell. Located atop Carmel Hill in north Barcelona, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fine example of Gaudí's boundary-pushing modernist style. The park takes up 42 acres and you'll be able to marvel at every building as you stroll the walkways and gardens. There are also incredible views at many points in Park Güell that look out over the city.

Next up is the Sagrada Família, the iconic Roman Catholic basilica that is an impressive mix of gothic, Catalan-modernism, and Art Nouveau architectural styles. Despite construction on the church beginning in 1882, it's still technically under construction and was only consecrated in 2010. Upon arrival, the guide will reveal insight into the Sagrada Familia's fascinating history, and you'll glean even more info as you explore the interior. 

Around lunchtime, it will be time to part ways with your guide. On your own, you can visit Ciutadella Park. Open since 1881, this green lung of Barcelona takes up 70 acres and features sculptures, lakes, gardens, playgrounds, and the Barcelona Zoo. You could easily spend the remainder of the afternoon here and not run out of things to do.

Day 3: Family Tour of the Gothic Quarter - Ascend Mt. Tibidabo

Mt. Tibidabo, it cathedral, and theme park
Mt. Tibidabo, it cathedral, and theme park

Today you'll visit the most famous area in all of Barcelona: the medieval Gothic Quarter and its trendy El Born neighborhood. You'll enjoy all the fun of strolling its narrow cobbled streets and discovering its highlights, but you'll do so on a two-hour tour geared towards families.

After meeting your guide, he or she will lead you down the streets and point out the rich history as you pass Roman ruins, the grand Plaça Reial, and the gothic Barcelona Cathedral, which dates to the 13th century. Kids between 4 and 12 will have a blast as they take part in a "dragon hunt," learn about Spanish legends, visit candy stores, and stop at the Casa dels Entremesos, a "museum of giants" home to costumed, paper mache figures that locals parade around the city during Corpus Christi celebrations. 

After the tour, you'll head to the mountains in the city's north. Here you'll board a funicular elevator and ascend to the peak of Mt. Tibidabo, which sits at an elevation of 1,680 feet (512 meters). It's the best vantage point in Barcelona to look out over the entire city. Besides the great views, the whole family will love visiting the grand Temple of the Sacred Heart basilica as well as the adjacent theme park, which was inaugurated in 1905 and features carnival attractions, rides, and a Ferris wheel. 

After all the walking and sightseeing, you'll likely have worked up quite an appetite. For a traditional dinner, you and the family can head to Carrer De Blai (Blai St.) in central Barcelona. This street is known as the "tapas route," as it features many spectacular tapas bars where you can enjoy dinner paired with great wine.

Day 4: Train from Barcelona to Madrid

Cibeles Fountain, Madrid

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the train station where you'll embark on a 3.5-hour journey to the nation's capital. Upon arrival in Madrid, you'll check into your downtown hotel and then have the rest of the day free to explore the city at your own pace. Tomorrow will be the grand tour of this historic metropolis, so you might want to opt for more leisurely activities this afternoon and evening. 

Perhaps you could take in a show. Gran Vía is Madrid's answer to Broadway, and on it, you'll find plenty of theaters showcasing plays and musical productions, many of which are geared for the whole family. Needless to say, the options for culture in this city are vast, and you could also visit museums, art galleries, and live music venues if the mood strikes.

When night falls, be sure to indulge in Madrid's world-class culinary scene. If you want to dine amid history, head to the city center and Botín, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world—it first opened its doors in 1725. No less than Ernest Hemingway described it in his seminal novel The Sun Also Rises as the best restaurant on earth. 

Day 5: Family Tour of Madrid's Royal Legacy

The Royal Palace, Madrid
The Royal Palace, Madrid

Today you and the family will enjoy a half-day tour of Madrid led an expert local guide. Over the course of its long history, Madrid has seen many different eras, and today the city adorns itself with that rich history in its architecture, public spaces, and culture. An organized tour is ideal, as your guide can reveal insight into how these different time periods influenced Madrid's different neighborhoods and buildings, as well as point out the most interesting sights.

One area you'll visit that's awash in regal splendor is the Madrid de los Austrias. It was built in the 16th century during the reign of the Hapsburg Dynasty's first ruler, Charles I. Located in the city center, it's home to one of the grandest plazas in Spain, the Plaza Mayor, which was once the heart of Old Madrid.

Also here is the Royal Palace, which was the official home of the Spanish monarchs until 1931. You'll tour both the grounds and interior of this 3,418-room monument to opulence, entering the parade ground, the bedchambers of Charles III, several salons, the Royal Chapel, and the Hall of the Crown, which displays Charles I's crown, scepter, and throne.

Later you could visit El Retiro Park. This 308-acre expanse of verdure is the green lung of Madrid, abounding with sculptures, fountains, and a man-made lake perfect for taking a boat trip. There are also must-visit gardens here including the Jardín de Vivaces ("Garden of Vivacious Plants"), Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (inspired by the Andalusia region), and a garden home to over 4,000 roses (best to see these blooms from May through June). 

Day 6: Tour the Prado Museum & Kids Activities

El Prado Museum
El Prado Museum

The Prado Museum isn't merely the most famous museum in Madrid, or even in Spain for that matter—it's one of the top museums in the entire world. You'll dedicate a full morning to this iconic gallery, which draws some three million visitors per year. Its treasures are many, and viewing them on a guided tour will allow you to get the most out of the experience. 

Located in the city center, the Prado features works from some of the most vital and legendary artists over the last few centuries. The tour is chronological, as your guide will lead you on an odyssey of artwork beginning with some masterpieces from the 15th century. Works you'll see include the "The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch, “The Nobleman with his hand on his Chest” by El Greco, “Las Meninas” by Velázquez, and “The Family of Carlos IV” by Goya.

And if this is a little too much history and culture for the young ones, don't fret—the Prado offers a number of kids activities including games and even a treasure hunt. This should get them primed for the day's next activity, spending the afternoon at the city's premier amusement park, the Parque de Atracciones de Madrid, located in the expansive Casa de Campo park. Activities here include roller coasters, carousels, water rides, and more.

Day 7: Family Day Trip to Toledo

Toledo's waterfront
View of Toledo's Alcázar

A half-hour train ride south of Madrid lies Toledo, a historic city that, in the 16th century, was the capital of Spain. It enjoys a dramatic location atop a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo.

In the Middle Ages it was known as the "city of the three cultures," a place where—legend has it—Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted. You can see remnants of this in the old Arab, Muslim, and Christian monuments that still stand. These include the 15th-century Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the former Roman palace Alcázar de Toledo, and the Moorish Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, which dates to the 12th century.

Accompanied by an expert guide you will visit these historic landmarks as well as others, including the grand 13th century Toledo Cathedral and the 12th century Church of Santo Tomé. Throughout it all, you'll tour the ancient streets of an incredible city that could aptly be described as an open-air museum. After all, it does enjoy UNESCO World Heritage Status. 

Toledo is also known for its steelwork. On a visit to the city's historic foundry, you'll see where ancient blacksmiths forged the famous swords made from Toledo steel. These were used by the Roman general Hannibal in the Punic Wars and by the Christian armies in the Middle Ages during the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims. These weapons are of incomparable quality, and you can appreciate the craftwork by viewing some of the swords at the foundry as well as learn about the forging process. 

This area is also famous for producing delicious marzipan, a confection made from almonds, sugar, eggs, and honey. You'll head to the outskirts of Toledo and visit a cigarral, which a manor estate that serves mostly for leisure. However, today you'll be able to participate in a workshop where, with the help of a master confectioner, you'll learn the history of traditional Toledan marzipan as well as how to confect this delicious treat. Needless to say, the workshop ends with you indulging in your sweet creations. 

Day 8: Departure from Madrid

Goodbye, Spain
Goodbye, Spain

It's time to say farewell. After a leisurely breakfast, a car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. This concludes your great Spanish adventure. Adios!

Map

Map of Family Trip to Spain: Barcelona & Madrid - 8 Days
Map of Family Trip to Spain: Barcelona & Madrid - 8 Days