There is something perfectly bijou about Barcelona, a jewel box of a city where Gothic spires and fantastical towers jostle for space against the sparkling backdrop of the Mediterranean. For jet-setting extended families, Barcelona is also a forward-thinking and thoroughly international city that provides every familiar comfort, whether you are hankering for a latte or want the kids to wind down with a movie. But the city’s own traditions have held strong throughout the years — from family-run paella restaurants hung with fishermen’s nets to hole-in-the-wall bars and quirky stores that specialize in one incredibly specific thing, be it espadrilles or candles.
The city also scores hits with kids, adults and seniors. Here, a guide to a memorable high with those with mobility issues, both in terms of its transport and its walkability, and there are myriad novel ways to get around town. Segways, cable cars, bike tours and electric scooters provide easy access to exploring the Catalan capital.
With their sinuous lines and tiling in a kaleidoscope of colors, Antoni Gaudí’s modernista (Catalan art nouveau) buildings seem designed to thrill onlookers of all ages; walk up the Passeig de Gràcia to see a row of spectacular façades. In its design, Gaudí’s Casa Batlló tells the tale of St. George (the patron saint of Catalunya), its roof hunched like the scaly back of a dragon, its façade pierced by a swordlike cross and pillars shaped like the bones of its victims. Next door, Instagrammable buildings by two of his modernista contemporaries: the neogothic Casa Amatller and the frothy, stuccoed Casa Lleó Morera provide selfie opportunities galore for a teen or tween (and for you).
A medieval counterpoint to all this frivolity is the Barri Gòtic — aka the Gothic Quarter — where gargoyles leer over narrow cobbled lanes. While there are many historic and eclectic bars, tapas restaurants and museums in the Quarter worthy a visit, make sure you see the Catedral de Barcelona. The 14th century building features a cloister and garden inhabited by 13 honking geese (13 because it was the age of Santa Eulàlia, who lies buried in the crypt).
There is much more to Barcelona than history and architecture, and by late afternoon the beach is calling. Officially there are nine beaches, dotted with sculpture, exercise parks and huge climbing frames for children. Perfectly positioned above the sun worshippers and snack hawkers, the main pool at the Hotel Arts Barcelona makes an ideal sanctuary from the beach crowds, with plenty of loungers and lawn space, and pool toys for kids. (Tip: Parents needing alone time can leave the kids with the grandparents and sneak up a level to the adults-only infinity pool, or take in the breathtaking views from the sauna and steam room at the spa on the 43rd floor.)
A stroll through the surrealist modernista architecture of the Passeig de Gràcia is easily combined with a day’s shopping; this is where most of the city’s flagship stores are found, along with, crucially, plenty of ice-cream parlors to keep the kids at bay while you peruse. The Casa Lleó Morera houses the Spanish luxury luggage brand Loewe, where you’ll find bags and belts in buttery soft leather and a range of vibrant colors. Next door is jewelry store Bagués-Masriera, which has been creating unique modernista-inspired pieces for well-dressed Catalans since 1839.
Many of the city’s boutiques are hidden down the pedestrian side streets of El Born, the prettiest part of the old city and an easy stroll from the Parc de la Ciutadella and its boating lake and zoo. Èstro is a challenge to find, but the effort is rewarded with exquisite handmade shoes and boots, while nearby Bobo Choses stocks locally made children’s clothes in quirky, playful designs. Just around the corner, La Comercial is actually five different spaces arrayed along C/Rec and C/Bonaire. Each specializes in either haute women’s or men’s fashion, homeware or some of the coolest designer gifts in town.
For a meal that appeals to everyone, start your day at Lokal, the breakfast restaurant at Hotel Arts Barcelona serving Catalan and Spanish specialties alongside international options (yes, pancakes can be made to order).
For a pit stop in the old city, the Museu de la Xocolata is the obvious choice for a cup of rich hot chocolate while, just behind it, the Bar del Convent, in the shape of the former cloister, provides a great space for younger children to run around. Inside, the café has a small play area, with toys and books for kids, along with light bites such as sandwiches and quiche.
Dinner options abound in Barcelona, there’s everything from family-run paella restaurants to Michelin-starred eateries (Disfrutar and Enoteca Paco Pérez are both notable) and everything in between.
One thing to bear in mind in Spain is that lunch and dinner happen late (normally at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.), but if the oldest and youngest need to eat before then, you’re never far from a tapas bar. Take a plate and help yourself to whatever you please at Euskal Etxea, a Basque Country inspired restaurant located just steps from the Picasso Museum.