Costa Barcelona: 10 great family experiences outside Barcelona

Calella Festa Major saint protector

BritMums’s Susanna with a Calella Festa Major saint protector

Barcelona is one of the best cities to visit in Spain, and also one of the most popular. That can lead many people to overlook the multitude of activities, attractions and local beauty available by taking a trip outside of the city.

Costa Barcelona, the area around Barcelona city which encompasses mountains, beaches and historic sites, is a fantastic family destination. There are things to do and see that will appeal to parents with young children as well as those with tweens or teens.

I travelled to Costa Barcelona recently with the tourism board, BritMums and a group of family travel bloggers to explore the region. We discovered a fantastic array of things to do. (Disclosure: My airfare, accommodation and meals were covered by Costa Barcelona as part of the press trip.)

Here, my top things to do in the region and why you should take the kids – of any age! Grab a train from Barcelona Sants station – I’ve noted approximate travel times – or hire a car.

1. Beckoning beaches – Gorgeous beaches await in Costa Barcelona with the added benefit of limited crowds. These range from city beaches like the one we visited in Calella (eat at NUI Beach Club right on the sand) and another small one near the camping lodge where we stayed; a practically deserted one in Malgrat de Mar that’s a short walk from Camping La Tordera; and a stretch in Castelldefels, dotted with inviting beach cafes. Travel times vary, starting at 30 minutes


Costa Barcelona beaches


2. Getting wild with ocean watersports – Just minutes from the city centre of Calella we hopped on a banana boat and got bounced around (and off!) in the harbor – it’s the kind of thing my teens would go wild for. There aren’t huge waves so you can enjoy going in even with the youngest of children. At Water Sports Centre you can also book sailing lessons, go out on a Flying Fish (you literally fly up in the air) or set out in one of those boats with a little slide off the back, perfect for younger kids. 1 hr 15 mins train ride


Banana boat on Calella beach

About to get dunked: On a banana boat on Calella beach. Credit: Maria Belfort / One Tiny Leap


3. Waterskiing in an Olympic canal – At the Canal Olimpic, constructed for the 1992 Summer Olympics in this coastal city about 20km from Barcelona, you can rent canoes, sail, windsurf, boat…or get towed around on waterskis, board or kneeboard. The efficient staff get you set up with kit and wetsuit, and it’s wise believe them when they say it’s best to start off on a kneeboard. Lisa from Travel Loving Family and I both love waterskiing but found it challenging to keep from being yanked off our boards as the cable zoomed us around. Just avert your eyes from the kiddies riding rails and doing jumps with the waterskiing school – while you’ll be having your own fun, it can be a bit demoralising. 30 minute train ride



4. Cycling in a natural park – The Catalan Tourist Board has officially acknowledged Calella as a cycling destination. There are paths and trails – up to 500 km of them – and a track along the coast as well as plenty of places to rent bikes. The Montenegra Natural Park is ideal for an outing to tire the children out just enough. 1 hr 15 mins train ride


Observation tower, Calella

The perfect place to ride a bike in Calella. You can cycle to the observation tower, upper left corner


5. Visiting a working lighthouse – The former keeper’s quarters at this active lighthouse have been transformed into a the Lighthouse Interpretative Center, where you can learn about its workings. Did you know every lighthouse has its own sequence of light flashes? You can’t go up to the lighthouse tower but you can try the different bell pulls that used to notify the community if someone had died, if there was bad weather approaching and other “codes”. The stunning building with sweeping views up and down the coast also plays hosts to concerts in the summer. While some require paid tickets, children under 12 are always free. You can even get married here (better late than never, eh?). 1 hr 15 mins train ride


Calella lighthouse on Jenography

On the picturesque terrace at the Calella lighthouse


6. Getting back to nature with a forest walk – The Montseny Natural Reserve, 50 kilometres from Barcelona, is a UNESCO designated site with 3 peaks, but you don’t need to climb every mountain to have an amazing experience here. We visited with a guide on a family-friendly walk, where we got flashcards to search for specific flora and fauna, panned in the stream for mayflies and stone flies, and even made our own “perfumes” and art using only forest materials. It was the best nature walk of my life. You can also book guided mushroom picking tours, hike, swim in the river and more. Book a tour via the Montseny Tourism office: / 1.5 hour car journey


Lisa from Travel Loving Family in Montseny

Lisa from Travel Loving Family displays her forest find in Montseny


7. Visiting a traditional Catalunyan festival – Every city has a Festa Major, a festival dedicated to the city’s saint protector. They are big public holidays, the schools close, the public squares are decorated, and the city turns out to listen to music and get their picture taken with the oversized saint statues and “Big Head” – a person in a costume that has an extraordinarily large head. Sounds scary, was actually fascinating all the children we saw. Check tourism websites to find out dates. Travel time varies.


Jenography with Festa Major Big Head

Check out that huge head! Plus there’s someone in a Festa Major costume


8. Playing in the massive park – A former potato field in Malgrat de Mar is now a city park as big as 5 stadiums, has football courts, a skate park, basketball courts, climbing frames, and some surprising things like little musical pads you can jump on to make noises, oversized desserts (we loved these!), a water pump during the summer and a zipwire. A big bonus: The park is disabled accessible and you can go from this park via an elevator, through a building to the castle tower then via another elevator to the centre of town. hours train ride


Bloggers playing at Malgrat de Mar park

Maria from One Tiny Leap and Lisa from Travel Loving Family take a bite from the a ‘cake’. Credit: Cathy Winston / Mummy Travels


9. Getting into hot water, literally – The underground waters in Caldes de Montbui are naturally heated to 76 C degrees and the ones you bathe in today last saw the light of day 10,000 years ago (yes, you read that right). You can book into one of the hotels that have spas within their buildings or can you visit the local El Safareig baths, with fantastic views of the opposite hills. Visit the museum located in the tourism centre, then marinate while watching the sun set.


Hot springs fountain in Caldes de Montbui

Fountain in Caldes de Montbui. Despite the sculpture, you wouldn’t put your feet in it — it’s too hot!

10. Visiting a fortess castle – The castle in Castelldefels dates from the 10th century and was built to defend in the Middle Ages against neighbouring Arabian invaders. From the very top you have views over the city to the sea and to Barcelona and back over the Garraf Massif mountain range. Go with a guide to hear some of the stories and see the different spaces such as the courtyard, fencing hall, (I found most fascinating a room prisoners were once held and that still features their graffiti on the walls.) Guided tours take place every Sunday in English and Spanish and they must be booked via (€5). The second Sunday of every month is free without a tour guide. 30 mins train journey


Castelldefels castle

You get amazing views from the top of Castelldefels castle, over the crennelated parapet


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10 great family experiences in Costa Barcelona

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google+.


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