Spain has been a family-holiday staple since the 1960s, when Britain first laid eyes on the amazing Costa Blanca, booked flights and never looked back.
Travel’s much cheaper these days and now we know Spain’s ancient cities, fascinating islands, intriguing regions and stunning mountains almost as well as the beautiful beaches.
So have we ‘done’ Spain? Not a bit of it – even Benidorm, the original attraction, has wild and magical Sierra Helada national park waiting to be discovered, less than an hour from the well-known resort’s crowded summer resorts.
But that’s Spain: just when you think it can’t surprise, it up and delights with something completely new, unexpected and perfect for families.
There are direct flights year-round from most UK airports to mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearics.
Barcelona is the only city in the world ever to have received a RIBA Gold Medal for architectural excellence – the award is normally given to an individual architect or single building.
Spain has 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the third-greatest number worldwide.
Spain has 15 National Parks. Teide on Tenerife is the largest and most visited, and Picos de Europa in northern Spain is a UNESCO Biosphere.
The Spanish coastline consists of over 7,000km, with 10 costas, including Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol.
During summer, Andalusia alone has more than 100 feria – feasts or festival days – and the Basque country has even more, including San Fermin in Pamplona (including the famous ‘running of the bulls’) and Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia, held in the final week of August. Feria are only matched by weird-and-wonderful festivals like La Tomatina (tomato-throwing), held in the Valencian town of Buñol, El Colacho (jumping over babies), in Castrillo de Murcia, and, oddest of all, Santa Marta de Ribarteme (the festival of near-death experiences), in Las Nieves, Galicia.
Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city and first choice for kids – even if they think Park Güell is just for fun or want to play all day on 5km of Mediterranean beaches.
World Heritage-rich Valencia is one of Spain’s loveliest cities and does everything from kid-size adventures in Sierra Calderona national park, and watersports on huge city beaches, to major attractions like City of Arts and Sciences.
Madrid is a great capital, home to Spain’s best museums and swept with acres of fabulous parks, gardens and historic plaza. It doesn’t have beaches, but it’s fantastic for kids in spring and autumn. Or visit at Christmas for street stalls, ice rinks and El Rastro, one of Europe’s biggest flea markets and a mecca for little comicbook collectors (nb, El Rastro is held year-round every Sunday and public holiday).
The Basque Country isn’t always as sunny as the south, but cities like San Sebastian are small enough to enjoy and big on excitement – La Concha, one of the world’s most beautiful city beaches, is here. And, out of town, it’s all cliffs and wild emptiness, little roads, pretty villages and plenty of freedom. Best for family ferias (festivals) in summer, Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and lovely campsites.
From the eastern Algarve border almost all the way to Murcia, Andalusia is magnificent. It’s home territory to the gentle Costa de la Luz and the legendary Costa del Sol. Ancient and magical Ronda is up in the mountains. Historic Cadiz and Malaga are on the coast. And, away from the blue sea and golden sands, kids can be enchanted by Moorish Granada and thrilling Seville. Best for beaches, all-inclusive family resorts, sugar-cube mountain villages and spectacular sierras.
Dramatic Galicia is a favourite with Spanish families in summer. Rugged and wild, it’s a playground of crags, sea-stacks, towering lighthouses, roaring seas, mysterious little islands and sweetly calm, sandy coves. Santiago de Compostela is the captivating medieval capital, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages and the place to be at Easter to see the country’s most spectacular Semana Santa celebration. Best for impressive coasts, pretty fishing hamlets, historic hotels, cosy self-catering and extreme adventure.
Cities are easy: Spain has some of Europe’s best urban transport networks and fast inter-city train services. For coast and country, hire a car. Touring regions is irresistible and, if you’re in the south in summer, you can always escape to the cool of the mountains when it’s too hot by the sea.