Do you like culture in the mix on your family holidays, making exploration and learning part of the fun? Spain has cultural delights in spades for families with babies, children and teens. Catherine Boardman (right) blogs at Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays and loves to truffle out cultural gems where ever she travels with her now teenage twins. She has been culture vulturing ever since her grandmother took her to Knaresborough Castle when she was four. When she grew up she became a BBC News producer specialising in Business and Economics which she did for 20 years. Then she really grew up and had twins and began to pursue her true passions of Arts, Culture and Travel. Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays grew out of the jaunts that she took on her one free day a week, Wednesday and now includes family travel, with a spot of culture, as well.
This post is part of the #SpainforFamilies paid project with Spain, promoting family travel across the country. All opinions are the blogger’s own.
Here, Catherine’s top suggestions for cultural highlights in Spain.
Spain has the lot: You can see everything from prehistoric cave paintings to ultra modern architecture. Even better, she has masses of intangible culture, stuff like food and festivals that all the family can enjoy. Our twins have gone through phases of fascination with Romans, battlefields, beaches and tuna; in Spain we have found places that feed all these, sometimes all in the same place.
Here are some of the places that we have visited as a family or have heard such good things about that they are on our list. Check them out and tell us your favourite places!
CAPE TRAFALGAR, Costa da Luz
Good for: Beaches and battlefields
Horatio Nelson is a Norfolk hero and I am a Norfolk girl. That makes him a Cultural Wednesday hero. That made Cape Trafalgar, site of the naval battle where Nelson lost his life, the perfect place for our first holiday abroad as a family. Sun-soaked sandy beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. When not building sandcastles, we looked out imagining that we could see the mast of the Victory glimmering in the distance. Nowadays you are more likely to see kite-surfers than fighting galleons.
We rented a house in the dunes in Canos de Meca a short walk from the lighthouse at Cape Trafalgar. Just down the coast is Barbate, a place that is pretty enough but, at the time, the big attraction to us was that Barbate is the tuna capital of Spain and we had a tuna obsessed four year old. You can visit the Museo del Atun which tells you everything you need to know about tuna fishing old and new (in Spanish): you can see the huge tuna ships in the harbour and eat tuna in the pretty beach front restaurants.
BILBAO, Basque Country
Good for: Stunning architecture and bridges
Bilbao has been on my list for a long time, what’s not to like? You can catch a ferry to there from Portsmouth, bookending your holiday with a mini cruise. Sadly I’ve never made it there, even worse I have been beaten to it by Teen Two. He headed off there on a school trip, lucky him …. when I was at school, we went to see the Cromer-Holt Ridge on a day-trip AND we had to take sandwiches. Whilst the glimmering curves of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum would top of my list, it seems that the teachers decided that it was not the place to take a bunch of teenage boys.
Culture wasn’t entirely off the list, they visited a UNESCO listed bridge. Yep, a bridge! Not just any old bridge but the world’s oldest transporter bridge. A transporter bridge is when you have a high frame with a gondola slung underneath. Cars and people get into the gondola that rises up and then across the river. Officially the bridge is called Vizcaya Bridge, but the locals call it Puente Colgante – literally “hanging bridge”. Every eight minutes the lift carries passengers 50 metres up and then 164 metres across the river, so high that ships can pass into Bilbao harbour without disruption.
Now we have to visit Bilbao so we can all discover the Guggenheim and Teen Two can show me the Puente Colgante.
BAELO CLAUDIA, Cadiz province
Good for: Roaming among the Romans
Who doesn’t love a Roman? Baelo Claudia lets you channel your inner Roman, so complete are the remains that it is possible to imagine yourself strolling along the streets, heading to the shops or maybe the forum. Baelo Claudia was a huge factory town, Garum was made here and exported to rest of the Empire. What is Garum? Fermented fish sauce, sounds yummy, doesn’t it! Thankfully the smell of fermenting fish guts no longer hangs about the place but you can see the stone vats where the sauce was made. There is a large museum on site telling the history of Baelo Claudia and its intricate trading links with the rest of the Roman Empire.
Once you have finished exploring the temples and theatres in your imaginary toga you can head to the beach. When we visited, we were the only people there, giving us lots of space to make sand roman villas. We ate lunch at Restaurante Miramar right on the beach with views all the way to Morocco on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Eating out with tiny children was so easy here, as with everywhere else we visited in Spain, we ordered a selection of dishes and four plates and then all delved in.
Good for: Jaw-dropping spectacle
Culture doesn’t have to be works of art or great buildings: it can be a way of life. Things are done in one particular place that makes it special. UNESCO, the great arbiters of all things cultural, even has a special category for it called ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage”. On their list are the Castell or Human Towers of Catalonia. When I told my teens that I was visiting Catalonia they both chorused that I had to see the Castell, they had just seen a film about them during a Spanish lesson and declared them to be unmissable. They were not wrong!
What is a Castell? Simply put it is a tower of people, sometimes as high as ten people. Community groups spend hours practising the building of the towers. The top most layer is always made up of the tiniest lightest child who clambers up their fellow Castellers right up to the very top. Dates for Castell festivals change every year but an up to date list can be found on the Catalonian Castells website, which also offers the chance to book guided visits to rehearsals. The spectacle of people working together to create such an amazing structure is incredible to see and as the teens’ Spanish teacher says, unmissable.
Good for: Gothic Cathedral and Chorizo
Tucked up in the top north west corner of Spain is Oviedo, capital of Asturias. Emma from A Bavarian Sojourn found the City deserted during a rain storm, all the better to admire the beautiful buildings and all the better to appreciate the warm cosy interior of a Sidreria for lunch. She wandered round the Casco Antiguo or old Town with her family admiring the ancient stone buildings before visiting the splendidly Gothic San Salvador Cathedral.
Old stones can get a bit dull for even the most cultured family, thank goodness then that Oviedo has fantastic food markets. On Tuesdays and Saturdays the market square fills with stalls selling food from the fertile hinterland whilst everyday (except Sunday) the covered market offers all manner of tempting goodies. Emma came home with lots of the local Chorizo. The Asturias are known for making fine cider which is sold in many local bars known as Sidreria, taking children to a bar might not sound a good idea but during the day they serve excellent local dishes. The children can always drink apple juice that has not been fermented.
Spain: a great source of cultural family holidays
Good food, culture and (when the children were younger) beaches are always important elements of any Cultural Wednesday family holiday and Spain has always delivered.
When I was pregnant with the twins, I was adamant that we would spend September walking the Camino Santiago through Northern Spain finishing up in Santiago di Compostela. We would each have a baby in a papoose, we would attend the Pilgrims’ service on Sunday in the Santiago Cathedral, it would be amazing. Then the reality of taking care of two tiny human beings hit home and we still haven’t made the Pilgrimage, now I have the summer after A Levels pencilled in. What are your cultural highlights of visiting Spain or do you have big plans for the future?
This post is part of a paid project with Spain, promoting family travel across the country. All opinions are the blogger’s own. Check out the hashtag #SpainforFamilies on social media to get more ideas on best foodie breaks, adventure breaks, family resorts and hotels, and more!
The best ideas for planning a family break in Spain