From glorious sun-kissed beaches to dynamic cities, Spain has something for almost every traveler. Whether you’re looking for architecture, excellent cuisine, museum hopping, or outdoor adventure, this most-visited country in the world is a perfect place for family travel, as we recently discovered. My husband and I already loved Spain, but being able to introduce this destination to our sons, ages 16 and 22, was truly the stuff of memories.

We love both Barcelona and Madrid so we spent time in each. The kids had never been, and we wanted to cover a lot of territory from museums in Madrid to exploring some of Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces in Barcelona. It made sense for us to purchase all-inclusive passes from Go City in both cities, which enabled us to visit all of the attractions we wanted as well as choose a one- to seven-consecutive-day period. The clock doesn’t start until you use the cards the first time.

The secret sauce for seeing a city this way is that you end up doing some things that you might otherwise not have considered. Even though our kids were way too old for it, we stopped at the wax museum, and they loved the cheesy factor, from the wax mannequins themselves to the “roller coaster” that had them in stitches with how unscared they were. We also took a Madrid city tour by e-bike, and it was one of our favorite memories of the whole trip. In addition to it being our first time ever on e-bikes — I want to buy one now, so fun! — it was a relaxing and different way to see a lot of the city, and from a different perspective.

the famous neptune fountain in madrid, spain
Courtesy of Paul Heney

Stay Interesting

While there are properties that I really love in Spain, such as the incredible Hotel Majestic & Spa Barcelona, we decided to try out Misterb&b for this trip, sort of an Airbnb for queer travelers. The website was created by a gay couple who, years ago, had difficulty finding safe and comfortable accommodations in Spain and wanted to give travelers more options. Our apartment right next to Madrid’s Chueca neighborhood was perfectly located for exploring the city and easy to access from the subway. But we also were able to rely on the owners, a married gay couple who splits time between Washington, D.C. and Madrid, for local recommendations. They told us where to go and what to avoid; a local perspective is always golden. One night, we were simply exhausted from trying to choose a restaurant. I messaged them and they answered with a perfect tapas place, La Musa, located a mere two-minute walk from the apartment — and it turned out to be one of the best meals we had.

Great Eats

bowl of paella in spain
Courtesy of Paul Heney

How can you possibly go wrong with eating in Spain? In Madrid, the rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons, Dani, has spectacular views to go with chef Dani García’s Michelin-starred dishes. Try the above-mentioned tapas restaurant, La Musa; order the chef’s menu and you won’t be disappointed. We also loved hole-in-the wall Angelita in Madrid, a wine bar with delicious, imaginative food. In Barcelona, our favorite has to be the easy-to-miss Ochobcn, a small restaurant lovingly run by a young couple. The kids were tired and cranky the evening we stopped there — it has been a full day, for sure — but once they began devouring the succulent gnocchi and the grilled octopus, the complaints stopped.

Beachside Bliss

charming beach town of sitges spain
Courtesy, Paul Heney

We couldn’t bring the kids all the way to Spain without giving them some beach time. We decided to stay in lovely Sitges, a small but bustling beach town that’s an easy 40-minute train ride from central Barcelona. Sitges was just the right size, and the boys were comfortable wandering its hilly, winding streets, looking for the best pizza or the coolest shops, as well as eyeing what part of the beach they wanted to set up camp in next.

They’d experienced what we call “European beach days” before, and they were ready for it in Sitges. Pick a spot, pay for two cabanas with day beds, and set up shop for the day. Order drinks or lunch when the urge hits, read, play in the water, do whatever strikes you. It’s worth the expense for convenient luxury.

Exploring Further Afield

Even though this was a Spain trip, we decided to book a Viator “3 countries tour” during one of our Barcelona days. This well-organized day trip first ventured to the little city of Baga, Spain, where we wandered the quaint streets and grabbed coffees. Then we got back into our comfortable tour bus and traversed the French border to a medieval city called Ax-les-Thermes. We made our own local picnic there, thanks to purchases in town of fresh bread, ham, and cheese. After our short time in France, the road climbed through the scenic Pyrenees Mountains and we made our way into tiny Andorra, a landlocked state that’s technically not even part of the European Union. Although that was just giving the boys a taste of these other two countries, it continued to show them how much more of the world we have to explore as a family.

Feature image, courtesy of Paul Heney.