Spain offers many attractions that kids will enjoy. Perhaps your main concern about bringing children along is pacing yourself with museum time. After all, would you really want to go to Madrid and miss the Prado?
We suggest that you explore Madrid for 2 days with the brood in tow, and then spend a day wandering through the Old City of Toledo, which kids may think was created by Disney. After that, fly from Madrid to Barcelona for 2 days in a city filled with amusements for kids. Finally, fly from Barcelona to Seville for your final 2 days in Andalusia. In Seville, you can link up with either a flight or a fast train back to Madrid.
Days 1 & 2: Madrid
Arrive early in Madrid to get a running start. Museo del Prado opens at 9am, but you can get an early jump on sightseeing by heading for the adjoining Parque del Retiro. With its fountains and statues, plus a large lake, this is a virtual amusement park for kids. Although your child may not be a museum buff, there are many works in the Prado that will sometimes fascinate kids long after their parents' attention has strayed -- take The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch as an example. After 2 hours spent traipsing through the Prado, head for Parque de Atracciones, in the Casa de Campo, for a carousel, pony rides, and even an adventure into "outer space." There are places for lunch here. In the afternoon, take in the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, with its tropical auditorium and some 3,000 animals on parade. Finally, a thrilling ride on the Teleférico is a fit ending for a busy day.
For Day 2 in Madrid, take your brood to Palacio Real (Royal Palace), with its 2,000 rooms. Your kids may have never seen a royal palace before, and this one is of particular interest, with its changing-of-the-guard ceremony, its gardens, and its collection of weaponry and armor. Allow 2 hours for a visit. If you arrived by 9 or 9:30am, you'll still have time to see Museo de Cera de Madrid, the wax museum. You can easily spend an hour here and may have to drag your kids away for lunch.
For your midday meal, head for the restaurants at Plaza Mayor or on one of the side streets branching from this landmark square. This is the heart of Old Madrid, and you can easily spend 2 or 3 hours wandering its ancient streets. Sobrino de Botín is our favorite place to dine in the area. Beloved by Hemingway, it was featured in the final pages of his novel The Sun Also Rises.
To cap your experience, head for Parque Warner Madrid (tel. 90-202-41-00; www.parquewarner.com), a Hollywood theme park. It's not very Spanish but is fun for all ages. You'll find it 22km (14 miles) outside Madrid on A-4 in San Martín de la Vega. You can reach it by bus no. 416 from Madrid's Estación Sur de Autobuses. Movie World charges 35€ for ages 11 to 59, 27€ for ages 5 to 10 or 60 and over. Children 4 and under are admitted free. There are all sorts of restaurants here, plus a vast array of amusements ranging from a Tom & Jerry roller-coaster ride to a Río Bravo La Aventura.
Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo
Departing from Madrid's Chamartín station (trip time: 1 1/2 hr.), a RENFE train heads south to the monumental city of Toledo, ancient capital of Spain. A tour of Toledo is like taking your kid into a living-history book.
Head first for the Catedral de Toledo, one of the world's greatest Gothic structures and a jaw-dropping piece of architecture that will enthrall even the children.
After a visit, wander around the historic Old Town, with its narrow, twisting streets. It's a maze that's fun to get lost in. Eventually you reach Plaza Zocodover, the heart of the Old Town.
To avoid claustrophobia after all those labyrinthine streets, walk out of the ghetto through the San Martín sector and over to Puente San Martín, a bridge dating from 1203. As you and your brood cross the bridge, take a look back at Toledo rising on a hill before you, evoking an El Greco painting.
Now head back into the maze of Toledo for a final assault on the Old City, famous for its bakeries selling marzipan, a delicacy exported all over the world. Our favorite stop, Pastelerías Santo Tomé, Calle Santo Tomé 5 (tel. 92-522-37-63), was founded in 1856. Buy your child -- and yourself -- some of this sweet almond paste, but only if you've skipped dessert at lunch.
In the afternoon, spend about 30 minutes at Casa y Museo de El Greco. Then go on a walking tour of the military fortress, the Alcázar, inspecting all the military weaponry. Allow a final hour for this tour before taking one of the frequent trains back to Madrid.
Days 4 & 5: Barcelona, Capital of Catalonia
On Day 4, transfer to Barcelona in the east, either by train or plane. If you arrive early, you can take a 2-hour stroll through the history-rich Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter. Children love to wander through this maze of narrow, cobbled streets, some dark and spooky like those in a horror movie. Drop in to visit the Catedral de Barcelona. Ride the elevator leading to the roof for one of the most panoramic views of the Old City. If it's noon on a Sunday, the whole family can delight in the sardana, the most typical of Catalonian folk dances, performed in front of the church.
Southeast of the Barri Gòtic lies the second-most-colorful district of Barcelona, La Ribera, home to Museu Picasso. Allow at least an hour for a visit and don't worry about boring the kids. Children always seem fascinated by the works of this controversial artist, even when they exclaim, "Mom, I can paint better than that."
At one of the delis in La Ribera, secure the makings of a picnic lunch and head directly southeast to Parc de la Ciutadella. Here the whole family can enjoy the lakes, promenades, flower gardens, and wacky Cascada fountains. The highlight is Parc Zoològic, the top zoo in Spain, spread over 13 hectares (32 acres), with some 7,500 animals, many of which are endangered.
After leaving the park, head west along the port of Barcelona, where you'll find the liveliest and most beautiful walk along Moll de la Fusta. This leads to the Plaça Portal de la Pau at the foot of Las Ramblas (the main street of Barcelona). At the Mirador de Colón, a monument to Columbus, take the elevator to the top for the most panoramic view of Barcelona's harbor.
Next, head north along Las Ramblas. This pedestrian-only strip extends north to Plaça Catalunya. A stroll along this bustling avenue with its flower vendors is the highlight of a visit to Barcelona. Kids scream in delight as a man in an ostrich suit jumps out to frighten them.
To cap a very busy day, visit the mountain park of Montjuïc, with its fountains, outdoor restaurants, gardens, and amusements, including an illuminated fountain display. Kids enjoy wandering through the 1929 Poble Espanyol, a re-created Spanish village. There are plenty of places to dine -- many quite affordable -- in this sprawling park south of Barcelona.
On Day 5, visit La Sagrada Família, the uncompleted masterpiece of the incomparable Gaudí. Take your brood up 400 steep stone steps to the towers and upper galleries (or else go up in the elevator) for a majestic view.
Still in a Gaudí frame of mind, head northwest to Parc Güell, which has been likened to a surrealist Disneyland. Children take delight in the architecture, including two Hansel and Gretel-style gatehouses on Carrer d'Olot. The park still has much woodland ideal for a picnic.
After lunch, pay a visit to L'Aquarium de Barcelona, the largest aquarium in Europe, with 21 glass tanks, each depicting a different marine habitat. Take your kids through the 75m (246-ft.) glass tunnel filled with sharks, stingrays, and other denizens of the deep.
Cap the day by heading for the Parc d'Atraccions, a vast funfair. The park atop Tibidabo mountain is reached by funicular. First opened in 1908, the park has since modernized the rides. Automated toys are just some of the amusements at the on-site Museu d'Automates.
Days 6 & 7: Seville, Capital of Andalusia
To save precious time, we recommend that you fly from Barcelona to Seville on Iberia. A train would take 11 to 12 hours to reach Seville.
After checking into a hotel for 2 nights, head for the Alcázar for a 2-hour visit. This is one of the oldest royal residences in Europe. Kids delight in its construction and layout, which range from a dolls' patio to Moorish gardens with lush terraces and fountains.
Emerge in time for lunch in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the former Jewish ghetto from the Middle Ages. The most colorful place for a walk in Seville, it is filled with tiny squares, whitewashed houses, and flower-filled patios as you explore a maze of narrow alleyways. There are many taverns in the area serving lunch. The center of the old ghetto is Plaza de Santa Cruz. South of the square are the Murillo Gardens, where you can go for a stroll after eating.
Before the afternoon fades, head for Catedral de Sevilla, the largest Gothic building in the world and the third-largest church in Europe. Allow an hour for the cathedral, followed by a climb up La Giralda, the ancient Moorish tower adjacent to the cathedral.
For Day 7, your final look at Seville, head for Parque María Luisa. Pavilions constructed for the Spanish American Exhibition of 1929 still stand here. You can spend at least 2 pleasure-filled hours in the park, going on boat rides along the Guadalquivir River and walking along flower-bordered paths. If you can afford it, treat your brood to a horse-and-buggy ride.
Afterward, head for the landmark square, Plaza de América, where you can stroll through rose gardens past water ponds and splashing fountains. Take time out to visit the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, a kid-pleaser with all sorts of weaponry, folklore costumes, horse saddles, and musical instruments.
For lunch, head for Bar Giralda, Mateos Gago 1, Barrio de Santa Cruz (tel. 95-422-74-35), a tavern converted from a Muslim bathhouse across from Giralda Tower. Snag a seat on the terrace, with its panoramic view of the cathedral. Since 1934 it's been serving that kiddie favorite: patatas a la importancia (fried potatoes stuffed with ham and cheese). Grown-ups like them, too.
After lunch, take a bus to Itálica, 9km (5 1/2 miles) northwest of Seville. These ruins represent what was once a Roman city, founded in 206 B.C. The infamous emperors Trajan and Hadrian were both born here. The chief ruin is an elliptically shaped amphitheater that once held 25,000 spectators. Spend at least 1 1/2 hours wandering through this city from yesterday.
Return to Seville in time for a summer night's visit to La Cartuja (open until midnight). Now converted into Isla Mágica (Magic Island), it was the site of the 1992 World Expo. Turned into a theme park, it offers rides and shows. Its motion-picture theater offers seats that shake and shimmy like the vehicles on the screen. Magic Island is at Pabellón de España, Isla de la Cartuja, across Puente de la Barqueta (take bus no. C2 from the center).