Explore Andalucia in the south, a traditional favourite among Brits but a region with so much more to offer than the notorious Costa del Sol, including the fabulous cities of Granada, Seville and Cordoba, the low-key, untouristy Costa de la Luz, mountains and great weather.
Travel to the south-east of the country, to the province of Alicante, where the Costa Blanca is a great family destination for its soft sands, warm seas, wonderful climate, and historical cities and towns, as well as major tourist resorts such as Benidorm.
Discover charming Valencia in the eastern province of the same name, especially if your kids have a taste for paella – the dish originated here. The big draw here is the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava and comprising an opera house and performing arts centre, a science museum, a planetarium, a lazerium, an IMAX cinema, and one of Europe’s biggest and best aquariums (partly open-air). There’s a city beach too. Valencia is a great place to visit in spring: March sees the fabulous Fallas festival complete with huge papier-maché models and fireworks. Or head for nearby Buñol later in the year, in August, when it hosts the world-famous, utterly riotous Tomatina or tomato-throwing contest (best experienced with teens – it's too wild and frenetic with young kids).
Take time out in the north-eastern region of Catalonia. Barcelona, best known as a party-going coastal city-break destination, is surprisingly good for kids, from teens who appreciate the phantasmagorical Gaudi architecture to younger children who appreciate its brilliant aquarium. Drive or take the train one hour south from Barcelona to experience PortAventura just outside Salou. Spain's answer to Disneyland Paris, this theme-park takes you on a journey of rides in exotic lands around the world. Salou itself is the biggest resort on the Costa Dorada, named for its 216km of golden beaches; smaller ones include the more laid-back Cambrils. There’s also the city of Tarragona, UNESCO World Heritage listed for its Roman ruins but also boasting Blue Flag beaches, for a double-whammy of culture and relaxation.
Alternatively, head north of Barcelona (140km) to Figueres and then to the old fishing town of Cadaquès if your kids like modern art: both have museums dedicated to the Surrealist Salvador Dalí (be warned that some of his quirky work can be a bit risqué). Cadaquès is part of the Costa Brava, which has some very touristy resorts but plenty of more low-key, traditional coastal towns to seek out.
Madrid, Spain’s capital, may be far from the sea in the centre of the country but for resourceful parents and inquisitive kids it has plenty to entertain, from high culture to funfair frolics.
Check out the Basque Country in northern Spain, a relatively untouristy and tranquil region. The revitalized port of Bilbao is worth visiting, especially the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Museum of Fine Arts, which host cultural and leisure activities throughout the year, including theatre and puppet show, parades and circus acts. At Christmas time, for more than a month, the Children's Christmas Park opens its doors at the Bilbao International Trade Fair Centre, with rides and activities. Fifty minutes from Bilbao is Karrantza, home to the Karpin Abentura ecology and animal theme-park, with Iberian and European fauna, animated dinosaur shows and kids’ exhibitions.
Easily accessed from Bilbao airport, Donostia-San Sebastian, also in the Basque Country, is little known among Brits but popular with Spaniards, who flock to the cosy seaside town in summer to flee the raging heat inland. It offers three lovely beaches (four in summer, when tiny Santa Clara island is accessible by ferry) popular with surfers and other watersports enthusiasts and devoid of gaudy resort trappings. Opening onto the harbour with its aquarium is an attractive old quarter full of pretty historic buildings. There’s also an amusement park on Mt Igeldo, reached by cable-car.
The Spanish section of the Pyrenees is often overlooked as a ski destination but comprises a number of small family-oriented resorts with crèches, snow-parks and other facilities for kids, as well as vast skiable areas. Worth picking out in the Catalan Pyrenees is the little resort of Vall de Nuria not far north of Barcelona, accessed by funicular railway – it has only 10 pistes (from easy to difficult) but includes a children’s activity centre. Ice-skating is also popular here, and, in the warmer months, white-water rafting, hiking, riding, cycling and flights in static hot-air balloons. See also our guide to family skiing holidays in Europe including Spain.
Also in the mountains of northern Spain, this time in the Cantabrian Mountains within 20km of the port of Santander, is the Cabarceno Wildlife Park, with hundreds of exotic animals, many of whom children can mix freely with.
Lastly, the islands of the Canaries and the Balearics are perennial favourites with families, with some peaceful resorts: browse out our guides to Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Tenerife in the Canaries, and Menorca, Mallorca and Ibiza in the Balearics.