Fun Beyond Theme Parks
L'Oceanografic de Valencia
Arts and Sciences Centre, Valencia
Zoos, safaris, museums, nature trails...Spain has a wide array of leisure and entertainment options for children that goes beyond the big theme parks that have sprung up over the last few years. In the last decade, Spain has seen a significant growth in the number of theme parks, with Terra Mítica in Benidorm, Port Aventura in Tarragona, Isla Mágica in Seville, Warner Bros Park in Madrid. At the same time however, a wide range of leisure activities has also come about, that focus more on contact with the environment and science than tall, twisting roller coasters.
Of the many centers connected to nature in Spain, the most classic are the zoos, which allow children to see animals without leaving the city. The Zoo Aquarium in Madrid, one of the most important in the world, contains a dolphin tank, aquarium, a large aviary and a zoo with more than 500 species of animals. The Barcelona Zoo is still among the best in Europe.
In terms of aquariums, Spain boasts the largest one in Europe, the spectacular L´Oceanográfic located in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias area of Valencia. Every Saturday, the Finisterrae Aquarium in A Coruña, as part of its Escuela de Científicos (school of scientists) program, invites children between the ages of 4 and 14 to do little research projects, which are accompanied by a delicious snack.
Another option available to children are the big nature parks such as Faunia, in Madrid; Selwo, on the Costa del Sol. The first of these, with a surface area of 140,000 square meters, reproduces the world’s major ecosystems, and also has an interesting nocturnal room, where you can observe nocturnal species without being seen. As for Selwo, it focuses a little bit more on adventure, and has two sites: one in Estepona, dedicated to birds and land animals and the other in Benalmádena, which specializes in marine animals. In an enclosure inhabited by over 500 animal species from the seven continents, Valwo combines leisure activities with environmental education.
Along the same lines, but giving a greater role to adventure, we find safaris, where animals are not caged and for which a car is essential. At the Safari Park in Aldea del Fresno, located an hour from Madrid, you can travel among elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffes and many other species.
However, if you would like for your children to see animals in their natural habitats, other possibilities include natural parks. Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, in La Pedriza (Madrid), organizes guided tours for children on weekends and holidays. Accompanied by guides, children learn how to identify different plant species, and discover the hiding places and habits of squirrels, griffon vultures, roe deer and more.
Further north in Villafáfila (Zamora), the Centro de Interpretación de la Naturaleza (Interpretive Center on Nature) provides organized visits to observe the rich variety of bird life present on the region’s lakes. Still further north, in Asturias, a fun option is the Senda del Oso, (Bear Trail), a pleasant route along an old railway line that stretches between the towns of San Andrés and Teverga. While traveling, on foot or on bicycle, one of the most beautiful regions of Asturias, children can meet “Paca” and “Tola”, the two brown bears that live in the area.
Returning to the city, and in a more scientific vein, museums can also be the perfect way for children to have fun while they learn. A classic example is the Museum of Natural Science in Madrid, which periodically organizes activities to help the little ones keep abreast of the latest scientific discoveries. And in Valencia, the Science Museum offers "El cielo de estrella", an audiovisual display in which children learn how to identify the major constellations.
The Atapuerca Archeologicla Park (Burgos) is a great place to learn about the origins of human beings, and suggests guided itineraries that recreate the fauna of the Pleistocene period, huts from the Paleolithic period and settlements of the Bronze Age. All to entertain and teach children about prehistory. Not far from there, in the provinces of Soria and La Rioja, there are a variety of routes that lead to archeological sites containing the remains and footprints of dinosaurs.