Park Guell is one of Antoni Gaudi's most imaginative and symbolic work of art which thanks to a failed housing project is now open to the public as a city park. Hidden in the north of Barcelona his version of nirvana.
Park Güell is a bit of trek from the centre of the city, but you'll be more than rewarded for your efforts. The best way to get to the Park is by taking the Metro. Get on the Green line (L3) and ride it to Vallarta station. From here you have about a 15-minute walk up a steep hill to reach the park entrance. Vallarta station is the preferred access point since parts of the hillside here have an escalator to help you up the hill. Very useful if you're travelling with mobility issues. The climb is pretty steep and if you're visiting during the heat of the summer, remember to bring some water! You can also take bus #24 or #32 which will drop you off right by the park’s front gates but tends to run on a more limited schedule than the metro. The Bus Turística also stop near the park if you already have a pass.
Park Guell is one of the most popular destinations in Barcelona so it's advisable to buy your tickets in advance. The best time of the day to arrive is early in the morning. This time of the day is not only the least busy, but you'll avoid that heat mentioned before as well as catch a beautiful view of the sunrise in the morning.
You can easily buy tickets online before arriving. Adults cost 7.50€ and Children 7 to 12 and seniors are 5.25€. You can buy tickets up to three months in advance so if you're visiting during peak season you should buy them as soon as possible since they're likely to sell out. The park is free on Sundays and Holidays but the crowds are enormous, and since only 400 people are let in at a time you might have to wait in some very very long lines.
You have 30-minutes window on your ticket during which you can enter the park. I'd advise arriving at least 15 mins before your admission time since long lines can delay your entry if you're visiting during the afternoon or peak tourist months.
Barcelona’s Park Güell is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive designs by famed architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi along with Spanish entrepreneur Eusebi Güell had a vision for a highly stylized housing community for Barcelona's elite. In 1900, Güell bought immense expanses of farmland which they began to be converted into a space which would eventually become the park.
Gaudi designed a winning plan for 60 townhouses, connected by naturalist viaducts, with a large central square for festivals, market area and fabulous landscaping all around which highlights the already stunning environment of Catalonia. But in 1914, after only two of the 60 planned houses were built, the project was shut down due to lack of interest and funding from the public. The city, seeing the beauty and potential of such a large usable public space, bought the land in 1922 and transformed it into a public park.
Throughout the park, you can see Gaudi's didactic forms. He wanted to use symbolism to help restore the values of Christianity and Catalanism.
There is only one cafeteria inside the park and prices are pretty outrageous. Also, the food isn't very good either. The best thing to do is bring some food with you for a picnic. You can eat here looking out at one of the best views in the city. Be sure to wear lots of sunscreens! Although there is some shade most of the park is fully open to the sunshine. Lastly, when exploring the parts of the park outside the admission zone, be careful of pickpockets. Even inside the grounds, there have been known to be pickpockets who pay admission, simply to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Just keep your wits about you and make sure your bags aren't hanging open.
There are three main entrances to Park Guell. The most popular is the one along Carrer d'Olot. Despite this being the most iconic view of the park, the best place to start your tour is the entrance to Plaça de la Natura. It's much less busy and gives you access to the incredible Nature Square viewpoint first thing in the morning when the sun is just peeking up above the ocean.
Plaça de la Natura
From the moment you step into the park, you will be overwhelmed by Gaudi's iconic style. Gaudi was inspired by the squares and theatres of ancient Greece and wanted to create a similar space for the people of Barcelona. This is the Plaça de la Natura or Nature Square. It was here that over the years many plays, festivals and events have taken place. The square is half built into the rocks of the hillside itself and is supported by the hypostyle room below. The square seems to reach out towards the ocean, as if one could simply walk right out and touch it.
Surrounding the south side of the square is a balustrade called the "Serpentine Bench". The bench is meant to resemble the shape of a swimming sea serpent. The curves create small areas for seating. This bench is thought to many in the art community as one of the first examples of surrealism in architecture. It is covered in hundreds of tile mosaics. The tile is meant to look like the scales of the serpant but also creates a fantastical rainbow-like effects across the skyline.
These mosaics were a creation of both Gaudi and his collaborator Josep Maria Jujol. Both of whom helped develop Trencadís. Trencadís is a style of mosaic created using pieces of old tile, glass, buttons, shells and broken chinaware which are then cemented together to create designs, patterns, and even images. The term Trencadís means "chopped" and was a method both for aesthetic purposes and to help recycle old materials previously thought of as useless and give them new life.
The columns supporting the upper terrace along the north side of the square are designed to look like palm trees made of brick and stone. These are set in between actually palm trees, furthering the aesthetic of the natural environment blending in with Gaudi's architecture.
Laundry Room Portico
Walking west from Nature Square, you head down a small staircase into the Laundry Room Portico. The Laundry Room Portico is another great example of how Gaudi blended the natural environment into with his designs. These passages were meant to connect the potential houses to each other in a way that didn't stand out and were almost camouflaged into the hillside. Walking under the porticos is like taking a breath of fresh air in the heat of the summer. The shade and cool earth provides natural air coniditioning even in the middle of the afternoon.
Portico of the Washerwoman
As you walk under the rocky porticos, you'll come upon the statue resembling a woman with a basket of laundry on her head. This the Washerwoman. Gaudi was inspired by classical Caryatids that adorn Greek temples. A Caryatid is an architectural column which takes the form of a standing female figure. More of these perhaps were designed but this is the only one which was actually constructed.
The Ramp and Casa Larrard
Past the statue of the Washerwoman, you will round the corner into the famous double-galleried hairpin ramp. The ramp leads down to the Casa Larrard. Casa Larrard was once the family residence of the Guell family but has been since turned into a municipal school.
Casa Larrard was the first project Gaudi worked on for Guell. The building was an old mansion that Gaudi renovated for Guell in 1907, but much of the old Spanish architecture still is very prominently on display. The brilliant red brick is a pop of colour amongst the green trees and sandstone arcades. The best part is the intricate alternating coloured brickworks which creates stunning patterns on the outside of the building.
As you continue around the pathway in front of the Casa Larrad, you now come upon the "official" entrance to the park. The blooming black iron gates open up into the park. The theatrics here were used by Gaudi to denote a separation between the mundane, grey city into the dream-like compositions of the park. He wanted the Park Guell to feel like a touch of the divine. A paradise or eden here on earth.
The outer walls of the park as covered in these enormous medallions with the words "Park" and "Guell" emblazened upon them in the same mosaic style as within.
The two large buildings flanking the entrance are entirely organic in their designs. Like they simply grew out of the earth. Gaudi thought of them as images from the fairytale Hansel and Gretel, like they were made of gingerbread and topped with bright white icing.
The administration lodge, while small has two floors (one of which now contains the gift shop) and a rooftop terrace. The roof is topped with a large gable crowed with a four-armed cross which has become senonymous with Guadi's work.
The caretaker's lodge on the right is decorated with upside-down coffee cups along the exterior. It is rumoured that while trying to give up caffeine, Gaudi was consumed with thoughts of coffee and even began to weave them into his designs, the cravings were so powerful.
Escalera Monumental or Dragon Staircase
One of the most photographed parts of the park is the quintessential Dragon Staircase or Escalera Monumental. Four sets of staircases lead you into the Hypostyle Room, a beautiful backdrop behind the stunning staircase.
As you walk towards the stairs, take a moment to admire crenellated walls. The organic forms along the walls are meant to represent the idea of the geographical magnitude of Catalonia.
On either side of the staircases, there are benches for shade decorated with some of the most stunning pieces of tile work from the park. Each of the designs is so different and seem to come from all different periods of art history. I love thinking about how they found each of these pieces and the care that was taken in ensuring each piece compliments the next.
As you walk up the first staircase, you pass the first fountain. Although it might look like a garden, look closely to see trunks and stalactites which creates layers for the water to falls upon.
Standing on the first landing, you can view the second fountain. The head of a snake, burst from a mosaic crest. The outer blue circle represents the world and within in a small central creast you can see the Catalan flag.
The second landing is the best place to see the famed Dragon Fountain. The dragon is covered in trecadis. Gaudi is said to have created the shape of the dragon by jumping up and down on a mesh wireframe before he was satisfied with the way the dragon seemed to melt right into the staircase fountain. Gaudi was so inspired by Greek mythology and the dragon is no exception. This is thought to be "Python", who in Greek mythology is a dragon, who lives at the centre of the earth, and protects the temple of Delphi. Here we have our own dragon created by Guadi, to help protect the people of Catalonia and any visitor to the park.
Upon the last landing, you can sit on the Odeon bench. This bench is designed to provide shade in the summer, sun in the winter and protects visitors from the wind. Each of the benches are surrounded with dark green tiles and beautiful golden flowers tiles. It feels more like a thrown than a park bench.
Moving from the staircase into the Hypostyle Room, you are immediately hit with a cool breeze. This large open space was created as a covered marketplace for the potential residences of the community and is still used today as a marketplace for the entirety of Barcelona.
Hypostyle means a room which has a roof supported by pillars, typically in several rows. In this case, it is supported by 86 Doric columns which hold up a brilliant white domed ceiling. Gaudi was inspired by the ancient Greek temples and loved the appearance of the repetitive doric columns as they resembled the appearance of a large forest.
Amonsgt the white tiles on the domed ceiling are colourful circular rosettes. The larger rosettes represent the four seasons and the smaller ones are meant to be versions of the sun and the moon. Take a moment to study each of them and see if you can identify each season. They are more abstract and takes some imagination to interpret.
Along the outer cornices of the marketplace, there are various gargoyles peaking their heads out. These act not only as decoration but also function as an overflow for the rainwater from above.
Exiting the marketplace to the right, you exit into the Austria Garden. When the park was given over to the city in 1922, this area was transformed into a municipal plant nursery. The name is because in 1977 so many trees were donated from Austria and are the reason this part of the park's landscape feels so different than the rest of the environment. As can be seen below with the image of a fir tree poppping its head out among tropical palm trees.
You can often see many green parrots flying amongst the greenery. The flowers are always blooming throughout the gardens. Bright pink bougainvillaea, brilliant red Hibiscus Flowers, periwinkle Apocynaceae and even purple forget-me-nots are just some of the flowers you will see as you walk up and down the garden pathways.
Gaudí House Museum
As you continue walking throughout the gardens, you'll come to the Gaudí House Museum. Gaudi lived in this home from 1906 to 1925 and was designed by Francesc d’Assís Berenguer I Mestres, not Gaudi himself. You can visit the interior of the house for five euros, but since it wasn't built by Gaudi, this museum is worth skipping over. There are various pieces of Gaudi furniture designs and some of his models for future buildings but overall I'd save your money for something else. That being said, it is a great house to walk around the exterior and think about how Gaudi would spend his time while living here and using the garden as inspiration for his future deisgns.
Exit along then north-east exit to enter the public area of the park. From here you can walk across many of the parks different viaducts. The viaducts were created to give residents easy access to flowing, fresh water as well as creating remarkable pathways which connect all the areas of the park together.
The rocks which were extracted from the site to create even land for construction were reused here to created these uneven, natural passageways. Sizeable oval plant pots can be found throughout the path. Inside are agave plants which thrive in these dry climate but create a lush tropical environment.
La Casa Trias
Future up the hillside you can see the La Casa Trias. The Casa Trias was designed by architect Juli Batllevell in 1905. These are additional sample houses designed for the what was supposed to become the gated community.
Turó de Les Tres Creus
Walking across the very top of the park, you have one of the most incredible views of the city. As you walk from the east side to the west side, you will come across the Turó de Les Tres Creus. This is the highest part of the park. It was here that Gaudi wanted to build a great chapel. When they found prehistoric remains here, it became clear that they could not excavate the earth. So instead, Gaudi built a monument atop the hill, which resembled the prehistoric caves found throughout Spain. Atop the monuments are three crosses, pointing to the cardinal directional points.
This is one of the best places to end the tour. The view is stunning and looks across the entirety of the Gaudi's stunning vision for heaven on earth. Walking through this park, you really do start to live inside that vision Gaudi painted for you. His dreamlike creations do make you feel like you're wandering somewhere outside this earth. Somewhere you have only ever seen in dreams. I absolutely loved my time here and hope you find time to visit the park and live out the dream for yourself!