Parc Güell: A Park Like No Other
Updated: Jan 18
It was quite a grey, dreary day for my visit to Parc Güell so the chances of experiencing this sparkling gem under the winter sunshine were scuppered from the off, but visiting Barcelona in November, how could I complain? It’s fair to say though, the day didn’t quite start off as planned. With only two full days in the Catalan capital, I wanted to maximise my time and make a full day of getting around the city. Yes, I was out early by most peoples standards, but not as early as I would have liked - I’d actually been lying in bed wide-awake for the best part of an hour and a half listening to a violent thunderstorm crashing and booming it’s way overhead. Whilst I’m dedicated to exploring before the crowds arrive, I’m not that committed!
What is Parc Güell?
Parc Güell is yet another masterpiece from Antoni Gaudí, a world-renowned architect responsible for some of the most famous attractions in Barcelona including the Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. Eusebi Güell, a local entrepreneur, commissioned Gaudi in 1900 with the responsibility to create an estate for the city’s elite on the Muntanya Pelada hillside, overlooking the plain of Barcelona. This was initially scheduled to be a magnificent community of 60 plots designated solely for residential use. Whilst construction progressed well within the project’s first couple of years, various factors including a lack of suitable transport infrastructure dashed Güell’s dream. After work was halted in 1914, thus the project lying dormant for a number of years, his heirs offered the area to the City Council who upon acquisition in 1922, opened it as a public park four years later. Subsequently it has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1984 due to the beauty of Gaudí’s work and the surrounding natural setting.
Travel to Parc Güell
After gingerly stepping outside following the dawn thunderstorms, I left Hostel Casa Gracia and hopped on to the nearby metro at Diagonal, taking the five minute journey up the L3 line in the direction of Trinitat Nova, before disembarking at Vallcarca. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about adding the hassle of buying a ticket to my journey time, having previously purchased a Hola Barcelona 3-day travel card online prior to making the trip. This gave me unlimited journeys across Barcelona’s public transport over three consecutive days, with it only going live upon collection from the metro station at the airport. I’d highly recommend this as my travel throughout the entire duration of the trip was covered, including my transfers to and from the airport. Even better was that the price was only €22.20 which, if you use the metro as much as I did, is good value!
If you’re planning on visiting Parc Güell via this route, be prepared for a steep climb uphill once you leave Vallcarca station. The walk up Baixada de Briz is very steep, with a number of flights of steps; I’ve got a good level of fitness and still felt a little breathless by the time I reached the top. However, I enjoyed the walk up the street, taking a look at the surrounding neighbourhood and saying hello to some of the locals as I made my ascent. Of course, there are other routes to the park, including the number 24 public bus which runs regularly throughout the day with a journey time of 25 minutes (from Passeig de Gracia), and Bus Turistic, the city of Barcelona hop-on hop-off bus, which stops off at, or near, a host of major attractions including Parc Guell, La Rambla, Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia.
Upon reaching the top, the road curves around to the left with an entrance to Parc Güell becoming visible on the right-hand side. It must be fantastic to be able to walk the dog or go running through the park on a daily basis, as it really is a beautiful setting on the hillside overlooking the city. I took the path to the left which continued through the tree-line along a ridge, breaking every so often for spectacular views of Barcelona below. I didn't want to go down to the Monumental Zone straight away, instead preferring to spend some time exploring the upper area of the park. It was here that I came across Casa Trias, one of two houses that were built whilst Parc Güell was a residential estate; the second being the pink show home by Francesc Berengeur, and actually lived in thereafter by Gaudí himself. Casa Trias, the work of Juli Batllevell, was a beautiful, white two-storey building which, to my untrained and uneducated architectural eyes, was fully inline with how I’d envisage the appearance of an expensive mediterranean villa. With it’s spot on the hillside, I can only imagine the incredible views afforded from what appeared to be a balcony terrace at the very top.
Monumental Zone Ticket Prices (as of January 2020)
General ticket €10.00
Children (7-12 years old) €7.00
Children (0-6 years old) Free
Over 65 €7.00
General ticket - guided visit €22.00
Children (7-12 years old) - guided visit €19.00
Children (0-6 years old) Free
Over 65 - guided visit €19.00
This is the only area of the park that incurs a charge, but in my opinion is well worth the entry fee. If you want to buy tickets online prior to visiting Parc Guell, you can do so on the official website here.
As above, there is also an option for a guided tour should you wish, however it is also worth noting that tickets for the Monumental Zone do not include access to the Gaudi House Museum.
With the time approaching 08:30am, I began making my way down the hillside and through the gardens to the Monumental Zone. I came out near Plaça de la Natura (Nature Square), where the park's employees were set-up ready to check tickets for those wishing to enter. Upon enquiring with a member of staff, I was directed to the ticket office near the main entrance in order to pay the entry fee.
Throughout the trip, I was trying as much as possible to make basic requests in Spanish such as ordering food or buying a ticket. You may have read that I’ve recently begun to learn Spanish and at the time of writing, I’m five lessons in to my beginners course. Whilst buying my ticket for Parc Güell, I advised the gentleman at the counter that I was currently learning the language. It backfired on me to be honest, as in his enthusiasm to help me out, he heavily over-estimated the extent of my skills. He proceeded to tell me all of the information I needed to know about touring the zone in Spanish, to which I didn't have the heart to tell him that I hadn’t understood a word he’d said. I do, however, suspect that he realised this as a result of the puzzled, vacant expression on my face when he’d finished!
I entered the Monumental Zone via Nature Square, which was already starting to accumulate large groups of tourists by 09:00am. Its important at this early stage to manage your expectations; unbeknownst to me beforehand, Parc Gùell is currently undergoing a number of renovation and improvement works in order to keep it in good condition for the millions of visitors who attend every year. When I visited, a substantial portion of Nature Square was cordoned off, as works are currently ongoing in the magnificent Hypostyle Room below. This meant there was restricted space along the famous mosaic benches to look down onto the entrance to the square; a view oft-captured for Gaudí’s unique art nouveau inspired buildings backed by the Barcelona skyline beyond. Whilst limited due to space, I was very impressed with Nature Square. The mosaic’s vivid array of colours provided a startling but welcome contrast to the grey skies above, and I can imagine how impressive it looks in the morning light during summertime.
After absorbing everything from the colourful mosaic to the view of the entrance and porters lodge below, I carried on to the next attraction in the tour; the Portico of the Washerwoman. Now this was one of my favourite area’s in the zone. It is simply stunning. Pillars of unhewn stone support the pathway above, whilst the interior of the facade adopts a curving slope that rounds up to the ceiling. The light shines between the buttresses as vine-like plants flow over the top of the portico and down their sides. The structure curves around to the left but, strangely, the majority of people stopped at the start of the portico for their photo’s. I continued down to the second portion of the portico which was empty, enabling me to take some wonderful photo’s without interference or interruption from anybody else. One thing I missed, and I’m kicking myself about now, is the whole reason this entire piece of architectural genius is called the “Portico of the Washerwoman”- on one of the columns is a stone carving showing a washerwoman with the tools of the trade. How I missed it, I’ll never know! The end of this segment is signed off in grand style, with a spiral ramp beautifully constructed to deliver you down to the lower level of the zone, alongside Casa Larrard. Having initially been the residence of Eusebi Güell and his family, the building was revamped in 1931 to become the Baldiri Reixac municipal school which remains open to this day.
The path then takes you alongside the school boundaries and down to the main entrance of the Monumental Zone. Standing like sentinel's at either side of the main gates are two stunning buildings that to my mind looked like gingerbread houses; of course, in reality they are two pavilions that formed the Porter’s Lodge. According to the leaflet received at the beginning of my tour, both buildings are actually clad with Trencadís (sadly, not gingerbread) which are tile-shard mosaics. Both are stunning in their own right and were fundamental in developing my admiration for Gaudí which grew throughout the duration of my trip; his work is truly unique and I have not seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.
Looking back up into the park, you’re immediately struck by the wonderful Monumental Flight of Steps that lead up the magnificent Hypostyle Room. Bordered by two curving walls either side, the double flight of steps are divided by a small water feature shaped in the form of a serpents head alongside the shield of Catalonia. Next to draw your attention and further up the steps lies a multi-coloured mosaic Salamander, which is certainly eye-catching and was subject to many a photoshoot with the tourists present. There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful, colourful staircase artistically blending basic stone with fancy mosaic, encapsulating this unique area. The Hypostyle Room was unfortunately subject to on-going renovation works during my visit, but the area that was open remained highly impressive and, to my mind, breathtaking all the same. It certainly held a sense of grandeur and presence that made it feel bigger than it was. Consisting of 86 striated columns, this space was initially foreseen as a venue for events including a market for the community, with the regular layout of the colonnade interrupted from time-to-time creating three larger open spaces, similar to the naves of a church.
The final leg of my walk through the Monumental Zone took me through the Austria Gardens and back up to Nature Square. In the estates original design, this area was set to be divided into plots for houses that never materialised and by the 1960’s had been revamped by Lluís Riudor into a garden. The history behind its name stems from the donation of trees from Austria, and it’s certainly the most peaceful, idyllic area of the zone - a great way to round off an excellent tour.
I’ve read other bloggers thoughts on the Monumental Zone and that, especially in the summer when it is lighter earlier, you’re able to look around the area before the staff set up and begin charging ticket prices. For me, the entry fee is well worth the money with the added benefit that the revenue goes to a good cause in maintaining this wonderful piece of heritage.
Turó de les Tres Creus
Of course, it’s not all about the Monumental Zone at Parc Güell. During my descent from Casa Trias to Nature Square, a hilltop to the right of the zone caught my attention with three crosses positioned at the summit. I made a mental note to visit and afterwards, I asked one of the members of staff how to get there. He was very helpful and instructed me to return to the ticket office, where a path begins to slope uphill. After climbing this small hill, take a right turn back along the side of the hill until you reach some steps going further uphill to your left, taking you to the very top.
The highest part of the park’s grounds, this location is known as Turó de les Tres Creus, which literally translates as Hill of the Three Crosses. Having read the information point at the top of the hill, the original plan was to construct a single nave chapel at the summit. This never happened, with only a Calvary bearing three crosses built. Unfortunately, the original was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, so the current one is a replica. Whether or not many people down in the Monumental Zone knew about this viewpoint, I don’t know, but company at the summit of Turó des les Tres Creus was few and far between. I won’t lie, I was thankful for it. I had some exquisite views of the city all to myself. I didn’t realise how vast the plain of Barcelona is, with dense urban settlement stretching along the coast as far as the eye can see. It really was extremely impressive, and I was able to pick out key landmarks amongst this sprawling metropolis; at one point there is a gap through the tree’s enabling an excellent view of the Sagrada Familia, standing tall and majestic amongst the city’s skyline.
Checking out the Hill of the Three Crosses was a great way to round off a fantastic couple of hours in the beautiful Parc Güell; it is a stunning heritage site that provides some welcome respite to the hustle and bustle of the city. No matter what time of year you visit Barcelona, I’d highly recommend visiting this wonderful tourist attraction; you won’t be disappointed.