Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

Everyone loves the city of Barcelona. I mean what’s not to love? This cosmopolitan city is the most visited in Spain thanks to its fabulous architecture, food, wine, weather, etc. There is so much to do outside of the city of Barcelona though that it would be a shame not to explore the environs of this city. For example, my kids thought the beach at Barcelona was fantastic until we were truly wowed by the beaches along the coast.

The Best Day Trips From Barcelona

Barcelona has a lot to occupy a visitor but it does get crowded in the summer.  I was told that the typical tourist route from one of the ginormous cruise ships involves a visit to La Boqueria, the food market, a stroll on Las Ramblas and a visit to La Familia Sagrada.  When I visited Barcelona with my children once during the peak season, we felt overwhelmed by the number of tourists in the Barrio Gotico.

With that in mind, here are five places outside of Barcelona that are easy to reach but will take you away from the crowds that can congest the city. All of these day trips are an hour or less from Barcelona so that you don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to reach them either.

Montserrat

The mountain of Montserrat is steeped in legend dating back to Roman times when it was the location for a temple to Venus. In later times, the Nazis thought Montserrat could be the location for the Holy Grail. Nowadays, Montserrat houses the basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat which many of the Catholic faithful visit for the Black Madonna icon. Be warned, the lines are as long as at Lourdes. There is also a world-famous children’s choir, a small art gallery and a Benedictine monastery.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

The religious complex at Montserrat is nestled into the mountain overlooking the city of Barcelona

Montserrat is a one hour train ride from Plaza Espanya in Barcelona followed by either a cable car or a funicular to the top of the mountain.

Colonia Guell

Antoni Gaudi’s next-to-last work is the Crypt at Colonia Guell, created at the behest of his life-long patron, Eusebi Guell, for whom he undertaken many projects such as Parc Guell and Casa Guell.

Antoni Gaudi’s Crypt at Colonia Guell, a Catalan Modernist Factory Town

The relatively simple altar is similar to that at La Sagrada

The crypt was supposed to be the base of the larger church which Gaudi never finished because the Guell family changed their minds. The crypt at Colonia Guell lets you peek inside Gaudi’s thought process when he was working on ideas for the Sagrada Familia.

Colonia Guell is 20 minutes by train from Plaza Espanya in Barcelona.

Mataro

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Mataro is small but well worth a visit if you are a fan of Antoni Gaudi. The art is housed in the first building built by Gaudi – a cotton bleaching factory commissioned by a local textile cooperative.

You can see where Gaudi first used parabolic arches to give height and space to a structure. The building is beautiful even though it was meant for mere industrial purposes. During the summer months, the museum holds family activities in the evenings.

After all that cultural edification, you may want to check out the beach at Mataro which is wide, sandy and well-regarded by locals.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

sailing off the coast of costa Barcelona

The Drunk Monk is a famous cerveceria in Mataro which servers over 250 types of beers. With a 5 star review from beer-lovers guide, ratebeer.com, this bar is located about half a mile from the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Take note, it’s beers, beers and more beers. No wines, ma’am.

You can get to Mataro in 40 minutes by train from Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya.

Can Rosa

Can Rosa is a small family-owned organic vineyard in the outskirts of Barcelona built in the late 19th century by a wealthy industrialist. The house has been preserved in all of the splendour of the period when even King Alfonso XIII visited the vineyard. It’s a perfect peek into the life of what would have been the Spanish equivalent of the robber baron industrialists in the USA.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

The spacious veranda overlooking the vineyards at Can Rosa

The vineyard is operated as a labor of love by a local family who produce 28,000 bottles of wine in 7-8 classes. They bought it from the original family who built the house complete with all the furnishings.

The wine falls in the category of Allela D.O. which is the smallest wine producing region in Spain. The house and the vineyard are charming.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

Can Rosa can arrange for wine tastings in an idyllic setting

Not surprisingly, they have about 30 weddings a year at the location. The owners can prepare a picnic for you in the courtyard or in the vineyards for a fairly idyllic way to laze away an afternoon in the sunshine.

Can Rosa is located 10 minutes by train from Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona to Molet. From the town of Molet, a bus runs half-hourly up to the vineyard.

Casteldefells

The slogan for Casteldefells is “the best beach close to you” which is meant to lure the city folks from Barcelona to Casteldefells admittedly glorious wide sandy beach.  The town is also home to lots of footballers who have their large houses in the hills above the beach. With all this footfall, Casteldefells has 500 restaurants!

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

A wide sandy and clean beach at Casteldefells

The Casanova Beach Club is a popular spot for the young and trendy, including footballers. Children under the age of 14 are allowed to eat at the club (which has great food) but not use the pool. The pool has loungers etc and seems a great way to spend the day.  The no-kids-under-14 rule would so not sit well with my children though.

If you would like a spot of sightseeing, the castle at Casteldefells looms over the city. The castle started out as a church in the 10th century before it was fortified in the 12th century. In the 19th century, a wealthy local banker bought the castle and renovated it as a party pad for people he wanted to impress.

Check out the Olympic Cable Park canal built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. You have an array of water sports activities ranging from kayaking, water skiing and wake boarding as well as land activities such as archery and a children’s playground.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

Archery at the Olympic Park

In the Garaf Nature reserve which envelops Casteldefells, there is plenty of family-friendly hiking and biking. Housed in the former home of another wealthy industrialist, the Sakya Tashi Ling Buddhist monastery is located in the Garaf Nature Park. It offers guided tours, a restaurant and a store, all devoted to educating about Tibetan Buddhism.

Casteldefells is 25 minutes by train from Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona. There are two train stations for Casteldefells – one that stops in the town and one for the beach itself.

Day Tours From Barcelona

I have chosen these day tours from Barcelona to give the visitor a sense of context for Barcelona. The city, larger than life, sits as an important hub for the surrounding area. The history and people of these areas are intertwined with that of the Barcelona itself.

Accommodation in Barcelona

We stayed by the seaside in Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic.

On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas.

We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Barcelona Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

Accommodation outside of Barcelona

You could choose to stay outside of the city centre of Barcelona and do a reverse commute into the city for when you choose. The hotels outside of Barcelona tend to be more spacious, family-friendly and cheaper than central Barcelona hotels.

Five of the Best Day Trips From Barcelona for Families, Foodies & Culture-Vultures

A great pool, location by the beach and connecting rooms at the Masd Mediteraneo – perfect for a family-friendly holiday

In Casteldefells, the 4 star Masd Meditteraneo Hotel Apartmentos is located right on the beach. It has a pool as well as adjoining rooms which can be configured to suit families.

Similarly, the 4 star Hotel Atenea Port Mataro is located in the harbour and beach area of the town and is very family-friendly.

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Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

You think you have seen all the major Catalan modernist sites in Barcelona? Think again. Chances are you have only seen all of the major works by Gaudi. Catalan Modernism was so much more than Gaudi sort of like Impressionism was so much more than Monet. The Hospital de Sant Pau is an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture beyond the usual Gaudi stuff.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

The Hospital de Sant Pau

The Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau was opened in 1930 on the site of an older hospital dating back to the Middle Ages created by the Counts of Barcelona. In order for this medieval hospital to maintain itself, the Spanish kings allowed the Hospital the right to money from theatrical performances in Barcelona.

When Catalan banker Pau Gil died in Paris in 1896 he wanted to do something special for his homeland.  He ordered his bank dissolved and the proceeds used to construct a new hospital in Barcelona, the Hospital of Sant Pau.  He had envisioned that the entire building complex would be funded through his generosity. The original plan called for 48 buildings in this hospital complex. Of course, there were cost overruns so a revised plan called for 27 buildings.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Some of the flamboyant Catalan Modernisme style.

Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture In Practice

The architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was hired to build a hospital complex which was effectively a city within a city.  The hospital would have different buildings for each medical speciality and landscaped grounds.  The buildings were connected to each by a kilometre of underground tunnels.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The underground tunnels which were used to shuttle the patients around. The walls were tiled for easy cleaning.

Decorative Style

Of course, building in a Catalan modernist style is labor and work intensive with all of its extra decorative flourishes. The original money ran out after the first 10 buildings of the complex.  Montaner (and his son who took over the project from him) was able to cobble together enough funding for another 6 buildings. So only 16 of the buildings on the site are in the Catalan Modernism style.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The surgical ward at the Hospital. You can see the ramps from which the sick would be wheeled up.

Catalan modernist was very intricate – you had decorative detail in reliefs, sculptures, ceramics, mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron. The buildings were all made from brick. The little domes on top of the roofs were the water towers. Along with the landscaped grounds, each patient would have a significant amount of space to themselves which far surpassed the best hospitals in Europe at the time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

An old photo showing the hospital in use.

Practical Style

There was a liberal use of ceramics throughout the site. Not only could you make ceramics look pretty but they were hygienic and easy to wash down. You had large windows, lots of color, landscaped grounds – when you think about how terrible early 20th century hospitals were – this Barcelona Hospital was really ahead of its time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative pillar hides the water tank for the building.

The Administrative Pavilion is the biggest building on site. It was built between 1905 and 1910 and was meant to be the main entrance to the hospital complex. The highly decorative ceiling is filled with ornamentation, for example, referring to Saint Jordi (George) the patron saint of Catalonia, and the seal of Banca Gil (Pau Gil’s bank). If Pau Gil wanted immortality – he definitely got it. His initials are everywhere on this site.  In a time when banks come and go, get merged etc, Pau Gil’s legacy is more than any simple regional bank could have been.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative details were on the inside and the outside of the buildings.

UNESCO World Heritage Designation

The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It was reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 to be a centre for global knowledge.  Whatever that means. When we wandered around the site, you could tell there had been extensive refurbishment and the buildings were gorgeous. It was like a ghost town, however. There were a handful of tourists but it didn’t look like there were many people who actually worked there.

Good To Know

You really can’t miss the Hospital of Sant Pau if you are near the Sagrada Familia.

Location

The Hospital of Sant Pau is located on Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167.  When the Sagrada Familia gets overrun with visitors in the summer weekends, the Hospital de Sant Pau will not be crowded. I would strongly encourage you to check out this beautiful little oasis which will give you an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture that hasn’t been done by Gaudi . You can get there on the Metro (L5 Sant Pau) or on the bus.

Where To Stay

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

Context Travel Tour

I discovered this Hospital on a Sagrada Family in Context Travel. I’ve been to Barcelona several times and never knew about this beautiful hospital! It’s so worth it to take a good tour. I paid full price for my Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments.

– Antonio Gaudi

When I went to check out the most famous church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, exactly 20 years ago this year, my visit was very different from my recent trip. Unlike today only the Nativity facade was finished back then. There was no line to get inside the church because there really wasn’t much of an interior. I climbed part of a tower and surveyed the construction site. Even then, the grand proportions of the Sagrada Familia made the church a cool, if empty, space. Antonio Gaudi’s final masterpiece would far outlive him and skyrocket his name into the echelons of history. When we visited Barcelona with the kids a couple of years ago, I did not anticipate the huge lines. On this recent visit, though, I was smart and booked tickets ahead of time.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

What makes La Sagrada Familia Special

Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain. Many of its millions of visitors make two obligatory stops –  La Boqueria, the famous market of the Ramblas for food, and La Sagrada Familia for some culture. La Sagrada Familia gets some 3 million visitors annually.

The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.

– Antonio Gaudi

Some Fun Sagrada Familia Facts

Timeline for La Sagrada Familia

  • Gaudi accepted that La Sagrada Familia is a long-term project that he would not live to see completed.
  • Gaudi’s masterpiece is an expiatory church which means that it is built with donations from the public. Now that visitor numbers, and related ticket sales, have increased, the church receives about 25 million Euros a year.
  • There are still 4 central towers to be built which will reach 170+ metres and let light into the interior.  The current towers that you see will be dwarfed by these new towers because they are only 98 metres in height.
  • The really tall towers will stand just underneath the height of nearby Montjuic. Gaudi did not want his work to rise taller than that of God.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

This model shows how tall the to-be-completed towers will be.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The decorative tops of the existing towers.

The Sagrada Familia Interior

  • The Sagrada Familia interior has a pleasing symmetry because Gaudi created it in multiples of 7.5 metres.
  • As an architect, Gaudi did not want a giant altar piece obstructing the view of his architectural lines. Many people are taken back by the simplicity of the altar piece. You get a giant cathedral and a small altar.
  • The inside of the Sagrada Familia is supposed to be an homage to nature, a garden forest rising up to the skies.
  • The inside is practically bereft of statues except for the Holy Family and the local patron saint. Gaudi really wanted very little distractions inside the church.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The four pillars inside are dedicated to the four evangelists.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The pillars inside reach the top to create a treetop canopy.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The afternoon light is stunning through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass bathed the cathedral in glowing colors.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The East windows with their blue and green stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

You can see the colors mixing in the purple light cast by the blues from the windows in one side and the reds cast from the other side.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Yes, I was obsessed with the light through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Seriously I could not get enough of the afternoon light through the windows. Just wow!

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass is a secondary glazing technique that goes over the windows. These windows have not been finished with the stained glass topping yet.

The Nativity Facade

  • The Nativity Facade was completed during Gaudi’s lifetime because he wanted to show people his vision in the hopes that they would donate money.
  • Gaudi liked to use real people to model his figures. The soldier in the scene depicting the killing of the innocents was the local butcher. The butcher had 6 toes on one foot, a detail which was faithfully recreated on the sculpture.
  • Check out the bottom of the pillars of the Nativity entrance. One rests on a turtle and another on a tortoise, a land based and a water based animal. This subtle reference to the two sides of life in Barcelona the mountains and the sea was a nod to his benefactors.
  • The Nativity facade overflows with references to birth and nature – such as the Cypress tree used to represent the tree of life.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors of the Nativity facade show insects and other natural animals.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Tree of Life with doves rising up to the X on top symbolising Jesus.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

It’s hard to know where to look on the Nativity facade. This bit depicts the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary announcing she is pregnant with Jesus.

The Passion Facade

  • Gaudi himself was the second lead architect.  The church is now on its 9th lead architect who leads a team of 20 architects.  People joke that there could be a 10th architect soon because the current architect is embroiled in a dispute over his mosaic design on the Passion facade. The other architects think the mosaic does not fit in with Gaudi’s mournful vision for the Passion facade.
  • Gaudi’s profile is immortalised in the Passion facade.
  • Architects used the oil painting technique of chiaroscuro which creates light and shadow to convey the sadness of the scene.
  • Catalan sculptor Joseph Subirach created the giant doors with words from the Bible.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Jesus hanging on the cross, or possibly hanging off the cross.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Passion Facade with Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews written above.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

That’s Gaudi himself to the side of Veronica who wiped Jesus’ face.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The offending coloured mosaic is covered up temporarily.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors for the Passion facade done by Subirach

Antonio Gaudi’s Masterpiece

Gaudi’s Vision For La Sagrada Familia

Even though Gaudi had a clear vision for La Sagrada Familia, he accepted that you could not reign in an artist’s creativity. He left instructions that allowed future artists to have a certain amount of leeway in how his vision would be interpreted.

There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.

– Antonio Gaudi

  • During the last 10+ years of his life, Gaudi worked feverishly to leave models, drawings etc for how the Sagrada Familia should look. He actually lived in his studio at the Sagrada Familia.
  • Gaudi created clouds in his vision for the 3rd facade, the Glory facade, which is still to be completed. The Glory facade represents the risen Jesus in heaven with clouds floating around.
  • Architects though have no idea how to create floating clouds like he intended. Gaudi assumed technology would have caught up with his vision – they still have 9 years to figure it out if they want to make the 2026 self-imposed deadline.
  • The door at the Glory facade is the only part that is finished. Created by Catalan sculptor, Josep Subirach, the door depicts the Lord’s Prayer in 50 different languages.

During the Spanish Civil War happened, the Spanish Catholic Church had a vested interesting in protecting its own wealth and influence. They sided with Franco’s Fascists against the Republicans. In response, Republican rioters destroyed churches including Gaudi’s workshop at the Sagrada Familia. Post-destruction, architects were left to piece together what Gaudi had wanted to do from the rubble.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors to the gloria facade created by Subirach

How did Gaudi die?

Gaudi is buried in a crypt which can be seen in the museum adjoining La Sagrada Familia. The crypt is actually in the basement equivalent of the church which was completed by the first architect. So, ironically, the area where Gaudi is buried is not his creation although the structure above his tomb is.

Gaudi had an unfortunate and accidental death.  He was run over by a street car on the way to church on a Sunday.  When his workers arrived at La Sagrada Familia on the Monday, no body could find him.  When they searched for him, they discovered his unidentified body.

Everyone is working at top speed to finish La Sagrada Familia so that it is finished in 2026, the centenary of Antonio Gaudi’s death.  Considering the middle towers aren’t even built yet, and they are building with crowds of tourists all around, the most famous church in Barcelona has plenty of work left.

The Most Famous Church in Barcelona

I’m just going to assume that if you go to Barcelona you will visit La Sagrada Familia. Everyone does for good reason. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit.

La Sagrada Familia Tickets

Keep in mind the time of day.

Keep in mind that the best light for the church occurs at the extremes of the day. The morning sun lights up the cooler blues and greens of the stained glass East windows. The afternoon sun sets off the fiery oranges and reds of the the west windows. When the afternoon sun is low enough, the light reaches across the entire cathedral mixes with the blues and greens to create shades of purple.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Buy tickets ahead of time.

I highly recommend that you buy tickets ahead of time for visiting La Sagrada Familia. In low season, the tickets are easy to book a day or so ahead of time.

You need to allow longer in peak season especially on a Saturday or Sunday. During the summer season, the cruise ships come into Barcelona port depositing 14,000 visitors at a time. The most famous church in Barcelona is also one of its most visited sites. You really don’t want to stand in line for an hour or two in the scorching summer heat.

You will need to pick between types of tickets etc.

There are a handful of different types of Sagrada Familia tickets. They range from the basic €15 ticket to the church to the €29 ticket which includes a trip up a tower to get panoramic views of the city. I bought only the basic ticket and regretted it. You can also get tickets that have an audio tour or a guided tour.  I have heard the audio tour is excellent – enough information without going into too much detail.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

I chose to take a guided tour (not through the Sagrada Familia website) but with Context Travel.  Whenever I can fit in a tour, I try to use Context Travel. I paid full price for my Sagrada Familia Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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Celebrating Curves at Park Guell

Celebrating Curves at Park Guell

The straight line belongs to man.  The curved line belongs to God.

– Antonio Gaudi

Park Guell, designed by Barcelona’s favourite son, Antonio Gaudi, is a frothy concoction of imaginative design and natural beauty.  True to his beliefs, there is hardly anything straight about Park Guell. When you are visiting Barcelona even for a weekend, Park Guell is a must-see destination in the city.

History of Park Guell

Park Guell was supposed to be a residential development for the aristocrats of Barcelona.  The developer, Eusebi Guell, commissioned Barcelona’s leading Modernist architect, Antonio Gaudi to make his vision a reality in the early 20th Century.  Modernism was Barcelona’s answer to the Art Nouveau style in fashion elsewhere in the world.

Park Guell bench

Image: John.Purvis

In the late 19th Century, Barcelona was a booming city and the future seemed bright.  Park Guell was supposed to have 60 single-family residences in a stye similar to British residential parks (such as John Nash’s famous Regents Park).  Unfortunately, restrictions on building and lack of transportation made the project unviable early.

With only 2 residences built, the rest of the development became a residential park.  The park was given to the city of Barcelona in 1923. Eusebi Guell lived long enough to see Park Guell become one of the most famous attractions in Barcelona.  In 1984, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Park Guell as Fantasyland

From the main entrance, you can see that Park Guell is as imaginative as they come.  The grand staircase is fashioned with dragons.  The iron gates are decorated with giant leaves.

park guell

The top of the Park has a terraced area from which you can see Barcelona spread out below.

park guell

park guell building

The balustrade of the terraced area also forms benches for seating.  It curves around the top of a columned structure at the entrance to the Park.  There are 84 columns and originally this area was supposed to have been the market area for the residential development.

park guell balustrade

The park is full of stone structures and beautiful mosaic stone artwork all of which showcase Gaudi’s vivid imagination.

park guell mosaics

park guell mosaics

This type of mosaic is called ‘trencadi’s and is made up of broken tile shards, an early form of recycling!

park guell mosaic

The pathways meander around the park and it was really fun for the children to run around.  This leaning structure reminded me of Alice in Wonderland where things that were supposed to be one way weren’t.  Curiouser and curiouser.

park gull stone structure

We went on a Saturday and it seemed a lot of Barcelona was also at Park Guell.  One group was having a birthday party and picnic.  They had the biggest paella dish I have ever seen.

park guell6

Good To Know For Visiting Park Guell:

Park Guell is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Although the park has three entrances, the main entrance is off Carrer de Larrard.  The park has a ticketed area (children under 6 years old free) and a non-ticketed section.  You can buy tickets online up to three months in advance.  Tickets are limited to 400 every half hour in order to avoid overcrowding.  Park Guell is open all year round and gets a lot of visitors.  As crowded as this Park is, you can easily slip away and have some peace and quiet to yourselves.

Sunday in the Park in Barcelona

Sunday in the Park in Barcelona

Barcelona is a great city with children.  One of the best bits of the city is the park in the centre, Parc de la Ciutedella.  This city park is pretty large (74 acres) and has plenty of walks, playgrounds, a zoo, a little lake with rowboats etc.  When our children got tired of sightseeing, we retreated to the park for some rest and relaxation. Who knew that it felt like the entire city would be there? Sunday in the park in Barcelona is perfect for a relaxed approach to sightseeing with or without children..

Our Sunday in the Park in Barcelona with Kids

People Watching

We spent some time just hanging out in the grass people-watching.  Last time my husband was at this park  he told us he saw a hapless Japanese groom overturn a rowboat and dunk his bride into the water in full wedding attire.  The children were looking for something equally exciting to happen on this trip but nobody obliged.

rowboat

This guy and his friends were practicing their circus skills – juggling and tight-rope walking. Could that be more ready-made entertainment for the children?

juggler

Rowboats for Hire

The lake in the middle has little rowboats for hire.  My husband did us proud rowing like a champion with no help from us.  The children don’t believe in manual labour and I was too busy taking photographs.

ducks in the park

Playgrounds

There is a fantastic large playground for children on the way to the rowboats. Of course, we stopped on the way to and from the rowboats with the obligatory pit stop for ice cream.

Museums and Zoo in the Park

We skipped the museums and the Barcelona Zoo located in the park because technically we were on a sightseeing-free afternoon.

  • There is the Natural History Museum of Barcelona including the Martorell Museum and the Botanical Gardens.
  • The Martorell Museum was founded in the late 18th Century when a naturalist, Francesc Martorell y Pena, donated his sizeable collection to create what was Barcelona’s first public museum.  Surprisingly for Barcelona with all of its modernist architecture, the Martorell stands out for being a neo-classical structure.
  • The Barcelona Zoo dates from 1882 and is very child-friendly. The zoo is home to more than 5000 animals. Until his death of skin cancer in 2003, the zoo was the home of the world’s only known albino gorilla, Snowflake.
parc de la ciutadella

image credit: Boris Doesburg

The History of the Parc de la Ciutadella

The Parc de la Ciutadella has an interesting history.  The area was built as an actual citadel in the 18th century after Philip V of Spain conquered Barcelona after a long, protracted battle.  Designed to stop the Catalans from rebelling again, the building was actually Europe’s largest fortress at the time.

A neighbourhood was cleared to make room for this fortress.  The neighbourhood’s former inhabitants were not only made homeless but also made to work on building the citadel.  Needless to say the citadel was hated by the people of Barcelona.

Most of the citadel was demolished in the mid to late 19th century with only a few buildings remaining, including the old arsenal that currently houses the Catalan Parliament.  The transformation was complete when the area was turned into an urban park as part of the 1888 World Fair opened by King Alfonso XIII (the same one for whom Seville’s landmark hotel is named).

Visiting the Parc de la Ciutadella

If you are in Barcelona, this charming park is worth a stroll through to recharge your batteries and watch the locals at play. It really is centrally located for tourist attractions in Barcelona near the harbour. The nearest subway stop to the main entrance at Passeig Pujades is the Arc de Triomf.

Alternatively, you can bicycle through the 72 acres of this Barcelona park. Our children were too young to ride a bike but we would have seen a lot more of the park if we had had cycles. I would consider Barcelona (and especially this park) as one of the best cities for family cycling.

There are a lot of other sights to see in the park which we did not have a chance to explore with little children – such as a winter garden, greenhouse, a castle and a waterfall. I was kicking myself that I did not pack our kick scooters for the children! This park is fairly flat and would have been perfect to explore with little kids on scooters.

When you spend sunday in the park in Barcelona, you will be sightseeing without even knowing it!