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.
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.
The top of the Park has a terraced area from which you can see Barcelona spread out below.
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.
The park is full of stone structures and beautiful mosaic stone artwork all of which showcase Gaudi’s vivid imagination.
This type of mosaic is called ‘trencadi’s and is made up of broken tile shards, an early form of recycling!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
Most people have heard about the National Cherry Blossom Festival that is held in Washington D.C. every spring in celebration of the friendship between Japan and the United States. You can even keep track of the cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese) that burst into colour on Bloom Watch. This year the peak bloom in the US capital was April 4th. A little less well known is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Philadelphia.
The cherry blossom season in Washington D.C. is among its most beautiful
Although we were too late this year to see the Washington D.C. blooms, we did get to see the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia. Ironically, Philadelphia has been unseasonably cold this year and many of their cherry blossoms had not yet bloomed when we visited.
Japan presented the first cherry trees to Philadelphia in 1926 to commemorate 150 years of American independence. The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia then took it upon themselves to plant more than a thousand cherry trees as well.
cherry trees at Morris Arboretum
The Philadelphia festival is sponsored by Subaru who have their US headquarters in nearby Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Occurring since 1998, the festival has a series of events spread out over 2 weeks and ending in Sakura Sunday. The festival celebrates not only the cherry blossoms but also Japanese art, food, culture and music. The main event, Sakura Sunday, is held at Fairmount Park, the central park of Philadelphia, which is the largest urban park in the world at over 9000 acres.
We went to some of the child friendly events such as the Japanese drumming (Taiko). Our children were even allowed to play on the drums themselves which they did with much relish.
We also saw a demonstration of the Japanese martial art involving swords (Kenjutsu). The experts used real Samurai swords instead of the usual practice ones that are made of wood.
Our children were mesmerised by the acrobatic grace of the men demonstrating and effortless cuts made the very sharp blades of the swords. They were not allowed to practice themselves! We were encouraged to ask questions though and look closely at the swords.
One of the most beautiful aspects of cherry blossoms are the fragile and ephemeral nature of the blooms. In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms represent the fragility and beauty of life. The tradition of cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) serve as a yearly reminder to appreciate the here and now.
We thoroughly enjoyed viewing the cherry trees and partaking in a small way in Japanese culture. If you are in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., or any of these world cities that appreciate cherry blossoms next year, I would recommend that you check out the cherry trees and the festivals.
If you would like some cherry blossom action before that, check out The Cherry Blossom Murder by Fran Pickering, a fellow blogger and Japanophile who has written an entertaining murder mystery set among the sakura.