What do you get when you cross Alice in Wonderland with a Barcelona park? Antoni Gaudí’s psychedelic dreamland, Park Güell. Less walk in the park and more trip down the rabbit hole, visiting Park Güell has convinced many people that ‘God’s architect’ divined his inspiration from the mind-expanding properties of certain exotic fungi.
Whether that’s true or not, visiting Park Güell is enchanting, relaxing, and one of Barcelona’s essential cultural experiences. Unbound by the structural limitations of one single building, Gaudí’s artistic vision was set loose upon the side of Carmel Hill in all of its otherworldly glory, culminating in an urban green space that is quite unlike anything else.
The park provides an open-air walking tour inside the mind of a certified creative genius, which is an awesome experience, especially when it’s framed by spectacular rooftop views over the sun-kissed city he adored and very much defined.
So if you’re planning a trip to the Catalan capital, or you’re there already and squinting at this as the sun glares off your screen in the rabble of La Rambla, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Park Güell.
Park Güell History
Named after its patron, Eusebi Güell, Park Güell was built between 1900 and 1914 in the quiet foothills of the Serra de Collserola mountains. It was originally intended to be an exclusive community for Barcelona’s affluent citizens, sort of a Hollywood Hills-esque escape from the smoggy bustle below, with luxurious mod cons like running water and breathable air.
So Güell hired architectural psychonaut, personal friend, and pioneer of Catalan Modernisme, Antoni Gaudí to design the private residential park. Interpreting “private residential park”, to mean “kaleidoscopic garden of earthly delights – go nuts!”, Gaudí set to work on designing a city park inspired by nature and heaven, and the results were fittingly divine.
The project never gained very much traction though, with interest levels in the now-UNESCO World Heritage site hovering somewhere around whatever Catalan for “meh!” is. Of the 60 luxury villas that were planned, only two homes were ever built. Barcelona’s wealthy were apparently not ready for Gaudí – a penny for the thoughts of their grandkids now!
After consulting his trusty beard (and Güell), Gaudí decided to buy and move into one of the houses with his father in 1906, and they lived there for 20 years until the architect’s unfortunate death after a tram accident in 1926. Park Güell was opened as a public park later that year, and it’s left everyone who visits awe-struck since.
Visiting Park Güell
How to Get There
Barcelona offers lots of transport options, so there are several ways to get to Park Güell. Taking the metro is possible, and there is a free shuttle bus to the gates of the park that departs from Alfons X metro station. The shuttle bus takes approximately 15 minutes.
Regular buses will also take you within walking distance of the park, with lines 24 – 31 – 32 – H6 – 92 all operating within the vicinity. It is a steep walk up the hill though, so be prepared for some cardio if you go for this option!
By far the most convenient way to get to Park Güell is the Barcelona Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Stopping at all the city’s major attractions, this bus will take you directly to the gates of the park, and then on to wherever it is you plan on going after, while providing a breezy open-top road trip around the city along the way.
Park Güell Opening Times
The park is open all year round, but the opening and closing times vary slightly throughout the year. Here is a quick overview of the opening and closing times for 2020:
From 15/02/2020 to 28/03/2020: 08:30 to 18:00
From 29/03/2020 to 26/04/2020: 08:00 to 19:30
From 27/04/2020 to 23/08/2020: 07:30 to 20:30
From 24/08/2020 to 24/10/2020: 08:00 to 19:30
From 25/10/2020 to 31/12/2020: 08:30 to 17:30
Getting into Park Güell
First things first: Park Güell is big – 19 hectares big. It’s split into two zones, the unrestricted public area – comprising about 90% of the space, which is free to enter and amble around – and the monumental zone, where the vast majority of Gaudí’s fairy-tale handiwork is to be found.
The monumental zone is relatively cheap for a must-see Barcelona attraction and it’s definitely worth visiting. However, the ticket queues to get in tend to stretch as far as Madrid, and Barcelona is balmy at the best of times, so planning ahead is key.
Be smart and book your Park Güell tickets in advance to avoid slow-cooking for hours in the daytime scorch, while other smug-looking culture nerds waltz right by you, laughing with lighthearted merriment, and somehow summoning their own private air conditioning. Be that smug nerd – book ahead!
Tickets are time-slotted, so it’s best to arrive a few minutes early when visiting Park Guell. Once inside, you’re free to stay as long as you like. If you want to know even more about the history as you explore, you can choose a skip-the-line ticket with a guided tour, and let an expert show you around for some of that juicy insider knowledge. Either way, you can expect to be spoiled for all future parks. Be warned!
Tip – This is an equal-opportunities jaw-dropper, ideal for families, couples, groups of friends, and solo wanderers, but it’s not exactly buggy-friendly in some parts, and high heels are probably not a great idea either. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring your own water and snacks.
Park Güell Highlights
The Porter’s Lodge
The first installment of enchanting architecture you’ll encounter in the
real eye-candy zone monumental zone arrives in the form of two impossibly charming gate lodges. They appear to be constructed entirely out of gingerbread – complete with frosted rooftops and candy-cane spires. Classic Gaudí. The undulating curved lines are an ode to nature and a motif that features prominently throughout the park. Do not attempt to eat the houses. You will be removed.
The gate lodges are admittedly more impressive from the outside, as they now function as an information centre and a gift shop. You can take a look inside, but you will have to queue up, and you didn’t really come halfway up Carmel Hill to be cooped up indoors now did you? Onwards!
The Dragon Stairway
It’ll definitely have caught your eye on the way in, as it’s kind of hard to miss: the Dragon Stairway is exactly what you’d expect a stairway into wonderland to look like. Two plunging white staircases with a bombastic scaly balustrade part like waves around small pockets of huddled shrubbery, flower beds, and trickling dragon fountains. Curiouser and curiouser!
Halfway up the steps, on the first landing, there’s a small dragon fountain proudly poking out from the yellow and red emblem of Catalonia. He’s pretty cute, but it’s his big brother a few steps up that has grown into a symbol of Barcelona, and hence tends to attract all the attention. He goes by the name of…
El Drac! – the Park Güell Lizard
He might sound like the heavily moustachioed leader of a scary biker gang, but El Drac is, in fact, a flamboyant lizard and the friendly guardian of Park Güell. Meaning ‘the dragon’ in Catalan, El Drac’s fancy scales are fashioned out of broken shards of mosaic tiles, a style known as trencadís, which Gaudí helped to pioneer.
Gaudí’s asymmetrical arrangement of different shapes, sizes, and colours of the tiles is perhaps another nod to nature’s imperfect perfection, and you’ll see plenty of trencadís while visiting Park Güell. What’s really cool? Gaudí used discarded tiles from a local factory instead of buying new ones for his work. He really did put nature first.
Arguably the most famous part of the park, El Drac singlehandedly keeps several dedicated Instagram servers overheating on a daily basis. At peak times, you might have to wait for the planets to align before you can snap a photobomb-free selfie. But every seasoned selfie-hunter knows that saintly patience and simmering misanthropy are all part of the fun.
The Hypostyle Room
Hop to the top of the Dragon Stairway and you’re in Ancient Greece. Kind of. A big fan of Classical architecture, Gaudí designed the would-be marketplace of Park Güell with a colossal open hall supported by 86 Doric Order-style columns, called it the Hypostyle Room, and presumably enacted a strict toga-only dress code.
The ceiling of the Hypostyle Room is a pristine wave of concave domes decorated with beautiful – yep, you guessed it – mosaics. Also interesting to note are the outer columns which are slanted as opposed to standing straight, contradicting the conventions of Classical form in favour of reflecting the fluidity of nature. This also helped to lend some additional support to the structure.
Speaking of the fluidity of nature and engineering trickery, the Doric columns were also designed as part of an ingenious water-drainage system. The system collected rainwater from the roof of the Hypostyle Room, filtered it through porous precast concrete, then channelled it down through hollows in each column and into a large reservoir. This ensured structural integrity, provided filtered water for the community, and irrigation for the park. Talk about spotting a gap in the market!
Cool, but was any potential overspill from the underground cisterns designed to shoot dramatically out of the mouth of El Drac during heavy rainfall, you ask?
Yes. Yes it was.
Plaça de la Natura
The Classical theme continues above the Hypostyle Room with an enormous open forum reminiscent of an Agora (central public space) of Ancient Greece. This was originally dubbed the Greek Theater but has since been renamed Plaça de la Natura, or Nature Square. It doesn’t take long to figure out what inspired the name change. Remember those sunkissed rooftop views we talked about?
On a clear day, you’ve got swaying green palm groves on one side of the plaza, and on the other, a panoramic cityscape stretching languidly out to where the azure sky and the Mediterranean meet and melt into a fuzzy blue horizon line – all framed by a battle royale of fencing selfie-sticks! This is one of those moments everyone wants to capture. So wait for an opening in the crowd, then pounce!
While not striking your most windswept and ‘grammable poses with the coast of Catalonia, you might notice that the entire area of Plaça de la Natura is unpaved. As you are standing above the Hypostyle Room, the ground you’re walking on is designed to be porous to filter surface water, remember?
However, you might not notice this at all. Instead, your eye might be drawn to the conspicuously sidewinding rainbow bench that encircles the square like an enormous snake…
The Serpentine Bench
At this point in the adventure, with wanderlust levels and your ability to appreciate intricate mosaics plateauing off just a teeny bit, it’s time to chill, rest your weary bones, and take a break from all those mosaics. And there’s no better way to put mosaics to the back of your mind than checking out a gigantic snake bench, right?
Wrong! Every inch of the spectacular Serpentine Bench is emblazoned with exquisite fragments of technicolour tiles, making it one of Park Güell’s most iconic spots, and arguably Gaudí’s trencadís masterpiece. Just as awesome to look at as it is to sit down on, it’s usually quite busy, but the sheer scale of it means you never have to wait too long to find a place to sit and inspect the artistic majesty.
It’s a good idea to bring your own food and bottled water while visiting Park Güell, and the Serpentine Bench makes for the perfect rest area where you can sit with a picnic, gaze out over the city, soak up some rays, and be at peace with nature. Or, taste the sweet venom of revenge, and deliberately photobomb other people’s perfect moment. Hey, they don’t call it the Serpentine Bench for nothing. Sssssss!
Walk this way! Park Güell’s Viaducts and Passages
The idea of a shared space was central to Park Güell’s foundation. However, nestled on the side of a mountain as it was, it presented Gaudí with the unique challenge of designing the space so that it felt like a community, rather than a series of disconnected villas in the hills. Mountains, after all, are infamously difficult to move.
Unique challenges were Gaudí’s idea of fun though, and so he designed a winding web of walkways, bridges and viaducts to connect the higher and lower reaches of the park. He was never one to build a simple walkway where a beautiful one would do, so needless to say, these are some of the coolest parts of Park Güell. Picture gnarled, arching tree-like columns that look like they were forged by woodland elf-folk aeons ago, and you’re pretty close.
The three viaducts are called Pont de Baix, Pont del Mig, and Pont de Dalt, and each one is an engineering marvel. As is the hypnotic walkway known as The Laundry Room Portico, whose slanting wavy columns are among the most photographed parts of the park. These areas also can provide some much-needed shade from the sweltering heat.
The Austria Gardens
Given the zany, unconventional nature of Park Güell, perhaps the strangest part of the park is ironically its most normal. The Austria Gardens sit on the site where many of the community’s houses were intended to be built. After it was opened as a public park, this land was instead used as a plant nursery, and in 1977 many trees and plants were donated by Austria, hence the name.
The foreign flora of the Austria Gardens makes the area stand in stark contrast to the rest of the park, with northern conifers and evergreens looking decidedly non-tropical in the midst of all those sun-washed palms. Although the Austria Gardens came into being long after Gaudí’s passing, the master of quirky landscaping probably would’ve appreciated the weirdness of its conspicuous normality!
The Public Park
After you’ve basked in the glory of Gaudí’s sublime designs, take some time to explore some of the public areas of Park Güell. While perhaps slightly less architecturally stunning than the treasures of the monumental zone, the park’s free section still has plenty of charm, masterful landscaping, and beautiful nature to enjoy. It’s also less crowded and thus makes for the perfect way to unwind after all that busy sightseeing and photobombing.
What to Add to Your Barcelona Itinerary
Park Güell is definitely one of Barcelona’s essential cultural attractions. But there is so much more to do and see in the city. If the park piqued your interest in the fantastical architecture of Antoni Gaudí, you absolutely cannot leave the city without seeing his pièce de résistance, the mind-blowing Sagrada Familia.
Widely considered Gaudí’s masterpiece, construction on this huge basilica began in 1882 and is scheduled to finish in 2026, one hundred years after his death. Every square foot of this towering temple is decorated with intricate spiritual and naturalistic art. It is the abiding symbol of Barcelona and with very good reason. Best. Church. Ever!
For something slightly less bombastic, but equally quirky and quintessentially Gaudí, stop by some of his imaginative city residences, like Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), or the first house he ever designed, Casa Vicens. Each one of these incredible dwellings is unique, but each also displays Gaudí’s limitless imagination and playful creativity.
If you’re all Gaudí’d out, there’s plenty of other magical activities and attractions around Barcelona to keep you double-taking, from amazing art museums and galleries to world-class aquariums and zoos, cable-car rides high over the city, the home of one of the world’s best football teams, tours to the jaw-dropping natural splendour of Montserrat, flamenco shows, and plenty of pretty districts to wander around, chill on a terrace with tapas and a cold drink. Salutacions!