Barcelona’s marvel Parc Güell is one of the most over-loved cultural spaces on the planet. It could do with a million less visitors per year. Get there pronto first thing in the morning to minimise your crowd crushing experience. If you haven’t bought your ticket in advance, you can expect to wait in line for two hours to buy one to enter the Monumental Zone containing Antoni Gaudi’s brilliant, riotous, inspiring mosaics. A hundred years after the park’s completion, it’s more popular than ever.
I’d explored the large free sections of the park several days earlier on a flawlessly sunny day. The queue for the monuments space was so long I decided to return in crappy wintry weather. I wait two hours anyway. Should have booked online. My Catalan friend Ana is unimpressed by the wait, and that she has to pay even though she lives not far from here (residents who live very close get free passes). She goes home, leaving me sandwiched between two couples who should be getting a room elsewhere.
Parc Güell, located on a mountainous 18-hectare site and overlooking the city, was designed by visionary architect Gaudí as a gated community for 60 houses and to be used by hundreds of people. Vegetation is entirely Mediterranean and wonderfully varied. The park took 14 years (1900-1914) to build. Parc Güell is the only large-scale urban project designed by Gaudi. While its commercial purpose was a failure, changing its primary goal became a windfall. It’s now a UNESCO protected site, with over 9 million visitors annually.
Only 2.4% of visitors are Barcelona citizens, a fact which amazes me. The remaining are: Catalan tourists (4.3%), Spanish tourists (7.1%), and the rest of us (86.2%).
Most of the site is a public park. Dog walking is permitted in one section. Only 7.9% comprises the monument space. Pedlars and performance artists pester tourists. They disappear into the trees in a flash when police approach. It’s a cat and mouse game which the police periodically win. Surrounding residents got pretty fed up with their quality of life being degraded by the volume of visitors. Two years ago the Barcelona City Council voted to regulate access. No more than 800 visitors per hour are permitted entry to the Monumental Zone. They enter in time-lapsed increments. More lining up. Tourists get tetchy and I feel sorry for park staff trying to be diplomatic about restraining people from entering before their allotted hour. I ponder the question: Do queues deter visitors?
Seeing Gaudi’s work up close is something I’ve looked forward to for 20 years, so I suck up the wait and the rain and the lines and finally walk into the zone with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old let loose in a candy store. It’s more surreal, dazzling, colourful, quirky and challenging to my senses than I could have ever imagined. Gaudi took his inspiration from the dramatic shapes and colours of nature. Where other architects would draw a straight line, he would draw a sweeping curve. The more I explore his work in Barcelona, the more I think his brilliant brain was wired differently. Parc Güell is where Gaudí displayed the vast repertoire of his artistic talents woven with spatial solutions.
At the bottom of the zone opposite the Casa del Guarda are public toilets (they’re clean) and a cafe where you can buy cold drinks, light meals, and hot chocolate which costs me 3.8 euros. Despite the crush of people everywhere else the cafe is oddly empty – a peaceful place to put my throbbing feet up on a chair, and enjoy the rich, dark, aromatic drink that the Spanish do unbeatably well.
Travel Tips for Parc Güell
- It’s much loved and crowded so expect nothing less
- Buy a ticket in advance or be prepared to wait for up to two hours in a very long queue, then wait some more to be admitted to the zone
- Opening hours: 8.30am-6pm in winter and open til 9pm in summer
- It’s a steep walk up to the site, or you can take escalators for part of the way
- Bring a bottle of water. There’s a lot of walking to be done
- On a hot sunny day, it’s very hot. Wear a hat
- Take the Metro green line, get off at Lesseps Station, then start walking uphill
- Buses H6, 24, 32 and 96 stop on Travessera de Dalt, within a few minutes walk to the escalators
- People with reduced mobility may have difficulty getting around within the Monumental Zone with flights of steps and uneven paths
- More info go to Parc Güell