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North of Gràcia, Unesco-listed Park Güell is where architect Antoni Gaudí turned his hand to landscape gardening. It’s a strange, enchanting place where his passion for natural forms really took flight and the artificial almost seems more natural than the natural.
The park is extremely popular, receiving an estimated four million visitors a year. Access is limited to a certain number of people every half-hour, and it's wise to book ahead online (you'll also save a euro on the admission fee).
Park Güell was created in 1900, when Count Eusebi Güell bought a tree-covered hillside (then outside Barcelona) and hired Gaudí to create a miniature city of houses for the wealthy in landscaped grounds. The project was a commercial flop and was abandoned in 1914 – but not before Gaudí had created 3km of roads and walks, steps, a plaza and two gatehouses in his inimitable manner. In 1922 the city bought the estate for use as a public park.
Just inside the main entrance on Carrer d’Olot, immediately recognisable by the two Hansel and Gretel gatehouses, is the park’s Centre d’Interpretaciò, in the Pavelló de Consergeria, which is a typically curvaceous former porter’s home that hosts a display on Gaudí’s building methods and the history of the park. There are superb views from the top floor.
The steps up from the entrance, guarded by a mosaic dragon/lizard (a copy of which you can buy in many downtown souvenir shops), lead to the Sala Hipóstila (aka the Doric Temple). This is a forest of 86 stone columns, some of which lean like mighty trees bent by the weight of time, originally intended as a market. To the left curves a gallery whose twisted stonework columns and roof give the effect of a cloister beneath tree roots – a motif repeated in several places in the park. On top of the Sala Hipóstila is a broad open space whose centrepiece is the Banc de Trencadís, a tiled bench curving sinuously around its perimeter and designed by one of Gaudí’s closest colleagues, architect Josep Maria Jujol (1879–1949). With Gaudí, however, there is always more than meets the eye. This giant platform was designed as a kind of catchment area for rainwater washing down the hillside. The water is filtered through a layer of stone and sand, and it drains down through the columns to an underground cistern.
The spired house over to the right is the Casa-Museu Gaudí, where Gaudí lived for most of his last 20 years (1906–26). It contains furniture by him (including items that were once at home in La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Casa Calvet) and other memorabilia. The house was built in 1904 by Francesc Berenguer i Mestres as a prototype for the 60 or so houses that were originally planned here.
Much of the park is still free, including the wooded part, which is laced with pathways. The best views are from the cross-topped Turó del Calvari in the southwest corner (also in the free part).
One-hour guided tours in multiple languages including English take place year-round and cost €7 (plus park admission); prebook online.
The walk from metro stop Lesseps is signposted. From the Vallcarca stop, it is marginally shorter and the uphill trek is eased by escalators. Buses 24 and 92 drop you at an entrance near the top of the park.