Barcelona is famed for being one of the most liveable cities in Europe. The leafy streets and boulevards are perfect for exploring on foot, you can zoom around the designated cycle lanes and the sun-kissed beaches are all just short stroll away from the city centre. And of course, the blissful year-round sunshine means you can enjoy it all no matter what season it is. That’s probably why Barcelonians spend most of their time outside, either soaking up some rays on a sunny cafe terrace or taking a siesta under the shade of a palm tree.
But whilst many visitors to Barcelona head straight to the beach, I prefer to seek peace and tranquility in one of the city’s many idyllic parks.
Image credit: David Berkowitz
These verdant spaces are alive with the sweet aromas of sunbaked pine trees, blooming rose bushes and the twitter of tropical birds that swoop from tree to tree. I can happily spend a whole day just sitting on a bench with a good book, enjoying lazy vibes. One of my absolute favourite parks is Parc de la Ciutadella. It opened to the public in 1877 and is the largest and most impressive of the central parks in Barcelona. Sprawling out for 70 glorious acres, it is a fairy tale land of rowing boat lakes, grassy knolls, tropical greenhouses and magical little nooks of relaxation.
Image credit: David Berkowitz
It’s relaxed and serene, with entertainment provided by groups of musicians, dancers, bubble-blowers and circus performers who gather here to hone their craft in the shade of the giant trees. There’s also a bandstand where the city organises free music events — everything from pop to classical — and during the summer months the park is regularly taken over by food festivals and various cultural celebrations. I remember the first time I found it and feeling like I’d discovered an entire secret universe. It was like stepping through the wardrobe and landing in Narnia.
Located near the park’s main entrance is the Castell dels Tres Dragons (Castle of the Three Dragons), an impressive building designed by the famous Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner for the World’s Fair of 1888. With its ornate steal elements and stonework, colourful Moorish-styled ceramics, it’s one of the earliest and most important examples Modernist Architecture, which was later developed and delivered to the world in all its glory by Barcelona’s most famous son, Antoni Gaudi.
My favourite attraction in the park, however, has to be the ‘Font de la Cascada’ waterfall and fountain feature, which was designed by Josep Fontserè and his then young apprentice Antoni Gaudi. Its elegant stonework and gilded horse and carriage give it a regal air of importance. And although no one knows for sure whether or not Gaudi had any influence over the final design, the dragons that adorn the basin of the main fountain are reminiscent of features found in much of his later work.
It’s fascinating to stand there as the jets of water shoot up into the sky like diamonds, the spray cooling your skin, and imagine a young Gaudi learning to design, before he knew that he would later be considered a national treasure and one of the greatest architects of all time.
If you hear the sounds of roars and screeches of wild animals, don’t panic. Parc de la Ciutadella is also home to Barcelona’s zoo, where you can get up close and personal with beautiful iguanas, dwarf crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, gorillas, wolves, hippos, lions, bears and even Sumatran tigers!