Barcelona has a lot going on and there’s much to see, but if you’re looking for a change from the busy city take a stroll through Parc de la Ciutadella. At just over 70 acres, this spacious oasis on the edge of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old Town), offers a quiet place to relax and enjoy a lazy afternoon hanging out with the locals.
The park was created on the grounds where the city’s 18th-century military citadel once stood, hence the name, which means ‘Citadel Park’, and was designed by architect Josep Fontseré for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. If you start your walk from the far end of Passeig de Lluís Companys, you’ll see that Paris isn’t the only city with an Arc de Triomphe. Barcelona’s arch – the Arc de Triomf – is much smaller and younger than its more famous French namesake. This classically designed arch, made of red brick, was built at the entrance to the exhibition grounds. From here, follow the promenade past the Ministry of Justice and into the park where you’ll see the Castell dels Tres Dragons (Castle of the Three Dragons). Built as a restaurant for the Exhibition, this Modernista ‘castle’ serves now as the Nature Laboratory, part of the Natural History Museum of Barcelona. Other buildings within Parc de la Ciutadella include the grand neoclassical Martorell Museum (also part of the Natural History Museum complex), the 19th-century Hivernacle, or greenhouse of iron and glass, and the Umbracle, a ‘shade house’ filled with lush plants and trees. As you wander though the park you’ll come across statues and fun artwork, like the giant map of Barcelona painted near the Arc de Triomf, the metal lizards in front of the Castle of the Three Dragons, and the stone mammoth on the far side of the park near the Barcelona Zoo.
Venture down the pathways winding deeper into the park where you’ll find a tranquil lake, with boats available for rent if you’d care to row out and drift on the water. And, nearby, you’ll see la cascada monumental, the spectacular cascading waterfall and fountains adorned with magnificent statues. Of note are the glittering gold of Aurora and her chariot (La Quadriga de l’Aurora), and just above the waterfall, Venus rises from a shell (Naixement de Venus). It’s said that a young Antoni Gaudí assisted with the design of some of the ornamental features of the waterfall. Climb the stairs to the pavilion for a look out over this beautiful and dramatic site.
Parc de la Ciutadella is located east of Barcelona’s Old Town on the edge of the La Ribera neighborhood.