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Granja Martí-Codolar
© Maria DiasGranja Martí-Codolar

Secret Barcelona parks and gardens

All quality over quantity, Barcelona's secret parks and gardens are simply begging for an afternoon stroll in the shade

Manuel Pérez
Written by
Manuel Pérez

Okay, we’ll admit it, Barcelona isn’t exactly the most verdant city on the planet (Vancouver or Copenhagen seem to hoover up that award annually), but don’t make the mistake of thinking there is no green space. Quite the opposite, and the best parks and gardens in Barcelona are every bit as charming as you’d assume anything in this magical city to be. There has been a drive to make Barcelona a little greener in recent times, and that can only be a good thing. Sure, the museums and restaurants will keep you indoors for much of the time, but you can’t beat a shady stroll now and then.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Sants - Montjuïc

What differentiates a French garden from an English one? Leave behind rationalizing symmetry, domesticated nature and imposed order and, just a few metres from Palauet Albéniz, the Versailles of Montjuïc, you'll find another hidden jewel, the Historical Botanical Garden. 

As in other parts of Montjuïc, a former quarry is the origin of this singular green space. Nearly tucked into the mountain, this typical English garden, one of the few examples in the city, is the height of romanticism, where nature spreads out across the landscape with reckless abandon, blocking out the sun in places. The abundance of exotic plants points to the scientific origin of the space. The seven-decades-old giant ash tree will leave you speechless. 

Want more? On the other side of the park, you’ll find a typical farmhouse where volunteers help to organize activities for the public. 

A good option in the heat of the summer, as it is always 2ºC cooler here.

  • Attractions
  • Ciutat Vella

As you turn the pages of the books by Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda, you can almost smell floral fragrances, filled as they are with plant-based metaphors. Her affection for plant life earned Rodoreda two gardens in her name. The first is near her native Sant Gervasi.

The second is practically unknown, it's one of the few examples of a hanging garden in Barcelona, and you can find it in the Institut d’Estudis Catalans. Once inside, you'll see samples of the author’s favourite plants and flowers, the protagonists of her literature: camellias, wisteria, jasmine, mimosas, water lilies… and each is accompanied by a plaque with a description.

If you can resist the garden’s floral allure, look back toward the clock above the entry gate – a reminder that time moves on beyond the borders of this tranquil Eden.

Guided tours: informació

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Sants - Montjuïc

Barcelona isn't a land of palaces. Spain’s regal and merchant elite preferred to build their opulent abodes further afield. Despite this, there are a handful of not-so-humble homes within the city proper. 

During the 1929 International Exposition, Barcelona constructed a new royal residence on Montjüic (apparently, Pedralbes wasn’t good enough). The result was Palauet Albéniz, which is surrounded by some lovely gardens that bear the name of the poet Joan Maragall. 

The gardens were originally designed by Forestier, and you can see his typical French style in the central fountain, the broderie flower beds, the voluptuous sculptures, and a few other surprises, among them the small bamboo forest on the northern slope and the view of the city from the east. 

Feel like royalty in these gardens any Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday, from 10am to 3pm.

Jardins del Palau de les Heures
  • Attractions
  • Montbau

A little more than a 15-minute walk from the Martí-Codolar gardens and very close to another green landmark, the Parc del Laberint d'Hortaanother surprise is waiting for you that looks like it's out of a Three Muskateers film, the Palau de les Heures. Enter the Mundet Campus, go up a couple of steep streets, and you're there. 

After Josep Gallart i Forgas came back with his fortune made in the Americas, he used some of it to build this imposing late-19th-century chateau-style building, which boasts three French-style terraces that face the midday sun. On every level, there's a different geometric composition, flowerbeds, paths and ponds that sweep you off to a different time and place. 

Since 1999 the gardens have been open to the public, redone in their original architectural layout, which was conceived by August Font. This is truly a piece of history tucked into the mountains for you to discover. 

Palace visits (now a university) are available on weekdays.

  • Hotels
  • B&Bs
  • Horta - Guinardó

Meanwhile, up near Collserola, your work is cut out for you to find this space. We rang the doorbell, and the gate opened onto a surprising landscape: to the right, a rationalist pavilion that is a residence and Salesian seminary, to the left a twisty early-19th-century neoclassical palace. In the centre stands the big secret: the Martí-Codolar family gardens are ripe with exotic flora, including a magnificent palm grove. 

In the centre of the oasis lies a lake that is home to turtles – the last vestiges of a time when elephants and other wild animals ran free in the area until they were moved and became the start of the collection of the Barcelona Zoo. 

Following the path among the statues of satyrs and nymphs, under the lime trees and beside the blackberry bushes, you’ll arrive at the monument commemorating the visit of the so-called Felon King, Ferdinand VII. Yes, he left his mark here as well.

Visit with advance booking only:

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • El Gòtic

You are in the city centre, in the Old Town, maybe strolling along La Rambla, and you have grown weary of the crowds for now. Do not fret, because there is a solution – a secret solution, in fact. Walk just a few paces past the Liceu and the Boqueria, and you will find a Parcs i Jardins (Parks and Gardens) sign at the entryway to the Petit Palace Opera Garden hotel (take a moment to admire the neighbouring façade by Catalan architect Puig i Cadafalch). Walk through reception to discover a rich variety of flora, including magnolias, laurels and more. 

The garden provides you with plenty of benches to rest and listen to the water bubbling from the fountains – practically the only noise around, as the garden is protected from the city bustle thanks to surrounding buildings. In the presence of such natural beauty, it is easy to recall Mercè Rodoreda again and her belief that what really matters in life are the things that don't seem important at all.

There's an entrance with a lift in C/Aroles.

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