Barcelona is famous for its hustle and bustle – its packed nightclubs, narrow streets and raucous markets. After all, this is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe, crammed onto a narrow coastal plain between two rivers and encircled by thickly wooded mountains. Green space within the city is at a premium, as is a spot on the beach. But if you want to make the most of the excellent weather in Barcelona by escaping the city streets, a jaunt into the surrounding hills is a great way to do just that.
Even if you’ve been to Barcelona before, you might not realise how easy it is to walk around the city’s hills. You can hop on the public transport system which will take you into the heart of the massive Collserola park. Here there are secluded hillside enclaves and with the exception of the occasional jogger or cyclist, you’ll have a slice of Catalan greenery all to yourself. Even better, since the centre of Barcelona is at sea-level, these steep hills offer remarkable views of the city.
Tibidabo – 6 hours
Right on top of Tibidabo hill, the sparkling white church of the Sagrat Cor is a much-loved Barcelona landmark. At 512 metres, it’s the highest point in the Collserola Mountains. Tibidabo takes its name from a local legend, which states that it was from this summit that Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (in Latin ‘tibi dabo’ means ‘I will give to you’). The church itself and the adjacent theme park are usually crammed with tourists, most of whom take a funicular train directly to the top. However, if you’ve got an afternoon to spare, it makes for a much better experience to take a different approach, and truly appreciate the splendour of the surrounding Parc de Collserolla and its 8,000 hectares of woodland.
Barcelona’s suburban train system, Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) can take you from Plaça Catalunya to the far side of the Collserola hills in under half an hour. The best stop for a good walk to Tibidabo is Baixador de Vallvidrera. When you exit the station you’ll see a gently sloping park, which gives you several paths to follow into the valley behind Tibidabo. As you walk through this wooded valley, look for signposts to Torre de Collserola (given the height of this massive communications tower it’s hard to miss).
Once there you can head up to the tower’s dizzying observation area, or take a left towards Temple de Sagrat Cor and the small hilltop village that surrounds it. While the 1920s church has its charm, the main highlight is a spectacular view of the Catalan hinterland and right across Barcelona. Getting back down on foot can take a while, so if you’re pushed for time take the funicular railway, then an antique blue tram to the FGC Av. Tibidabo station. For more information on the park and more detailed routes check out the park’s website.
Parc del Guinardó and Parc Güell – 3 hours
Parc Güell has long been a fixture on Barcelona’s tourist trail and the collection of Gaudí structures at its entrance are usually mobbed. That said, if you want a good and easily accessible walk within the city the green space around Parc Güell is expansive and varied.
Once again, we’ll avoid the well-trodden route and take a different approach. Take the metro line L4 to the Alfons X stop. From here it’s only 10 minutes on foot to Parc del Guinardó, an interesting contrast to Parc Güell alongside it. To get there, exit the Metro station on Ronda del Guinardó and take a left up Carrer de Francesc Alegre. At the end of this street you’ll find the park entrance. If you’re bursting with energy you can take a short steep route directly to the top of the hill, or if not you can do a more leisurely circuit of the park.
At the top is Turó de la Rovira – a collection of Civil War era anti-aircraft defences. After Franco’s victory these buildings formed the basis of a shanty town perched on top of the hill, the work of a community of migrants from southern Spain (it was inhabited up to the 1990s). The remnants of their homes can still be seen. This area is well laid-out for visitors, with paths that make negotiating these ruins relatively easy. Head back down and onto Carrer de Muhlberg and walk through Parc de Carmel which merges with the upper reaches of Parc Güell. Here there are plenty of prominent spots with great views, and you can make your way back down to the main entrance of the park, and get the obligatory photo next to Gaudí’s salamander.
Pedralbes, Sant Pere Màrtir – 6 hours
Very few tourists make it out to this wealthy suburb of Barcelona, although its monastery is something of a draw. Yet the hill that sits behind Pedralbes, with its prominent red and white communications mast, Sant Pere Màrtir, offers one of the best walks in the city.
From Plaça Catalunya take the FGC to Reina Elisenda. Walk out of the station, onto Avinguda de Josep Vicenç Foix and then up the steep Torrent de Can Caralleu. At the end of this street you’ll find a steep and fairly rough path that will take you up to the Carretera de les Aigues. This is a well-maintained, wide footpath high above the city. With excellent views to your left follow this path up to the top of largest hill. Here you’ll find Civil War ruins, and a few benches on which you can take in the Catalan hills (on a clear day you can see the serrated outline of Montserrat).
As you’re still on the same path, follow this round to the far side of the hill, in a secluded and forested valley with very few clues to the metropolis you’ve just left behind. Most of the woodland round here is fairly easy to get through, so it’s a great place to find a quiet corner to relax. The best way to get back down to the city (many of the hillside roads in this area don’t have pavements) is to find the path that you climbed up to get on to Carretera de les Aigues and take the train back into the city centre from Reina Elisenda.
Montjuïc – 3 hours
Full of history, wandering around Montjuïc is a must for any visitor to Barcelona. This hill occupies a strategic seaside location and although it’s only 184 metres high, it offers an excellent panorama of the city.
Take the L3 metro to Parallel, where a single funicular train carriage whisks you half-way up to the Avinguda de Miramar, the main route used by tourist buses. From here it’s a fairly steep 20-minute walk to the Castell de Montjuïc, the highest point on the hill. This fortress dates from the 17th century and entrance is free. Its well preserved ramparts are usually busy with tourists eager to take in the fantastic views from its central structure.
After seeing them for yourself, walk to the far side of the castle, where there’s a little-known woodland chiringuito called the Caseta de Migdia. From here you can either retrace your steps or walk past the Olympic stadia and then on to the splendid domed structure of the Palau Nacional. From here you’ll come to Plaça Espanya where you can hop back on the metro home.
Parc de Sant Mateu – 7 hours
This final route isn’t technically in Barcelona – you’ll need to travel around 40 minutes on the metro to Santa Coloma de Gramenet by taking the L1 to La Sagrera and then take the L9 to Singuerlin. Although you haven’t left the metro system, this route will take you about as far away from what most people see of the city as possible. Yet this obscure Barcelona suburb conceals one of the best walks in town.
From Singuerlin metro station make your way along Avinguda de Catalunya and Avinguda de la Primavera to the end of Carrer de Garcilaso de la Vega. Here you’ll find a carpark with a footpath leading off to the left. This takes you up a steep track that joins a gravel road, above Santa Coloma. Follow this path away from the centre of Barcelona and you’ll find yourself at a small 17th-century shrine, Ermita de Sant Climent, with a line of cypress trees leading up to it.
After taking in the views of the north of Barcelona, double back on the gravel path until it forks up an adjacent hill. By following this road to the top of the hill you’ll find puig Castellar (303 metres). This hill is crowned with Poblat Iberic, an Iron Age village occupied from the sixth century BC until the early second century BC. Although seldom mentioned in the guide books this currently unstaffed archaeological site offers a remarkably well-preserved hilltop village, with streets and individual houses clearly visible. Some buildings have been reconstructed and there are several useful information plaques explaining just how sophisticated the settlement was, and how it formed part of a network of hilltop settlements in the vicinity of what is now Barcelona. There’s a fantastic view across Barcelona and the surrounding countryside.