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It's almost impossible to explore Barcelona and fail to notice the north west side of the city is overlooked by the dominating rock of Mount Tibidabo elevated some 1695 feet (around 517 metres) above the city, the highest peak in the Serra de Collserola, separating Barcelona from the north plains (Les Planes). Mount Tibidabo, also known as Magic Mountain is home to the beautiful Temple de Sagrat Cor and Parc d'Atraccions del Tibidabo, the two most popular attractions but there's several other points of interest as well including Fabra Observatory and Museu dels Autòmats (although these won't be included in my review as I never visited either of them). A trip to the summit will reward visitors with the most stunning views of the city to the Mediterranean Sea but equally as impressive as the views atop Tibidabo is the journey to it's peak. I opted to ride the blue tram (Tramvia Blau) to the half way point and then the funicular railway to the summit and entrance to the amusement park. It's a few Euros more expensive than the aptly named "Tibibus" that runs directly from the Placa Catalunya to Tibidabo but it's a far more interesting journey that's worth the extra money.
~~~~ The Journey To Tibidabo ~~~~
To reach the tram requires a short train ride from the Placa Catalunya, the transportation hub of Barcelona easily recognisable thanks to it's circular decorated pavement designed by the Catalonian modernism artist Joan Miro, several fountains and monuments. Take the L7 FGC train from the plaza to Avinguda de Tibidabo costing around a couple of euros for a return journey, unless you have previously purchased a travel card.
The first leg of the journey up the mountain is to board the Tramvia Blau, a charming and authentic wooden tram that's been running visitors to Tibidabo since 1901. The journey from Avinguda de Tibidabo to the half way point of Plaça del Doctor Andreu only lasts around ten minutes as it traverses through the leafy suburbs, climbing and clanking at a snails pace, providing plenty of photo opportunities courtesy of the pretty views and also a chance to scoff at the grander dwellings of the wealthy Barcelonans, that's if you manage to board a tram that hasn't packed in the tourists like sardines! A return trip costs around four Euros which you hand over to an old style conductor.
The Plaça del Doctor Andreu is a popular destination with several shops, restaurants and bars and makes a nice refreshment stop for those travelling to or from Tibidabo and also provides your first real taster of the stunning views you will witness once at the summit. It's also a nice little respite from the hoards of tourists who que to board the funicular during peak season.
The final part of the journey is to board the funicular here at the Placa del Doctor Andreu (named after the founder of the amusement park) where you disembark the tram and transfer to the funicular. The funicular, a small train that cuts sharply and at times steeply through the mountain and forests, providing yet more scenic views. Again, it's a pleasurable but short ride, costing around six Euros for a return ticket.
During peak season both services run frequently, every fifteen minutes or so but the carriages fill up quickly and it's worth mentioning here that even during late September when I visited the routes were still very popular and leaving it too long towards the end of the day will culminate in a very long wait to return back down the mountain!
~~~~ Tibidabo Amusement Park ~~~~
It's claimed that the Parc d'Atraccions del Tibidabo is one of the biggest amusement parks in Europe and is the oldest amusement park in Barcelona. I have no doubt that the park is the fundamental reason why most tourists, particularly those with young children visit Tibidabo. It's a curious little park not just for it's location perched at the summit of Tibidabo but also because of it's eclectic mix of antique rides. In general as the whole park harps back to a bygone era of vintage funfairs, changing little since it was built back in 1889.
The park has a reasonable mix and balance of rides (around 30 or so in total) suitable for all ages, some a little more mainstream than others like the popular Montana Rusa roller coaster and L'Alaska mini flume ride as well as other attractions like dodgems, go-karts, magic mirrors and plenty of rides to be appreciated by smaller children like the flying balloons and merry go rounds and other attractions such as regular puppet shows and a cute little steam train to tour the park.
D'Atraccions del Tibidabo makes for a nice day out, if nothing else but to keep the children amused although adults may not be so impressed with entry price. Facilities are adequate, a couple of eateries and picnic areas with vantage points but as expected prices are higher than you should really pay. The park has an antiquated aura and charm only enhanced by the majority of authentic attractions. Youngsters will definitely appreciate the attractions more than teenagers due to it's distinct lack of white knuckle rides, so thrill seekers will almost certainly be disappointed.
The park oozes character but as magical and charming as it is though I should imagine most adults, like myself will fight to alleviate impending boredom as the novelty of this quaint little park begins to wear off. For me, the twenty five or so Euros for an adult ticket (with concessions for OAP's and the disabled) and children's entry slightly cheaper at nine Euros (free admission for children under 90cm) was expensive for what you actually get as I had little interest in the majority of the rides. To amble the park with children dedicate a good day, otherwise three to four hours is sufficient in my opinion.
If you don't want to pay full entry for the amusement park but would like to to take advantage of some rides then the Skywalk, located at the top level at Tibidabo is the best option. Several rides are available including the popular and iconic Pan-O-Ramic (Ferris Wheel) and an early attempt of a flight simulator courtesy of Tibi-Air, the little suspended red aeroplanes that spin around. Rides at the Skywalk are pay as you go or you can opt for a multi ticket to cover all the rides on the Skywalk, which i think is a much better option if your visiting without little ones.
~~~~ Temple de Sagrat Cor ~~~~
With the exception of the spectacular views, the Temple de Sagrat Cor is the only other reason I wanted to visit Tibidabo. You don't need an interest in architecture or religion to appreciate the building although it probably helps. The Church of the sacred heart sits majestically at the top of the Mount Tibidabo and can be clearly seen from vantage points across the city, particularly striking at night when fully lit providing the exterior with an eery, chilling appearance. During the day however, the church is more inviting and a closer inspection doesn't disappoint as the building is visually stunning and interesting, inside and out.
Designed by Enric Sagnier, the church is a relatively new addition to Tibidabo with construction only starting in 1901 with the build spanning sixty years before completion in 1961. A large lower crypt carved into the mountain with a surprisingly (smaller than I expected) church perched above topped with a bronze statue of Christ. A mish mash of architectural influences that include modern, medieval and neo classical with much if the emphasis on neo Gothic. The temple has an incredibly busy facade with endless vertical columns topped with fussy and intricate brick detailing, numerous, ornate turrets and spires and stone carvings. It's a "style" that shouldn't work. The collaboration of so many design influences should be a disaster and yet the facade is whimsical and intriguing although it lacks the enchantment of Gaudi's creations.
Decor inside the crypt mirrors the cluttered exterior but is stunning none the less and provides a real "wow factor" as you enter. Rich colours, ornate paintings and stone carvings, not an inch of stone has been left undecorated and it's all topped with a beautiful central dome but above all considering the density of the building, inside is actually very bright. The mass of colour on the walls is incredibly uplifting, not at all somber or moody as I was expecting. I'm not going to go fully into the details of every nook and cranny as there are too many Biblical scenes and references to mention including paintings, carvings, stained glass windows and more but also because for anyone who wants to visit, it's a lovely surprise to enter such a vibrant and awe inspiring place of worship. Upon entry you can take a free pamphlet that details the major aspects of the decoration in greater depth allowing you to pin point places of interest and revert back to the pamphlet as reference. A much better way to gain appreciation of the art works that adorn the walls and ceilings.
You are permitted to ride a lift to the top to a viewing platform by the statue of Christ but whilst entry to the church is free, you are charged a couple of Euros to reach the top and nice as it is to view you don't really get to see an awful lot more than what you did at ground level so I don't think your really missing anything if decide to stay at the bottom.
~~~~ Torre De Collserola ~~~~
Not strictly at the summit of Tibidabo, the Torre De Collserola, built in 1991 sits in stark contrast to the beautiful Temple de Sagrat Cor for all the wrong reasons. The telecommunication tower, immediately south west of Tibidabo is a blight in the beautiful landscape, it's ugly structure standing 288 metres high but it does make up for it's pitiful appearance by doubling as an observation tower and restaurant. It's easy to access the tower, a short walk from the funicular along the Cami de Vallvidrera al Tibidabo where a trip to the 360 degree glass observation deck will lighten the wallet by around five Euros but the tower provides undeniably spectacular panoramic views that are worth every penny. Picture perfect views across Barcelona with clear sights of the Tibidabo temple, Montjuic, the Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Staduim and beyond.
~~~~ Other Information ~~~~
My first visit to Barcelona was in late September where temperatures were still hot but bearable with only a couple of muggy evenings. It's worth mentioning here that a five day festival called the La Merce runs from around the 22nd - 25th September with the main highlight on the 24th. Barcelona, particularly Las Ramblas becomes very busy as thousands of people visit the city and take to the streets and accommodation is at a premium so you'd do well to confirm reservations well in advance. I spent ten days in the city staying at the centrally located Hotel Aneto, a two minute walk from Las Ramblas and five from the Placa Catalunya. The room was basic but very clean with an en-suite and basic amenities and the staff were accommodating and friendly. I don't recall the exact price I paid for the room but it was incredibly competitive considering it's location.
~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~
Barcelona is a vibrant and cultured city with a very laid back ambiance. A week could easily incorporate a trip to Tibidabo without encroaching too much on other attractions. Allow a full day if you want to explore all the attractions on the mountain otherwise a four to five hours (including travel) should be sufficient. Tibidabo is a stunning area that allows you to get a real birds eye view of the city and it's surrounding mountains and rugged, hilly landscapes and it's definitely worth the trip although if I were to visit again I would probably give the amusement park a miss. The journey to the mountain can feel a little claustraphobic with both the Tramvia Blau and funicular travelling over maximum capacity and those who suffer vertigo should definitely give the mountain a wide berth. For everyone else the journey there and the mountain itself is perfectly suited to families, especially those travelling with small children in buggys and prams and also the disabled, which is excellent as everyone should have the chance to view this beautiful area of Barcelona.