Tibidabo amusement park – nostalgic family fun
For a gentle rush there is nothing to beat Tibidabo, Barcelona’s iconic mountain, amusement park and family playground. While weekend visitors from around the globe flock to Barcelona city centre to see Gaudi’s visionary masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, people with small children head for a cooler mountainside location north-west of the city. It has a clutch of attractions including the oldest amusement park in Barcelona. But if iconic churches are your thing, Tibidabo also boasts a stunner, with a surprising ariel view…
Tibidabo: A nostalgic amusement park
We are high above the clouds. In a plane. A bright red replica of the plane that made the first ever flight between Barcelona to Madrid. It has narrow seats that weren’t made for people who eat popcorn. I can barely fit into it. Attached to a crane arm, this curiosity has been flying above Barcelona since 1928. It could be called the world’s first ever flight simulator and it doesn’t actually go anywhere at all; certainly not to Madrid. It spins around and around a delightful theme park attraction. Mid February, when we visit, the main gates of Barcelona’s oldest theme park, Parc d’atracciones del Tibidabo are closed. The coaster rides that blast through the trees and around the mountainside in summer are silent and deserted now. But outside the gates of theme park, an area known as the Sky Walk has a handful of the amusement park’s original rides, some of them dating back to the turn of the last century. There are hardly any queues and the rides, payable individually, are only around two Euros each.
The thrill is in the view
Tibidabo Parc d’atracciones seems to hang over the city and the views from Placa Dr Andreu are amongst the best in Barcelona. (In my opinion they rival the vista from the more famous Park Guell.) On a clear day you can even see Monserrat. Views are also reputed to be good from Sir Norman Foster’s iconic Collserola communications Tower, further down the mountainside. We dizzily gaze across the haze of the city to the Mediterranean. Above us, the Temple of Sagrat Cor blesses the rides that are still open. In fact it blesses the whole city from its elevated position. We climb into a bucket ride (attached to yet another crane) and find out that if you get your position right, it looks like Jesus is riding in the bucket alongside you. In fact, this bronze sculpture of the Sacred Heart stands 575 metres above the city.
The kids find Tibidabo as charming as we do. At 13, Matthew still wants to ride in teacups, and Cameron would go on the toddler rodeo if there wasn’t a height restriction. They nickname the plane on a crane the ‘scare-o-plane’ (ironically) and the Talaia crane ride the ‘bucket of death’ (not so ironically – this is a seriously stomach churning ride, whether or not the Son of God is holding your heart in his outstretched hand.)
The highest mountain and the perfect church
At 512 metres tall, Tibidabo is one of two mountains in Barcelona and forms part of the Serra de Collserola range. The other is Montjuic, home of the 1992 Summer Olympics. Tibidabo has a bigger legacy than the Olympics; it is believed to be the place where the Devil offered Jesus the world during his forty days and nights in the desert. Designed by Enric Sagnier, its temple Sagrat Cor (Templo del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús) took 60 years to construct and unlike Gaudi’s church it is actually finished. It doesn’t have the same shock effect as Gaudi’s flamboyant creation; it’s a classic looking basilica, more akin to the Sacra Coeur in Paris. But with the statue of the Sacred Heart perched on top, arms outstretched, it’s so picture perfect that it almost looks unreal. (If you can’t afford to go to Rio then this Jesus is probably the closest thing to Christ the Redeemer that you are ever going to see.) And when you drive around the ring road on your way to and from the city airport, it’s this building that you notice, magnificent in the sun or the cloud. Its location keeps it relatively unencumbered from coach trips and tour guides too; high on the hill it sits apart from the city while Gaudi’s famous church is trapped in a city square, snapped by the cameras and endlessly interpreted by headphones, translators and art lovers. That’s not to say this church isn’t busy; we catch the end of a wedding where a bride leaves in a wash of happiness and congratulations, sunshine and flowers, with the whole of Barcelona spread out at her feet.
More than an amusement
Barcelona is a sprawling Catalonian city, with a golden clutch of world heritage sites fronted by a gothic masterpiece, and a never ending buffet of art and architecture. Yet for me the tiny red plane flying over the city is one of its most beguiling images. Spinning endlessly around a nostalgic park, symbolising flight and modern invention and the passage of time, it is a moment of magic and a throwback to childhood that I won’t forget. If you have a few days in Barcelona, be sure to check it out.
How to get to Tibidabo
Getting to the park is an event in itself; it’s Barcelona’s highest point, so allow lots of time, and enjoy the ride. We drove up the mountain on the winding road, but it’s not good for children prone to car sickness! There is ample parking, for a fee near the park. A more traditional way to arrive is by a combination of Funicular and a small blue tram dating from 1901 that runs on weekends from Avinguda Tibidabo. The Tramvia Blau is the only tram ride in Barcelona, and this beloved local treasure is said to be part of the whole Tibidabo experience. The tram runs weekends only in winter. Alternatively you can take the metro from the city centre (the U7 line) and then catch a bus, or catch a Tibbus directly from Placa Catalunya.
Prices and opening hours
Check the website for opening hours and times as they change according to time of year. The Sky Walk, is open weekends in February and every day from March to December. You can wander around at leisure, and pay for individual rides. Or you can buy a pass that allows you to go on a handful of the small rides, as well as catching a short film about the history of the park, and visit the tower. Adults cost €12,70 , children under 1.2 metres €7,80 while children under 0.90 m have free admission. When open, adult ticket prices for Parc d’Atracciones are €28,50, children up to 1.20 metres pay €10,30, with children under 0.90 m free of charge.
The Barcelona Card offers a discount on the Tibibus, free entrance into the Torre de Conserolla, and a 20% discount to Parc d’atracciones. Tickets for the tram cost just over €4 per person for a single and can be bought on board. Although it runs every day in summer, winter services are limited. Check the website for details.
When to go
We loved Tibidabo in the winter, when the rides were mellow and vintage. But if you have teens, you might want to visit when the whole park is operating. For the best views, choose a clear crisp day, free of Barcelona smog. On a hot day, you may like to go late, when the city is cooling down. You’ll also catch the fading daylight and bright lights of the city as you bomb around the mountain. If you are a film buff you can seek out the location where a scene of Vicky Cristina Barcelona was filmed.
If you travel up in the funicular in peak season, you might want to beat the bulk of the crowds back down before the park shuts. You don’t want the worry of being left at the top when the park is closed.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Tibidabo Parc d’atracciones and Barcelona Tourism for their help in bringing you this story. As ever, the experience and opinions are our own.