Contrary to first impressions, Barcelona is not solely a city of concrete squares and stone streets. In a fine Mediterranean climate, life takes place outside in parks and gardens, some designed by the city's top architects for the Olympic renewal frenzy. The most popular are the leafy and formal Parc de la Ciutadella, Gaudí's visionary Parc Güell, and the mountain of Montjuïc. But there are plenty more parks, gardens, and leafy hideaways for a bit of solitude or one-on-one with nature. Most parks open 9am to sunset.

Not strictly a park but a large open square, one of the city's most famous "hard plazas," the Parc de Joan Miró, Aragó 1 (Metro: Espanya), occupies an entire L'Eixample block that was once the city's slaughterhouse. Its main features are an esplanade and pond from which a towering sculpture by Miró, Woman and Bird, rises. Palm, pine, and eucalyptus trees, as well as playgrounds and pergolas, complete the picture. Nearby, the enormous Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, next to the Sants train station (near the Plaça dels Països Catalans entrance to the Metro station), is a surrealist landscape of amphitheater-type seating, watchtowers, and postmodern sculpture juxtaposed with greener parkland at the rear. On the opposite side of L'Eixample, the Parc de L' Estació del Nord, Nápoles 70 (Metro: Arc de Triomf or Marina), is a whimsical piece of landscape gardening featuring sculptures and land art by U.S. artist Beverly Pepper.

Another daring urban space is the Parc de la Crueta del Coll near the Parc Güell, Castellterçol 24 (Metro: Penitents). Located in a former quarry, this urban playground features a manmade pool and an enormous oxidized metal sculpture, the Elogia del Agua by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Looking somewhat like a huge claw, it is theatrically suspended from a cliff face. Further north is Collserola, a natural parkland of nearly 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres). Urbanites come up here in droves on the weekend to cycle, stroll, or have a picnic. Get here on the FGC from Plaça de Catalunya to either Baixador de Vallvidrera (which has an information office about the park) or Les Planes.

For those who like their parks more traditional, the romantic Parc del Laberint, Passeig de Castanyers s/n (Metro: Mundet), in the outer suburb of Horta, is the oldest and most established in the city. As the name suggests, there is a central maze of cyprus trees, and the rest of the site is laid out over terraces with Italianate-style statues and balustrades.

One of the new parks to appear in 2009 was the Parc Central de Poble Nou, Avinguda Diagonal 130 (bus: 7, 40, 42, and 71), designed by the controversial French architect Jean Nouvel. The park is designed in a spartan futuristic style that's more a modern-art creation -- with its cratered moonscape and sporadic plants, all enclosed by flowered covered walls -- than a place to relax and enjoy a picnic. Created by Enric Miralles (who designed the notorious Scottish Parliament in the 1990s), the Parc de la Diagonal Mar, Llull 362 (Metro: Selva de Mar), is another green zone developed around the same time. It also lies close to Poble Nou and has a small lake bordered by a blend of futuristic-looking metallic tubes and flowery areas.

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