La Sagrada Familia is one of the most inspired and ambitious architectural designs in the world and is definitely a “must-see” for any tourist in Barcelona. But, if you only plan to visit to check it off your list, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.
As the name suggests La Sagrada is truly a sacred place. The intention behind the design is as awe-inspiring and breath-taking as the building itself. So you get the most out of your visit, here’s some info to help you plan your visit… the right way!
A Brief History of La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada’s history began in 1874 when a local bookseller started a campaign to build a church dedicated to the Holy Family. After starting a religious organization and gathering support, construction began in what was then an area right outside of Barcelona’s city limits.
Originally planned as a traditional neo-gothic church, La Sagrada’s design took a turn when the up-and-coming Antoni Gaudí took over the project in 1883. Although Gaudí was not the initial architect on the project, he is the one who ultimately created its multifaceted design. His new design mixed many styles, including Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism, and Spanish Late Gothic.
Today, despite being unfinished, the cathedral is a working church. Pope Benedict XVI designated it a minor basilica in 2010. Tourists often confuse the building as the cathedral of Barcelona, but that title goes to Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, which is located in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
Book your tickets in advance, especially during high season, and consider going on a hosted tour vs using an audioguide. The basilica’s story is so fascinating, and there are many hidden architectural elements that you could miss. Also, by booking a hosted tour, you’ll be supporting a local and will be able to ask them all your questions!
When I visited the basilica, using a tour guide was undeniably the right move for me. Without her, I would have overlooked so many details and never would have grasped their significance. Also, her knowledge and passion made the visit more interesting, and at the end of our tour she provided helpful follow-up recommendations.
When to Go
If you don’t have time to take a full tour of La Sagrada and just want to marvel at its architecture, I recommend going early in the day. It’s not uncommon to see large crowds and bus traffic starting to form outside the building beginning around 8 am. Or, wait until evening to get a stunning nighttime view.
If you plan to visit the inside, it’s essential to consider the sun. Sounds a bit strange, I know, but hear me out! Gaudí designed everything around the sun, and the position of the light changes throughout the day. The most stunning sun comes around sunset, so grab that slot if you can.
What to Expect
From the outside, La Sagrada Familia looks opposing and slightly crazy. Each of the 3 sides, or facades, and their corresponding towers are different, and the amount of detail in each can be overwhelming if you don’t understand their significance.
Of the two facades that are finished, the Nativity facade faces east and illustrates Christ’s birth and childhood. The Passion facade faces west and depicts the horror of Christ’s crucifixion. When finished, the Glory facade, facing south, will show Jesus’s resurrection. La Sagrada’s 18 towers represent Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles, the Virgin Mary, and the four evangelists.
When you step inside, the church feels humble at first, especially in comparison to the ornate outer design. But once you notice how light streaming in through impressive stained-glass windows dances around massive stone pillars, the basilica immediately transforms into a colorful and majestic forest. It’s a breath-taking sight that needs to be experienced in person!
After Your Visit
The full tour takes about 1.5 hours. If you want to relax a bit before continuing with your day, there are many restaurants and cafés in the surrounding area. Ave Gaudí, in particular, is a great spot to enjoy a café con leche (coffee with milk) or a caña (a glass of beer) as the evening drags on.
Also in the area is one of the most romantically situated Irish pubs in the world, The Michael Collins. Its front door faces the cathedral and is beloved by UK and Irish expats in the city. By night or by day, there is plenty to keep you busy!