La Sagrada Família is Barcelona’s Big Ben, Barcelona’s Empire State Building, Barcelona’s Eiffel Tower. You’ll see its familiar sillouhette adorning everything on sale in the city from travel guides to maps and anything tourist-related. No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to this incredible structure, which is architect Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus.
Ah Gaudí. What a genius. The architect was born in 1852 and is the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. His work has neo-Gothic and Oriental influences, and the artist rarely ever drew complete plans of his works – he’d create three-dimensional models and add the details as he went along. Incredible!
I remember seeing photos of his buildings years back and being utterly intriged by how different they were to anything else I had seen. It’s like he took the book of conventional architecture, burnt it, and then started work. I love people like him – quirky geniuses who do things their own damn way.
So, back to La Sagrada Família. It was, of course, on the top of my Barcelona to-do list, and I’d advise anyone who’s in town to head there. It’s Spain’s most visited monument, receiving more than 2.8 million visitors a year. Although the church is still incomplete, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s been under construction since, wait for it, 1882. It’s estimated that it will finally be completed in 2026.
Apparently Gaudí dedicated the final 12 years of his life to prayer, fasting, and to constructing the La Sagrada Família. It was to be “a cathedral for the poor.” And what a structure it is. As I walked up the stairs of the Sagrada Família Metro station I could see the unmistakable and fantastical towers. There were crowds upon crowds of ice-cream slurping tourists queuing outside the ticket box, making it near impossible to stand in one place and take a picture.
As I had already bought my ticket online (tip number one that you’ll find below in the advice section is to pre-book your ticket before you get there) and I had half an hour to kill before my allotted time slot, I walked around to the other side of the building. Across the road from here there’s a lovely little park from which people take photos.
It’s when you enter the church, however, that you’re really faced with something magnificent. The columns twist and stretch up to the sky, while there’s a rainbow of colour everywhere you look thanks to the colour-stained window panes.
Gaudí took inspiration from the Christian message and from nature when designing the church. As mentioned in an article in the National Geographic, Gaudí’s opinion was “If nature is the work of God, and if architectural forms are derived from nature, then the best way to honour God is to design buildings based on his work.” And this is evident pretty much everywhere in the building – the spire tops, for example, have fruit motifs; you can see grapes, apples and oranges, all piled on one another. There are also turtles at the bases of columns, and the main ceiling inside the church looks like the canopy of a forest.
All in all, it really is an incredible building. I got goosebumps upon entering, as it was all so moving – the architecture, the colours. No trip to Barcelona is complete without at least visiting and taking photos of the building, but trust me, the magic is to be found inside. I’ll leave you with a few photos so that you can get the gist!
Tips for visiting La Sagrada Família
- It’s best to pre-book your tickets online before you head to the church to avoid queuing. You can get them here.
- If you reach the church from the Metro station, walk around to the other side of the building so that you can take some photos from the park. It’s lovely to frame the shot with the green trees that you’ll find there.
- For just €4.50 extra you can get a guide to take you around the structure. I didn’t opt for this and I’m now wishing that I did because once I started reading about the inspiration behind the building I realised that it would have been great to have this told to me while I was there. You live and you learn!
- As always, I’m an advocate for turning up early and getting there before the crowds arrive.
- Beware of pickpockets – they’re everywhere in Barcelona, especially touristy places.
- Load up on the sunscreen – chances are you’ll spend a lot of your time outside taking photos and the Barcelona sun can wreak damage if you’re not careful!
Have you ever visited La Sagrada Família? If so, what were your impressions?