Why you should visit Barcelona’s Sagrada Família at least once in your lifetime

If you need only one reason to visit Barcelona, it would have to be the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. How often does one get the opportunity to witness the building of a church as big as a cathedral?

The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
Stained and unstained windows in the Sagrada Familia. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
A work in progress: stained and unstained glass windows in the Sagrada Família.

While it’s not a cathedral – it does not have a bishop’s seat – it is a huge architectural masterpiece in the making and represents some of humankind’s most noble qualities: hope, passion, ingenuity, perseverance, determination, aspiration and supreme artistry. And, all of this is thanks to the vision of one man, Antoni Gaudí.

An 1878 photo of Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
Antoni Gaudí

This famous Spanish Catalan architect and leading figure of Catalan Modernism was appointed as head architect to the project in 1883 when he was only 31 years old. Though the first stones of the Sagrada Família (‘Holy Family’) church were already laid in 1882, the promoters of the project fell into a disagreement with the original architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, and Gaudí was asked to take over the project. And, take over, he did!

A 1905 photo of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
A photo that was taken in 1905 of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

A labour of love

He made the entire project his own by transforming it with his unique architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms. And, though he knew that he would never live to see the completion of the magnificent church, this devout Catholic dedicated his entire life to it, even residing on the building site during the last years until his death. When asked why the church was taking such a long time to complete, he famous said of God: “My client is not in a hurry.”

By the time Gaudi died, in 1926, the Nativity Facade of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família had already been completed.
By the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926, the Nativity Facade (on the east side of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família) had already been completed. (Pic by Canaan)

Gaudí tragically died in 1926, shortly before his 74th birthday, when he was struck by a passing tram. He was buried in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Família.

At the time of Gaudí’s death, only the crypt, apse and part of the Nativity facade had been completed.

Close up of the Nativity Facade.
Close up of the Nativity Facade, which was still completed in Gaudí’s lifetime.
Close up of the Passion Facade, on the east side of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. (Credit: www.groov
Close up of the Passion Facade, on the west side of the church, which was built (after a design by Gaudí) only many years later. Notice the cold, bare stone and harsh straight lines in contrast to the highly decorative celebratory design of the Nativity Facade. Gaudí wanted this Facade to portray the sins of humankind and the severity of Christ’s sacrifice.

To be completed by 2026

Over the next decades, various architects took over the responsibility of the building process, following Gaudí’s plans, pictures and scale models. There were many challenges along the way, including the Spanish Civil War, several complexities around the project and a lack of funding, but today 70% of the work on the church has already been executed and the project leaders are positive that they will be able to complete this architectural wonder by 2026 – to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death.

A model of the completed church. (Pic by Montrealais)

A total of 144 years to build a church may seem like a very long time, but this is nothing compared to the 632 years it took to complete the Cologne Cathedral or the 579 years to complete the cathedral in Milan. We are truly very lucky to witness such a wondrous thing in our lifetime.

Inspired by Nature

The interior of the church is modelled after the natural world – the columns mirror trees and branches and the light that comes through the beautiful stained glass windows is incredible. There is so much detail in the decoration and the sculptures are stunning.

The interior of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The interior of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
Detail of the roof in the nave. Gaudí designed the columns to mirror trees and branches.
Detail of the roof in the nave. Gaudí designed the columns to mirror trees and branches. (Pic by SBA73.)

The Sagrada Família welcomes (and deeply moves) hundred of thousands of visitors every year and, in a very special way, this great church has become a symbol of hope for many. The completed church will have a total of 18 towers (currently eight have already been completed).

The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. (Pic by Ramon Llorensi)
The many towers of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. (Pic by Ramon Llorensi)

Each of these towers is significant: 12 of them represent the apostles, four of them the evangelists, one will symbolise the Virgin Mary and the last one, the tallest of them all and right in the centre, will represent Jesus Christ. This last tower will be 170 metres tall, making the Sagrada Família the tallest religious building in the whole of Europe.

 (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Looking up towards one of the towers.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Despite not being completed yet, the Sagrada Família was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 already and, more recently in 2010, the Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica, a privilege granted to only a few Catholic churches.

Here I am, on the west side of the Sagrada Familia basilica with the Passion Facade in the background.(Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Here I am, in 2013, on the west side of the Sagrada Família basilica with the Passion Facade in the background.

I have been lucky enough to visit the Sagrada Família three times already in my lifetime and I look forward to visiting this incredible church when it is completed (only nine more years to go!). At each of my visits, I was in complete awe of the immense magnitude and beauty, and astounded to see how much progress had been made since my last visit.

The interior of the Sagrada Familia basilica.
The dramatic crucifix high above the altar. (Pic by Wenjie, Zhang)

Barcelona is one of my favourite travel destinations. It is a cosmopolitan city that bursts with vibrance, colour and culture, much of which is closely linked to Gaudí’s other masterpieces that are spread throughout the city. The number one attraction of Barcelona, however, remains a visit to the Sagrada Família, an experience that will stay with you for many years to come.

Look at the magical display of light behind me. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Look at the wonderful light that is streaming in through the big stained glass windows behind me, creating a very special atmosphere.

Visiting the Sagrada Família

You need at least half a day to take in the wonderful architecture and craftsmanship.  I recommend paying for the audio guide or a guided tour as there is so much detail and symbolism in everything you will see. There is also a fantastic museum that you should not miss.

Buy your ticket online. I repeat: buy your ticket online. The queues at the Sagrada Família can be incredibly long, but there is a special queue for people with online bookings which is significantly shorter. Alternatively, if your time is really very short in Barcelona and you are desperate to see the Sagrada Família (you should be!), consider booking a private tour that includes a visit to the Sagrada Família. Yes, it will be more expensive but private tour guides are allowed to skip the queues with small tour groups.

A spiral staircase inside one of the towers. (Pic by SecondNews)
A spiral staircase inside one of the towers. (Pic by SecondNews)

And then there is the opportunity to go up one of two towers for stunning views of the city: on atop the Passion Facade and the other atop the Nativity Facade. The top of the towers are accessed by lifts, but you will have to walk the 400 stairs down (there is no lift down).It is a long way down, but the amazing photo opportunities, especially the close-ups of the facades, make it totally worth it.

The Sagrada Família project has relied heavily on donations and contributions of thousands of people over the years, and it is good to know that your entry ticket will also go towards the funding of this glorious project.

Check out this amazing time-lapse video to see what the Basílica de la Sagrada Família will look like by the time of its completion in 2026:

More information and tickets available on the Basílica de la Sagrada Família website.

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If you need only one reason to visit Barcelona, it would have to be the Basílica de la Sagrada Família - the masterpiece of Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí that is estimated to be completed in 2026.

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35 thoughts on “Why you should visit Barcelona’s Sagrada Família at least once in your lifetime

  • August 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm
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    This remarkable place needs to be visited more than once. It is outstanding! How long would you recommend staying in Barcelona, Brigit?

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    • August 18, 2017 at 3:02 pm
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      Hi Agness! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, Barcelona has so much to offer – I would say you should stay at least 3 days 🙂

      Reply
  • May 22, 2017 at 5:29 pm
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    I was lucky (and unlucky at the same time) to visit the Sagrada Familia last year, but alas only saw it from the outside. I was in the city for just a day and could not get any tickets for that day. I hope to visit again soon where I will make sure to get tickets beforehand. It’s a mesmerising structure.

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    • May 22, 2017 at 9:40 pm
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      Barcelona is such a wonderful city and having only one day must have been torture! Holding thumbs that you will get to go again soon and be able to treat yourself to at least half a day at the incredible Sagrada Familia.

      Reply
  • February 22, 2017 at 11:34 am
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    It was certainly a labour of love on Gaudi’s behalf. I’ve been there and thought the inside was absolutely fantastic. Such light and soaring height! I found the outside underwhelming though. I can only admire Gaudi’s dedication.

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    • February 22, 2017 at 11:06 pm
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      There is quite a big contrast between the exterior and interior, yes! I also loved all the light and space inside. Thanks for the visit!

      Reply
  • February 17, 2017 at 1:56 am
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    Barcelona is one of my favourite cities too. I’ve visited three times now but the closest I’ve got to Sagrada Família is walking around the outside. I think the crowds and the time it took to queue for tickets has always put me off. Next time I need to plan ahead and do it! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes
    Claire at Tin Box Traveller recently posted…Family cycling at Alice Holt Forest, SurreyMy Profile

    Reply
    • February 17, 2017 at 9:00 am
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      The crowds and queues can be very off-putting, yes, but with some planning a great visit is possible and so worth it! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • February 15, 2017 at 10:37 am
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    I’ve visited the Sagrada Familia before, but I bet a lot has changed since I last went. It’s a wonderful place to keep revisiting. #mondayescapes

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    • February 17, 2017 at 8:57 am
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      True! The Sagrada Familia has something new and fascinating to offer at every visit 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  • February 14, 2017 at 11:17 pm
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    I’ve visited Sagrada Familia once in the 90s, and no visitors were allowed inside at the time. I’d love to return just to see the gorgeous interior and all the stained glass windows. Since the estimated completion is less than a decade away, I really I hope I get to see the finished product. #WkendTravelInspiration
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Disney’s Art of Animation ResortMy Profile

    Reply
  • February 14, 2017 at 3:58 am
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    So beautiful! I went once to Barcelona and didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Sagrada Familia. I went back two years ago and this was at the top of things I wanted to see in the city. I am so glad we went because it is such an unique place. That Gaudi was something else. #TPThursday
    Ruth recently posted…8 Reasons to Visit Bisbee, ArizonaMy Profile

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 7:56 am
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      Ah, I’m so happy to hear you went back to see it! It really is such a unique place… and such a monumental project, phew!

      Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 7:55 am
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      Ha ha! Yes, it really is a huge project… I can’t wait to see it one day when it’s completed.

      Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 7:54 am
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      Thanks! There is so much to see and do in Barcelona – hope you get to travel there soon.

      Reply
  • February 13, 2017 at 8:53 pm
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    Thanks for sharing with #mondayescapes I love that you shared some of the history and challenges that Gaudi faced. I haven’t been to Barcelona for about 20 years you reminded me I need to return.

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 7:53 am
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      Thanks for the visit Jo. Yes, the Sagrada Familia already has so many stories to tell, even though it’s not completed yet! I hope you can return to Barcelona again in the near future.

      Reply
  • February 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm
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    Quite possibly my favorite cathedral! I absolutely love it and hope to see it one day when it’s completed! #MondayEscapes

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 7:51 am
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      It is amazing, right!? I hope you can visit it one day when it’s completed. Thanks for the visit!

      Reply
  • February 13, 2017 at 11:47 am
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    Thank you for letting me experience this incredible architectonic masterpiece. – By the way, aspects of the profuse decoration remind me of the exquisite late Gothic Manueline style in Portugal.

    Reply
    • February 13, 2017 at 2:51 pm
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      Thanks Raphefo. I so wish we could go and visit this wonderful place together. Very interesting what you write about the Manueline style in Portugal!

      Reply
  • February 13, 2017 at 7:00 am
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    La Sagrada Familia is so amazing! It is truly one of those sites you can visit again and again and it is going to be different each time. And not just because of the ongoing construction. Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration, see you next week!

    Reply
    • February 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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      Thanks for the visit, Jim! It’s true… what makes this site so special is that you’ll discover something new on every visit. There is so much detail and symbolism! Really special.

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    • February 12, 2017 at 10:55 pm
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      Thanks Tracy! I really hope you can make it there again soon!

      Reply
  • February 12, 2017 at 8:53 pm
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    Thank you so much for the tips in this post! 😀 I’m going to Barcelona for the first time in May and of course, this is at the top of my must-see list.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2017 at 10:40 pm
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      How exciting! You will love Barcelona. It is such a wonderful place with so much to see… starting with the Sagrada Familia, of course. I hope you have a fantastic time… wish I could join you 😉

      Reply
    • February 12, 2017 at 10:38 pm
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      Ah, yes! I love Park Güell 🙂 Such a beautiful place to spend some time away from the city buzz… and very photogenic too!

      Reply

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