If you only visit one church in Europe, make sure it’s the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Whilst the church still isn’t finished, 130 years after work commenced, it is truly an amazing piece of architecture that has to be seen to be believed.
Designed by the famous Spanish architect, and one of Barcelona’s favourite sons, Antoni Gaudi, the work continues today based on his original designs and scale models.
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My first impression of the outside of the church was that it was a bit over the top. There are thousands of sculptures and carvings adorning the exterior and from a distance it looks rather haphazard and even a bit whacky.
Fortunately, we took a guided tour of the Sagrada Familia (with skip-the-line access) and once our guide explained the meaning of all the carvings, I could really appreciate them more and understand the significance of each.
The eastern side of the church features the Nativity Facade, whilst on the western side you can see the Passion Facade. Each Facade depicts amazingly intricate carvings and sculptures of these famous scenes from the Bible.
The Glory Facade, which will become the main entrance to the basilica, is currently under construction. It’s sculptures will represent the road to God – death, final judgement and glory.
Currently the church features eight spires but Gaudi’s plans featured eighteen – one for each of the twelve apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
The remaining spires are now being constructed and it’s hoped the church will be completed in 2026 – one hundred years after the death of Gaudi.
One of the final touches to the outside of the basilica will be the cross. Gaudi specified that it should be 172 metres above sea level because the highest point in Barcelona (Montjuic hill) is 173 metres and Gaudi, a devout Christian, believed that no work of his should be higher than the work of God.
It was the inside of the Sagrada Familia, though, that really took my breath away. My first thought when entering the church was WOW!
Having visited many of Europe’s famous churches previously, I didn’t expect to see so much light in the Sagrada Familia.
Gaudi’s clever design allows a huge amount of natural light to enter the church and this only accentuates the beautiful stained glass windows and the central pillars of the building which resemble trees reaching to the sky.
When you first enter the church, you can almost imagine yourself inside a forest, which is just as Gaudi intended it. Dappled light filters down into the church through the pillars, like tree trunks with branches extending out, just as it would in a forest.
Gaudi’s love of nature and his belief that everything he designed should be beautiful as well as functional, certainly comes to the fore in the basilica’s interior.
The basilica’s elevated choir section has room for 1,000 choristers, whilst up to 8,000 people can be seated inside.
All work on the Sagrada Familia is funded by private donations and ticket sales – the building has no government funding.
The Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-visit for anyone heading to Barcelona – but do buy a skip the line ticket in advance as the queues to buy tickets at the entrance can be two hours long.
It is also possible to purchase a ticket to one of the towers which offer stunning views over Barcelona.
Need to know
Ticket prices: Tickets to both the church and the towers can be purchased at the ticket booths on-site, however expect there to be long queues. See my recommendation above re pre-purchasing a Skip the Line ticket. Children up to 10 years old are free.
Opening hours: The basilica of Sagrada Familia is open daily from 9am to 8pm.