Travel info for visiting Sagrada Familia in Spain

An extraordinary religious monument


Carrer de Mallorca 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain

GPS: 41.404273180525, 2.1752901540083

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Visiting Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) is the most emblematic building in Barcelona. Construction of this exceptional basilica began in 1882 and remains unfinished to this day. The creative and modernist design of this non-conformist project was the work of Antoni Gaudí, a Catalan architect who devoted more than forty years of his professional life to it.

The idea of building an expiatory temple came from Josep Maria Bocabella, a Spanish bookseller who founded a religious community dedicated to St. Joseph on his return from a trip to Rome. Originally, the construction of the Catholic sanctuary of the Sagrada Família was entrusted to two architects, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano and Joan Martorell i Montells. The plan was to build a neo-Gothic church inspired by the sanctuary of Loreto, a major Christian basilica in Loreto, Italy, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. However, following profound disagreements with the promoter of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (a religious association), the project was entrusted in 1883 to the young Gaudí, a pupil of Montells, who, at the age of 31, profoundly changed the nature of the project in order to create a singular and much more ambitious building. While his aim was to make it the tallest monument in Barcelona, Gaudí also intervened in other aspects such as the liturgy, the acoustics, the light, the altar and the candle to make it an icon of the city.

The Sagrada Família is a symbol of Catalan modernist architecture, with many religious references on its facades. In the midst of its construction, this grandiose complex was marked by the tragic death of its founder in 1926 (only the Nativity façade, the St Barnabas tower and part of the outer side of the apse wall were completed). Nevertheless, the work on the building continued in accordance with the architect’s plans. The monumental appearance, extravagance and confusing architecture of the Sagrada Família are unparalleled anywhere in the world. It is made of stone, brick, tile, glass and blocks of porphyry (magmatic rock) and features a profusion of decorative elements. This “temple of harmonious light”, as Gaudí liked to describe it, perfectly sets off the complex curves of its forms, which are adorned with sculptures and unusual towers. It is inside the building that Gaudí’s boundless creativity is displayed in all its splendour, with particular attention to detail. This master decorator drew his architectural inspiration from nature, God’s creation. After the completion of the Passion façade in 2018, the construction site began work on the four evangelist towers and the central Jesus Christ tower (Torre del Salvador), which will eventually be the tallest tower in the basilica (over 170 metres high). While a third of Sagrada Familia is still to be built, the end of the work is expected in 2026. As a symbol, this year is the centenary of the death of its brilliant architect Gaudí.

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  • An emblem of the city of Barcelona and of Catalan culture; a masterpiece of Art Nouveau that blends several styles based on the observation of nature; a mystical and sacred monument that leaves no one indifferent
  • A complex, massive and unique architecture; the verticality of the interior spaces pointing to the sky; the use of mathematical curves and undulating geometric forms (there are no right angles)
  • The huge, brightly coloured stained glass windows and the many decorative elements; the pillars and arches forming a large stone forest inside the building
  • The towers (or campaniles), which are over 100 metres high; the view of Barcelona from the top of the towers (accessible by lift)
  • The facades of the Nativity, Glory and Passion of Christ
  • The crypt and chapels of the basilica; the Rosary portal, the interior of the main nave and the cloisters
  • The symbols of nature, drawn from the animal and vegetable world, that adorn the building
  • The collection of Gaudí’s original models, sketches and drawings; the magical illumination of the building at nightfall
  • The discovery of the old town, the Gothic quarter, the palaces of La Ribera (or El Born) and the Barceloneta marine quarter, all accessible on foot or by bicycle from the Sagrada Familia down La Rambla avenue; the small covered market (mercat) and food market Sagrada Familia ; the Avinguda de Gaudí pedestrian street leading to the Art Nouveau architecture of the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau building (Sant Pau Hospital); the Casa Milà (La Pedrera), a stone building representative of the Catalan Modernist movement conceived at the beginning of the 20th century by Antoni Gaudí
  • The Sagrada Familia became a basilica in 2010, an honorary title given by Pope Benedict XVI, and is financed solely by the alms of the faithful as it is an expiatory temple. During the first phases of construction, the monument could not be visited and therefore could not benefit from the ticket revenue from visits. According to the author Jean-Claude Caillette, Gaudi even went out on the streets of Barcelona to collect donations from individuals in the hope of increasing the small budget he had available.
  • Antoni Gaudí was totally committed to this venture and did not receive any salary. In the words of his chief architect, “The Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family is made by the people and is reflected in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and in the will of the people.” Schools attached to the religious building were built at the very beginning of the 20th century to accommodate the children of the workers mobilised on the building site as well as the disadvantaged children of the neighbourhood. One such building was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and rebuilt in 2002 nearby.
  • In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram near the construction site of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and died a few days later in hospital. As he had no identity papers with him and often wore damaged clothes, he was initially thought to be a beggar. He would not have received the best medical care (a tragedy for the man who wanted to build a “cathedral for the poor”). His body now rests in the chapel of Our Lady of the Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Família, awaiting his beatification (his case has been under investigation in the Vatican since 2003).
  • Ten years later, in 1936, Catalan revolutionaries and anticlericals set fire to the crypt of the Sagrada Familia. In their action, they destroyed the plans, sketches, models, drawings and original models of the building designed by Gaudí. This event made the task of continuing the construction of the Sagrada Familia even more difficult for the architects. Many differences of opinion on how to proceed have fuelled the continuation of the work since the death of its founder. There are still those who argue that the work should not be completed in order to avoid distorting Gaudí’s unique vision and inimitable style.
  • Without a building permit, the construction of the Sagrada Familia was carried out illegally (at the start of the work in 1882, the site was not yet part of the Barcelona metropolitan area but of the municipality of Sant Martí de Provençals). As a result, the city has not received any municipal taxes in recent years, despite the large number of visitors and the 110 million euros in annual revenue. An agreement reached in 2018 between Barcelona City Council and the promoters of the basilica (the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of St. Joseph), after 3 years of negotiation, put an end to this ubiquitous situation 137 years after the beginning of the works. The building permit is valid until 2026, the projected date of completion. Only the narthex (vestibule) still needs to be studied in depth before obtaining planning permission from the town hall. This progress will allow the Barcelona City Council to undertake urban development around the site to facilitate visitor access.
  • At the end of the works, the Sagrada Familia building will have 18 towers: 12 representing the apostles, 4 symbolising the evangelists (topped by an angel for Matthew, a lion for Mark, a bull for Luke and an eagle for John), one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the highest of all dedicated to Jesus Christ. It will be the highest cathedral in Europe (with a capacity of 14,000 people). On a daily basis, more than 200 professionals, craftsmen and workers are working full time on the project, which is led by the architect Jordi Faulí (who is the ninth director of the work since the first stone was laid).
  • Seven architectural buildings designed by Gaudí in Barcelona appear on the Unesco World Heritage List. These are the Nativity façade and crypt of the Sagrada Família, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens (the first building to be built by Gaudí in Barcelona), Casa Güell, and the Guell Palace. Many of Gaudi’s architectural designs include depictions of colourful plant and animal life.
  • Remember to buy your tickets in advance, online, to optimise your time on site and avoid the continuous queue (this is the most visited monument in Spain, ahead of the Alhambra in Granada and the Prado Museum in Madrid). At certain times of the year (summer and school holidays) it is advisable to book several days in advance.
  • To see the interior of the building from a different angle, climb to its highest point, the Passion Tower (by lift or spiral staircase).
  • Every Sunday morning there is an international mass in the central nave of the Sagrada Familia (in several languages: Latin, Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Italian). However, it is reserved for a limited number of people.

Where to eat

  • La Boqueria
    (the cathedral of the flavours)
  • Restaurante Don Angelo
    (Italian dishes)
  • Santa Rita Experience
    (gastronomic meal with the chef)

Where to go

  • Casa Batlló
    (a must)
  • Citadel Park
    (oasis in the city)
  • Palau de la Música Catalana
    (distinguished concert hall)

Where to stay

  • Yeah Barcelona Hostel
    (very cheap hostel)
  • Aparthotel Silver Barcelona
    (modern and quiet)
  • Hotel Colon
    (central location)