Above: The austere and gloomy Passion Facade. Find the skull
VISITING LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
Visiting La Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) is the single “must-do” attraction in Barcelona. That is saying a lot since this vibrant Catalan city offers a so much to see and do, much to buy and a lot to eat and drink.
A STAGGERING ACCOMPLISHMENT
(AND IT’S STILL NOT FINISHED!)
La Sagrada Familia is the standout building among the masterpieces left behind by Antoni Gaudi and his fantastic design sense. It absorbed most of his later years in life. The construction of this edifice began in 1882 and at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Construction is ongoing more than 130 years after it started, funded by private donations and ticket sales. It is hoped that the church will be completed in 2026, which will be the centennial of his death.
Below: The front entrance to La Sagrada Familia. Very imposing.
This monumental church is the most-visited tourist site in Spain and one of the most-visited in the world. On Trip Advisor, it has been touted as the most-reviewed tourist attraction on the planet. Oddly enough, a recent study found that 80% of tourist visitors to La Sagrada Familia only take pictures from the outside and don’t even enter the church! Also, of those visitors, only a quarter of them are from abroad.
The view of the pond in front of the church from the Nativity Facade
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
In front of the church is a small park that offers enough distance to get a better view of the entire structure. It is quite busy and the lake (pond is a better term) is algae-choked, but it does offer a decent perspective. The front of the church faces into the rising sun, which one should take into account for good photos, but we preferred an afternoon visit in order to avoid the heat of the day and the heaviest crowds.
This relentlessly busy attraction requires some planning to visit. One cannot just show up and gain admittance since tickets are not sold onsite.
La Sagrada Familia tickets must be pre-purchased online. We booked directly from the official La Sagrada Familia website. The tickets afford a fifteen minute window to enter the church, thus controlling the number of people inside the church at all times. Many tours are available, often offering a “skip-the-line”, but for this attraction, there isn’t much of line, since entrances are timed. From our joining the queue after having our ticket checked, it took only five minutes of shuffling along to get to the security checkpoint, where bags and visitors are x-rayed and searched. Then once past that, we found where to get our audio guide, which had no lineup. Then we were in.
Part of the spectacular ceiling of La Sagrada Familia (left); the statue of Christ, above the altar in the warm afternoon light (right).
WHAT TIME SHOULD I VISIT ?
We had chosen the last entrance window of the day at 6:45 – 7:00 pm in order to get the late afternoon light streaming through the “afternoon” stained glass windows. The morning light shines through cooler blue and green toned windows while the afternoon light comes through yellow, orange and red toned windows.
So plan your visit to appreciate which of the two colour schemes you like best. But be warned: the heaviest tour traffic descends on the church in the morning.
A Truly Awe-Inspiring Edifice
The church is mind-blowing; a memorably amazing place. The detail involved is immense. we would say without reservation that it is the most awe-inspiring church we have ever entered, and we can attest to have visited quite a few around the globe.
The remaining towers will be the Glory Façade, dedicated to the Glory of Jesus, thus the name. The construction for this facade began in 2002 and once completed, these will be the tallest of all the Sagrada Familia towers. It will represent the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory.
Out of respect for Nature, Gaudi planned that the highest point of La Sagrada Familia, the Tower of the Savior (Torre del Salvador), will refrain from being higher than the nearby Montjuic Hill. This is because Gaudi felt that it would be improper for Man’s work to surpass God’s work.
WHICH TOWER IS BEST TO GO UP?
But first we were to go up the Nativity Tower. The tower tickets offer a choice of going up the Nativity Façade or the Passion Façade. All reports point to the Nativity Façade as the better choice.
There are three facades on the Sagrada Familia Cathedral – the Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade, and the Glory Facade. Only eight of the planned eighteen towers are completed: four each on the Passion Façade and the Nativity Facade. The Nativity Façade was finished in 1935 and the view is over the city towards the surrounding mountains, rather than toward the ocean, which is the view from the Passion Façade, which was started in 1954 and completed in 2018. Also, the view is not into the sun and there is a bridge connecting two towers on the Nativity side, which is not available on the Passion side.
While the Nativity Facade is highly decorated, the Passion Facade is austere, plain and simple; just the opposite. Gaudi wanted the Passion Façade to depict misery and death, while the Nativity Façade depicted life and nature, dedicated to the birth and childhood of Jesus Christ.
The view from the outside bridge between the towers of the Nativity Facade, looking towards downtown Barcelona and the sea.
Going up was easy. The elevator had an operator who explained what we were undergoing. The only thing he didn’t mention was that we were looking at 400 steps to get down again. Added to that fact was that much of it (especially the lower section) were in a tight spiral with only enough room for one person to navigate.
Being late in the day, we were pretty much the final guests, so we could take our time descending. The welcome result was that we only encountered one couple lingering behind us up the tower and one other person who was below us. Fung’s legs were wobbly after dealing with the heights and the steps, so she sat and prayed while Bruce roamed about taking photos and exploring the church in what little time (not nearly enough) we had remaining.
The lengthy and narrow circular staircase descending from the Nativity Facade (left); Fung getting the seating area to herself (right).
Wandering about the church in the brilliant late afternoon light was amazing, admiring the branching tree-like columns and the nature-inspired organic architectural approach that Gaudi embraced. But we would recommend not taking the latest possible entrance time, as we were being shooed out only thirty minutes after beginning our audio tour. The closing time is officially 8:00 pm, though we ended up going out the exit at around 8:15. It would have been nice to have had more time since there is so much to soak up from this amazing building.
AUDIO TOUR OR GUIDED TOUR?
The audio tour was easy to follow and gave plenty of interesting information. We prefer to go at our own pace and not be in a group with a guide. But in retrospect we reckon that having a guide would be more interesting as your questions could be answered. This church is so full of detail, symbolism and thought that we found ourselves with many questions.
Above, left to right: The iconic Gaudi lizards adorn the outside of the church; The Passion Facade; Stained glass windows showing both the “morning” (right) and “afternoon” (left) themes
A LASTING IMPRESSION
La Sagrada Familia is well worth the time and effort to visit. After the Great Wall of China it is the most-visited attraction on the planet and we can certainly understand why. We would certainly visit it again if in the area since it offers both a visually as well as a spiritually overwhelming experience to those who enter this fantastic cathedral.
The incredible ceiling of La Sagrada Familia must be seen to be believed.