“Is La Sagrada Familia worth seeing whilst we’re in Barcelona?” It’s a question I get asked every week. And the short answer is an emphatic “Yes!” But you’ve got to do it the right way… seriously. Here’s how.
Words and photos by Ben Holbrook
I lived in the Sagrada Familia barrio for a year and could see the Gothic towers from my bedroom window. I could hear the cranking of the cranes as they busied away from dusk till dawn. I was even there when the Pope came to consecrate the still-incomplete church in 2010 – and, yes, really, it is a church, not a cathedral. It was hell.
But I could never bring myself to stand in line for an entire morning to get inside.
And then I heard that you could take a Sagrada Familia tour that skips the line…
Ana, our tour guide, had a spring in her step and a twang in her tongue. Her eyes lit up like Christmas as she spoke about Gaudi’s dream to design something that would “represent the freaky moments in Jesus’s life, from birth to death.”
It’s still not finished, you know, but with the money you have paid today for your ticket, like a donation, we aim to complete the building works in 11 years. Why? Because this will mark the centenary of Gaudi’s death. But this is Spain, so maybe it will take a little bit longer. Maybe 11 years, but maybe 20 years… Let’s go.
Whizzing past the hundreds of tourists standing in the motionless line, sweat dripping down their faces in the blistering sun, I felt a sense of lightness wash over me. Pay a little extra, I wanted to tell them, and you can skip the line!
As soon as you pass through the gates on side of the Nativity Façade – which celebrates the birth of Jesus – you suddenly notice the subtleties and details of the design.
“There you can see the turtle at the bottom of the column, it has flippers so it can swim. And that one there, it has legs so it can walk. That one represents the sea, because the ocean is in that direction, and that one represents the mountains. Because this is the way Barcelona is.”
Stepping inside, the atmosphere is bright and warm, illuminated by the blue and orange glow of the stained-glass windows. It’s clean and new, unlike any other church I’ve ever been in. It’s breathtaking.
The space is vast and the spine-like columns shoot upward, supporting the high ceilings making you fee small and insignificant.
It’s like being inside the ribcage of a whale, a place of worship on an unknown planet, a sea-shelled palace under the sea. Everything is inspired by nature, as with so many of Gaudi’s seminal works.
The softness of the stone work, the craftsmanship that’s gone into every single piece of glass… there’s no doubting why it’s taking so long to complete.
Ana led us back out into the daylight, this time we were on the passion façade, which represents death in all of its glory. Here, Jesus hangs from the cross, his head drooping down and splaying open like the pages of the Bible.
“Here you will find many depressive designs,” Ana tells us.
The solemn faces, the skulls, the remorse…
And reflecting on it now, days later, I’m dumbfounded by its beauty, its uncompromising pursuit of perfection. It’s a true masterpiece and without doubt one of the most awe-inspiring sites in Europe.
Top Tips for Visiting Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia:
- Be sure to pay a bit extra to skip the line. Click here to book the exact tour as I did (£25 adults. £14 children 4-10) with Travel Republic.
- After the tour finishes, you are free to stay inside. Make sure you allow time to climb the towers – by lift or by stairs – for elevated views, which the tour doesn’t include due to practical reasons.
- After exploring La Sagrada Familia, take a stroll up Avinguda Gaudí, which is a beautiful street that stretches out diagonally from the Nativity facade. Stop for tapas and a few slurps and take a few moments to contemplate what you have just seen. At the top of this street you’ll also find the awe-inspiring Hospital San Pau – which is another one of Barcelona’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an architectural must-see.