Ah, Barcelona… a city of many faces! Like a cunning spy, it can take on any shape and personality to seduce you. Perhaps you came here because of the fluid simplicity of modernist architecture. You might have chosen this city to walk in the footsteps of Shadow of the Wind, a dark, mysterious novel by a Catalan author. Or is it the Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona allure of unscripted, wild, exploratory adventure? Whether it’s your explorer’s curiosity, thirst for crazy nightlife, shopping spree or the history that got you here, there’s one thing you should do before moving on: Visit Sagrada Familia!
I understand typical sightseeing is not for everyone. However, Sagrada Familia church defined Barcelona and its identity. It’s the first thing that catches your eye as your plane circles the city to prepare for landing. Frankly, once you see it with your own eyes, you won’t need more persuasion. The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudi’s most renowned masterpiece.
But fame always comes at a cost. In many cases, this cost includes a plethora of misleading and inaccurate information.
Your experience shouldn’t be tainted, or worse, completely destroyed by bad advice. As an avid Barcelona lover, I believe there is no need to suffer the downsides of mass tourism to see tourist attractions worthy of your time!
1. You Can’t Avoid the Queues
Another side effect of fame is an overload of interest. That means la Sagrada Familia is more often than not circled by hours-lasting waiting lines. Plus, every ticket has a timestamp and only gives you 15-30 minute slot to enter. So, when you finally get to buy your entry, it’s possible the first available slot will be in two, three, five hours… or even the next day! Once you are in, however, you can stay as long as you like.
Yes, there are queues and yes, they are uncomfortable, slow, and sweaty affairs! But they are not “compulsory.” There are a few ways you can avoid standing in lines. Firstly, you can buy a Sagrada Familia online ticket in advance and plan your day to come to the area just on time. Secondly, if you are not the planning type (like me), you need to abandon the “official-ticket-from-the-official-office-is-the-best-and-only-option” attitude. Local travel agencies, offer skip-the-line tickets on location. Often, you are able to snatch a last minute entry, even if the situation feels desperate.
2. You Have to Purchase the Tickets Weeks in Advance
Nope, not really necessary. In the peak periods such as July and August, you might need to do it at least a day in advance, but weeks of planning is simply taking things too far. In most cases, you can book Sagrada Familia skip-the-line tickets on your phone minutes before you enter. Again, you probably can’t get this level of speed from the official ticket office. Third-party vendors are much better options when it comes to last-minute purchases.
3. If the Ticket Office is Sold Out, There is Nothing You Can Do
I believe that if there is determination, there is always a way!
Even if the Sagrada Familia ticket office tells you there are no more slots available, you can simply turn to a different vendor. Alternatively, you can upgrade your experience to a Sagrada Familia tour. Once again the underdogs come to the rescue! Third-party vendors of tickets and tours reserve their numbers months in advance, hence there is a huge chance they will have spaces left.
So, if this is the only opportunity you have to visit Sagrada Familia, there is no need for to give up and succumb to the despair and disappointment. As mentioned above, last-minute access tickets are often available from agents online.
4. You Can’t Cancel your Tickets
This is not a complete lie. In fact, if you do buy your ticket via the official website, cancellation or changing your time slot is impossible. Missing your time slot equals losing your money. No exceptions!
However, not all sellers are so ruthless. There are those who care a bit more about customer experience and comfort. After all, holidays should be relaxing and flexible. Why not leave the “sticking-to-the-schedule” nonsense for the real life back home.
In fact, if booked with an agency, many Sagrada Familia tours and tickets can be adjusted or canceled up until one day in advance with a guarantee of full refund.
5. It’s Not Worth Visiting the Towers
Hmmm… We beg to disagree! You know how the Sagrada shapes Barcelona’s skyline but how does the city look from the tall towers - that’s a mystery. The views from the towers are so unique, they almost feel stolen. You can spy on the mingling crowds of tourists outside or scrutinize the symbolic details of the facade close up! An elevator takes you up, but you can decide to walk down the spiraling staircase after if you choose so.
On the other hand, la Sagrada Familia tower access is paid apart and is almost double the price of a normal ticket. So, if you are on a tight budget, you might decide against it. But! Given the money is not the issue then go for it, you will not regret it.
Perhaps you are wondering if there is a difference between the Sagrada towers and one is a better choice than the other. Personally, I would recommend the tower overlooking the Nativity Facade which is the oldest part of the Sagrada and also the only part that Gaudi actually worked on. Also, the tower of the Nativity Facade includes a small bridge that gives you better close-up views of the church.
6. You Can’t Get Inside the Sagrada for Free
Fake news alert! Low-budget travelers pay attention! There is a chance to visit Sagrada Familia for free. Remember, it’s not just a tourist attraction but also a fully fledged Roman Catholic church. Hence, every Sunday at 9 am, there is a public mass. The service takes approximately one hour and, better yet, is conducted in several different languages!
The mass gives you plenty of time to contemplate the inside of the church in serenity rarely afforded to ticketed visitors. However, masses in Sagrada are quite popular, and places are limited so you better be on time. The system is simple, it works on a first-come-first-serve basis. To secure a place you should be at the entrance of the Nativity Facade before 8:30 am.
7. Summer is the Best Time to Visit the Church
Oh dear no! Honestly, it’s the worst time to visit Barcelona in general. The city is overheated and overcrowded. It takes out the joy of exploring a little. The church is spectacular but the crowd kind of limits your ability to immerse yourself in the serenity, the light, colors, and shapes.
If summer months are the only time you can visit, then be it. However, if you are planning a trip and you can choose when to go, early spring, fall, or winter are the better choices. All the sights, including Sagrada Familia, are easier to access. Plus, you won’t feel rushed to get out.
8. It Doesn’t Matter What You Wear
Don’t make the mistake of wearing flipflops, shoulder-revealing shirt or shorts. Again, it’s a church, and thus, all the “churchy” rules apply. According to the official website, Sagrada Familia dress code is, for men and women alike, as follows:
- Any caps, hats or headscarves should be removed before entering the basilica (unless you are wearing them for religious reasons e.g., yarmulke or hijab)
- T-shirts must cover your shoulders
- See-through clothes or freely plunging necklines are not allowed
In practice, the dress code is not strictly enforced, especially in summer when you often see people walking around in shorts. Nonetheless, the benevolence only applies to the paying visitors, those attending mass in the crypt must tick every box!
9. You Can’t Visit the Crypt Inside Sagrada Familia
There are, in fact, two common misconceptions about the crypt. The first, as the title implies is that you can’t get into the crypt. The other is that you can get in at any time.
Both are wrong! You can visit it by attending a mass which takes place at 9 am and 8:15 pm on weekdays. The crypt is open from 9-10 am and 6-9 pm. Plus, there are special masses on holidays or unusual occasions. You can always check Sagrada Familia mass schedule on the basilica’s official site.
10. Guided Tour is a Waste of Money
Most people just go for the ticket and think a Sagrada Familia guided tour doesn’t make much difference to your experience. Personally, I think it’s worth it. Sagrada is a wonderfully complex structure with an equally complex story. Reading the descriptions as you walk gets tedious pretty quickly; You are signing up for a LOT of reading.
On the other hand, seeing Sagrada without knowing the stories and symbols that shaped it, is a bit bland. It makes it hard to appreciate what you see. Frankly, it’s like buying a book and looking at its cover instead of reading it. I found the tour very helpful. Moreover, after it’s over you can explore the church on your own as long as you would like.
The Grand Finale!
Well, these are all the bad advice I heard over the years. Be smart, don’t listen to them! Visit Sagrada Familia and make the most of it!
If you received a horrible advice that’s not on the list, please let us know in the comments below! There are no limits to this list; we are on a quest for improving travel experiences any way we can.