When people think of Barcelona, they think of Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi that is, the Catalan architect and figurehead of Spanish Modernism. His buildings are prominent throughout Barcelona, but the most famous by far is his cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. With only 4 days in Barcelona, we decided to dedicate our third day to Gaudi, starting with La Sagrada Familia.
Construction on Sagrada Familia, now an official UNESCO World Heritage site, began in 1882 and is still going on today. And that isn’t just figuratively. When we visited, we saw many construction workers moving in and out of the building. While Gaudi passed away in 1926, his vision lives on and they expect to complete the cathedral in 2026. Since Sagrada Familia is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona, you can expect large crowds. I was so relieved that I purchased timed-entry tickets in advance via the Sagrada Familia website, because when we arrived there were long queues outside. As we were leaving, I noticed that two girls that got off the Metro with us and had to queue up outside were just getting to go inside.
If you think if you’ve seen one European cathedral, you’ve seen them all — think again if you haven’t seen La Sagrada Familia. It is so unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. You could literally spend hours taking in all the details. I highly recommend renting the audioguides for everyone in your party because you can’t fully appreciate the architectural and creative achievement this building is without it. Even kids, who you think would find old churches boring, find Sagrada Familia fascinating.
There is so much to look at. Each side of the building offers a different facade–the Passion, Nativity, Glory (still under construction) and Aspe facades. You will begin your tour outside the Passion facade. When you move inside, what you notice first is the light. Where other cathedrals are dark and sometimes gloomy or oppressive feeling, Sagrada Familia is full of light from the towering columns to the sun streaming through stained glass windows. I commented later in the trip that it as is gothic cathedral builders worshipped a God of fear, while Gaudi was inspired by a God of love. There was such a visceral difference between the two styles.
We took our time to marvel at the symmetry of the columns, the twisty staircase, the chapels, the stained glass windows, the shiny pipe organ, and the somewhat disturbing crucifix. Out the other side of the church, you will spend some time taking in the details of the Nativity facade.
The pictures only begin to capture the beauty of this building. It made a huge impression on our daughter as well. She still writes about it in her writing journal throughout third grade.
After taking in our fill at Sagrada Familia, we moved on to another Gaudi landmark, Parc Guell. We took the Metro out to Gracia and then had quite a hike up to the back entrance of the park, where we picked up some smoothies to beat the heat and a picnic to eat in the park. With the sun out it was a much different day than we had the day before, and much hotter! The good thing about coming into the back of the park was the amazing view across the city and getting to see how Sagrada Familia really towers over the rest of the city.
You could easily spend a day in the park. After picnicking and spending a little time on a playground we battled the crowds to see a few of the other park landmarks including Gaudi’s lizard (we took a magnet version home), his wavy mosaic benches, and the buildings around the entrance that look like they have ice cream cones on top.
One of my favorite things was the field of flowers…just like out of a Monet painting.
By this time we were pretty hot, tired, and sweaty so instead of hiking back down to the Metro, we decided to take one of the cabs lined up at the front of the park and drive past Casa Mila to Casa Balto, in order to see Gaudi’s other famous buildings. Once we arrived at Casa Batlo we realized the admission fee was a bit higher than we felt like paying for the amount of time our tired bodies would allow us to spend there. Instead, we walked over to Plaza Cataluyna, at the head of Las Ramblas, the main tourist shopping thoroughfare (and by tourist shopping I mean t-shirts and souvenirs).
I’m not really sure why people get excited about walking down Las Ramblas. Yes the avenue is wide and there are plenty of street vendors around but the shops are mostly souvenir shops and can feel a bit seedy, which I guess is why you hear so many warnings about pickpockets in that area. If you are really interested in shopping, the Barri Gothic or the area up by Casa Batlo are much nicer. Of course, the main attraction just off Las Ramblas is La Boqueria — one of the best food markets in Europe.
We made a stop at La Boqueria but wished we got there earlier because many of the stalls were starting to close. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, just the sights and smells of the market are a wonderland for kids and adults alike. You will find fruits, meats, candy, spices, peppers, eggs, seafood, and vegetables in abundance. We bought some tropical fruits to try and bring back to the apartment. We also stopped at the crepe stand, where my husband went savory with cheese, jamon (Iberian ham), spinach and herbs, while my daughter went sweet and got nutella and fresas (strawberries), which she proclaimed to be the best crepe in the world.
It was an exhausting day with a lot of walking in the heat (of course we didn’t know real heat until we got to Seville and Granada where the temps were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so when we finally got back to the apartment it was nice to relax on the terrace with a cerveza before cleaning up for dinner.
That night we had planned to have dinner at the famous Cal Pep tapas bar, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the apartment. Since they don’t take reservations you need to line up early or be prepared to wait. We were too tired to do either. After considering trying again for El Xampaynet and seeing both were standing room only, we decided we really needed to sit down and ended up at a very authentic looking (and tasting) restaurant called Bodega la Tinaga, also in El Born.
The restaurant was very rustic looking, with hams hanging from the ceiling and stone walls. We feasted on a cheese plate, pan e tomate (bread with tomato smeared on, a Spanish staple), jamon (of course, always ham — very hard to keep kosher or halal in Spain), my daughter’s new favorite, chistorra (small sausages), and vino roja (for the grown ups at least.) After enjoying the night scene in El Born, we were ready to turn in after a very busy and memorable day.