Barcelona is an architectural wonderland with history that dates back to the Roman Empire. Some of the most stunning examples of the unique Catalan Modernism architecture designed by native son Antoni Gaudí are the still unfinished Sagrada Família cathedral and the legendary Park Güell.
Antoni Gaudí was born in Catalonia in 1852 and became an architect in 1878. He immediately began to transform the Catalonian capital of Barcelona into an Art Nouveau-inspired city with his own unique twist. He started with the lamp posts in the city (many of which you can still see) and then was hired by Eusebi Güell, a Barcelona businessman, to build a palace and garden, Palau Güell and Park Güell which can still be visited today. The park was meant to be part of a large housing development, but the advent of WWI halted construction with only two houses completed. He worked on several other buildings still standing in the city including the fantastical Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.
In 1883 Gaudí began work on his grand masterpiece, the Sagrada Família cathedral, and spent 46 years laboring to complete it. On June 7, 1926, Gaudí was struck by a tram and died with the cathedral still unfinished. He was buried in one of its chapels, still overseeing its construction in his eternal resting place. His original blueprints were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War but the new construction is still inspired by him. The cathedral isn’t yet complete today but is slated to be done in 2026.
You can’t come to Barcelona without visiting the Sagrada Família (the Holy Family Church). It’s like going to London without seeing Westminster Abbey or Rome without seeing St. Peter’s. The sight of Sagrada Família rising above its dwarfed neighbors is like no other. If you have to choose just one site to see in Barcelona, it should be this one!
The cathedral is located in the Eixample neighborhood but save walking around it for after your tour. I recommend starting the day at the cathedral and then walking through the neighborhood to find a unique lunch spot.
You MUST buy your tickets to the cathedral in advance here. There are no ticket sales onsite. I recommend getting the tickets that include a tower tour (the Passion tower is higher and has view over the city). Each ticket comes with an audio guide, but if you’re really interested, go for the guided tour. Be sure to download the ticket app so you have access to the audioguide. Note that the cathedral is not air-conditioned (or doesn’t seem to be!) so it is very hot and stuffy in the summer! Bring a folding fan to use while inside.
The ticketed entrance is located along the Nativity façade side, facing the Plaça de Gaudí. Be forewarned that this area is completely mobbed with people so watch your pockets and hold on tight to little children. Take a minute to walk into the park to get the full view of the Nativity façade from this angle.
You’ll have to go through security at the entrance (be sure to look at your ticket to see which line to use).
Once inside, your eye will be immediately drawn up to the ceiling, soaring 200 feet above you.
It’s hard to capture the sheer majesty of this space. Everywhere your eyes look, there is something new to see.
We followed the Rick Steves interior tour route which takes you from the Nativity façade, which was the only part of the cathedral that was finished in Gaudí’s lifetime, through the amazing interior. Look at the Jesus statue above the altar!
Wander around the nave and don’t miss seeing Gaudí’s tomb near the choir. Be sure your kids see the “Darth Vader” figure at the back of the cathedral! My kids were obsessed, and we never did figure out what exactly it was!
You’ll then head out to see the Glory and Passion façades.
If you have time, head to the museum (or see it after your tower visit).
Don’t leave if you have timed tower tickets! Head back inside and queue up for your designated time. Our tickets were 45 minutes after our entrance which was just about right. We went up the elevator to the Passion façade and gaped at the views!
Look for the continued construction and the colorful decorations!
It’s pretty tight as you walk around the upper floors so it’s not for the faint of heart (or little ones). I don’t recommend this for kids under the age of 10. While an elevator takes people up, you have to walk down the narrow and dizzying stairs. My legs were shaking by the end!
My 14 year old’s take:
I would recommend at least going up to the top of the cathedral to excite your kids more. However, if you are like my mom, do not go up if you have vertigo or any medical conditions. The top of the cathedral shows a priceless view that cannot be put into words, just breathtaking. Being able to view the whole city from there will just blow your mind. Kids may be bored in the cathedral, especially teenagers, but it’s still worth seeing.
Head out the exit and don’t miss the small gift shop located there. As you leave, be sure to get a full view of the cathedral in the Plaça de la Sagrada Família from this side.
Stroll through the Eixample neighborhood, marveling at the other Gaudí homes. With kids, it may be asking a lot to go inside but even they will be amazed at the fanciful exteriors! La Pedrera is a must-see even if you don’t go inside!
Head just a few blocks south to the “Block of Discord,” aptly named for the crazy structures Gaudí and his acolytes built here. You can go in Casa Batlló (check out its cool programming for kids!) and Casa Museu Amatller.
Have a leisurely lunch in the Eixample neighborhood before heading to Gaudí’s next masterpiece, Park Güell.
Park Güell is like stepping into Alice in Wonderland. Its whimsical statues and colorful mosaics are eye-catching and enjoyed by kids and adults. From the Eixample neighborhood, take a taxi to the entrance to the park (there are three entrances – we used the Front Park Entrance). Note the park is at the top of a large hill that you will have to climb if you use the Metro to the Lessels station (it was a tough climb for me!). You must have timed entry tickets to see the Monumental Zone (purchase them here). Be sure to keep hold of your tickets because you have to use them to exit as well. Make sure to have water before entering the park as the only concessions are located near the exit.
The Monumental Zone has only one entrance inside the park and the foot traffic flows one way. Enter near the Pathway of Columns and follow the path down to the terrace. Spend some time here on the wavy mosaic benches overlooking Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea. It is beautiful!
Walk down from the terrace to the marketplace which is a gorgeous arched space.
The path will take you down the dragon stairway and fountains so get a picture with the smiling dragon!
At the base of the fountain is the courtyard with a bookstore and snack bar. After walking around in the heat, we were desperate for water! There is also a Gaudí house museum and viaducts in a different part of the park to see. Or you can just exit here where there are usually taxis waiting.
While architecture can seem boring to kids (and adults!), the fantastical structures built by Gaudí are eye-catching and exciting. Kids will love the colorful mosaics, particularly in the park. Be sure to visit these popular sites on your trip to Barcelona!
- Sagrada Família: €26-40
- Park Güell: €7-10
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time:
- Sagrada Família: 1 hour (2 hours if you go up the towers)
- Park Güell: 30-45 minutes
- Sagrada Família: It’s easy to get to via taxi. It’s also on the Metro (Sagrada Família stop).
- Park Güell: Use a taxi to avoid climbing up a hill! There are two Metro stops nearby (Lessips and Alfons X).
- Dining options: The Eixample neighborhood has many great restaurants. The Rambla de Catalunya is a lovely street just off the main road that has restaurants located in its leafy median. There’s also one of Barcelona’s markets nearby with restaurants and groceries – La Concepció Market. There is a snack bar in Park Güell that serves ice cream. For a more substantial snack or meal, walk outside the park to the little neighborhood.
- Nearby hotels: The closest hotel to Sagrada Família is the Radisson Blu. We stayed at the Intercontinental on Montjuic, and I also like the Kimpton in the Barí Gothic area.
- Nearby attractions include: The Rick Steves’ Eixample walking tour, Gaudí Experience, and Gaudí’s other masterpiece, Palau Güell (near the Ramblas)
Books to Read:
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