We did not intend to spend over four hours at Gaudi’s masterpiece La Sagrada Familia. But we did.
My travel partner Beth and I figured we’d spend two hours, maybe, at the famed church and then jet right out, completely satisfied with our Sagrada Familia experience. We had a timed entry ticket for 10 am to see the church and another for 11 am to ascend the Nativity Tower. We figured we’d spend one hour touring the ground level of the church both inside and out, then take our tour of the Nativity Tower and exit immediately afterward to explore the neighborhood near our accommodations, eat a leisurely tapas lunch, and then walk down to the beach or go up Montjuic or something.
Then we saw all of this:
And we just couldn’t stop staring. We wandered for an hour, then climbed the Nativity Tower, and then sat in the central nave just staring at everything and occasionally reading the guidebook and spitting Gaudi facts at each other. We spent half an hour in the gift shop (because everybody need La Sagrada Familia stained-glass souvenirs) and then we tackled the facade (admittedly while dipping back inside to watch how the light was changing through the windows).
We left only because there’s no food or drink for sale on the premises (you are not allowed to eat on site, but you are allowed to have drinks outside), there’s no re-entry with your ticket, and we were HUNGRY. So we fled to a necessary, only slightly disappointing lunch, in the shadow of the church so we could gaze at it just awhile longer.
If you’re thinking, this will never happen to me, I’ll be in and out no problem. I get it. But if you like art, churches, or crazy gorgeous light coming through stained glass windows even a little bit, I beg you to entertain the possibility you’ll be as enchanted as we were and to prepare yourself, just in case.
I mean, look at this:
And the photos don’t begin to do justice to what it’s like in person.
So, please, try these tips:
- Leave your schedule flexible. You can’t spend four hours at La Sagrada Familia if you also plan to visit one or two of Gaudi’s houses and the Picasso Museum all in the same day.
- Eat a hearty meal right before visiting. We accidentally did this right because we were in the mood for omelets for breakfast. Lucky us!
- Bring a water bottle. Trust me.
- Prepare a food strategy using at least one of the following tactics:
- Bring a snack to eat as soon as you leave.
- Sacrifice quality and price of your meal in order to eat immediately in the shadow La Sagrada Familia. I recommend the Pizza Emporium (yes, really).
- Know where you want to eat afterward and hop in a taxi directly to food.
And if over four hours at La Sagrada Familia followed by lunch just outside isn’t enough Gaudi for you, head up to Park Guell. You may be able to get same day entry tickets to the Monumental Zone, but even if you can’t, it’s a lovely and relaxing place to spend a few hours.
Book your tickets in advance online: http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/tickets/ You’ll select an entry time and then once you’re in you can stay as long as you like. You can also book a ticket to go up one or more of the towers. If you think there’s even the slightest chance you’ll want to linger for a long time, book a ticket early in the day. Directions and opening hours are also on their website.
Food and drink: There is no eating allowed on the premises of La Sagrada Familia. Drinks are allowed outside the church. No food or drink is sold on the premises.
Lunch options with a view of La Sagrada Familia:
Restaurant Bar Picasso: From what we’ve heard, skip it. We were about to sit down at a table there when a fellow traveler got up from her table and told us about her terrible lunch. We looked over at her table where her husband was sitting with a queasy look on his face and their plates had just a couple bites out of them each. We thanked her and avoided the place. We later learned it has a 1.5 star rating on Trip Advisor. The people have spoken and our attempt at tapas was (in the end, happily) foiled before it began.
The Pizza Emporium: It’s nearing hangry times if I’m willing to eat at a place called The Pizza Emporium or pass up an authentic Spanish meal on a 10-day trip to Spain, but overall this place was pretty good. We enjoyed red wine and coffee and a bowl of risotto each. The service was efficient, the food was hot and tasty, and we staved off any upset moods while staring at this lovely view: