The Barcelonese carry the Santa María del Mar basilica (literally, “Holy Mary of the Sea”) in their hearts. It’s the only pure Catalan Gothic church in Barcelona, and at nearly 700 years old it is one of the oldest and most storied buildings in Barcelona’s old city. It is said that the waiting list to get married here goes up to two years.
In this article you will find:
- Information about tickets and tours
- Opening hours
- Insider tips
- Interesting facts, history, and architecture of Santa María del Mar
- How to get there
What is the Santa María del Mar and what makes this church so special?
Some locals say that the Sagrada Familia is the church of tourists, while Santa María del Mar is the church of the people of Barcelona.
Even though it is less famous than many of Barcelona’s other attractions, it is certainly worth visiting. When you walk through its door, look up and you’ll instantly understand why.
The construction of the basilica is the subject of “La Catedral del Mar” (The Cathedral of the Sea), a famous novel by local writer Ildefonso Falcones. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Plan your visit to the Basílica of Santa María del Mar
Unlike many other popular local attractions, you don’t need much time to visit Santa María del Mar.
You can walk in and view the whole church in under 20 minutes, but if you want to take a guided tour and visit the rooftop (and we recommend you do, the view of Old City skyline is spectacular) you’ll spend up to an hour on your visit.
A visit can be perfectly combined with a stroll around the neighbourhood of El Born, perhaps the most beautiful area of the old centre.
Many of its narrow streets date back to the dark ages, but now they’re lined with interesting fashion boutiques and little, hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants serving contemporary tapas and fusion cuisine.
The Picasso Museum is just around the corner and the old market El Born CCM is worth a visit. The park of La Ciutadella is close by as well.
When to visit the Basílica Santa María del Mar?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that during certain hours the church isn’t free.
Check ‘practical information’ for prices and when the admission is free. The church can be busier than usual when entry is free.
Dress code when visiting the Santa María del Mar
Keep in mind that Santa Maria del Mar is a Catholic church, and as such there are certain restrictions to visitors’ clothing.
Small shorts, short skirts and bare shoulders are not allowed, so bring something to cover your shoulders and your knees and legs. Flip flops are allowed but discouraged.
Tickets and guided tours at the Santa María del Mar
If you take a guided tour, you’ll learn a lot about the history, architecture and the religious background and significance of the basilica, as well as being able to visit spaces that are not accessible during a normal visit.
Tours are held daily in English and Spanish, they last roughly 45 minutes.
The English-language tours begin at 2 pm and 5.15 pm. The guide will take you up to the roof, where you have a wonderful view over the city.
Entrance to the crypt has to be purchased separately (€2) from the tour ticket, although the crypt is not particularly interesting so if you skip it you won’t be missing much.
Recommendation: book a tour with a guide. You can book a bike or walking tour through the center with our partner El Ciclo.
Your guide will show you the best spots and give you personal tips. An original, safe and entertaining way to get to know Barcelona.
You can include a visit to Santa Maria del Mar, just let your guide know!
Every day from 9 am to 8.30 pm (Sunday 10 am to 8 pm).
You can visit the Santa María del Mar for free from 9am to 1pm and from 5pm to 8.30pm (Sunday: 10am-2pm and 5pm to 8pm).
Between 1pm and 5pm you have to pay to visit the church, tickets are €5.
These entrance tickets are not available online. A map and information about what you will see is included with your ticket.
In case you also wish to see the roof, you can pay an extra amount of €3 and join the guide (ask at the entrance at what time this is possible).
A visit to the crypt costs €2.
If you want to join the tour, we recommend you book your ticket online in advance. The group may fill up and you could be left out if you want to buy the ticket on the spot.
Note: the tour is not suitable for children under six. Children between 6 and 8 enter for free.
Attend a mass at the Santa María del Mar church
It is also possible to attend the daily mass at the Santa María del Mar. It starts at 7.30 pm.
On Sundays and holidays there is an international mass at 12 am and for Christmas you can also attend a night mass, on December 24th starting at 11 pm.
How to get to the Basílica Santa María del Mar
- Metro: the closest metro is Jaume I (L4, yellow line), a five minute walk to the basilica.
- Hop-on hop-off-bus: The closest hop-on-hop-off bus stop is Pla de Palau (red line).
- Bike: cycling to Santa Maria del Mar from Plaça Catalunya takes 10 to 15 minutes.
- Walking: If you prefer to walk, from Plaça Catalunya it’s roughly 20 to 30 minutes.
What can you see and do during your visit at the Santa María del Mar?
The squares around the church are a good place to sit down for a drink and relax after exploring the neighborhood.
Especially noteworthy is El Fossar de les Moreres, on one of the church’s sides.
In the Middle Ages the square was a graveyard, and it continued to be used to this end until the 19th century.
Many heroes from the Succession War of 1713/1714 are buried here. To honor them, a torch with an eternal burning flame and a poem from Frederic Soler were placed here.
From the outside, the basilica may look simple, but once you enter you’ll understand why Santa Maria del Mar is considered one of the foremost examples of Catalan Gothic architecture.
You can enter the church from the main entrance along the Plaça de Santa María and exit from the side or back, or the other way round.!
Look up when you’re inside to see the beautiful rose window, if the sun is on it it’s a stunning sight.
Take a walk alongside the chapels at the left and right where believers light colorful candles in honor of the deceased.
If you take a guided tour you can see the rose window from close up.
The altar is simple and plain, this is mainly because of the destruction and fires during the Spanish Civil War.
The impressive octagonal pillars are exactly 13 meters apart, the maximum distance the structure could handle.
Any more and they would collapse — an interesting technical feat given how old the building is.
Near the back of the church, on the left side, you may recognize the logo of a certain local football club in the stained glass window.
The Barça shield was placed there in thanks for a generous donation from the club in 1974.
There is a special tribute to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the church, in the shape of a stained glass window.
José Fernández Castrillo designed a contemporary window on which you can distinguish the Olympic flame and the holy Santa Eulàlia.
This window is the most recent one, it was placed in 1995.
Visit the roof
In the middle of the day it’s possible to go on a guided tour not only of the church, but also but also visit the roof terrace of Santa María del Mar.
Get some fresh air and and a breathtaking view over the old centre of Barcelona.
During the tour you will have access to spaces that are normally hidden for the public such as the impressive crypt where relics are kept and you can see the magnificent rose window from close by and even touch the pillars.
History of Santa María del Mar
In the 14th century there was no money for yet another church, the city was busy constructing the big cathedral nearby, the Catedral de Santa Eulàlia, in the gothic quarter.
However, the wealthy families that lived closer to the sea in El Born also wanted a temple they could attend in their neighbourhood.
These people were mostly owners of merchant ships, hence the name ‘del mar’ which means ‘of the sea’.
They found a suitable piece of land: the spot where Santa Eulàlia, Barcelona’s patron, was buried in the year 303 as a martyress.
According to the legend she was crucified on Plaça del Àngel, closeby. However, there was already a church here, documented as early as 998.
To finance the project each of those families bought a piece of the church and the materials. By doing so, they also bought their final resting place inside the church.
You can see this once you are inside: on the floor there are several graves, some of which are shared.
On the graves you can recognize references to the different guilds from that period, for example the ships that represent the guild of the fishermen (gremi dels pescadors).
Huge blocks of stone were carried down from the Montjuïc mountain by the ‘portadores’ (carriers) and loaded on ships.
The carriers (bastaixos in Catalan) were highly respected because of the difficulty and importance of their job and because they worked for free, out of love for God.
On the main entrance doors, you see two small figures of these portadores.
The construction of the church started in 1329. In 1383 the building was finished under the guidance of architects Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig.
Construction only took 54 years, a very small amount of time compared to how long it often took to build religious temples back then.
It was partly because of this that Santa Maria del Mar is a “pure” Catalan gothic church and doesn’t integrate other styles.
In 1428, an earthquake destroyed much of the church, as did the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
When inside, look up and you will notice the black spots on the ceiling caused by a large fire started by anarchists chasing Franco supporters that were hiding inside.
Are you a foodie? Take the little street at the left of the main entrance of La Santa María del Mar and discover Casa Gispert.
You can buy (mainly) Catalan products like extra virgin olive oil, nuts and dried fruits, chocolate, spices, coffee and lots more.
At Christmas time there is always a long queue of people and you have to take a number.
It’s one of the oldest shops of Barcelona with a 170 years old wood oven where nuts are roasted every morning.
Also visit the Picasso Museum around the corner and the nearby located cultural center El Born CCM.
In 2006 the Barcelonese writer Ildefonso Falcones wrote the beautiful book The Cathedral of the Sea, that takes place during the construction of the church.
Take your book to one of the terraces in front of the basilica, for example at Bubó where you can eat tapas and salads or one of their famous cakes.
The wine bar Vinya del Señor is also a favorite among locals.
Attractions near Santa Maria del Mar
There are many attractions near Santa Maria del Mar: