Visit Barcelona’s Famous Churches: La Seu, Santa Maria del Mar and More

Barcelona’s vast medieval history and its playground of Gothic architecture means there are some incredible sights for sore eyes in the city. Many of its most prominent architectural offerings are church buildings, some of which are tucked away at the end of winding laneways, take pride of place in traditional squares, and sit atop grand mountains overlooking the surrounding scenery. Getting to know Barcelona’s many religious temples is a great way to learn more about the city’s history, its religious past, and its dedication to fine architecture. To finish, a little note on terminology: La Sagrada Familia isn’t a cathedral, it is actually a basilica. A cathedral is the seat of a bishop of the Catholic church, and as such most cities have only one cathedral. Other large church buildings, despite being cathedral-like, are actually classified differently.

La Sagrada Familia

sagrada familia vaulted ceiling and columns
The Sagrada Familia is one of the most striking and unique pieces of architecture in the world

Would this list be complete with Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece? Absolutely not. La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the best-loved attraction in the city. The unfinished architectural wonder dates back to the early 20th century and remains uncompleted today – though it’s thought the whimsical building will be finished by the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2020. We’ll see. Unlike the other entries on the list, you’ll want to hotfoot it to La Sagrada Familia early, as the crowds can get out of hand as the day wears on. Though the inside is a magical stage of ethereal light shining through stained-glass windows and huge, tree-like pillars, the decorative exterior might just be enough to satiate your interest. Find out more about the Sagrada Familia here.

Santa Maria del Mar

santa maria del mar facade
Santa Maria del Mar is one of Barcelona’s less touristy churches, but still very worth visiting

In the trendy district of El Born you’ll find one of the city’s finest Catalan Gothic churches. The Santa Maria del Mar sits humbly in the tangle of streets that characterize the area, and its 14th century façade highlights the grand old past of Barcelona. The building itself was built by Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig, two much-coveted architects of the time, and during its erection the local porters carried the stones needed to build it. Their back-breaking work has been rewarded though – in the stone reliefs on the main doors. Find out more about Santa Maria del Mar here.

Barcelona´s Cathedral: La Seu

facade of the cathedral of barcelona
Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral is 700 years old, a relic of medieval Barcelona

Set almost slap bang in the middle of the Barri Gotic, La Seu cathedral is one of the most beautiful Gothic offerings in the city. Its spires pierce the sky, whilst intricate details add a decorative touch to the medieval laneways that surround it. Visit during any kind of festivity or event and you’ll find the forecourt in a flurry of activity, from artisan markets to lively parties. At night La Seu really comes to life, with its ornate façade illuminated by twinkling lights. To get it at its best, visit at dusk when the light spits a hazy glow through the cloisters.

Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazon

Sacred heart church at the top of tibidabo
Barcelona has its own Sacre Coeur at the top of Tibidabo

Translated as the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this impressive basilica acts as a guardian watching over the city. Perched on top of Mount Tibidabo, it’s often the first thing people see when they come into the city – from the comfort of their aeroplane seats. The brainchild of Enric Sagnier, a Spanish engineer, the building is an odd one to look at, mostly because it’s a combination of two churches, one perched delicately on top of the other.

Barcelona’s spectacular churches are, without a doubt, some of the best in Europe. They seem to appear like mirages out of nowhere, down straggly lanes, and what seem to be dead ends. You simply have to wander around the right place to stumble upon one and, when you do, you can spend a moment or two soaking up the architectural charm and historic wonder.