I was told that I couldn’t go to Barcelona without seeing the iconic Sagrada Familia. It boasts Gaudi’s magnificent architecture and is arguably the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona.
Due to the popularity and crowds at Sagrada familiar, the very helpful hotel staff advised me to book online. By doing so, with Viator, this enables you to avoid queuing up for 1.5 hours to get in. When booking online, you can select a timeslot that you would like to visit and there are different package options. I would recommend selecting the Top Views package for EUR 29.00 as this includes entry to the tower where the birds eye views of Barcelona are breathtaking. I chose the 10am slot, given that I was flying back to London that evening and wanted to make the most of the day, whilst still allowing me time for a lie in, capuccino and pastry. It is easily accessible by public transport, with Sagrada Familia metro station being the nearest metro station, which is where I got off. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I could see stalls being set up across the road from the Sagrada Familia in preparation for the Christmas markets. Since I had a few spare minutes before my pre determined entry time, I decided to browse the local area-it was a tidy, but peaceful area, with terracotta style cafes and shops and a pretty public garden across from the Sagrada Familia where the Christmas markets were being set up.
The ticket included an audio guide to the Sagrada Familia, which explained the history of the Sagrada Familia and the significance of the designated stations. Construction of the Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882, with architect Antoni Gaudi taking over in 1883 and transforming it to reflect his architectural and engineering style; a combination of Gothic and curvillinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudi passed away in 1926, when construction was less than 25% complete and construction is currently 70% complete.
I walked from station to station, listening to the audio guide, in awe of this beautiful cathedral, so majestic, yet with so much detail and thought into each and every feature-the spires, the facades, the layout and the sculptures. The overall layout of the Cathedral is typical of Catalan and other Gothic European Cathedrals. It has a complex layout, with double aisles, several towers, an ambulatory with seven chapels, each in distinctly different sizes and in decoration. Another interesting feature of the Cathedral I noticed was a rectangular cloister enclosing the church. The Cathedral has eight imposing spires, which the audio guide explained represent the four apostles present at Jesus birth, and the four apostles present at Jesus death. Gaudi’s design is for eighteen spires, with the remainder still to be constructed.
The next station I went to was the Nativity Facade. Gaudi’s designs feature three facades; the Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade and the Glory Facade, with the Nativity and Passion Facades so far being constructed. The Nativity Facade is situated in the Basilica’s East and is dedicated to the birth of Jesus. It consists of four towers; each being dedicated to a Saint and has ornately decorated sculptures; decorated with natural images such as turtles and chameleons. The Nativity Facade faces the rising sun in the North East and is divided into three Porticos; each representing a theological value (hope, faith and charity). There is a Tree of Life decoration, rising above the door of Jesus in the Portico of Charity.
The next stops took me inside the Cathedral, which was just as stunning as the outside-enormous, light, bright and airy, ornate with intricately decorated stained glass windows. The audio guide explained that the interior layout of the church depicted a cross with five aisles. Towards the rear end of the Cathedral was the Lord’s prayer engraved on the wall.
The tour then lead me to the Passion Facade. I found the decoration and features, such as the This was facing the sunset and had much harsher, simpler features than the Nativity Facade, reminiscent of the sombre atmosphere surrounding Jesus passion and death. The stations of the cross are featured in a Spiral in three layers, with Jesus death on the cross being on the top.
I was really eager to see the tower, after hearing raving reviews about its panoramic views of Barcelona. You had to take a small lift up to the tower, due to the limited space and it was amazing, being up there and gazing down at the picture perfect, postcard image of this sprawling, beautiful city of Barcelona.
After I had finished with Sagrada Familia, I decided that I wanted to get my first taste of European Christmas markets. I had seen stalls being set up around the Barcelona Cathedral and had heard how beautiful European Christmas markets were. I had heard that night time was the best time to go, but unfortunately I was flying out that evening, so would have to settle for daytime. Besides, I needed to get my mum her figurines!
By the time I got back to the Barcelona Cathedral, the Christmas market stalls were set up, featuring Christmas decorations, stockings, knitted articles, handmade soaps, tablecloths, jewellery and glass ornaments-and most importantly-my mum’s figurines!
After getting my mum’s figurines, I browsed around the shops. My sister Cristobel had given me a long list of things she would like for Christmas and as it happened to be the Black Friday Sales, I decided to take advantage of it and do my Christmas shopping. But not before I had eaten lunch. One needs sustenance for shopping!
Since I was so impressed with Taller de Tapas, I decided to go back there for lunch and ordered the Tapas special, which consisted of Patates Bravas (spiced potatoes), deep fried squid ham and cheese croquettes, chorizo, spicy meatballs and beans. Delicious, satisfying and hit the spot! Time for shopping! Barcelona is terrific for shopping, particularly with the Christmas markets being open and the Black Friday Sales. All the major European brands were there and Placa Catalunya, El Raval, La Ramblas and Diagonal Mar are excellent for fashion and gifts, with stores like Berksha, H&M, Desigual, Zara as well as department stores and boutiques selling jewellery, beauty products, shoes, and traditional Spanish sweets like marzipan and handmade chocolates. It was a very productive afternoon, where I ticked off many items from my sister’s list and from my overall Christmas list-and bought some marzipan for my aunt and uncle. (Plus a few little presents for me, like a warm jumper from Berksha which has come in handy for the British Winter!) Definitely go to Barcelona with a half empty suitcase! I made the mistake of not taking checked baggage and was seriously cramming everything into my hand luggage to the point where it was nearly bursting at the seams!
As it was my last few hours in Barcelona, I decided to cram in as many “last” snacks as possible. I was yet to try the traditional Spanish hot chocolate, so I tried one at a cafe with a pastry and it was dark, dense and delicious and the pastry hot, light and fluffy. Sadly it was time for good things to come to an end-time to head to the airport.
Shuttle buses to Barelona El Prat Airport depart every 15 minutes from Plaza Catalunya and are blue in colour, with separate stops depending on the terminal. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the city centre to the airport and the shuttle bus costs about EUR 6.00-which is very, very reasonable. The sun set as the shuttle bus drove to the airport and I watched it go down as I reflected on all the enjoyable times I had had on this trip. I would definitely recommend Barcelona as a place to visit for a family holiday, a long weekend for couples or a group of friends. There is something there for everyone-shopping, culture, history, coastal and mountainous scenery and delicious food. Time to plan my next holiday!