If Barcelona is most closely associated with Gothic and modernist architecture, then the La Seu Cathedral and Santa Maria del Mar church provide beautiful examples of the former and Gaudí's Sagrada Familia a sublime offering of the latter. But the Renaissance is also majestically represented in the Esglesia de Betlem on Las Ramblas, and Romanesque architecture in the church of Sant Pau del Camp.
There are a whopping 15 churches and cathedrals in Barcelona—each elegant, stupendous, and interesting in its own way. Discover the eight that every visitor, religious or not, must see.
La Sagrada Familia
Behold the insouciant creative dynamism of Europe's most bizarre cathedral. Often called "the last cathedral" (even though it's not technically a cathedral), the Sagrada Familia inspires, delights, torments, and disturbs in equal measure. It is Barcelona's Holy Grail of religious buildings. Designed by Spanish-Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the distinctive edifice is a blend of Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernism, and Art Nouveau. Though construction started on the cathedral 150 years ago, the Sagrada Familia is still a work in progress, slated to be complete in 2026. When finished, it will be the tallest religious structure in Europe, standing nearly 560 feet high.
The line to get into this UNESCO World Heritage Site can be daunting, but you can save yourself a lot of time by booking your tickets online. Admission is about $25. Keep in mind that the interior isn't finished, so prepare to witness an active construction site. However, the views from the two facades, Nativity and Passion, make up for it.
The Sagrada Familia opens at 9 a.m. and closes at either 6 or 8 p.m., depending on the time of year. When visiting, you should adhere to the standard dress code for Roman Catholic churches: no hats or transparent clothing, shoulders must be covered, and shorts must come down to at least mid-thigh, the church says. Cameras are permitted and rest assured you'll want to bring one. If taking the metro, disembark at Sagrada Familia station.
The spires of the Barcelona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia or La Seu Cathedral for its position at the Plaça de la Seu, dominate the Gothic Quarter. Surrounded by some of the city's most romantic—not to mention best-preserved—rambling alleyways, the cathedral's notable features include pointed archways, ribbed vaults, gargoyles on the roof, and a beautiful 14th-century cloister that houses 13 geese (representing the 13 years of the martyred Saint Eulalia, whose tomb is inside the cathedral). La Seu is classified as a minor basilica and is the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona.
Tourist visiting hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. It's free to visit and tickets are not required. The website doesn't specify a dress code, but shorts are discouraged and modest attire is expected inside the cathedral. Photography (without the flash) is allowed. The closest metro station to this beloved Barcelona landmark is Jaume I.
Esglesia de Betlem
Esglesia de Betlem—Catalan for Betlem Church or the Church Of Bethlehem—features an impressive portal that occupies a corner of Las Ramblas and Carrer Hospital. The chapel was constructed between the 17th or 18th centuries on the site of a previous chapel that was lost in a fire. It's one of the city's most outstanding examples of Baroque architecture (a style that's rare for Barcelona), although it's rather small and primitive. Don't expect the drama that its larger and more famous counterparts offer.
Josep Juli designed the church as a single nave connecting side chapels and a semicircular apse. It's free and open for visitation from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. most days, but keep in mind the original interior was torched during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Modest attire is expected. The Betlem Church is located at the corner of La Rambla and Carrer del Carme, a two-minute walk from La Boqueria market.
Sant Pau del Camp
Just off Rambla del Raval is one of Barcelona's oldest churches, first documented in 977. The original version was destroyed by Muslim invaders in 985 and construction on its replacement began shortly thereafter.
A rare glimpse of Romanesque architecture in the city, Sant Pau del Camp—translated as "Saint Paul of the countryside"—is named for the original monastery's former (prior to the 14th century) rural location. Its robust stone walls now stand conveniently in the city center. At one point, it housed eight monks, who were removed in 1835 due to the Spanish government's secularization of monasteries.
As far as its design goes, it has a small, 13th-century cloister—perhaps its best feature—double-columned lobular arcades, and an abbots' house. Inside, you'll find barrel vaults and ancient depictions of religious characters, such as Adam and Eve. A chapter house is where the tomb of the monastery's rumored founder, Wilfred II, is kept. Visiting hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4 to 7:30 p.m. Admission is about $3. The acoustics here are spectacular, so check the calendar for musical performances before visiting. The nearest metro station is Paral·lel.
This Gothic basilica is thought to be one of the finest in Spain, thanks to its celestial, light-absorbing windows and soaring columns. Its movie-star appeal is attested to by it being the protagonist of Ildefonso Falcones's Gothic novel, "The Cathedral of the Sea," which was made into a Netflix series in 2018. Santa Maria del Mar was erected between 1329 and 1383 and is now tucked in by the narrow streets of the Ribera, making it difficult to take in the full scope of it from outside.
The interior is bright and airy, courtesy of its tall, clerestorey windows. A fire in 1936 destroyed much of the inside imagery, such as a notable Baroque retable by Deodat Casanoves and Salvador Gurri. Likewise, an earthquake destroyed the rose window on the basilica's west end in 1428.
Santa Maria del Mar is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. It's also open on Sundays and public holidays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is about $10 for 45 minutes and $12 for 55 minutes. The nearest metro stations are Jaume I and Barceloneta.
Santa Maria del Pi
Santa Maria del Pi is the 14th-century Catalan Gothic church that replaced a former 10th-century Romanesque church on the very same site—on the Plaça del Pi in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. It is marked by a single pine (a tribute to its name, pi) in the square outside. On weekends, that square fills up with artist tables, the colossal facade of the church towering behind them.
The grand rose window that hovers above its entrance (a replica of the original) is one of the largest in the world. Other notable features include its gilded chapels and brilliant stained-glass windows, a contrast to its minimalistic main sanctuary.
The church is open daily, including public holidays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission is about $5.50, but you can also go on a guided tour, which includes a peak into the bell towers, for about $11. The website does not specify a dress code, but it's best to avoid shorts and sleeveless tops. It's near the Liceu metro station.
Templo del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus
Built about a century ago, the Roman Catholic Templo del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (aka Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor) is young when compared to Barcelona's other churches and cathedrals. But while it may not win an award for the most historic, it certainly has one of the most unique locales of any other religious venue in town. The minor basilica overlooks the entire city as it is located—rather epically—on the summit of Mount Tibidabo, the tallest hill in the Serra de Collserola.
Designed by Spanish architect Enric Sagnier (and completed by his son, Josep Maria Sagnier i Vidal, in 1961), it is composed of a Romanesque fortress, two grand stairways, and eight columns holding up an octagonal dome donning an image of the Sacred Heart. Inside, guests are treated to four rose windows, a great crucifix, and stained glass galore.
It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is free to enter the crypt. To explore the second and third terraces (hello, view), a $5 donation is recommended. As with every temple, cathedral, and church in town, guests should dress modestly. The website says nothing about photography being prohibited.
Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy
The Baroque-style Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy is distinguished by the oeil-de-boeuf window that accents its entrance and the rooftop statue of Our Lady, which can be seen all the way from the shipyard. Designed by Josep Mas i Dordal, the basilica was built between 1765 and 1775 and also features an octagonal bell tower, a 16th-century Renaissance portal salvaged from an older church, the Church of Saint Micheal, and an impressive interior of chandeliers, painted ceilings, and ironwork. The statue that decorates its roof represents the many more that are housed inside.
The basilica is free to enter and open daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. It's walkable from La Rambla, but you can also take the metro to Drassanes or Barceloneta stations. The website does not mention a dress code, but guests should wear regular church-appropriate attire.