Sagrada Familia: Guided Tour or General Admission?

I’ve had a unique opportunity to visit the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona twice within three months this year and I choose to do two different types of visits to compare.

Now I can compare a guided tour with general admission, to help you choose the right one for your visit.

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Why the Sagrada Familia?

It’s likely you already know about the Sagrada Familia, or at least have seen a picture of it somewhere, but you may not know the full story.

This ornate Basilica is now Barcelona’s most distinctive landmark. It has been under construction now for 142 years, slowing rising skywards, to soon become the tallest structure in the city when the main tower is completed in 2026.

The unique and intricate building is the crowning design of architect Antoni Gaudi, and he spent much of his life working on it, even living on the construction site for years.

Consecrated in 2010, today it is a working Catholic Church, but it is also the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona with almost 5 million people visiting in 2023 alone.

There are a range of options available to visitors. I will discuss the two visits I’ve done, and later include some other options too.

The outside of a intricate gothic cathedral

A Sagrada Familia Guided Tour

The first time I visited the Sagrada Familia I opted for a tour. There are dozens of them out there, but as I read, they all seemed to be very similar – and from what I saw on the day, I still think this is true.

This is the one I chose, mainly because I wanted to be able to add on the climb to the tower too, and because it was available at a time that suited me.

The tour started outside the Basilica, where we met our guide and were then escorted as a group into the complex. We were given earpieces so that we could easily hear our guide.

We started outside the Nativity Façade and learned about the history, background and progress of Sagrada Familia as a whole. We then turned to the façade, taking note of the main features.

This part of the tour lasted about half an hour and was filled with interesting information.

We then made our way inside. As a group, we stopped in various locations throughout the church to discuss the design and features, before moving outside again on the other side to see the Passion Façade.

Once we had spent time learning about the features there, the main part of the tour was completed. Up until this point, it had taken almost 90 minutes.

Some of the group had chosen the Tower Access add-on, but if you hadn’t, it was still possible to buy tickets at this point if you wanted to go up.

We already had tickets, so we joined the line. It was around a 30-minute wait before it was our turn to take the elevator up to the top of the towers to view the city from that height and to see some of the design features close up rather than from the ground.

The Tower visit is one way, so it’s an elevator up, then it’s down a long, spiral staircase. The visit took about 20 minutes in total.

I think for the additional small cost, since you are already there, that the Tower access is worth it. Do not do it though if you are scared of heights as there are some sections that you may find challenging.

(There was a woman just before us that couldn’t do it. I assume she was somehow taken back down the elevator without seeing anything.)

After this, we were free to spend as much time in the Basilica as we liked. We went down into the Museum underneath, which gives more of the history and great information on some of the innovative design features.

All up we were at the Sagrada Familia for about 3.5 hours. We do like to take our time though, and you certainly could have visited in less time than this.

Overall I enjoyed our tour. I was gobsmacked at the beauty of the building and loved seeing it from every angle.

If I had one complaint it was that I sometimes struggled to hear through the headset I had because of static and it kept cutting out, but my husband had no issues, so I think I just had a dud set.

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Sagrada Familia General Admission

My second visit to the Sagrada Familia was with my daughter. She has a smaller budget and we were pushed for time (less than 24 hours in Barcelona) so we chose to go with this general admission option with an audio guide.

When buying the tickets, we still needed to choose a time slot and they do book out weeks in advance. We wanted a 10 am slot, but couldn’t get in until 11:15 am, and we booked about a month in advance.

You can also add a tower visit to this general admission ticket when you book, but we didn’t this time. My daughter is not a fan of heights, and I had already done that part.

Close-up of colorful fruit and vegetable sculptures adorning the exterior of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, against a background of detailed stone and geometric designs.
Close up view of the fruit on top of the shorter towers

The path we took on this visit was very similar to the one taken on the tour. Once we had our audioguide, we started outside the Nativity Façade, went through the Basilica and then out the other side to the Passion Façade.

The audioguide locations were well-marked and in a logical sequence. The information we received from the audioguide was great, and I would say it was at least 90% of what we heard from our guided tour.

There were a few things that I had learned on the tour that weren’t mentioned, but they were all minor points that just enhanced the tour as opposed to essential information.

Listening to the whole audioguide sequence took us around 45 minutes.

We were able to stand just where we wanted to get photos as the audio was running, meaning we got all those shots we wanted now, rather than after the tour (the guide had to take us to areas the group fit, not necessarily the best spots for photos).

Afterwards we again went down to the museum, and spent some time looking around there.

Overall this time we were only at the Sagrada Familia for around 90 minutes. I felt like – apart from the towers – we saw just as much and got almost the same information as doing the guided tour.

My daughter loved it, and was satisfied with what she saw.

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So Which Would I Choose?

Honestly, both options were good, but if I had to make one recommendation, I would say going with the general admission and adding on the Tower Access will give you the best bang for your buck.

I don’t think you will miss out on much by going that way, and if you are on a budget, it’s the way to go to save a few dollars.

If you want that extra 5-10% of information that I got on the tour, and money is not an issue, then choose a tour.

Remember you will get plenty of free time at the end to look at things and get the photos you want so you can just enjoy listening and learning on the tour.

Other Ways to See the Sagrada Familia

While the two options I have mentioned above are the most popular ways to visit the Sagrada Familia, there are some other options too.

Attend a service

As I mentioned at the top, the Sagrada Familia is a working Basilica. An international mass is held there (in various languages) at 9 am every Sunday morning, and it is free to attend.

But it is also very popular, and access is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you may need to get there very early.

I didn’t attend mass, but from what I have read, you need to be in line at least 1 hour beforehand to have a chance of getting a seat.

You do need to note that this is a visit for Mass only, so you will not be able to wander around the Basilica, but you will get to see it being used for the purpose it was attended.

I have also seen mention of Saturday evening Mass, perhaps only over the summer months, but that could be worth considering if it fits your schedule.

As Part of a Larger Tour

There are a whole pile of full-day, or even multiple-day, tours that include a visit to the Sagrada Familia.

These might be good if you are trying to fit several different attractions into a shorter time frame.

Perhaps you want to visit a few of the Gaudi sites, or you want the highlights of Barcelona itself. You can even combine the Sagrada Familia with tours further afield.

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Tips for a Great Sagrada Familia Visit

To make your visit the best it can be, here are some tips

Buy your ticket in advance

The Sagrada Familia is one of those places that does sell out, so if you leave your ticket until the last minute, you may not be able to access the tour or add-ons you want, or you may not be able to get entry at all.

So please purchase a ticket in advance, do not leave it until you arrive, especially in the busy summer months. If you are visiting then, I would recommend booking 2-4 weeks in advance to ensure you get in, even longer if you need a specific day and time.

Follow the Dress Code

Like most Catholic churches, you will need to make sure you follow the dress code to be admitted to the Sagrada Familia.

In general, you will want to make sure your knees and shoulders are covered, you are not wearing see-through clothing, you are wearing shoes (yes, that is one of the rules) and that you are not wearing clothing that is for religious, promotional or artistic purposes.

Be Prepared for Airport-Style Security

This is becoming much more common with popular attractions, including the Sagrada Familia. Be ready to put your bags through an x-ray machine and have a security scan. I recommend packing as little as possible to facilitate this.

One of the things prohibited is outside beverages. I think I took water in each time and was not questioned, but know that it is in the rules.

Don’t Plan a Photoshoot

I know how tempting it is to want to get some stunning photos in this incredible setting, but just don’t!

Firstly, all professional photo equipment is not allowed, including tripods, and the entry conditions do specifically state that photoshoots are generally not allowed.

Secondly, there are too many people to be able to take professional photos. You are just going to annoy everyone else trying to get a good shot.

If you would like to take professional photos, you can apply for approval, but I am guessing that could be quite a process.

Final Words

Interior view of the Sagrada Família with tall, intricately designed columns and colorful stained glass windows illuminated by natural light.
Photos do not do the Sagrada Familia justice.

The Sagrada Familia is much more than just another beautiful church. It has an amazing – and ongoing – story of its construction, and it is inextricably linked to perhaps the most distinctive architect for centuries.

If you are going to be in Barcelona – even if you’ve seen it before – you should include the Sagrada Familia on your itinerary to see it while it is still changing.

It will soon be finished, with current plans to have the main structure completed in 2026 in time for the 100-year anniversary of Gaudi’s death. There will be some finishing touches after that, but you will never be able to say you saw it while it was being built!

I truly believe this is one of the most incredible buildings on the planet, and I will certainly visit it again next time I am in Barcelona.

Read more about Barcelona with these posts
Is the Park Güell Tour Worth It? Here’s My Take
Finding Gaudi in Barcelona

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.