Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is a city that truly has it all. Looking for wall-to-wall sunshine and gorgeous beaches? You’ll find them here. Medieval history and Gothic roots? You’ve got it. Quirky modernist art and architecture? Present and accounted for. A top-notch football team? But of course. An imaginative and vibrant food scene boasting restaurants galore? Done and done.
Obviously Barcelona has a lot going for it, but not everyone who visits discovers the true spiritual heart of this city. Religion runs deep in Spain, and Barcelona is no exception. This city is sprinkled with religious sites of immense cultural importance, many of which are hiding in plain sight. Whether you’re deeply religious or simply a student of theology and history, there’s plenty of tradition and belief to discover in this breath-taking city.
Only have one day to spend in Barcelona? Use our guide to help you pack in as much as possible.
Where to Go
Santa Maria de Montserrat
Twenty minutes’ drive north of Barcelona you’ll find one of the most important religious sites in all of Spain. The Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery has been perched atop the rocky, jagged peaks of the Montserrat Mountain since at least the 9th century. It is famous for enshrining the Virgin of Montserrat, a statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ that has long been an object of veneration for Christians.
According to tradition, the 38-inch wooden statue was carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the Christian Church. In 718, facing invasion from Saracen Muslims, Barcelona Christians moved the statue of Our Lady to a cave on top of Montserrat. Two hundred years later, the statue was rediscovered and a church was built to accommodate it. The monastery followed soon after. Today, the site is a must-see for visitors and attracts some one million pilgrims each year.
The mountaintop church, monastery, and accompanying museum can be reached by road, train, or cable car. Don’t forget to take some time to appreciate the incredible view!
Monistrol de Montserrat, 08199 Montserrat, Spain
Tel: +34 938 77 77 77
Hours: (for tourists) Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, weekends 9am-8pm
Santa Maria del Mar
Literally ‘Saint Mary of the Sea’, this 14th-century church is one of the finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture. Famous for its architectural harmony and simplicity, the church was built quite rapidly, taking ‘only’ 54 years to complete. (Pretty swift given construction technology in the 1300s!) Inside you’ll find a spacious, airy, and light-filled central nave, a surprising divergence from many medieval churches which tend to be somewhat dim and gloomy. Santa Maria is also sparsely decorated compared to other Spanish Gothic churches, meaning there’s nothing to distract from the impressive structures with graceful, sweeping lines.
The church often hosts Baroque and classical music recitals, something to keep an eye out for during your visit. If you opt for the guided tour, you’ll be rewarded with a trip to the rooftop!
Plaça de Santa Maria, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 933 10 23 90
Prices: guided tour is €8
Located right in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia (also called Barcelona Cathedral or simply ‘La Seu’) is the city’s central place of worship. Built between 1248 and 1460, the cathedral’s most unmistakable feature was actually added much later. The updated façade, added in 1870, is an ornate expanse rife with gargoyles and animals. Inside you’ll be greeted by a soaring nave, vaulted ceiling, and a forest of slender pillars.
Pla de la Seu, s/n, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 93 342 82 62
Hours: 8am-12:45pm and 5:15-7:30pm Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm Sat & Sun
Prices: Free admission, €3 to enter the choir, €3 to access the roof
If you’re ready for something a little more modern, head over to La Sagrada Família, which you’ve probably already noticed towering over the Barcelona skyline. The most visited monument in Spain, this Roman Catholic church designed by the great architect Antoni Gaudí attracts 2.8 million visitors each year. But the real kicker? The church is not actually finished.
Begun in 1882, the massively ambitious church has been under construction for over 100 years, and is not projected to be complete until 2026. The church, already impressive, will be even more so once all 17 of its towers (the largest an impressive 170m) are completed. A church unlike any other, Sagrada Família is designed to emulate natural elements – tree-like pillars holding up a ceiling reminiscent of a canopy, jagged towers echoing nearby Montserrat, and much more.
Carrer de Mallorca 401
Tel: +34 93 208 04 14
Hours: Daily, 9am-8pm April-Sep, 9am-6pm October-March
How to Get There:
Barcelona may seem a world apart from your day-to-day life, but this sublime Catalonian capital is only two hours away by air. Nonstop flights leave daily from London airports with airlines such as Ryanair, Norwegian, British Airways, and easyJet.
Barcelona-El Prat airport is located about 20 km west of the city proper, so once you’ve touched down, make it easy for yourself by jumping right in a pre-booked airport shuttle. Shuttle Direct’s transfer services from Barcelona airport are simple to book well in advance, and can get you to your hotel or other final destination with no fuss and no hassle.
Where to Stay:
Yurbban Trafalgar Hotel – You’re sure to love the soundproofed, air-conditioned, chicly decorated rooms in this conveniently located hotel – but believe it or not, that’s not even the best part! You might very well be spending most of your time on the rooftop terrace, enjoying a swim in the pool, a soak in the sun, or simply marvelling at the 360-degree panoramic view of Barcelona. Who needs a room with a view when you’ve got the whole roof?
Hotel Casa Camper – Situated in the heart of Barcelona, this boutique hotel is a cosy slice of home in the middle of the bustling city. You’ll love the brightly painted designer rooms (no boring beige here!), each of which includes a separate living area. And did we mention the 24-hour buffet?
Mercer Hotel – Located in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter (just five minutes from Barcelona Cathedral!) inside one of the city’s ancient buildings, this five-star hotel truly takes you back in time. Its original exposed stone walls and ceiling beams, paired with stylish contemporary accents, makes for an intriguing contrast of old and new.
About Shuttle Direct:
Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, Shuttle Direct is the kind of resource you’ll be glad to have in your back pocket. At home or abroad, you can rely on our speedy and professional service to and from airports, train stations, cruise ports, hotels, and more.