by Diana Aydin
Spain is one of the most beautiful countries in Western Europe, as well as one of the most mystical, with its rich history of Christianity. Two of the country’s most popular cities—Barcelona and Spain—are home to many sacred delights, from Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s otherworldly creations to culinary treats baked by nuns.
Whether you plan to travel to España sometime soon, or just want to take a virtual vacation, here are some of Barcelona and Madrid’s most intriguing spiritual spots.
No trip to Barcelona is complete without some time spent gazing at Antoni Gaudí’s crowning achievement: the still-in-progress wonder, La Sagrada Familia. The church, which is expected to be completed in 2026, exactly 100 years after Gaudí’s death, is truly a marvel.
The Nativity, Passion, and Glory façades of the church tell the story of Christ with beautiful sculptures representing everything from the birth of Jesus to the Crucifixion. The church will eventually have 18 towers to symbolize each of the 12 apostles and the four Gospel writers, as well as the Virgin Mary and Jesus. But perhaps the most mesmerizing part of the church is its interior, with its ethereal stained glass windows and forrest-like columns, that take you to a different spiritual dimension.
Once it’s finished, La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in Europe at 566 feet, slightly shorter than the nearby mountain of Montjuïc, as Gaudi believed no man-made structure should be greater than God’s creation.
In cities like Barcelona, Toledo and Madrid, you’ll find opportunities to pick up sweets created by members of the clergy. At Monasterio Del Corpus Christi in Madrid, ring a bell labeled “monjas” and you can place your order for cookies baked by cloistered nuns. After you’re buzzed into the convent, you can place your order, leave payment on a turntable and a box of sweets will appear as if by magic.
In Barcelona, in the Gothic Quarter, be sure to stop at the cafe Caelum, where the upstairs level of the shop sells treats baked in monasteries and convents throughout Spain. The basement is a vaulted cafe in what used to be medieval baths in Barcelona’s Jewish Quarter.
About half an hour outside of Madrid is the ancient city of Toledo, home to renowned painter El Greco and known as the “City of Three Cultures,” because of its historical significance to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.
Toledo’s old town, which is set on a hill, is accessible via a series of escalators and divided into three religious quarters. The winding, uphill, cobblestone streets—lined with shops selling swords and knives—will transport you to medieval times, as will the majestic Catedral de Toledo.
One of the best things about Barcelona? You can go from beach to city to mountain all in a day. Each of its neighborhoods has its charms. But perhaps Barcelona’s most mysterious section is its Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic. Simply getting lost in its labyrinth of winding streets is a worthwhile adventure, with hidden shops, artwork of saints, and lovely lampposts at every turn. On Carrer del Bisbe, you’ll find one of Barri Gòtic’s most photographed sites—Bishop’s Bridge. Under the passageway is a skull and dagger design that has many legends attached to it. Walk backwards beneath it and a wish you make just might come true!
This Gothic-style church, also located in the Gothic Quarter, was completed in 1448 and honors the martyred Saint Eulalia, one of Barcelona’s patron saints whose body lies in the crypt of the church. The architecture, both inside and outside the cathedral, is awe-inspiring. But it’s the church’s hidden cloister that feels most heavenly. A beautiful oasis in the heart of the Gothic Quarter with palm trees, a koi pond and 13 geese to symbolize Saint Eulalia’s age when she died.
Gaudí is often called God’s Architect and his spirit in Barcelona is inescapable. His presence is everywhere you go. In addition to La Sagrada Familia, you could spend a whole week just visiting his curved masterpieces inspired by nature. Casa Milà, or La Pedrera (“stone quarry”), is an apartment building completed in 1912 and a must-see. Its attic calls to mind the vaulted ceiling of a medieval church, while its roof feels as futuristic as a scene from Star Wars (fun fact: George Lucas may have been inspired by Gaudí’s work!). Just down the road from Casa Milà is Casa Batlló, sometimes called “House of Bones” or “House of the Dragon.” And, further in the city on Carmel Hill is Park Güell, a public park of fantastical gardens and stonework.
If you’re in need of a day trip outside Barcelona, head about an hour outside the city to Montserrat, a mountain range in Catalonia. There you’ll find one of Spain’s great pilgrimage sites—Santa María de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey. Travelers flock to the site every year just to catch a glimpse of the famous Virgin of Montserrat, also known as La Moreneta, a wooden statue that according to legend was made by St. Luke and found by shepherd children in a nearby cave in the year 880.
Just steps from Madrid’s Prado Museum off Paseo del Prado is a secret garden. Well, a vertical garden, to be exact. The living, breathing garden, which is part of the CaixaForum Madrid museum and cultural center, is made up of more than 15,000 plants—and 250 species—and was designed by botanist Patrick Blanc in 2008. It’s a tranquil spot, made all the more peaceful by the magical mist and trickling sound of water generated by the garden’s irrigation system.
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