A Complete 2 Week Japan Itinerary for Travellers Seeking Affordable Luxury (Including With Kids)

A Complete 2 Week Japan Itinerary for Travellers Seeking Affordable Luxury (Including With Kids)

As far as I am concerned, 2 weeks in Japan is not nearly enough because this small country packs so much into its borders. Needs must though –  adults need to work and children need to go to school. I prepared a 2 week Japan itinerary for my family encapsulating the best of what they needed to see as first-time visitors to Japan.  Technically, my children had been to Japan before but we spent a week in Tokyo and only went as far as Hakone on a day trip. This trip though was my husband’s first time in Japan and I wanted to make sure he got as full a picture as he could in 14 days in Japan.

The garden of a samurai house in Kanazawa Japan

The garden of a samurai house in Kanazawa, Japan

Japan is not a cheap country to travel (as my husband pointed out it can give Iceland healthy competition on expenses). The challenge was to balance our love of luxury travel with affordability over the course of a 2 week trip to Japan.

Did I mention that we also only pack light on short-haul flights? We travel with a suitcase each and , there’s usually an extra stuffed toy, jacket, book etc that gets smuggled in after my final checks. Two weeks in Japan in April as far as my kids are concerned needs both summer and winter clothes because layering is a foreign concept.

A torii gate to a Shinto shrine in Nikko Tokyo

A torii gate to a Shinto shrine in Nikko Tokyo

Transportation for Our 2 Week Trip To Japan

Our Japan itinerary started in Osaka because we flew into Osaka International Airport,. We spent the first week of our 2 weeks in Japan in the Kansai region.  We then went north to Kanazawa and Tokyo for the rest of our Japan itinerary. We flew out of Tokyo Haneda Airport at the end of our 2 week trip to Japan.

Technically, our Japan trip was a 15 day itinerary because we got into Osaka late the first night. I have only counted the Japan itinerary for 14 days though because that first day was a bit wasted getting over jet lag (and what we found out later was my son getting an ear infection).

 

Rail Passes

We used our Japan Rail passes to travel on day trips during our 2 week trip to Japan. We opted to use the Green Car which is a higher class of railway carriage than the standard.

We had both a 7 day Japan Rail Pass and a  7 day Kansai Wide Rail Pass. This latter Kansai Pass was what I was going to use for day trips from Osaka. I will explain in a later article why that was not such a good idea because of both our circumstances and what the Kansai rail pass covered.

flatly of Japan Rail Pass and Green car reserved seat tickets

Our Japan rail passes and a collection of reserved seat tickets for the Green Cars.

We minimised the hauling around of suitcases on trains by staying in just 4 hotels. Well, that plan worked well except for Kyoto which was so busy we could  not find just one hotel that could accommodate us for our 4 nights in that city.

I was right to be concerned about our luggage. Our suitcases were way bigger than the little suitcases the Japanese use. Thank goodness for the Green Car carriages. They were less busy than the standard carriages and we tended to use up the luggage compartment in our Green Car carriage with our four suitcases alone. The Green Cars are also reserved seats which made our life easier. We knew where to stand on the train platform and that we had definite seats together.

Taxis

Taxis within cities are plentiful in Japan. Drivers who speak English are less plentiful. Kyoto has a Foreign-Friendly taxi service where the driver knows more English and has a bigger car to accommodate travellers. We found one such Foreign-Friendly taxi service stand at Shin-Kyoto station.

A taxi marks that it is foreign friendly in Kyoto

A foreign friendly taxi marked as such in Kyoto.

Taxi drivers are, however, incredibly polite and will work with you to get you where we are going. In big cities, even with an exact address, they may have difficulties finding your location.  In China, we had problems with taxi drivers who wouldn’t stop for us because they didn’t want to deal with non-Chinese speakers.

Tip –  Have a screenshot of where you are going on your photos so the taxi driver knows both the address and a better idea of the destination location.

Note also that the taxis are not that big. About half the time we had to split into two taxis because our luggage wouldn’t fit into one taxi.

Cars

To drive in Japan, we found out that it’s not a simple matter of rocking up to a car rental agency and renting a car. You need either a Japanese driving license or an International Driving License. I had completely forgotten that when I lived in Japan I had an International Driving License. I considered it a fairly pointless document but the Japanese did not!

Tip – If you want to drive in Japan, you must have either a Japanese driving license or an International Driving License.

International Driving Licenses/Permits are easy to get. It’s simply a matter of applying for them and getting them before you arrive in Japan. You can get the IDL in the US for a year for $25 or through the UK post office for £5.50.

What’s Considered Affordable Luxury in Japan?

As I mentioned, Japan is an expensive country and what does affordable luxury mean anyway?  One person’s affordable luxury could be another person’s barely affordable.

Here are approximate costs for our 14 days in Japan.

We decided that lodging and transport were fixed costs.

  • Our hotels averaged $300-400/night.
  • The 5 day JR Kansai Wide Pass was about £240 for 4 people (kids 12+ are considered adults)
  • The 7 day JR Pass was about £1040 for 4 people (kids 12+ are considered adults)
Tip – If you have a JR Pass, do consider staying in Osaka and commuting into Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train) in 15 minutes. Our 5 star hotel in Osaka cost LESS than our 3 star hotel in Kyoto thanks to the simple rules of supply and demand.

We had lots of discretionary costs which added to our experience in Japan and our final bill. Some examples:

      • We spent approximately  $2500 on local tours for 4 people – 3 Context Tours, 2 Arigato Japan Food Tours and 1Kanazawa Walking Tours.
      • For meals, we did a mixture of Japanese convenience stores (which are fabulous), little neighbourhood restaurants and some fancy dining. For example, our dinner at a Kobe teppanyaki restaurant came out to about $300. We spent over a $150 at the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku for food which was nothing special.
      • My daughter went crazy for the animal cafes. There is usually an entry fee (which includes a drink) and the final bill depends on how long you stay. Trust me, it adds up especially 8 animal cafes later.

Japan Travel Itinerary – 14 Days

Knowing my family well, I decided we would use 4 major centres as bases for our 2 weeks in Japan- Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Tokyo. From these cities, we would be well-positioned to do day trips to other places of interest.

We would find moving around every day or two just too stressful. We were packing in a lot of cultural and historic sightseeing and I knew my family would need some rest time in between activities. Rest time for my kids meant endless animal cafes – we went to 8 animal cafes during our two weeks in Japan!

couch with family at the Living Room Pug Cafe in Kyoto

We were pug-in-love at the Living Room Pug Cafe in Kyoto.

On the plus side, the kids’ luggage would have gotten a lot lighter if we had been constantly on the move as they would invariably lose stuff every time they packed and unpacked. As it is, we had several close calls with my daughter’s iPhone getting lost in the shuffle.

Four Cities in 14 days in Japan

For our 14 days in Japan, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo are obvious choices. I chose to add Kanazawa (known as “little Kyoto”) into the mix because its historic district has the charm of Kyoto with a whole lot less tourists. Moreover, Kanazawa’s samurai and geisha districts retain their original period charm  because the city was not bombed during World War II.

Osaka

Osaka is Japan’s second biggest city and known for being a fun-loving, food-loving city. Like a lot of other travellers, we used it as a base for exploring the region around Osaka.

What to Do in (and From) Osaka

Osaka itself is a large sprawling metropolis of brash neon and good times. Just give up on Osaka Castle, nearby Himeji is so much better. Enjoy Osaka for what it is – great food, shopping and nightlife.

Check out some available tours of Osaka: food tour of Japanese snacks | hop on-and-hop off sightseeing bus | a food tour of Osaka’s markets |a food tour of Osaka’s markets

We were in Osaka for cherry blossom time and so we took the train out to Mount Yoshino in Nara Prefecture on a day trip. Mount Yoshino is covered with 30,000 cherry trees and has been a cherry blossom viewing site for the last 1300 years.

Cherry trees in blossom at Mount Yoshino

Mount Yoshino is planted with thousands of cherry trees planted 1300 years ago.

If you are not in Japan during cherry blossom season, consider a day trip to Mount Koya instead. Mount Koya is one of Japan’s holiest places and the birthplace of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

On the bullet train, you can also make a nice day trip out of Himeji and Kobe. Himeji is known for its gorgeous white castle rising above the city, a proud survivor from Japan’s feudal era.

Himeji Castle with cherry blossoms

Himeji Castle surrounded by cherry blossoms in spring

Kobe is a fun port city world famous for its export of Kobe beef. Being foodies, we had to take a pilgrimage to its old entertainment district, Sannomiya, to have a kobe beef dinner prepared on a traditional teppanyaki  in front of us.

Kobe beef in a restaurant in Kobe Japan

You really do need to try the famous kobe beef in the city of Kobe, Japan.

Another good day trip on the train from Osaka is Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. Visiting Hiroshima is a must if only to remember the tragedies of war. Miyajima is a charming island in the harbor of Hiroshima and is a cleansing break from the sombre and somewhat depressing Hiroshima Peace Park.

Take a guided tour:  either Hiroshima and Miyajima as a full day tour or a customised tour of Hiroshima.

We wanted to go Kinosaki Onsen but were derailed by the illness of a child.  Kinosaki Onsen has been a hot springs town since the 8th century. There are hot springs hotels all around town for which you can get day passes. These hot springs are the traditional Japanese kind where men and women are segregated and no swimsuits are allowed in the thermal springs.

Where to Stay in Osaka

We stayed for 4 nights in the Osaka Marriott Miyako which is Japan’s tallest building complex. It’s also conveniently located right over Tennoji station.

There is a direct train from Osaka International Airport directly to Tennoji station that takes 20  minutes. The train is SO much cheaper than a taxi.  Tennoji is also a useful hub for both the JR line and has direct connections for visiting places outside of Osaka (like Mount Yoshino).

We were very happy with our stay at the Osaka Marriott Miyako. The hotel occupies the 38th to the 57th floor in the tower of the building complex. My kids LOVED the view from our room on the 51st floor. The lights of Osaka sparkled into the horizon at night. People come to the tower’s observation deck (for which you get a free pass as hotel guest). We agreed though that the view from our room was pretty much the same, if not slightly better.

The hotel manager at the Osaka Marriott Miyako was a life-saver when our son came down with an ear infection and he was able to get us into an English-speaking clinic in the middle of the night. With antibiotics, my son was fine (eventually) but he we were really grateful for the prompt and efficient intervention on our behalf.

Kyoto

Kyoto was the capitol of Japan from 794 until 1868 so you can imagine how important this city is to the cultural life of Japan.

What to Do in Kyoto and its Environs

Kyoto has more than 1000 temples and shrines. With a quite a few of these temples being both important and beautiful, it’s pretty easy to be templed-out by the end of your stay.

Take a tour if you can’t decide on what to see or are short of time:  a full day tour of Kyoto’s UNESCO and historical  sites | combine Kyoto and Nara in a full day tour | Kyoto half day tour 

There is so much to do in Kyoto that it is hard to compress into a short visit. We visited several major temples and shrines, Nijo-Jo Castle and the famous Nishiki Food Market. There is Gion Corner which does nightly shows giving an overview of Japanese cultural traditions and Ninja/Samurai shows. Our all-time favourite experience though would have to be Ninja classes at a Kyoto dojo.

Ninja class in Kyoto with a blowgun

My daughter as a ninja-in-training getting blowgun practice in Kyoto.

The city of Nara is close to Kyoto and was the first capitol of Japan, There are temples, shrines and gardens galore in Nara , including the must-see Great Buddha at Todai-ji temple.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

We found getting accommodation in Kyoto for our Japan itinerary incredibly difficult. In fact, we met people on of our tours who decided to stay in Osaka because they couldn’t find anywhere in Kyoto.

Tip – If you are having difficulty finding suitable accommodation in Kyoto, consider staying in Osaka. If you have JR Pass, the bullet train connects Osaka and Kyoto in only 15 minutes. And, you can stay in a higher class of hotel for less (see the expenses section above).

In retrospect, we should have stayed longer in Osaka – changing hotels in Kyoto every two days and the accompanying chaos that entailed was simply not enjoyable. We also discovered that Kyoto hotels are relatively small which means they fill up on guests very quickly. We were sightseeing all day and exhausted by evening. So hanging out late into the night and then facing a train ride home would not have been an issue for us.

Our first stay was at the four-star Mitsui Garden Hotel Sanjo, one of three boutique hotels this  Japanese hotel chain, owns in Kyoto. The location was very convenient and our room  charming (if small). My daughter loved this hotel for its pretty Japanese charm.

Then we stayed at the 3 star Gion Hanna Stay hotel. The service was friendly and the room which was set up as a little apartment was adequate. Our favourite part of this  hotel was that it came with a washing machine. Yes, despite my kids packing half their wardrobe, they still ran out of clothes.

Our last hotel, another 3-star Hotel Kiyomizu Gion was my favourite. It was spacious, pretty and had a great location. Wandering the side streets of Gion (the old Geisha district) showed us both the old and the new Kyoto – trainee geishas going to/from work passing vegan cafes.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Hotel Giyomizu Gion in Kyoto on TripAdvisor!

Kanazawa and its Environs

Kanazawa is an absolutely charming city on the Sea of Japan side (the opposite side fo the island to Osaka/Kyoto). We loved Kyoto but we may have fallen harder for Kanazawa.

Kanazawa was controlled during feudal times by the powerful Maeda family, the wealthiest of the clans under the shogunate. The Maedas channeled their money into making Kanazawa a center for Japanese arts and crafts such as gold-leaf work and lacquer work. It was a tactical move to deflect the suspicions of the wary shogun who would have been afraid they were amassing funds for war.

What To Do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa has several well-preserved districts, the Higasi Chaya district (the old entertainment district), the Kazue-Machi district (the old geisha district) and Nag-Machi district (the samurai district where the retainers of the Maeda family lived).

Take a guided tour of Kanazawa: an evening tour with a meal |  a half day private tour | a full day private tour

Kanazawa is also famous for being the location of one of the 3 best gardens in Japan, the beautiful Kenrokuen Garden which used to be the gardens for the now-ruined Kanazawa Castle, domain of the Maeda family.

Cherry blossoms in bloom at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

Cherry blossoms in bloom at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

With its fair share of museums, Kanazawa has a Museum of Contemporary Art and the sublime D.T. Suzuki Museum (a museum dedicated to the Kanazawa native who introduced Zen Buddhism to the West).

We were supposed to visit the UNESCO heritage sites of the gassho houses in the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. We were thwarted in our plans to hire a rental car and all the bus tours were full! These villages are not easily accessible by train. Missing out on visiting these villages was probably our biggest disappointment in our 2 weeks Japan itinerary.

Take a bus tour of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Shirakawa-go, Gokayama and Takayama.

Where to Stay in Kanazawa

We stayed 2 nights at the 3 star Kaname Inn Tatemachi which is bright, modern and spacious . We had a one bedroom apartment at the hotel with views over the city. Downstairs in the lobby, there was a restaurant and bar that we could hang out in the evenings.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Kaname Inn Tatemachi in Kanazawa on TripAdvisor!

Tokyo

I used to hate Tokyo – the city was just too much of everything that makes a Japanese city. Now, I love it for its complex train system, thousands of restaurants, and endless shopping choices.

After Kyoto and Kanazawa, my husband was surprised at the paucity of culture choices in Tokyo. I had to remind him that culture is more than castles, temples and shrines! Thanks to my children , we did our fair share of looking for kawaii (cute) culture including visiting the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku. It’s a totally different world out there!

What to Do In and Near Tokyo

In Tokyo, my kids insisted that we revisit their favourite places of Harajuku (the epicentre of youth culture in the city) and Ometesando (a high-end shopping district which also has the toy store, Kiddyland). We also revisited Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple which is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world.

The 5 tier pagoda seen from the gardens of Sensoji in Tokyo

The rear of Senso-ji temple with its beautiful gardens is less crowded than its front section.

Tokyo has so much to do that our 2 days in the city did not do it justice. For  example you have a plethora of cultural sightseeing and neighbourhoods to visit:

      • The Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Emperor responsible for wrestling power away from the shoguns back to the emperors.
      • Ueno Park – a public park with temples and street performers which comes to life on the weekends
      • Tsukiji market – the biggest fish and seafood market in the world
      • Tokyo Tower – Japan’s answer to the Eifffel Tower
      • Tokyo Skytree – the world’s tallest tower (note the world’s tallest structure is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai).

Here are some of the tours you can take in Tokyo: a skip the line admission ticket to Tokyo Skytree | Tsukiji Market Tour | Tsukiji Market Tour

To give my husband his obligatory temple and culture fix in one shot, we took the bullet train to Nikko, deep in the mountains north of Tokyo. It’s a UNESCO site famous for the OTT Shinto shrine to the first Shogun.

You can take a tour of Nikko that departs from Tokyo.

Imitating the famous three monkeys in Nikko (see, hear and say no evil)

Imitating the famous three monkeys in Nikko (see, hear and say no evil)

Having mixed my onsen (hot springs) fix at the town of Kinosaki Onsen, we took the bullet train to Hakone, in the mountains west of Tokyo. It was too cloud a day for us to Mt. Fuji from Hakone.

There are guided tours that depart for Hakone from Tokyo on the bullet train.

We did, however, have a fabulous time in the hot springs of Yunessun. My kids were thrilled that Yunessun had a swimsuit area at the hot springs  which gave us the option of not being in the buff.  The more traditional Japanese non-swimsuit area is beautiful by the way. Set in a traditional Japanese garden with views of the mountains, there is not a slide in site. In fact, we were having so much fun that we skipped out on the nearby Hakone Open Air Art Museum.

Where To Stay in Tokyo

We stayed at the Akihabara Luxury Cityhouse in Tokyo for 4 nights. It wasn’t in Akihabara technically and not particularly luxurious either.

The location on the JR stop of Kanda (the stop between Tokyo and Akihabara) though was terrific. Kanda had very little of the otaku-culture craziness that I experienced in Akihabara.  We had plenty of space in our 1 bedroom apartment ( presumably space is what the luxury in the name refers to).

Variations on the Japan Two Week Itinerary

You could fly into and out of Tokyo with this 2 week Japan itinerary. In that case I would make sure you had an extra day to get to/from Tokyo so technically it would be a Japan 15 day itinerary. Alternatively, you could cut out Kanazawa which would be a shame but would allow more travel time.

You could also make this a 12 day Japan itinerary by cutting out two days. I would choose to keep Kanazawa and spend less time in Osaka. Places near Osaka that you could choose to cut down are Mount Yoshino/Mount Koya, Kobe and Kinosaki Onsen. I would definitely still visit Himeji and Hirsohsiima/Miyajima.

Alternatively you could spend less time in Kyoto to create a 12 day Japan itinerary. Two days in Kyoto would give you enough time to see the main temples, shrines and neighbourhoods of the city.

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Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

You think you have seen all the major Catalan modernist sites in Barcelona? Think again. Chances are you have only seen all of the major works by Gaudi. Catalan Modernism was so much more than Gaudi sort of like Impressionism was so much more than Monet. The Hospital de Sant Pau is an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture beyond the usual Gaudi stuff.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

The Hospital de Sant Pau

The Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau was opened in 1930 on the site of an older hospital dating back to the Middle Ages created by the Counts of Barcelona. In order for this medieval hospital to maintain itself, the Spanish kings allowed the Hospital the right to money from theatrical performances in Barcelona.

When Catalan banker Pau Gil died in Paris in 1896 he wanted to do something special for his homeland.  He ordered his bank dissolved and the proceeds used to construct a new hospital in Barcelona, the Hospital of Sant Pau.  He had envisioned that the entire building complex would be funded through his generosity. The original plan called for 48 buildings in this hospital complex. Of course, there were cost overruns so a revised plan called for 27 buildings.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Some of the flamboyant Catalan Modernisme style.

Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture In Practice

The architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was hired to build a hospital complex which was effectively a city within a city.  The hospital would have different buildings for each medical speciality and landscaped grounds.  The buildings were connected to each by a kilometre of underground tunnels.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The underground tunnels which were used to shuttle the patients around. The walls were tiled for easy cleaning.

Decorative Style

Of course, building in a Catalan modernist style is labor and work intensive with all of its extra decorative flourishes. The original money ran out after the first 10 buildings of the complex.  Montaner (and his son who took over the project from him) was able to cobble together enough funding for another 6 buildings. So only 16 of the buildings on the site are in the Catalan Modernism style.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The surgical ward at the Hospital. You can see the ramps from which the sick would be wheeled up.

Catalan modernist was very intricate – you had decorative detail in reliefs, sculptures, ceramics, mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron. The buildings were all made from brick. The little domes on top of the roofs were the water towers. Along with the landscaped grounds, each patient would have a significant amount of space to themselves which far surpassed the best hospitals in Europe at the time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

An old photo showing the hospital in use.

Practical Style

There was a liberal use of ceramics throughout the site. Not only could you make ceramics look pretty but they were hygienic and easy to wash down. You had large windows, lots of color, landscaped grounds – when you think about how terrible early 20th century hospitals were – this Barcelona Hospital was really ahead of its time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative pillar hides the water tank for the building.

The Administrative Pavilion is the biggest building on site. It was built between 1905 and 1910 and was meant to be the main entrance to the hospital complex. The highly decorative ceiling is filled with ornamentation, for example, referring to Saint Jordi (George) the patron saint of Catalonia, and the seal of Banca Gil (Pau Gil’s bank). If Pau Gil wanted immortality – he definitely got it. His initials are everywhere on this site.  In a time when banks come and go, get merged etc, Pau Gil’s legacy is more than any simple regional bank could have been.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative details were on the inside and the outside of the buildings.

UNESCO World Heritage Designation

The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It was reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 to be a centre for global knowledge.  Whatever that means. When we wandered around the site, you could tell there had been extensive refurbishment and the buildings were gorgeous. It was like a ghost town, however. There were a handful of tourists but it didn’t look like there were many people who actually worked there.

Good To Know

You really can’t miss the Hospital of Sant Pau if you are near the Sagrada Familia.

Location

The Hospital of Sant Pau is located on Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167.  When the Sagrada Familia gets overrun with visitors in the summer weekends, the Hospital de Sant Pau will not be crowded. I would strongly encourage you to check out this beautiful little oasis which will give you an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture that hasn’t been done by Gaudi . You can get there on the Metro (L5 Sant Pau) or on the bus.

Where To Stay

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

Context Travel Tour

I discovered this Hospital on a Sagrada Family in Context Travel. I’ve been to Barcelona several times and never knew about this beautiful hospital! It’s so worth it to take a good tour. I paid full price for my Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments.

– Antonio Gaudi

When I went to check out the most famous church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, exactly 20 years ago this year, my visit was very different from my recent trip. Unlike today only the Nativity facade was finished back then. There was no line to get inside the church because there really wasn’t much of an interior. I climbed part of a tower and surveyed the construction site. Even then, the grand proportions of the Sagrada Familia made the church a cool, if empty, space. Antonio Gaudi’s final masterpiece would far outlive him and skyrocket his name into the echelons of history. When we visited Barcelona with the kids a couple of years ago, I did not anticipate the huge lines. On this recent visit, though, I was smart and booked tickets ahead of time.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

What makes La Sagrada Familia Special

Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain. Many of its millions of visitors make two obligatory stops –  La Boqueria, the famous market of the Ramblas for food, and La Sagrada Familia for some culture. La Sagrada Familia gets some 3 million visitors annually.

The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.

– Antonio Gaudi

Some Fun Sagrada Familia Facts

Timeline for La Sagrada Familia

  • Gaudi accepted that La Sagrada Familia is a long-term project that he would not live to see completed.
  • Gaudi’s masterpiece is an expiatory church which means that it is built with donations from the public. Now that visitor numbers, and related ticket sales, have increased, the church receives about 25 million Euros a year.
  • There are still 4 central towers to be built which will reach 170+ metres and let light into the interior.  The current towers that you see will be dwarfed by these new towers because they are only 98 metres in height.
  • The really tall towers will stand just underneath the height of nearby Montjuic. Gaudi did not want his work to rise taller than that of God.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

This model shows how tall the to-be-completed towers will be.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The decorative tops of the existing towers.

The Sagrada Familia Interior

  • The Sagrada Familia interior has a pleasing symmetry because Gaudi created it in multiples of 7.5 metres.
  • As an architect, Gaudi did not want a giant altar piece obstructing the view of his architectural lines. Many people are taken back by the simplicity of the altar piece. You get a giant cathedral and a small altar.
  • The inside of the Sagrada Familia is supposed to be an homage to nature, a garden forest rising up to the skies.
  • The inside is practically bereft of statues except for the Holy Family and the local patron saint. Gaudi really wanted very little distractions inside the church.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The four pillars inside are dedicated to the four evangelists.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The pillars inside reach the top to create a treetop canopy.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The afternoon light is stunning through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass bathed the cathedral in glowing colors.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The East windows with their blue and green stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

You can see the colors mixing in the purple light cast by the blues from the windows in one side and the reds cast from the other side.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Yes, I was obsessed with the light through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Seriously I could not get enough of the afternoon light through the windows. Just wow!

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass is a secondary glazing technique that goes over the windows. These windows have not been finished with the stained glass topping yet.

The Nativity Facade

  • The Nativity Facade was completed during Gaudi’s lifetime because he wanted to show people his vision in the hopes that they would donate money.
  • Gaudi liked to use real people to model his figures. The soldier in the scene depicting the killing of the innocents was the local butcher. The butcher had 6 toes on one foot, a detail which was faithfully recreated on the sculpture.
  • Check out the bottom of the pillars of the Nativity entrance. One rests on a turtle and another on a tortoise, a land based and a water based animal. This subtle reference to the two sides of life in Barcelona the mountains and the sea was a nod to his benefactors.
  • The Nativity facade overflows with references to birth and nature – such as the Cypress tree used to represent the tree of life.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors of the Nativity facade show insects and other natural animals.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Tree of Life with doves rising up to the X on top symbolising Jesus.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

It’s hard to know where to look on the Nativity facade. This bit depicts the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary announcing she is pregnant with Jesus.

The Passion Facade

  • Gaudi himself was the second lead architect.  The church is now on its 9th lead architect who leads a team of 20 architects.  People joke that there could be a 10th architect soon because the current architect is embroiled in a dispute over his mosaic design on the Passion facade. The other architects think the mosaic does not fit in with Gaudi’s mournful vision for the Passion facade.
  • Gaudi’s profile is immortalised in the Passion facade.
  • Architects used the oil painting technique of chiaroscuro which creates light and shadow to convey the sadness of the scene.
  • Catalan sculptor Joseph Subirach created the giant doors with words from the Bible.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Jesus hanging on the cross, or possibly hanging off the cross.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Passion Facade with Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews written above.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

That’s Gaudi himself to the side of Veronica who wiped Jesus’ face.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The offending coloured mosaic is covered up temporarily.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors for the Passion facade done by Subirach

Antonio Gaudi’s Masterpiece

Gaudi’s Vision For La Sagrada Familia

Even though Gaudi had a clear vision for La Sagrada Familia, he accepted that you could not reign in an artist’s creativity. He left instructions that allowed future artists to have a certain amount of leeway in how his vision would be interpreted.

There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.

– Antonio Gaudi

  • During the last 10+ years of his life, Gaudi worked feverishly to leave models, drawings etc for how the Sagrada Familia should look. He actually lived in his studio at the Sagrada Familia.
  • Gaudi created clouds in his vision for the 3rd facade, the Glory facade, which is still to be completed. The Glory facade represents the risen Jesus in heaven with clouds floating around.
  • Architects though have no idea how to create floating clouds like he intended. Gaudi assumed technology would have caught up with his vision – they still have 9 years to figure it out if they want to make the 2026 self-imposed deadline.
  • The door at the Glory facade is the only part that is finished. Created by Catalan sculptor, Josep Subirach, the door depicts the Lord’s Prayer in 50 different languages.

During the Spanish Civil War happened, the Spanish Catholic Church had a vested interesting in protecting its own wealth and influence. They sided with Franco’s Fascists against the Republicans. In response, Republican rioters destroyed churches including Gaudi’s workshop at the Sagrada Familia. Post-destruction, architects were left to piece together what Gaudi had wanted to do from the rubble.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors to the gloria facade created by Subirach

How did Gaudi die?

Gaudi is buried in a crypt which can be seen in the museum adjoining La Sagrada Familia. The crypt is actually in the basement equivalent of the church which was completed by the first architect. So, ironically, the area where Gaudi is buried is not his creation although the structure above his tomb is.

Gaudi had an unfortunate and accidental death.  He was run over by a street car on the way to church on a Sunday.  When his workers arrived at La Sagrada Familia on the Monday, no body could find him.  When they searched for him, they discovered his unidentified body.

Everyone is working at top speed to finish La Sagrada Familia so that it is finished in 2026, the centenary of Antonio Gaudi’s death.  Considering the middle towers aren’t even built yet, and they are building with crowds of tourists all around, the most famous church in Barcelona has plenty of work left.

The Most Famous Church in Barcelona

I’m just going to assume that if you go to Barcelona you will visit La Sagrada Familia. Everyone does for good reason. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit.

La Sagrada Familia Tickets

Keep in mind the time of day.

Keep in mind that the best light for the church occurs at the extremes of the day. The morning sun lights up the cooler blues and greens of the stained glass East windows. The afternoon sun sets off the fiery oranges and reds of the the west windows. When the afternoon sun is low enough, the light reaches across the entire cathedral mixes with the blues and greens to create shades of purple.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Buy tickets ahead of time.

I highly recommend that you buy tickets ahead of time for visiting La Sagrada Familia. In low season, the tickets are easy to book a day or so ahead of time.

You need to allow longer in peak season especially on a Saturday or Sunday. During the summer season, the cruise ships come into Barcelona port depositing 14,000 visitors at a time. The most famous church in Barcelona is also one of its most visited sites. You really don’t want to stand in line for an hour or two in the scorching summer heat.

You will need to pick between types of tickets etc.

There are a handful of different types of Sagrada Familia tickets. They range from the basic €15 ticket to the church to the €29 ticket which includes a trip up a tower to get panoramic views of the city. I bought only the basic ticket and regretted it. You can also get tickets that have an audio tour or a guided tour.  I have heard the audio tour is excellent – enough information without going into too much detail.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

I chose to take a guided tour (not through the Sagrada Familia website) but with Context Travel.  Whenever I can fit in a tour, I try to use Context Travel. I paid full price for my Sagrada Familia Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

What you may ask is a gherkin?  It’s a small pickled cucumber.  The wit and wisdom of the British nicknamed the Swiss Re Tower at 30 St. Mary Axe in London as The Gherkin.  In fact, everyone calls it The Gherkin, a name given to the Swiss Re Tower even when it was in its early planning stages. Now a London landmark and lauded throughout the world for its instantly recognisable design, I can’t imagine the city without The Gherkin. You can see it from lots of different angles with its fat tummy sticking out behind more slender buildings.  Usually closed to the public, my family and I lined up at Open House London to get a peek inside this famous building.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Although usually closed to the public, the Gherkin offers fantastic views over London.

The Gherkin’s Architecture

Opened in 2004, the Swiss Re Tower was designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his firm Foster + Partners as the headquarters for the insurance firm, Swiss Re.  In addition to this insurance company, the building does have other office occupants as well.  The Gherkin building stands on the spot of the former Baltic Exchange building which got bombed by the Provisional IRA in 1992.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin looming over some more traditional architecture nearby.

As with the Foster + Partner’s designed ME Hotel, I found the interior design very masculine.  Everywhere you look, you see lots of sleek straight lines with minimal ornamentation.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A vase of flowers softens all the geometrical lines. The bathrooms are hidden behind the studded walls. No handles to ruin the lines.

The Swiss Re Tower uses eco-friendly principles to minimise its impact on the environment.  For example, the use of clever air shafts allow the building to use passive solar heating in the winter.  I appreciate that the Swiss Re building is not very tall.  Although striking and hard to miss, the Gherkin does not dominate the skyline by towering over all the buildings near it.

What is The Gherkin Used For?

The Gherkin is an office building with the top three floors used as a private club.  The building is located in the City of London Corporation (the financial heart of the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile).  Confusing, right?  As with many things in Britain, the names originated from historical context.  For example, the City of London Corporation has its own Lord Mayor (different from the Mayor of London).  Just go with it.

The Gherkin and Open House London

The Gherkin is not open to the general public except in certain circumstances.  For example, Searcy’s at The Gherkin restaurant and bar occasionally opens its doors to non-members. You can also get a free peak inside the Gherkin during the annual Open House Weekend held in London every September.

On previous Open House Weekends, we have been to Marlborough House in the St. James’s area of London but this year my son insisted on visiting The Gherkin.  He loves architecture, and specifically skyscrapers, so we have visited tall buildings all around the world (Tokyo Tower, One World Observatory etc).

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Swiss Re building has its own small plaza surrounding its entrance.

We had avoided The Gherkin on previous Open Houses because the lines to enter this building are notoriously long. This year was no different. When we got to the building on the Sunday at 9 AM, the line was already wrapping around the corner.  Apparently the first people in line had gotten there by 6 AM.  Now that’s dedication to architecture!

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Open House organisers had children’s activities on the plaza to keep the kids in line occupied. Here my daughter is sketching the Gherkin.

We stood in line for an hour and half before we were able to get inside the building.  My daughter was completely over it but my son was determined to stay and get inside.  We were ushered inside in small groups which involved more waiting for elevators. Once inside, we were sent straight up to the floor Searcys occupies.  It looked like they moved all the furniture to keep tacky commoners from messing up the nice stuff.

Of course, we had all been waiting in long for so long, once people got inside, they headed straight for the bathrooms. We only had about 15 minutes for the visit before we were marched back to the elevators, and the line for the ladies’ room was going to take 10 minutes at least.  I told my daughter that she’d just have to deal because we were not waiting in line for an hour and half just to use the restroom inside and not see anything else!!

Photo Gallery Of London From The Swiss Re Tower

The 360 degree view from the Searcys Bar is spectacular even on a cloudy day like we encountered.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

More traditional architecture in the form of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

You can see the shard and the Walkie Talkie buildings from the Gherkin.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This building, the Mayor of London’s HQ, is known as The Testicle for obvious reasons.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Thames winds its way to the Docklands financial centre at Canary Wharf.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A bird’s eye view of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Another view of the so-called Walkie Talkie building in London.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This is the new London building called The Cheese Grater.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

I used to work here at Tower 42. It used to be the old NatWest headquarters. From above when the CEO landed on the tower’s helipad, the building was shaped like the NatWest logo.

Searcys The Gherkin

Searcys, the private members’ club, offers 360 degree views of London. The Gherkin restaurant is located on the 39th floor and the bar on the 40th floor.  They do let non-members into Searcys Gherkin for specific occasions like the Diamond in the Sky Afternoon Tea for Christmas.  Everyone gets a champagne flute, tea and scones for £65 a person  Sorry, it’s already sold out.  There are also the occasional lunches and dinners at the Gherkin restaurant starting at a reasonable £50 per person.

Fun Facts About The Gherkin in London

  • There are 41 floors of which 33 are office floors.
  • Even though the building is curved, there is only one piece of curved glass in the structure – the dome at the top of Searcys at The Gherkin.
A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The dome at the top of the Swiss Re Tower in London.

  • Each floor rotates 5 degrees from the floor below to give the triangular glass windows its diagonal swish.
  • Almost 7500 panes of glass and 35 kilometres of steel were used in the construction of the building.
  • The elliptical ‘gherkin’ like shape is a result of the structure been 180 metres tall and 178 metres wide at its widest part.
  • The Gherkin made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

I personally think The Gherkin in London looks like a bullet.  Wouldn’t The Bullet have been a cooler nickname? In the USA, I’m pretty sure the nickname would have been The Bullet.  Calling the building The Gherkin though is much more in line with self-deprecating British humour.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin Building is easily spotted in London but not generally open to the public to view the inside.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

The Gherkin is easily accessible by tube or train from Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate Station or London Fenchurch Street.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for it in the skyline poking out.  If you are going to visit The Swiss Re Tower for Open House London, get there early.  By noon on the Sunday of the Open House, we saw that the line to enter The Gherkin snaked around several city blocks.

If you are staying in the City of London Corporation, I have friends who highly recommend the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. The Zetter is also a family-friendly boutique hotel which provides interconnecting family rooms, baby monitors, cot beds etc.  The buzzing creative neighbourhood of Clerkenwell has lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. In fact I used to live around the corner (before it became an epicentre of cool though).  You can walk easily into the financial centre or the West End.

Further Reading

[easyazon_link identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Norman Foster:  A Life in Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Deyan Sudjic

[easyazon_link identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Marianne Butler

[easyazon_link identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London’s Contemporary Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Ken Allinson

[easyazon_link identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]This is London[/easyazon_link] by Ben Judah

[easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/41mhugjOa2L.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”107″][easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/61sAeJh8drL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”160″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/51C7EMAbiyL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”113″] [easyazon_image align=”none” height=”160″ identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/41S8IOAoGL.SL160.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”105″]

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One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

On a cold rainy day, I visited Highgate Cemetery on a whim. I took a guided tour by a volunteer guide who regaled us with fascinating tidbits of history. Divided into two parts, east and west, Highgate Cemetery is one of the great monuments of London. It is Grade I listed by the National Heritage List of England (the highest architectural historical honour a monument can be given because they are of exceptional interest). One of the so-called Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London stands testament to the depressing fascination of the Victorians with death, mourning and keeping up appearances.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery is renowned for its architectural history.

The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries

Prior to the early 19th century, all of London’s dead were buried in local parish churchyards. As the population grow, this method lead to overcrowding and unhygienic disposal of corpses.  People literally would just bury the dead in ditches near their homes.

Traditionally, wealthy people would bury their dead in their family cemeteries on their country estates.  Neither the poor nor the growing middle class had the luxury of this option.  So London was just getting more crowded until finally a cholera epidemic prompted the authorities to act.

In 1832, a Parliamentary encouraged the creation of private cemeteries in the outskirts of the city.  They were inspired by the famous Parisian cemetery, Pere Lachaise built in 1804.  Eventually seven such cemeteries were built – Highgate, Nunhead, Brompton, Abney Park, West Norwood, Tower Hamlets and Kensal Green. The term Magnificent Seven was given to the Victorian cemeteries in the 1980’s by an architectural historian.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The Victorian architecture of Highgate Cemetery seems very grand to us.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The tree lined paths of Highgate Cemetery would have been seriously posh for Victorian times.

Highgate Cemetery in North London

Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839 and soon became a fashionable place to visit. Set in the beautiful countryside, the Victorians would make day trips to the cemetery to visit their dead relatives and picnic in the grounds.

The Victorian Fascination With Death

The Victorians had elaborate ceremonies for funerals and mourning.  The lead example of mourning was Queen Victoria who wore black mourning clothes for 40 years after the death of her husband.  There were even manuals that laid out the specifics for mourning etiquette (e.g., how long to wear mourning clothes for your first cousin by marriage twice removed).

The Victorian headstones are elaborate because they were a way to show who much grief and love they were feeling. A happy accident, of course, was that you were also able to flaunt your wealth and engage in a bit of pageantry. You had elaborate funeral corteges with black horses pulling carriages of mourners and the hearse.  There were also mourners paid to follow the hearse looking suitable sombre.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

No one is happy. Not even the angel. And even if the deceased were Scrooge incarnate.

In an age of prosperity where more people than ever were living longer than ever, the Victorians were really obsessed with the frailty of life.  Many grave monuments were carved to depict life being cut short – broken columns, draped urns, etc.  Besides, after the funeral cortege side-show arrived at Highgate Cemetery, you couldn’t just dump granny in any old grave.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Lots of monuments each telling a story.

Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

I thought the Victorian tombs were beautiful, especially in the sombre light of the grey day. Notable people who are buried here include: Henry Gray, the author of Gray’s Anatomy (not the TV series!!), Charles Cruft, the founder of the Crufts Dog Show, Christina Rossetti, poet, and the parents and wife of Charles Dickens.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

We get it. Even the angels are weeping.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

This man loved his pet lion. No, really. He was in the circus.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

A cross? All you got me was a carved cross? Even the lion tamer got a lion.

The Victorians created Egyptian Avenue because interest in Ancient Egypt was very fashionable at the time. Its main feature is a giant cedar of Lebanon tree which had been in the manor grounds from which the land was purchased.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Egyptian Avenue was meant to impress.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The giant cedar of Lebanon looms over the graves.

Post-Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

Highgate cemetery now has over 170,000 people in 50,000+ graves.  The most famous person buried in Highgate Cemetery is Karl Marx (on the Highgate East side). I thought his tomb was one of the less attractive ones. The giant head looming over everything is, in fact, a bit disconcerting.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Karl Marx, has a ginormous head stone, marking his last resting place.

You know what’s funny?  Marx being buried in Highgate which is full of the middle-class capitalists that he despised.  You would have to search hard to find any members of the proletariat like he intended (factory workers).  At least he is in the vicinity of the nannies, drivers, housekeepers etc. which can substitute for his proles and the wealthy champagne socialists that hire them.

I was surprised to learn that the cemetery still accepts corpses for burial. With the changing demographics of North London, it has become popular with the Russians. I saw the tomb for Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian who was poisoned using polonium in 2006 in what is widely believed to be a Russian-government ordered execution. He was buried in a lead-lined coffin so that the poison wouldn’t leak into the environment.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The cemetery staff feed the pack of urban foxes who hang out in the cemetery.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery

You can book tours online for Highgate Cemetery directly at their website. You can only visit the Highgate West side (which is the most overgrown and architecturally interesting) on a guided visit.  I really enjoyed my visit which was fascinating and educational thanks to the excellent guide/volunteer who really knew his stuff.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Something off the usual tourist path – A tour of the Victorian Highgate Cemetery.

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