Barcelona is a city of juxtapositions: ancient Gaudi landmarks pitched against modernist architecture; the winding streets and pleasant market plazas, crammed with Chupitos (shot bars) where come nightfall, rowdy students knock back shot after shot. But one thing Barcelonans can agree on is their love of the outdoors. Whether you prefer a gentle stroll around the city sights or a tough hike up the mountains; lounging on one of the city’s many beaches or taking to the waves on a kiteboard; there are an abundance of activities for all ages, abilities, and preferences. For those hoping to make the most of Barcelona’s beaches or explore the varied topography of the Catalan countryside, here’s a rundown of Barcelona’s best outdoor activities.
Cyclists will find plenty to keep them energized in Barcelona, with over 120km of cycle routes throughout the city. Grab a map from the tourist office and pedal around the sights, or book one of the many Barcelona city tours by bike, taking in areas like the Gothic Quarter, the Old Harbour, Olympic Port, Arc del Triomf, La Sagrada Familia, and the Parc de la Ciutadella, all easily accessible by bike.
If you prefer your scenery au natural, there are plenty of out-of-city locations to get your wheels turning. The Collserola Natural Park is at the top of the list—a vast wooded area dotted with some 10 million trees and bursting with fauna—but the king of the city’s mountain biking spots, is the adrenaline fuelled descent of Tibidabo—scale the dizzying heights of the mountain and zoom 18km downhill back into the city. If all that leaves you in need of a breather, pedal back through the city, where you can glide along the beachfront and pull up for tapas at one of the city’s many basque bars.
If traipsing around the city sights isn’t enough to wear the track off your hikers, there are plenty of hiking routes in surrounding the city. The Pyrenees is probably the most popular hiking area, with well-marked trails traversing some of Europe’s most renowned landscapes or else the Costa Brava coastline offers varied scenery with plenty of coastal villages and ports to explore along the way. Take a hiking tour of Montserrat for a wide variety of day hikes and short walks for all abilities, or take the RENFE train service out to the Ebre National Park (El Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre), where trails traverse the River Ebre and you can wander through lagoons and sand dunes, while enjoying the Ebre Delta wildlife.
A little further affield, the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park (Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotx), around 90 km from Barcelona, offers some unique scenery, with 40 extinct volcanoes pock-marking the terrain, or head further north to Aigüestortes National Park (Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes) for hiking routes peppered with natural waterfalls, forested enclaves and rocky outcrops. Several companies offer day tours and guided hikes from Barcelona city, or else you can pick up some maps from the tourist office and go it alone.
Unbeknownst to many tourists, the Catalonian region is a renowned hotspot for climbing, having earned a stellar reputation amongst climbers for its diverse terrain and mild climate. Few European cities offer so many crags within easy reach as Barcelona, and the city centre is full of climbing gyms where you can hone your skills before taking to the great outdoors—La Fuixarda is the biggest, set inside an old sandstone quarry and free to the public. Climbers can head to Montserrat, less than an hour from the city, to scale the rocks overshadowing the ancient monastery or attempt the limestone and granite crags in the Pyrenees region. Although many of the best climbing spots are not for beginners, there are several adventure sports companies that offer tours or training for those hoping to spice up their hikes with some vertical challenges.
Heralded as one of the best beach cities in the world by National Geographic Magazine in 2011 and with 9 beaches stretching 4.5km along the Mediterranean coast all just 10-20 minutes of the city centre, it’s surprising anyone makes it to work when the sun’s shining. Beach life here is about more than topping up your tan, though—there are dozens of sea-based activities that will help you cool off, challenge your balance and give you plenty of laughs along the way.
Barceloneta beach is closest to the city centre and one of the busiest, but its high tourist population makes it a great place to master some water sport skills before seeking out more secluded spots. There’s just about everything you can think of here—parasailing, wakeboarding, and scuba diving are all on offer, or you could take a sailing trip down the Costa Brava and explore the many caves and secluded bays along the shoreline. For family fun, opt for a banana boat ride or hire jet skis to tear around the bay— you can even book on a Jet Ski safari and take a tour of the coastline. Surfing is possible all along the coastline, although the region’s gentle waves lend themselves more to the local adaptation—stand-up paddling, where you stand atop your board and propel yourself along with a paddle. Barcelona’s two ports—Port Vell and Port Olimpic—are the best place to book on a boat cruise, a great way to view the sights without working up a sweat, or you can just walk the harbor and admire the pretty boats.
The nearby Mar Bella Beach is another water sport hotspot, particularly good for windsurfing when the winds are up, but the relaxed beachfront is also a popular workout location, with locals whizzing up and down on rollerblades, jogging, or cycling the promenade.
Thanks to the smooth winds and calm waters, one of Barcelona’s most popular water-sports is kitesurfing (or kiteboarding) and the city has become known as a hub for the increasingly popular pastime. Skimming the waves on a board tugged by a kite is sure to get the adrenaline pumping, and once you’ve mastered the art of wind-control you can reach some dizzying speeds. The city beaches are packed with beginners wobbling atop their boards and you won’t have to look far to find a kitesurfing instructor—head to nearby beaches Castelldefels or Calafel for the best kitesurfing spots and schools after a tour of Tarragona and Sitges.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with choices you could always just go for a swim—Paseo Marítimo Beach and San Sebastiá Beach offer calm, sectioned-off swimming areas or head to the equally popular Nova Icaria. Just make sure you stick to the green flag areas.
If you’re looking for a more unique way to take in the Catalan countryside, why not look down on the sights from a gondola floating 1000m above ground? Hot air balloon trips from the Osona and the Montseny Natural Park regions offer incredible views over the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees, and the city of Barcelona.
For a bigger adrenaline kick, you could try whizzing through the landscape on a Quad bike instead—several companies offer tours from the city, including off road biking where you can take in some natural obstacles and hurtle along dirt paths.
- Zoë Smith