Once you’ve had your fill of Barcelona’s ancient architecture, world-class cuisine and hedonistic nightlife, venture outside of the Catalonian capital, where you’ll find plenty of sights to keep you occupied. From mountain-top panoramas to sipping cava in a family-run vineyard, here are 8 destinations that make great day trips from Barcelona.
For a lungful of fresh mountain air and some great views of the Catalonian countryside, Barcelona’s closest mountain, Montserrat, is one of the most popular places for both locals and tourists to spend the day. Active types have plenty to keep them busy, with a network of hiking trails, some renowned climbing spots and three summits, the highest of which, Sant Jeroni, lies at 1,236m. While the views are equally captivating, Montserrat’s principal attraction is the Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine Monk abbey poised on the mountaintop.
Reachable by road or via the Montserrat Rack Railway, the monastery has a history dating back to 1025 and pilgrims still flock to the spot to kiss the wooden La Moreneta (Black Virgin) sculpture. For the full experience, time your visit for one of the daily performances of the world-famous Basilica choir boys whose recordings are sold all over the globe.
Best known as the birthplace of legendary artist Salvador Dali, a pioneer in surrealist painting, Figueres’ laid back cafes and cobblestone streets offer a welcome change of pace from the bustle of Barcelona. Just 140km from Barcelona, Figueres, named after the fig trees that once grew here abundantly, is the ideal gateway to the Empordà region, as well as being a prime spot for sampling the varied Northern Catalonian cuisine.
One of the town’s most visited sites is the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali, a huge museum housed in a 19th-century building designed by the artist himself and home to vast collection of Dali works, as well as a choice selection of local artists. Also worth a look while you’re in town is the 18th century Sant Ferran castle, the largest in Europe with a perimeter stretching 3km and the Gothic St.Peter church.
Tour the museum and more with a Girona, Figueres and Dali Museum Day Trip from Barcelona
3. Girona/Costa Brava
An hour’s train ride north of Barcelona, the ancient town of Girona makes a popular pit stop on tours of Catalonia and there’s plenty to admire if you have a few hours to explore. Wander along the riverside through the narrow streets of the old town, then follow the ancient city walls (dating back to 1st century BC) that circle the hilltop, and clamber up into the lookout towers for a glorious panorama. The city is also home to some impressive architectural monuments, including the Sant Feliu, a 14th century gothic-style church; the painted houses overhanging the river Onyar, and a selection of 19th century neoclassical buildings encircling the central Placa de la Independencia.
There’s no need to stay in the city, either – the hugely popular Costa Brava coastline is an easy side trip, with vast beaches, glamorous resorts and epic sunsets beloved by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. The tourist hotspot isn’t all sun, sea and sand, though – there’s a network of hiking and cycling trails, plenty of deserted coves to dive and snorkel and high winds that make it a popular hub for surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers.
See both with a Girona and Costa Brava Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona
4. The Pyrenees
Escape the urban sprawl for the mountains and head into the famous Pyrenees Mountains that extend across the French-Spanish border. Not just famous for their snow-covered landscapes and ski runs, the journey to the mountains from Barcelona is just as scenic as the destination itself with a number of popular spots en route. Take a hike in the 30,000-hectare Montseny, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve home to a wide variety of woodland creatures; wander the grounds of the 15th-century Montesquiu Castle and stop off at Queralbs, the highest vehicle-accessible village, where you can take the historic rack railway to a height of 1964m. There are no end of activities on offer in these parts and hiking, climbing, kayaking and horse riding are all popular ways to explore, with trails passing through historic villages and crossing the Llobregat River.
Hike the spectacular mountains on a Pyrenees Mountains Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona
If Roman ruins catch your attention, head south to Tarragona for some of the country’s most impressive. The city, founded by Romans back in 218BC, is home to a sizable beach resort, but its principal attractions are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. First up is the Tárraco Archaeological Site complex; one of Spain’s largest preserved roman sites, including the remains of a coastal amphitheatre.
The Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet, dating back to 1151, is the other key site, lying at the foot of the nearby Prades Mountains and forming part of the ‘Cistercian Monastery Route’ religious heritage trail alongside the monasteries of Santes Creus and Valbona de les Monges.
Go back in time with a Tarragona and Sitges Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona
6. The Alt Penedes (cava)
Situated south of Barcelona, on route to Tarragona, Alt Penedes is Catalonia’s wine country, churning out around 95% of Catalonia’s famous sparkling wine, Cava. The villages of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia and Vilafranca del Penedes are home to some of the biggest producers and many regional tours include a winery visit, where you can enjoy wine tastings, stroll around the picturesque vineyards and get an insight into the precise production methods. If you’re interested in the uncovering more of the area’s rich grape growing history, pay a visit to the Vinseum de Vilafranca wine museum, which showcases ancient Roman winery tools alongside exhibitions of the wine culture of Catalonia.
Learn more about this local wine on a Montserrat and Cava Trail Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona
Barcelona’s closest coastal resort, the former fishing village of Sitges has transformed from its humble beginnings into a thriving tourist destination. With seventeen beaches, including the famous Platja de St Sebastian, a vibrant gay scene that is much celebrated throughout the country and a nightlife to rival the Barcelona’s clubs, Sitges has quickly made a name for itself.
The most atmospheric time to visit is over the summer period, when the town’s renowned carnival kicks off – expect plenty of traditional foods, folk dance performances and colorful parades. In august, the Fiesta Major carnival brings a quirky parade of gegants (giant puppets) to the streets, alongside a spectacular cliffside fireworks display, followed by the town’s equally renowed International film festival in September.
Visit Sitges from Barcelona
8. Caldes de Montbui
If your feet are aching from all that sightseeing, a trip to the Caldes de Montbui thermal spas might be in order. Just 30kms from Barcelona, this was Catalonia’s first thermal village, blessed with a natural supply of the hottest thermal waters in Europe, reaching temperatures of 76ºC.
Tours of the town’s historic waterworks provide an intriguing insight, taking in the roman washhouses, including a medicinal bath dating back to 1st century BC; the Thermalia Museum detailing the town’s history and the town’s centerpiece –the Font del Lleó (Lion Fountain). The natural environs of the Caldes river valley provides a pretty backdrop to walking or cycling trails, or else visit one of the region’s modern spas or ‘thermal hotels’ to take full advantage of the relaxing waters.
- Zoe Smith