Catalunya is relatively small, so you don’t have to restrict your visit only to its capital — there are plenty of places to visit near Barcelona to spice up your trip. Hop on a train and you can be at the Ebro delta in the south or the French border in the north in just a few hours. Some places can be visited in a single day, like the nearby Montserrat mountains, while for others you’ll want to spend the night, like beautiful and picturesque Cadaqués up north. These are some of our favorite day trips from Barcelona:
Go hiking in Montserrat
If you had a window seat on the coast side when you flew in to Barcelona, you may have noticed a group of oddly shaped mountains to the north of the city. They’re known as Montserrat, serrated mountain, and they are home to a Benedictine Monk abbey, as well as to a world-renowned boy choir. You can reach the mountains in under an hour by train from Barcelona, and while there you should visit the abbey and the basilica, watch the choir perform (daily at 1PM, except on specific holidays), and take the funicular to the top of the mountains where you can take in the spectacular views of the Catalan countryside and go for a walk along the mountain paths. If you’re into adventure sports you can also go rock climbing – there are many tour providers, such as Barcelona Climb. Find out more about visiting Montserrat here.
Sunbathe and eat a paella in Sitges
Despite being a famous coastal city, Barcelona’s beaches are nothing spectacular – they’re usually crowded and quite noisy, not a great place to relax and bask in the Mediterranean sun. There are better places to sunbathe nearby, like Sitges. Sitges is a small town south of Barcelona along the coast, famous for its nightlife (it has one of the highest bars and clubs per capita ratios in all of Spain) and its beaches. When you get in head to Platja d’Aiguadolç or Platja dels Balmins, on the northeast end of town. After working on your tan for a few hours get lunch at El Vivero, a restaurant built on a cliff overlooking the sea. Everyone has eaten Paella, but have you heard of its lesser known cousin Arroz Negro? Black rice, cooked with squid ink –- delicious.
Visit the cradle of Catalan Surrealism
Rarely does a city develop such a close relationship with one of its children as the city of Figueres has with its most prominent son – Salvador Dalí. The two are inextricably linked, to the point that Figueres has become synonymous with the famed surrealist artist. The Dalí Museum, commissioned by the artist himself, is not only a place to view his work but also a window into his mind. Laid out on many irregular levels, exploring its labyrinthine interior is as much part of the experience as are the works it contains. After visiting the museum, take a trip to the Castell de Sant Ferran, a spectacular military fortress from the 18th century that overlooks the city. Built to stave off a potential French invasion, the castle was used as a prison up until remarkably recently – 1997.
Feel the rumble of five hundred horsepower beneath you
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmeló hosts two major races every year: The Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, in May, and the Catalunya motorcycle GP, in June. Both are massive events, gathering tens of thousands of motorsport fans for the entire weekend, but even if you’re not in town for them the circuit is still worth visiting. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to drive a race car, here you can do so. Get behind the wheel of a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or a Porsche, and drive around the race track at high speed for a taste of the adrenaline rush a race car pilot gets when he screams around a curve at over 100 miles per hour.
Go on a cava tour in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia
If it weren’t for Cava, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia would just be another village in the Catalan inner lands, but this small town of 12,000 is one of the most important places in Spain when it comes to wine – it is home to over 80 companies that make up the bulk of the Cava industry. Cava is the local version of Champagne, and despite being markedly less known it has little to envy its French counterpart. Go for a walk among the vineyards where the raw material grows, and visit the cellars where master winemakers have made sparkling wine for centuries. Most bodegas offer guided tours. Of course, you’ll get to enjoy plenty to drink 😉
Explore Catalunya’s most beautiful town: Cadaqués
On the rocky Cap the Roses, a few kilometers south of the French border, sits Cadaqués – perhaps the prettiest town in all of Catalunya. White houses line the edges of steep, stone-cobbled, narrow streets, all overlooking little beaches where wooden fishing boats rest on the sand. Rent a kayak, and paddle your way along the coast out of town to find your own private little cove, or take a drive northwards, to the Cap de Creus Lighthouse, which sits on the easternmost tip of the Iberian peninsula. At night, have dinner on a restaurant terrace on the waterfront and enjoy the reflection of the town’s lights on the sea. While Figueres was his city of birth, Cadaqués was Dalí’s home. His house and studio, containing many of his works, can be visited. Just remember to book in advance.
Discover Girona, the city where Game of Thrones is filmed
Girona is a beautiful medieval city a little over an hour northeast of Barcelona by car and by train. In recent years, its old town has been the filming site of the most popular show on TV: Game of Thrones. The massive stairway leading up to the Girona Cathedral, as well as many of the steep, windy, stone streets in its vicinity and the medieval walls that encircle it have been used as the backdrop for television’s most captivating drama. The view from the walls is spectacular – it’ll transport you to medieval Europe. The city is also home to the Celler de Can Roca, twice named best restaurant in the world. It is expensive, and bookings must be made weeks in advance, but if you want to taste the absolute cutting edge of contemporary Catalan gastronomy this is the place to go.
Tip from Matthias: Before achieving stardom, the Roca brothers worked at their parents’ establishment “Can Roca”, a modest restaurant that still today serves Catalan classics at affordable prices.
Work on your tan on Sant Pol’s beaches
Sant Pol de Mar is another pretty little town on the coast to the north of Barcelona, belonging to the Maresme region. Beaches in this area are different from those in and around the city; the sand is lighter, the water cleaner, and instead of being flat the coastline is more abrupt and punctuated by small inlets and rock formations, making for a prettier and more interesting landscape. Sant Pol de Mar translates to Saint Paul of the Sea – a descriptor of what makes this small village a great place to visit. Unlike Barcelona, where the beaches tend to be crowded and noisy, Sant Pol is a perfect place to relax in a quieter, quainter environment. Spend the morning in the sun and in the water, and head to one of the restaurants on the promenade for seafood for lunch.
Defy gravity on a 100-meter-tall roller coaster
Port Aventura amusement park is a great destination to get out of the city and do something different for a day. Red Force, Dragon Khan, Shambala, Huracan Condor, and a host of other rides will get your adrenaline pumping by dropping you from over 100 meters in the air and speeding around a track at over 100 kilometers per hour — blurring the line between fear and excitement. Next to Port Aventura is the Caribe Aquapark, a water park featuring one of the tallest and steepest water slides in the world – a great place the spend the hotter hours of the day bathing and cooling off.
Get acquainted with Catalunya’s Roman past in Tarragona
Tarragona, which draws its name from the Roman city of Tarraco, is steeped in the Iberian Peninsula’s ancient history. Founded in the 3rd century BC, Tarraco was the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. It was one of the most important port cities on the Mediterranean, estimated to have a population of over 30,000 at its peak. Today, its name reminds us of its ancient past, as do its abundant Roman ruins, remarkably well-preserved over two millennia onwards. Places to visit are the Roman amphitheater, which could sit 14,000 and were ancient Tarraconians would go to watch gladiatorial battles, the remaining Roman walls, remnants of the city’s defenses from long ago, and the Pont del Diable, the aqueduct on the outskirts of town that used to carry water into the city from the river Francolí.
Explore el Priorat, Catalunya’s top wine region
El Priorat is the local equivalent of France’s Bourdeaux. This small, mountain-wrapped region southwest of Tarragona is known to produce the best wines in Catalunya, fruit of its unique terroir, composed of quartz and black slate and known locally as “llicorella”. It is also one of only two regions in Spain, alongside Rioja, to enjoy the prestigious DOQ qualification, the highest certificate of quality recognized by Spanish wine regulations. The region is tiny, but it is home to over 100 wineries, all of which produce top quality product. It is most known for its powerful, rich, full-bodied reds. Book a wine tour (make sure your guide is a local!) and discover a region that punches way above its weight class.
Take beautiful pictures in medieval Besalú
Seen from the hillside that overlooks the town, Besalú, in the province of Girona, looks like an image taken from one of the postcards on sale on racks outside of souvenir shops. Enter the town crossing the Romanic-style bridge that dates from the twelfth century, and experience a blast from Catalunya’s medieval past losing yourself in the little winding streets that have remained the same for hundreds of years. Visit the Miqvé, the underground Jewish baths, and learn about the history of the town’s Jewish community.
Go bird watching on the Llobregat delta
The Llobregat river is one of Catalunya’s major waterways, and for years it fueled the Catalan industrial revolution, with factory after factory popping up along its banks. Nowadays’ most of the industry is gone, and what remains is no longer powered by water wheels, and the river’s delta is a protected marshland visitors can explore on raised wooden walkways and a good place to go bird watching.