Barcelona Day Trips
We explore the rest of Catalonia’s many treasures…
By Duncan Rhodes
There’s so much to see and do in Barcelona that sometimes it feels hard to leave… but the surrounding region has so much to offer, from beautiful beach resorts to mystical mountains. We reveal some of our favourite day trip destinations as well as some great tours for exploring Catalonia outside of the capital.
So you’ve already spent an afternoon or two pootling around Barcelona’s old town, admiring the Roman ruins, Gothic churches and palm-tree-decked plazas. You’ve photographed all of Gaudi’s many magnificent Modernista buildings, checked out the Olympic Stadium and manifold museums on Montjuic mountain and relaxed in the hazy atmosphere in the city’s gorgeous parks. Naturally, you’ve also consulted your favourite travel guide’s fantastic list of cool things to do in the city – but you’re still bored!
And so, weary of urban life, you’re finally ready to renounce the charms of the ‘The Great Enchantress’ and leave the smells, sounds and circus of the city behind to see what else Catalonia and the Costa Brava have to offer… in which case, without further ado, let us introduce our handy guide to day trips and excursions outside of the city.
Yes, just outside this bustling metropolis lie sacred mountains and monasteries, golden beaches (which are all way cleaner than Barceloneta), Arcadian vineyards, spectacular national parks, sleepy Catalan villages and much much more.
All of the above are easily accessible from Barcelona by train, bus or car, and whether you’re interested in the culture or scenery or outdoor activities like skiing in the Pyrenees, rock climbing, sport fishing, hiking, kitesurfing or sea kayaking there’s plenty worth travelling for.
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Day Trips From Barcelona
Our favourite destinations outside the city… all of which you can reach easily by public transport, or by hiring a car. Click on the links to find out more about how to reach them. Otherwise see below for some organised tours that depart regularly to some of these destinations.
Catalonia’s sacred mountain range rears up just 38km away from Barcelona and such is its fame, beauty and religious significance that many come to this region to visit Montserrat first and Barcelona second! Most visitors tend to congregate around the Benedictine Abbey which houses the Black Virgin, a small wooden statue allegedly carved by Saint Luke himself. The abbey sits underneath the majestic St. Jerome’s peak and the views here, looking out over the whole of Catalonia are scintillating. Whilst Montserrat itself (as you’ll see up close) is stunning to behold, thanks to its serrated peaks and magical rock formations that glow pink in the setting sun.
Lying just south of Barcelona is the scenic countryside of the Penedes region of Catalonia, one of Spain’s foremost wine producing regions along with Rioja and Priorat. The wine it’s famous for of course is Cava, the Catalan take on French Champagne, but in fact as well as the sparkling stuff their are plenty of vineyards producing still reds and whites of great renown. No wonder then that enotourism has really taken off here recently and a day excursion to one of the many wineries in the Penedes for a spot of sampling is a day well spent! Many companies offer tours that include a vineyard tour, tasting, food and possibly even a spot of culture, and at Barcelona Life we recommend this private wine tasting tour, which includes both a major producer and a boutique winery, as well as the more offbeat ‘Create your own Cava’ experience.
Just down the road from BCN is one of Costa Brava’s most scenic beach towns – the resort of Sitges. By day you can wonder around sleepy white-washed streets, decorated with colourful kitsch ceramics and balconies full of potted plants, by night the cafes, restaurants and bars throw open their doors and Sitges becomes one of Spain’s most happening party places. This is where the first ever Pacha nightclub opened (in 1967!), whilst the gay scene is one of the strongest in the country. With 17 sandy beaches (some nudist), a beautiful Old Town and a triumvirate of good museums Sitges makes for a fantastic day trip – or even longer – and has both a family-friendly and gay-friendly vibe. To get there hop on the train from Sants Station. They usually run every 15 minutes and take about 30 mins to arrive. For train timetables for this and all the destinations below, check Renfe.es.
Figueres is a nice little town… but it’s fair to say you probably wouldn’t bother visiting it if it wasn’t for its USP – that’s Unique Selling Point to you! By which of course we mean the Salvador Dali Museum. Opened by the artist himself in 1974, the museum occupies the whole of what was once the municipal theatre (Salvador 1 Shakespeare 0), and is reckoned to be the largest collect of surrealist art in the world. Legions of fans make the pilgrimmage each year so book your tickets ahead if you plan on visiting in peak season. You can take the train from Sants (which also calls in on Passeig de Gracia and Clot-Arago), journey time either 2 or 2.15 hours. Trains leave every 30 mins and tickets cost around 10-14 euros one way, depending if its the slightly faster or slower train. Alternatively a lot of local-based companies offer private tours, including museum ticket and transport to Figueres from BCN.
If Roman ruins are your thing then a day trip to Tarragona is unmissable. A simply fantastic amphitheatre still stands from nearly two millenia ago, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, whilst Roman walls and porticoes can also be admired – as can a magnificent aqueduct if you’re prepared to take a 4km jaunt out of town. It’s not just relics from the time of Caesar and chums though, and Tarragona has a wonderful Gothic cathedral and a picturesque Old Town as well. The one minus point is that, in a catastrophic bit of town planning, the rail tracks cut off the city beach meaning you have to hot foot it around the station to get some sand. In other words go for the history/culture and not the sunbathing. Again train is the best way to go, and you can get there from Sants in 1.15-1.30 hours for about 6-7 euros one way.
The name might evoke some mirth from native English speakers, however as a day tour or even a weekend away, Tossa is a destination to be taken seriously. The cynosure of this coastal resort is its fortified Vila Vella (Old Town), the only such medieval fortress extant anywhere in Catalonia. It only takes a couple of hours maximum to walk around its turrets and lighthouse, so be sure to pack your sun cream and prepare to spend the rest of the day on the lovely beach that unfurls under the battlements. If you’re a sturdy walker ask directions at the tourist office for Cala Pola, a beautiful secluded beach that is a couple of hours walk away over craggy forest paths. You can reach Tossa from Barcelona by bus… more info on our article, so click the link above.
Stay tuned for details about visiting Girona, Reus, Castelldefels, Calafell, Garraf, Cadaques and many more delights of the Costa Brava and the rest of Catalonia soon.
Organised Day Tours
Want to see something aside from the city… but don’t want to think too much!? Here are some tour options, chosen by us, run by our partners. Get in touch to reserve a space!
A great day out that includes both a visit to the aforementioned “Jagged Mountain” along with a peek inside its sacred abbey, as well as an afternoon sipping locally produced wines in a 10th century castle. Click on the title link for more info.
For more of an action trip, this water sports activity involves experiencing the amazing scenery of “The Wild Coast” from the vantage point of the sea. You’ll paddle in your kayak along the craggy coastline to a natural cave where you can go snorkelling in safety and check out the local marine life. The tour leaves daily from Barcelona during summer.
A ‘day trip’ might be stretching it, but it’s certainly possible to plan a wild weekend in Ibiza using Barcelona as your base. Overnight ferries cruise across the Mediterranean on a nightly basis to the ‘White Isle’, whilst a number of airlines fly from Barcelona’s El Prat airport and if you book far enough in advance can be surprisingly cheap. Why go? Well the island’s nightlife is nothing short of legendary, whilst it’s beautiful Old Town and great beaches have made it one of Spain’s top holiday destinations ever since the 1950s. Yes, Wham’s Club Tropicana video was filmed here! Check out our feature length travel guide to Ibiza, which also has details on summer party trips leaving from BCN.
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.