Barcelona: The Great Outdoors
Fresh air pursuits in the city and countryside of Catalonia
By Duncan Rhodes
Enjoying outdoor pursuits in and around Barcelona, such as hiking, cycling, skiing and camping.
It goes without saying that Barcelona, one of the world’s most fashionable and cosmopolitan metropolises, is little short of heaven-on-earth for city slickers who love architecture, culture, gastronomy and nightlife. But what about those addicted to the great outdoors?
In fact, with a bare minimum of bias, we can honestly say Barcelona is a simply fantastic destination for those who love getting out in the open air, engaging in some physical activity and appreciating the charms of Mother Nature, thanks to a combination of its natural geography and year-round clement weather.
And whilst its true that some outdoor sports and activities might require a day trip (more on those further down the page), a surprising amount of open air attractions can be found within the city itself. Take for example the magical mountain of Montjuic: this 741 metre cliff on the coast is right in the centre of BCN and hosts the likes of the Montjuic Castle, Olympic Stadium and MNAC museum amongst its many parks and gardens (including a botanical garden).
Then at the back of the city is the Collserola nature reserve, a small mountain range where you can go hiking or mountain biking with excellent views over the whole of Barcelona. One of the peaks, Tibidabo, even has its own, rather kitsch, amusement park as well as a striking 19th Century church and the Norman Foster tower. If you’re into Woody Allen films you might enjoy retracing the steps of the cast of Vicki Cristina Barcelona as there are some great scenes from the movie shot from up here, and the famous funicular ride is also featured in the bestseller The Shadow of the Wind.
Of course we don’t need to remind you that Barcelona rests snugly on the Mediterranean coast, between the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Its beaches are a major attraction for sun worshippers, and although the city beaches, in particular Barceloneta, can be a bit too carnival-esque for some, you don’t have to travel far to find more peaceful stretches of sand – and much cleaner waters. More active leisure seekers might prefer participating in water sports, and whether you’re into sailing, surfing, windsurfing, sea-kayaking or even kiteboarding you’ll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with an ocean breeze (and hopefully not too much ingestion of salt water!).
Read on and you’ll find information on some of the most popular outdoor sports and activities we can think of available in Barcelona and nearby regions of Catalonia, as well as a short but sweet list of great things to do al aire libre without leaving the city limits…
Outdoor Sports & Activities
Hiking is a popular activity for those that live in Barcelona and there’s no shortage of places for a good ramble: much will depend on how far you’re willing to travel and how hardcore a hike you have in mind. The Pyrenees, where you can find Catalonia’s only National Park (the catchily titled Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici), lie 150 kms to the North of Barcelona and take about 2.5-3 hours to reach by car, whilst other scenic spots in the region include the nature reserves of Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa and the Parc Natural del Delta del Ebre, both of which would require hiring a car to get to. For those who are keen to join a guided hiking expedition, we highly recommend taking a hike to Rupit, where a stroll through the Pyrenean foothills reveals waterfalls, canyons, gorges and dramatic cliff faces. The highlight of the walk however is the medieval village, and the chance to wander through a still inhabited five centuries old poble shouldn’t be missed.
The quick and easy (and cheap) option is simply to make the short journey to Collserola. The tourist office will tell you which stations you can travel to and which paths to take. Finally, if you can navigate the official Catalan Hiking Association website, then you can find dozens of rambling and walking routes throughout the region. (Don’t be put off by the strange domain name – its Catalan for ‘Euro Hikers’).
The city of Barcelona is beautifully flat for the most part and with roads that stay dry most of the year, tolerable levels of traffic and a respectable amount of cycling lanes there’s no excuse for not renting a bike and exploring from the saddle. If your map reading sucks you could always take a guided cycling trip instead. For those that prefer adrenalin-packed adventures to a spot of sightseeing the people at Barcelona Mountain Biking organise weekly rides, or can sort you out with bikes, maps and GPS and send you on your way. For a leisurely pedal on the roads of the Penedes region then check out this bike tour and wine tasting day out in one…
Winter sports in Spain??? Yes amigo, that’s right, here in Catalonia it’s possible to mix slopes and sangria for a great break in the snow! There are over twenty ski resorts in the Pyrenees that are within 3 or so hours driving distance of Barcelona and you can expect snowfall from November right the way through to April with a bit of luck – with cannons on hand to give Mother Nature a boost when necessary. A warning though, word of the affordable prices and spacious slopes is getting out so get here before the crowds descend!
If you’re into nature, outdoor sports and breathing in the fresh air of Catalunya, then obviously camping is the prime way to go and the area around Barcelona and the Costa Brava has plenty of great campsites to choose from. The modern day campsite of course comes with plenty of mod-cons and often comfortable bungalows or mobile homes, as well as places to pitch your tent, and can be a great way to enjoy a family holiday, whilst still allowing you to call in on the urban charms of Barcelona during a day trip or two. Read on for more info on campsites in Barcelona and Catalonia.