A mini travel guide to this beautiful resort town near Barcelona
By Duncan Rhodes
Sitges is one of our favourite getaways, and perfect for a day or even weekend trip away from Barcelona. We take a look at some history, culture and things to do, plus recommend our favourite hotels and restaurants.
Just 35km away from Barcelona (or 35 minutes by train from Sants Station), the coastal resort of Sitges is one of the most attractive stopping points in Catalonia. Often dubbed the St. Tropez of Spain, thanks to the high prices of property, the resort town is possibly even closer by comparison to Brighton on England’s South Coast.
Picturesque and sleepy by day, with a Bohemian vibe, 17 pristine beaches and a smattering of cultural points of interest to visit, at night Sitges is a hedonistic playpen of throbbing bars and discos and one of the epicentres of gay nightlife in Spain.
Families and couples of all ages come for the former, whilst gay party animals from around the world make the pilgrimmage here to sample the wild lifestyle by night. If these are the town’s staple charms, then its worth remembering too that the resort is home to two world-class events in the form of the Sitges Carnival (every February/March) and the Sitges Film Festival (October).
History of Sitges
Starting life as an Iberian settlement in 4th Century BC, Sitges gained a small castle and a Bishopric in the middle ages whilst relying on principally fishing, maritime trade and viticulture to support itself. The Sitgetans (as they are improbably known) imported a variety of grape called malvasia from Greece and the sweet liquor wine they fermented from it made the town famous. Indeed the Hospital Sant Joan Baptista still produces 4,000 bottles via the traditional method each year and you might want to grab yourself a couple as souvenirs! If you’re in town in September you can even check out the Festa de La Varema (Sitges Wine Harvest Festival)… we’ll do our best to keep you updated via our Barcelona events calendar.
If there was one man responsible for setting Sitges on the path towards glamorous seaside resort then fingers would no doubt point to the Catalan artist, playwright and poet Santiago Rusiñol, whose influence helped turn the town into a flourishing intellectual and artistic centre in the height of the Modernista era.
Even after Modernisme was considered passe, Sitges continued to attract artists as famous as Salvador Dalí and the poet Federico García Lorca, until the Spanish Civil War put an end to what is still considered the town’s Golden Age. Romantics should investigate the excellent Cau Ferrat Museum, a tribute to the great Rusiñol and those times.
It was later in the 20th Century, during the 1960s and 70s, that the latest incarnation of Sitges was hatched, when economic conditions in Spain had significantly improved and tourists began to return en masse to the resort’s beaches and bars. Fast forward to the 2010s and you could rightly consider the town to be entering a second Golden Age. Prettier and more relaxed than Barcelona, significantly cheaper than Ibiza and still unknown to many foreigners a few days in Sitges will be as relaxing (or debauched) as you could hope for, and can easily be combined with some of the other excellent sights in the region.
Eating and Drinking in Sitges
Generally speaking in Catalonia/Spain (delete according to your political associations) you can expect to eat well and a lot for very little money compared to most of the rest of Europe. Tapas bars are plentiful and you will also get restaurants offering menu del dias, fantastic value three or four course lunches that often set you back little more than €10 with a drink included. Some favourite haunts include El Chiringuito, Spain’s very first beach bar, dating back to 1913, and a great place to indulge in authentic seafood treats. El Cable is another cult venue favoured by locals, serving classic tapas plus its very own burger, wittily named the McCable. We could also recommend Nems (nemsitges.com), an innovative restaurant serving original fusion tapas dishes and still very affordable.
Bars wise and you’ll find more than enough watering holes on the main street of Parellades as well as on Carrer Primer de Maig, also known as ‘Calle del Pecado’ (‘Street of Sin’!). Most won’t close until 2.30 or 3am. For something swanky head to Vivero’s Ibiza-style chill out terrace (elviverositges.com), which looks right over the ocean.
Sitges Hotels & Accommodation
Whilst most backpackers stick to Barcelona, leaving an undeveloped hostel scene here in Sitges, there are some budget digs if you look hard enough… and few are better than Utopia Beach House (utopiasitges.com), a hippy style budget hotel and hostel that has very basic rooms but a great breakfast, a lovely garden and a friendly atmosphere.
For something a bit more romantic try Hotel Medium Park, which despite the rather uninspiring name, is found in a gorgeous Modernista building and features its own swimming pool on the grounds.
Further upscale still is Hotel Alenti (hotelalenti.com), a four star boutique residence with just ten rooms on Primer de Maig (ie. the centre of the action). Despite the modern building, Alenti has an intimate family feel and the suites with jacuzzis offer an enviable stay indeed.
Getting to Sitges from Barcelona
The simplest and cheapest way to get to here from BCN is to hop on the RENFE train which leaves from Sants Station (or Passeig de Gracia Station, which is more central), every 15 minutes in summer between about 5am and 10.30pm. Tickets are around 8 euros return, journey time around 35 minutes. Otherwise you can hire a car or rent a scooter and drive there!
For more info on Sitges check out the official tourism website.
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.