The day trip article always begins by attempting to excuse the desire to leave one city to explore another
. Just think how many times you’ve started an article with the opening line, “you could spend months exploring [insert city] and still not have seen it all, but...”? Countless, and I admit, I am guilty of having starting articles that way myself. The fact is, you don’t need an excuse. And, you’re curiosity shouldn’t be reduced to the need for a change of pace or the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Curiosity is an integral part of travel. And, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself somewhere that offers up plenty of places to be curious about, whether there outside the confines of the city you’re staying in or not, then explore for no other reason than to explore. Here are nine great day trips from Barcelona
To kick things off, Montserrat is one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona
. Located a touch over 60 kilometers from the Catalan capital, this impressive, craggy mountain is of huge spiritual and religious importance to the region. Halfway up the mountain sitting against fingerlike rock formations is the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, a monastery. Here, enjoy jaw-dropping views, a quiet, tranquil atmosphere, and La Moreneta or, the Black Virgin, one of the region’s most revered religious artifacts.
The train for Montserrat leaves from Placa Espanya, but at any metro station you can pick up a Trans Montserrat ticket. These costs € 35, and covers all transport between Barcelona and Montserrat, there and back. It also includes unlimited use of the funicular trains once at Montserrat and entrance to the audiovisual exhibit “Montserrat behind closed doors.” Journey time takes about an hour.
This, northern Catalonia's largest city, is most enchanting and really deserves more than the limited time a day offers for a visit.
Walk along the Onyar river, lined by beautiful multi-colored houses and watch geese paddle idly in the sun-dappled water before making your way to Girona’s old town. The tangled knot of these streets winds around and up towards the centerpiece of the city, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona.
Girona’s old town is steeped in history and prior to the expulsion of the Jews 1492 housed a large Jewish community. Today the Jewish Quarter is one of the largest and best-preserved in Europe. Here, you can also find the Museum of Jewish History which recounts the storied and troubled history of Catalonia’s Jewish communities.
Dominating Girona’s skyline and sitting atop and breath-shorting, mammoth 91 steps is the city’s strikingly impressive Cathedral. This colossal edifice has the largest Gothic nave in the world and hosts a great collection of artworks. Including one of the masterworks of Romanesque tapestry, the Tapestry of Creation.
After, make your way up to the Passeig de la Muralla, the ramparts that surround the old town, where you can take a stroll, or sit and enjoy spectacular views of the city.
Cinephiles too are in luck. The Museu del Cinema invites you to take a tour through the history of cinema. It tracks back to the time of the magic lantern and Mèliés brothers and runs right the way through, tracing the evolution of cinema and the emergence of TV. For fans of Romanesque and Gothic art then Girona’s Art Museum is where you want to be. Housed in the former Episcopal Palace, this museum boasts the largest collection of art from those two periods. There are also rooms dedicated to ceramics, glass, Catholic liturgy as well as a number of temporary exhibitions.
For a bite to eat, the tapas bars in the modern part of Girona are fantastic, full of locals and serve up all the favorites. For those with a bigger budget and the foresight to have booked ahead, Girona is also home to one of the world’s 50 best-ranked restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca.
Trips from Barcelona to Girona can be made by train, car or bus. However, the best option by far is to take the train, which is fast, easy, comfortable and affordable. The high-speed AVE trains, which depart from Barcelona Sants station, take 37 minutes to make the journey. Tickets cost € 9.40.
A short drive further north from Girona and located on the River Fluvia is Besalu. Here, a stunning old town sits across the awe-inspiring Pont Forticat (Fortified Bridge). Besulu is small, but as far as day trips from Barcelona go the town is still worth a visit.
Over the course of its history, Besulu saw itself ruled by a succession of Romans, Muslims, and Visigoths. Only in 1111 did it come under Barcelona’s rule. Like Girona, Besalu was once home to a large Jewish community and their history is told throughout the old town. Stroll the cobbled streets and past the beautiful medieval building before settling down in the sunny Placa de la Llibertat for a drink and something to eat.
Besalu is also home to the fabulous little craft brewery, The Hopsters. They are relatively young, having kicked things off in 2016, but their beer stands up brilliantly. They have four fixed beers, including an excellent, quaffable blonde and brew seasonals throughout the year. Head to their tap room on the weekend (Fri-Sun) in July and August from 7 - 11 pm to sample some beers or pick some up to take home with.
Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar is more than a resort city with pack-em-in hotels stretched along a miles long beach. This is a city that stays true to the traditions and cultures that define the region. Often referred to as “blue paradise,” the crescent-shaped bay boasts beautiful clear, calm waters. And, in the three month peak summer period average temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius.
Villa Vella, or Tossa’s old town, was built in the 12th century, the walls put up to protect from pirates. In fact, Tossa de Mar is the only remaining example of a fortified medieval town left on the Catalan coast. Dotted along the fortified wall are immense fortified towers. The most famous of which, the Tower of Jonas, overlooks the bay.
Step beyond the walls and you enter into a labyrinth of windy medieval alleys lined by ancient houses, the business, and bars which populate them integrating charmingly. Stop for a spot of lunch and enjoy fresh seafood before making your way to the beach to lounge and sunbath the rest of the afternoon away.
In the case of Tossa de Mar, a bus is the fastest and the only direct public transport option. You can catch a bus at Estacio del Nord. The journey takes around one hour and forty-five minutes.
Head south for one of Catalonia’s best-kept secrets and one of the best trips from Barcelona, the coastal city of Tarragona. Most of those who head here, bypass the city itself and make for the waterpark of PortAventura in neighboring Salou. But, this UNESCO World Heritage city is a gem. It’s packed with more Roman ruins than you can shake a stick at, a beautiful old town and great seafood.
Dating back to 218 BC, Tarragona is the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian peninsula. It’s also home to some of the best-preserved ruins in all of Spain. Begin by exploring the Amfiteatre de Tarragona, which overlooks the Mediterranean. Like the Colosseum in Rome, this spectacular remnant once used to host gladiatorial clashes. Then, move on to the Roman Circus, where the Romans put on horse and chariots races. The Praetorium which once connected the provincial forum to the lower city hosts a tower which boasts spectacular views. But, most impressive is Les Ferreres aqueduct which sits 4 kilometers outside the city. These carried water to Tarragona until the 18th century!
The Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona does an excellent job of accounting for the eight centuries of Roman rule in the city. On display, there are sculptures, painting, pottery, and jewelry. But, of particular note are the mosaics, the collection of which traces changing trends. Keep an eye out for the enormous mosaic dels Peixos de la Pineda which depicts fish and other various sea creatures.
Tarragona’s cathedral crowns the city’s old town. Built in Romanesque and Gothic style, the cathedral boasts a beautiful cloister and some intricate and interesting carvings on its Gothic vaultings. One involves a group of rats performing a funeral for a dead cat!
The Old City is a beautiful spot to head for a bite to eat with many restaurants built into the ancient walls of the city. There are very few tourists restaurants in Tarragona, meaning you can eat well, affordably. Everywhere feels like a local haunt. Korxo is a hip little wine and tapas joint often busy with trendy, but down to earth locals. If you’re after seafood though, then Barquet is where you want to eat. They serve market inspired cuisine with beautiful seafood rice dishes bursting with flavor.
If made by car the trip from Barcelona to Tarragona takes about an hour and a half. However, taking the train shave some time off the journey at just under an hour. Tickets on Renfe trains cost € 11.
South of Tarragona, the city of Salou hosts Spain’s most popular theme park. Divided across two sites, with the water park in nearby Villa-sec, this is an exciting day out for the whole family. PortAventura is pure, unadulterated fun. There are roller coasters, water slides, and themed areas that replicate everything from the Far East to Old West. As of 2016, the park has also added a Ferrari Land. So, petrol heads can enjoy Ferrari themed rides and interactive galleries on the brand and its history. If you plan on an extended stay, PortAventura also offers hotels with deals that provided unlimited entry to the park.
The easiest way to reach PortAventura from Barcelona is by train. The official website even offers Port Aventura
passes that already include return train tickets though you can also buy them separately online or on the station. Barcelona Sants train station provides you with direct connections to the park starting at 7 am until approximately 10 pm.
The Dali Triangle
Catalonia was where Salvador Dali was from, he was born in Figueres, and the artist lefts his markings all over the region. So, if you’re planning any Barcelona day trips, and are an art enthusiast, then you must definitely try and visit one if not all of the following.
Definitely not enough for a full day out, but a trip to Pubol is worth fitting in. Just outside of Girona, this little village is home to the Gala-Dali Castle. This was the private residence of Dali’s wife, Gala Dali, the woman he credited a lot of his work too, “it is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures.”
The Castle is open to the public. There is a beautiful garden complete with a fountain and towering, spindly elephant statues. Inside, Dali has made various alterations to the building, and there is a display of some of his works. And, in the garage, there is a fantastic 1960’s Cadillac.
When Gala died, she was buried in the property and under the house is her crypt. You can visit this too.
Cadaqués & Port Lligat
A windy drive down the coastal cliffs of the costa brava are two significant towns in Dali’s life. Cadaqués, a holiday spot for the artist, that later pulled in the hip crowd and Port Lligat, where Dali lived for most of his later life.
In the summer Cadaques is heaving with people. It boasts a beautiful beach and some great restaurants and bars. However, the centerpiece of the town is “next door” over in Port Lligat. Casa Salvador Dali or Dali’s private digs. A stone-walled trail connects the two towns and makes for a lovely walk.
The seafront house can only be accessed if tickets have been purchased in advance. Inside, the place is well, very Dali. A surrealist wonderland with objects that express the great artist’s every whim and folly. Of particular note are the Oval Room, the giant semi-complete wooden statue in the garden and the rooftop eggs. But, really, everything is a treasure here.
Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dali, home to his Theatre-Museum and one of the best Barcelona day trips on offer. While the city certainly offers up its fair share of things to do, Dali’s museum is really the main draw.
The giant red walls of the museum’s exterior covered in plaster models of Catalan pastries hint at the mad-capped magic that awaits you inside. Once you get beyond the entry, you’re quick to understand where the Theatre-Museum gets its name from. There is a theatricality in the surreal work that adorns the walls and rooms and the way in which it is all displayed.
In the Palace of Wind Room stare in wonder at Dali’s otherworldly, genuinely bizarre reimagining of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Head up the stairs for a look at the magnificent Mae West Room. There is also Dali’s crypt with his plain tomb, floors, and floors of sketches and paintings of melting clocks, barren deserts, and Gala, his wife. It is a full day and a memorable day out.
For those with a car getting from Barcelona to Figueres is approximately a two-hour drive. For everyone else, take the train. Like going to Girona, this comfortable, fast, and affordable. On the AVE trains, the journey time is just under an hour and tickets start from € 11.
So, there you have it, nine great day trips from Barcelona. Now, let curiosity guide you and get to exploring!