14 Top-Rated Day Trips from Barcelona
The sunny Mediterranean region surrounding Barcelona beckons visitors with its beautiful beaches, quaint fishing villages, and charming medieval towns. In this area of Catalonia, just a short drive or train ride from Barcelona, tourists can escape to another world - whether the destination is an upscale seaside retreat such as Sitges or the scenic monastery in legendary Montserrat. Most of the destinations combine cultural and natural attractions. In the same day, tourists can sunbathe on the golden beach of El Vendrell and visit an archaeology museum, or enjoy water sports and then tour a medieval castle in Castelldefels. Farther inland, the historic towns of Vic and Manresa inspire visitors with majestic churches, and the quaint village of Sant Cugat del Vallès offers country charm and splendid Romanesque architecture. Farther north, and shared with neighboring France, are the majestic mountain peaks of the Pyrenees and the tiny principality of Andorra, with even more things to do.
Plan your excursions with this list of the top day trips from Barcelona:
1 The Monastery of Montserrat
Famed for its monastery, the magnificent hilltop of Montserrat makes a stunning impression. Montserrat translates to "jagged mountain," which perfectly describes the serrated peaks, while in Catalan, it's called Mont Sagrat, the "sacred mountain." This destination, about 50 kilometers northwest of Barcelona, is one of Spain's major tourist attractions. The great massif extends five kilometers across and 10 kilometers high above the Catalonian plain on the right bank of the Llobregat River. In its isolation, Montserrat is a dramatic sight with steep rock faces on every side and fantastically eroded crags that appear to be crenellations of a medieval fortress. The monastery, including its church and other buildings, is like a small city on its own. A highlight is the venerated La Moreneta (the Dark One), a 12th-century carving of Our Lady of Montserrat. To reach the monastery complex, arrive by passing the Plaza de la Cruz. This bustling and touristy town square is lined with many restaurants and souvenir shops. A good way to get to the monastery is by air-conditioned coach on the Montserrat Monastery Tour from Barcelona Including Cogwheel Train Ride, a 4.5-hour visit with a knowledgeable local guide, featuring a train ride for beautiful views from the mountaintop.
2 Sitges: An Upscale Beach Resort
Sitges enjoys a beautiful location 42 kilometers from Barcelona, on the Mediterranean Sea, with verdant mountains as a backdrop. Stunning beaches are the main draw, and swimmers will appreciate the Blue Flag beach rated for water safety. One of the beaches has a yacht marina and golf courses are nearby. The historic center of Sitges is also worth visiting, with two noteworthy churches, the Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu and the Iglesia de Santa Tecla. Other important buildings include the Casa de la Vila, a 19th-century Neo-Gothic mansion, and Palau Maricel, a palace that blends medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural elements. The Modernist influence of the 19th and 20th centuries can be seen throughout the town; one excellent example is the Cau Ferrat that was the house of famous Spanish author and artist Santiago Rusiñol. In 1891, Rusiñol turned his house/studio into a Bohemian gathering place that attracted artists and intellectuals. Sitges also has tantalizing gastronomy and a wonderful selection of gourmet restaurants. The local cuisine is known for its hearty Catalan dishes such as pa amb tomàquet, toast topped with garlic and olive oil seasoned tomatoes (similar to Italian bruschetta); xató, a salad of endive served in a spicy sauce; and fideuà, a seafood dish made with noodles.
Not far from Sitges is the old Roman capital of Tarragona, with a well-preserved Roman aqueduct, forum, and circus. You can combine visits to both towns on the 10.5-hour Tarragona and Sitges Tour from Barcelona, traveling by air-conditioned minivan with a local guide who can explain the history as you visit the most important sites. There's time for a leisurely swim on one of the area's beaches, too.
3 The Costa Brava
Of all Spain's costas, perhaps the most picturesque is the Costa Brava, a 1,240-mile stretch of cliff-backed beaches. One of Europe's favorite beach destinations, the coast has plenty of cultural attractions, too, and has long been a favorite haunt of artists. Santa Susanna's historic town center has watchtowers built from the 15th to 18th centuries to protect against pirates, but most tourists head straight to one of its three beaches: Platja de Llevant is the busiest, Platja de les Caletes is quieter, and Platja de les Dunes has a yacht club and is ideal for sailing, windsurfing, and scuba diving. Tossa de Mar is another popular resort town and is renowned for its pristine natural environment. The main beaches have excellent facilities, and the sheltered coves offer peaceful spots. Calella de Palafrugell has the inviting ambience of an old fishing village, its sandy beach nestled in a picturesque, sheltered cove with calm waters, rated Blue Flag for safety. You can visit Calella de Palafrugell and other beach towns and admire the coastal cliffs and scenery from viewpoints along the Camino de Ronda while someone else watches the road, on the Girona and Costa Brava Small Group Tour with Hotel Pick-Up from Barcelona. The 10-hour trip by minivan includes stops to explore picturesque villages and to swim in the crystal waters.
The cultural heritage of this walled medieval city includes reminders of its Roman, Moorish, Catholic, and Jewish past, often superimposed on one another. Roman walls enclose its medieval center, and you can walk along the Passeig de la Muralla, a walkway along parts of the longest Carolingian walls in Europe. Girona has one of the best-preserved medieval Jewish quarters in Spain; its Arab baths are now part of a Capuchin convent. In the 11th-century cathedral, be sure to see the Creation Tapestry, a rare masterpiece of Romanesque textile art. The Gothic convent of Sant Doménech sits among beautiful gardens.
More recently, Girona has become familiar as a filming location for Game of Thrones, when its medieval streets became a King's Landing setting. To follow in the footsteps of the show's main characters through medieval alleys and the Jewish quarter, join a Game Of Thrones Tour in Girona from Barcelona. After the short coach ride to Girona, a guide will share pictures and stories of the filming as you get an insider's look at how the streets and squares were transformed into realistic settings. The tour includes lunch at a local restaurant and a stop in a small medieval village on the way back to Barcelona. You can also see the city on the Girona and Costa Brava Small Group Tour with Hotel Pick-Up from Barcelona.
5 Figueres and the Salvador Dali Museum
The Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, and the Museu Dali is one of Europe's most popular museums. As much theater as museum, this is the largest of Dali's works, filled with paintings, sculptures, and installations. Even the building itself celebrates surrealism, with its giant rooftop egg sculptures. The museum provides insights into the full range of Dalí's art in all its forms and periods, and displays some of his greatest masterpieces. Here, you'll find some of his later surrealist works, including Galatea of the Spheres, and the famed Mae West Room.
Dali later lived in Cadaqués, a town near the Cap de Creus Natural Park that has been a favorite with artists for nearly a century. It's easy to see why they found this Mediterranean port appealing, with its historic quarter of whitewashed houses clinging to the hillside above the harbor. Beautiful little beaches hide in coves along the rocky shore, and the town is known for its lively cultural scene, with art galleries and arts festivals. You can visit these towns and others along the coast to tour the Dali museum and places where he lived and worked on the Salvador Dali Museum, Figueres and Cadaques Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona, an 11-hour excursion by air-conditioned minivan. Depending on the season, the tour also visits Dalí's private retreat in the coastal village of Port Lligat, now a museum, or Pubol Castle, where Dalí and his wife Gala lives, now housing the Gala Dalí House-Museum. http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/teatre-museu-dali/en_index/
6 Medieval Vic
This charming medieval town is 72 kilometers from Barcelona in a tranquil setting along the banks of the Meder River. Vic has two historic quarters that date back to the Middle Ages: the area around the Castillo de Montcada and another old quarter that surrounds the cathedral. This impressive Neoclassical cathedral dominates the town, although it's a relatively recent addition, built in the late 18th century. Step inside the glorious sanctuary to have a look at the exquisite mural paintings by Josep María Sert. To further explore the town's cultural heritage, visit the Episcopal Museum, which houses a superb collection of religious art. The museum displays masterpieces of painting and sculpture from the Romanesque and Gothic eras as well as precious textiles, glassware, and ceramics. Other important religious monuments include the Convento de Sant Domènec, a Franciscan convent built in 1567, and the Iglesia de La Pietat, a beautiful 17th-century Baroque church.
For an atmospheric meal or a place to relax, stroll over to the Plaza Mayor, the town's elegant arcaded main square. Many of the square's stylish cafés and restaurants have outdoor terraces. Visitors seeking overnight accommodations can chose the luxurious Parador Vic-Sau. This hotel was converted from a traditional Catalan country house and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. You can visit Vic as part of a Pyrenees Mountains Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona, an 11-hour excursion by minivan that combines a tour of Vic's cathedral and medieval sights with a rack railway ride to the gorgeous Nuria Valley, high in the Pyrenees. Once here you can hike, go horseback riding, take a boat onto the beautiful lake, or just enjoy the views.
Only a 2.5-hour drive from Barcelona, the tiny principality of Andorra sits high in the eastern Pyrenees, and its capital of Andorra La Vella is the highest capital in Europe at an altitude of 1,029 meters. Duty-free shopping, Europe's biggest spa complex, and the 12th-century Sant Esteve Church with its fine carved woodwork are the city's main attractions. The dramatic glass tower of the spa is a striking contrast set against the 2,317-meter Pic d'Enclar mountain that rises above the city. Andorra is known for its Romanesque chapels, the finest of which is the 11th-century chapel of Sant Joan de Caselles, near the village of Canillo, a stone building with fine frescoes. Andorra is especially popular with skiers in the winter and with hikers the rest of the year. You can combine Andorra with an excursion to the French spa town of Ax Les Thermes on the Three Countries in One Day Tour: France, Andorra, and Spain from Barcelona. The 12-hour trip takes you into Andorra over a beautiful mountain pass and stops for a chance to walk on mountain trails and see one of the famed Romanesque chapels before arriving in Andorra La Vella.
8 The Churches of Manresa
An idyllic country town, Manresa lies in a rural landscape 58 kilometers from Barcelona with the Mountains of the Montserrat Nature Reserve in the distance. A focal point of the town is the Basilica de Santa María de la Seo, around which old houses are clustered. This ancient basilica is mainly Gothic in style but also combines architectural features of the Romanesque (early medieval) and Renaissance eras. Enter the sanctuary to admire the serene interior with its impressive medieval reredos, which is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic Catalan painting. Other noteworthy monuments are the Ayuntamiento de Manresa (City Hall), the Pont Vell (bridge), and the spectacular Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola that stands majestically on a hilltop. This 16th-century church was where Saint Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit community that is now found all over the world. Manresa is a historic town that has also entered the modern era, with many interesting Modernist buildings scattered throughout the town. Most of the beautiful Modernist buildings were designed by the local architect Ignasi Oms i Ponsa.
Cardona is a charming medieval town tucked into a valley on the banks of the Cardoner River, about 90 kilometers from Barcelona. The town has an impressive past dating back to the eighth century, and its ancient ramparts were built in the ninth century. Must-see sights include the Collegiate Church of San Vicente, a lovely Romanesque church of the 11th century, and the Calle Mayor, the town's elegant main street.
Typical of towns built during the Middle Ages, Cardona has a castle that stands on a hilltop surrounded by immense walled fortifications. With its austere lines and foreboding high walls, the Castillo de Cardona is an excellent example of Catalan Romanesque architecture. The castle has been renovated and converted to the luxurious Parador de Cardona hotel, offering guests the magical experience of living in the Middle Ages as royalty. The castle grounds are beautifully maintained and they are an enjoyable place to take in panoramas of the town.
10 El Vendrell
Steeped in history dating back to the ancient Roman era, El Vendrell is 67 kilometers from Barcelona on a site where the Augustan Way passed through. Significant Roman remains have been found here and are displayed in the town's Archaeological Museum. El Vendrell continued to be an important urban center throughout the centuries, and its heritage is seen in several impressive monuments. The Iglesia de Sant Salvador is a spectacular church featuring Renaissance and Baroque architectural features. Inside, visitors are awed by the inspiring sanctuary with its opulent Baroque altar. The church also boasts a beautiful organ that is used to play sacred music. Other interesting sights are the old hospital of Santísimo Salvador and the Ermita de Sant Salvador, a lovely Romanesque hermitage. More modern 19th-century buildings are around the Plaza Nueva town square.
For tourists visiting during summer, the beach is a top attraction. El Vendrell lies along the Costa Daurada in an area that has wonderful expansive beaches. El Vendrell's quaint fisherman's neighborhood, Sant Salvador, is also worth visiting to take in the atmospheric seafaring ambience.
11 Sant Cugat del Vallès
The historic village of Sant Cugat del Vallès lies 28 kilometers from Barcelona in a verdant valley. This site has been occupied for millennia; archaeological artifacts from 2000 BC to 1500 BC have been found here. The town boasts interesting remains from the ancient Roman era, most notably the Castrum Octavianum fortress. Later, Sant Cugat became an important religious center with the Benedictine Monasterio de Sant Cugat founded in the 12th century. The monastery has a beautiful church with a splendid facade and a Romanesque cloister. In the delightful countryside surrounding Sant Cugat are many ancient farms and hermitages, including the 14th-century Can Rabella and the Ermita de Sant Adjutori. The medieval fortress of Castell de Canals shows the feudal heritage of this rural area.
12 Castelldefels by the Sea
Boasting beautiful scenery and perfect weather, the seaside town of Castelldefels is only 10 minutes (25 kilometers) away from Barcelona along the Costa del Garraf. This stunning coastline is sandwiched between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Fine beaches extend for more than five kilometers in this area, attracting many sunbathers from Barcelona during summertime. The beaches are also popular with swimmers and water sports enthusiasts. The marina features an Olympic Canal built for the 1992 Olympics that is used for canoeing. For those in search of culture, the ancient Castillo de Fels that gave the town its name is a must-see sight. This ancient castle dominates the town, standing high above the coastline. Another relic of the Middle Ages are the town's towers, including the Can Ballester Tower and Barona Tower that once provided defense against invaders.
13 Arenys de Mar: A Quaint Fishing Village and Beach Resort
Dating back to the 14th-century, this charming fishing village is now a popular summer beach resort. The seaside promenade and sandy shores are the main tourist draws. The yacht marina is also popular for water sports. Arenys de Mar is conveniently located only 47 kilometers from Barcelona, making it an easy day trip. The town was a wealthy fishing port in the 16th century and still has defense towers from that era. At the center of Arenys de Mar is the Rambla where locals gather for the evening paseo (stroll). Along this avenue is the Iglesia de Santa María. This church has an exquisite Baroque facade and a stunning reredos created by local Catalan artists. For an interesting insight into the town's artisan craft heritage, visit the Frederic Marés de la Punta Museum. This excellent museum is dedicated to the art of lacemaking, one of the traditional crafts of the village.
14 Medieval Villages near Besalú
In the hills west of Figueres, near La Garrotxa Nature Reserve, is a cluster of picturesque medieval towns. Besalú has, like many Catalonian towns, a mixture of Jewish and Christian sites, which include medieval Jewish baths and synagogues in an old Sephardic quarter, the 10th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere, and the 10th-century chapel of Santa María. Highlights of nearby Rupit include ruins of a castle and the Baroque Church of Sant Miquel. Along with dozens of well-preserved houses from the 16th and 17th centuries, Tavertet is known for the 11th-century Romanesque Church of Sant Cristòfol. You can combine these with a number of scenic attractions in the area on a Small-Group Medieval Villages Day Trip from Barcelona, which also visits the tiny village of Castellfollit de la Roca, at the edge of a basalt cliff. The 10.5-hour trip by minivan is accompanied by a local guide who can relate the history of these villages, as well as point out their attractions.