There’s an endless wealth of incredible sightseeing and things to do in Barcelona. From goggling at Gaudí’s otherworldly architecture and exploring the atmospheric Gothic quarter, to strolling the sunny beaches, chilled-out parks, and hip, bohemian districts, it’s the ultimate city-break destination.
Vibrant nightlife? Check! Outstanding food scene? Check! Lionel Messi? Check! Giant mosaic-emblazoned lizard? Check! You name it, Barcelona has a stylish, world-class version of it. It’s easy to see why the city remains such a draw for wanderers from all over.
In fact, there’s so much to do and see in the Catalan capital that you could be forgiven for not ever venturing further afield. But the tapestry of cultural eye-candy that makes Barcelona such a delight doesn’t end at the city limits – far from it.
The surrounding region of Catalonia and beyond is awash with historical treasures, holiday hotspots and hidden culture gems that can go toe-to-toe with Barcelona’s best. The key difference is they tend to be less overrun with tourists hellbent on photobombing your personal space.
So, if you prefer a more off-the-beaten-track approach to sightseeing, or you’ve already run the gamut of Barcelona’s bounty and are itching for more cultural goodness, get ready to stretch your horizons across northeastern Spain. Here are some of the best day trips from Barcelona.
1. The Mystical Mountains of Montserrat
Not all places on Earth are created equally, and if you were to compile a shortlist of the most breathtaking locations in the world, Catalonia’s enchanting Montserrat would surely be somewhere near the top.
Meaning ‘serrated mountain’ in Catalan, this towering, jagged-peaked eminence rises 1,236 meters above a pastoral expanse of vineyards and rolling hills, roughly 22 kilometers outside of Barcelona. It is arguably the essential Barcelona day trip if you only have time for one.
The stuff of fairy tales and fantasy novels, Montserrat’s unique sedimentary rock composition has a pale pink hue, and cast against a panoramic backdrop of sun-washed Catalonian countryside, it’s hard to imagine anything more picturesque. No wonder Catalonia has produced so many creative geniuses; imagine waking up with that in your backyard!
Near the top of Montserrat is a magnificent Benedictine abbey that dates from the 10th century. With architecture inside and out that’s almost as astonishing as the surrounding scenery, there’s a mystical quality to the place that eclipses your everyday sightseeing awe.
Still an active monastery, you’ll sometimes hear ethereal choir music echoing around the valleys, punctuated by the staccato thud of jaws dropping everywhere. It’s enough to give your goosebumps goosebumps!
Almost the perfect day trip, right? If only it also had an adjoining art museum with masterpieces by the likes of El Greco, Caravaggio, Picasso and Dalí… Oh wait. It does.
While you’re there…
Why not squeeze every drop of Catalan culture out of your visit, and combine this day trip from Barcelona with a wine-tasting vineyard tour, or really elevate the experience with a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon flight over Montserrat. Or, if you have time for a bit of a detour, you can also combine your day trip to Montserrat with a visit to the astonishing Caves Codorniu, one of the oldest wineries in the world, and the original home of Cava.
Barcelona to Montserrat – how to get there
There are lots of options for getting from Barcelona to Montserrat. If you want to take public transport, there’s a dedicated train service from Plaça Espanya Train Station to Monistrol de Montserrat station every hour. It takes roughly one hour to get there. Easy peasy.
From the base of the mountain, you can choose between a cable car and a cogwheel train. There’s a solid argument for each, but you can always switch it up on the way back down.
Alternatively, you can opt for a fully guided tour from Barcelona to Montserrat, which will take you by coach to the foot of the mountain in approximately two hours, where you’ll hop into the old-style cog train, and trundle to the summit while a guide regales you with epic history.
A guided tour is probably the best way to experience Montserrat for first-time visitors, as the magical spectacle is only enhanced by learning the stories that surround it. But Montserrat isn’t the only cultural wonder orbiting Barcelona.
The charming Catalonian town of Figueres makes for another excellent day trip from the big smoke of Barcelona. Just shy of 150 km away, it’s far enough that the swarms of tourists are much sparser here. But you’ll still notice an artsy-looking international crowd milling about with puzzled expressions, as if they’ve just encountered something very surreal that they need some time to process.
That’s likely because Figueres is the hometown of Salvador Dalí, the eccentric master of Surrealism and one of the true geniuses and icons of the 20th century. Dalí’s mind-bending art and off-the-wall personality were a pure embodiment of the fine balance between creativity and madness, and his influence continues to reverberate in art circles and popular culture today.
A swashbuckling career took him on many adventures across the continents (mostly so he could meet those rhinoceroses), but Dalí always had a soft spot in his heart for Figueres. It’s here that he had his bonkers monument to Surrealism, the Dalí Theatre-Museum, built. Like the man himself, it’s quite unlike anything else, and makes for one of the best Barcelona day trips in and of itself, especially if you have an affinity for the kooky side of art.
Of his museum, Dalí mused: “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” It’s hard to argue that he didn’t achieve his bombastic ambition – it really is one of the world’s most unique museums. Theatrical dream is an apt description.
The crimson facade of this brick-and-mortar hallucination is adorned with giant eggs, Dionysian statues, and speckled with uniform rows of golden bread rolls – a knowing nod to art as consumption. It also features an enormous glass dome, and is bordered by tall, spindly cypress trees that give it a distinctly Surrealist appearance.
Inside, the museum houses the largest collection of Dalí’s art in the world. It’s jam-packed with arresting paintings, bizarre sculptures, and a literal treasure trove of precious sapphires, emeralds, malachite, and other rare gems fashioned into quirky jewelry.
There are 3D collages, curiosities Dalí collected, optical illusions, stereographs, and eye-popping anamorphic art, where objects arranged across multiple spaces form one cohesive image when viewed from a specific angle.
All told, it’s the world’s largest Surrealist object. So it’s a fitting place for the artist’s own mausoleum; Dalí is buried beneath the building, which only adds to its enigmatic aura. It’ll change how you feel about experiencing art and museums, but then again, that’s sort of the point.
While you’re there…
If you have time, and your brain isn’t completely scrambled by Dalí’s maniacal museum, you should also check out some of the other museums in town. There’s the Museu De L’Empordà, a museum of art and archaeology with works by Catalonia’s most celebrated artists, including Sorolla, Casas, Gargallo, Tàpies, and, yep, more Dalí.
There’s also a museum of 18th and 19th-century technology, and the always-cool Catalonian Toy Museum, where you’re sure to find lots of awesome action Figueres. ?
Barcelona to Figueres – how to get there
Public transport is a good option, with regular trains departing from Barcelona Sants to Figueres Vilafant station every day, and the journey clocking in at just under an hour.
If you want to prime yourself a bit for the experience, and learn a bit more about Dalí and his legacy, and really make a whole day trip out of it, your best bet is a guided bus tour from Barcelona to the museum. It also includes a walking tour of beautiful Girona, which is handy, because, well…
3. My My My, Girona
Very worthy of an entire day tour from Barcelona in its own right, Girona is easily one of the most atmospheric cities in Catalonia, if not all of Spain. With dramatic Gothic buildings, elegant Modernista villas, multicolored riverfront tenements, and winding cobblestone streets, you could spend the whole day wandering around just reveling in the grand architectural spectacle of it all.
Unsurprisingly, there is a plethora of awesome stuff to do in Girona while you’re gawping at how pretty it is. If it’s your first time here, the best way to get acquainted with its unique cultural blend, and find your feet in the city, is with a guided tour of the old town district and the colossal Gothic Cathedral. It is magnifico!
If you get the uncanny sense of deja vu on the tour, even though it’s your first time in Girona, that might be because the city and its cathedral were heavily featured in HBO’s epic Game of Thrones series. Famous scenes in Bravos and King’s Landing were filmed here, and while you don’t have to have seen or even like the show to be blown away by the magnificence of the Cathedral, GoT fans will no doubt be doubly impressed. Wait… you’ve never even heard of the show? Shame! Shame! Shame!
Girona has its very own slice of Salvador Dalí’s legacy too. A short drive outside the city in the rural town of Púbol is the Castle of Púbol, aka the Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum. This is the Gothic-Renaissance castle that Salvador Dalí purchased for his beloved wife, Gala. As you do. Dalí wanted Gala to have a place to live out her twilight years in peace, and occasionally entertain visits from her husband, upon her advance written consent. You can’t make this stuff up.
So in the spirit of creating a peaceful sanctuary of calm for his elderly wife, Dalí filled the castle with the wackiest decór his mercurial mind could conjure. We’re talking elephants, giraffes, and a secret taxidermy horse – of course – which can be spied through the glass top of a small coffee table, one floor above. Brilliant!
While Dalí’s quirky interior design choices might not fit everyone’s idea of Feng Shui, there is an undeniable playfulness, charm, and even romance to the place. The dedication on display is quite moving, and it’s clear how much the artist adored his muse. You could say that because of Casa Gala Dalí, her memory persists.
While you’re there…
Girona has plenty to offer aside from its flagship attractions. For starters, it’s a foodie’s paradise. You could, in theory, blindfold yourself, strike out in any direction and smack face-first into a culinary gem within a minute. However, the city’s best restaurant, El Cellar de Can Roca, might require some advance booking.
It’s been awarded three Michelin stars, voted the world’s best restaurant three times, and famously featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table series. There’s a 12-month waiting list, so if you do manage to get a spot, make sure you bring all your belongings with you afterwards.
There is also a fantastic Museum of Cinema in Girona, as well as the prestigious Girona Art Museum, some very enchanting Arabic Baths, the Archeological Museum of Cataluña, and a slew of gorgeous historical sites and buildings that’ll make that day trip from Barcelona feel very worthwhile.
Barcelona to Girona – how to get there
Girona is a 40-minute train journey north of Barcelona, and there are regular trains departing from Barcelona Sants every day, so you can really be flexible when planning a day trip. If you prefer a more structured approach, go for that guided bus tour from Barcelona.
4. When in Tarragona…
Head southbound down the Catalonian coast and you’ll arrive in the delightful province of Tarragona. The main city, of the same name, is home to some of the most spectacular remnants of the Roman Empire outside of Italy. It also flaunts some majorly atmospheric Gothic architecture and Modernista mansions that are as elegant as the ones in Girona or Barcelona.
There’s an ineffable sense of ancient history in Tarragona. With the styles of various centuries colliding in a relatively snug area, it makes for some incredible sightseeing and a supremely worthwhile day trip from Barcelona.
Tarragona’s UNESCO-rated seaside amphitheater is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. Hewn right into the side of a steep stone slope and gazing out at the Mediterranean, it’s hard to believe this peaceful scene was once the venue for violent gladiator battles, animal hunts, and public executions, with up to 15,000 spectators baying ‘olé!’ to every new limb lost.
The amphitheater is just one of the many Roman relics in the city, and you could very well dedicate your entire day trip to discovering them all. From the imposing Roman walls to a stunning section of aqueduct, citadel ruins, and various fora and towers, the city offers a window into the Roman Empire that would justify a day trip from Barcelona all on its own.
Another unmissable cultural site is Tarragona Cathedral, a towering blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles that sits on the site of a former Moorish mosque. It’s one of the largest Catholic churches in Spain, and one of the most remarkable. Inside, you’ll get to marvel at the gorgeous assortment of chalices, processional maces, and other religious relics that Napoleon didn’t manage to pilfer.
While you’re there…
The city’s old town is also a unique mix of Roman and medieval architecture that makes for some wanderlust-conquering strolls, as delicious smells of freshly grilled seafood lead you floating by the nose through narrow streets and lively terraces.
Follow the sea breeze back towards the coast and you’ll stumble out into the panoramic Mediterranean Balcony. This glorious railed promenade looks out over an endless stretch of turquoise sea, complete with triumphant blue telescopes so that you can spy all the jealous faces back in Barcelona.
Barcelona to Tarragona – how to get there
Again, public transport is your friend here, with regular trains leaving from Barcelona Sants station every day. The journey takes just over an hour on the normal train, and just over 30 minutes on the high-speed train – ideal for day-tripping. You know what else makes a great day trip?
5. Rollercoasters, Water Slides, and Ferraris at PortAventura!
After a main course of enchanting cultural magic and epic historical sites, it’s only natural to crave a sugar-rush for dessert. If that’s the case, take heart, as a day trip from Barcelona can offer the best of both worlds. Just a few kilometers down the coast from Tarragona city is one of the best theme parks in Europe: PortAventura Parc.
Nothing washes down a culturally edifying visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site like being catapulted across the clear blue sky in a massive rollercoaster. PortAventura is not only home to Europe’s fastest rollercoaster, the face-melting Furius Baco, but also Europe’s tallest rollercoaster, the vertigo-inducing Shambhala. And lots more!
The park complex is also home to Ferrari Land, another adrenaline-junkie’s paradise. Here, speed demons can be pummeled by even more G-forces and live out their most fuel-injected dreams on a dizzying assortment of high-octane rides and cherry-red attractions – all themed around the Italian stallion of midlife crisis supercars.
If after burning through two entire theme parks you still crave some action, you can also turn yourself into a human cannonball, and dive into the incredible arsenal of water slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools made available to you at Caribe Aquatic Park. It’s located right beside PortAventura Parc. Handy!
There are lots of different ticket options available. You can enter any one, two, or even all three of the parks, depending on how much time your day trip allows, and how much fun you can stomach.
While you’re there…
There’s plenty more to explore in the local area, with holiday-magnet-town Salou located a short drive from PortAventura. It is admittedly a bit of a tourist hotspot. But, boasting some of the best beaches and parties in Spain, lots of Gaudí-inspired Art Nouveau architecture, and dozens of fun activities for party animals and families alike, it’s not hard to see why.
There are giant stretches of pristine sandy beaches that back onto hopping beach bars, and dozens of smaller inlets and hidden coves that dot the coast all the way to Cambrils. You can join the party, take a boat out for a joyride, or wander along the foamy shoreline and let the siren song of the sea wash over you while you ponder buying a Ferrari.
Barcelona to PortAventura – how to get there
There are several train routes from Barcelona Sants that service PortAventura, and depending on which one you go for, the journey can take between 1 hour and 20 mins, and 1 hour 45 mins. This will give you lots of time to study the Tiqets Blog intently for more travel tips and wanderlust-sparking reads!
Back in Barcelona, make sure you check out Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces, or if you’re not a fan of God’s architect, check out these other gems. Whatever you do, make sure you stop by one of these awesome eateries near the Sagrada Familia.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Caribe Aquatic Park will remain closed for the remainder of 2020.