It is not without reason that Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe.
With all it has to offer, from Gaudi’s famous buildings and architecture to sandy beaches to big shopping avenues and delicious tapas and inexpensive wine, you could simply spend weeks exploring all the free, unusual and fun must do things in Barcelona.
But even if you venture out of the city a little, there are still so many things to see and the city makes a great base for day trips outside of Barcelona.
Take a trip for a day, over the weekend or anytime really, just because, there are some pretty fantastic places around:
Girona is such a beautiful old city, reached in 35 minutes from Barcelona via the new high speed AVE rail service! Set on the junction of three rivers and encased in ancient Roman walls, the city currently generates some buzz in the news as the latest filming location of the popular Game of Thrones tv show. And who doesn’t like Game of Thrones?
Walking along the city’s walls takes you on a complete circuit of Girona and gives you some charming views of the rooftops below. The most prominent site is Girona Cathedral built on an ancient religious site which today shows a combination of Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
A fantastic time to visit the city is the Temps de Flors, a floral exhibition that covers pretty much the whole city for a few days.
The elegant Arab Baths are also well worth the couple of euros entrance fee to learn of their interesting history and admire their beautiful construction.
Another popular image of Girona is the multi-coloured facades of the Cases de l’Onyar that overlook the river. The best views can be found from the narrow Gomez and Palanques Vermelles bridges.
Girona is also a great place to stay overnight as you will find some lovely accommodation options. Some recommendations:
Choose an individual range of air-conditioned studios and apartments which are perfectly located in the medieval center of Girona, super close to the cathedral and town hall!
All apartments have a balcony with a nice view of the city and feature a seating area with sofa and TV as well as an equipped kitchenette including a coffee machine, microwave and oven. Great wifi! You can find a wide range of bars, restaurants, shops as well as supermarkets.
Surround by beautiful gardens lies Hotel Costabella, only 15 walking minutes into the old town of Girona. A great feature here is definitely the outdoor swimming pool and the free wifi. The poolside terrace, restaurant and bar are a plus. For some extra coins you can also use the gym and spa area with sauna and a hot tub. The rooms are comfortable and all have air-con.
Just an hour south of Barcelona by train await Tarragona’s Roman remains and sweeping sandy beaches which attract many day trippers from the city.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tarraco boasts a wonderful amphitheater overlooking the sea and numerous other fragments of the once bustling Roman city can be found all throughout Tarragona.
Stepping forward a few thousand years to the 11th century you can say hello to the Tarragona Cathedral! For a €5 donation visitors can admire stunning vaulted ceilings, elegant archways and an acclaimed art collection.
Known as the ‘Golden Coast’ Tarragona’s 15km coastline provides sparkling coves, sandy shorelines and blue flagged cleanliness for the sun-seekers among us. Ready to spread your beach towel?
After a day of sightseeing and sunbathing, you can simply savour on some local delicacies under the Roman arches and vaults of one of the many restaurants built into the city’s Roman remains.
If you want to stay for a night, I recommend staying in the old part of the city around Plaza de la Font:
Perfect for a nights stay is Hotel Plaça De La Font right in the best location in middle of Tarragona’s Old Town and only a short walk to the beach. The rooms have air con, TV and private bathroom. Downstairs you can sit out on the big square enjoying a drink or dinner watching the hustle bustle go by.
The lovely Bohemian town of Sitges is an easy 35 minute train ride out of Barcelona and is famous for its open, welcoming and tolerant attitude to people of all races, religions and sexual orientation.
For rugged landscapes, geological curiosities and Catalonia’s first Buddhist temple, a walk through Garraf National Park nearby is highly recommended. There are marked trails for walking and biking for visitors to enjoy. Or try one of the many cafés, bars, restaurants in the winding alleys or the palm-lined promenade by the sea.
If you need some beach time, the choice is yours! Over 17 beaches with fine sand and good water quality are waiting for you.
Photo Credit: Suzanne Wolko, Philatravelgirl.
Badalona & Montgat Nord Beach
Badalona is a city stuffed with historical sites, exciting festivals and some great beaches along the coast. Only 10km on the train or subway from Barcelona you can easily spend a day here sampling Anis del Mono at the distillery or checking out the wealth of Roman remains at the Badalona Museum which house the ruins of the ancient city of Baetulo with its elaborate bath houses.
If you happen to be in town for one of the cities weird but wonderful festivals in May, you cannot miss the celebration of Badalona’s patron saint involving fire walks and group dancing sessions on the pier. In August, Badalona film festival draws the crowds in. The summer of festivals is finally concluded with sardine-eating on the beach with music and fireworks.
If you are on the lookout for one of the best pizza places around, check out Miranapoli, a small space with lovely atmosphere inside and super delicious pizza!
Not far from Badalona you will also find Montgat Nord beach which is a nice change from the busy beaches of Barcelona. Great for windsurfing, kayaking and other watersports it is a hub for locals taking a break from the city.
Well, speaking of busy, this photo was taken on an exceptionally hot day in Barcelona and the beach was definitely as crowded as elsewhere around the coast!
I call this: the ocean of sun umbrellas.
Tossa de Mar
Situated North of Lloret de Mar and about half way between Barcelona and the French border, Tossa de Mar can be reached on the RENFE train to nearby Blanes where you take a bus or taxi the rest of the way. More travel information here.
Once an ancient fishing village, Tossa is today a large hotspot for travelers from near and far.
The main beach of town, Plaja Gran, can get very crowded in summer. The unmistakable silhouette of the town with its castle can be perfectly spotten also from the sea, when cruising on a Catamaran (highly recommended!).
There are some great walking trails and a lovely beach from which to enjoy picture-perfect views of the Old Town.
Tossa de Mar is also yet another history buff’s paradise with its old town set on the hill encircled by its 14th century walls complete with battlements and towers.
As the craggy edges and rounded domes of the aptly named Montserrat or ‘Serrated mountain’ soar up to the sky you can absolutely see why this has become such a spiritual centre for pilgrims from across the world.
Only 1 hour north west of Barcelona by train it is an unmissable day trip or tranquil overnight break from the buzz of the city.
Nestled at the base of the mountain you will find a Benedictine monastery famous for its Black Madonna statue and Gregorian chanting choir boys that perform at 1pm each day.
Photo Credit: Betsy Wuebker, PassingThru.
There are two funiculars that you can take into the mountains. Santa Cova takes you up to an ancient holy grotto where the discovery of an image of the Virgin Mary accompanied by reports of a great light in the sky ignited the area’s spiritual importance.
The funicular of Saint Joan runs up into the mountain above the monastery and from the top a range of walking trails weave through the landscape. There are combined ticket prices when using both so check out their website for more information.
There are spectacular views from the top but don’t forget to take a jacket and a packed lunch as it can get pretty windy up there and there aren’t any shops or restaurants.
As it is such an easy day trip from Barcelona it can get pretty busy during the day time and so some choose to stay overnight to relish the tranquillity of the mountain once the crowds depart:
With an absolute excellent location right by the Montserrat Monastery, Hotel Abat Cisneros offers beautiful views over the mountains and the Llobregat Valley. The town of Montserrat is within the Montserrat Natural Park. Each room is fitted with heating, tv and a private bathroom. There is a restaurant and reception is 24 hrs.
Begur is not so much an international tourist spot as an escape from the city for the Spaniards who live and work in Barcelona. A charming town with a historic centre and castle set on the hilltop overlooking the huge number of small coves clustered along the coast.
Boasting Spain’s only protected national marine park, the coast of Begur offers remarkable diving opportunities as well as other watersports. While there are numerous monuments of interest, I definitely recommend climbing up to the ruins of the medieval castle (Castell de Begur) that overlooks the city.
Small coves with lovely pebble beaches and crystal clear water you have to check out include: Sa Tuna beach, Aigua Blava and Playa Fonda. All those do get quite crowded in summertime since the coves are small and especially parking can get tricky, just come early in the day and you’ll be fine.
If a day is just not enough time for you, you can of course stay overnight:
Find beautiful rooms in the middle of the charming town of Begur. Bright, modern rooms with free wifi, air-con, flat-screen tv and an indoor terrace overlooking the old city. Take in breakfast in a traditional dining room and relax in the lounge which features beamed ceilings and exposed stone walls.
Another accommodation option in the centre of Begur is this colonial house features charming rooms with lovely decor in an antique-romantic style, as well as a community lounge with a fireplace. The interior patio is a nice plus.
From both, the beautiful beaches and coves are not far and even Girona can be reached in about 1 hour by car.
With 15 miles of canals and 5000 private jetties, it is the biggest residential marina in the world and you can spend your time enjoying the beautiful beaches, waterfront bars and restaurants and admiring fancy boats! Yay?
Empuriabrava is also the home to Europe’s biggest skydiving centre, suitable for everyone from the nervous first timer to the experienced adrenaline junkie. The sky is often littered with a rainbow of parachutes looking down on the town. If you don’t want to go that high, I did try to fly in the wind tunnel!
In stark contrast to the glittering yachts and flash parachutes, Empuriabrava boasts the stunning Natural Park of the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà that is home to over 320 different species of birds and offers a large amount of hiking and biking trails.
Empuriabrava is also a wonderful destination to spend a night or two:
Want to stay right on the canals of Empuriabrava, then this is your choice! I very much liked staying in this hotel, which features a spa, rooftop jacuzzi and large pool. Only a few meters to the beach, you sleep in clean rooms decorated in blue water tones and your balcony overlooks will most likely overlook the canals.
Roses & Cap de Creus National Park
Last but not least, possibly my favourite place on the Costa Brava. A few hours train or bus ride out from Barcelona, Roses is situated on the edge of the Gulf of Roses and its west-facing sea views are the perfect spot for catching beautiful sunsets.
The towns historic past of Roman and 15th century military occupation is still evident today as you can check out the ruins of the Medieval fortifications of the Ciutadella de Roses built to defend against African privateers and the crumbling Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Roses.
If you are in search of the truly ancient it is also well worth a trip out to the Megalithic Complex on the road to Montjoi.
The real highlight of this area is the Cap de Creus National Park, which isn’t far from Roses and offers a beautiful combination of protected marine area, wind and sea sculpted rocky outcrops and some of the most amazing vistas. One of the places I would immediately return to!
You should definitely spend some time walking a coastal path to experience the beauty of the area. There are also hikes which last a few days and where you camp at one of the allocated campgrounds.
If you want to be active on the water, try kayaking above the crystalline waters visiting deserted coves or even combine it with a picnic or snorkeling.
Are you in for an overnight treat?
One real highlight of my trip around the Costa Brava was staying at the Hotel Spa Terraza in Roses. The hotel is situated right at the beach, with a nice garden and outdoor pool. The restaurant overlooking the Bay of Roses serves traditional Catalan cuisine made with local produce while the cafe-bar offers a more casual environment.
The interior style is simple but elegant and the balcony overlooking the ocean was another plus. On the rooftop there is a spa area with a pool, gym and jacuzzi which offers super nice views.
All opinions expressed in this article are my own. I truly enjoyed my travels along the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada respectively and can really recommend a visit to everyone!