Take a train to Barcelona and beyond with our top selection of day trips from Catalonia’s capital.
Barcelona has long been a magnet for artists and creatives, with Gaudí, Miró, Picasso and Hemingway calling the Catalan capital their home. Barcelona’s streets and buildings blur the lines between art, architecture and design, blending Modernisme with modern innovation to give a city that vibrates with creativity. Spend time at La Sagrada Familia, get inspired at Park Güell, but in between visits to Barcelona’s bodacious sites, take some time to visit its surrounding towns and cities. From mountain monasteries to off the beaten track beaches, take a train from Barcelona to these top day trip destinations, all under 1 hr 30 mins away.
Located within Spain's Costa Brava region, Figueres is a small town with a big claim to fame. The birthplace of surrealist Salvador Dalí, Figueres’s main attraction is the extraordinary Teatre-Museu Dalí, a monument to Dalí’s singular craft and a journey into his flamboyant imagination. After ogling some art, wander down Figueres’ Rambla, a long pedestrianised walkway, which is far less touristy than Barcelona’s busy counterpart now infamous for its overtourism. Travel from Barcelona to Figueres by train in just 55 mins.
Girona, Northern Catalonia’s biggest city, offers a treasure trove of museums, Gothic churches and art galleries, all connected through a network of charming cobblestone streets. Marvel at the multi-coloured houses sitting alongside ancient cathedrals on the banks of the River Onyar, before stepping back in time with a visit to the Old Jewish Quarter and the 12th century Arab Baths. Consider visiting Girona in May when the annual flower festival, Temps de Flors (9 - 17 May 2020), makes the entire city bloom. Travel from Barcelona to Girona by train in 38 mins.
Lleida, the capital of Southern Catalonia, has a rich history dating back to the Bronze Age. Towering above the city is La Seu Villa, a striking 13th century cathedral and which is a part of the iconic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. For a true taste of Lleida culture, don’t miss the Aplec del Cargol festival, 22-24 May 2020, where visitors can sample a smorgasbord of snail dishes. Travel from Barcelona to Lleida by train in 57 mins.
Meaning “serrated mountain” in Catalan, Montserrat is a popular day trip destination for travellers visiting Barcelona, accessible by train from Plaça d’Espanya to Montserrat-Aeri in just over an hour. From there, take the cable car up 1,236m where the Santa Maria de Monsterrat monastery sits atop the mountain. One of Catalonia’s most sacred religious sites, it also offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Catalan region, although the mountain tends to get overcrowded in peak tourist periods.
For an alternative, less packed natural retreat, head to Montseny, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, just 37 mins away from Barcelona to its gateway town of Sant Celoni, from which you enter a green haven laced with 30 different walking trails for hikers of all abilities.
In 1963, Salvador Dalí called La Gare de Perpignan, the city’s train station, “the centre of the world.” Which was generous, given that it is isn’t even in his native Catalonia, but just over the border in France. While the jury’s still out on its being centre of the world, Perpignan’s train station certainly is the ideal place to begin exploring this fascinating city, just 1 hr 20 mins by train from Barcelona. Framed by the Pyrenees and only 13km from the Mediterranean coast, Perpignan’s shady squares, tangerine houses and knotted warren of alleyways reflect the charm of both its French and Spanish cultures.
Take a train to Tarragona, just 31 mins from Barcelona, for a unique combination of beautiful beaches and Roman ruins. Wander down the port city’s cobbled lanes, stopping in at the Roman amphitheatre and mosaic museum, before feasting on fresh fish in the city’s medieval centre. Tarragona’s towering cathedral is a highlight, as is the Pont del Diable (Devil’s Bridge), an aqueduct included in the city’s ensemble of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Just 1 hr 9 mins north of Barcelona, en route to the Pyrenees, lies the lively town of Vic, a medieval town known for its rich culture and cured meats. A blend of Modernista buildings and medieval architecture makes this Catalan town feel both traditional and lively. Find a shady cafe in the Plaça Major and enjoy a glass of vermut with a plate of embutidos (cured, dry sausage). Don’t miss a December trip to Vic when the town puts on its famous annual medieval market.
Image credits top to bottom: Colourful houses in Girona iStock ©KavalenkavaVolha, Cycling Girona iStock ©xavierarnau, Monastery of Montserrat iStock ©Mikhail Akkuratov, Coast, Tarragona, Catalunya Spain iStock ©Gerold Grotelueschen
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