Moon Barcelona & Beyond: With Catalonia
Day Trips, Local Spots, Strategies to Avoid Crowds
By Carol Moran
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- Explore In and Around the City: Get to know Barcelona’s most interesting neighborhoods, like the Gothic Quarter, El Born, the Ciutat Vella, and Gràcia, and nearby regions, including Girona, Sitges, and more
- Go at Your Own Pace: Choose from tons of itinerary options designed for foodies, beach-goers, history buffs, art lovers, and more
- See the Sights: Marvel at the Sagrada Familia’s fantastical architecture, hike through the colorful Parc Güell, see Picasso’s earliest-known drawings, and stroll the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic
- Get Outside the City: Savor cava in the Penedès wine region, swim in the sparkling water on the Costa Brava, explore the medieval village of Besalú, or climb to the Sant Jeroni peak in Montserrat
- Savor the Flavors: Feast on a seafood paella, sample your way through a bustling market, and find the best spots for authentic tapas
- Experience the Nightlife: Sip sangria on the beach, discover a local favorite cocktail bar, people-watch from a bustling terrace, and enjoy regional Catalan wines
- Get to Know the Real Barcelona: Follow suggestions from Barcelona transplant Carol Moran for supporting indie businesses and avoiding crowds
- Full-Color Photos and Detailed Maps
- Handy Tools: Background information on Catalan and Basque history and culture, plus tips on ethical travel, what to pack, where to stay, and how to get around
DISCOVER BARCELONA & BEYOND
MY FAVORITE EXPERIENCES
EXPLORE BARCELONA & BEYOND
BEST OF BARCELONA & BEYOND
WHERE TO GO FROM BARCELONA
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR . . .
BEACHES OF CATALONIA
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Standing bold and boisterous on the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a law unto itself. Always avant-garde, this beguiling city combines dreamlike architecture, colorful festivals, rich gastronomy, and perpetual nights with a creative energy that sends nerve endings into overdrive. Two thousand years of history unravel as the labyrinthine streets wind their way around the city’s ancient heart, spilling out onto medieval squares, 19th-century boulevards, and a glamorous waterfront. A cosmopolitan metropolis bound only by its topographical limits, Barcelona is a hundred different cities rolled into one, and every experience of it is unique.
The show-stopping capital of Catalonia is the jewel in the region’s crown. But while it’s easily the star dish, it’s on a tasting menu of epic proportions. Abounding with natural wonders, cultural riches, and traces of bygone civilizations, Catalonia packs a great deal of contrasts into a compact corner of Spain. Snow-capped peaks set a fairy-tale backdrop to medieval villages and dormant volcanoes, while crystalline coves stretch out onto golden shores. A distinct language and cultural identity set this self-declared nation apart from the rest of the country, with a proud, industrious population that has long since established Catalonia as an economic powerhouse. It’s little wonder that this sunny slice of fertile land has long been a bone of contention.
Explore the four provinces of Catalonia and you’ll start to connect the dots between the region and its capital. Notice how the soaring towers of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família recall the crags of Montserrat, appreciate the ruins of Roman Barcino as part of the ancient Via Augusta, and unearth the roots of Catalan nationalism in rural towns of medieval splendor. Accompany this fiesta of cultural vitality with a glass of cava and some earthy Catalan cuisine along the way, and you’ll get an authentic taste of this diverse region and the stories that have shaped it.
MY FAVORITE EXPERIENCES
1 Gazing up at La Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s unfinished fantastical masterpiece, as its soaring towers glow in the golden afternoon light.
2 Partaking in vermut hour (weekends around midday), when locals gather to sip the traditional aperitif with a tasty tapa or two.
3 Contemplating the extraordinary geological outcrop of Montserrat from the Sant Jeroni viewing point.
4 Scuba diving the crystalline waters of the Costa Brava.
5 Hiking through the volcanic landscape of Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa.
6 Watching castellers scramble to death-defying heights to construct a human tower up to 10 tiers high.
7 Traversing the rugged cliffs and picture-perfect calas of the Costa Brava along the Camí de Ronda.
8 Feeling your heart attune to the beat of the drums as the latest festa major kicks off in a riot of revelry.
9 Following in the footsteps of Roman gladiators in Tarragona’s seaside Amfiteatre Romà.
10 Trekking through stunning mountain scenery in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park.
11 Tucking into fresh seafood paella after a day at the beach.
EXPLORE BARCELONA & BEYOND
Three days is enough to get a feel for Barcelona, though you may be already planning your next visit before they’re up; such is the abundance and allure of the Catalan capital. Escaping the city—be it to the beach, the mountains, or both—offers the perfect antidote to its intense urban vitality, and there are numerous single and multi-day trips within easy reach.
Montserrat and Sitges are the nearest and most popular day trips, and are both easily accessed by train. Girona and Tarragona, too, are easily reached by train, and are of a manageable scale for a one-day exploration. Driving is the most convenient option for exploring more rural areas of Catalonia. Although technically accessible by bus, you will need a car to make the most of your time in La Garrotxa, Vall de Boí, and the Costa Brava.
BEST OF BARCELONA & BEYOND
For a map and a more detailed version of this Barcelona itinerary, see Itinerary Ideas.
DAY 1: THE CIUTAT VELLA
Dive into the old walled city, the Ciutat Vella, on your first day in town.
▪ Take a leisurely ramble down La Rambla, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city’s most famous street.
▪ Feast your senses on the glorious produce of Mercat de la Boqueria.
▪ Unravel 2,000 years of history as you lose yourself in the Barri Gòtic.
▪ Trace the roots of a genius at the Museu Picasso.
▪ Peek inside the magnificent gothic basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, and marvel at its soaring, stripped-back interiors.
▪ Celebrate a day well spent with some Catalan bubbles and a plate of jamón at traditional bodega El Xampanyet.
DAY 2: MODERNISME MASTERPIECES
Appreciate two of Gaudí’s finest works on your second day.
▪ Marvel as the morning light dapples kaleidoscopic colors across the tree-like stone pillars of La Sagrada Familia.
▪ Enter into a topsy-turvy underwater world at Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí’s most spectacular creations.
▪ Join the buzz at Vinitus and order up some fresh and tasty tapas.
▪ Finish the day on a high with a drink on one of the city’s many hotel rooftop terraces.
DAY 3: DAY TRIP TO MONTSERRAT
Head to Montserrat, a meeting point of heaven and earth. This full-day itinerary combines the best of the mountain’s physical and metaphysical elements. (Alternately, experience Barcelona like a local by following the itinerary on.)
▪ Arrive early and catch the Aeri de Montserrat cable car to the monastery. Spend the morning exploring the Monestir de Santa Maria de Montserrat.
▪ Enter the Basilica, the monastery’s centerpiece, and pay your respects to the Virgin of Montserrat.
▪ Take a seat and let the angelic voices of the famous Escolania Boys’ Choir lift you up. (No performances on Saturdays.)
▪ Take the Funicular de Sant Joan to the top of the mountain and prepare for another transcendent experience: hiking amid this surreal landscape.
Base yourself in Sitges for a few days and sample the town’s upbeat holiday vibe at a laid-back pace. Tarragona is one hour by train from Sitges and makes an easy addition to the itinerary for a good dose of history and culture.
Sitges and Tarragona are easily accessed by train from Barcelona, making this itinerary possible without a car. Staying two nights (or longer) in Sitges is perfect for a relaxed beach break. On the third day, set off early for Tarragona, catching the last train back to Barcelona at 10:15pm or staying the night.
DAY 1: SITGES
▪ Step off the train and look up at Sitges’s railway station on arrival—this is the first stop along the Ruta dels Indians. Spot marvelous mansions as you stroll toward Plaça Cap de la Vila.
▪ Drop off your luggage, then spend the morning exploring the narrow streets of the old town. Emerge from the old town to face the sea in front of the Església de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla, the town’s most emblematic landmark.
▪ Descend the stairs outside the church and tuck into fresh seafood lunch at Fragata.
▪ In the evening, soak up the city’s nightlife on Carrer Primer de Maig.
DAY 2: SITGES
▪ Spend the morning contemplating the town’s artistic spirit at Museu del Cau Ferrat, former studio and home of Modernista painter Santiago Rusiñol, and the adjacent Museu de Maricel.
▪ Walk right along the seafront to the Port d’Aiguadolç and sample some of the best paella in town at Can Laury Peix.
▪ Spend the afternoon soaking up the sun on Platja de Sant Sebastià. Then let afternoon drift into evening with a cocktail in hand on an outdoor terrace.
DAY 3: TARRAGONA
▪ Set off early for Tarragona (by 9am). Join the locals for a mid-morning coffee and croissant inside the Mercat Central and peruse the colorful produce.
▪ Explore Roman Tarraco, starting at the Amfiteatre Romà, where gladiators once dueled.
▪ After lunch, follow the Carrer Major up to the Catedral de Tarragona, and spend an hour exploring inside.
▪ Take an early evening stroll beside the Roman walls. Then, head back downhill and soak up the buzz with a well-deserved glass of cava in Plaça de la Font.
This four-day whistle-stop tour combines some of Catalonia’s finest features: beach and city, cuisine and culture, and plenty of history.
The itinerary requires you to move to a new hotel each night, but it could easily be extended to a week, or even two-week, holiday for a more leisurely pace. Renting a car is required to make the most of it, as access to the Costa Brava by public transport is slow and limited. Reserve hotels and restaurants in advance, particularly during high season.
During winter, skip the Costa Brava (days 2 and 3) and focus solely on culture and cuisine. This alternate version is easily accessible by train, as there is a high-speed (AVE) connection between Figueres, Girona, and Barcelona. Before you depart, make dinner reservations for your first night in Girona at Bionbo, where reservations must be made in advance by phone.
DAY 1: GIRONA
▪ After you pick up your rental car, drive northeast on the AP-7 to reach Girona, exiting at junction 7 or 6B. The drive is 100 kilometers (62 miles) and takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes. There is plentiful free parking in Girona.
▪ Head straight for the colorful banks of the Onyar river, Girona’s most emblematic picture-postcard scene, and cross Gustave Eiffel’s Pont de les Peixateries.
▪ Learn about the medieval city’s prosperous Jewish community at the Museu d’Història dels Jueus, then let history bring the streets to life as you lose yourself in atmospheric El Call (the Jewish Quarter).
▪ After lunch, explore the imposing Catedral de Girona, followed by the Basílica de Sant Feliu, the city’s oldest church.
▪ Sample the city’s famous culinary scene with dinner at Bionbo (reservations required), an informal gastrobar that fuses Catalan roots with global flavors.
▪ Spend the night at Hotel Nord 1901 or, if it’s not too late, make the 50-minute drive to Begur.
DAY 2: BEGUR
▪ Leave Girona early to beat the crowds to the beach at Platja d’Aiguablava for a heavenly morning swim or an easy hike along the Camí de Ronda trail to Fornells and back.
▪ Drive the dizzying coast road, skirting by the picturesque bays of Tamariu and Llafranc, en route to the old fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell.
▪ Tuck in to fresh local fish at Sa Jambina, then walk off the lunchtime feast by following the seafront trail along Calella’s rocky shoreline.
▪ Find a spot on Platja Port Pelegri and spend the afternoon soaking up the sun (and the buzz) on the tiny Calella cove.
▪ Head back to Begur and follow the Ruta dels Indians walking tour through the vibrant village, finishing up with a sundowner at El Jardí de Can Marc.
▪ Spend the night at Hotel Aiguaclara, a colonial-style mansion in the heart of the village.
DAY 3: BEGUR TO CADAQUÉS
▪ Spend the morning exploring the medieval villages of Baix Empordà, starting with Pals.
▪ Move on to Peratallada, and delight in the enchanting cobbled lanes and ancient architecture of this fairy-tale village. While you’re here, surprise your senses with the weird and wonderful ice-cream flavors at Gelat Artesà de Peratallada.
▪ Drive north to Cadaqués (1 hour 20 minutes), in time for fine dining at Compartir (reservations required). Tip: Park in one of the car parks on the edge of town, as parking in central Cadaqués is nearly impossible.
▪ Relax after the feast with an afternoon of bliss on the beach at Platja de Ses Oliveres.
▪ Follow a windy road to the most easterly point on the Iberian Peninsula: the Cap de Creus. Stop at the lighthouse for a coffee and spectacular views of the cape’s jagged silhouette as the sun goes down.
▪ Rest up at the Tramuntana Hotel, a boutique retreat buried in the old town.
DAY 4: CADAQUÉS TO FIGUERES
▪ Hop over to Portlligat on foot—it’s just one kilometer (0.6 miles) north of Cadaqués.
▪ Kick-start a day inside the surreal world of Salvador Dalí with a peek inside the artist’s former home, Casa Salvador Dalí.
▪ Enjoy Mediterranean flavors of a different kind at El Barroco, a hidden Lebanese jewel and former haunt of the artist.
- On Sale
- Jan 7, 2020
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Moon Travel