Moon Barcelona & Beyond: With Catalonia

Day Trips, Local Spots, Strategies to Avoid Crowds


By Carol Moran

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Whether you’re marveling at Gaudi masterpieces or cheering with locals at a fútbol match, soak up the best of Catalonia’s sun, sea, and delicious flavors with Moon Barcelona & Beyond.
  • 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
Day trip itineraries, favorite local spots, and strategies to skip the crowds: Take your time with Moon Barcelona & Beyond.

Exploring more of Europe? Check out Moon Venice & Beyond or Moon Lisbon & Beyond.



















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.

La Rambla

Mercat de la Boqueria


Pont de Besalú, La Garrotxa

Monument als Castellers, Tarragona

Camí de Ronda, Costa Brava


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.


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.

Arc de Triomf


For a map and a more detailed version of this Barcelona itinerary, see Itinerary Ideas.


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.


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.


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.



Architecture: Barcelona

Art: Barcelona, Figueres, Vall de Boí

Roman ruins: Tarragona, Barcelona, Tossa de Mar, Girona

Beaches: Sitges, Costa Brava, Barcelona

Relaxation: Vall de Boí, Costa Brava

Hiking: Montserrat, La Garrotxa, Vall de Boí

Nightlife: Sitges, Barcelona

Churches and monasteries: Montserrat, Vall de Boí

Small villages: La Garrotxa, Costa Brava, Vall de Boí


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.


 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.


The Catalan coastline stretches from the French border in the north to the delta of the Ebro river in the south, and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal scenery in Spain. Barcelona itself boasts 5 kilometers (3 miles) of golden sands along the seafront, but the real treasures lie beyond the city. If you’re itching for a beach getaway, consider the following destinations:

Platja Port Pelegri


The Costa Brava lives up to the Mediterranean ideal, where sweeping pine forests and windswept rocky headlands conceal hidden coves with crystalline waters. If beach time is your priority, there are scores of beautiful bays to choose from dotted right along these jagged shores, and it’s perfect for a relaxing summer stay.


Sitges mixes beach life with a little culture and fun, capturing the holiday vibe of the Costa Brava in a more urban setting. It’s a good option if you want to enjoy the best of both worlds, as it is within easy reaching distance of Barcelona.


 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.


 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.


 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.


 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.


Gastronomy is at the heart of Catalan culture. Traditional cuisine reflects the diversity of the region’s landscapes and is characterized by the variety of seasonal ingredients cultivated across its various climates. Mar i muntanya (“sea and mountain”) is the combination of seafood and meat, and is common in many Catalan dishes. This “surf and turf” tendency is found in dishes such as mandonguilles amb sípia (meatballs and cuttlefish) and pollastre amb llagosta (chicken and lobster). To accompany its cuisine, 11 wine regions across Catalonia produce exemplary vintages, the most famous of which has to be the exuberant cava from the Penedès region—Catalonia’s answer to Champagne.

The region is at the cutting edge of haute cuisine, with 24 Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona, and 55 in Catalonia overall. But it’s not all about deconstructed, molecular gastronomy. A seemingly innate sensibility for all things edible is celebrated in even the most ordinary bars and restaurants, and the opportunity to make a delectable discovery lies on every street corner.

Although tapas are commonly associated with Spanish cuisine, and you can get tapas all around the region, tapa culture is not a Catalan tradition. To appreciate authentic Catalan specialties, try some of the following dishes.


Calçots: Baby leeks barbecued and served with romesco sauce (made from tomatoes, garlic, and almonds). Calçots are served at the beginning of spring at traditional parties known as Calçotadas. Don a bib and gloves, and get dipping: it’s an experience like no other.

Escalivada: Roasted peppers, eggplant, and onion, served as a side dish.

Esqueixada: Salad of peppers, tomatoes, onions, red wine vinegar, and shredded bacalao (salted cod).

Espinacs amb panses i pinyons: Fresh spinach sautéed with olive oil, raisins, and pine nuts.

Castanyas i moniatos: Roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes are available on street corners around La Castanyada, which is celebrated on and around All Saints’ Day (November 1).


Fideuas: Seafood and short noodle dish, reminiscent of a noodle paella.


Suquet de Peix: “Catch of the day” seafood stew with potatoes, garlic, and tomato.

Arròs negre: Paella flavored and colored with squid ink, sometimes served with homemade garlic mayonnaise (allioli).


Escudellla: Stew made with meat, beans, potatoes, cabbage, and sometimes pasta.

Faves a la Catalana: Stew of broad beans, sausage, and pancetta.


Xai Rostit Amb 12 Cabeçes d’All: Lamb roasted with 12 heads of garlic.

Canelons: Pasta rolls stuffed with stewed meat and béchamel sauce, traditionally eaten on December 26 with the leftovers from Christmas dinner.

Ànec amb peres: Duck stewed slowly with pears.

Cargols a la llauna: Roasted snails, abundant during the Festival of Cargols that takes place in May in Lleida, west of Barcelona.

Mongetes amb botifarra: Dish of sausage and white beans.


Crema Catalana: Similar to crème brulée but more yellow in color, a bit sweeter, and made with cinnamon.

Mel I Mato: Soft goat cheese served with honey and walnuts.

Panellets: Small round sweets made with almonds, sugar, eggs, and pine nuts. Seen in bakeries throughout October and November.

 Spend the night at Hotel Aiguaclara, a colonial-style mansion in the heart of the village.


 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.

Cap de Creus

 Rest up at the Tramuntana Hotel, a boutique retreat buried in the old town.


 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

Carol Moran

About the Author

Originally from England, Carol Moran is a writer and editor who has been living in Barcelona since 2008. When she first arrived, she fell immediately in love with the city’s vibrant street life, diverse cityscapes, and 2,000 years of history. Not too long afterwards, she fell in love with a local, who went on to become her husband.

Over the years, she has experienced Barcelona as a visitor, a student, a young professional, and, more recently, as a parent. She is the senior editor of Barcelona Metropolitan, the city’s oldest monthly English-language magazine and website aimed at helping foreign residents navigate their new home. She previously worked in architecture after studying it at Newcastle University and the Universitat de Politècnica de Catalunya. When she’s not busy writing, she loves to spend time dancing, cooking, and working on her newfound love of photography.

Learn more about this author