There was no shortage of things to see, do, and eat in Barcelona. We spent three days in the Catalonian capital checking out Gaudi’s stunning architecture, learning about its remarkable history, eating mouthwatering tapas, and soaking up the local vibe. However, there was a lot more to Catalonia than its capital, so we set a few days aside to see what we believe to be the five most beautiful places near Barcelona.
Each place we visited was well worth seeing, but the drive was a whole other attraction. The scenery changed from the deep-blue coast of the Mediterranean to lush hills, vineyards, and sunflower fields. Each turn was more scenic than the last.
When you visit Barcelona, be sure to explore everything else Catalonia has to offer! Here is our recommendation of the five most beautiful places near Barcelona. Enjoy!
The 5 most beautiful places near Barcelona
1. Montserrat Mountain and Monastery
Montserrat is a mountain range located only a one-hour train ride from Barcelona. Due to its extraordinary geological formation and, first and foremost, spiritual and historical significance, it attracts over three million visitors each year. The beautiful Benedictine monastery sits atop a mountain that is surrounded by towering cliffs. Nowadays, there is a community of around 70 monks that live in the monastery.
Montserrat’s history goes back to 888 AD when hermits lived in caves in the mountains. After the founding of a small monastery in 1025, pilgrims spread the word of the miracles performed by the Virgin. The monastery grew into an important place of pilgrimage. Later, Montserrat became a renowned religious center to Barcelona and the world. The Virgin is still strongly venerated today.
La Moreneta, also known as the Black Madonna and St. Mary of Montserrat, is the Patron saint of Catalonia. Her statue stands above the main altar in the basilica of the monastery. Visitors, including us, stood in line to climb the steps located on the right side of the altar for the opportunity to walk by La Moreneta and touch one of her hands.
Adjacent to the monastery, we found a small village with museums, shops, restaurants, restrooms, and the tourism office.
How to get to Montserrat from Barcelona
- We took a train ride (R5 line) from Plaça Espanya in Barcelona to Aeri de Montserrat, located at the foot of the mountain. Once there, we took the Aeri Cable Car to reach the Monastery.
- You have two more options to reach the Monastery: 1) The green train, aka Cremallera. In that case, get off the train in Monistrol de Montserrat instead of Aeri de Montserrat; 2) If you have strength and time, you can also hike Montserrat mountain all the way up from the base to the summit.
- Alternatively, day tours from Barcelona to Montserrat are available.
Take the Funicular to the highest point of Montserrat
Montserrat’s main attraction is the monastery. However, the mountains offer excellent hiking trails and walking paths suitable for all ability levels. It is a must-do for nature lovers. Due to its height, it offers sweeping views across the Catalonian countryside and the monastery.
After visiting the monastery and surrounding area, we took the Sant Joan Funicular to the upper station. Once we reached the summit, we hiked one of the trails around Montserrat mountain, which I highly recommend. We enjoyed not only being away from the tourist crowds but also the stunning views of the Llobregat Valley and beyond.
The small museum on top of the mountain is worth a visit. I found it helpful to understanding the history and art of St. Mary of Montserrat.
Note: Tickets for the Funicular are available at the Funicular Station situated near the village.
Situated only 62 miles northeast of Barcelona, the ancient, walled city of Girona can be visited on a day trip. Although it became more popular after its streets turned into the stage for Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Girona is beautiful and holds a fascinating history.
At the time we visited Girona, I didn’t know very much about the city. I was so intrigued by its architecture and narrow cobblestone streets that I was eager to read about it when I came back home. Girona dates back more than 2,000 years when it was a small Iberian settlement. As the centuries followed, so did the inevitable battles for control of this growing town.
The Roman Empire settled in and built a citadel to protect the city against invaders. Later, Girona passed into the hands of the Visigoths before the Moors conquered it. Last but not least, the Jewish community also played an important role in the economic life of the city.
Girona Old Town District is well-preserved and holds historical sites that deserve a visit. Here are our recommendations:
Walk on the walls
The same walls built in the 14th century to protect the city against invaders have a different purpose today. Instead of keeping people out, it attracts thousands of tourists every year. Due to restoration, the almost two-mile-long wall is well-preserved. We walked only a small section of it. Locals say that a walkthrough is a must-do for the best vantage points of Girona’s skyline.
Stroll through the narrow streets
One of my favorite things we did in Girona was to stroll on the cobblestone alleys of the ancient quarter. Filled with historic churches, archways, and bridges, at each turn, we felt like the city was frozen in time.
In Game of Thrones, Girona was the city of Bravos. While we strolled through the medieval streets, we searched for a few set locations used on the HBO show. We didn’t have to look hard. Here is the alley where Arya Stark begged to be “no one.”
Walk up the steps of Girona Cathedral
Speaking of Game of Thrones, the Girona Cathedral was the stage for Queen Margaery’s planned walk of atonement. On this location, Jaime Lannister arrives on horseback and rides up the steps to prevent the walk.
Aside from the show, Girona Cathedral is one of the most impressive sights in the city. Located on the highest point in the town, it is hard to miss. We didn’t have a chance to go inside. However, standing on the bottom of the wide, 90-step staircase, we admired its Baroque façade. We learned that its single nave is the second largest in the world, only surpassed by St. Peter’s in the Vatican. The cathedral was built in the 11th century and updated through the 17th century, and mixes different architectural styles, including Gothic and Romanesque.
See Plaça de la Independència
This is Girona’s most popular square. Its name refers to the War of Spanish Independence against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808 and 1809. Almost completely surrounded by neoclassical buildings, the arches are dedicated to the people who helped defend Girona during the sieges.
Nowadays, these ancient buildings house several restaurants and cafes with outdoor tables filled with locals and tourists alike. We found this to be the most vibrant atmosphere in the city.
Admire the earth-tone houses by Onyar River
These houses were a joy to see. The uneven, earth-tone buildings stretch along the banks of the River Onyar, reflecting their walls on the waters. It was, without a doubt, one of the most stunning scenes we found in the city of Girona.
After taking a closer look, we realized the walls seen from the riverside were the backs of the buildings. Its main facades face old town streets. Also called cases del riu (the river houses), these 19th century ragged constructions grew with no architectural planning.
What we missed
Museum of Jewish History – Tells the story of the medieval Jewish communities in Catalonia.
Arabic Baths – Built in the 12th century, they are some of the most beautiful Moorish-inspired baths in the whole of Spain. They, too, were featured in Game of Thrones.
Jewish Quarter – Listed as one of the best-preserved in the world. Also called El Call, it is a maze of narrow, winding, cobblestone lanes, still intact and very much like they were over 500 years ago.
How to get to Girona from Barcelona
If you are not driving, here are options on how to reach Girona:
- By Train: The high-speed AVE train from Barcelona to Girona will get you from city to city in just 38 minutes. From the train station, take a ten-minute walk to the city center of Girona.
- By bus: The bus from Barcelona Nord Bus Station takes over an hour, depending on traffic and time of day. Check timetables and book tickets here.
- Day tours: A day tour is a good option if you do not want to think about bus or train schedules. Check Girona and Costa Brava Small Group Day Trip from Barcelona.
Costa Brava is the northeastern part of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. It stretches 75 miles from Blanes (45 miles northeast of Barcelona) to the French border. The region is well-known for its picturesque towns, and hidden gems with sandy beaches and laid-back atmospheres. Cadaqués is one of these jewels in Costa Brava.
When our friends drove us on the winding mountain road to Cadaqués, we observed the white architecture that characterizes the city. The view was stunning! Tucked away by the bay, it became even more interesting as we rolled into the streets.
There was so much to love about Cadaqués. Bougainvillea decorated whitewashed walls on the cobblestone lanes. Santa María Church, located on a hilltop, provided a breathtaking view across the old town rooftops to the bay filled with small boats. The steep streets offered an array of boutiques and gift shops.
The beachfront cantinas serve delicious local seafood. Do not skip their tasty and refreshing ice-creams. Last but not least, Playa Grande, situated near the promenade, was not only an invitation for a splash, but also offered a different perspective of the Cadaqués seashore.
This former fishing village was frequented by artists like Picasso and Miró, who declared it the most beautiful village in the world. Additionally, Salvador Dali lived in Cadaqués. His house is now a museum dedicated to him. Nowadays, the village still offers a vibrant cultural scene with several art galleries.
How to get to Cadaqué from Barcelona
Unlike other towns in Spain which are easily accessible by rail system from Barcelona, Cadaqués can be a little trickier to access. A car is, without a doubt, the easiest way to visit Cadaqués. The drive will take around 2.5 hours from Barcelona.
You will need a train/bus combination. From the Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, hop on a train heading north to Figueres. This journey should last about an hour and a half. From the Figueres train station, walk straight out into the city, and you’ll see the bus station on your left. The journey to Cadaques will take an hour through the Catalonia hills.
A daily service operates from Barcelona to Cadaqués, but the timetable changes depending on the season. The buses leave from Barcelona Nord Bus Station, which is close to Arc de Triomf.
Speaking of renowned artists, the Catalan town of Figueres is the birthplace of Salvador Dali. Figueres extends over a river plain situated inland in the province of Girona, 20 miles from Cadaqués, and 90 miles from Barcelona. Its main tourist attraction is the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, one of the most famous museums dedicated entirely to the life and work of the artist. Although not a big fan of Dali, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the whole experience. It was beyond expectations!
Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum is a wonderful, beautiful place to spend as little as an hour or as many as you dare. The courtyard is unique, stunning, and simply took my breath away! The museum displays some of his greatest masterpieces of paintings, sculptures, and photographs. We also saw the jewels exhibition. A must-do, especially if you are a Dali fan.
I had never heard about Besalú until our friends mentioned it. When we stopped outside the city, by the Viejo Bridge, I immediately realized I could spend an entire day in that picture-perfect medieval town. In fact, in 1966, Besalú was declared a National Historic Site for its architectural value.
Our visit to Besalú was almost too short. However, what we saw was enough to strongly recommend to anyone to include this fortified town to the itinerary when traveling through Catalonia.
The eye-catching Viejo Bridge, built in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 14th century, crosses the Fluvia River and gives access to the city. We learned that the purpose of the bridge was to protect the village from floods and attacks. As we strolled across, we faced a maze of cobblestone streets and squares with stunning historic buildings and Romanesque churches.
Besalú was the capital of an independent state. During our visit, we noticed posters attached to trees and walls that revealed the current political conflict between the Government of Spain and Catalonia.
Our dinner that night was in one of the restaurants located in the main square. We enjoyed a traditional paella and ended the day with a glass of Ratafia (a Catalonian liqueur made from fruit juices with a mixture of nuts and herbs) while watching the sky changing from blue to orange behind the ancient buildings.
How to get to Besalú from Barcelona
A car is the best option to travel from Barcelona to Besalú. The journey will take approximately an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can travel by bus and/or train to visit this fabulous medieval town.
By bus: Direct bus operated by Teisa leaves from Pau Claris, 117 (near Passeig de Gracia) several times a day. The trip takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes.
By train: Although not practical, it is possible. You will need to take a train to Girona or Figueres and from there catch a bus.
Our friends who live in Barcelona drove us to see most of the places listed above, except Montserrat Mountain. Although local train and bus services are available to each destination, I highly recommend a rental car. It will more easily take you to the out-of-the-way towns and give you the freedom to come and go whenever it pleases you.