Bordered by the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Catalonia is a traditional region of Spain fiercely proud of its unique culture. Barcelona is the most visited destination. This colorful seaside city is full of attractions and things to do, with an atmospheric medieval quarter, surprising modernist architecture and a vibrant urban culture. Of historical importance to Barcelona are Girona, with its medieval heritage, and Tarragona, a former Roman capital. Further afield, in the idyllic landscape of verdant valleys and gently rolling hills, tourists can discover quaint medieval towns, picturesque seaports and quiet country villages where chirping birds and church bells are the loudest sounds. The Catalan coast delights sun worshipers with seaside destinations, such as the chic resort of Sitges and the secluded coves of Cadaqués on the Costa Brava and the calm waters of the Costa Daurada. Every stop along the way, the local gastronomy tempts visitors. Be sure to try local specialties such asEsqueixada, a salad of peppers, tomatoes and salt cod.
Sunny and lively Barcelona offers a beautiful Mediterranean landscape combined with vibrant urban energy. This flamboyant city is the second largest city in Spain and also the capital of the Catalonia region. The Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) is the old town, a beautiful area of impossibly narrow streets, atmospheric alleys and quiet squares where locals gather to socialize. Street musicians can often be found here playing classical Spanish guitar, adding to the magical atmosphere. Outside the old town are wide tree-lined avenues that lead to the beautiful beaches along the harbour. The most lively street in Barcelona is La Rambla, a tree-lined street with many shops and terraces. La Rambla is in the middle of the city’s social life and buzzes with activity day and night. While walking on this street, don’t miss the Palau Guell , a masterpiece of avant-garde architecture by Antoni Gaudi. Other major landmarks created by the famous architect include the Basilica de Sagrada Familia , a surreal place of spiritual worship, and the UNESCO-listed Park Guell , a fabulous park with whimsical benches and fountains adorned with colorful ceramic fragments.
Barcelona is known for its culture and gastronomic cuisine. The city has more than 70 first-class museums and 24 Michelin-starred restaurants. Be sure to visit the Picasso Museum and National Museum of Catalan Art . For a mouth-watering Catalan gastronomic experience, try one of Barcelona’s best restaurants. The Michelin-labeled two-star Moments Restaurant is on the elegant Passeig de Gràcia (number 38), a stone’s throw from Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and a few blocks from the Casa Mila , the most famous mansion designed by Gaudi.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Barcelona
2 Costa Brava
Stretching northeast from the coves and beaches of Blanes to Catalonia’s border with France, the Costa Brava is Spain’s most beautiful coastline. This 1,240-mile coast of rugged cliffs and idyllic beaches is one of Europe’s favorite seaside playgrounds, and its pretty little whitewashed towns have lured artists that include Dali, Picasso, and Marc Chagall. Sandy beaches, such as the one in the colorful old fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell , are tucked away in coves below the cliffs, and other towns, such as Santa Susanna, have a choice of beaches, from busy strands filled with sunbathers and kiosks to quiet coves and beaches equipped for water sports and sailing. Whatever your taste in beaches, you’re sure to find it somewhere along the Costa Brava.
3 The Monastery of Montserrat
Montserrat’s beautiful Benedictine monastery sits atop a rocky cliff surrounded by fantastically eroded cliffs. Its history goes back to 1025, when it was founded on the site of the small mountain Hermitage of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Pilgrims soon spread about the miracles performed here by the Virgin and the monastery grew into an important pilgrimage site. The 12th-century carving of Our Lady of Montserrat, known as La Moreneta (the Dark One), is venerated here by the faithful, and Montserrat has become one of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions. The famous boys’ choir, the Escolania, is one of the oldest in Europe. There’s an art museum and sacred treasures, and a cable car can take you up the mountain for sweeping views of the Catalan countryside.
Official site: www.montserratvisita.com/en
A vibrant jewel of historic Catalonia, 103 kilometers from Barcelona, this medieval walled city has a rich cultural heritage with diverse influences from the ancient Romans, Moorish-era Arabs and Jews. The old town was built on the right bank of the river Onyar with colorful houses on the waterfront. Girona has two areas enclosed by ancient ramparts: the Força Vella , which outlines the original Roman city founded more than 2,000 years ago, and the Medieval Quarter , which expanded the city in the 14th and 15th centuries. These atmospheric historic districts are filled with narrow pedestrian streets and impressive medieval buildings. The fortress-like Romanesque cathedralwas built in the 11th century and updated to the 17th century. The facade is Baroque and the interior is Gothic. The massive nave is the largest medieval sanctuary in Europe. Among the artistic masterpieces displayed in the sanctuary is a Catalan textile of the Romanesque era called the Creation Tapestry . Other important religious monuments are the 12th-century Benedictine monastery de Sant Pere de Galligants ; the Romanesque church of Sant Nicolau , now used as an exhibition hall; and the medieval Gothic cloister of Sant Doménech surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The main thoroughfare of the old town is the Rambla de la Libertad , a colonnaded pedestrian street lined with shops and outdoor cafes. Another interesting area to explore is the Jewish Quarter (El Call), one of the best preserved in Spain. During the Middle Ages, this quarter had an important synagogue and centers of Kabbalistic study. The squares of Placa del Oli and Placa del Vi have retained their original atmosphere. Close to the Jewish Quarter, visitors can discover the cultural legacy of the Moors. The Arab Baths , now housed in a Capuchin convent, feature a pavilion of Islamic-style columns topped by an octagonal dome.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Girona
Tarragona is a beautiful seaside city that seems to have it all: sun, beaches and interesting historical monuments. About 100 kilometers from Barcelona, this port city on the Costa Daurada is a worthwhile excursion or alternative base from which to explore Catalonia. Beach lovers will be happy to spend a few days here. Most of the town overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the spectacular Playa del Milagro beach is within walking distance of the historic town centre. History buffs will be captivated by Tarragona’s UNESCO-listed ancient Roman buildings found throughout Tarragona, especially the incredibly well-preserved Roman amphitheaterof the second century. The city also has a charming Romanesque cathedral and medieval streets. For a delicious seafood meal, take a stroll to El Serrallo – the old fishing village with an atmospheric Old World ambiance.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tarragona
Along the Mediterranean Sea, just 42 kilometers from Barcelona, Sitges draws visitors in search of golden sands and pampered relaxation by the sea. The town has a “Blue Flag” beach with calm waters ideal for swimming. A marina and golf courses add to the resort’s atmosphere. Sitges also offers culture; the historic center has two fine churches, the Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu and the Iglesia de Santa Tecla . During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Spanish modernist monuments were built throughout the city. An excellent example of this avant-garde modernist architecture is the Cau Ferratwhere the famous Spanish writer and artist Santiago Rusiñol lived. His home and art studio became a meeting place that attracted many artists and intellectuals, giving the city a bohemian feel. For those who enjoy gourmet cuisine, Sitges has much to offer. The city has an abundance of renowned restaurants serving excellent gastronomic food, particularly dishes from the Catalan region.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sitges
7 Het Salvador Dalí theater-museum in Figueres
Famous for its association with Salvador Dalí, the traditional Catalan town of Figueres is located in a quiet riverine plain of the province of Girona (140 kilometers from Barcelona). The city’s main tourist attraction is the Salvador Dalí Theater-Museum, which is dedicated to the works of the surrealist genius. Housed in the 19th-century Municipal Theater, the museum presents all aspects of Dalí’s art and displays some of his greatest masterpieces of painting. With its extensive range, the collection showcases the artist’s full range of creative expression. The museum also has a film library, which contains a collection of audiovisual content created by Salvador Dalí. During the month of August, the museum has nightly openings from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. 00 for a magical atmosphere that adds to the surreal experience. Throughout the year, the museum hosts special events and festivals.
Address: 5 Plaza Gala-Salvador Dalí, 17600 Figueres
Official site: https://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/teatre-museu-dali/en_index/
8 Cadaqués and the Cap de Creus Natural Park
Close to the Cap de Creus Natural Park , Cadaqués is a beautiful place on the coast of the Costa Brava 170 kilometers from Barcelona. With its whitewashed houses that surround a sheltered cove, the historic district of Cadaqués has a distinctive Mediterranean seaport vibe. The village has charmed artists for decades and still offers a vibrant cultural scene, with many art galleries and museums. Cap de CreusNatural Park has a beautiful unspoilt beach in a protected cove surrounded by pine trees, one of several where you can swim in the crystal clear turquoise waters along this protected stretch of coastline. The rugged and rocky coastline of the Cap de Creus Natural Park is also a great place for hiking and nature walks. The beautiful coastal town of Roses , nearby, started life as an ancient Greek colony, and its impressive Renaissance citadel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cadaqués
9 Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet
The UNESCO-protected Monastery of Santa María de Poblet is located 141 kilometers from Barcelona in a beautiful area. This remarkable monument was founded in the 12th century for Cistercian monks, and the order still uses this space for their spiritual worship. Within the church of the monastery are the tombs of the kings of Aragon. The whole monastery complex is an impressive sight surrounded by a serene landscape. The complex has two museums: the Poblet museum housed in King Martin’s 14th-century palace with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque religious art; and the Restoration Museum which illustrates the restoration work of the monastery.
Address: Monastery of Poblet, 43448 Vimbodi
10 Medieval Vic
Vic is a picturesque medieval town in a quiet area on the banks of the River Meder, about 72 kilometers from Barcelona. The city has two historic districts: the area around Castillo de Montcada and around the cathedral. Be sure to enter the cathedral to admire the murals by Josep María Sert. Vic has an impressive artistic heritage, which can be further explored at the Episcopal Museum . This museum displays masterpieces of religious painting and sculpture from the Romanesque and Medieval periods. Tourists looking for a break from sightseeing can head to the Plaza Mayorfor a snack in one of the cafes with a pleasant outdoor terrace. For those looking for a treat for an overnight stay, luxurious Parador Vic-Sau is the perfect choice. Surrounded by idyllic gardens, this Catalan country house has been converted into a luxury hotel with an excellent gourmet restaurant.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vic
A picture-perfect medieval town, Besalú is an unusual warren of cobbled streets and quiet squares that reveal impressive historic buildings. The city has an atmospheric old Sephardic quarter with medieval Jewish baths that were used for ritual washing. Several fascinating ancient Christian monuments can be found in Besalú, including the 10th-century Benedictine Monastery of Sant Pere , the 10th-century Chapel of Santa María , the Romanesque-style 13th-century Church of Sant Vicenç and the 17th-century Church of Sant Julià . Another remnant of the city’s past is the Viejo Bridgebuilt in the 11th century and renovated in the 14th century. Besalú is located 133 kilometers from Barcelona in a beautiful area of Catalonia La Garrotxa Nature Reserve in the rolling hills of the Pyrenees.
12 Olot and the foothills of the Pyrenees
In the beautiful foothills of the Pyrenees (112 kilometers from Barcelona), Olot has a relaxed atmosphere and a vibrant cultural life. The city has many fascinating art galleries, and the Regional Museum boasts an excellent collection of modernist paintings. Be sure to see the 18th-century parish church of Sant Esteve , with its beautiful Baroque altarpiece. Pleasant tree-lined avenues, quaint terraces and old aristocratic mansions give the city an elegant atmosphere. Nature lovers will enjoy an excursion from Olot to the Parque Natural de la Garrotxa to discover an amazingly rugged landscape formed by volcanoes.
13 Seu d’Urgell
Travelers can enjoy a relaxing getaway to a peaceful country village in La Seu d’Urgell. It is set in a beautiful natural setting with the mountains of Catalonia and the Pyrenees of Andorra as a backdrop. This picturesque historic town is located in the province of Lleida, 173 kilometers from Barcelona and 88 kilometers from the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. The most interesting site is the Romanesque-inspired Italian Cathedral , built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Other important monuments are the 11th century Romanesque church of Sant Miquel , the 15th century Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and the Convent of Sant Domingo which has been converted into a Parador de Turismo hotel.
14 The Romanesque Monastery of Santa María de Ripoll
This magnificent Romanesque monastery was an important monastic center in Catalonia in the Middle Ages. Dating back to the 12th century, the complex includes a church with an extraordinary colonnade depicting biblical scenes and a peaceful cloister designed to inspire spiritual contemplation. Another notable religious monument of Ripoll is the 12th century Iglesia de Sant Pere with pre-Romanesque architectural elements. The church now houses the town’s ethnographic museum. In the 19th century with the arrival of the railway, Ripoll became a bustling trading town with a thriving textile industry. Ripoll is located 109 kilometers from Barcelona.
This idyllic nature retreat is located just 18 kilometers from Girona and 121 kilometers from Barcelona, near La Garrotxa Nature Reserve . Surrounded by the green rolling hills of the Sierra Rocacorba, the town is situated between two rivers on the shores of Lake Banyoles. Banyoles has an ancient history, with an important textile industry since the 13th century. In the picturesque old center of the town are several interesting religious monuments: the 14th century church of Santa María del Turers and the neoclassical monastery of Sant Esteve . Other important landmarks include the Pia Almoina , a 14th century medieval mansion with an Archaeological Museum, and the Llotja del Tint , a 15th-century building used for textile dyeing. A highlight of a visit to Banyoles is the beautiful lake with a circumference of six kilometers. It is a wonderful place to relax, take nature walks, cycle or go boating. Tourists can rent small boats for rowing, kayaking or canoeing. Fishing is another popular pastime, with rewarding catches to be found in the pristine waters.
16 Solsona Cathedral
The beautiful cathedral of Solsona, 107 kilometers from Barcelona, was built in the 14th century in Gothic style, but reveals the architectural elements of an earlier Romanesque church. Typical of the Romanesque style, the interior has three apses decorated with arcades. The bell tower is also of the original Romanesque structure. Visitors are surprised by the spacious single-nave vaulted interior. The facade has Baroque decoration added in the 18th century, and the neoclassical cloister displays a Romanesque stone icon of the Monastery’s Virgin .
17 Talarn Reservoir
About eight kilometers north of Tremp is the Embalse de Talarn, a large lake formed by a dam that supplies a hydroelectric power station. One of the largest bodies of fresh water in Catalonia, the lake is surrounded by beautiful scenery, with many pine trees and secluded coves. Fishing, birdwatching, boating, sailing and camping are all popular things to do here, and waymarked walks and 4×4 trails also weave through the rugged train.