The second-largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in the world. Approximately 32 million people visit each year, and during peak season, the city can feel congested and strained, especially at its most popular attractions. To escape the crowds and get a real sense of Catalonia’s history and culture, take a day trip to a place outside of Barcelona. Here are 10 day-trip destinations that offer a great mix of food, history, architecture, nature, and culture.
Girona: A Foodie’s Paradise
Girona is known to a lot of travelers as the hub for cheap flights with Ryanair. But the city is so much more than a frugal connection to Barcelona. If you’re jetting in for a Spanish vacation, consider spending a day in Girona before heading on to Barcelona, which is a 40-minute train ride away.
Several of Girona’s ancient streets have appeared in pivotal Game of Thrones scenes. The original city walls are still intact -- and they’re beautiful! The views are incredible, and the area is the perfect place for a picnic and some people-watching. However, if you can splurge beyond picnic fare, this is the place to do it. This is the place to spend money on food in Spain. One hot spot in particular, El Celler de Can Roca, is frequently rated one of the best restaurants in the world.
History is on the menu in Girona as well, since the city is home to the Museum of Jewish History. The museum is dedicated to the history and legacy of Girona’s large Jewish community, which was expelled from the city in 1492.
Figueres: Whimsical Art And Architecture
Just under an hour from Barcelona by train, Figueres is a must-see for art and architecture lovers. The town’s main attraction is the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which was transformed by Salvador Dalí himself. Once known as the Força Vella theater, the building was reduced to ruins during the Spanish Civil War. Then, thankfully, Dalí took it under his wing. There’s a lot of history here! It’s a gorgeous, weird, fascinating building in and of itself, and inside you’ll find some of Dalí’s surrealist paintings and some jewelry he designed. It’s definitely worth the 14-euro price of admission.
Montserrat: A Mountaintop Monastery With Incredible Views
If you’re craving a break from the city, a visit to Montserrat is in order. The town is 3 hours and 30 minutes away from Barcelona by train, but the trip is worth it. You’ll take a cog rail and cable car to complete the uphill journey to one of Spain’s holiest sites.
Montserrat is home to the Abadia de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. It’s a place of pilgrimage for the faithful who travel to see the statue of the Black Madonna. But even if you’re not particularly religious, the gorgeous views from the rugged mountains that surround the monastery will thrill you.
Many visitors stay for several days to enjoy the hiking trails, but there are shorter day hikes starting at 2 hours. To avoid the crowds and the harsh midday sun, arrive early, take a morning hike, enjoy a leisurely lunch, explore the area, and then visit the monastery toward the end of the day.
Montblanc: A Medieval Town With Charming Shops
While Montblanc is just under 2 hours from Barcelona by train, renting a car will allow you the full freedom and flexibility you need to explore the Cistercian Route, several beautiful monasteries (in Poblet, Vallbona de les Monges, and Aiguamúrcia) along the way to Montblanc.
Montblanc itself is a beautiful medieval walled town with delightful little stores, charming coffee shops, and lovely laneways. If you’re looking for souvenirs, Galeria d'art Natalia Ferre has a good selection of folk art for sale. And if you’d like to balance your saintly pilgrimage with something a little more sinful, Celler Mas Foraster is a popular shop where you can enjoy a short winemaking tour -- and plenty of samples!
Sitges: Sunbathing And Skinny-Dipping
While Montserrat and Montblanc are calm and peaceful, Sitges is high-energy, fun, and just a little bit saucy. About 40 minutes from Barcelona by train, Sitges is a lively seaside town. It’s the kind of place you go for sunbathing, swimming, and maybe some skinny-dipping, too. Yes, there are nude beaches there! But don’t worry if you’d rather not get that acquainted with the locals -- there are plenty of regular beaches as well. Plus, you’ll find pulsating nightlife, tons of sports (water skiing is especially big), and great bars.
If you’re looking for a slightly more buttoned-up experience, Sitges has a fantastic food scene with especially good seafood. And the well-respected Museus de Sitges is well worth a visit.
Parc De Collserola: Barcelona’s Urban Retreat
Just a 15-minute drive from Barcelona (or a 30-minute train ride), Parc de Collserola is a beautiful escape from the heat of the city. It’s the perfect destination for walking, hiking, cycling, and picnicking. You’ll see lots of locals and families here on the weekend. But if you don’t feel like bringing along your own food or exercising, there are nice restaurants with good wine to enjoy as well.
Vic: Something For Everyone
Just over an hour away from Barcelona, with easy bike and bus connections, Vic has a little bit of everything for day-trippers. Architecture fans will enjoy the medieval, baroque, and modernist homes lining the main square, Plaça Major. The square is sometimes called Plaça del Mercadal (Merchant’s Square) because it hosts regular farmers markets. Foodies will also love Vic, since the town is home to a number of Michelin-ranked restaurants. History lovers can visit the town’s Roman temple and numerous museums, including the Museu Episcopal de Vic.
Many small-group day-trip tours to Vic include a scenic drive through the Pyrenees, a stop at a mountain village like Queralbs, and horseback riding, hiking, or boat tours as add-ons.
Tarragona: Museums And Roman Ruins
Tarragona is a history lover’s dream. It’s famous for its Roman ruins, some of the finest in the world. The Museu d’Història de Tarragona (also known as Casa Castellarnau), the Amfiteatre Romà, the Fòrum Provincial, and the Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona are all hugely popular with visitors. To best enjoy your trip through ancient Roman times, arrive early. Tarragona is just over an hour away from Barcelona by train.
While not quite as old as the Roman ruins, the 13th-century Catedral Basílica de Tarragona is a must-see, if only for the artwork depicting rats conducting a cat’s funeral (and the cat coming back to life)!
Penedès: Spain’s Gorgeous Wine Region
Successful day-trip adventures deserve a hearty “cheers,” and the Penedès wine region has the perfect celebratory solution. There are more than 140 different wine producers in the region, all set in the beautiful countryside south of Barcelona. The Penedès wine region is where cava is produced. Cava is to Spain what Champagne is to France -- delightfully bubbly, sparkling, and oh so chic. And it doesn’t hurt that cava is often a lot less expensive!
Vilafranca del Penedès is just under an hour away from Barcelona, but the best way to explore the region is with a small-group guided tour, which will provide fun and camaraderie as well as a designated driver. Most tours visit several wineries and offer food pairings or a designated stop for lunch.
Cadaqués: Dalí, Matisse, And Picasso’s Stomping Ground
About 2 hours and 30 minutes north of Barcelona, Cadaqués is a charming seaside town close to the French border. The town’s mix of influences is evident in both its food and its architecture, and it made a lasting impression on some of Spain’s most famous artists. Charcoal works by Eliseu Meifrèn are on display at the Museu de Cadaqués. Dalí spent his summers in the town, and Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso also vacationed there. You can soak up some of Dalí’s irrepressible spirit by popping into the Salvador Dalí House, one of the town’s top-rated sites.
Travelers with an artistic eye will notice that Cadaqués is also home to some large, colorful, dramatic houses. It’s all thanks to the town’s international culture! In the 20th century, many of the town’s residents went to live and work in Cuba, returning decades later with a fortune and a passion for Cuba’s striking architecture. Make sure to bring your camera.
Santa Coloma De Cervelló: Home To Gaudí’s Lesser-Known Crypt
A 20-minute drive from central Barcelona, Santa Coloma de Cervelló is a suburb most commonly associated with the textile manufacturing industry. You’d be forgiven for thinking that that doesn’t sound like all that exciting of a day-trip destination, but there’s one attraction there you shouldn’t miss.
Santa Coloma de Cervelló is home to one of architect Antoni Gaudí’s last great projects, the Church of Colònia Güell. Gaudí intended for Colònia Güell to serve as a place of worship for members of the textile manufacturing community. Alas, the church remains unfinished. In fact, only the crypt has been completed. But it’s still a magnificent piece of art, and you shouldn’t pass up a chance to get up close and personal with Gaudí’s work.
This is the perfect Barcelona day trip for anyone who doesn’t actually have a whole day to spare, but who wants to devote a few hours to exploring beyond the city center.