Visiting Barcelona? Make sure you keep a day or two free to experience a Cava winery, Monserrat Monastery, the Dali Museum and the Costa Brava. Here at Totally Spain, we’ve been planning and organizing custom itineraries in Spain since 2000 and can organise car-rentals, high-speed train tickets & private guides and drivers to ensure you enjoy these day trips in style and comfort. NB Please note we provide this service as part of a wider itinerary including accommodation.
Day Trips from Barcelona
1 Monserrat Monastery with Codorniu Cava Winery Visit
One of our most popular day trips because it’s such a great combination! You start out at Monserrat Monastery which dates back to the year 880, when four chapels were constructed by the Benedictine monks. Today, you’ll find hikers, hippies, fans of civil engineering, architecture and admirers of the Black Madonna (the Virgin of Monserrat), Dali and Caravaggio here. Whatever emphasis you want to give the morning, we’ll have one of our drivers collect you from your hotel and have you outside the monastery before the rush. And we’ll organise whatever you need for the visit from maps for a hike, passes for the cable car or a guided tour of the art work and architecture.
After you’ve toured the monastery and walked as much as you wish to, our driver will collect you and drop you off for a meal at a charming 10th century castle-winery where you can relax and unwind – while tasting the excellent organic wines produced here with some local cheeses.
You can return to Barcelona for the afternoon – or have the driver drop you off at the Codorniu winery where you’ll take a tour of the stunning Modernista building, learn about the process for cava making and taste some of the bubbly too. When you’re ready to return to the city, your driver will collect you and drop you off at your hotel.
2 The Dali Museum, Pubol Castle and Ceramics in La Bisbal d’Emporda
Three locations on the itinerary today for another of our very popular day trips from Barcelona: Figueres, Pubol Castle and La Bisbal D’Emporda which is famous for ceramics.
The town of Figueres is located between Barcelona and the French border and is the place where Dali was born. It was here that he first studied art and exhibited professionally – in the municipal theatre in 1919. It was to this very theatre he returned in 1961 when he sought to create his own surreal theatre and museum space. Dali’s Theatre-Museum was opened to the public in 1974 and Dali’s eccentric style exudes from every surface of this building.
It is a very personal and interactive experience where you feel the artist is still present. Within the museum since 1999 is the collection of jewels with accompanying drawings and specifications by the artist. Dali spent his final days in the Torre Galatea section of the museum and was buried here in the crypt.
Forty kilometres south of Figueres is Pubol-la-Pera. Having scouted the area by plane, Dali bought the medieval castle in 1969 as a gift for his wife – Gala – as a Summer sanctuary or place where she could spend time alone. He respected her space and it is said that he needed to request permission from her in writing to visit the castle. When Gala passed away in 1982, it was her wish to be buried in Pubol. In his mourning for her, Dali moved in to Pubol and lived there until a fire broke out in 1984. Many of Dali’s works of art and his Cadillac are on show here in Pubol Castle today. Enjoy the building, its gardens and surrounding villages. To read more about Dali, read out post on Salvador Dali’s Catalonia.
And to wrap up the day – we conclude with a visit to Bisbal d’Emporda where you can visit the castle-palace from the 11th century where the bishops of Girona resided – and if you’re here on a Friday, you’ll find the weekly market running throughout the old quarter with over one hundred stalls selling food, clothing, ceramics and jewellery. La Bisbal d’Emporda is also well-known as one of the leading pottery centres in Catalonia, so you might want to pick up some pottery here and visit the Terracotta Pottery Museum, located in a former factory.
Prefer to do another Cava winery? Perelada is very near Figueres and not only produces wines and caves but you’ll find a pretty impressive castle to tour with a decent art collection to browse also.
3 Priorat Wineries
While Cava is something most people are already familiar with, many of our clients enjoy learning about the Priorat wine region (south of BCN) which is a great producer of reds as well as olive oils.
One of the more popular Priorat visits is to Celler Cooperatiu de Cornudella – one of the ‘Cathedrals of Wine’ built in the early 20th century. The architect, Cesar Martinell (1888-1973) who worked under Gaudi – wanted to design a winery both entirely rational and innovative – an entire building, full of architectural spectacle, and yet with huge functionality. Construction began on the Cellar Cooperatiu of Cornudella de Montsant in 1919 and it was completed in 1922. When visiting the winery, you can take part in a wine tasting and learn about the grapes and the history of the collective and the wine region.
Whenever we plan day trips from Barcelona including winery visits, we also like to provide different experiences – hence our second visit is to one of the modern wineries such as Perinet where you learn about the terroir, explore the winery, taste the wines and the olive oils! We like the barrel-room tastings – and the wine club is also a great way to keep in touch with the winery and its wines – long after your return home.
Two wineries is enough for one day – but why not take advantage of our driver and before you get back to Barcelona, you can stop off en-route somewhere like Cambrils, Tarragona or Sitges for a coastal stroll. If you prefer to return to the city inland – we recommend going via Lleida where you can visit La Seu Vella – and attempted to hike the bell tower with its 286 steps.
Insider Tip: All visits to wineries in Spain should be pre-booked – especially if you want to enjoy a tour in English.
4 Head to the Coast on Costa Brava
If you’d like to explore a few of the gems along this glorious coastline, we’ve many favourites which you can read about in our guide to the Costa Brava here. When pressed to shortlist them for a day trip, here is what we recommend:-
Pals is a charming medieval town complete with cobblestones streets and a semi-circular Romanesque clock tower with its own Platja meaning beach a few kilometres away on the Costa Brava coastline. A great place to start exploring the Costa Brava. After you’ve spent some time on the beach, you might want to try a local rice dish and taste the local ‘arroz de Pals’. Both Pals and Begur (next) are part of the Cittaslow movement which centres on SlowFood and promoting a sustainable quality of life. Sounds like the perfect antidote after a few days in Barcelona, doesn’t it?
Begur is best known today for its many coves and beaches although keen walkers will know Begur is also the name of the nearest mountains – the Begur Massif. You have eight coves and beaches to choose from here: Platja Del Raco (alongside Pals), Illa Roja, Platja de sa Riera, Aiguafreda, Sa Tuna, Platja Fonda, Fornells and Platja d’Aiguablava and each of these is prettier than the previous one. In the town itself, Begur Castle is worth a visit for the views of the coastline alone. If you like diving, you’ll find many companies offering trips and equipment rental all along this coastline. If you’d like to make it more than just a day trip – we love the views from the Parador overlooking Aiguablava (perched amid the cliffs of Punta d’es Muts). Although it is one of the ‘modern’ builds, you’ll be blown away by the views of the cliffs and beaches.
Calella de Palafrugell is perhaps the best-known section of all this coastline and offers the perfect combo of picturesque port meets sunny beach. If food is a vital part of your visit, perhaps you should try to coincide with La Garoinade, the town’s sea urchin festival. If gardens are more your thing, then check out the 17 hectares of the Cap Roig Botanic Gardens created on the estate purchased in 1927 by the Russian Colonel Nicolai Woevodsky and his English wife, the aristocrat Dorothy Webster. Every Summer, these very gardens welcome the Cap Roig Festival with its open-air stage playing host to the world’s best musical artists in this spectacular natural setting overlooking the Mediterranean.
The Cami de Ronda is a wonderful coastal camino or footpath that stretches from St. Feliu de Guíxols to Begur (43km) although you can just pick up the route wherever you like. We recommend the final 12km from Calella de Palafrugell to Begur which takes in many of the coves we mentioned above – and can arrange a driver to drop you off in Calella and collect you in Begur – after the hike.
If you fancy a trip inland on this Costa Brava day trip, we love Peratallada – one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Spain. Peratallada Castle is the first-known construction in the village dating back to the 10th century. The 10m tall tower and the 13th century Church of St Stephen are also the must-sees – but don’t be too distracted by the individual sights – find a table in the Plaça Major at one of the outdoor terraces and enjoy being inside the nicest walled town in the region.
5 Two Exotic Gardens on the Costa Brava
If you are looking for a garden to visit on the coast, you won’t find better than the Marimurtra Botanic Gardens on the Costa Brava. Just 60 mins by car from Barcelona, these gardens were created in 1920 by German businessman Karl Faust who was passionate about biology. Today, still run by the founder’s private foundation, you’ll find over 3,000 species, mainly Mediterranean and sub-tropical flora as well as a research and conservation centre and 10 hectares of forest. Keep an eye out for the Chinese Pittosporum palm tree, the Paliurus, sour-berry and Garrya X Thuretti shrubs and the forest saffron evergreen. Enjoy meandering around the gardens on winding paths. Don’t miss the Linnaeus Temple. And did we mention the amazing sea-views already?
Dating from 1927, the cliffside Santa Clotilde Garden is just a few mins away from Marimurtra – and is best known for its statues, fountains, evergreen trees and shrubs – and makes it a perfect second garden for your day trip. You’ll enjoy the cypress trees which give lovely structure and the scent of orange blossom when in season is heavenly. These Italian renaissance styled-gardens were designed by well-known architect Nicolau Maria Rubió i Tudurí who was also director of Barcelona’s parks and gardens from 1917-1937. The garden was commissioned by the Marquis of Roviralta for his wife.
You should bring a picnic as there is nowhere to purchase any food or drink in Santa Clotilde and you’ll find lots of benches and sun-loungers as well so come prepared with some time to relax and soak up the views. We can arrange for a gourmet picnic to be dropped off at your hotel (or collected by your driver) for you as part of this day trip.
Want to see more gardens in Spain – read our Gardens, Parks & Grounds of Spain guide here for more.
6 Jewish Heritage in Catalonia
We’ve programmed a great many Jewish-themed itineraries throughout Spain which start out in Catalonia – so – if you’d like to get a sense of the Jewish heritage in Spain, here’s what we can schedule in a day:-
You’ll be collected from your hotel and driven to the colourful city of Girona known as the City of the Four Rivers where the Jewish community dates back to 890. It was a very important Jewish centre during the Middle Ages and it still has the best-preserved and most important Jewish quarter in all of Spain. Curiously, it was only discovered in the last 1970s when a land developer found the remains of Nahmanides’ yeshiva.
In the heart of this quarter is a new educational and cultural complex called the Bonastruc Ca Porta Centre, which recreates Jewish life through art exhibits, musical events and food tastings. Surrounding a patio on the site of an ancient synagogue, the complex includes a Catalan Museum of Jewish Culture, the Institute for Sephardic and Kabbalistic Studies, and a library that houses important medieval Jewish manuscripts. You’ll also get to see the other treasures in Girona such as the Cathedral, the Arab Baths, the churches of Sant Feliu, Sant Pere de Galligans and Sant Domènech, and the city walls, which can still be walked.
Next stop is Besalu – a stunning town which first welcomed its Jewish community in the 9th century. In fact, Girona’s first Jewish community came from here in Besalu. Near the Mihah, where most of the community lived, you’ll see the site of the synagogue that was built in 1264. Although there are no remains of the synagogue, the place is still called ‘Pla dels Jueus’ or Place of the Jews. You’ll visit the 12th century mikvah (ritual Jewish bath), one of the only three from the same period that have been kept in Europe – it was only discovered in 1964. This mikvah is a stone room with 36 steps where strategically placed openings allow the rising river to flood it to the correct water level each Spring and Autumn.
For lunch your driver will take you to a charming village such as Palau Sator where you can enjoy a traditional meal in charming surroundings. When you are ready to go back to the city, your driver will drop you at your hotel.
7 Tarragona’s Roman Ruins & Vilanova i la Geltru
Another of the great day trips – just an hour from Barcelona by car or train – is the UNESCO-listed Tarragona. On today’s must-see list are the Roman ruins that include an amphitheatre, a theatre, circus, forum and Ferreres Aqueduct – with the The History Museum and Archaeological Museum also well-worth a visit.
When your brain can’t take any more Roman influences – you might want to check out the wonderful beaches – or what about a visit to the modernist food market? Have a stroll along the Rambla Nova and you’ll fetch up at the Mediterranean Balcony. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to coincide with some Castellers?
Ready for more exploring? Your driver can take you an hour inland to the UNESCO-listed Poblet Monastery. One of the largest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in the world, it was built from the 12th to 15th centuries, around a church that dates to the 13th century. It is impressive for the majesty of its architecture and includes a fortified royal residence as well as the pantheon of the kings and queens of Catalonia and Aragon.
On your way back to Barcelona, stop off in Vilanova i la Geltru for a bite to eat. If you see Xato de Vilanova on the menu, give it a go. It’s an endive salad with a tasty sauce made from garlic, almonds, hazelnuts and spicy peppers that’s well-worth tasting.
Want to see more of Spain’s UNESCO charms? Read our guide here to shortlist which ones you want to see.
8 Gaudi’s Colonia Guell + Cordorniu Cava Winery + Lunch + Sitges
If you are staying in downtown Barcelona, you’ll have already seen many of the Gaudi gems – but we rate a day trip to Colonia Guell very highly. Your private guide and driver will collect you from your hotel and drop you off at the Colonia where you can appreciate the unusual architecture of this 19th century purpose-built industrial village located in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervelló. Especially noteworthy is the UNESCO-listed church which you will tour.
After your fix of Gaudi, your driver will collect you and take you west to the remarkable Cordorniu winery (unless you’ve already been there!). It’s one of the oldest wineries in the world and a real must-see in this part of Spain. You’ll tour the winery where you not only learn about the cava making process but also about the magnificent modernist architecture of the winery constructed by Josep Puig I Cadafalch at the beginning of the 19th century.
After the visit, the driver will drop you off outside a traditional Catalan restaurant – where you’ll be able to enjoy the great gastronomy and wines at your pre-booked table – and when you’re ready, your driver will be there to collect you and take you to the charming seaside town of Sitges to explore before dropping you back into the city of Barcelona.
9 Zaragoza City by Train – Goya Art and Mudejar Architecture
If Barcelona is very busy (and let’s face it, when is it not busy?) you might want to experience a smaller city just for a day. We often recommend Zaragoza for its impressive UNESCO-listed Mudejar architecture that transports us back to the time of complete harmony between Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures in Spain.
In Zaragoza city centre, you can find at least seven stunning Mudejar buildings within walking distance of each other. To get here, you can hop on the high-speed train from Barcelona and in 90 mins you’ll be met by your private guide in Zaragoza to take you around the centre. (We’ll pre-book your tickets and arrange for a transfer from your hotel to the station – so it couldn’t be easier.)
Our expert guide in Zaragoza will start out your tour at the Palacio de la Aljaferia which dates from the 11th century. Formerly an Islamic royal palace, today is home to the Aragon Regional Parliament. It’s a stunning building with its intricate towers, roof, ceilings and plasterwork.
Next on the visit is the Seo de Salvador Cathedral which has been used as a place for worship as far back as the first century BC. The current structure – a Christian church – was built in the 12th century. It features a range of styles including gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance and Baroque. Don’t forget to visit the Tapestry Museum inside the cathedral.
Other Mudejar buildings include the Iglesia La Magdalena (14th century) which started out as a Romanesque building. The brickwork of the square tower complete with ceramic decoration is stunning to see.
In addition to the Mudejar architecture, Zaragoza is known as the home of Goya and your guide will show you his statue in front of the Seo Cathedral and will highlight the pieces you should enjoy at the Museum of Zaragoza, the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar, the Camon Aznar Museum and the Diocesan Museum of Zaragoza.
Before leaving the city – make sure to experience the incredible views of the city from the top of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Pilar – the patron saint of this city. For more info on Zaragoza and Aragon see our guide here.
10 A Memorable Foodie Day Trip
If you want to get out into the countryside and see, meet and taste the produce of the very best of Catalonia’s artisan food producers – this is your day trip. As you’d expect, the programme for this day varies hugely depending on the time of the year and day of the week but we always make sure to line up a visit to a food market in a charming town and follow it with lunch in an excellent traditional restaurant.
Seasonality is key for us so, for example, during calcots season, we can ensure you see them for sale in a food market market where you’ll get to see them in all their glory and afterwards you’ll go for lunch in a place specialising in preparing calcots. Mushroom season is also a great time to be in rural Catalonia and you’ll revel in the variety and the taste. See our guide to vegetables in season here to get a sense of what you could be tasting.
Of course, if you haven’t already taken in a tour to the Priorat or Cava wineries, we can also add in a winery visit but instead of going to one of the big producers, this time we’ll be recommending a suitable small family run winery where you meet the owner and really understand what it’s like to be in the wine business today. You’ll also get to sample their wines which we hope you’ll enjoy long after you return home.
By the time you finish your day, Catalan staples such as samfaima, salsa romesco, butifarra, ali-oli and escalivada – key elements of Catalan gastronomy – will be forever embedded in your memory.