Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, is a fascinating city. Cosmopolitan, friendly, with absolutely amazing food, fantastic weather all year round and more historical sights than you can lay your eyes on. But it is precisely because of its allure that other equally interesting towns or places of interest within an hour away are completely overshadowed. If you want a change of scene or are staying in the city for long enough, consider one of these day trips from Barcelona to add in culture, wine, cava or beach life to your vacation.
Tip: If you are going to drive yourself, these tips from Wagoners abroad on road signs in Spain might be useful for your day trips from Barcelona.
- 1. Beachside town of Sitges
- 2. Learn to appreciate Cava and organic wine in Penedes
- 3. Wine cooperative, Kosher wines and a UNESCO Monastery
- 4. Girona
- 5. Cadaques and Dali
1. Beachside town of Sitges
Alright, I am biased at this one. I am in fact from Sitges but Sitges is also one of the most recommended and lauded small towns within easy reach from Barcelona by most guides and lists so I am not the only one. It is quaint, it is small, it can be reached by a 30min comfortable train ride, it is fully walkable and it offers the peace and beach life that Spain is known for.
Things to do and see in Sitges
Sitges is multi-faceted. You can go simply to lay on the beach, eat a paella by the sea promenade and have a leisurely walk along the sea, or you can go for one of the many festivals and events that line the calendar, from the crazy bare-it-all Carnival to the famous Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia. Or just go for the culture and heritage. Here are a few options to explore Sitges rich heritage.
Cau Ferrat, a museum since 1933, was the workshop and residence of Modernist artist Santiago Rusiñol, contemporary of Gaudi, who used the space to organise artistic events turning Cau Ferrat in the “Temple of Modernisme”. He collected art throughout his life and even pieces by Picasso are on display. Next to Cau Ferrat you can find Museu Maricel (Sea and sky in Catalan) which houses a lot of art pieces. But what makes this building outstanding is its location, perched above the sea waves.
Perhaps the most emblematic of the buildings in Sitges, aside from the famous church, is the Maricel Palace. Today, the building can be rented for private events and the local Town Hall organises exhibitions throughout the year. Civil marriages can also take place inside. A friend of mine got married there and it was the most beautiful venue. Inside, the rooms are incredibly ornate in the blue ceramic tiles that remind the visitor how close to the sea they are. The cloisters and the Gold Room are impressive and from the terraces at the top one can see the sea. Guided tours are available on Sunday.
Best time to go
All year round. In February there is the craziest Carnival you will ever see. In May, the vintage car rally from Barcelona to Sitges. In May, the flower carpets of Corpus Cristi. In June, the Sitges Gay Pride. In July, the International Tango Festival. In August the Festa Major, a three day party and tradition festival covering the streets with parades and fire works in honour of the town’s Patron’s Saint St. Bartholomew. In September, a smaller version of a Festa Major in honour of Saint Tecla. In October the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia. And even if you don’t come for any event, just have a walk along the 1,5km sea promenade to put your towel down on the beach.
2. Learn to appreciate Cava and organic wine in Penedes
Catalunya and Spain are well known for wine making. In fact, Spain is one of the top-4 largest producers of wine in the world together with Italy, France and the US, and although I always feel very disappointed at how bad we are at marketing Spanish wines abroad, there are some really amazing wineries just 50km from Barcelona so what better day trip that one to visit the pioneer in organic wine making and one of the original cava producers, the Catalan version of Champagne (because champagne can only be called champagne if it comes form the Champagne region).
Things to do and see at Cava Llopart
Cava Llopart has been making cava since 1887, that makes it one of the very first producers in Spain after Codorniu started in 1872. Located in the small village of Subirats, on the hills above Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the capital of Cava, about half an hour by car, from Barcelona on the highway, Cava Llopart is worth a visit because of the great tours they offer and the incredible history. Above all, the views over the important Montserrat Mountains from the country house where the Gran Reserva Tour starts are incredible. You will have a full 360 degree understanding of the cava production from the vineyard to the cellar and the disgorging, a fascinating process. Of course, the Gran Reserva Tour starts with breakfast, Catalan style, with bread with tomato, extra virgin olive oil, ham and other cold cuts and cured meats like fuet and botifarra. Breakfast is paired with a couple of Llopart’s cavas, including their most premium one, which maintains the original label from the first bottle in 1887.
Lunch should be had at the Mirador de les Caves, right above Cava Llopart, with amazing views and even better Catalan food. Cava Llopart offers a combined Gran Reserva tour plus lunch for 60 euro which is a steal. You cannot get there by public transport so you will need your car.
Things to do and see at Albet i Noya
After lunch, head out to Albet i Noya, another pioneer in the wine making world of Spain. Albet i Noya offers a variety of tours, some of them following the Slow Travel philosophy with bike tours and walks along the vineyards. They were the pioneers of organic wines, which now account for 60% of all the wineries in Penedes DO, the wine appellation where the Cava region and Albet i Noya are located. A tour will give you the chance of seeing the original winery, as the family had been in the wine making business long before they started producing organic wines at the request of a Danish wine distributor in the 70s. At the end of the tour, the tasting takes place in the garden, under the shade of tall trees, with views over the vineyards. A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Although you should also drive, we met a couple who lived in Barcelona at the winery who had come by train and walked from the station a very pleasant 45min through villages and countryside.
Best time to go
This is an all year round trip. If you go during the wine harvesting you will see the area in motion and all the wine making process live. In spring, the vines will start to green and flourish. In the summer, before the harvest, the grapes are in full bloom and the vineyards very pretty. In winter, the landscapes are more tamed but the visits are equally worthy.
3. Wine cooperative, Kosher wines and a UNESCO Monastery
Learn about Priorat’s younger brother Appellaton, Montsant, about how Kosher wine is made and about the impact it had on a small 200 inhabitant town. In the afternoon, explore the beautiful Poblet monastery, a 31-monk religious complex
Things to do and see at Celler de Capcanes
The name Priorat has recently gained momentum and fame. What most people don’t know is that, in Catalunya, the Autonomic Region Barcelona is the capital for, Priorat is the name of a county as well as a wine appellation. Sometimes, this creates confusion because, inside the Priorat county there are two appellations, Montsant and Priorat. Although they are similar, Priorat’s soil make it a very characteristic and unique wine region whereas Montsant has a different soil and hence different but equally fantastic wines.
About an hour and a half from Barcelona, you can visit Celler de Capcanes, a cooperative winery that was made famous for its production of the first Kosher wine in Spain. As a cooperative, the winery is owned and managed by a council that represents the 80 vineyard owners. A tour of the winery, organised by appointment, gives insights into how Kosher wine is made but also on life in a small village where wine, and Kosher wine in particular, revived and provided a favourable livelihood to an otherwise impoverished and bulk grape production region. Plus their wines are excellent and expressive of the four types of soils and the very different types of vineyards the 80 farmers have.
Things to do and see at Poblet Monastery
After Capcanes, Monestir de Poblet is a great way to understand how the Church brought wine back to Spain after the Moorish occupation and the Christian Reconquest. It is also a UNESCO heritage listed site and a beautiful expression of Romanesque and Gothic art. Poblet is inhabited by 31 ordained Cistercian monks leading a monastic life. Tours are organised in Catalan and Spanish almost every hour and you can also visit on your own with a map but I recommend the tour if language is not an issue.
Best time to go
This is also a year round trip. Like with the cava region, the seasons will determine the look and feel of the vineyards. In winter, it can get pretty cold so wrap up, and the vineyards can even be covered in snow, which makes for an incredible sight. In summer, the area looks lush and inviting.
Things to do and see in Girona
Girona has centuries of history, beautiful architecture and rich heritage. It is one of the four provinces in the Autonomous Community of Catalunya and it is also the name of its capital. It has the same political status as Barcelona but it is significantly more peaceful. Thanks to the several rivers meeting in the city, it is often called the Venice of Catalunya.
The city is located 100km from Barcelona and it takes about an hour’s drive to get there. It is a beautiful 100,000 inhabitant city with colourful riverside houses and a rich heritage from the Romans to the Visigoths and the Moors until Charlemagne conquered the city, expelled the Moors and made it one of the fourteen counties of Catalunya in the 8th century. But troubles did not end there. For the following centuries, Girona suffered twenty-five sieges and was captured seven times. It was a County and a Duchy. Up until today, Princess Leonor of Asturias still carries the title of Princes of Girona.
Girona is also famous for its Jewish community which flourished in the 12th century when it had one of the most important Kabbalistic, or Judaist schools of thought, in Europe. But the presence of Jews in Catalunya, and in Spain, came to an end in 1492, the year of the discovery of America, when the Catholic Monarchs expelled them all from the Spanish territory. Nonetheless, the Call or Jewish getto, is one of the best preserved in Europe and should part of your visit.
Of course, if you can get a booking and can afford it, El Celler de Can Roca, several times chosen Best Restaurant in the world and currently second, is in Girona too. The city can be reached by train from Barcelona so you don’t have to drive. You can also squeeze in some wine visits in the Emporda Wine region.
Best time to go
Girona can be hot in the summer and cooler but pleasant in the winter. The best months to go are both spring and autumn, particularly June and September. In the summer, there are a lot of cultural events happening, free open air concerts, markets, etc. but it can be a little bit too hot for some. I personally love it.
5. Cadaques and Dali
This requires a longer drive than the other day trips from Barcelona listed here but it is so worth it. Start at Dali’s Museum in Figueres, a city close to the border with France, about an hour and a half drive from Barcelona, before you head off to Cadaques, a tiny fishing village at the end of a very winding road for a late lunch.
Dali – Genius or fool?
Dali was both a genius or a fool depending on how you look at it. His works of art, mostly painting and later on sculptures, jewelry, articles, books, movies and installations, were inspired by the French Impressionism first then by Surrealism. He was born in 1904 in Figueres and attended a French primary school, the vehicle through which he became in contact with French Art. His father sent him to Madrid in the 1920s to study Fine Arts and there is where he met other contemporary Spanish artists of his time like famous movie director Luis Buñuel and writer Federico García Lorca with whom he collaborated extensively throughout his career.
At the end of he 20s, Dali traveled to Paris for the first time, met Picasso and visited the Louvre. This was only the first of many other future visits where he came into contact with Surrealism, the influence that most strongly shows in his work.
Dali he was always a rebel. His work was shown in several galleries and exhibitions through the 20s but he never finished his Fine Arts degree because he was expelled several times from the school. From the 30s, Cubism, Impressionism and Futurism were well behind and he was a established Surrealist painter. Some of his most famous and acclaimed works were from that period. The well-known “The Persistence of Memory” with the abstract and melting clocks, were painted then.
Although Dali was a native from Figueres, he was born in a turbulent time so when the Spanish Civil War destroyed most of Spain and sat dictator Franco on the Government, he was well integrated into French society and lived in Paris. He travelled to the UK, Germany and the US on some of the first commercial ships to make the Atlantic crossing and eventually moved to the US when WWII Hitler’s troops took Bordeuax, where he was living in 1940. He expanded into American movies with the Marx Brothers and Hitchcock, entered into collaborations with theatre and jewelry makers and became more and more an all-rounded artist. His work continued to be Surreal, in all the senses of the word, also the most mundane one. In the 50s he returned to Spain and continued expanding into illustrations and touching on mystical topics. He wrote for The Herald and Vogue and continued to exhibit all over the world including the Georges-Pompidou Centre in Paris, London’s Tate Gallery, the New York Guggenheim and the MOMA, where his work was part of several exhibitions over the years.
In Figueres, one can visit his Theatre-Museum where some of his pieces and installations are on display. You will be mesmerised by the art and the illusions Dali played on the visitor. This is a museum that was built and designed by him as his home town paid him homage so he was involved in its creation before it opened in 1970, 14 years before he died. Dali spent his last years between the house in Portlligat, Pubol Castle, where he was appointed Marquis of Pubol by the Spanish King Juan Carlos I and his home in Figueres.
Aside from the museum in Figueres, his house in Portlligat, an extremely pincturesque and pretty fishing village right on the border with France, is the location of another of his house-museums. Gala, his wife and muse, died there and this is where he spent most of his working life in Spain until that moment.
In the summer, the Theatre-Museum also offers night tours if you are keen to do the itinerary the reverse order and enjoy a lazy day in Cadaques.
Cadaques is an incredibly beautiful fishing village, it is Santorini meets a real peaceful life. Although a very popular place to visit by locals, Cadaques still maintains the charm of a real village that has not succumbed to the tourism industry. It has a much quieter vibe than Santorini and people don’t come here to party. Its relatively isolated and peaceful status is surely thanks to its hard to reach location, a bit over 2h from Barcelona on a pincturesque but winding road. Don’t get me wrong, it is not particularly empty, in the summer time it is hard to find parking space because the village is tiny and the only access road narrow and practically one lane only. But when you get there, the air is still filled with the smell of freshly caught fish and traditional Havaneres songs are still sang in the summer nights. Havaneres talk about a time when Catalans fled to Cuba and a sort of native American music mixed with a type of Spanish music to create this lulling music. They are very famous of Calella de Palafrugel but can also be heard in Cadaques.
Despite its beauty and romantic feel, Cadaques seems to have avoided international stardom and is still frequented by mostly Catalans who either have a house there or in the surrounding villages and who come to have a seafood dinner by the water or launch on a small boat to reach the hidden bays in the area that cannot be accessed by road. If you visit, I promise it will not let you go without great memories
Best time to go
Although Figueres and Dali are and all year round visit, Cadaques is most beautiful in the hotter months. If you visit i Spring or Autumn you will see a much more peaceful place and some restaurants and shops may be closed. In the winter, almost all the village will be empty and all tourist services closed. Avoid August at all costs as the place becomes totally clocked and you won’t be able to get in, park or find a place to eat.
If you’d like to read more about Spain, check these posts…
- Catalan Christmas traditions – The shitter, the pooping log and the wise men
- Barcelona itinerary – Where a local would take you in 4 days
- Albet i Noya – the pioneer in organic winemaking in Spain
- Top-3 UNESCO countries: China, Spain and Italy – but why?
- Mercer Hotel Barcelona: Sleep between 2000 year old walls