Catalonia is a region of contrasts: mountainous landscapes in the north and in the center, long sandy beaches and idyllic beach coves in the coastal areas, and flat marshes in the south. Tradition and modernity come together in the capital, Barcelona. The incredible diversity Catalonia has to offer attracts not only sun worshipers but also active vacationers and lone travelers. Salvador Dalí, Antoni Gaudí and Joan Miró are the most famous sons of Catalonia. Perhaps Catalonia was such an inspiration to so many well-known artists because of its beautiful environment and unique culture. Discover the secret yourself by spending your Spanish holiday in Catalonia.
Most important regions & places at a glance
Catalonia © Hotel Vistabella
Costa Brava: Wild nature, Activities & Water sports
Steep coastlines with hidden coves – Costa Brava impresses with its wild beauty and is a paradise for hikers, cyclists and water sports enthusiasts. Picturesque places like Cadaqués, Port Lligat or Girona have managed to retain their character.
Wild landscapes: Steep slopes with beautiful bays, pine forests and hidden beaches characterize the Costa Brava, which stretches over 200km from the French border at Portbou all the way to Blanes. Most of the prettiest sandy and rocky bays are located in the northern part of the coast and in the area of Tamariú.
Tourist center: The south at Tossa de Mar and Lloret de Mar is especially popular with package tourists. Girona and Figueres in the interior are well-visited destinations, but have retained their Catalonian character. For art and culture lovers, the Costa Brava is a veritable paradise boasting the most important works of Modernist architect, Antoní Gaudí and three Dalí pilgrimage sites.
Coastal town & Active holiday: The picturesque coastal town of Port Lligat, south of the Cap de Creus nature reserve, attracts a mixed crowd. With its white houses, narrow cobbled streets and adjoining fishing boats, the picturesque artist village invites visitors to take a romantic stroll. Also very worth seeing is the house of Salvador Dalí, Casa-Museu Dalí, which is hidden in a fjord-like bay of this former fishing village. On the way to Cap de Creus, about 8km away, the Costa Brava shows off its wild beauty with its imposing cliffs and numerous small bays. Hikers and mountain bikers will love the many paths along Cap de Creus with spectacular views of the coast.
Water Sports: The well visited Gulf of Roses offers excellent opportunities for water sports enthusiasts. Windsurfers especially come here because of the favorable wind conditions completely at their disposal. The nature reserve, Illes Medes is a true diver’s paradise. The six small islands are less than 1,5km from the coastal town of L’Estartit and have a unique underwater landscape. It is also the perfect place to snorkel.
Costa Daurada: Beach vacation, Culture & Hiking
The Costa Daurada offers golden sandy beaches, a mountainous hinterland and numerous historical monuments. The Roman Tarragona, the Cistercian monasteries Santes Creus and Poblet as well as the amusement park, Port Aventura attract hoards of visitors.
Dreamlike sandy beaches & Tourist center: Seemingly endless golden sandy beaches characterize Costa Daurada - the "golden" coast. The 200km long southern coast of Catalonia stands in stark contrast to the small bays of the Costa Brava. In particular, the upper part, from Torredembarra to Tarragona, is chockablock with hotel towers and apartment complexes. Further down, it is not so dence. The south-facing holiday center, Salou attracts visitors, in particular package tourists, with its attractive palm-tree promenades and recreational activities. Away from mass tourism there are a few small towns - such as Creixell with its sand dunes - which have retained their original charm.
Culture & Monasteries: Culture lovers should not miss a trip to the hinterland. There are two pretty Cistercian monasteries, the Monestir de Santes Creus and the Monestir de Poblet, on the N240 heading towards Lleida. The latter is one of the most important monasteries in Spain and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Also worth seeing is Tarragona with its numerous Roman relics. The capital of the Costa Daurada is also a World Heritage Site. If you want to experience some medieval flair, stop by at Montblanc. The well-preserved city walls and the sweeping lanes that lead past the 12th-century buildings, as well as the regular folk festivals, bring the past back to life.
Amusement park: Near Salou is Europe’s second largest amusement park - Port Aventura. The North American styled theme park run by Universal Studios is a popular destination for thrill seekers of all ages.
Hiking in the hinterland: In the hinterland, hikers will find beautiful mountain landscapes, which are perfect for hiking in all seasons thanks to the almost year-round temperate climate. The Montsant is - as the name suggests - a sacred place. Imposing, it rises above the vineyards of the Priorat and offers a wealth of flora and fauna despite its seemingly bare appearance. The adjacent Serra de Prades mountain range, along with Poblet Nature Reserve, boasts beautiful forests and is ideal for sports excursions thanks to its well-developed hiking trails.
Pyrenees: Skiing, Whitewater sports & Originality
The unspoiled nature and high mountains in the north of Catalonia are perfect for active vacations. In the Aigüestortes Nature Reserve, hikers and mountain bikers will be pleased by its ideal conditions. The Riu Noguera Pallaresa is internationally regarded as the best location to enjoy white water sports.
Skiing & Active vacations: The Pyrenees extend from the Cap de Creus on the Costa Brava to the Val d’Aran in the east. Away from mass tourism, the mountainous region has largely preserved its uniqueness. The Pyrenees have a lot to offer active vacationers. With deep gullies, remote valleys, rivers and tiny villages nestling in the mountainous landscape, the conditions for sporting activities are perfect. In winter, the region turns into a popular ski resort, especially beloved by the French.
Nature Reserve: There are very well-developed hiking trails in the only nature reserve in Catalonia, the Parc Nacional d ’Aigüestortes i Sant Maurici. Over 200 lakes, waterfalls and springs make this area a paradise for nature lovers. It is also worthwhile to visit the valley of Boí, where you can discover small Romanesque churches with very pretty murals in lush green meadows.
Wild water sports: From April to August, the Raft Noguera Pallaresa valley is home to the international rafting community. With its 40km of navigable white water, this river area is the most famous in the rafting scene in Spain. Canyoning is also very popular with the gorges of Pallars and La Pobla de Segur being the most ideally suited.
Panoramic Road: If you are traveling by car, you should take a trip north from La Pobla de Segur. The views of the Pyrenees countryside along the winding panoramic road are stunning.
Central Catalonia: Individual travelers, Hiking & Thermal springs
The heart of the region offers many attractions for individual travelers. There are numerous charming places away from mass tourism, like Vic, famous for its sausages. Hikers can travel to the popular pilgrimage area Montserrat, and those who seek relaxation should head to the thermal springs at Caldes de Bui and La Garriga.
Montserrat pilgrimage: Just because there is less mass tourism in the heart of the region, doesn’t mean that there aren’t any popular destinations in central Catalonia. Hordes of tourists flock to the pilgrimage town of Montserrat, just 40km from Barcelona, to see the legendary Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Traditional products such as mató, a cream cheese similar to ‘quark, ’ are on offer at a market in front of the monastery every day.
Challenging Hiking: Montserrat’s peaks are shaped like a hand saw and so it is also known as the serrated mountain. The mountain range offers plenty of opportunities for mountain biking and hiking. The area has a lot to offer climbers, and the routes are quite demanding, so it’s especially attractive to experienced mountaineers.
Medieval flair & Charcuterie in Vic: The C17, about 60km north of Barcelona, offers a stopover in the small mountain town of Vic. It is definitely worth your while to take a stroll through the narrow, winding streets of the beautiful old town and take in the special flair of the medieval town. The main square, Plaça Major, made of sandstone, completes the historic image of Vic. You should also try the sausage products known throughout Catalonia. The Butifarras de Vic, which are made with honey or cream cheese, are available at every butcher and marketplace. Also worth seeing are the salt mines of Cardona and the city of Manresa, one of the oldest in Catalonia. If you want more than just a stopover, you could book a stay at the child-friendly hotel, Parador de Vic-Sau.
Thermal springs: Tourists in need of some down time will find a wide range of modern spa facilities in central Catalonia. The thermal baths of Caldes de Montbui are especially popular. The Romans are supposed to have bathed in the 70°C hot springs. During a tour of the town, numerous Roman artefacts, washing tubs and fountains demonstrate how important water is to Caldes. The much smaller and quieter village, La Garriga is also a popular destination for those seeking rest and relaxation. An excursion to the adjacent Montseny Nature Park for hiking or mountain biking is also highly recommended.
Costa del Garraf & Sitges: Dream Beaches, Locals & Champagne Center
Sitges is a charming town with a beautiful beach and a mixed crowd. Mostly locals swim at Castelldefels and Garraf. A detour to Penedès to the Cava cellars is recommended.
Beaches away from mass tourism: Costa del Garraf refers to the short stretch of coast south of Barcelona to Vilanova i la Geltru. The beach resorts of the Costa del Garraf enjoy great popularity. Castelldefels, in particular, is popular with the locals, who come in droves along with the whole family, including camping chairs and tables, as well as the typical Bocadillos, and make themselves comfortable on the long, wide, sandy beaches. The much smaller beach bays of Garraf are a bit more picturesque. However, it can get very crowded here because the beach offers few alternatives due to its natural limitations.
Scene Town Sitges: Less than half an hour south of Barcelona, Sitges attracts a mixed crowd. Here you won’t see any package tourists, but rather lots of day trippers from Barcelona. It is wonderful to take a stroll down the small cobbled streets, and be enchanted by the flair of the picturesque town center with its numerous white houses. Here you can splash out on the latest fashion trends in the many chic boutiques, or you can watch the hustle and bustle of the trendy city while enjoying a tasty fish dish at a restaurant on the beach promenade. At night, Sitges transforms into party central. The crowd is a mixture of young locals and the gay scene.
Champagne cellars in Penedès: Lovers of bubbly should make their way into the hinterland. Just off the A7, in the wine-growing area of Penedès, is the small town of Sant Sadurní, which boasts the capital of Cavas. A visit to the wineries is worth it just because of the kilometer-long storage tunnels. The production area of Penedès is the most important one in Catalonia.
Delta de l’Ebre: Plain, Untouched nature & Cycling
The pristine landscape of the Delta de l’Ebre is a paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers. With a little luck, you could catch a glimpse of flamingos in the wild. Rice fields, marshes and mountains invite you to go hiking and cycling.
Untouched nature: Still undiscovered by mass tourism, the Delta de l’Ebre is one of the best examples of untouched nature in Catalonia. The lowland area, in which the Ebre River flows into the sea, exists in stark contrast to other regions of Catalonia. The delta is a paradise for those seeking peace - sprawling paddy fields inland, large lagoons, swamps and dunes characterize the region and invite visitors to have a wander. Just don’t forget your mosquito repellent!
Bird sanctuary & Sleepy villages: Nature lovers and birdwatchers can observe a variety of bird species in this landscape pervaded by channels. If observing a large flock of flamingos in the wild is your dream, you should follow a small dirt road from the beach to the peninsula, La Banya. Take some patience and binoculars with you while you wait for the natural spectacle. Extensive cycling tours can also be undertaken in this region. The small, sleepy villages with thatched roof houses are best explored by bike.
Mountainous hinterland by bike or boat: On a trip into the hinterland, you can enjoy views of the wide river valley from the mountainous nature park, Els Ports. The area is also perfect for hiking and mountain biking. If you want to discover the delta from the river, you should take a boat trip.
Barcelona: Sightseeing, Shopping & Architecture
The cosmopolitan capital of Barcelona enchants with its historic old town, and fascinating modernist and modern architecture. A visit to the Sagrada Família, the unfinished masterpiece by Antoní Gaudí, is a must. For shopping, take a stroll through the winding old town. Not only package tourists enjoy swimming and sunbathing on the long city beach.
Architecture & Culture: The Catalan capital combines modern, cosmopolitan flair with a historic center and extravagant architecture. The modernist buildings are particularly worth seeing, especially the Sagrada Família. The world famous basilica of Antoní Gaudí is the symbol of the city. The Palau de la Música by Lluís Domènech i Montaner is not only an architectural masterpiece, but also a concert stage for many famous musicians. Those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city center can enjoy the wonderful views of the city from the green Parc Montjuïc or from the highest mountain in Barcelona, the Tibidabo.
Cosmopolitan strolling & Shopping: Plaça Catalunya is a good starting point for a stroll through the city center. This is where Barcelona’s most famous boulevard, the Rambles, begins. Down to the harbor, the almost 1,5km long promenade is packed with street artists, shoe shiners and caricaturists. If you want to go shopping, make a detour to the left into the winding streets of Barri Gòtic. You will find all the major fashion labels such as the Spanish brands of Zara, Mango and Desigual, international heavyweights like H&M in the historic old town’s small boutiques. On the other side of Plaça Catalunya, on Passeig de Gràcia, are countless elegant high-end boutiques and luxury labels. There are many boutique and design hotels in Barcelona, such as the H10 Urquinaona Plaza with its sophisticated rooftop terrace or the Hotel Villa Emilia in Zen style.
Colorful nightlife: The nightlife scene in Barcelona is quite fragmented. Port Olímpic’s waterfront has a number of chic nightclubs where tourists and locals alike party the night away. Super chic nightclubs are also found in Eixample and the upscale neighborhood of Tibidabo. El Raval and Gràcia are somewhat more alternative, and the bars and nightclubs are much smaller and more individual. The old town, El Borne, offers a variety of small cocktail bars, with the opportunity to sit outside, and is especially popular with tourists and ex-pats. Good fish restaurants with traditional charm can be found in the former fishing district of the city, La Barceloneta, which is located directly on the sea.
Lively beaches & Nudism: The almost 4,5km long sandy beach of Barcelona starts just behind the port district of Port Vell. The first sections from Barceloneta to Port Olímpic are very popular with package tourists and can get very crowded in the summer. The buzz of beachcombers, beverage and snack vendors, tattoo artists and open-air bodybuilders turns the beach into a veritable concert stage. Recreation seekers will get their money’s worth in the back sections. Locals like to swim at the quieter beach, Bogatell or on the Nova Icària, which is perfect for beach sports with its four large volleyball courts. Right behind Bogatell things are a bit more liberal. In recent years, the Mar Bella has become the unofficial nudist beach of the city.
Tarragona & Surroundings: Roman relics & Quality wine
The capital of the Costa Daurada is home to some of Spain’s most important Roman relics and attracts culture lovers. Wine connoisseurs can sample delicious, high-quality wines in Tarragona and the surrounding areas.
Roman relics: In Tarragona and surrounds, the remains of the former Roman Empire are densely strewn. The monumental complex of ancient Tarraco includes a portion of the Roman city walls, remains of the provincial forum, and the Roman circus. Particularly worth seeing are the relics of the amphitheater, located on the seashore, which blends into the Mediterranean landscape beautifully. The vaults of the Roman circus give an interesting insight into the underworld of the city. The Roman relics are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites and belong to the most important ancient Roman heritage in Spain. If you want to walk along historical trails, book a stay at the Parador de Tortosa. The medieval fortress towers over the banks of the Ebro.
City stroll with sea views: The Rambla Nova is ideal as a starting point for a stroll through the city. You won’t find more enchanting views of the sea than those at the far end of the popular boulevard, the Balcó del Mediterrani, the balcony of the Mediterranean, high above the coast. The picturesque old town of Tarragona is quite small and can easily be explored on foot. Plaça de la Font has a variety of good restaurants with terraces, where you can build up your strength with a few tapas or a café con leche while enjoying great views of the city.
Quality wines: Tarragona is famous for its high-quality white wines that blend well with the maritime cuisine of the coastal region. Further inland is Priorat, an area well known for its wine-growing, where mostly red wines are produced. A wine tasting is recommended, especially since the picturesque landscape lends itself wonderfully to excursions. In the springtime, wine tasting can be perfectly combined with a calçotada. The traditional spring onion meal, to be eaten with your hands, is a culinary experience in Catalonia.
Girona & surroundings: Picturesque atmosphere, Hiking & Art
The picturesque old town of Girona exudes a special flair with its hanging houses by the river. The volcanic landscape of La Garrotxa offers numerous wonderful hiking trails. A visit to the curious Teatre-Museu by Salvador Dalí is a must.
Old town & Hanging houses: The capital of the Costa Brava might not necessarily make a good first impression. But, walking through the medieval old town, you simply can’t deny Girona’s charm. Its winding streets lead to magnificent churches and palaces, as well as to the cathedral of the city. The Riu Onyar, which divides the city in half, gives Girona a special ambience. The picturesque line of red and yellow houses that hang over the river is probably the most photographed motif in the city. You should also climb the narrow staircases of the former Jewish quarter, El Call.
Volcanic landscape: Located in the north of Girona, the La Garrotxa Natural Park is ideal for hiking trips. The lush, green, inactive volcanic landscape has a lot to offer with its large forest areas, hills and good hiking trails. Also recommended is a detour to Besalú. The pretty village is a listed heritage site and is one of the most beautiful in Catalonia. After a stroll through its narrow streets, the Plaça Prat de Sant Pere, with its flower pots and benches, is just the right spot to take a breather.
Art sightseeing: No one would drive to Figueres to visit the city. There are hardly any monuments there - but the artist Salvador Dalí’s, Teatre-Museu attracts a considerable number of visitors. Between 1961 and 1971, the artist transformed a theater destroyed by a fire into his personal theater museum. It is, as expected, extremely bizarre and has almost nothing in common with a conventional museum.
Catalonia - Good to know:
Year-round destination: Due to its diverse landscape, the climate varies widely. The coastal regions are particularly pleasant with dry summers and temperate winters and, therefore, the perfect year-round destination. The perceived temperatures in winter are usually below the actual, so the winter months are less suitable for a beach holiday. In the mountainous regions, the winters are very cold whereas the summers are extremely hot. The pleasant temperatures and striking colors in the hinterland make the spring and autumn months ideal for active vacationers. Those traveling alone are advised not to go in August. In the "holiday month" of the Spaniards, many shops close their doors and the popular travel and excursion destinations are flooded with tourists.
"Catalonia is not Spain": Travelers should not forget that the region of Catalonia has a special status in Spain both historically and culturally. Thus, many older Catalans do not speak Spanish at all, especially not in the smaller towns of the mountain region where only Català is spoken. A few words in Catalan such as "Bon dia" (Good day) often works wonders to get a conversation going with the inhabitants of Catalonia, who are often considered close-minded. The Catalans are well aware of their special position and do not want to be lumped together with the rest of Spain. You will often hear or read "Catalunya no es España" - Catalonia is not Spain - in the region. Bullfights are banned, and flamenco is not very popular. Instead, the sardana is an expression of national identity. This slow dance is mainly danced and enjoyed by older people.
Vacations with children: Catalonia’s natural diversity makes the area extremely attractive for a family vacation. The beaches of the Costa Daurada and the bays of the Costa Brava are ideal for a beach holiday with children. In the numerous aqua-parks - combined recreational and swimming parks - young and old alike can have fun. Catalonia has become geared to family vacationers and offers more and more sports and leisure activities geared specifically to children. The well-developed infrastructure makes traveling within the region very easy, and airports in Barcelona / El Prat, Girona or Reus make arriving as easy as pie.
Travel by car / train / bus: If you want to explore the heart of the region with its idyllic villages, you should travel by car. However, the highways in Catalonia are tolled and not exactly cheap. Trains offer some alternatives, as they are cheaper, and the railways connect the most important cities. On the Costa Brava, many places, including Cadaqués, can only be reached by bus or car.