Things to Do in Catalonia
Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.
With its jumble of stone-brick houses clinging to the edge of a soaring basalt cliff and a backdrop of forested mountains, the tiny town of Castellfollit de la Roca offers some striking photo opportunities. From afar, this is one of Catalonia’s most unmistakable postcard images, but looking out from the 50-meter-high clifftop provides an equally mesmerizing view, spanning the lush valleys of the Fluvia and Toronell rivers.
Despite its magnificent location, Castellfollit de la Roca has little more than 1,000 inhabitants, making it one of Catalonia’s smallest towns and the smallest in Girona. Visitors, however, are plentiful and the narrow streets, medieval squares and 13th-century church of St. Salvador offer a fascinating glimpse into a time long gone.
If there’s one sight that will successfully peel you away from the Tarragona beach, it will probably be the neighboring Tarragona Amphitheatre (Amfiteatre de Tarragona). The seaside stadium was constructed in the 2nd century AD and carved directly out of the bedrock below. It fit up to around 15,000 spectators, who came to watch grueling matches between gladiators and wild animals, and even to view public executions.
Your visit there today will be decidedly less dramatic. You can explore the theater, walking through the stadium’s center that is home to the remains of both a 6th-century Visigoth church and a later 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church. Meanwhile, informative signage around the grounds will ensure that you get a better understanding of the ancient theater’s history and sights.
The baroque facade of the Girona Cathedral (Catedral de Girona) stands at the top of a grand staircase, high above the old city. The structure was built between the 11th and 18th centuries in a variety of styles: The cathedral boasts a Romanesque cloister and tower, Gothic nave (the widest of its kind in the world), and a baroque exterior.
Antoni Gaudi spent 15 years designing and building the whimsical fountains, mosaic benches, pedestrian walkways, and gingerbread house-like buildings within Park Güell, one of the seven Works of Antoni Gaudi buildings that together make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the hilltop public park sits at the top of Barcelona’s must-see list, and for good reason. The Art Nouveau wonderland adorns many a postcard of the city.
One of Antoni Gaudi’s most intriguing creations, the spectacular Casa Mila—also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry) because of its wave-like stone exterior—caused some controversy among critics when it was first unveiled back in 1910. Today, however, Casa Mila is considered a masterpiece of Catalan Modernisme, with gaggles of visitors coming to see its surreal sculptural roof terrace, the re-created early 20th-century interiors of the Pedrera apartment, and the attic-level Espai Gaudi exhibit, which is devoted to the great Catalan architect’s work.
Once the sun goes down on the beaches of Salou, there’s still a lot more to see here: a proper magic show. Head to the House of Illusion, a fan-favorite for its evening performances packed with magicians, comedy, mind reading, audience participation, and loads of magic.
The show is more than just magic, too, as it begins in a pre-theater parlor before moving into a grand theater of candle-lit tables. It is there that you not only marvel at the wizardry but also chow down on an all-inclusive meal that comes with an unending flow of wine, beer, and soft drinks. Not hungry? Join the later show, which includes only the eternal supply of drinks, but still with all the entertainment.
The region of Girona offers so much more than just Catalan culture and historic towns; it’s also got a veritable nature wonderland called La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park in English, Parque Natural de la Zona Volcánica de la Garrotxa in Spanish, and Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa in Catalan.
Volcanic the park is, indeed, as it is home to 40 (dormant) volcanic cones, and 20 basaltic lava flows, making it the most prized volcanic landscape on the Iberian Peninsula.
You can explore La Garrotxa’s park by setting off on one of its 28 different walking routes, many of which interconnect, and many that take you beyond the region to others. During your adventures, climb to the top of Santa Margarida volcano to spy the see-it-to-believe-it Roman chapel that sits within it; get lost in the beech tree-filled forests of La Fageda d'en Jordà; and make stops at some of the region’s most beloved villages, such as Olot and Besalu.
A short drive off into the hills of Tarragona, and alongside a busy highway, sits one of the region’s most prized and yet very unexpected sights: a proper Roman aqueduct: Les Ferreres Aqueduct (Pont del Diable). Though its construction date isn’t quite certain, it’s believed to have been built during the time of Augustus – from 27 BC to 14 AD – and used to cover a much longer distance.
Also called the Devil’s Bridge (after a legend that it was built by the Devil himself), the aqueduct resides among a forest of trees and greenery, which is crisscrossed by trails suitable for biking and walking. While there, wonder among the woodland, have lunch at the park restaurant’s outdoor terrace, and, best of all, go for a stroll atop the Roman aqueduct itself, which used to transport water to the ancient city of Tarraco (now Tarragona).
Girona, one of Catalonia’s most atmospheric towns, is also home to one of the world’s best-preserved Jewish quarters, known as El Call. This neighborhood dates back to the 12th century when Girona was home to a thriving Jewish community. Its maze of medieval streets and narrow back alleys hasn’t changed much in the centuries since.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of the Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. The cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a Gothic portico where 13 geese wander.
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) dates back to the Middle Ages, and the neighborhood’s age is evident in its narrow winding roads, shady plazas, and beautiful architecture (including three major cathedrals). Passersby find gems tucked away in the nooks and crannies off the narrow streets—think trendy restaurants, chic bars, and boutique shops. The area's proximity to the La Rambla pedestrian mall also contributes to its popularity among the young, nightlife-loving crowd.
Located about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Barcelona is Montserrat Mountain, the 'Serrated Mountain.' This unique rock formation, sawed and sculpted by thousands of years of wind and rain, is most famously home to a Benedictine monastery, an important Catholic pilgrimage spot thanks to its 12th-century wooden statue of La Moreneta (The Black Madonna), Catalonia's patron saint. Aside from its religious and cultural importance, the mountain also boasts unbeatable views from its peaks.
Passeig de Gràcia is one of the most beautiful—and expensive—avenues that runs through the center of Barcelona. The thoroughfare links the Placa Catalunya in the Eixample district to the eponymous Gracia neighborhood, and is home to a number of fantastic modernista and art nouveau buildings, including some stunners by Antoni Gaudí.
One of Barcelona’s most fanciful buildings, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by celebrated Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and is nicknamed the “House of Bones” for its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars. Casa Batlló’s interior is equally mind-boggling, featuring rippled walls, exquisite tile work, and sculpted fireplaces.
Halfway between Barcelona and the French border lies the town of Palafrugell, a jumping-off point to some of the prettiest and most pristine areas of the Costa Brava. Enticing spots include the fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell, Cap Roig promontory, and the beachy villages of Tamariu, Aiguablava, Fornells, and Llafranc.
Surrounded by walls and marked with winding cobblestone streets, medieval Pals still has many of its aged stone arches, walkways, and balconies. A Romanesque tower dates back to the 11th century, while the Mirador del Pedró provides a lookout over the sea and surrounding Catalonian landscape dotted with citrus groves and rice fields.
Barcelona's most famous street, Las Ramblas runs from the Columbus Monument in Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya. To walk its tree-shaded pedestrian expanse is to be inundated with sensation: souvenir hawkers selling beach blankets and trinkets, street performers posing for selfies with tourists, florists adjusting their arrangements, restaurants serving tapas and paella at al fresco tables, and artists painting caricatures for passersby. It's a microcosm of Barcelona, and it's almost always busy, day or night.
See pretty much all of Girona’s sights, but from afar, during a walk along the city’s roughly 3-kilometer-long Passeig de la Muralla. This path takes visitors along the tops of Girona's city walls, from which you can see all of Girona and beyond — from the rooftops of the cathedral to the mountaintops of the distant Pyrenees.
It is said that some of the oldest parts of the city walls date back to the first century during Roman times, with portions later destroyed during the expansion of the city in the 19th century. Many of these gaps have since been filled in, making it possible for visitors like you to take a seamless journey around Girona. During the visit, you can scale various towers for better views, or duck down off the walls to explore more of the city itself. The best part? The whole experience is free of charge.
The Onyar River (Riu Onyar in Catalan or Río Oñar in Spanish) will likely be your first and most lasting impression of Girona, its rainbow-colored-building-lined waters a warm welcome and unforgettable sight. Their dazzling appearance invites you to journey to the other side of the bank — the eastern side — where you’ll discover more of the city’s treasures, held within its old town.
But before you get there, you’ll likely cross one of the Onyar’s many bridges. Your eye will undoubtedly be drawn to its most peculiar and perhaps even familiar bridge, the Pont Eiffel. Indeed, this red, cage-like crossing is reminiscent of a more famous structure of the same name, the Eiffel Tower. This is, of course, because they share the same designer (the bridge was constructed in 1877, just before the tower). Once you arrive on the eastern bank, feed your river curiosity by visiting Casa Maso, the only waterside building open to the public, and once home to its namesake architect.
Flanked by the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts skyscrapers, the Port Olímpic was built as part of the area’s redevelopment in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. With its proximity to the beach and its iconic public art (including Frank Gehry’s Peix), it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city and a busy marina.
If you tire of the crowds at many of Girona’s most popular sights, then the Arab Baths (Banys Arabs de Girona) will be just the perfect remedy. These 12th-century baths – or, rather, what used to be baths – are Romanesque in style and feature typical components such as cool and warm rooms, a changing room and a steam room. What they don’t feature: the hustle and bustle of other tourist stops.
A visit includes a guided brochure that will take you through each of the different rooms. Highlights include the octagonal, column-surrounded central pool that sits below a light-filled cupola, and a visit to the rooftop, where you can spy unique views of the city and cathedral. And though the visit is short, the entrance fee is nominal, making this otherworldly escape a worthy stop during your time in Girona.
One of Europe’s largest and busiest cruise ports, Barcelona welcomes more than 2.5 million cruise passengers each year to its docks at the foot of Las Ramblas. The Catalan capital makes a popular stop and starting point for Mediterranean cruises, including liners operated by Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Costa.
Old and new Barcelona meet in Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya), the famous plaza in the heart of the city. Two massive avenues, La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia, converge here too, as do many walking tours and other groups. The square is located near some of Barcelona’s top attractions and is filled with cafés, bars, and restaurants.
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- Things to do in Tarragona
- Things to do in Girona
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