The Best Day Trips From Barcelona, According To Rick Steves

With an alluring landscape of evergreen mountains, glistening coastlines, and salty Mediterranean air, Spain is the ultimate gateway to adventure in Europe. It's a melting pot of cultural heritage and diverse social atmospheres, with a balanced blend of cities that cater to the outdoor enthusiast, the city dweller, and the laid-back traveler seeking luxury and leisure. Best of all, travelers are relieved from picking favorites and sacrificing cities on a trip to Spain, with nearly all of its regions easily connected by road. As a result, Spain was named the best country in the world for road-tripping, thanks to its scenic highways, high road quality, and safety.

If anyone is qualified to give travel planning advice, it would be Rick Steves, given the author's expertise and activism in European travel. The TV personality shared his recommendations for the best day trips in Spain, with travelers basing their excursions out of Barcelona. While this Catalonian capital and epicenter of Spanish culture is a mecca for tourists, Steves encourages visitors to escape the beaten path and trod on undiscovered ground. According to Steves, hidden gems like Montserrat, Figueres, Cadaqués, and Sitges make a day trip well worth the extra miles. From towering mountains and sea coves to architectural remnants of a past left behind, each of these Spanish destinations contains a plethora of jewels that create a captivating canvas of culture, cuisine, and art.


Just an hour northwest of Barcelona lies Montserrat, a serene mountaintop destination home to an iconic monastery. This radiant hub of culture and history carries the nickname "the serrated mountain" because of its dramatic cliffs and unusual rock formations. Montserrat also bears a storied past and has been marked as a town of religious pilgrims and a holy site. Legend reveals a group of shepherds saw a light radiating from the side of the mountains in 880 A.D. and were divinely led to discover a hidden statue of the Virgin Mary, dedicating the town as a holy mountain. Ultimately, this discovery led to Montserrat's status as a religious symbol in Spanish culture and a sacred place of worship for natives. Today, the town is a colorful canvas of Spanish architecture that adorns many historic monasteries and religious sites, including Santa Maria de Montserrat, Benedictine Abbey, and the Black Madonna. 

The Santa Cova funicular railway is a scenic journey that traverses the valley of Montserrat Mountain and ventures to the same sacred cove where the Black Virgin was first discovered. Nature lovers will find the Sant Jeroni trail, a stunning voyage through the mountains of Montserrat. The Sant Joan funicular railway leads to the base of the mountain where the trailhead begins, guiding hikers to the highest peak in Montserrat. Food and wine jaunts are ubiquitous here, and many wine tours include guided trips to the many monasteries and vineyards that make Montserrat a beautiful destination for a picture-perfect wine vacation.


Located between the eastern Pyrenees mountains and Costa Brava, Figueres sits an hour and 27 minutes from Barcelona. As the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, the city is alive and bursting with artistic pieces that pay homage to the artist's heritage. The Dalí Theater-Museum is the primary beacon for tourists in this city, captivating visitors with the best of the artist's surrealism. It's not just the innovative and somewhat intriguing pieces of art housed inside this storied building that testifies to his artistic strengths. Dalí even helped design the exterior himself, down to the golden pillars and ornate figures atop the museum. The Dalí Theater-Museum is regarded as the largest representation of the surrealist movement in the modern era.

Museums aren't the only place where art exists in Figueres. It's hard to visit this Spanish city without stepping foot on La Rambla, named after the iconic street in Barcelona. This popular boulevard leads to a colorful and lively town square, branching off into a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys that are brought to life with a plethora of vibrant street art murals. Spanish tapas are just as much a part of this city's culture as its artsy terrain. El Motel is a family-owned Michelin-star establishment with an emphasis on both regional Catalonian plates and global flavors. Boasting an upscale flair, this restaurant and wine bar consists of an exquisite menu with unique items like zucchini flowers. However, the assorted cheese trolley is an absolute must!


Cadaqués is a coastal gem nestled in the county of Alt Empordà along the crest of the Mediterranean seashore, just around two hours from Barcelona. This seaport town in Costa Brava is a picturesque patch of paradise blanketed in sparkling beaches, patches of white powdery sand, and hidden coves tucked into the sides of the cliffs. Despite its growing reputation among tourists, there's only one road leading into Cadaqués and another out of it, testifying to its roots as a small port town on the Spanish coastline. 

The Camí de Ronda trail offers some of the best views in Cadaqués. This stretch of trail running through town begins near Dalí's house in Port Lligat and stretches to the Cap de Creus lighthouse. While the entirety of this trail stretches for miles from Blanes to Portbou, hikers in Cadaques can partake in a sweet snippet of this coastal trek. Art enthusiasts are recommended to visit the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí, the workplace of Dalí that still houses several of his artistic creations, along with personal mementos and custom furnishings. The old fisherman's hut that Dalí converted into a livable abode alongside his wife is one of the most coveted attractions in Cadaqués. While the artist was raised in Figueres, he spent many summers in this eastern coastal town.


Situated 24 miles south of Barcelona, Sitges is a small pocket of Spanish beauty clothed in 17 photogenic beaches. Often referred to as the "Saint-Tropez of Spain," Sitges is known for its swanky nightlife scene and annual horror film festival that attracts a younger, trendy crowd of tourists to its flower-lined streets. Sant Sebastià is where the locals are drawn, while Fragata Beach sits as a prominent family spot with volleyball nets and colorful umbrellas peppering the sand banks. This underrated coastal city has plenty of things to do. Sitges is surrounded by Garraf National Park, and its beauty spills into the interior of the town with a collection of lush flora whose buds of greenery add a pop of color to white-washed abodes. 

One of the best ways to soak in the culture of Sitges is by strolling its streets until you reach the sun-soaked beaches on the edge of the waterfront. Peruse the sights of Passeig Maritim, easily one of the most aesthetic streets in Sitges. Home to a collection of local cafés and shops, this scenic stroll eventually leads to the breathtaking view of the waterfront. Catalonia is the birthplace of cava, with the majority of this cultural beverage produced in the Penedores region. This patch of wine country lies directly inland from Sitges, making this town a prominent wine-tasting oasis. Cap off a day well spent in Sitges at La Zorra, which has no contenders when ranking the best paella in the town.


Just over an hour from Barcelona in northeastern Spain, Girona is limitless when it comes to fun and quirky hot spots that draw visitors into its city square. The city is home to a flourishing industrial scene that fuels its economy, with everything from milk pasteurization and flour mills to textile production and financial services. However, that's not all this Catalonian city has to offer. Medieval footbridges linking the river banks and condensed cobblestone streets make Girona an extremely pedestrian-friendly destination.  

Girona Cathedral might be one of the top attractions in this city, marked by ancient Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic architectural styles.  Religious artifacts and magnificent artistic remnants fill the interior. These give the cathedral a sacred, harmonious ambiance that shouldn't be missed on your day trip. Tucked amidst the streets of Barri Vell, keep an eye out for Plaça dels Raïms, a site that's easy to miss given the fact that it's the smallest square in Europe. Once the site of a grape market, it now makes for a popular photo op in Girona. 

Should you find yourself in Girona during spring, catch a glimpse of the iconic Temps de Flors festival that brings the city to life in a colorful outburst of flower buds. Neighborhoods, squares, and façades of buildings are adorned with floral installations in a public demonstration that celebrates the harmonious relationship between humans and nature. Incredibly, Girona welcomed a record-breaking number of more than 365,00 visitors for the 2023 Temps de Flors.