The main airport of the area is el Prat, Barcelona, which is just 10 km from the centre of the city. As well as BA and Iberia, the airport is also served by BMI, EasyJet, Virgin Air, My TravelLite and other airlines. The best way into the centre of the city is by train – straight into Estació de Sants, which is where the bus station is, and Plaça Catalunya, at the start of Las Ramblas. There is also a direct Aerobús service which operates every 10 minutes into the city centre.
Other airports in Catalonia are the newly refurbished airport to the north at Girona, about a 90 minute bus ride from Barcelona; and the airport at Reus, near Tarragona and Port Aventura. Both of these airports are served by RyanAir, as well as many other carriers.
The Spanish train company, RENFE, offers excellent services into the region. A new high speed link with Madrid has recently been established to try to lessen the number of flights between the two cities, and there are frequent trains between the other three provincial capitals (Lleida, Tarragona and Girona) as well as Valencia, Zaragoza and the Basque country. A journey on one of the high speed and high tech trains is to be highly recommended; it is a great way to see the country and if you book a seat in Preferente– not much more expensive than Touristica – you can experience train travel at its best, with a meal, newspapers and a film to watch.
There’s a small Catalan train company, FGC, which serves some of the tourist routes and also has a funicular service operating in the Pyrenees.
Top Tourist Destinations in Catalonia
The main destination for tourists in Catalonia is, of course, Barcelona and you could spend the whole of your holiday in and around this fascinating city and still not see all of it. There are, though, many other places that are well worth visiting.
For example, the other three provincial capitals are themselves all interesting cities. Girona has an impressive medieval centre, full of narrow streets climbing above the banks of the Riu Onyar and is easy to explore on foot. With an imposing cathedral, with Europe’s widest Gothic nave, Spain’s only museum devoted to the cinema – which kids love – and an atmospheric Jewish quarter, Girona is a town often forgotten by tourists arriving at the airport and just looking for the road to Barcelona.
Lleida, situated on the Riu Segre, whilst less impressive than Girona, nevertheless has a grand sandy-coloured cathedral and the remains of an Islamic fortress.
The old Roman city of Tarragona, meanwhile, is a totally absorbing place, completely full of Roman remains, including the 200 metre long stretch of Roman aqueduct and the mighty amphitheatre next to the beach. And if the kids have had too much history you can promise them a day in nearby Port Aventura, still the biggest theme park in the country and with its own train station.
Of interest to many will be the so-called Salvador Dalí Triangle in north-eastern Catalonia. Starting from the Castell de Púbol, redecorated by the artist in his own inimitable style; leading to the delightful whitewashed fishing village of Cadaqués where he spent much of his early artist life; and finally the eccentric, multi-dimensional Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres.
A great day trip for those staying in Barcelona to consider is a journey out to Montserrat, an impressively weird shaped mountain with a monastery at its peak. If you’re going by train from Barcelona, this will give you the chance to reach the mountain by cable car – not for the faint-hearted. You can get the benefit of some amazing views towards the Pyrenees and, on a really clear day, you can even see Mallorca. Montserrat is the home of La Moreneta, the Black Virgin, a 12th Century wooden sculpture of the Madonna and child, which, since 1844, has been Catalonia’s patroness, or female patron saint. (Its patron saint, incidentally, is Saint George.)
Indicative of Catalonia’s infinite variety, perhaps, is the resort of Sitges, south of Barcelona and one of the most extravagantly gay places you could ever wish to visit! Sitges is so unconventional and fashionable that it is by no means a ‘gays only’ resort but it is a place for the uninhibited and lively.
Map of Catalonia
Things to do in Catalonia
It would be stating the obvious to claim that there is something for everybody in Catalonia but this really is the case. There is mountain climbing and wonderful trekking in the Pyrenees in the north. In addition, there is skiing in the winter, with Baqueira-Beret one of the top resorts, although many Spaniards like to go into Andorra as well.
In the south, the delta of the Río Ebro, with its flat and exposed wet lands is Spain’s most important water bird habitat. Especially popular with bird watchers during October and November, it is estimated that 10% of Spain’s water birds spend the winter here. It’s particularly famous for its colonies of flamingos and purple heron.
The Costa Brava provides some of the best diving in the whole of the country – the Illes Medes and Illes Formigues particularly having international reputations.
Festivals in Catalonia
There will not be a week in the year when there isn’t a festival somewhere in Catalonia but, if you can, keep an eye out especially for the chance to see Castellers – the human castle tradition of the Tarragona region. Literally hundreds of people balance on each other’s shoulders to create towers than can be terrifyingly high.
Equally as scary for the unaware are the Fire Runs or Devil’s Dances that often lighten up Catalan festivals. Old figures from pagan folk tales run through the dark streets carrying flames and fireworks – it’s clamourously noisy, potentially deadly and absolutely fascinating!
Many Catalan festivals will feature the far less intimidating fantasy dragons, enormous giants and colourful musicians who will accompany the processions on their way through the streets.
In Barcelona, around about September 24th are the festivities for La Merce, the city’s patron saint. April 23rd will see parties all over on Saint George’s Day and September 11th is the National Day of Catalonia. After being banned for many years during Franco’s time, the Carnivals of February have regained their prominent position – needless to say, Sitges has the reputation of being the most extrovert with its carnival parties at this time of the year.
Catalan Food and Drink
You won’t have eaten in a Spanish restaurant without the obligatory Crema Catalana being on the dessert menu but Catalan cuisine has more to offer than just this sweet creamy custard with the burnt sugar topping.
Catalans tend to favour sauces rather more than most of the rest of Spain and, for breakfast, they tend to go for Pa amb tomáquet, which is toasted bread rubbed with a paste of tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. Incidentally, experienced visitors who might want a sandwich mixto might like to know that in Catalonia this toasted cheese and ham sandwich is known as a bikini. Locals love eating wild mushrooms, snails and arròs a la Catalana, which is basically a paella cooked in an earthenware container and without the saffron.
But in an area with so much coast and also with the Pyrenees, you’ll find lots of mar i muntanya combinations on menus everywhere.
You’ll find many good local wines, especially robust reds, but Penedès is the largest and most productive wine growing area and is considered to be the birthplace of cava.
See Also: Catalonia Spain