The Costa Dorada begins to the west of Sitges on the coast of Catalonia and runs for over 200km as far as the Ebro Delta. Whilst it isn’t as well known as come of the more famous Spanish Costas to the south it still attracts more than 3½ million annual visitors.
The premier resort of the region is Salou which is a popular destination for family holidays thanks to its golden, sandy beaches and its proximity to one of Europe’s largest theme parks at PortAventura World. There are also a number of smaller resorts along this coastline such as the fishing port of Cambrils and the laid-back developments at Cap Salou and La Pineda.
Getting To Salou
Reus airport lies just 10km north of Salou and serves as the gateway to the Costa Dorada attracting many seasonal charter flights during the summer months. An airport bus operated by Plana Bus runs from the airport to Cambrils, Salou, Port Aventura and La Pineda with stops at numerous hotels, apartments and campsites en route. Taxi and private transfers are also available. The other nearest airport is Barcelona El Prat which lies 100km to the north-east of Salou.
Whilst the golden beaches of the Costa Dorada are the main attraction for holidaymakers, there are a number of unforgettable day trips available. Highlights include a visit to the historic Roman city of Tarragona, a day exploring Barcelona and a leisurely tour of the Catalan countryside with its medieval monasteries.
1. Explore Roman Tarragona
The Via Augusta was part of a network of roads built by the Romans which connected Rome with the Atlantic Ocean. It ran for approximately 1500km from Narbonne (Narbo Martius) in the South of France as far as Cádiz (Gades) passing through Tarragona (Tárraco) on its route. Whilst the origins of Tárraco can be traced back to the 3rd century BC, it was two centuries later when it reached its heyday as the capital of the province of Hispania Citerior.
Today the city is a World Heritage Site which is home to a remarkable selection of Roman remains which are listed by UNESCO as the ‘Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco’. Highlights of the historic centre of Tarragona include the Roman Amphitheatre, Provincial Forum and the Roman Circus. For a fascinating insight into the city’s history, a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona is highly recommended. Other impressive Roman sites near the city include the Ferreres Aqueduct (10km north) and Scipio’s funerary tower (12km east).
Tarragona lies just 10km north-east of Salou and can be reached on frequent bus services operated by Empresa Plana. There’s also a 10 minute train journey which operates from Port Aventura train station to Tarragona Estació.
2. Spend a Day at PortAventura World
Located just 5km north-east of downtown Salou, PortAventura World is an entertainment resort made up of two themes parks, a water park and five hotels. The complex is centred on PortAventura Park which is divided into six geographically themed areas with a selection of exciting rides for all ages. It is Spain’s most popular theme park with over 3.75 million annual visitors. The newest addition to PortAventura World is Ferrari Land which is another theme park dedicated to the Italian sports car brand. The resort is also home to the impressive Caribe Aquatic Park which has age-appropriate slides for all the family.
Empresa Plana provide regular bus services to PortAventura from Salou and the rest of the Costa Dorada. There’s also a train station in PortAventura World with connections to Tarragona and Barcelona Estació de França. You can book a combined ticket with the Rodalies de Catalunya train operator which includes entrance to PortAventura Park and rail transport from anywhere in Catalonia.
3. Visit Reus – Birthplace of Antoni Gaudí
The majority of tourists visiting the Costa Dorada are only aware of Reus thanks to its airport which serves as the gateway to the region’s holiday resorts. Few visitors realise that this attractive town located just 10km to the north of Salou was the birthplace of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). The esteemed architect was a Catalan modernist who designed some of Barcelona’s most famous buildings including the Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà and Park Güell.
There are also some beautiful modernist buildings in Reus which were designed by contemporaries of Gaudí. Most notable of these is Casa Navàs which was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923) who was another of the main exponents of Catalan Modernism. His most famous creations include the Hospital de Sant Pau, Palau de la Música Catalana and Casa Fuster in Barcelona.
Visitors to Reus should also visit the Gaudí Centre (Plaça del Mercadal) which is an interactive museum dedicated to the town’s most famous son. You can also pick up a map at the onsite tourist office which shows a walking modernist route through the centre of Reus. There are frequent Empresa Plana buses to Reus from Salou and all along the Costa Dorada.
4. Day Trip from Salou to Barcelona
Barcelona is one of Europe’s great city break destinations which lies just 110km to the north-east of Salou. The rail journey from Salou Port Aventura train station takes around 1 hour 30 minutes. Please note that the original train station in Salou was permanently closed in January 2020. There are also public bus services between the Costa Dorada and Barcelona as well as numerous tour agencies who arrange full day excursions.
A day trip from Salou to Barcelona provides just enough time for visitors to see some of Gaudí’s modernist buildings such as the Sagrada Família but isn’t enough time to do justice to this magnificent city. Other popular things to do in Barcelona for day trippers include a tour of FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp Stadium or a visit to Barcelona Zoo. Whilst any of these day trips from Salou can be done by public transport it’s well worth looking at what excursions are available with local tour operators.
5. Visit the Cistercian Monastery of Poblet
Poblet Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the town of Montblanc, some 50km north of Salou. It was founded in 1151 by Ramon Berenguer IV who bequeathed the property to a community of Cistercian monks. Poblet was one point of a triangle of Cistercian monasteries in the region which also included Vallbona de les Monges and Santes Creus.
Occupation of the monastery by monks continued until 1835 when it was closed and the buildings fell into disrepair until 1940 when work began to restore the property to its current glory. Unless you have your own car, getting to Poblet from Salou can be tricky as it involves catching a bus from Tarragona. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you book a day trip to Poblet Monastery with a local tour operator.
6. Escape to the Beaches of Cap de Salou
The 1200m long Platja de Llevant is Salou’s main urban beach which runs parallel to the resort’s Jaume I promenade. The beach is very well maintained with excellent facilities and ready access to many bars and restaurants. Naturally it becomes very busy during the summer months so many visitors seek out alternatives which aren’t so crowded. One such place is the lovely Platja dels Capellans which lies just 500m beyond the large rock at the eastern end of Llevant Beach.
For an absolute escape from the resort beaches you should make your way even further east to Cap de Salou which is home to a series of five rocky coves. This area lies approximately 4km from central Salou and is quite hilly so it’s best to go there by local bus or taxi.
7. Discover the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat
Dating back to the 11th century the Monastery of Montserrat is located some 120km north-east of Salou by road. It is best reached on an organised tour from the Costa Dorada or via Barcelona if travelling independently. The site is Catalonia’s most revered religious site which is home to a shrine dedicated to the Black Virgin of Montserrat (La Morenata). For most visitors the highlight of a visit to Montserrat is its stunning location amidst the jagged mountains which reach an altitude of 1,236 metres at Sant Jeroni. Visitors can reach the monastery by road, cable car (Aeri de Montserrat) or on the Montserrat Rack Railway (Cremallera Funicular).
8. Wine Tours from Salou and the Costa Dorada
The autonomous region of Catalonia is home to ten different wine regions including Penedès which is famous for its production of the sparkling white wine known as Cava. Central to the Penedès wine region is the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia which lies 80km to the north-east of Salou. It can be reached by train from Salou-Port-Aventura station with a change at San Vicente De Calders-Comarru but is best visited by car or on a pre-arranged wine tour.
Other local wine regions of interest include Priorat (DOQ), which lies in the region’s rural interior, and Tarragona (DO) which has produced wines since Roman times although most of its grapes are used by the vineyards of Penedès to produce Cava.
9. Day Trip from Salou to Andorra
A very long day trip which is surprisingly popular from the Costa Dorada is to Andorra which lies 200km north of Salou. The journey through some spectacular countryside takes the best part of three hours which means that most of your excursion is spent on a tour bus. Once in Andorra La Vella, the capital of the principality, you can spend some time wandering around its duty-free shops which are its main attraction.
You can get there from Salou by various combinations of trains and public buses but realistically it’s best to book a day excursion. This allows you to make the most of the limited time available at your destination during this long day trip.
10. Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre
Lovers of the great outdoors who feel like getting away from the crowds of the Costa Dorada should take a trip to the Parque Natural del Delta del Ebro. The wetlands surround the town of Deltebre which lies 85km south-west of Salou by road, or you could catch a bus or train to Amposta then take a taxi into the park. The Ebro Delta is one of Spain’s premier sites for birdwatchers which can be explored on foot, by bike or even on horseback.