Barcelona is surrounded by natural beauty, and this is part of what defines the city. Because Catalonia is a small country, you can reach any place within it in less than five hours—so why not plan to visit some of the lovely areas outside Barcelona? There are many options that make terrific day trip destinations, and most of them—including the mountains and the seaside—are great any time of year. Since tourism is such an important industry in this country, just about every destination stays open year-round for visitors.
Personally, I’m a mountain man, so when it’s up to me, I always choose to head for higher ground when I want a break from the city. Making a trip to the sea is also a great choice, though—especially if you want to sample some great food. But whether you’re a gastronome, a wine expert, a music enthusiast, or an admirer of architecture, there’s a good day trip from Barcelona for you.
This is a mountain that shares a strong connection with the Catalan soul. There are many mystical legends about this place (for example, the Nazis once believed the Holy Grail was buried in these mountains; before that, ancient Romans built a temple here to honor the goddess Venus). The monastery here, Santa Maria de Montserrat, is home to a black Madonna (La Moreneta). It is also home to one of the best children's choirs in the world: l’Escolania de Montserrat. They perform every weekend; please, don’t miss them.
This recommendation is of special importance for wine lovers. Twenty years ago, El Priorat produced wines but was never considered an important region for viticulture. But today, most of the varietals produced here are shipped directly to places like the United States, Italy, or the north of Europe–and sell for very high prices. Take a tour among the vineyards here, with the sun at your back, so you can see for yourself what has changed in the past two decades.
This is my favorite city in Catalonia, for both historical and gastronomical reasons. It’s just an hour away from Barcelona (you can take the high-speed train) and it’s worth the effort to make a visit. The restaurants here are phenomenal, and cheaper than in the capital. I recommend Casa Marieta for their excellent traditional Catalan food and Draps for their large portions and incredible chocolate dessert. Another great reason to visit Girona is its Jewish quarter, one of the oldest in Europe, and probably the best preserved.
La Costa Brava
This is one the most beautiful seaside communities in Catalonia. Take a train in Plaça Catalonia (one of the ones heading to Massanet or Calella) and get off at Tossa or Blanes (about an 80-minute ride). Go into the center of town, or take a walk down the passeig—the huge avenue that runs along the beach—and enjoy a good meal at one of the many restaurants afterwards.
In this small town with some of the best beaches in Spain (my favorite is Portlligat), visitors can get a true taste of relaxation. Cadaques was for many years the home of Salvador Dalí, the legendary Catalan painter, and you can visit his splendid house-turned-museum; just be sure to book in advance, as there are no visits without reservations.