Weekends Guide for Expats
The beauty of living in Barcelona is being able to access both the beautiful coastline and inland mountains, which provide plenty of options all year-round. Although Catalunya has hundreds of places to explore, for a newcomer the best place to start is the coastline and inland South West of the city. Here are our top picks for places located 90 minutes or less from Barcelona.
What’s not to like about the Costa Brava? A little bit of paradise located 90 minutes outside of Barcelona and along the coastline, the Costa Brava has much to offer, especially in the summertime when you are longing to escape the heat and not be stuck in an empty city. There are several wonderful towns on the Costa Brava, Begur being one of the best. It is vital to make reservations at any of these towns in advance, especially during holiday weekends and the month of August. Each town has its own unique structure; several are built around castles. The beaches are typically rocky, but the Mediterranean water is magnificent and you are surrounded by nature and calm. Not to mention the gourmet factor – the dining on the Coast is unforgettable, from fresh seafood to homemade paellas, you will feel like you are in another world.
How to get there: Take the A-7(direction Girona) and continue onto the AP7. From here, take exit 9A and merge onto the C-35 then continue to the C-31 and exit as needed. There are also buses available between Barcelona and Palafrugell and Girona, as well as the Sarfa train.
Family fun factor: Medium-high. Beaches abound, good food at family-friendly restaurants and the little towns and castles leave lots to the imagination for the little ones! Parents can unwind over a nice glass of wine and fresh seafood.
If you are in the mood for a beach town, this is the place to be. With approximately 4 kilometers of golden, sandy beaches, Sitges is very easy to access from Barcelona and offers options for the whole family. Between beach-related activities – surf camp for kids, swimming and kite-surfing to name a few – Sitges also boasts the annual film festival and great, old “American” style houses. There are also several wonderful beachside bars or “chiringuitos” as well as more formal restaurants and bars for a night out on the town. It is also known for being very-gay friendly and the Carnaval celebration that takes place in Sitges is one of the best in Spain.
How to get there: Take the AP-7 in the direction of Sitges. There are also buses that and trains that run between the city center and Sitges. (All travel options take between 30-45 minutes)
Family fun factor: Medium-high – many fun, beach-related activities and lots of open play spaces and fresh air for small ones. The nightlife and history also make it appealing for adults.
Vilanova i Geltru
Vilanova i Geltru was once the most powerful city in Catalunya. It was an important trade and political center and although it has been extensively expanded and modernized, it retains its Gothic origins. There is a huge market every Sunday, selling everything from gourmet foods to cheap shoes as well as the expected visual feast of farm-fresh produce. Vilanova i Geltru has a beautiful beach line, which is less developed than nearby Sitges and you can hire a small catamaran by the day or the hour. Unmissable for kids and a lot of fun for adults, too. You´ll find the usual array of museums, churches, and historical sites as well here, and it makes a great starting point for a few hours if you are heading to the Cava Caves in the afternoon (about 15 minutes drive from Vilanova). End the day with dinner on the beach in Sitges (less than 20 minutes drive) and the three spots make the perfect Spanish day-excursion.
How to get there: Take the C-31 out of Barcelona towards Tarragona and follow the signs. Drive time is around 45 minutes.
Family fun factor: Medium. The beaches will be a big hit, but trawling around the markets or admiring ancient architecture may not be so well-received by the younger family members.
Catalunya is world-renowned for its Cava (basically the Spanish equivalent of Champagne) and rightly so. Not only is it among the best sparkling wine on the planet, but the area around Tarragona produces more than ninety percent of the total output. There are a number of Cava producers in the area (some small; these are the ones that let you pull up to the cellar door for sampling, chit-chat and purchase, and some large). Almost all of the large producers offer tours, but as most of them have modernized, the tours can be pretty boring: large steel vats, noisy environments, and monotonous viewing. The exceptions to this are Freixenet and Cordoniu. Both of these Cava houses retain the original caves that Cava was processed, bottled, and stored in. Caves are used because of the constant cool temperature and a guided tour is a fascinating exercise. Of the two houses, Cordoniu is the best value. The tour lasts for an hour and a half (cost is €6 per adult and €4 for children) and the value for kids is pretty high as there is a small train that takes you on a whirlwind tour of the 30 km of caves. Samples of the Brut and Rose are included at the end of the tour.
How to get there: You will need to have a car, or be coached in as part of a group tour. There is no public transport to Cordoniu or surrounding caves. Take the A2 out of Barcelona (heading North West) and take the Zaragoza/Tarragona/Lleida exit. This will lead you onto the freeway (Autopista) B-23 which will then feed you onto the A-7. Get off at exit number 27 and at the roundabout, follow the signs towards Sant Sadurní (the road number is BP-2427). After this, you will begin to see large signs that direct you straight to Cordoniu. The total drive time is around 35 minutes.
Family fun factor: Medium
Tarragona is an ancient city. It was first settled by the Iberians, then the Carthaginians, and eventually the Romans. It is a hugely important port town in Catalunya but is still enough off the beaten track that you will be able to appreciate it without being stomped by hordes of other holidaymakers. Tarragona has some of the best food around – even the ubiquitous ´Menu Del Dia´ (a two or three-course menu that every bar and cafe offers for less than €10) is much more inspired than the usual limp fare. Beaches, architecture, ruins (the amphitheatre is a must-see) and the local fiestas (including the yearly International Fireworks Display Competition held in the first week of July) makes Tarragona a mixed bag of fun for a day excursion (or an overnight). Because Tarragona is not a tourist hot-spot, it is pretty hard to find mid-priced accommodation. Head to Salou (about 15 minutes drive away) for more choices.
How to get there: By car, take the C-31 secondary road out of Barcelona (head South-West), then the B-10 (keep heading for Tarragona, the signs will be clear) and then take the C-32. From the C-32 you can get onto the A7 motorway. There will be a toll fee to pay when you exit. This is approximately 3 euros.
Family fun factor: High. There is enough to do that short attention spans will be well catered for.
Arguably one of the most beautiful areas in Spain, Montserrat is the home of the Black Madonna, a famous ebony statue of Mary and the baby Christ. This is the most sacred area in Catalunya and needs to be treated with respect when you are there. The monastery and surrounding landscape are absolutely breath-taking and if you are a fan of hiking, there is a good mix of difficulty levels in the nearby mountains.
How to get there: Most people visit Montserrat in a day and take the train. It really is the easiest way to get there and back and you can buy a ticket that includes the train and the Cable Car at Montserrat (take this option, especially if you have children). Take a train from the station at Plaça de Espanya in Barcelona. Tickets will cost around €4 for an adult and €2 for children. Get off at Montserrat Aeri, and you can transfer to the cable car from there. Signs are everywhere to help you along the way.
Family fun factor: High, but smaller children might be bored with the architecture.
Port Aventura is an amusement park and if you have children, it borders on criminal neglect if you don´t take them here. In the town of Salou, near Tarragona, Port Aventura has rides guaranteed to scare the pants off slightly older kids and plenty for the little ones to do as well. Because it is so close to Tarragona and Salou, you can stay overnight quite cheaply (Salou is better for mid-range accommodation options) and enjoy a change of pace the next day exploring the Roman ruins, restaurants and architectural glories in the area.
How to get there: By car, take the C-31 secondary road out of Barcelona (head South-West), then the B-10 (keep heading for Tarragona, the signs will be clear) and then take the C-32. From the C-32 you can get onto the A7 motorway. There will be a toll fee to pay when you exit. This is approximately 3 euros. You need to take exit 35 (Salida or sortida) which will be sign-posted ‘Port Aventura’. The total drive time is around one and a half hours. In summer you can catch a train from Barcelona to Port Aventura (see http://www.renfe.es for an accurate timetable). This is a less expensive option, but the trains are often not well air-conditioned and if you have access to a car, it is recommended to use it – particularly at the end of the day when you are dealing with tired kids.
Family fun factor: High, high, high