Barcelona is one of Europe’s top destinations to visit, welcoming well over seven million visitors each year. There’s no denying that it’s a great city but if you just visit Barcelona without exploring the rest of Catalonia, then you’re missing out. Here are some of the top places to visit in Catalonia that offer something different to the Catalonian Capital.
You may recognise Girona, not for its medieval architecture or cobbled streets, but as the setting for scenes in the sixth season of Game of Thrones. But of course there’s more to see than just re-tracing the steps of Arya Stark!
The old part of the city is easy to get around on foot and includes the Cathedral, Arab baths and Basílica de Sant Feliu. Don’t forget to explore the city walls as you’ll be rewarded with a great view over the city. For film fanatics, the Museu del Cinema holds an impressive collection of more than 20,000 pieces from the invention of the cinematograph up until modern times.
Girona also boasts the world renowned restaurant Cellar de Can Roca, which has been voted the world’s best or second best restaurant for several years running. Be warned however the restaurant does have a 12 month waiting list and you’ll need a healthy bank balance. An alternative is to visit the ice cream shop of one of the Roca brother’s, Rocambolesc, which offers delicious ice cream flavours. My personal favourite is baked apple.
If you’re around Girona in May then don’t miss the Girona flower festival, which takes over the old part of the city with displays shown in every nook and cranny.
Those looking for an escape to the beach can find Sitges a popular day trip from Barcelona, just half an hour by train. If you’re after a place packed full of exciting activities, then you should probably look elsewhere. This is more for those looking to chill out on the beach and meander through the streets.
However, there are major exceptions to this. If you come to Sitges in February you will find this small town burst into life during Carnival. This is thanks to its large LGBT community making Carnival here one of the best and most extravagant in Europe.
Sitges also hosts a major international film festival in October celebrating the fantasy film genre and attracting legendary movie stars and directors. Something I would not have expected from what is essentially a quiet beach town!
Located between Girona and Barcelona, the city of Vic has a distinct medieval feel. The main sites to see are the cathedral, the Episcopal Museum and the Roman temple. Every Tuesday and Saturday the market covers the main square, Plaza Mayor, selling just about anything and everything. But don’t do what I did and almost miss it by having a lie-in! It’s only on in the morning before 2pm. Also if you’re around in December Vic’s medieval market is definitely worth a visit to get you in the Christmas mood.
Sausage is king here! I’d recommend sampling fuet and llonganissa. You can’t leave the city without trying some, unless you’re a vegetarian of course. You can also go on a tour to see how they are made at Casa Riera Ordeix.
Cadaques is often quoted as the most beautiful place to visit on the Costa Brava. This serene, whitewashed town is located on the eastern most point of Catalonia. The town itself is in a small bay with a modest but pretty, rocky beach, and has managed to remain unspoilt away from the big tourist resorts. As you walk around the town it is easy to see how it inspired painters such as Magritte, Matisse and Picasso. If you’re travelling by car, try not to drive into the centre! It hasn’t been designed with the car in mind, with narrow streets and pedestrians ruling the way.
Fans of surrealist art will find this the perfect spot to visit, as Salvador Dali’s house is located nearby in Portlligat. Also a little further inland there is the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery which offers amazing views of the coastline.
Aigüestortes National Park
Close to the Pyrenees, the Aigüestortes national park is a must for anyone craving the great outdoors. The landscape is spectacular with mountains, forests, waterfalls and around 200 lakes to explore. It’s definitely worth spending a weekend or a few days here to properly explore the park. You can access the park by two entrances, Espot (Pallars Sobirà) and Boí (Alta Ribagorça). Camping is prohibited and you can only enter the park by 4×4 taxis which I think is a lot more fun and you don’t have to worry about getting lost, until you start walking that is!
The great thing about most of these places is that they’re pretty easy to get to from Barcelona. So don’t be afraid to explore outside of the city. You won’t regret it!