I would highly recommend adding a day trip to Montserrat to your Barcelona itinerary. It is easily accessible by train, gives you a glimpse of the Spanish countryside and it is totally worth it. I have heard from many people that it was their favorite part of their trip and it was certainly a highlight for me as well.
Montserrat is a mountain with a Benedictine monastery perched on the top of it. It holds great spiritual significance to the people of Catalonia. You can see it easily when you are flying in because it juts out of the ground like a baby’s first tooth.
There are a few options to get there. There is a coach tour you can book through your hotel or online. If navigating the train system makes you nervous, this is the easiest way. We were up for the challenge, and opted for the train route. We thought it would be much cheaper that way, but when it was all said and done, there was not much of a price difference.
We got directions from the hotel and made our way to the train station. We were staying in La Rambla and it was less than a 10 minute subway ride to Plaça d’Espanya where we could purchase our overland train ticket to Montserrat. He assured us that it very easy and we would have “no problemo” figuring it all out, but after our first train stop, we were told that the next section of the track was under construction and that we would have to disembark to take a bus part of the way and then back down to another train for the rest of the trip. We were feeling a bit overwhelmed, but there were people in red jackets along each step of the route to help direct us where to go.
When you buy your train ticket to Montserrat, you have two choices for your final ascent up the mountain. You can take the “aeri” which is like a cable car or you can take the funicular which is like a rack railway. We took the aeri which was really an experience. It only takes five minutes to get to the top and the views are amazing.
As soon as we reached the top, we headed over to Sant Miquel’s Cross which looks far but only took us about 20 minutes.
The trail was wide and paved but quite steep. You could push a stroller if needed.
As you walk along the trail, you can look back over the monastery.
Once you reach the cross, this vantage point will give you a view over the mountain range. No picture can do it justice as it is just breathtaking. I kept thinking I was looking at a painting.
We hiked back and climbed the stairs to explore inside of the monastery.
Many people take a pilgrimage to the mountain top just to view the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the few black Madonnas in all of Europe.
My favorite part was walking the Ave Maria Path, which is a stone tunnel lit by prayer candles. This is where people pay homage to the Virgin Mary.
It had such a Gothic feel that made you feel as if you went back in time.
There is also a museum that you can visit but we were so short on time, we skipped it. There is a large souvenir shop on the ground level as well as a cafeteria and restrooms. If you continue up the road to the right, you will see local people selling their honey and cheeses.
If you cross the street toward the Mirador Restaurant, there are some nice view points and a neat statue called The Stairway to Heaven. A chain link fence had to be put around the monument because people were climbing and putting themselves in danger for a selfie.
We hopped back on the cable car and headed back to the train. The last trip off the mountain was at 5:45 and we didn’t want to be spooning with the monks that night. The train back to the city only comes once every hour.
It was a bit arduous navigating the train system but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. It was an adventure and we experienced life outside of the city. As with most places we explored in Barcelona, the people are so kind and helpful. As soon as we looked confused (which was always), people would approach us to offer assistance or point us in the right direction.
The trip home took us almost two hours. I assume it would be much less if the train track was not being repaired. It is only 30 miles outside of the city and should take an hour to an hour and a half. Either way, I would dedicate a day to this and not expect to fit anything else in because you don’t want to be rushed.
If you have the time, consider adding a trip down a funicular to visit the Santa Cova Chapel. The whole trip takes an hour and I wish we had made time for this. The views are suppose to be incredible.
If time allows, you may also opt to take the Funicular de Sant Joan. From this observation point, you can take a 1.5 hour hike out to Sant Jeroni, which is the highest peak of Montserrat.