Best Day Tours from Barcelona – Day Trips to Montserrat

montserrat-mountains

What is it about Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey that when our friends learned that our Western Mediterranean Cruise was stopping at Barcelona, they told us to make sure we visit it? The “must-visit” reminder piqued our interest. So we decided to find out for ourselves what our friends recommended as one of the best day tours from Barcelona.

Montserrat is a multi-peaked mountain range near Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. It means “saw mountain” in Catalan, describing its peculiar aspect with a multitude of rock formations, which are visible from a great distance.

Our cruise offered an optional five-hour tour of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in the morning, and an included panoramic tour of Barcelona city in the afternoon. We figured this would allow us to optimize the full day available before we disembark the following morning.

Scenic Drive to Montserrat – And Much More

The early morning bus ride to Montserrat took about two hours. It was rush hour, but we were spared of the traffic since we headed out of the city. Negotiating the freeway, we can’t help but notice the congestion on the other side. Just like any major metropolis, many people live in the suburbs and commute to the city to work and do business.

Along the way, we passed by Montjuic, and we saw winding paths and terraced niches along the steep slopes of the hillside. It is a Roman Catholic cemetery, which attracts visitors because of its beautiful layout, views and parks within.

During our two-hour trip, our guide gave us an overview of the city of Barcelona and the region of Catalonia. Before we left for the cruise, we did some research about the ongoing protests in the city that we have seen in the news. We wanted to make sure we are fully aware of the situation and potential risks if any.

We got a better understanding of the issues and the latest updates from our knowledgeable tour guide, which greatly assuaged whatever fears we had. We also learned about the history of the protests, and the difference between the Spanish and Catalan languages.

catalan-flag

When we were planning the trip, we told ourselves that it would be easy to get by in Barcelona as we were familiar with a lot of Spanish words, having come from a country that was ruled by Spain for three centuries.

Spanish was the official language of the Philippines from the late 16th century, through the late 18th century, and remained co-official, along with English. However, we soon realized that there was quite a difference between the Spanish and Catalan words, although our tour guide was very fluent in both languages.

Cremallera de Montserrat – Train Ride, Breathtaking Views

After a two-hour journey through the freeway, we arrived at the town of Monistrol de Montserrat. We then boarded the Cremallera, a green train that runs to the location of the Benedictine Abbey. History has it that people in the past would hike up the mountain to reach the Abbey as part of their pilgrimage.

As we were riding on the train, we had a sweeping view of the scenic landscape below. At this time, our tour guide took the opportunity to narrate to us the legend of Montserrat, the origin of the Black Madonna, and how Montserrat survived the various wars, which destroyed most of Europe during the Napoleonic wars and the 2nd World War.

You can only wonder how much effort and time were spent hauling up materials when the Abbey was first constructed without the trains

Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey – Awesome Architecture

Visitors usually have three main reasons for visiting Montserrat – the architecture of the buildings, the Black Madonna, and the masses and choral concerts.

As we reached the main square, we cannot help but be awed by the magnificence of the mountain, the rocks on its side, the Abbey and the various buildings in the area. Picture-perfect views!

montserrat-abbey

The Abbey is a Gothic structure but also uses Renaissance shapes and traditional Catalan architecture. The Napoleonic war in the early 1800s severely damaged the Abbey such that the current building is a reconstruction done at the end of the 19th century.

The Atrium of the Basilica is an open-roofed courtyard area that sits directly in front of the church. There was already a long queue at the side of the church that leads to the Black Madonna. We initially wanted to queue up, but we reckoned it would take at least an hour.

We decided instead to go inside the church where we can see the Black Madonna from a distance. It gave us more time to explore the surrounding areas and take in the breathtaking views.

montserrat-church-interiors

The timing of our visit also did not allow us to witness the performance of their boys’ choir, which we understood to be excellent and internationally recognized. If you are interested in hearing them, make sure to check their website for schedules.

Sant Joan Funicular – Journey to the Peak

sant-joan-funicularWith limited time left before the drive back to the ship, our strategy was to divide and conquer. Zen headed to the museum, which housed an outstanding selection of the artistic and archaeological heritage of the thousand-year-old Abbey; I explored the shops in the square. The strategy worked, and we made it to the bus on time.

The Abbey is not situated at the peak of the mountain. If you have the time, you can take the Sant Joan Funicular that will take you to the top, offering a spectacular panoramic view of Montserrat, 1,000 m above sea level.

The viewpoint provides a bird’s-eye view of the monastery as well as spectacular views of the surrounding area and the Pyrenees. If you have an adventurous streak, you can hike up to the summit from the base. But it’s no mean feat!

The Trip Back to Barcelona

When we were on the bus, the tour guide asked who among us had to catch the next tour at 1:30 pm. While we were slightly delayed leaving Montserrat, she assured everyone that she had called the ship and that our bus should be able to arrive in time for those to join the afternoon tour.

We were supposed to be on that afternoon tour, which included the visit to the La Sagrada Familia. But we decided to cancel our reservation and planned to visit it the following day. Instead, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Las Ramblas on our own, just enough to get a sneak peek. We headed back early to our ship for our last dinner at one of its fine dining restaurants.

Felt Blessed with the Opportunity!

When visiting Barcelona, the trip to Santa Maria de Montserrat is an opportunity that cannot be missed. It is a breathtaking experience all the way through – from scenic mountain views, its rich history, the funicular (train) ride, the museum and the shops.

Montserrat is a bit more touristy compared to another Benedictine monastery (Gottweig) near Krems in Lower Austria that we visited earlier on a separate trip. But having the opportunity to experience it, albeit short, was more than enough for us to feel blessed.


Have you had the chance to visit Montserrat while in Barcelona? Please let us know your thoughts and stories about this incredible place by leaving your comments below. If you enjoyed reading our post, please share our story with your family and friends.

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(14) Comments

  1. ty Chan

    I went to Barcelona in 2017 summer. The trip to Montserrat was really impressive. I also visited Sant Joan Funicular, the view on top of the mountain is paranomic! I suggest going to Montserrat early so that you can have enough time going up to the mountain top. And I remember the queue waiting for the trains was very long, you will have to wait for a long time when you go there in peak season.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Ty,
      Thank you for your comments. Yes, the trip is indeed impressive. We were with a group tour with pre-arrangements. So we really did not encounter long queues/wait. Did you go on your own?

  2. Michelle

    Great website, photos are inspiring.

    1. JRandZen

      Thank you, Michelle. Glad you found the photos inspiring.

  3. Erick Darke

    Excellent article always wanted to visit Barcelona due to the influence of the Moors and way they enhanced the entire Spanish culture and nation as a whole .Actually Barcelona was named after Hannibal Barca the Moor .
    Thanks for the share

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Erick – Thanks for your comments and the trivia. Yes, indeed the Moors influence in Barcelona is quite pronounced. Have you had the chance to visit the city?

  4. Dini

    Amazing post ! I feel like going for a vacation to Barcelona right now ..Love the pictures, great photography !

    1. JRandZen

      Thanks, Dini. Glad that you found the article amazing and urging you to visit Barcelona. Recommend you plan one soon. And don’t forget to include Montserrat in your itinerary. Do you plan to go on your own, with a tour group or perhaps hire the services of a local guide? We found the last one to be useful as well.

  5. Butch

    Very informative, I have never thought about visiting but will have to put it on our bucket list, beautiful pictures. Thank you

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Butch,
      Yes, Barcelona is intriguing – so much to see and enjoy. Glad you found our article informative and our pictures beautiful. Look out for our posts on our other experiences in Barcelona.

  6. Deatrice

    Hello JRandZen,
    It sounds like you guys had a great time. I almost felt like I was there with you. I know you don’t have enough space to Post all your pictures but I was wishing you had because I found myself imagining the countryside and the town Shops and Market. Also, I took Spanish as a Second Language in College and I can understand your challenges with the Spanish spoken there. I learned the hard way that the Spanish spoken in Mexico is not the same Spanish spoken by someone from South America or even Spain due to different dialects, accents, and slang. I enjoyed your article very much. Great Job!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Deatrice,
      Yes, we had a good time. This visit to Montserrat was arranged through our cruise ship. The short lesson we had about Spanish and Catalan proved very useful the following days when we stayed on and explored Barcelona on our own. Look out for a post we will publish on those.

  7. Jeff

    Beautiful photographs from Barcelona to Montserrat, I can just imagine experiencing the sights just from reading your article. I always wanted to travel and see the sights of the world, and after reading your article I am adding Barcelona and Montserrat to my travel dream list
    Jeff

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Jeff,
      Thank you and glad you like the beautiful photographs. We must say though that the actual experience was really different. The views were breathtaking and the feeling of having the opportunity to visit was quite special to us. This was the first part of our stay in Barcelona. We will be posting shortly our other experiences.

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