A trip to Barcelona isn’t complete without a day trip to Montserrat. This is easily one of the most popular day trips for tourists, which is not surprising given that it provides an opportunity to explore nature and experience history while enjoying the fabulous views of Catalonia.
Montserrat is the name of a mountain and means “jagged (serrated) mountain” in Catalan. Its unique rock formation is recognizable from great distances and it is the site of Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine Abbey, which makes it a popular location for locals and tourists alike.
There are several ways to arrive to Montserrat but the easiest, especially for non- Spanish speakers, is to go to Plaza Espanya. You can take either the metro or train to arrive and once you’re at the station you will want to find you way to the “ferrocarril” also known as the “FGC”. If you follow the signs to the R5 track (this is the train you will take to the foot of the mountain) you will end up where you need to be. The Plaza Espanya station is quite large so you may have to walk a bit but if you just follow the signs to R5 you’ll be fine.
Once you arrive to the ferrocarril track the most complicated bit is over, because there you will find English speaking employees with brochures and information about Montserrat (they are the ones in the green smocks) who will assist you in buying tickets and make sure you get on the right train.
Here you have two ticket options. You can either get the cable ride (Aeri ticket) or the Cremallera Funicular ride (Cremallera ticket). In both cases you will take the train to the foot of the mountain so the only difference between the two is how you actually get up the mountain. The cable ride is a standard cable ride which of course offers amazing views, while the funicular is a sort of train that goes up the mountain (also quite fun as it goes up at some impressing angles!). Both are great experiences but the cable ride tends to be the most popular.
It’s very important to decide which one you want before purchasing tickets as the tickets are not interchangeable, and in fact you will have to get off at a different train stop depending on which one you pick. The prices are the same, so make sure to specify which one you want when you purchase the tickets.
A return ticket, which includes the train to and from the foot of the mountain plus a return trip on either the cable car or the funicular, costs 15.50 euro. However, a better and more cost effective option for someone visiting Montserrat for the first time is the “Trans Montserrat” ticket. This includes the train to the foot of the mountain, the return trip on the cable car or funicular, plus two extra funicular trips which allow you to go to a higher part of the mountain and then go back to where the monastery is. It also includes two metro trips and access to the audiovisual area of Montserrat. The cost of this ticket is 22.50 euro.
So, for example, if you get the “Trans Montserrat” with the cable car, you will first take the train (R5 Manresa) to the foot of the mountain (getting off at the “Aeri de Montserrat“ stop). Then you will take the cable car part way up the mountain to where the monastery is. You can visit a bit, and when you’re ready you will take the Sant Joan funicular to an even higher part of the mountain, where you can enjoy the views and hike on the trails. When you are done you will take the funicular back down to where the monastery is, then the cable car back to the train, and the train back to Barcelona.
The total travel time is about to 1.5 hours each way so you should consider this a whole day event. A good itinerary is to leave after breakfast and try to arrive to the lower level, where the monastery is, by 12. Once there you can spend some time exploring the area.
The main attraction is, of course, the monastery. It is an impressive structure which is currently home to around 80 monks. Next to the monastery is the basilica, where you will find the “Moreneta” or Black Virgin, which is the patron saint of Catalonia. There is often a long line to get a glimpse, but it tends to move quite quickly. At 1pm on weekdays in the basilica the Montserrat Boys Choir performs. They are a famous children’s choir and have performed around the world so it’s certainly worth arriving a bit early to witness it. Once they finish singing most of the tourists leave the basilica so you can explore it without the crowds.
For lunch, there are several restaurants, including a self-serve cafeteria. The most economical option is the cafeteria, but even that can be quite pricy so those on a budget may want consider bring a picnic as it’s not difficult to find a nice place to sit in the sunshine and enjoy it. Near the monastery there are often stalls selling local delights such as cheeses and desserts. They give out free samples, and there are always plenty of local artisan products which make great gifts, so if you are there when the stalls are open make sure to stop and have a look.
After lunch you will want to spend some time enjoying the views and hiking on the many trails. If you’ve bought the “Trans Montserrat” ticket you can now take the Sant Joan funicular to the upper most part of the mountain, and from there you have several trails. If not, there are also several trails around the monastery.
We recommend that upon arrival you check the leaving times for all transport (funiculars, cable cars, and trains) to make sure that you don’t run into any problems on the way back. It is also advisable to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water if you plan to hike during the warmer months. And of course, make sure you camera has plenty of film and/or battery as this area is filled with photo opportunities.
As you can see, Montserrat is a unique experience that offers something for everyone. In fact, many people consider it the highlight of their trip to Catalonia, so it is surely not something to be missed!