From the sights of Barcelona to adventures on the coast, and exploring pretty mountain towns, this Catalonia road trip offers a great mix.
There’s nothing more liberating than hiring a car and heading off on a road trip. It’s one of my favourite styles of holiday. You really can spend a morning at the beach, then visit a museum in the afternoon followed by a beautiful restaurant in the middle of nowhere for dinner! Plus, you can travel at your own pace and explore spots away from the main tourist routes.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been reminiscing about an amazing road trip I went on through Catalonia in Spain. It was my first time in the region that didn’t revolve purely around Barcelona.
I absolutely loved how varied the route was. One minute I was cruising down a busy seaside promenade, and an hour later I was exploring a remote mountain village. The trip incorporated a great mix of activities, cities, villages and landscapes, all within easy reach of one another. In this post I’m going to highlight a few of my favourite spots along the route, so that you can follow in my footsteps.
When I talk about Catalonia, you probably think of Barcelona first and foremost. What a fantastic city! It makes sense for this road trip to start there, especially as most people will fly into Barcelona airport. After a day in Barcelona, we’ll be venturing along the Costa Dorada (aka the Golden Coast) and seeing a few spots you might not be familiar with.
This road trip takes you to one of the most historic sites in Spain, Gaudi’s hometown, an impressive cave and the best theme park in the country. Ready? Hop in the car, fasten your seat belt and off we go!
The Perfect Catalonia Road Trip
Day 1: Barcelona: Food, wine and Gaudi
Barcelona is the beating heart of Catalonia. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve visited Barcelona more times than any other city in the world! I love its lively character, colourful disposition and the fact there is so much to see and do.
I’ve had trouble plotting out an ideal one-day itinerary for Barcelona, as the city offers so much. If I was heading back for a day, here are some of the things I’d try to squeeze in.
After breakfast I’d beat the crowds and head straight to Parc Guell. This is without a doubt my favourite place in Barcelona. The park was designed by Antoni Gaudí and showcases his modernist techniques and inimitable style. Spend an hour or so wandering the beautifully wonky colonnaded pathway, ascend the dragon staircase and take in the view of Barcelona from the mosaic-covered terrace.
Then it’s time to wiggle your way through the city towards the Gothic Quarter. If you get peckish, stop by Escribà, the best patisserie in town for magical cakes and pastries that feel like they’ve been plucked straight from Willy Wonka’s imagination.
For lunch, devour a plate of pinxtos at El Pinxto de Petritxol. Here, you can wander the length of the bar choosing from bruschettas topped with fried prawns, cubes of goat’s cheese, tasty jams and more, all with the standard cocktail stick centrepiece of course. At the end you add up your sticks to total up your bill.
After lunch, it’s time for a few more key sights, starting with a visit to La Boqueria – Barcelona’s most famous food market, located just off Las Ramblas. Then we’re heading up to Montjuïc. This hill offers magnificent views over the city, but there are several spots to visit along the route up too, including the castle, the botanical gardens and the Fundació Joan Miró (my favourite art gallery in Barcelona).
For fun, you can catch the cable car across to the Old Port, then meander past impressive super yachts towards Barceloneta Beach. After catching a few rays, you could explore my 2nd favourite park in the city – Parc de la Ciutadella, or nip across the city to see the Sagrada Familia. I told you there was a lot to see!
For dinner, pick from the hundreds of cute tapas bars in the city, or, if you’re looking for something extra special, book a table at Michelin-starred Disfrutar. I’ve visited twice now and can honestly say it’s the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. The food is playful and creative, with mind-blowing flavour and texture combinations, served over 20+ courses.
After dinner, it’s back to the Gothic Quarter for a nightcap at Salterio – a cute bar with a great vibe tucked neatly away in the skinny pedestrianised streets.
Day 2: Tarragona: History and art
I still remember driving into Tarragona and being absolutely mesmerised by the view of the Roman amphitheatre set against the bright turquoise of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a stunning sight. Needless to say, the Roman history is a huge draw for visitors to this city.
Wherever you wander you’ll see ruins from the city’s ancient past, including the remains of the forum and the old city walls. To learn more, you could kick off your time in Tarragona by visiting Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona – the museum dedicated to the city’s history. However, if you’re someone who likes to appreciate history without having facts and figures thrown at you, I’d recommend walking around at leisure, and taking in the historic sites as you go.
One of my top tips for Tarragona is to get lost! On the whole, the buildings are made from peach, orange and sandy coloured stone, and sit on narrow, cobbled streets. They’re very pretty and ooze character. I loved taking photos of the architecture and soaking up the buzz as I passed small tapas bars, eavesdropping on the locals jabbering away in Catalan.
For the best views of Tarragona, I’d recommend the terrace of the Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona or the bell tower of Tarragona Cathedral.
When you fancy a break from the city streets, wander down towards the ocean and check out the 2nd century Roman Amphitheatre. It hosts re-enactments from time to time, and while it might not be quite the same as watching a gladiatorial battle, any experience with a crowd in the old seats would be amazing!
Day 3: Siurana and Reus: History, natural beauty and architecture
For day 3, I’d suggest splitting your time between two contrasting places in Catalonia. Siurana and Reus look really close on the map, but the drive is likely to take you around an hour, as the roads to get to Siurana wind around the Prades Mountains. If you suffer from travel sickness, be prepared – you might leave your lunch at the bottom!
The village of Siurana was an absolute highlight of my previous Catalonia road trip and is somewhere I’m desperate to return to. I couldn’t quite believe the contrast between the coastal towns in Catalonia and this region in the Prades mountains. They feel like places that should be a plane journey away rather than an hour’s drive!
So why add Siurana to your Catalonia road trip? History lovers will be amazed by the ruins of a Moorish castle which dates back to the year 800, and sits close to the village’s 12th century Romanesque church. Meanwhile, anyone who appreciates a good view will be in awe of the spectacular panoramas. The village is located at the top of the mountain road, with sheer drops around its perimeter. Oh, and there’s also a vivid turquoise reservoir below.
I’d recommend starting by taking a walk around the village (only 24 people live here is it won’t take long!) before stopping for a drink in the little café. Then wander back along the ancient cobble streets and visit the ruins and the church, before taking approximately 719,890 photos of the epic views.
Siurana is one of the prettiest villages in Catalonia so you can imagine how busy it gets in peak season (yes, somehow coaches make it up these narrow windy roads!) I visited quite early on a Thursday morning in the summer and amazingly had the place almost to myself.
After a relaxing exploration of this pretty village, it’s time to hop in the car and continue the Catalonia road trip past craggy rocks and vineyards to the city of Reus.
This smallish city is famed for its numerous examples of modernist architecture. After starting the road trip in Barcelona seeing some of Gaudi’s most famous works, Reus is a great place to go back to the start of his life. Yes, the architectural genius was born right here in Reus.
I’d recommend starting with a trip to The Gaudi Centre to learn all about his life. This is a really engaging museum experience with lots of hands on exhibits, videos and interactive displays. It’s a great place for families too.
When you’ve got your Gaudi fix, it’s time for an ice cream and a spot of people watching in the main square in Reus.
Then you should wander the streets of Reus for a big dose of modernist architecture. Around the centre of the city you’ll see lots of beautiful and elaborate buildings, designed by top Catalan architects including Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Pere Caselles i Tarrats and Pere Domènech Roura.
While most are privately owned, you can take a tour of Casa Navàs (designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner). The outside is pretty spectacular, but it’s nothing compared to the eccentric designs of the interiors. After going up a bold tiled staircase, you’ll be met by a huge mosaic design on the walls, colourful stained glass and a pretty courtyard.
Day 4: Costa Dorada: Beach day
I’ll keep this day a little vaguer as there are plenty of lovely beaches along the Costa Dorada. Just find one you like and enjoy a swim in the sunshine.
If you love water sports and activities, there are a couple of spots I’d recommend. Firstly, you could book a parasailing trip in Salou. It’s a relaxing activity once you’re up in the sky and the views are incredible. From heights of around 50m you’ll see a few of the places you’ve visited on this Catalonia road trip, including the Prades Mountains, as well as the rollercoasters you’ll see on your final day at PortAventura World.
If you feel confident on a paddle board then my top tip would be to book onto a SUP tour from l’Hospitalet de l’Infant Beach to La Cova del Llop – a small cave a few km along the coast. The only way to reach the cave is by water. Once there you can swim inside, relax on the pebble beach or go in search of stalagmites and stalactites. This was another highlight for me!
Day 5: Port Aventura: Adrenaline and fun
After a memorable few days road tripping around Catalonia, it’s time to finish our adventure with a big dose of fun! PortAventura World is Spain’s most popular theme park and attracts visitors from all over Europe.
If you’re an adrenaline addict, you’re going to love it here. PortAventura World is divided into sections themed around different parts of the world. One minute you’ll be reaching some crazy G-forces in Asia on the park’s biggest rides Shambhala and Dragon Khan, the next you’ll be relaxing in the lush surroundings of Polynesia!
I’m a big fan of theme parks and have visited quite a few all over the world. I’d definitely say that this is one of the best I’ve ever been to. I only spent around four hours there last time, but would love to return on another Catalonia road trip to try out more of the rides. There are more than 40, plus lots more fun to be had at Caribe Aquatic Park and Ferrari Land (which are located on the same site). I’ve only suggested one day here, but if you’re a big fan of theme parks, I’d recommend buying a 3-parks ticket to use over 2 days.
If you like hardcore rollercoasters, my top recommendations would be to go on Furius Baco (which reaches a speed of 135 km/h in just 3 seconds), Shambhala (which starts with an 80m drop) and the Vertical Accelerator ride at Ferrariland (the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in Europe).
Don’t worry if that all sounds terrifying – there are kids rides too, plus shows and lots of great places to eat and drink around the park. I’d recommend booking a special skip the line ticket before your trip so you make the most of your day.
As the adrenaline wears off, it’s time to return your hire car to the airport in Barcelona and head home. Or, alternatively, you could extend your trip with a few of the options below.
Where To Go Next On Your Catalonia Road Trip?
This is just one great itinerary for a Catalonia road trip. From national parks and medieval villages to beautiful beaches, there are plenty more great places to visit in the region.
If you love a mix of history and natural beauty, you could drive to Santa Maria de Poblet Monastery. Founded in 1129, this fascinating monastery is in a stunning location at the base of the Prades mountains, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
To learn about Salvador Dali, you could spend a day visiting the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, followed by Dalí’s house in Port Lligat.
Or for another completely different option you could head north to Girona, or enjoy a coastal Catalonia road trip along the Costa Brava.
My advice? Hire a car and go on your own adventure! There are lots of great places just waiting to be discovered.
What to pack for your road trip
If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip, this guide to road trip essentials has you covered. From portable chargers to ways to stay entertained on long journeys, it’ll help you create your road trip packing list.
This post was brought to you as part of the #SpainOnMyMind campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Spain Tourist Office. As always, all opinions are my own.
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