The most popular day trip from Barcelona is to the Montserrat Mountain Monastery. I rarely cover popular touristy attractions, but Montserrat is genuinely worth visiting. While most people make this journey from Barcelona to see the Montserrat Monastery, the surrounding Montserrat Natural and Geo Park features fantastic hiking opportunities and breathtaking nature that is worth a trip on its own. Admittedly, I spent most of my day hiking and exploring the mountains. Montserrat’s unique combination of geology, nature and cultural heritage attracted me to this stunning landscape in the Catalonian mountains.
As someone not religious, I certainly appreciate Montserrat for its historical and cultural importance. Still, I chose to skip certain things, such as waiting in line to see the Black Madonna so that I could spend more time outdoors. That shows that Montserrat offers something for everyone – from the history buff, religious pilgrim, architecture nerd, and nature lover. I aim to help you customize your day to help you maximize your day or overnight trip to Montserrat from Barcelona in a way that is meaningful to you.
In this comprehensive guide to exploring Montserrat from Barcelona, we will cover the history and cultural aspects of the monastery and religious compound, discover the unique nature and outdoor activities, learn about the best ways to reach the mountain retreat, things to do, where to stay, and lots of other helpful tips.
Sustainability & Mass Tourism in Montserrat
Barcelona and the surrounding region of Montserrat are some of the most visited places in the world. Barcelona received 8.5 million pre-pandemic people, with about 3 million passing through Montserrat. Considering Monserrat Natural Park is a relatively small area, this is a sizeable number of people visiting. Thankfully, the tourism infrastructure developed alongside rising numbers of tourists, so the area can generally accommodate high levels of tourism.
That being said, it is essential to note that with mass tourism comes a more significant impact on a site’s cultural and natural heritage. These few simple tips will help ensure your visit has a lower impact.
Please visit respectfully – following all guidelines and signs. Do not wander where you are not supposed to; stay on the trail; do not cross into protected areas; do not deface or disrespect art and religious spaces; and be mindful of your surroundings.
To help diffuses mass tourism, you can visit off-season, during the week, stay overnight, or stay longer.
Visit utilizing public transportation if possible. Personal cars and large motorcoaches have the moar significant impact.
Take time to learn about the natural and cultural significance of the region.
If you book a guided tour, ensure they support small groups and meaningful educational opportunities. Large groups that visit in mass are found to be more detrimental to the environment. With a smaller group, you will have a more meaningful experience while minimizing any adverse effects of tourism at Montserrat.
If you venture out to go hiking, make sure you pack in what you pack out and mind all your litter and belongings.
Do not touch, collect or feed wild and plant life.
History and Culture
Archaeologists discovered Neolithic pottery in caves that dot the mountainside, highlighting the ancient human history of the region. Some of the caves that are part of the limestone network under the monastery are still accessible today!
It is believed that sometime in the 9th century, four chapels were built into the Montserrat mountainsides. They were dedicated to St. Mary, St. Iscle, St. Peter, and St. Martin. Hermit monks lived in these chapels and mountains, living a life dedicated to prayer and solitude.
Over the years, the Montserrat region grew to include a monastery in the 11th century and a Romanesque church in the following centuries. The boy’s choir, which still exists today, was first mentioned in the 13th century.
Unfortunately, a bit of dark history is associated with the Montserrat Monastery. One of the hermits from Montserrat sailed with Christopher Columbus, infamous for his abhorrent colonization and terror among Indigenous Peoples in the Americas.
The 1800s were not so kind to the monastery, as Napoleon’s army destroyed most of the compound. The Spanish Civil War disrupted operations, with most monks fleeing the region.
Ecology and Geology
Montserrat translates to the serrated mountain in English. A quick look up, and you’ll observe the jagged peaks looming over the monastery from which the name originates. The mountain is a unique geological feature, jutting straight up from El Llobregat, the winding river that borders the nature park.
Millions of years ago, the mountain was part of the basin of a river delta connected to the ocean. The conglomerate limestone of Montserrat mountain was submerged under water, and over time, as continents and plates shifted, it was eventually exposed to the elements. Wind, erosion, rain, and geological events shaped the area into the distinct serrated feature we see today. The limestone of Montserrat is stronger than in other parts of the region, which is why it is one of the tallest and most prominent features still standing today.
However, limestone is still shaped by the elements, which is part of what makes the caves in the mountain so numerous. Earlier humans and monks likely found these caves suitable for use, including the development of cave chapels.
As we hiked to Sant Jerome, I noticed various alpine flowers, birds, and oaky vegetation. You might also be lucky to spot wild goats, salamanders, and snakes.
How To Get To Montserrat From Barcelona
Montserrat is easy to access as a long day or overnight trip from Barcelona. There are plenty of public transportation options and ways to customize your trip. Though, to be honest, all the customization options and combo passes can be overwhelming.
If you are unsure about your plan, just stop by the Tourist Information center at Plaça Catalunya. I’ve visited them on numerous trips to Barcelona, and they are helpful! But, I provide as much information as possible to help you plan a self-guided trip – while offering suggestions for top small group guided experiences.
The most common way to reach Montserrat from Barcelona is by taking the R5 train from Plaça Espanya in Barcelona. This train does not take you to the monastery. Instead, you have two options:
The Cremallera Rack Railway
The Cable Car
You will disembark from the R5 train at different stations depending on your chosen option.
Train and Cremallera Rack Railway
This is the option Ganesh, and I choose, as we are both big fans of mountain trains. It takes about 15 minutes more than the cable car, but we weren’t in a hurry. We purchased a basic combo ticket from the Plaça Espanya metro station for about €23 that included RT transportation on the R5 from Barcelona and RT ride on the Rack Railway, which departs from the Monistrol de Montserrat train stop. We enjoyed the slower train pace, and the view on the way up got better every minute.
You can not purchase tickets online. Instead, you can purchase them from Plaça Espanya or the Cremallera stations once you arrive. If you are coming from Barcelona, get the combo ticket. To learn more about the Cremallera Rack Railway and see their timetables and departure points, visit their website. Generally, the trains leave every 20 minutes, with limited operating hours during the low season.
The train stops at a mid-station and picks up anyone that arrives via motorcoach or car. Make sure you get off at the correct station on your way down. If you are on a road trip, you will park at Monistrol Vila and catch the train from the parking lot, buying tickets on the spot.
Train and Cable Car
Similar to the above, this route starts in Barcelona on the R5 train from Plaça Espanya. But, you embark earlier at the Aeri de Montserrat. From there, you can catch the cable car up the mountainside. This is a fast option, taking only 5 minutes to summit with gondolas departing every 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the crowds.
Looking For a Good Deal?
Aside from purchasing a basic combo ticket that includes RT travel on the R5 train and one method of transit up or down the mountain, you can also purchase the Trans Montserrat Ticket or the TOT ticket for additional perks.
Go City Barcelona
If you already purchased the Go Barcelona pass for admission to the Sagrada Familia or other attractions, you can use it to get to Montserrat.
Train and Hiking
If you prefer to get your hiking in early, then you can hike from the Monistrol de Montserrat train station. It is a little less than 5km one way and should take you about 1.5 hours. There are two trails. Since I haven’t done this hike, I suggest you reference the All Trails guide for the route – reading through the comments for how best to prepare.
We chose to save our hiking for once we were at Montserrat, but I would 100% choose this option if I returned in the future.
If logistics aren’t your thing, and you’re on holiday to sit back and relax – I get it. Booking guided small-group tours are not only a way to travel stress-free but also to get expert knowledge and insight into the place you are visiting, enhancing your cultural and environmental education. These high-rated tours offer a lot of variety depending on your travel style.Here are more details about Venice 3-Day Sustainable Itinerary and Slow Travel Guide
Montserrat and Foodie Experiences
For all my fellow wine connoisseurs, you’ll love this Montserrat and wine-tasting combo tour. After visiting Montserrat, you’ll visit a nearby family-owned vineyard, a boutique winery for a walking tour, and a local restaurant for a meal. This is a great way to see Montserrat and support small local agritourism within the surrounding communities.
Combine your Montserrat tour with lunch at a farmhouse for an authentic meal and a glimpse into rural Catalan life.
This Montserrat Tour offers half or full-day tour flexibility. For the half-day adventurers, you’ll get a guided tour of the Monastery, including free time to explore or ride the funicular. If you opt for the 7 or 9-hour upgrade, you’ll get a tapas or 3-course lunch for an authentic foodie and cultural experience catering to all dietary needs.
Montserrat and Hiking Experiences
Hiking in a new country can be intimidating, but Montserrat is the perfect place to try something new. These guided tours with experienced mountain guides will help boost your confidence. You’ll learn lots about the natural environment to boost.
Tips For Visiting Montserrat
How Much Time Do You Need?
We spent a full day at Montserrat, leaving Barcelona early in the morning and catching one of the later trains back. If I were to visit again, I would stay overnight in one of the small villages inside the nature park to watch the sunrise/sunset and get a more authentic cultural experience.
Ultimately we prioritized nature-based hiking activities and cut some monastery and cultural exhibits from our plan. I would suggest deciding what is most important to you. Summiting Montserrat’s highest peak? Or seeing the Black Madonna in person?
The later you stay, the less busy it gets, so you can save the holy places for last and spend the morning hiking.
What to Pack
Plan to be out on your feet most of the day. Even if you aren’t hiking, you will want comfortable clothing with supportive shoes. The monastery and abbey are religious sites, and you must dress modestly, covering your shoulders and knees. I had to cover my legs with a scarf to enter the Basilica.
The temperature in winter can be cold, dropping close to freezing. Summer can be pretty hot and humid.
Bring a small bag. Large bags are not allowed on some sites, but if you are hiking, you will need room for water, packed lunch, and maybe a cheeky wine – as we packed.
want is to be stuck at the top of the mountain at sunset without booking accommodation.
Don’t forget your reusable water bottle!
What to Eat
We packed a lunch for our hike, so I can’t comment on the food at Montserrat. There is a restaurant in Hostal Abat that offers a sit-down meal. The cafeteria is self-service food.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Barcelona in a location with easy access to Plaça Espanya to catch the train to Montserrat. Sixties Ramblas was an excellent option for us and our budget. It was in a great location near Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, and public transportation, but it was on a nice, quiet street.
I hope that this nature and culture-focused guide to the Montserrat Nature Park and Monastery sparked your curiosity. This is a well-justified popular day trip from Barcelona.
As you visit take time to fully immerse yourself in both the cultural and natural heritage of Montserrat in Spain, for a more fulfilling and memorable experience. There are lots of ways to get to Montserrat from Barcelona, but hopefully, you have a better understanding of your choices and the best things to do in Montserrat once you arrive.