This last February, I spent 4 days in the beautiful Barcelona basking in its ever-sunny climate and exploring the Catalan culture and history. Barcelona is a beautiful city and I recommend that everyone visits once in their lives just for the architecture alone. However, anyone who knows me knows that I love the outdoors and my favourite day on my Barcelona trip was the day trip I took to Montserrat National Park. In fact, Barcelona was extremely low down on my buckletlist until I found out about Montserrat, saw pictures of its incredible views and unique landscape. I wanted to see it first hand, and so I did! I love city breaks that have a nearby escape into nature: Marseille and Les Calanques, Grenoble and Les Alpes (both of which I recommend). It’s so nice to have the best of both worlds with so much ease. So here’s my experience of the Montserrat day trip from Barcelona, including a simple guide on how to get there and some other practicalities.
Montserrat Day Trip
How to Get There
The upside of a Montserrat day trip is that it’s pretty straightforward to get there from Barcelona and you don’t need to take three different local buses with confusing timetables and infrequent departures (I’ve been in that situation all too many times!)
To get to Montserrat, you have to get one train from Plaça Espanya, in the centre of Barcelona going towards Manresa, and then get off at either Monistrol Montserrat or Aeri Montserrat depending on whether you want to get the funicular or the cable car into the national park.
The downside of the arrangement is that it was pretty costly. It was €19.30 for an adult return ticket and it ended up being our most expensive day of the trip once we’d factored in meals as well. You can get the tickets at the Plaça Espanya station, where you’ll have to decide which method of transport you want to take (funicular or cable car.) Then, the train should arrive about every half an hour or so and take just over an hour to arrive at your respective stop.
We chose to get the cable car into the mountains- well, I did and Cloé didn’t have much say in the matter. I thought it was time for her to get over her fear of heights, anyway. The cable cars leave pretty regularly and the views on the way up are predictably amazing. Being lifted into the national park made me feel like we were being flown into a mystical land.
For full timetable information and different ticket prices, check out this website. It was super helpful for me.
Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery
As soon as you leave the cable car station, you’ll find yourself at Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery. Founded in the tenth century, the monastery has a long and rich history. In 1881 it celebrated 1000 years of existence and it actually still serves as a monastery, with about 150 monks living there. The Monastery is an important monument in the history of Christianity. In 1522, Ignatius of Loyola walked to Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery and experienced a religious conversion after having a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. He then lived in the nearby town of Manresa, where he lived for about a year as a beggar and practised a form of mediation that became central to his later teachings. He eventually formed the Jesuit order in 1539 and without Montserrat, the Jesuit denomination would likely not exist!
Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery is also a symbol of Catalan nationalism. The Virgin of Montserrat is the saint of Catalonia and in April 1947, a Mass was held to celebrate her enthronement, attended by over 100,000 people. At this mass, Catalonian attendees said their prayers in the Catalan language, which defied the government’s language policies, to rally for Catalan independence.
There is no entrance fee to enter the monastery however, if you want to look around the museum it’s a €7 charge. The museum is home to art by many prominent painters and sculptors including Dali, Picasso and El Greco. I didn’t have time to check out the museum so if anyone’s been, I’m interested to hear what it’s like.
Sant Jeroni Hike
Sant Jeroni is the peak of Montserrat National Park, so I was dying to climb up to it and see the views over the rest of the landscape. During the cable car ride, we overheard a French couple talk about how the hike there and back to Sant Jeroni would take too long to catch the last ride back from the Montserrat. I was told that it should only take 2 hours each way and if this was the case, we had a lot of extra time to spare before the last cable car departure. However, I was worried that these strangers knew something that I didn’t and sheep instinct made me scared to do the hike and be left in the mountains overnight. So, we bargained and decided we’d start the hike, and if it seemed as though time was running out, we’d head back before completing it. I was pretty disappointed as I’d felt as though we’d gotten up and out of the hostel earlier than usual that morning and still wound up with not enough time to do everything that we’d planned. How could there be so few hours in the day?
However, our paranoia about the time was completely unfounded. Although we thought originally that we wouldn’t end up completing the hike due to the lack of time, I just couldn’t stop and head back before I’d seen it all. I continually told Cloé: we’ll just go a bit further, we’ll just go past that corner and see what the view is like, then we might head back, just in case. But each time we turned the corner and found Montserrat’s beauty unfurling in front of us, we wanted to push on and see even more.
I loved the landscape of Montserrat. It was truly unlike anything I’d ever seen before; the mountains didn’t seem sharp, rigid or even random, but like perfectly formed fingers, reaching out of the earth as though stone giants were climbing out of the ground to freedom. I hear that Montserrat means ‘serrated mountain,’ which many people say represents the landscape, but to me it wasn’t serrated like a saw like most mountains but round and smooth, cylindric in shape.
The further you walk into the depths of the mountains, the more beautiful and unique the landscape becomes and I’m so glad we didn’t miss out by heading back unnecessarily. The first and last stretch of the hike mainly consists of a quite steep incline up a series of twisting steps but considering the steps all have banisters and the mid section of the hike is on an extremely mild incline, past streams and through woodland, I would say that it’s a really accessible walk for everyone. Indeed, it did only take about two hours each way, so we had nothing to worry about after all!
At the summit of Sant Jeroni, the view is astounding and as a fellow hiker told us as we passed him on his way back down, you find that you’re much higher up than you think. The incline is pretty steady but once you reach the top and look over the barrier, it’s a pretty damn long way down! You can also see the snow-capped Pyrenees on the horizon, making the whole landscape look sugar-dusted and perfect.
Other Funicular Routes
Once you arrive at the monastery, you don’t actually have to undertake the full hike to Sant Jeroni in order to see some stunning views over the Montserrat landscape. There are two funiculars that you can take from the monastery deeper into the mountains. Firstly, you can take the Sant Joan funicular, which takes you about halfway up to the peak of Sant Jeroni. You can begin your hike here if you’re short on time or just don’t feel like doing the whole thing. The views from this funicular station alone are magnificent, giving you a glorious aerial view of the Santa Maria Monastery. Next to the Sant Joan funicular station you can also find, Aula de la Natur, which is a small information centre about the flora and fauna of Montserrat National Park. If you’re interested in nature, check this out to find out more about your surroundings. Return tickets to Sant Joan are €12.50 for an adult.
There is also another funicular ride to Santa Cova cave from the monastery. Santa Cova, also called The Holy Grotto is a popular religious pilgrimage site as it is said that an image of the Virgin Mary appeared in this cave back in 880 after a ‘great light’ fell from the sky. Now, there is a chapel, inside of which is a smaller chapel that represents where the original Holy Grotto was. Here is where a reproduction of the image of the Virgin Mary can be found. To get to Santa Cova you can take the funicular to Santa Cova funicular station for €5 return and then take a short walk the rest of the way. You can get a combined ticket for both funicular rides for €16 to reduce the price if you plan to do both.
Stairway to Heaven
Have you ever seen a picture online of a place and thought… I need to go there. This was me when I first came across a picture of the Stairway to Heaven. My first reaction upon seeing a shot of a fellow travel blogger standing atop the steps was: is that real?! With the arid mountainous landscape in the background and the surreal, wooden blocks balancing precariously like toy bricks, I thought it was something that had to have been photoshopped. However, on further investigation I realised that it was indeed real, and within the easily accessible and beautiful Montserrat National Park.
A picture of me on top of the Stairway to Heaven definitely motivated my desire to visit Montserrat. I really wanted to test my nerve and see if I could climb to the top without losing my bottle, with a picture for a trophy (and for my Instagram). However, after surviving the whole hike up to Sant Jeroni and back, we speed walked to the Stairway to Heaven to find that a 8 foot, impenetrable fence had been put up around it. I did have an inkling that this would happen, especially after doyoutravel’s not so recent Instagram post atop the stairs, making the (pretty dangerous) spot a mecca for travel bloggers and photographers alike.
I was a bit gutted that I couldn’t climb the steps, but in retrospect, maybe it would have been disrespectful to climb over someone’s artwork anyway. It was still pretty beautiful to see.
If you have any more questions about the Montserrat day trip from Barcelona, what you can see there and how to get there shoot me a question and I’ll try to help it out. I absolutely think it’s a bucketlist must for people visiting Barcelona, especially for those who like to mix up their city breaks with escapes into nature! Let me know in the comments: do you prefer to explore cities or natural wonders, or both? I’m a bit of both kinda girl- a sucker for beautiful mountain landscapes but I also love myself some old town architecture!
Much love <3