I never really wanted to visit Barcelona. I’ve just never had an interest in it as a destination. There’s no specific reason why, it just didn’t excite or inspire me.
That was until I found out about Montserrat National Park. It’s not an exactly mainstream destination, but there was a period when every time I looked at my Instagram feed, a picture of Montserrat in Barcelona would stop me mid-scroll. The unique landscape, the craziness of the monastery cozied up among the mountains and the incredible Stairway to Heaven, it all had me awestruck.
Now, after having experienced the Montserrat tour from Barcelona, I can confidently say that any trip to Barcelona is simply incomplete without a day trip to Montserrat National Park. That’s a bold statement, but one I absolutely stand by.
My Montserrat day trip was without a doubt the absolute highlight of my weekend in Barcelona.
Barcelona is a beautiful city and I recommend it to anyone to witness its incredible architecture and explore the Catalan culture. However, combining a Barcelona city break with a Montserrat day tour gives your trip the variety of both fabulous culture and astonishing nature.
So here’s my experience of the Montserrat day trip from Barcelona. This includes a simple guide on getting to Montserrat from Barcelona, information on the Montserrat cable car, some Montserrat history specifically on the Montserrat monastery and the Black Madonna, as well as guidance on hiking the national park and seeing the amazing stairway to heaven.
How to Get to Montserrat from Barcelona
Train from Barcelona to Montserrat
Montserrat National Park isn’t strictly in Barcelona, however it is extremely accessible from there. One of the main upsides of a Montserrat day trip from Barcelona is that it’s pretty straightforward to get from the city to the national park.
Getting to Montserrat from Barcelona doesn’t require you to take three different local buses with confusing timetables and infrequent departures- I’ve been in that situation all too many times. Nope! Thankfully, you can easily get straight to Montserrat by train.
From Barcelona city centre, you have to get one train from Plaça Espanya going towards Manresa. The trains leave every half an hour or so and takes just over an hour to arrive at Montserrat.
Getting into the Montserrat mountains from the train station, you have two options: the funicular or the cable car. As you get tickets in Barcelona at the Plaça Espanya station, you’ll have to decide then which method of transport you want to take (funicular or cable car.),
Your decision also determines which stop you get off at: either Monistrol Montserrat or Aeri Montserrat. If you got tickets for the funicular, get off at Monistrol Montserrat. If you chose cable car tickets, however, alight at Aeri Montserrat.
Montserrat cable car
We chose to get the Montserrat cable car into the mountains- well, I did and my travel buddy didn’t have much say in the matter. I thought it was time for her to face her fear of heights, anyway!
The cable cars leave pretty regularly, though you do have to wait in a queue for a while depending on how busy it is. 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.
If you don’t like figuring out public transport by yourself, you can also do guided tours to Montserrat from Barcelona, which come in a large variety from simple and affordable half-day tours to full-day luxury tours that include wine and tapas tasting!
Montserrat Tour from Barcelona
Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery
As soon as you leave the cable car station, you’ll find yourself at Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery.
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.
History of the Montserrat monastery
Founded in the tenth century, the Santa Maria de Montserrat 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.
Montserrat Hiking Trails
Due to its stunning natural landscape, Montserrat National Park is a popular destination for hikers. During my day trip to Montserrat, I hiked the Sant Jeroni hiking trail that takes you to the peak of the national park. This is one of the most popular trails. However, there are also multiple other hiking trails on offer within the park for you to choose from.
Sant Jeroni Hike
Being the peak of Montserrat, the hike to Sant Jeroni was an obvious choice for me. I was dying to reach the very top of the park and experience the views over the whole landscape.
I planned the hike to the Sant Jeroni well in advance of our day trip to Montserrat. However, in the cable car, I overheard a couple discuss the hiking trail and decide that there wouldn’t be enough time to complete the hike -there and back- in time for the last cable car back to train station. This scared me into doubting whether we should embark on the hike, terrified of the prospect of being left in the mountains overnight.
I eventually bargained with myself and decided that I would set out on the hike and if it seemed like time was running out, head back to the cable car.
However, my concern 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, once I had a taster of the beauty of Montserrat, I just couldn’t head back before I’d seen it all.
I continually told myself: 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, I 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.
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.
The hike took us two hours each way. We walk at a pretty average pace so you can use that as a rough guide for how much time to leave yourself for the hike before the last cable car or funicular back down to sea level.
Other Hiking Trails
There are plenty other hiking trails in and around Montserrat National Park and if I had more time in the area, I definitely would have considered undertaking another one.
The Sant Jeroni hike could potentially be a little demanding if you or a travel partner has accessibility or health issues, so peruse the other hiking trails online and pay special attention to the distance and difficulty level before embarking!
One option that interested me is the idea of hiking to the Montserrat monastery from the Monistrol de Montserrat train station instead of taking the cable car or funicular. Although this would likely be quite a strenuous hike, I think it would be incredible rewarding to climb from ground level into the national park.
Hiking back from the train station also means that you aren’t restricted by the timetables of the funicular or cable car.
Montserrat 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.
Sant Joan Funicular
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 to Sant Jeroni 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 witness.
Montserrat Day Trip Costs
The downside a day trip to Montserrat from Barcelona is that it is pretty costly for those on a strict backpacker budget.
It was €19.30 for an adult return ticket for transport and if you want to experience more funicular rides or visit the museum, the prices can add up. As it was, the Montserrat day trip ended up being our most expensive day of the entire Barcelona trip.
If you have any more questions about the visiting Montserrat as a 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!
If you’re still wondering about where to go for your holidays this summer, check out Two Tall Traveller’s guide to the best August holiday destinations.