In Catalonia you'll find the Pyrenees, miles of coast with spectacular coves and white-housed towns, numerous picturesque villages, and corners that are unchanged from medieval times. In addition, there are cities with key landmarks, natural parks and UNESCO heritage sites dotted all over the place. It's no easy task to pick just 45 places worth visiting, but we've risen to the challenge and here's our selection.
Aigüestortes i Sant Maurici
This is the only Spanish National Park in Catalonia. You can access it from a variety of places, then go hiking or hire an 4x4 taxi to explore its beauty. Wherever you head, you'll discover stunning, mountainous landscapes, with fields, paths and peaks above 3,000 metres. The most photographed view is of the lake of Sant Maurici with the mountain of Els Encantats in the background.
In this town there's history all around you. It might be best known for its Romanesque bridge, which is magnificent and endlessly photographed, but it's also worth visiting the synagogue and mikveh, the hospital-church of Sant Julià, the monastery of Sant Pere, the church of Sant Vicenç and Casa Cornellà. All in all, it's without doubt one of the best preserved and interesting medieval places in Catalonia. You should aim to spend a full day there, and explore every part of it.
Tarragona: Amphitheatre and Roman circus
If you love the history of the all-powerful Roman Empire, then a visit to Tarragona is a must. In the place known by the Romans as Tarraco, which was one of the most important of the Empire's settlements in the Iberian Peninsula, you can still find important remains, 2,000 years later. Particular standouts include the Amphitheatre and the circus, as well as, on the outskirts of town, a section of aqueduct. It's also worth visiting the city's museums, where you'll see dozens of objects and detailed mosaics.
Even though geographically this is part of the Alta Garrotxa county, since 1969 this picturesque village has belonged to the municipality of Camprodon, in Ripollès county. To get there you have to travel along a road full of curves, but we guarantee that the effort is worth it. In Beget, it really feels as though time has stood still, and its collection of streets and houses create an idyllic spot. Take the time to visit the Romanesque church, which is dedicated to Sant Cristòfor and where you'll find a beautiful wooden carving.
Calella de Palafrugell
Despite the tourism boom seen over the past few decades in the Costa Brava, and the rapid growth of what until recently were small fishing-villages, there are still some places that have managed to retain their charm. Along the streets of Calella de Palafrugell, it's possible to see the traditional white houses and cottages of fishing-folk; and if you listen hard enough, you're almost bound to hear the melody of a local sea shanty or 'havanera'. However, it has to be said that this authentic ambience does mean that hundreds of tourists visit each summer to sunbathe on the beautiful beaches.
Aiguamolls de l'Empordà
A protected Natural Park, the Aiguamolls cover almost 5,000 hectares and are home to numerous birds over the course of the year. More than 3,000 species visit the area, of which 82 live permanently among the lagoons and dunes. The stork is the most emblematic animal in the park, but there are many other creatures that are just as beautiful and that you can't see anywhere else in Catalonia. Walk around, taking care to respect the surroundings, and admire the fauna in its natural habitat.
The first charterhouse (12th century) in the whole Iberian Peninsula is located in a unique landscape, in Escaladei; and it's a must-visit if you're heading to the area of Priorat. It should be said that a large part of the building now lies in ruins, but you can still feel the magnitude of the place thanks to the remains of its three cloisters, one of which has been completely restored, the church, the refectory and a cell that's been reconstructed to show all manner of detail. Take advantage to discover the area, the Montsant sierra and, of course, the wine!
Vall de Boí
Throughout the Pyrenees, you'll discover many Romanesque features, but it's in the Vall de Boí that this architectural style achieved its greatest splendour; it's no surprise, then, that it caught the attention of UNESCO, which has declared its range of churches a World Heritage Site. You should visit as many villages as you can (Cóll, Cardet, Barruera, Durro, Erill la Vall, Taüll...), because in each one of these postcard-worthy places set among stunning mountains, you'll find a treasure. Or more than one.
This town gives its name to a beautiful valley in the Pyrenees, and it's also the local commercial centre, with some streets full of shops. What's more, Camprodon is a place with lots of history and sights worth seeing. The Pont Nou ('New Bridge') over the River Ter is one of the most photographed spots in the Eastern Pyrenees, while the monastery of Sant Pere was built in the Romanesque style and dates from the 10th century. This is also the birthplace of the renowned composer Isaac Albéniz, and there's a museum dedicated to him.
Cap de Creus and Cadaqués
The landscape here is almost lunar-like, with rocks sculpted by the Tramuntana wind and the choppy water of the Mediterranean. It's a unique place in Catalonia: the most easterly point in the region, a peninsula within the Iberian Peninsula, and somewhere that provided significant inspiration for Salvador Dalí - he built a house in the town of Portlligat, and so became the first Catalan to see the sun's rays each morning. Speaking of Dalí, this area is also where you'll find the beautiful village of Cadaqués, with its white houses and Mediterranean aroma.
The county of Priorat is like a world of its own, and within that world exists another, even smaller, world: the town of Siurana and the reservoir that it overlooks. Siurana is an isolated place, practically on the edge of a cliff and on top of a limestone crag, where its old stone houses sit; the panoramic vistas are amazing. In addition, it has interesting historical features, such as the Romanesque church of Santa María and the remains of the castle of 'wali' Almira Alemoni.
Castellar de n'Hug
There are numerous villages in the Catalan Pyrenees that are worth visiting, and Castellar de n'Hug is definitely one of them. However, we've put it on the list not just because of its incredible beauty but also because it's where the source of the mighty Llobregat river is found and that spot merits a visit in its own right. What's more, you won't have to walk too far to see the impressive waterfalls. In the village, you should go and see the two Romanesque churches, Santa Maria and Sant Vicenç.
This is one of the most emblematic mountains in Catalonia, not just for its height (2,506m) but also for its solitary location and singular form, with two crags separated by a large pass. Indeed, the unique profile of Pedraforca has given rise to numerous legends and stories. Seeing it for yourself is definitely worth it, and if you're in good physical shape, heading up to the peak is not an impossible challenge - it's an outing that, they say, every Catalan should do at least once in their life; and why not every visitor to Catalonia as well!
Delta de l'Ebre
The Ebre river is one of the biggest in the Iberian peninsula, and the sediment that it carries collect in this delta, which is one of the most important wetlands in western Europe. It's a haven for birds and an ideal place for growing rice crops. The Delta de l'Ebre is a unique natural space, which doesn't resemble any other in Catalonia, with infinite routes to be done either on foot or bike, and numerous hides for glimpsing the birds that live in the Delta.
The old town of Tossa de Mar
The older inhabitants of this Costa Brava town still today talk, their eyes shining, about how Ava Gardner used to stroll along its streets during the filming of 'Pandora and the Flying Dutchman'. It's said that it was as a result of this film, which came out in 1950, that the region became a popular holiday destination, and the beaches of Girona were transformed forever. And the profile of Tossa, in both the film and in reality, is a big pull, with its old walls overlooking the waves and the tower of Ses Hores in its privileged position.
Cathedral of La Seu d'Urgell
This is the only Romanesque cathedral in Catalonia and, despite the grandness of the building and its location in the county capital, experts say that its clearly Italian-influenced characteristics had absolutely no impact on other buildings from the same period. As a result, this is a unique religious construction in the region. The cloister and its capitals, the altarpiece of Sant Ermengol and the murals are just a few of the elements that you need to see when you visit this 'cathedral of the Pyrenees'.
Standing imposing at the top of a long flight of steps, and presiding over the beautiful city of Girona, if the cathedral seems splendid from the outside, once you step inside you'll be just as impressed. It has the widest Gothic nave in the world, measuring almost 23m (and it's in a variety of styles; only the basilica of Saint Peter's in the Vatican can surpass it). From the cloister to the stained-glass windows, chapels, main alterpiece, Charlemagne Tower and the museum, everything in this landmark spot deserves a lengthy visit.
This is a charming inland village that's situated on a hill, meaning it has excellent views of the surrounding countryside. But its interior beauty is just as stunning, with its streets and well-preserved stone houses from the medieval period. Among the most appealing features are the church of Santa Maria and the hermitage of Sant Sebastià. Head through the entryway of the old part, then wander upwards through the streets until you get to the highest point.
Built in a spectacular Romanesque and Gothic style, this large medieval fortress is located in a privileged spot from where it's witnessed various historic events. It's certainly worth visiting all of it, but we are particularly captivated by the Tower of the 'Minyona' (which means 'servant'), from the 11th century, and the church of Sant Vicenç, which is an excellent state of repair despite being almost 1,000 years old. What's more, you can also stay in the Parador de Turisme (a hotel run by the Spanish government) that takes up part of the castle.
Pals is another one of the Empordà's most beautiful villages, with buildings from the Middle Ages that have survived the passing of time. Streets and houses of stone, semicircular archways, Gothic churches and town walls await you. A particularly emblematic site is the Torre dels Hores (Tower of Hours), which was a key section of the old castle, while if you walk to the highest point in Pals you'll enjoy memorable views of the fields of the Empordà, the mountain of Montgrí and the Medes isles.
A simple way to find out the state of Catalonia's water reserves (because that's clearly something you'd be interested in!) is to head to the reservoir of Sau and see how much of the church of Sant Roman de Sau you can see; the village that once stood here was evacuted years ago and the space submerged under water, but many of the buildings left in place. As a man-made body of water perhaps it doesn't have the same charm as natural lakes, but the surrounding massif of Les Guilleries, along with the church of Sant Roman (when it's been very dry the remains of the whole village can be seen) make this a spot worth visiting.
Barcelona's Gothic neighbourhood
The inhabitants of the Roman town of Barcino once occupied this part of the city, and if you search carefully, you'll find the remaining columns of the Temple of Augustus. Down the years, 'el Gòtic' is where Barcelona's main civil and religious buildings were constructed, many of which are still standing and in use today.
Girona's Jewish quarter
This is regarded as the best-preserved Jewish quarter in the whole of Europe, and it's located right in the heart of Girona. The Call (which means 'Jewish neighbourhood') started to be built in the 12th century and became home to a large group of Jews. Nowadays, walking among its streets is like taking a trip back in time, and you should check out the Call Museum, where you can learn all about the history of Judaism in the city.
The Greeks entered the Iberian Peninsula via Empúries, and they liked it so much that they stayed there for quite some time. The Romans came afterwards, and also liked what they saw. Many interesting archaeological remains from these two civilisations can still be seen in this part of the Gulf of Roses, and you shouldn't miss the museum, which contains many valuable items found there, such as the statue of Asclepio. In addition, we recommend that you take a walk in front of the sea, from L'Escala to Sant Martí d'Empúries.
Poblet, Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges form a unqiue historical and heritage triangle. We recommend that you take at least a couple of days to visit these three monasteries, two of which still have active communities living in them, along with other towns and places of interest in the area. The monasteries were begun in the 12th century, and there are numerous features to contemplate, as well as the tombs of some of the most renowned royalty of the Crown of Aragó.
This is a small inland village with a lot of charm and an important historical-artistic part. Guimerà still has an intrinsically medieval structure, with the church of Santa Maria at its summit, along with the remains of the castle, from where you can enjoy interesting views. During August, a medieval market is held there, which enhances the splendour of the natural setting.
La Fageda d'en Jordà
If witches and gnomes could choose somewhere to live, among their choices would almost certainly be this magical wood: leafy and shaded by the top of the beech trees, it's located on the old lava flows of the Croscat volcano. In a county renowned for the beauty of its extinct volcanoes, La Fageda d'en Jordà is a mystical, silent place, described by poets and ideal for a stroll, bike ride or excursion on horseback.
This is another of Catalonia's well-known landmarks that it's basically obligatory to visit. And not just for the faithful, because Montserrat is much more than its monastery and famous 'black Virgin'. It's also a mountain with incredible geological forms, which are much-admired, and a place with numerous interesting walking routes, a variety of transportation options including a zip train, two funiculars and a cable car, as well as a museum with a world-class art collection.
This is the largest lake in Catalonia, and is so important to the area that it's given its name to the county in which it sits (L'Estany, which means 'the lake' in Catalan). Walking around its banks, or taking a bike along the same route, is an excellent way to take a break from it all and find a real sense of calm. But beware of the monster! Sports lovers should take note: this was the location for the rowing competitions when Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in 1992.
This town almost literally rises out of the water; indeed, on more than one occasion, the increased volume in the river Ebre has caused problems and damage to local buildings. The streets slope up to reach a castle that has its roots in the Muslim occupation of the area, towards the end of the first millennium, and the result is a place that seems to have been designed by an urban planner with excellent taste, or a director of photographer.
This is another ridiculously picturesque place, surrounded by mountains and where a 9th-century image of the Virgin of Montgrony is venerated. The first place that visitors see is a hostal with a staircase (said to have been constructed by Count Arnau, a mythical nobelman from Catalonia's past) that heads to the Virgin's chapel, which is built into the rocks. From here, another staircase takes you up to the Romanesque church of Sant Pere. You can also get to the village along a lovely route from Castellar de n'Hug or Gombrèn.
Monestir de Ripoll
An exquisite Romanesque portal and the weight of a long history. Just these two elements alone would justify a trip to Ripoll, one of the key towns in the Catalan Pyrenees, to visit the monastery of Santa Maria. A large part of the building was built relatively recently, but in excellent taste that emphasises the majesty of a place that was fundamental to the creation of the area known today as Catalonia. It's also the last resting-place for the remains of some members of the medieval aristocracy.
Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona
It's difficult to think of another street in the world that so elegantly combines incredible architectural heritage with dozens of luxury label shops. That's why Passeig de Gràcia, which is renowned for its modernista buildings but also has interesting constructions from other periods, draws so many visitors, interested as much in the architecture as the retail therapy. It is, without doubt, one of the most emblematic and well-known streets in Barcelona.
Rambla Nova in Tarragona
The capital of the south of Catalonia is not only appealing thanks to its splendid Roman past (see no 3). The more modern streets, squares and buildings are also worthy of admiration, and the centre of everything is doubtless the Rambla Nova, an avenue that's 45m wide and 700m long, full of interesting buildings on both sides, as well as various iconic works of sculpture, such as the one dedicated to Roger de Llúria, a famous soldier and sailor from the 13th century. Just behind his statue is the Balcony of the Mediterranean, a fantastic point overlooking the sea where people also go to admire the iron railings.
There are those people who think that the Empordà is one of the most beautiful parts of Catalonia. And not just for its beaches, coves or villages filled with white houses that overlook the sea. A few miles inland there are also many stunning spots that have kept their charm despite the passing of time, and in many cases they retain a medieval ambience. Peratallada is an excellent example of this. It's been officially declared a place of historical and artistic interest, and taking a walk through its windy streets is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Plaça Major in Vic
This is one of the most fabulous squares in the whole of Catalonia. Spacious and full of interesting buildings, the arcades are another of the key features and one of the town's jewels. You might think that the centre is rather empty, with no trees or kids' park, but that's because there is a huge weekly market held here every Saturday, as well as fairs and gatherings during the year. So, to see it on one of its busiest days, check out the calendar and head to Vic when its main square is really buzzing.
The colour red is predominant among the main buildings in this town situated among mountains. What makes it special are the remains of historic walls and the castle of the counts of Prada de Conflent, the church of Santa Maria la Major and many of the houses. Take your time to walk around Prades, go through its gateways, and spend some time in the Plaça Major, where you'll find a Renaissance fountain in the form of a globe, which has become a symbol of the town.
What makes Sitges so special? Its white houses? The sea and 26 beaches? The art that's everywhere as well as the original, interesting museums? The famous, much-photographed, profile that's created by its seafront church? The liberty and cosmopolitanism that runs through the streets? Or maybe the light? What is clear is that this town has inspired a multitude of artists since the end of the 19th century, and many tourists choose it each year for an unforgettable holiday.
In Catalonia, villages such as Rupit are sometimes nicknamed 'nativity scenes' ('pessebres'), thanks to the old stone houses and red tile roofs, narrow stony streets, and river with ducks and bridge, which all come together to create an almost perfect image. These are villages that might not have a church with the most important altarpiece in the region or the house with the most renowned architecture, but they are beautiful from head to toe and amazing places for a stroll through the silence of the stones.
What can we possibly say about Gaudí's Sagrada Família cathedral that hasn't already been said? Going to Barcelona and not seeing this building that's still under construction is like going to Paris and not bothering to see the Eiffel Tower. The end of the works is getting ever closer (currently due for 2026), and neither the cranes nor the huge queues can eclipse the majesty of Gaudí's main work, which is worth exploring both inside and out.
Seu Vella in Lleida
This church has been the main feature of the profile of the city of Lleida since the 13th century, and borne witness to numerous historical events. Spanish king Phillip V tried to have it pulled down, but died before it was done and so the Seu Vella was saved. In terms of its architectural style, someone clinched it when they wrote 'it has Romanesque shapes and Gothic monumentality'. Together with the castle del Rei and La Sua ('of the king and his wife'), and the local military fortress, it's been declared an official monument of national interest.
Located in the centre of the Natural Park of the Volcanic Zone in La Garrotxa, the town of Santa Pau is a must for lovers of the countryside, and it also conserves medieval structures and stone houses that history fans will adore. The arcaded Plaça Major is a highlight, but it's worth exploring the whole town, with its narrow streets and beautiful corners.
Vall de Núria
We recommend catching the zip train from Ribes de Freser or Queralbs, and drinking in the mountain landscapes, before getting to the top and seeing the beautiful lake and sanctuary of the Virgin of Núria. You can go hiking, breathe in the pure air and not hear a single vehicle. Later take the cable car and head up to the highest peaks. If you go in winter, take advantage to go skiing and admiring the white blanket covering everything in sight. During the rest of the year, you'll be surprised by the many tones of green on show. Welcome to one of the Pyrenees' most beautiful corners.
Seu de Manresa
We've already said that La Seu Vella in Lleida marks the profile of that particular city and is its most emblematic building, and the same can be said of La Seu in Manresa, the capital of Bages county in the heart of Catalonia. This work, from the Gothic era, is in the highest part of the city and is special as much for its beautiful exterior as for the many interesting features inside, such as the columns in the central nave and the crypt, as well as the Gothic altarpieces.
Coves de Benifallet
We end our tour of Catalonia by going underground. If you're a fan of stalactites and stalagmites, those magical, impossible forms created drop by drop over thousands of years, we recommend you head to the two caves ('coves') open to the public in Benifallet: 'la Maravelles', with a route that covers just over 500m, and 'la Dues', which is 253m; they were both discovered in the second half of the 20th century.