Top Things to do, Info, Practical Tips & How to get to Montserrat
About an hour or so northwest of Barcelona, Spain, is the rocky mountain range in Catalonia, known as Montserrat. Set within this massif on the side at 750 metres above sea level is the renowned Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Monserrat (simply known as Montserrat Monastery), a popular destination for both tourists and Catalonians alike. You can easily spend one day in Monserrat from Barcelona exploring this unique building in a unique setting and its natural surroundings.
However, visiting Monserrat for the first time can be a little confusing. You need to figure out what precisely there is to do and see in one day at Monserrat, the unmissable highlights and how to travel to Monserrat from Barcelona. So, if you are looking for a good resource about how to visit Montserrat from Barcelona for a day, you have found it! This is the best guide for you.
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What to expect from this article
In this article, I endeavour to answer all the above first visit questions and any other questions you may have, so you can figure out how best to have a splendid day trip to Monserrat from Barcelona.
I share all the important information you may need: Information about Montserrat, the renowned Monserrat Monastery, what to expect when you visit and whether it is worth visiting.
In addition, this one day guide to Montserrat from Barcelona has all the top things to do and see at this unique destination along with practical tips and advice for each of the activities. Also included is an easy guide to hiking in Montserrat, highlighting the best hikes and difficulty levels.
You may not want to do all of the activities, so in that sense this is a flexible guide. I offer suggestions on time needed for each activity and not a strictly timed itinerary. With this Barcelona to Montserrat guide, you can figure out what exactly it is that you want to experience at your own pace.
Hiking is not for everyone and you can decide which activity you wish to undertake, if at all and whether you prefer hiking with an experienced guide.
Finally, you will find practical information to help you plan your day trip to Montserrat from Barcelona. The information includes options on how to get to Monserrat, how much time is needed to experience Montserrat, where to eat, best places to stay and top day tours from Barcelona to Monserrat along with good to know tips to make your trip a timeless experience.
My visit to Montserrat
During my recent visit to Barcelona for a winter getaway with my daughter, I researched extensively for the best ways to travel to Monserrat. I love train journeys, and often opt for this green option.
However, on this occasion, I undertook a guided day trip to Montserrat by coach. The guided trip was cost effective, efficient and timely. The guide was really good as she shared a lot of historical information and tips so we could maximise our experience in Montserrat.
What I appreciated more was the route which the coach took on our return journey, through tunnels and some landmarks (Santa Cecilia) which we would not have seen had we taken the train.
I share my experiences and tips in this article so you could plan ahead and keep an eye out for some of the places which we discovered during our visit.
TIP: If you don’t have time to read this article in its entirety to benefit from the suggestions and experienced tips, book your date with this guided tour to Monserrat from Barcelona. Bookmark this page or save it to Pinterest to read later.
- Why spending one day in Montserrat from Barcelona is worth the experience;
- When is the best time to visit Montserrat, Spain;
- About Montserrat, Spain;
- Top things to do in Montserrat, Spain;
- Add to your one day in Montserrat trip;
- How much time do you need at Montserrat, Spain;
- How to get to Montserrat from Barcelona;
- Mini guide to hiking in Montserrat;
- Best tours from Barcelona to Montserrat;
- Where to eat in Montserrat;
- Where to stay in Montserrat;
- Montserrat, Spain FAQs;
- Travel inspiration;
WHY SPENDING ONE DAY IN MONTSERRAT FROM BARCELONA IS WORTH THE EXPERIENCE
Monserrat from Barcelona is an easy day trip to take. A great opportunity to see the Spanish countryside, indulge in the breathtaking views from the mountains, and add that little touch of adventure to your city break. The transport system is seamless and makes getting to Monserrat from Barcelona convenient.
In addition, Montserrat is deeply rooted in history and a very important destination for the Catalan and the Catholic communities. Montserrat is best known for the 11th century Abbey of Santa Maria de Montserrat and the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, better known as the “Black Madonna.” Home to a Benedictine Monastery as well as many other smaller churches and chapels. The original abbey is said to date back to 888 A.D.
Montserrat is a unique geological landscape where you will find an impressive working monastery carved into its rocks, sitting amidst a beautiful landscape. There is none like it.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT MONTSERRAT?
Montserrat can be visited at any time of the year. The busiest times for tourism are from April to August. You may want to miss these months if you prefer not to spend hours in the queue to see Our Lady of Montserrat. I’d suggest that you opt for an off-season visit. Sundays are the busiest day at the Monastery, so avoid this if you prefer a quieter time.
In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that due to its altitude, Montserrat has different weather conditions to Barcelona’s Mediterranean climate. Montserrat is much cooler, windier. Although snow is rare it is a possibility in the winter months. Fog is a usual occurrence.
Spring or autumn is ideal for hiking in Montserrat as it offers the best balance of good weather and comfortable temperatures.
ABOUT MONTSERRAT, SPAIN
“Montserrat” is a Catalan word that translates to “serrated mountain” or “saw mountain”, describing the multi-peaked mountain range that looks like a regular handsaw.
This unusually formed massif is located about 50 km northwest of Barcelona, and sits within Parc Natural de la Muntanya de Montserrat (Montserrat National Park), a protected national park in Spain since 1987. The highest point on this jagged mountain is Sant Jeroni at 1,236 metres.
The history of Montserrat Mountain Range
The Montserrat Mountain range was formed some 45 million years ago. Back then, the area was under water, and formed part of a large delta that cascaded directly into the sea.
Following a dramatic shift in the earth’s tectonic plates about 25 million years ago, the area around Monserrat was pushed upwards, defying the gravity of the Earth, and the sea was pushed further out. The land area was exposed to air, resulting in the uncovering of sandstones, rocks and chalk.
In the ensuing years, rainwater and wind carved shapes into the rocks, hence the creation of unusual peaks, reddish in colour, defining the surreal landscape of Montserrat.
The distinctiveness of Montserrat
Monserrat is one of the most distinctive and striking mountain ranges I have ever seen. The wonder of Monserrat is indescribable and somewhat mystical.
Some see the surreal sandstone mountain range in shapes of human-like sculptures with its own characters and expressions, while some others see it as a weird roundly shaped mountains.
For me though, some of the rocks appeared to represent abstract human-like sculptures, while some were just huge rocks huddled together.
Whichever way Montserrat appears to you, you are certain to have unforgettable memories of your trip here.
Reputed as a highest spiritual place in Europe
This emblematic mountain range is regarded as “sacred” and is a popular spiritual centre. Many visit here as pilgrims and for religious reasons. The original abbey is said to date back to 888 A.D. and pilgrims have been visiting since the 11th century.
Every Catalan is expected to walk to Montserrat at least once in their lifetime. This Holy Mountain of Catalonia forms part of the Camino Catalan (Catalan Way), along the Santiago de Compostela, a route that takes the pilgrims from the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula all the way to Atlantic Galicia.
While pilgrims form part of the two million visitors to Montserrat annually, many others come here for the simple natural beauty of the mountains offering superb views over Catalonia, hiking opportunities and to explore Montserrat’s cultural and historic heritage.
Monserrat is a place to connect with nature
A trip to Montserrat makes for a beautiful day out for nature lovers where you can admire Montserrat’s unique geological formations, take a walk amid the mountains rich Mediterranean vegetation and engage in wildlife spotting. If you enjoy hiking, you could walk to Sant Jeroni, the highest peak in Montserrat.
Easy ways to get to Montserrat
There are easy ways to get to Monserrat and it does not involve climbing the mountain on foot, unless you want to. You can get here by car, train or a tour bus. You can be whisked to the top by a scenic cable car ride, and take a funicular higher up onto the mountain for even better views. There’s a detailed guide about how to get to Montserrat below.
For now, let’s take a look at what there is to do in Montserrat for a day trip from Barcelona.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MONTSERRAT, SPAIN
Here are the top things to do in Montserrat on a day visit from Barcelona:
The Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat is one of the primary reasons why people travel to Montserrat. The monastery is home to eighty monks who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict.
It is not known exactly when the monks arrived here but it is believed that in the 9th century, four chapels were built (St. Mary’s, St Iscle’s, St. Martin’s and St. Peter’s). Of the four, only one exists today, St Iscle’s and it is located in the monastery garden.
A monastery was officially founded in the 11th century by the Abbot of Ripoli and the Bishop of Vic, Oliba, rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The actual Monserrat Monastery and the cloisters are not open to the public.
You can visit the grounds of the monastery, take a look inside the Abbey of Montserrat (Santa Maria de Montserrat), see Our Lady of Montserrat, listen to the world famous Montserrat Boys Choir, marvel at the architecture that surrounds you and enjoy the crisp, calm and serenity of the mountain atmosphere.
What to look out for at the Montserrat Monastery:
A large stone-arched entrance gateway with metal clad doors. These doors are one of the few originals of the monastery. This is the main entrance to the monastery and leads to an open courtyard, offering magnificent views of Catalonia.
The open courtyard is magnificent. Spacious, and simple, along with carved arches, statues, steps, lamp-posts and trees offering captivating views of the gigantic rocks, the funicular and the valleys.
Past the courtyard is the main entrance to the Abbey where you will come to a little corridor with three arched entrances. The one on the far right is specifically for visiting Our Lady. Queue here only if you want to visit Our Lady of Montserrat. The other two arched entrances lead to a small square where the queues are managed for entry to the Abbey of Montserrat.
The Inner Courtyard or Atrium of Abbot Argerich at the Abbey of Montserrat
Sitting directly in front of the Abbey of Montserrat is the Inner Court, also known as the Atrium, an open-roofed courtyard. A corridor of five arches leads you to the main courtyard. Then, there are the main entrances that lead you to the Abbey.
The atrium is known as the Atrium of Abbot Argerich. On the right-hand side of the atrium, the wall depicts designs of the most important shrines and basilicas throughout Christianity. Designs on the left wall tell the brief history of the Monastery.
When here, take a look down at the floor. This gorgeous floor in black and white marble draws inspiration from the Capitolium in Rome that was designed by Michelangelo. The inscriptions in the centre are Latin, referring to baptism.
From here, you can observe the facade of the Abbey which was rebuilt in 1900. The facade is dominated by four striking elements: the twelve apostles, Jesus Christ, a circular glass window and a clock at the top.
TIP: You may find a long queue here to the Abbey and this can be overwhelming. The security does get them through quickly. We visited after the midday service and only waited about five minutes.
Abbey of Montserrat
The Abbey of Montserrat is an example of Gothic and Renaissance architecture with an impressive nave where the choir and high altar sits. You will immediately be drawn to the centre of the upper part where a golden temple sits, housing a silver throne where the image of Santa Maris presides over the whole nave.
Access to the Abbey of Montserrat is from the open-roofed courtyard (the Atrium of the Basilica), a bright square where the queues are managed by the Monserrat security staff.
The design of this basilica is unlike other churches. The nave connects to several side chapels, with elaborate arches. It is not a huge church, measuring at 58 metres long, 15 metres wide and 23 metres high. Small and intimate, this church sees natural light through its stained glass windows.
What to look out for at the Abbey of Montserrat:
Wooden sculptures of the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and David which were placed here in 1896;
Collection of interesting metal lamps left here as offerings by people and Catalan organisations. Close to the altar, on the left hand side, you can see a lamp left by the Barcelona Football Club.
Every artwork, mosaics and detail is stunning. It is worth spending some time here but I don’t think it will be any more than 30 minutes.
Our Lady of Montserrat
Our Lady of Montserrat or more popularly known as La Moreneta or the “Black Madonna” is a beautiful 12th century Romanesque statue. The statue is enthroned in a silver altarpiece and situated in the upper section of the basilica apse.
The statue of Our Lady of Montserrat was discovered in the hillside caves of Montserrat in the late 800s. A small chapel, Santa Cova was built where she was found. This is an important pilgrimage site. You can walk to the chapel or take the Funicular Santa Cova that stops nearby.
Our Lady of Montserrat is the Patron Saint of Catalonia and a symbol of the Catalan people. A popular destination for the Catalans and the pilgrims alike who come here to touch the sphere held by Our Lady.
How to visit Our Lady of Montserrat:
As mentioned above, the entrance to visit Our Ladyof Montserrat is located at the far right in the corridor that leads to the square before the Abbey of Montserrat.
There is always a long queue here, so join this queue only if you have the time for this. It has been noted that queues to see Our Lady can take anything from 30 minutes to an hour in the busy months.
We visited off-season, at the end of January and there was no queue as such. Visitors were kept on the move and took about 15 minutes, the most.
After seeing Our Lady of Montserrat, the path leads down some steps and towards a grotto area where you can light candles and make your wishes.
Candles are available in various sizes and prices start from €2.50. If you want to light these candles, ensure you have some Euro coins with you as the slots are not designed to accept notes.
TIP: There is no charge to visit Our Lady but there are donation boxes placed at the top of the stairs.
PRO TIP: A long queue to see Our Lady of Montserrat is often mistaken for the queue to enter the church. This is just for Our Lady. The queue for the church starts from the centre square.
Good to know when visiting the Abbey of Montserrat and Our Lady of Montserrat:
As with all places of worship, ensure you wear appropriate clothing. Your shoulders and knees should be covered when visiting both of these places.
Montserrat Boys Choir (Escolania de Montserrat)
The Montserrat Boys’ Choir is the oldest boys’ choir in Europe. Its origins date back to the 14th century.
This famous Boys’ Choir sings in the Abbey of Montserrat daily (except school holidays) at 13:00 and at 18:45. On Sundays, there is a short performance at midday. The full schedule is available here on the official website of Escolania.
For some visitors to Monserrat, listening to the Boys Choir is a highlight that they would not want to miss. Others prefer to spend their time exploring the surroundings or hiking. So, it is really up to you to decide what you prefer and balance it out with the time you have here.
TIP: If you want to experience the Boys’ Choir sing at the Abbey of Montserrat, be sure to be there for at least half an hour prior to the service commencing. You will need to be here much earlier If you want a place to sit.
You can watch a short official video of the Boys Choir performing Ave Maria here.
Museum of Montserrat
If you have some time, the Museum of Montserrat is a nice place to visit. Most of the museum’s collection has been privately donated. The museum showcases a fine collection of Catalan art, and archaeological finds of the Ancient World and Middle East along with several masterpieces by Caravaggio, Picasso, and Dali.
Regular tickets cost €8.00 and you can find more information about seasonal opening hours and discounted rates from their official website.
St Michael’s Cross: An amazing viewpoint in Montserrat
When visiting Montserrat, take some time to explore the area on foot.
St Michael’s Path to St Michael’s Cross (Creu de Sant Miguel) is one of the most scenic paths in Monserrat. It gives the best views of the Monastery and picturesque views of the valley below along with surreal views of mountains beyond, as far as the eyes can see. Truly a rewarding hike worth experiencing.
The hike is at an elevation of 762 metres (2500 ft) from the Monastery and the trek itself is just between 1 – 1.2 km, bringing you to an amazing viewpoint in Montserrat.
The trek is more uphill and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get to St Michael’s Cross. The way back is much quicker and takes less than 20 minutes.
The hike to St Michael’s Cross is relatively easy, with a wide gravel path. You don’t really need heavy hiking gear but a pair of good walking shoes will definitely help.
The sign for the start of St Michael’s Path is not easily found but the path begins near the Sant Joan funicular, near the cafe next to the Monastery’s main entrance. Instead of turning off at Sant Joan station, continue ahead on the paved path. Once you are here, just follow the ridge of the mountain, till you reach the cross. It is a wide path, paved and easy to walk on. There are many viewing points and resting areas on the way, if you need to stop.
What you need to know about the Funiculars in Montserrat
It’s important to note that there are three funiculars in Monserrat: Cremallera, Santa Cova, and Sant Joan funiculars. Cremallera is the rack railway that takes you from the bottom of Montserrat mountain to Montserrat Monastery. Santa Cova funicular takes you downhill from Montserrat Monastery while the Sant Joan takes you uphill from Montserrat Monastery to the highest point of Montserrat.
Ride the Santa Cova Funicular and Visit the Santa Cova de Montserrat
The Santa Cova funicular goes down the mountain and brings you to the start of a walk to Santa Cova, a holy cave. The Santa Cova is an important pilgrimage site.
Santa Cova or “The Holy Grotto” of Montserrat was where holy visions of the Virgin Mary appeared to shepherds on several occasions. Legend has it that the image of the Virgin Mary was first seen in 880 in the cave in Montserrat. Text of these holy visions were first found in the 13th century, which led to a chapel being built here.
Inside the grotto, you will see a replica of Our Lady of Montserrat, the original being placed at the Abbey of Montserrat.
Depending on how much time you have during your visit, the Holy Grotto is a good activity to do. The walk down along the winding dedicated path offers great views of the surroundings, mountains and valleys. The distance is about 2.7 km and takes a little over two hours for a return walk. Some of the walks to the Holy Grotto can be strenuous.
The Santa Cova funicular station is located about 20 minutes away from the Holy Grotto, so there is some walk here as well.
You can buy tickets for the Santa Cova funicular rides at the upper and lower stations.
PRO TIP: If you don’t have much time, you can walk down to Santa Cova and take the funicular back up. Alternatively, take the funicular both ways.
Ride the Sant Joan Funicular and Hike Sant Jeroni
From Montserrat Monastery, you can take the Sant Joan funicular to get higher up the Montserrat mountain. You can then hike to Sant Jeroni, the highest point of the Montserrat Mountain, at 1,236m. From there, you can enjoy even more spectacular views over Catalonia, Llobregat Valley and the Pyrenees. This is definitely a worthwhile thing to do if you have an entire day in Montserrat and fit to do so.
The elevation gain is 600m and is about 10km in distance and you will reach the maximum altitude of 1,236.
Walking to Sant Jeroni is probably the most hiked route in the sacred mountain of Montserrat. The hike to Sant Jeroni starts at the Monastery, near the fountain. It is estimated to be a 4 to 5 hours return hike with stops at the viewing points. No doubt that this makes for a unique experience.
However, trekking for 4 to 5 hours may not be possible if you are here on a day trip. You could reduce the time significantly by taking the Sant Joan funicular from the Montserrat Monastery. From Sant Joan’s upper level station, it takes a little over an hour to reach the summit with various viewing points along the way.
If you really want to hike up to St Jeroni, the highest peak in Montserrat, you may want to take a professional guide with you. A professional and knowledgeable guide well versed with the terrain will guide you through navigating some challenging treks. You may want to go on this particular guided experience if this is the kind of thing you are looking to do. In addition, this hiking experience includes a visit to the Monastery, guided hike and snacks on the trail, plus a visit to a vineyard for wine tasting and tapas. There is free pick-up and drop-off from your hotel in Barcelona city as well. I’d say, this is a perfect option to do away with the hassle of public transportation and enjoy a blissful and safe hiking day in the mountains. Here, you can book your date with mountain hiking, wine tasting and tapas in Montserrat.
TIP: If you are a confident hiker and want to explore St Jeroni independently, take the Sant Joan funicular both ways to save time. You can purchase tickets at the funicular stations.
The Montserrat Arches
Mostly unnoted, the carved arches in Montserrat Monastery are a fantastic addition to things to look out for when you are here for one day from Barcelona. The Montserrat arches are located in three main areas.
As already mentioned, you will find them at the open courtyard before you enter the Monastery. The Montserrat arches feature sculptures of saints and religious figures.
Secondly, as you enter the inner court for the Abbey, you will find five lovely arches on both sides of the quadrangle inner court.
Thirdly, towards the bus parking area at the end of the road, you will notice a rest area with really nice Montserrat arches. The views from here are really nice. Besides getting a closer glimpse of the Montserrat rocks and views across, you will also see some hiking trails along the valley.
TIP: The Montserrat archways make a lovely backdrop for great memorable photos.
The unique Stairway to Heaven
Often attributed as one of the best things to do in Montserrat, the Stairway to Heaven is just a simple modern piece of art situated near the bus parking area. This stack of nine concrete blocks arranged in a spiral structure was “once upon a time” a popular object to climb.
Stairway to Heaven was made popular by some Instagrammers who had their photo captured standing on top of the large concrete staircase. This ensued in a floodgate of visitors whose main purpose was to capture the same impressive photos of themselves on the staircase.
However, this is no longer possible. Stairway to Heaven is now cordoned off by a sturdy wired fence, preventing visitors from accessing the artwork.
Shops and Souvenirs
There are about four souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and a local farmers market. There is a lovely cafe near the iron-clad door entrance to the Monastery that sells delicious pastries and a great cup of Americano.
The farmers’ market, made up of not very many stalls is located a little down the road, away from the main area of shops. You will see it as you walk towards the Montserrat arches or the Stairway to Heaven attraction.
This small market sells some traditional local produce such as mountain cheese and honey which are not found in Barcelona. Tasting some of their local food makes a visit that much more special.
We tasted their locally produced Montserrat cheddar and truffle cheese. The mild and nutty truffle cheese won us over and we purchased a block to bring back with us to London .
A stop at the market stalls is highly recommended. The products are packaged with all relevant information printed to comply with Customs & Excise requirements.
TIP: Try their local fresh cottage cheese, also known as mató, brull or brolla with honey, a Catalan speciality.
ADD TO YOUR ONE DAY IN MONTSERRAT TRIP
Visit the ancient Santa Cecilia Monastery
Located in a peaceful natural setting with breathtaking views up to the ridges of Montserrat and down to the river valley below is Montserrat’s oldest monastery, Santa Cecilia.
Built in the 10th century, Santa Cecilia is a Romanesque monastery which underwent restoration in 1928 by the noted modernist, Puig i Cadafalch. More recently, the modern Irish artist Sean Scully was given leave to decorate the entire church with works of his art, turning the interior into an “art space.”
Santa Cecilia can be reached by car or via a hiking trail that begins near Marganell.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED AT MONSERRAT
Ideally, an entire day.
To do all of the above listed things to do, you will need an entire day. It will be a long day, though well worth it.
A return journey from Barcelona to Montserrat by public transport will take about 3 hours. Added to this is an hour or an hour-half for the Montserrat Abbey, and to walk around the Monastery.
If you want to see a little more of the surrounding areas such as the hike to St Michael’s Cross, Holy Grotto and St Jeroni which can total 5 hours or so.
On the other hand, if your time in Barcelona is limited and you can’t spend a day in Montserrat, then perhaps you may prefer a half-day visit to Montserrat from Barcelona.
What will a half day visit to Montserrat look like
If you opt for a half-day visit, then you could easily spend some quality time at the Monastery and go on just one hike. The St Michael’s walk to St Michael’s Cross is highly recommended, most popular and certainly worth your time. It is not strenuous, and you are rewarded with remarkable views from the viewpoint at the cross. In addition, this trek can be completed in an hour or less.
For most travellers, this one hike to St Michael’s Cross is more than enough for an experience of Montserrat.
If you only have half-a-days to spare for a visit to Montserrat, you may not want to spend 3+ hours on public transport on a round trip. Therefore, if you are not keen on navigating public transport or in hiring a car to get to Montserrat from Barcelona, then the best option is to join a guided tour where transfers are included.
If you would like to save some travel time and do away with navigating the public transport, you may find this particular half-day tour favourable. With this guided tour, you have up to three hours of free time to explore by yourself. This is enough time for you to visit the Abbey, trek St Michael’s Path, visit the Holy Grotto and explore the surroundings.
We opted for a guided tour and it was the perfect choice. We boarded the coach at Barcelona Nord. 50 minutes later we arrived at Monistrol de Montserrat, a small town at the bottom of the mountain to board Cremallera, the rack railway to get us to Montserrat Monastery. Therefore, the journey by coach from Barcelona to Montserrat was about an hour and we did not experience any inconvenience at all.
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