In part two of day trips from the port of Barcelona, I cover Tossa de Mar, Tarragona, Girona and Port Aventura.
Tossa de Mar
Approximately 105km north, east of Barcelona lies the beautiful town of Tossa de Mar. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is a lovely, cobbled street town that centuries ago, started life as a fishermen's village. Known for some prehistoric remains, a “Castillo”, and sandy beaches, it is well worth a visit if you decide to head north. Getting there from Barcelona was fairly easy as I had rented a car and decided to drive myself. I opted to take the coastal route as I was meeting up with a friend in Mataro. The coastal route (#32), takes you through a number of towns and villages as you hug the shoreline. The drive, and passing through the villages, was interesting but it slowed the trip down considerably. When I was returning, I used the main highways (C-33 to E-15) and saved about 30 - 40 minutes on the return trip to Barcelona. If you are not driving, your best bet is to take an organized tour or the bus (which takes about two hours each way).
I found Tossa de Mar to be very much a tourist town but one that has more than just a great beach (Platja Gran), and tourist kiosks selling trashy souvenirs. There is the Castillo which was the draw that put this town on my radar. Dating back to the 12th century, this walled fortress and medieval structures were constructed over the period of the 12 – 14th centuries and consist of ancient buildings surrounded by a defensive wall. Complete with watchtowers, the Castillo is considered to be an excellent example of a fortified medieval town. The fortress photographs well from the beach with the Joanas tower (Torre d'en Joanàs), facing the water. The six other watch towers offer an impressive backdrop and be sure to take a photograph of the south side of the wall where you can take in the wall and three of the watch posts from several vantage points. There is also a clock tower, arched stone entrances and impressive cobbled streets. Please note that the cobbles can make for uneven walking at times and can be a challenge for those with mobility issues. There was no cost to enter into the old town and it is possible to walk along portions of the old wall.
Although the draw for me was the old medieval town within the walls, as with most locations, the growth of the town was such that by the 15th century, people were soon building outside of the walls. I recommend you have a look at the buildings outside the perimeter walls as there are some historical gems to be found.
There is enough to see in this town to warrant spending the day or you can combine it with a trip to one of the other sites located north of Barcelona (such as the Ruins of Empúries). You can also tour the old town before the mid-day heat and then head to the beach for a little relaxation.
About 80 km to the south of Barcelona lies the port city of Tarragona. As with many towns and cities in Europe, the Romans occupied and left their mark on this city. There is a large Roman amphitheatre that was built in the 2nd century AD and offers a superb view of the Mediterranean Sea from the upper seating. With the ability to house up to 15,000 spectators, this is an amphitheatre of an impressive scale.
Located nearby is the Roman forum, but it is a ruin and not one of the better examples of a forum that you can find in Europe. I found it underwhelming but it is a UNESCO listed site so worth a look. It won’t take a long period of time as the site is limited. You can actually see bits and pieces of the Forum incorporated as part of the walled, medieval Old Town. In my opinion, Tarragona’s old town is a great place to explore. The old, narrow streets take you along walls and structures that have Roman and medieval origins. I began my exploration of the medieval quarter at the Cathedral Square and worked my way from there.
Speaking of the cathedral, the Catedal Basilica de Tarragona is a must see. Entrance is 5 euro for adults, 4 for children and seniors. Originally built on the site of a roman ruin dating from the first century AD, the first cathedral was believed to have been built around 475AD by the Visigoths. That structure was demolished by an invasion around 711. The current structure started life in the early 1300s with consecration taking place in 1331. Over the centuries, additions and improvements were made which offer the viewer glimpses of different architectural styles and most importantly, artistic embellishments that give testament to the money the church had that allowed it to employ artisans of great skill.
I recommend you plan to spend the day in Tarragona.
I inadvertently visited this city during the festival called “Temps de Flora” which is a huge attraction for the area. If you like crowds and flowers, I suggest you go in May and take in this festival. The floral displays and creations are quite impressive. If you are like me and not a fan of crowds, then perhaps a visit at another time might be more in order.
Girona is another city that offers up Roman ruins and medieval walls (which you can walk). But in my opinion, its charm is in the colourful buildings and picture-perfect setting along the Onyar River. This is a city that I visited by taking the train from Barcelona. A fairly easy 45-minute journey. There were plenty of regularly scheduled trains going to Girona, and an equal amount making the return journey to Barcelona so there were plenty of train options to choose from on the schedule. If you are driving, I recommend taking the A7 directly from Barcelona to Girona which I have been told is a 1 ½ hour journey. One of my colleagues visited Girona on a different trip and he and his wife took the bus. They reported that the trip was fairly relaxing, but he described their journey as a “meandering milk run” with frequent stops along the way. If they had not bought a return bus ticket, they would have opted to take the train back to Barcelona.
Upon arrival in Girona, I recommend that you visit the old town and walk around the remaining sections of the walls, parts of which were built in the first century BC. You will get a good sense of the old town and there are some fantastic views from the walls (great photo opportunities), not to mention gardens attached to the walls.
Next up, I suggest the Girona Cathedral which you can’t miss as it occupies the highest point of the old town. Named the Cathedral and the Basilica of San Felix, it boasts a very impressive nave. For the sake of full disclosure, my guidebook said it was the second largest nave in the world but in the cathedral, I was told it was the largest nave. I leave it up to you to decide. Purportedly a “15th-century” cathedral, it has an 11th century tower and incorporated portions of a Roman wall in its building so the age given is based on the period encompassing the bulk of the construction. Given my preference for gothic structures, this cathedral is not my favourite exterior and I found the style to be a mixed bag of designs. That being said, I think the cathedral is a must see and I could spend hours inside.
A few other points of interest are the Arab baths (one of the places Game of Thrones was filmed), the Jewish Quarter, and the Jewish Museum. Take a walk across one of the many bridges in the new parts of the city and you will find some picture postcard views to photograph.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I have NOT been to Port Aventura so the only information I have about it relates to things I have heard and guidebook information. Located 110km south of Barcelona, this theme park offers entertainment for the family and is touted as a great place to take your children. Here is the website link which will allow you to look up the information and make an informed decision on whether this is the day trip for you to take: https://www.portaventuraworld.com/en
This concludes Section Two of Day trips from Barcelona. If you have any comments or would like to add any pictures or recommendations, please feel free to add them in the comments section of this blog page. As always, please feel free to e-mail me as well.
Next up: Day Trips from Barcelona – Part VI of the Barcelona as a Port Stop Series
Section Three: France, Bagà and Andorra