You would never guess of Montserrat’s august presence when passing by train. Nestled on a misty mountaintop, it’s an enchanted monk’s town surrounded by a nature lover’s paradise.
Whoever discovered the shelf on which the monastery and surrounding buildings sit must have been a particularly adventurous soul. Without a cable car or rack railway to assist in the climb, an ascent would be quite the tribulation.
Lucky for me, many years of improvements have made this is an easy day trip to make from Barcelona. I’m going to give you a simple rundown of how to get there, what to do there, and gush about how much I enjoyed it. Cool?
First, why do you want to go there? A few reasons may apply:
- You like the idea of taking an epic cable car ride into the mysterious mist. Definitely DO look down, if you’re not afraid of heights.
- Seeing a piece of history in a beautifully preserved monastery appeals to you. If you’re in Europe, surely you’ve got an old church fetish already.
- Appreciation of nature (and particularly mountains) is your jam. Miles of mountaintop paths offer views of Catalonia in near entirety.
Getting to Montserrat from Barcelona
From Barcelona, take the metro. I recommend buying a T-10 ticket for your in-town needs – 10 rides (including bus) for €10, transfers included. I’ve included a map below of where you need to go to start your day trip – the Espanya station, circled in a thick red line. Most notable metro lines will connect at this one, so it should be easy to find.
When you step off the train (or enter the station on foot) look for the R5 line to Manresa. Some signs clearly indicate this will take you to Montserrat, and are adorned with this logo:
Once you find the appropriate location in the Espanya station, you’ll find machines and an information desk where you can buy combination tickets to Montserrat. I opted for round trip train + cable car ride for around €22. You can also opt for rack railway if extreme heights aren’t your thing, but maybe you shouldn’t go to a giant mountain in the first place if that’s the case!
For cable car, your train stop is Montserrat Aeri. Should you choose the rack railway, get off at Monistrol Montserrat. From these stations follow the crowds to ascend the mountain and begin your day of wonderment! While you wait for your ride, get a Sunny D from the vending machines if you want to pretend you are a child from the 90’s like me. I couldn’t help myself.
Touring the monastery
When I arrived up top, I was immediately awestruck by both the views of nature and of the town itself. Early in the morning, this scenery comes in and out of focus through the drifing fog. As the clouds dissipate, the crowd thickens – best come early for a truly special experience.
I would recommend checking out the interior of the monastery first, going through the line to visit the famous “Black Madonna”, and spending the rest of your day admiring the campus and trails. This way you’ll avoid standing in the longest lines at the church when the tour groups arrive.
The monastery interior is beautifully ornate. I was particularly impressed with what amazing condition the sculptures were in. While I’ve seen more impressive altar arrangements at Notre Dame and the like, the adornments along the sides and front are nonetheless nice to look at.
While I was aimlessly wandering, I went through an unmarked wooden door and up some stairs, where I accidentally disturbed a real life monk. He seemed friendly enough while he played Catalan and/or Latin charades to shoo me the hell away and back to the tourist enclosure.
Hiking the mountain
Next, I went for a funicular ride. Yes, a funicular. It has FUN in the name. Time to party.
There are two of these little green babies, and they’ll get you to the most scenic parts of the mountain. A combination ticket for both will cost you around €15. Unless you’re a serious backpacker I would recommend paying for this, as the climbs can be quite steep.
Funicular de Santa Cova descends a bit from the monastery where you can walk some beautiful cliffside trails – allot 30-40 minutes for this. The story of Jesus is told in sculpture along the way, if you’re into that sort of thing. Even if you’re not, some of the art is really wonderful to look at. You’ll also have a nice view of the side of the mountain you ascended from earlier in the day. Eventually, the end of the trail takes you to the very first dwelling built on the mountain – a small chapel which looks like it has a giant goiter coming out of it. Tasty!
Next, head to Funicular de Sant Joan. It’s on the same pathway as the first one and takes you to the real main event if you’re a hiker. Several paths diverge and vary in length from a 30 minute walk to a full 2.5-3 hours. You’ll want to make it up here as early as possible if you want to make the trek and be back to Barca in time for some octopus.
I myself was running short on time and thus opted for an easier route, but it was nonetheless chock full of panoramas of many a Catalan town. I deeply regret not allowing for more leisurely exploration up top. Next time!
I don’t really know how to explain better than these pictures can. But there you go! Montserrat. It’s lovely.
I will say that I expected to walk around for two or three hours, and ended up spending more like six. This is the rare attraction that delivers much more than promised.
Pit stop on your return trip
On your way back down, you may miss the train to Barcelona – it runs once per hour. If so, kill some time at the tiny bar that has signs posted in the station. I believe it was called Bar El Rincon. It’s just off the tracks and has great €2 sangria. The food looked and smelled good, but I didn’t try any. All the people were happy and a dog greets you with lustful barking. What more could you want?
I’ll leave you with a panorama from the top of Montserrat, and another from Parc Güell in Barcelona because you’ll probably go there too. Soak it in, make your plans, and tell me if this guide helped you! Any further suggestions welcome in the comments section.