Just west of Barcelona lies the mountainous region of Montserrat. Considered sacred before and after the spread of Christianity to Europe, the Montserrat mountain range is among Spain’s most important spiritual sites.
It is also renowned for its natural beauty, which earned it National Park status in 1987.
Today, Montserrat attracts pilgrims and outdoors people alike, many of whom come as tourists, visiting from their holiday base of Barcelona.
If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona and would like to experience Catalonia beyond the confines of the city, we highly recommend taking a day trip to the Montserrat mountain range.
Arranging such a trip can seem a little daunting, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know to get from Barcelona to Montserrat. We’ll also point you towards some of the area’s top activities to ensure you experience Montserrat like a true Spaniard!
The History of Montserrat
Owing to its close proximity to Barcelona, Montserrat is often glossed over when people discuss the history of Catalonia. As you will learn upon your visit, however, Montserrat’s contributions to the region cannot be understated.
The mountain’s breathtaking peaks – the largest of which comes in at 1,236 meters – were formed a staggering 45 million years ago. The unique shape of these peaks earned it the name Montserrat, which translates to “Saw Mountain” in classical Catalan.
Almost from the moment man began inhabiting Catalonia, humans took to living in the caves of Montserrat. Over time, most ventured downwards, which helped the region expand. Some, however, stayed behind.
Monks were particularly fond of the isolation the mountain’s caves provided, as it afforded them the time and privacy needed to focus on prayer and study.
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was established on the mountain in the 11th century. According to legend, the monks tasked with constructing the Benedictine abbey were unable to move the beloved Virgin of Montserrat statue while preparing to begin building. This statue had been housed on the mountain and shared between its various hermitages since the late 700s.
Opting not to disturb the statue, the monks built the entire monastery around it. Today, the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat is considered the most sacred part of the entire monastery and is the highlight of any pilgrimage to the mountain.
Montserrat began to develop a more secular side in the late 1800s. During this period, many hikers and mountain climbers sought to reach its various peaks. Right up to 1955, adventurers were conquering never-before-climbed portions of the range.
In the years which have elapsed since Montserrat welcomed its first secular climbers and hikers, several designated walking trails have been established on the range. This ensures hikers can reach the mountain’s peaks and experience their stunning views without putting themselves in danger.
Travelling From Barcelona to Montserrat – What options do I have?
Train From Plaça d’Espanya
One of the fastest ways of getting to Montserrat from Barcelona is to hop a train at Plaça d’Espanya station. Plaça d’Espanya is easily reachable via the Barcelona metro system and, once you’re there, you’ll have several times of travel to choose from.
Trains run to Montserrat regularly, with each offering two opportunities to dismount once you’ve reached the mountain.
Your first option is to disembark the train at Montserrat de Aeri. From there, you can board a cable car, which will take you to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.
If you would like to avoid riding the cable car – as many would – you can stay on the train a little longer and disembark at Monistrol. From Monistrol, you can reach the monastery via a funicular railway.
An adult return train ticket to Montserrat from Barcelona will set you back €23. There are several add-ons you can purchase alongside your ticket, which include free metro rides and admission to the Montserrat Museum.
It is important to note that tickets must be purchased from Plaça Espanya and are not available online, so get to the station early to avoid disappointment!
Bus As Part Of A Tour Group
Reaching Montserrat by bus takes a little longer than travelling by train. In general, the journey will take about 90 minutes. Despite this, people often elect to travel by bus as it allows them the opportunity to visit the mountain range as part of a tour group.
There are several tour operators offering bus tours to Montserrat. Perhaps the most popular of these tours is the Montserrat Morning Tour. As its name suggests, this tour departs from Barcelona at 9:15 am.
Upon arrival in Montserrat, you will be treated to a guided tour of the monastery. Also included in the tour is a tasting of four traditional Spanish liquors.
The Montserrat Morning Tour lasts a total of six hours and costs about €50 depending on the time of year. More inclusive bus tours are also offered, but may set you back upwards of €100.
Bus As An Individual Traveller
If, for whatever reason, you don’t fancy travelling to Montserrat by train but would also like to avoid committing to a group tour, there is another option. For €5 and some change, one can journey from Barcelona to Montserrat by bus as an independent traveller.
If keeping costs down is your primary concern while visiting Montserrat, this is certainly the option for you. It is important to remember, however, that non-tour buses to Montserrat are few and far between.
At certain times of the year, buses may be limited to one return journey a day. This means there will be no room for error on your part. Fail to stick to a strict schedule during your visit and you’ll be spending the night in a cave!
Things To Do In Montserrat
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey
Satan Maria de Montserrat Abbey is the heart of Montserrat. It should come as no surprise, then, that it is the centerpiece of virtually every tour to the region. If you visit Montserrat as part of a tour group, you will almost definitely be treated to a tour of the abbey. If not, you should ask for your money back!
It is also possible to visit Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey as a lone traveller. Many Christian history buffs prefer this as it allows them to explore the abbey at their own pace. While you won’t get the comprehensive history a guided tour provides, the serenity that comes with not having to rush along with your group may be worth the trade off.
Regardless of whether you see Montserrat monastery on your lonesome or as part of a group, be sure to end your trip with a visit to the Virgin of Montserrat statue.
The statue is considered so sacred that only one person is permitted to be in the room with her at once. This means you’ll likely end up queuing for a little while, but the wait will be worth it.
When you finally have your audience with the Virgin of Montserrat, remember to touch the ball she holds in her hands. Local tradition says that the statue will grant the wishes of those who do so.
It is in the Montserrat Museum that the region’s theological and secular sides meet. For those seeking a spiritual experience, it can be found in the priceless Christian artifacts and masterpieces housed within its walls.
If you are more artistically inclined, you’ll no doubt appreciate the works of Dali and Picasso, which can also be found in the museum.
Group tours of the Montserrat Museum are often included in packages, alongside tours of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.
However, there are some who travel to Montserrat with no intention of visiting the monastery. If you are among them, you do have the option of purchasing a ticket to the museum exclusively.
Admission to the Montserrat Museum for an individual adult is €8. Students and pensioners can secure their tickets for €6.50. While you are free to explore the museum as you wish, you can purchase a guided audio tour for an additional €2.20.
Espai Audio Visual
The Montserrat Museum is not the only museum in the region. For the most in-depth understanding of monastic life in Montserrat, you should also leave enough time in your trip to visit Espai Audio Visual.
As its name suggests, Espai Audio Visual relies on innovative audio and visual aids to paint a compelling picture of what it was to be a monk during the heyday of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.
Additional areas of the Espai Audio Visual tour will cover more secular topics, including the formation of the mountain and the daily life of locals. Given the interactive features of the museum, it’s a great choice for those visiting Montserrat with children.
Tickets begin at €6.20 for children, students, and pensioners, and go up to €7.20 for adults.
Montserrat isn’t exactly known for its ample shopping opportunities. However, there are a few stores in the area for those who need a quick fix of retail therapy in between museums.
The largest store in Montserrat is La Botiga. Located right next to the Montserrat tourist office, La Botiga boasts a varied stock of foods, souvenirs, and children’s toys.
More Montserrat-specific mementos can be picked up at the Montserrat Museum and Espai Audio Visual, both of which boast their own gift shops.
For a more traditional shopping experience, tourists can visit the Montserrat market. Composed of several small stalls, the Montserrat market is a great place to pick up fresh produce and traditional Catalan liquors.
Montserrat is home to one of the finest boy’s choirs in all the world. Known as L’Escolania, the choir traces its routes back to 1223. Today, it consists of about 50 boys between the ages of 10 and 14.
L’Escolania is renowned for its dedication to practice and performance. This dedication has taken the choir all over the world and into recording studios, where it has recorded more than 100 albums.
If you’re visiting Montserrat, you’ll have two chances to see L’Escolania perform. The group gives daily concerts at 13:00 and 18:45 in the Montserrat basilica.
It is important to remember, however, that the choir does not perform during the month of July or over the Christmas period.
You may also want to check the official L’Escolania website for any additional dates the choir may miss due to touring or recording.
Montserrat owes much of its sudden growth as a secular tourist destination to its ample hiking opportunities. There are numerous trails leading to and surrounding the monastery that nature lovers will delight in.
Among Montserrat’s most popular hiking trails is its Montserrat de Aeri route. Beginning at the Aeri cable car station, this route takes about 90 minutes and will take you through some of the most scenic portions of the mountain.
The second primary hiking route to the Montserrat monastery takes a little longer, as it begins in the village of Monistrol. Some prefer this route as it presents the opportunity to see a Spanish village that feels almost lost to time.
But, speaking of time, this route will take you about 15 minutes longer than the Montserrat de Aeri route to reach your destination.
Struggling to settle on what to do during your time in Montserrat? Why not do it all! With the TOT ticket, you can enjoy the most comprehensive Montserrat experience possible and immerse yourself in life in the mountain.
The TOT ticket includes transport from Barcelona to Montserrat and back again via train. Additional travel featured in the ticket price includes unlimited use of the Saint Joan funicular.
You’ll also receive admission to the Montserrat Museum and Espai Audio Visual. Once you’ve enjoyed everything Montserrat has to offer, you can end the day with a free meal in its self-service restaurant.
TOT ticket prices begin at just €52.90 and only exceed that price in rare circumstances. In the end, purchasing a TOT ticket works out significantly cheaper than paying for its various features individually, which is why we recommend it to all visitors to the mountain.
With a TOT ticket in your hand, Montserrat will be your oyster!