If you are planning a visit to the famous city of Barcelona, you absolutely must include Montserrat in your itinerary. We did it at the last minute and left the place in awe. The monastery perched at the top of the gorgeous peaked mountains is simply wonderful.
At 1,236 meters, the panoramic views across Catalonia from the striking Montserrat rock formations are breathtaking. I wish we had planned our trip better and had more time to wander around this exquisite sanctuary. Having said that, we all, Charlie, my mum, brother and I had a fabulous day!
Planning your epic day at Montserrat
The first thing to take into consideration is timing. To fully explore all the sights that Montserrat has to offer, set aside a full day. Leave as early as possible, there are trails to be walked and sights to be discovered. The place gets really crowded with visitors, especially during the summer months which can only mean one thing: long queues everywhere.
Unless you are driving, the overall journey, depending on the season, can take from 1.5 hours up to 2 hours from Barcelona, including waiting time at the cable car station. We suggest you take the earliest possible train from Espanya station in the city center. Driving should take you around 30 minutes or so depending on the traffic.
We will get into more details about buying your tickets and getting to Montserrat later, but first, lets see what is there to see and do in this enchanted part of Catalonia.
The glorious sights of Montserrat
Now that you are prepared for your day out, lets explore this rugged mountain from top to bottom. But where should you start? What are you most interested in? Architectural monuments or landscapes? You won’t be short of things to see and do here, there’s something for everyone, even the train geeks! Here’s a quick list of sights on offer, check them out and and then decide where to start.
TOP TIP: Check the weather forecast before leaving. If it’s going to be an insanely hot day ahead of you, maybe do the walks first thing in the morning and then carry on visiting the Abbey and the museums to hide from the burning sun?
The Trails and outdoor sights for landscape fans
We promise you will not be disappointed with this part of the day. Start exploring by taking a trail leading to Sant Joan Chapel. There is a slight climb up a 100 m long hill, but it’s easily done and will set pace nicely for the rest of the walks.
As you pass the chapel and keep ascending the slope, look back to check out the incredible rocks sticking out behind you. To reach the trail, take the Sant Joan funicular railway and follow the signs pointing towards the trail.
Next up, Sant Jeroni summit. At 1,236 m, Sant Jeroni is the highest point of Montserrat. The easiest way to reach the first base of the mountain is to take the vertical Sant Joan funicular railway up. The railway by the way is insanely vertical! My jaw dropped when I saw it from the distance!
This is a longer, around a 2.5 hour trek if you use the funicular railway. Otherwise get ready for approx. 3.5 hours if you are hiking all the way up, depending on your fitness level. So don’t be shy and get trekking, the views are simply spectacular from the top! We won’t lie, we took the railway, ha!
Outdoors lovers and Gaudi fans, you are in for a treat at the Rosari Monumental and the Cave Chapel! The Santa Cova funicular railway will take you down to feast your eyes on some of the most important modern Catalan sculptures by Antonio Gaudi amongst other famous artists.
Apart from the significant monuments, the journey down to the Rosary Monumental itself is a sight to behold! This scenic winding ride will take your breath away presenting you with even more panoramic views, which as we learnt, you are never short of in Montserrat!
The zone holds not only cultural, but also a religious value to this place of pilgrimage. As we learnt while exploring, legend has it, that an image of Virgin Mary appeared on the rock in the area so a chapel was built to mark the spot. Since 1929 pilgrims have been making their way down on the funicular to visit this symbolic place.
Train geeks, listen up! There’s is an exhibition about the funicular railways around the world to be found in the lower Santa Cova station. Told you, there’s something for everyone!
Sights for culture vultures
For the ultimate experience in Montserrat, head straight to the Benedictine Abbey to catch a glimpse at the Black Virgin of Montserrat. Also referred to as the Black Madonna, this Romanesque statue has a monumental significance in Montserrat. It’s believed that this wooden world renowned icon was carved in Jerusalem in the very early days of Christianity. It is said that the entire Montserrat complex is built up around it.
Unfortunately, there’s no way avoiding queues here, so leave enough time for your visit. You might need to queue for up to an hour or even longer at times before you get to kiss Black Madonna’s hand.
Take your time to explore the Santa Maria de Montserrat, it’s a truly stunning abbey. Pay close attention to small details and relax. It’s a perfect getaway from the buzzing outside world.
As you walk outside the abbey, on your right hand side you will find a magical passageway filled with flickering candles. It’s customary amongst catholics to light a candle for their loved ones, wishing them well or for departed relatives, to wish them peace on the other side. While I am not overly religious, I find it very soothing to light a candle for my friends and family or for everyone else for that matter.
History buffs, head to the Montserrat Museum. It’s a good quality museum housing six permanent collections of more than 1,300 relics together with temporary displays.
What should you wear when visiting Montserrat
In all honesty, anything you feel comfortable in. Remember that during the summer, it can get pretty hot so make sure you are well protected from the sun.
Even though the trails are easily walkable and you will most likely get a funicular railway to get to the start of the trails, we recommend wearing comfortable footwear for travel. It will allow you to enjoy the walks and the climb to the highest peak of Montserrat without issues.
The footpaths are well maintained and you can walk them in any footwear, but while you are exploring such a fabulous rocky place, you might as well be a little more adventurous and descend through the rocks rather than the footpath. Make sure you stay safe though as it can be slippery in places. Always use caution!
Ladies, if you want to look pretty and love wearing dresses (like me), please be my guest, it will keep you cool in the heat. However you should cover your shoulders when entering the abbey, simply out of respect.
Food recommendations for budget travellers
If you are on a budget, our best advice is to pack some snacks to take with you. Stock up in Barcelona’s markets a day before, there’s so much fabulous food in the capital of Catalonia.
Pop into one of the best food markets in Europe, La Boqueria, located just across the road from Las Ramblas. It’s a hidden pot of wonderful smells and tastes and caters for everyones taste. If you are not keen on packed lunches, then be prepared for high prices at Montserrat itself.
How to get to Montserrat
The glorious peaks of Montserrat are located around 30 miles (48 km) Northwest of Barcelona and have good transport connections. This makes it an easy day out when visiting the region of Catalonia.
By car. The quickest way to access the monastery is by driving. It’s easy to rent a car in Barcelona and the road to Montserrat is pretty straight forward. Park your car at the free Monistrol Vila parking lot and off you go exploring. Conveniently, here you will also be able to buy your rack railway ticket for Montserrat.
By train. Getting to Montserrat by railway is of the most popular hassle free options if you don’t drive. Trains leave every hour from Plaza Espanya rail station. Once you’ve purchased your tickets for access to Montserrat, look for Line R5 and jump on the train going towards Manresa.
So, which ticket should you buy?
It’s all about time saving when going to Montserrat so here is a little tip for you: don’t queue at the ticket office, it only sells tour tickets, get your tickets at the ticket machines.
Don’t be frightened by the machines, they do look a little scary with all the options available. Don’t let them intimidate you, step away from those big apparatus for a moment and have a think. What’s the best way for you to get to the top of the mountain. Either, the Cable Car (Aeri de Montserrat) or Rack Railway (Cremallera de Montserrat) will take you on a spectacular journey across the valley.
If you are scared of heights, you will want to get to Montserrat via the funicular railway (rack railway) rather than the cable car. Also, take the railway if you are running late as taking the cable can be time consuming with only 2 cars running.
Now that you are prepared, it’s time to face the ticket machine. Stay cool, it will present you 3 ticket options which will all look a little confusing, but no panic, we are here to help! To take the hassle out of your day, we recommend purchasing the Trans Montserrat ticket – €29.50 ($32.97 USD) per adult. This combined ticket includes:
- round trip train journey from Barcelona
- round trip cable car/rack railway journey to Montserrat
- unlimited funicular journeys in Montserrat
While this option might not save you that much money, it will definitely save you time. And in our opinion, if you only have a day at a spectacular place like Montserrat, timing is absolutely crucial.
With the Trans Montserrat ticket you will be able to use the two main funiculars atop of these beautiful mountains – Funicular de Sant Joan and Funicular de Santa Cova. Otherwise, tickets for these have to be purchased separately which means… queuing. Like I mentioned earlier, this part in Montserrat can be very time consuming.
Where to find the cable car and rack railway?
The train from Barcelona will drop you at the bottom of the mountain at Montserrat AERI station. The cable car station is just round the corner from the train station, a 2 minute walk at the most.
The Aeri de Montserrat is a little dated and quite small, but the journey is spectacular. It only takes around 5 minutes to get to the top of the mountain, but the queues can be very lengthy, especially during holidays. It can easily take up to 40 minutes before you can board the car.
TOP TIP: Sit at the rear of the train so you are closer to the exit when you reach the station for the cable car. This will put you towards the front of the queue as long as you head straight to the cable car station from the train.
If you decide to take the Cremallera de Montserrat, get off at Monistrol de Montserrat, one stop after Montserrat AERI. From here, simply get on the Cremallera de Montserrat which will take you all the way to the Montserrat, easy! The views of the valley will also be stunning. In this instance, the overall journey from Barcelona to Montserrat will take more or less 90 minutes.