Here are Some Must-Knows When Visiting Montserrat, Spain!
Natalie here: If you have ever thought about visiting Barcelona, you will likely have heard talk about Montserrat, Spain.
This famous mountain range is a popular day trip destination for those staying in Barcelona or many of the nearby towns throughout this part of Catalonia.
There are several ways to enjoy a visit to Montserrat – including visiting the famous Montserrat monastery – and this guide will tell you everything you need to know like how to get there, what to check out, and more!
Popular Tours to Montserrat, Spain
Since Montserrat is such a popular day trip from Barcelona, there are many great tour options to head down and back on a guided experience. All you have to do is enjoy!
Things to Know About Montserrat
First things first, what is Montserrat and why is it a great place to visit?
Montserrat is a multi-peaked mountain range around 40 minutes driving away from Barcelona. It cis part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range.
The many peaks of the range are what inspire the name: Montserrat means ‘serrated’ like the blade of a saw in the Catalan language.
When you look at the range from afar there isn’t just one Montserrat mountain but many that resemble a serrated blade, so the name is well suited!
The main peaks of the range are Sant Jeroni, Montgrós, and Miranda de les Agulles. These peaks are made up of a distinctive pink conglomerate rock.
This rock gives the mountain range an unusual hue as well as a striking shape. It is a really beautiful and popular place for climbing and hiking.
The highest peak is Sant Jeroni (Saint Jerome) which stands at 1,236 meters (4,055 feet) above sea level. The trail to hike this peak is also really accessible from the Sant Joan funicular which connects the monastery to sacred sites, various hiking trails, and breathtaking viewpoints up the mountain.
The funicular is the steepest in Spain, so it’s not suited for those afraid of heights! It also connects to the Montserrat Rack Railway – a 5km (3.1 mile) long mountain top railway that is well worth taking a ride on to see the views from such a high point.
For climbers, there is also El Cavall Bernat, an imposing 1,111-meter (3,645 feet) rock feature popular with those who have the skill and dare to scale the sheer face.
In case you’re searching for that monastery outside Barcelona, Montserrat is also the site of a Benedictine abbey, the Santa Maria de Montserrat. Of course it took its name from the range itself.
It is also known as La Moreneta which is in relation to the important religious artefact housed in the Abbey – the Virgin of Montserrat. This is one of the few black Madonnas in Europe and the site was built around the statue in the 11th century.
The name La Moreneta means “the little dark-skinned one” or “the little dark one” and is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as one of the most celebrated images in Spain and a site of religious pilgrimages.
The mountain range was dedicated as a National Park in 1987 and is a wonderful way to see the Catalan landscape without needing to hike. There are many easy ways to access the mountains and the monastery without needing to break a sweat!
How to Get to Montserrat
Despite being in the mountains the site is simple and inexpensive to get to, particularly from Barcelona, and you don’t even need a car!
If you are using public transport from Barcelona you just take the R5 from Plaza Espanya towards Aeri de Montserrat.
From there take the cable car to the top. Another option is to take the Montserrat Rack Railway from Aeri de Montserrat which crosses the mountain tops and provides incredible views.
The funicular de Sant Joan railway goes right up to the top from the Montserrat funicular station. It gives you a birds-eye view of the abandoned cliff hovels that were once homes to reclusive monks from the monastery. You can also take the funicular de la Santa Cova to reach the Santa Cova shrine.
Getting around the sites is relatively easy and there are enough transportation options to save your feet from laborious hikes.
Montserrat By Car
If you prefer to drive directly to the site, it is straightforward and well signposted. Parking near the monastery is available when you arrive.
From there you can use the funiculars and cable car to explore the mountains and the various sites of interest.
Montserrat Tour Options
Another alternative is to take a tour. There are many that can be easily arranged from Barcelona itself and take any planning out of the trip.
Guides are also useful to impart extra knowledge about the site and take you to places you may miss if you haven’t done your research.
- Montserrat Tour, Monastery & Optional Wine/Lunch: With half-day and full-day options this is a great way to visit the monastery and the mountains. You are collected from your meeting point in central Barcelona and taken to Montserrat where your guide will discuss the history and importance of the site. The full-day options also offer lunch and a wine tasting in a local winery which is also a really important part of visiting the Catalan region!
- Full-Day Montserrat & Wine Small Group Tour: Another great option for a full-day tour with wine tasting and traditional Catalan lunch with a knowledgeable guide. This is a smaller group so if you prefer a more intimate group, this is the one.
- Montserrat National Park Guided Hike: For those more focused on hiking, this tour is an excellent way to explore the trails with a guide. The start time is earlier than most to avoid any crowds and you are also given time to visit the monastery and the local farmer’s market.
Things to Do in Montserrat, Spain
Below are some of the top things to visit and explore when you’re at Montserrat!
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey
Nestled in the breathtaking scenery is the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey which has a history dating back to around 1011. This is when a monk arrived from nearby Ripoll at a monastery already in the Montserrat area.
He eventually established the new Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey at the site of religious sightings that had occurred since 880… and where it is believed the Virgin of Montserrat was found.
The statue is now on display as the Virgin of Montserrat or La Moreneta and is believed to be the original image that the site was built around by Benedictine monks. They had been unable to move the statue so they chose to build around it instead.
Some stories say that the statue was carved in Jerusalem but studies have shown it is likely to have been created in the 12th century by Romanesque sculptors. The statue and her namesake are the patron saint of Catalonia and are one of the few black Madonnas in Europe.
The Abbey has witnessed a lot in its millennia of history including Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and the Franco period where the Abbey served as a sanctuary for anyone persecuted by the dictatorship.
This solidified the Abbey as a centre point of Catalan nationalism that fought to protect the region, culture and Catalan language despite the political challenges.
The Abbey has always continued to publish texts in Catalan and has supported the publication of various authors and texts of cultural and religious significance that would otherwise have not been allowed due to the Franco era and any following political unrest.
The site today remains operational as a working Abbey and Monastery and has been adapted to accommodate and welcome the two million visitors it receives each year.
There are eateries, small shops and two museums at the site as well as tours of the buildings. This helps to support the work of the monastery and maintenance of the site in a sensitive manner.
The Abbey is also where the Montserrat Choir Boys (Escolania) are trained and perform every day. This is one of the oldest choirs in Europe and the music is now popular throughout the World, recording over 100 albums of music.
Visitors to the Abbey can enjoy the choir’s performances free of charge around 1pm, excluding days of religious significance such as Christmas Day. As one of Spain’s top attractions, the Abbey is certainly worth your time!
Santa Cova Grotto – The Religious Shrine of Montserrat
Nestled into the mountainside of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is the site of the original religious sightings. It is a must-see part of your visit to Montserrat.
The story is that on a Saturday in 880, shepherd children saw bright lights and heard a beautiful song in the mountains. When they returned to the spot with their parents the following Saturday the same vision happened again and continued for four consecutive Saturdays.
A local bishop visited the site to verify the claims and witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary. They tried to encourage the vision to move with them but it was not successful. These sightings were seen as divine intervention and the site was declared a religious site.
From then it became a pilgrimage for those praying for help from the Virgin Mary, a practice which continues to this day.
Next to the grotto is a small chapel, which is built around the original holy grotto, the altar Santa Cova, created at the site of the visions within the rock formation.
The chapel was built in the 17th century and despite attacks during the Napoleonic Wars it has been restored and maintained to protect the original construction and the ancient grotto beside.
The chapel is small and of course not as impressive as the Abbey but is a wonderful place to visit to fully appreciate the religious significance of the site amidst the tourists and visitors.
Silence must be observed within the chapel and the experience is quite otherworldly and transformative, despite what your personal religion may be.
The funicular can easily reach the Santa Cova Grotto and Chapel at the main site of the Abbey should you not wish to make the hike on foot, as many pilgrims over the years have done.
Accommodations at Montserrat
Many people stay in Barcelona and take a day trip to Montserrat. However, if you wish to see the sunrise and the sunset at the site (which is certainly worth doing!) there are some accommodation options on site.
Check for Accommodations in Montserrat here.
They are also great places to base yourself if you are exploring the landscape for more than the religious sites and wish to climb the many rock formations and hike the trails in the area.
It can be a great escape from the city without many travel complications often required to reach remote areas and climbing locations.
For self-catering preferences, the Cel.Les Abat Marcet is an apartment complex which was adapted from the cells that were used by visiting monks and pilgrims that could not be accommodated within the monastery itself.
There are options for up to 4 guests with either views of the square or the monastery. They are fully equipped with kitchen facilities and private bathrooms.
Another option is the Abat Oliba Hostel which was specifically constructed as a hostel. It can accommodate up to 8 people in one room but also offers family rooms with kitchenettes.
Finally, the Hotel Abat Cisneros dates back to 1563 when it was built for visitors and pilgrims. It is a great place to stay in a part of history in a comfortable hotel quality accommodation.
The Best Way to Experience Montserrat
A visit to Montserrat is absolutely worth the trip. A day trip will leave you wanting to explore more and soak up the tranquillity of the site, so a multi-day stopover is also a perfect option.
When the day trippers leave, the site feels at its most peaceful. You can truly appreciate the views of the landscape and the significance of this site in the clouds above Catalonia.
If you are short on time, a tour is a perfect way to see the site and ensure you do not miss anything of interest or importance.
I would recommend booking one of the recommended tours that include lunch and wine tasting. These kinds of experiences will give you a very well-rounded view of Catalan cuisine and culture as well as the heart of the wine region.
Whichever way you choose to visit Montserrat you certainly won’t be disappointed!
If you are travelling to Spain (or perhaps exploring Catalonia on a Spain Itinerary) here are some other posts that you may find helpful:
- Things to Do in Tarragona
- What to See and Do in Girona, Spain
- Barcelona One Day Itinerary
- Beautiful Cities in Spain
And there you have it – a guide on visiting Montserrat, Spain! Montserrat is a special place that is certainly worth your time whether you’re interested in nature, religious sites, or both!
As always, Happy Waddlin’,
After leaving England in 2017, Natalie lived in a surfer town in Morocco for a few years before settling in Barcelona with her foundling street dog Zina. She is a writer and affiliate manager and co-manages a surf brand in the UK. Her travel style is slow travel, exploring cute European towns and quiet beaches, and indulging in the culture of local food and wine.