Catalonia Holiday Planning Guide
Proud of its distinct culture and heritage, Catalonia is an autonomous region within Spain. The fierce spirit of this region and its inhabitants has shaped the history of Spain and, often, the rest of Europe. Its diverse land is home to the metropolis of Barcelona and numerous smaller urban centers, villages, and resorts, many of which are packed with sightseeing possibilities and tourists year-round. Despite commercialization and urbanization, much of Catalonia has managed to retain the wild, unblemished beauty that initially drew visitors to Spain. Its main geographical feature is the mighty Pyrenees range, dominating a landscape of green valleys dotted with sleepy rural communities, ancient monasteries, and working vineyards ideal for day trips.
Places to Visit in CataloniaBarcelona
: Spain’s second-largest city and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is a vibrant center of culture, arts, and breathtaking architecture.Costa Brava
: A very popular tourist destination, the coast offers seaside relaxation and some of the best opportunities for sightseeing in Catalonia.Costa Dorada
: Miles of sandy beaches, scenic countryside, and charming towns and villages make Catalonia’s "Golden Coast" a perfect getaway destination.Girona
: The city where history comes alive, Girona lets you experience the true Catalan spirit while wandering through cobbled streets and admiring medieval structures.Salou
: With its golden beaches, countless activities to choose from, and a lively nightlife scene, the town is a great spot for a summer holiday in Catalonia.Sitges
: Combining a selection of beaches, rich cultural life, and cozy atmosphere, Sitges serves as a true seaside oasis just outside Barcelona. The town’s open-minded atmosphere makes it one of Europe’s favorite destinations for LBGT visitors.Olot
: Renowned for its welcoming atmosphere and rich cultural heritage, this historic town is surrounded by volcanic peaks that provide breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.Tarragona
: From ancient monuments to gems of modern architecture, Tarragona offers an opportunity for travelers who want to experience all the perks of Barcelona but in a more tranquil package.Lloret de Mar
: One of the most popular resort towns on Costa Brava, Lloret de Mar showcaseslong, open beaches and secluded coves perfect for diving and snorkeling, as well as several historical sights worth visiting.
Things to Do in Catalonia
Popular Catalonia Tourist AttractionsLa Sagrada Familia
: Gaudi’s masterpiece and one of the most famous buildings in the world, the basilica is the must-see symbol of Barcelona.Park Güell
: Admire the views and wander through this magical complex of gardens, mosaics, and architectural features designed by Gaudi.PortAventura World
: Experience a huge selection of thrill rides spread throughout various themed areas at one of Europe’s largest amusement parks.Casa Batlló
: Known locally as "The House of Bones," this famous Gaudi work is one tourist attraction in Catalonia that you shouldn’t miss.El Barri Gòtic
: The historic heartland of Barcelona, this area provides the perfect place to get lost in a labyrinth of winding streets and admire the buildings and squares dating back to the Middle Ages.Dali Theatre-Museum
: Located at a former theater in Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueres, the museum was partially designed by the painter himself and houses a great collection of his works.Camp Nou
: The home of FC Barcelona and one of the world’s most famous grounds, Camp Nou is the perfect addition to any soccer fan’s Catalonia itinerary.El Cafè de la Pedrera
: With its recognizable curvy lines and unique details, this building serves as a stellar monument to Gaudi’s genius.PortAventura Caribe Aquatic Park
: Taste the Caribbean spirit at Costa Dorada with slides, splash pools, and activities for visitors of all ages.Magic Fountain (Font Magica)
: Admire the show of lights, music, and water at one of the major sights of the Montjuic neighborhood of Barcelona.
Planning a Catalonia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Catalonia with Kids
There are few Mediterranean destinations better-suited for a family vacation than Catalonia. Towns and hotels across the region feature facilities specifically designed to accommodate the youngest visitors, and you’ll find an endless supply of places to visit in Catalonia with your family.
Apart from the remotest villages, almost every town in Catalonia offers enough attractions to keep you and your family entertained. Even the popular tourist resorts, such as Lloret de Mar
are peaceful enough for a family vacation, and then, of course, there’s Barcelona, a bustling metropolis that is certain to captivate visitors of all ages.
Things to Do in Catalonia with Kids
Whenever you plan to visit, you’ll find an abundance of things to do in Catalonia with kids. In the summer, the beaches alone offer an endless amount of fun for families, with soft sand, calm water, and plenty of facilities. A visit to PortAventura World
provides water rides, shows, and aquatic playgrounds of all kinds. If you’re traveling to Catalonia in winter, try Rialp
, where you’ll find some of the best and most family-friendly ski resorts in all of Spain.
Probably the greatest hub of tourism in Catalonia is its capital Barcelona, where the whole family can admire the magical works of Gaudi and enjoy an array of activities. For soccer fans, both young and old, a tour of Camp Nou
will be an unforgettable experience (but be prepared to pay a hefty price if you attend a match or want to purchase memorabilia).
Tips for a Family Vacation in Catalonia
Catalonia is generally a very safe and convenient destination for traveling families. Many towns, cities, and attractions feature many amenities and are easily navigable with a stroller. Just keep an eye on the kids while walking through the historic quarters, because they might get lost in the crowds and winding alleys. Beaches are some of the main tourist attractions in Catalonia, but not all of them have lifeguards. With the hot summer weather, make sure your family is well protected from the sun.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Catalonia
Cuisine of Catalonia
From mountain pastures and hill slopes covered in vineyards to Mediterranean fishing ports, the cuisine of Catalonia reflects the region’s geographical diversity. While some local dishes resemble the recipes you can find elsewhere in Spain, most of the region’s specialties carry a unique flavor; the Catalans are very proud of their culinary "independence." In fact, some aspects of Catalan cuisine, such as the tradition of cheesemaking and widespread use of sauces make it similar to French cooking. Another thing that you’ll notice on your gastronomic tour of Catalonia is how much attention the local chefs put into even the simplest recipes, like the pa amb tomàquet--toasted bread covered with tomatoes and olive oil. Meat lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to try some botifarra--famous local pork sausage--while seafood lovers opt for specialties like esqueixada--a traditional cod dish. Tapas, the favorite Spanish snack, are widely available in Catalonia too, but if you’re looking for a quick bite, consider trying the Catalan version of pizza, known as coca. Catalan wines, including the sparkling Cava, are ranked among the finest in Spain, and visiting local wineries such as Cava Recaredo
is a great addition to any wine-lover’s Catalonia itinerary. Widely regarded as the culinary capital of Spain, Barcelona
is the place where you’ll find some of the finest restaurants in Catalonia, but other parts of the region definitely won’t disappoint.
Shopping in Catalonia
Keen shoppers traveling to Catalonia will discover that the local selection of shops is more than ample for most visitors. Naturally, Barcelona, the region’s largest city, is also the shopping capital of Catalonia. Here you’ll find anything from large shopping malls to the small independent stores, and goods that include the world’s largest brands to the products of local craftspeople and designers. In addition to being popular with the locals, some of these stores have become true attractions of Catalonia. This is especially the case with local markets such as La Boqueria
, where you can experience a whole world of local tastes, shapes, and colors in one place. A true treat for both kids and adults, Barcelonines makes traditional Catalan rag dolls. Bargain hunters in Catalonia will find numerous antique shops to browse through, and art enthusiasts can discover a selection of galleries, including Galeria Tarraco
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Catalonia
History of Catalonia
History of Catalonia dates back thousands of years, and many different cultures have shaped what is now recognizable as distinctive Catalan culture. Following the numerous prehistoric settlements in the region, Iberian tribes established their control over the area. By the 6th century BCE Greeks had already established several colonies in the region, the remains of which you can still see at Ruins of Empuries
. Several centuries later, Carthaginians, who were already widely present on the Iberian Peninsula, vastly increased their colonizing efforts as they fought with the Romans.
Following the defeat of Carthage in the Punic Wars, the area of Catalonia fell under Roman control and Roman culture quickly spread through the region. The capital of the newly established Roman province, Tarragona
became one of the most important cities of Roman Spain. Today, visiting the city’s ancient monuments like Anfiteatro de Tarragona
is one of the things to do in Catalonia any history buff would enjoy.
With the collapse of the Roman Empire, Catalonia was first conquered by the Visigoths, and then in 718 by the Umayyad Caliphate. The clashes between the Muslim conquerors and the Franks gave birth to the County of Barcelona, a Christian territory under Frankish rule. In the 13th century the region slipped from French control and joined the Kingdom of Aragon, then it became its essential part. During the high Middle Ages, Gothic architecture spread throughout the region that at that time became known as Catalonia. Sights like Barcelona Cathedral
are great monuments to this period.
The union between Castile and Aragon, the founding of the Kingdom of Spain, and its political shift toward the New World colonies caused an economic decline of Catalonia that lasted until the 19th century. Even though the modern age saw the region bounce back as one of Spain’s cultural and economic leaders, wherever you go on your trip to Catalonia, you’ll notice that history here is never forgotten.
Landscape of Catalonia
Catalonia boasts one of the most diverse landscapes in all of Spain. The long coastline sports numerous beaches and opens up to the Mediterranean world. Barcelona and Tarragona are Catalonia’s largest ports, but there are also several important inland cities, such as Girona
. As you leave the coast and travel further west, fertile plateaus along the Ebro River dominate the landscape. Northern areas of Catalonia boast a selection of places to visit for those who enjoy Alpine surroundings. Here the peaks of the Pyrenees rise above 3,000 m (10,000 ft) and areas like Parc Natural de l'Alt Pirineu
offer great opportunities for a vacation in Catalonia for hikers, mountaineers, and kayakers.
Holidays & Festivals in Catalonia
Great Catalonia vacation ideas include visiting the region during its numerous festivities, when everything comes alive. Every New Year begins with parties at town squares and fireworks displays. On January 5, the procession of the Three Kings takes place across Catalonia and the next morning the local kids awake to presents. Before the start of Easter Lent, Barcelona stages its famed carnival, an amazing festival of masks and colors, followed by music, dancing, and feasting. St. George is the patron saint of Catalonia, and April 23 is celebrated in a very romantic fashion. On this day, friends and lovers give each other books and flowers and every town is lined with book and flower stalls. Throughout the summer the towns and villages of Costa Brava
and Costa Dorada
stage numerous music and dance festivals, which are perfect additions to a seaside vacation in Catalonia. Christmas in Catalonia is not about gifts, but the way in which it’s celebrated is truly unique. Just ask some of the locals to tell you about the Caga tió, and try to keep a straight face while listening to the story. In addition to traditional holidays, Barcelona is a great center of culture and it regularly hosts globally important art festivals, such as the Festival Grec de Barcelona.
Catalonia Travel Tips
Climate of Catalonia
Weather conditions in Catalonia vary with the region’s landscape. While the Pyrenees have a typical alpine climate with an abundance of snow in the wintertime, the coast features mild Mediterranean weather with lots of sunshine. If you’re planning a seaside holiday in Catalonia, the best time to go is between June and September. However, summers tend to be quite hot and humid, so keep that in mind if you are planning to wander around a big city such as Barcelona. Most rain in Catalonia falls in the spring and fall, but the weather is still warm and pleasant, perfect for visiting the cities and the interior of the region. Winter in the lower parts of Catalonia are usually not too cold, but go prepared for occasional snow.
Transportation in Catalonia
Catalonia boasts a wide and modern transportation network, so getting in and around the region should be fairly easy. All parts of the region are well-connected through a network of train and bus lines, as well as well-maintained roads. Rentals are widely available, but unless you’re planning a road trip of Catalonia, there’s no real need to bring your car or hire one for a longer period. On the coast, hiring a car or a scooter is a good way of getting between the towns without relying on the bus schedule. Smaller towns in Catalonia can easily be traversed on foot, while Barcelona has an extensive public transportation network that allows you to reach every part of the city. Catalonia’s hilly landscape is suitable for funiculars and cable cars. Taking a ride on Telefèric de Montjuïc
or Sant Joan Funicular Railway
is both practical and offers amazing views.
Languages of Catalonia
The region of Catalonia has two official languages--Spanish and Catalan--and both are used simultaneously on road signs, advertisements, and in the media. While many locals prefer to use Catalan in everyday communication, almost everyone can speak Spanish as well. Catalan derived directly from Latin and isn’t considered a dialect of either Spanish or French, although those with the command of the two will be able to understand quite a few Catalan words. Using your trip to Catalonia to pick up some Catalan words and expressions will get you far with the locals, who are very proud of their linguistic heritage.