About 30 miles inland and 4,000 feet higher than Barcelona lies the multi-peaked mountain of Montserrat which houses the gorgeous Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria. This day-trip requires commitment as it's a bit of a trek to get to, but I promise it will be worth your effort.
Every trip to Montserrat must include a visit to the Santa Maria Basilica and the Black Madonna. The famous Black Faced Madonna, also known as the Virgin of Montserrat, sits at the very back of the church above the altar and visitors can see her for free any time of day.
When going to see the Madonna, it's likely you will join many others, so it's best to plan your Montserrat activities around your church visit. The busiest times of day are the morning and early afternoon as many visitors also try to time their visit to hear the singing of the world renowned Montserrat boys choir. L'Escolania Choir, as they're called, do a short “performance” at 1PM and 6:45PM throughout the week in the basilica. To see their full schedule, visit their official page. If you're planning to stay the whole day in Montserrat, my suggestion is to start your tour of the basilica and visit to the Black Madonna about an hour before the departure of your transportation home.
In addition to the Monastery, there are a couple of museums worth visiting at the peak of Montserrat. The Espai Audio Visual museum is dedicated to the terrain, culture and monastery of Montserrat. There is also the Montserrat Museum which is actually an art museum (I know, it seems like they should be called by opposite titles). The Montserrat Museum houses works by El Greco, Caravaggio, Dali, Monet, Picasso and many others, so while it may not be a museum you've heard of, that does not mean you should necessarily skip it.
Hours & Prices:
Espai Audio Visual - €2*
Monday - Friday: 09:00 - 5:30
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 09:00 - 6:45
Montserrat museum - €6.5*
Monday - Sunday: 10:00 - 5:30
*Purchase a combination ticket for €7.5
If you prefer more of the outdoors or want to plan a very full day, there are lots of walks and hikes to enjoy on this mountain top. As this is a religious site, many of the walks are sections of longer pilgrimages with great religious significance. The most famous religious spot is Santa Cova or The Holy Grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in the 8th century. You can tackle this round-trip hike in about an hour starting from the basilica.
Montserrat is a great place to experience really spectacular natural beauty, so my suggestion is to pack a lunch, head out for a walk, and find a nice place for a picnic :). For more details on hiking options, you can visit this site in advance, or check in with the tourist office when arriving (as I did).
To get to the Monserrat monastery, you can enjoy a beautiful hour or so drive from downtown Barcelona, but if you're limited to public transportation, the best thing to do it to take the train from Barcelona's Plaza de España. From the Plaza España station there are the following options:
- R5 towards Manresa (~1 hour)→ get off at Aeri Montserrat station → take the Cable Car ride (Aeri) to the peak
- R5 towards Manresa (~1:05 hour) → get off at Monistrol Montserrat station → take the Rack Railway (Cremallera) to the peak
Tickets for these round-trip routes must be purchased from the attendant stations underground near the R5 line. The two options outlined above are the same price (~€21.80) and differentiated as Aeri or Cremallera. Make sure you know which ticket you're buying so that you get off at the correct stops for your transfer. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Aeri (Cable Car) is a 5-minute gondola ride with breathtaking views. The only downside is there are no chairs, so you must stand the whole way. The Cremallera (Railway) is an above ground train similar to the R5. It also has beautiful views, but it does not float you through the surrounding landscape. If you look really, really closely, you can see the tiny yellow Aeri car near the center of this picture:
There are actually a few additional ticket options to give you more flexibility during your mountain top visit (there are tickets that include train rides to the Montserrat peak, museum entrances and even lunch). If you want a really, really detailed description as well as a helpful timetable, follow this link.
Once at the top of Montserrat, there's a very helpful tourist office that will give you a map, more information about the basilica and museums, as well as descriptions of the most popular hiking routes. Take a quick stop to get your bearings, then enjoy your relaxing day being immersed in culture and nature.