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My Travel Notebook: Day Trips from Barcelona - Girona and Tarrogona

brightly coloured facades of the houses overlooking the Onyar River

If you are in Barcelona more than a few days, you are missing out if you don't plan at least one day trip, depending on your interests.

It's literally a hop, skip and a jump down to Sitges, 35km south of Barcelona by train and it's truly the place to be if you want to get a little taste of non stop festivals, beach life and all night parties. We JUST missed carnival so we didn't go this time but it is worth planning your trip around that week in order to experience what is considered to be one of the world's top ten carnivals. Sitges is also  one of the hippest,  LGBTQ friendly places you can visit in Europe, so if that is important to you, it really should be at the top of your list.

On the other hand, if you are really into breathtaking scenery, sweeping views and want to take a cable car ride up to an austere monastery nestled high up in the mountains, with hiking opportunities galore, Monserrat is for you. Personally, I will put off Monserrat for another time when the weather is much warmer as a trip up a windy mountain top in February is not really my thing.

That left the fiercely proud capital of the Catalan region, Girona, an easy 40 minute train ride north and Tarragona, about an hour and a bit drive to the south, along the coast. We could do one day trip for sure and were hoping to squeeze in a second so we had to make a choice.

Tarragona Ampitheatre
For a combination of an old, seaside medieval town and some Roman Ruins, Tarragona in a natural choice, but, if you are like me, and you can't get enough of walled cities, insanely beautiful churches and the narrow, winding labyrinths of the ancient quarters, then Girona was a no brainer and that put it at our number one spot. I have been lucky enough to see some pretty impressive Roman ruins in Jordan as well as Greece and Southern Italy so that pushed Tarragona down a notch our list, although we did go there on on a whim on our very last day.



Girona's famous Jewish quarter thrived from the 12th century until the end of 1492 when the Catholics outlawed Judaism in Spain and gave Jews the option to convert or get the hell out. It remains one of the most well preserved Jewish Calls in Europe and is, rightly, one of the main attractions for tourists, containing an excellent Jewish Heritage Museum in addition to beautiful churches, art museums, shops and restaurants. Also, for such a small place, it has more than it's fare share of Michelin starred establishments so if you can snag an elusive reservation at 3 starred El Cellar de Can Roca, consider getting a hotel and staying overnight.

the view from atop the Passeig de la Muralla
Although the city walls were demolished at the end of the 19th century to make room for city expansion,  parts of the them have since been restored and the Passeig de la Muralla is now safely walkable, offers incredible views and is a fun way to get from one end of the old town to the other.

The Girona Cathedral
 If you are a Game of Thrones fan, Girona stood in for Braavos in season 6 and you will recognize those daunting, steep steps that lead up to the Girona Cathedral, also know as The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona. The kind of intimidating interior boasts the widest Gothic nave in the world with soaring ceilings, cold stone everywhere, all buttresses, recessed chapels and friezes. As The Kid quipped, this is not a warm and fuzzy church but it is gorgeous and it boasts a museum as well as small collection of vestments and religious items in a room above the pillared cloister.


Here is a great tip on getting around:

Using my favourite website Rome2Rio you just fill out your starting city and your destination and it will spit out every conceivable way to get to where you want go from where you are, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Even better, you can just click through and it will take you to the appropriate website to book that train or bus trip, car rental or flight.

So, the high speed AVE train makes the 94km  trip in just 38 minutes, travelling at speeds of up to 200km/hr. It took me the same time to get to Girona that it takes me to get downtown on the subway here in Toronto except that these trains are spotless and run on time.

Expect to pay between 9€ and 20€ depending on which train you choose and at what time. We arrived around noon and stayed until about 5pm and that was plenty of time to really explore and get back to the city before dark. If you go in the summer, it would be lovely to go a bit later in the day and watch the sunset from the top of the city walls.

When on the train, sit on the left side to get a great view of the mountains if you can but much of the quick train ride is done in a tunnel so it's not as big of a deal as it is when you are taking a longer, more scenic trip that hugs the sea. When you arrive in Girona, it's a quick walk from the train station to the Old Town, where you can spend the rest of the day just wandering the winding streets that make their way up, up, up to the main attraction, the Girona Cathedral.

Honestly, just spend the day walking around the Old Town, go into all the churches, visit the Jewish Heritage Museum, walk the city walls, take tons of photos, drink coffee and people watch on the Placa de la Independencia and stop for lunch.

Now, you can go safe and choose one of the popular places you find on Trip Advisor or you can take my advice and look for a place that is full of locals having lunch.

a delectable flan came with the menu del dia 

We ended up at an unassuming spot with a cluster of tables on a wide sidewalk called Restaurante Ca L'Ivan. This was only after the first restaurant on my list was closed for vacation and we got lost searing for the second but, in the end, we were all equally thrilled with this happy little accident. After crossing the river, venturing away from the Old Quarter, we turned a corner and Shack just said "This place looks good - it's full of old Spanish people". Old people are, of course, our prime marker for good places to eat while travelling. If there are two restaurants side by side and one has a Nonna sitting a table and the other does not, we go with Nonna, every time.


It is so off the radar that I couldn't even find it anywhere online. It's not on Trip Advisor, they have no Facebook page or Instagram account. What this restaurant DOES have is cheap, delicious Catalan food, friendly servers and no long lineups of tourists waiting to have lunch at the #3 restaurant in Girona. Shack had some sort of veal stew with a Catalan lentil soup, The Kid has Catalan style spinach with pine nuts and raisins before chowing down on a huge plate of tripe and I went with an omelette and the daily fish, all for 10€ each that included dessert and a drink. Honest, well prepared, delicious, traditional Calatan food for a song - if you can't go Michelin, go with this.

Restaurante Ca L'Ivan


You can get to Tarragona from Barcelona easily by bus, train or, like us, you can rent a car and drive. Expect to pay between 9€ and 18€ for the 52 minute train ride, 5€ to 35€ for the 1.5 hr bus drive, depending on which bus line you choose or you can rent a car for the one hour drive. It took us a bit longer because we left the main highway and chose to drive along a smaller road that hugged the water for a prettier journey. Our rental car was about 70€ for 24 hours but the prices were almost much doubled due to an incoming tech conference so our little Fiat would have been closer to 35€ or 40€/day at another time.

driving takes you through many, long tunnels carved out of the mountains and right past this aqueduct on the outskirts of the city

Admittedly, we only spent a couple of hours here because we and decided to rent a car on a whim on our very last day at noon. By the time we picked up the car, got on the highway and then pulled OFF the highway because our car refused to go over 66km/hr and then spent 30 minutes googling and trying to figure out how to disable the speed lock in Spanish, it was about 1:45pm. As it was February, that meant we only had limited daylight hours left before we even left Barcelona so our site seeing was going to be fast furious.

Tarragona Cathedral
Our other mistake was arriving in Tarragon famished. It was just after 3pm and many of the restaurants in the main square were closing so we made a rash, hangry choice and had a terrible lunch, before setting off to check out the amphitheatre and a bit of the old town. I cannot recommend a restaurant in Tarragona, home of romesco sauce, but I can caution you to avoid the Cappuccino Tarraco unless you have an intense desire to eat your weekly sodium allowance in one meal.

Tarragona streets
We DID get to witness a rehearsal of sorts outside of the Cathedral. A group of men were walking in lock step while balancing a heavy statue on a platform on their shoulders, let by the beat of a chorus of young drummer in what, I assume, was in preparations for Lent.

Tarragona Cathedral
I wish we had more time to explore but what we managed to see was lovely and we will absolutely return for a proper afternoon visit on our next trip to Barcelona.


Oh, trust me, there will be another trip to Barcelona.

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