Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Montserrat is a rugged mountain range famous for its dramatic hillside Abbey and array of outdoor activities. It’s also just 1 hour away from Barcelona, making it the perfect day-trip destination.
In this article I’ll cover:
- Walking routes
- Montserrat Abbey
- Other activities
- Transport logistics from Barcelona
For me, hiking is Montserrat’s major attraction. The craggy mountains dominate the landscape, providing the perfect scenery for a day of exploring. Dotted among the hills you’ll find quaint churches, awesome viewpoints and rivers running through the valleys.
There are plenty of trails to choose from – each with different length, gradient and scenery. Here are the 4 walks I did in order of length/difficulty:
All of these walks start and finish from outside Apat Restaurant. Refer to the picture below for visual representations of the routes (you can find this map on a board in Montserrat – it’s located at the top of a flight of stairs to the left of the restaurant).
Creu de Sant Miquel
➲ Type: return
➲ Length: 2.4km (45min)
➲ Difficulty: easy
➲ Pictured map reference: bottom right, route shown in green
Probably the most popular route, and for good reason – it’s short, it’s easy and it has great views. The best view is saved until you reach St. Michael’s Cross itself.
Santa Cova de Montserrat
➲ Type: return
➲ Length: 3.2km (1hr)
➲ Difficulty: easy
➲ Pictured map reference: bottom right, route shown in thin red line
Another short route but this one slightly steeper. It ends rather abruptly at the small Church of Santa Cova. Views of the valley to the west are fantastic on a clear day.
➲ Type: loop
➲ Length: 4km (1.5hrs)
➲ Difficulty: medium
➲ Pictured map reference: route number 2, thick red line
Definitely the quietest route of the lot. Something to keep an eye out for is the Hermitage of Sant Benet. Towards the beginning of the walk you get great views back over the Abbey and Montserrat “village” area.
A mixture of terrains, both ascending and descending throughout the length of the route. It’s definitely worth doing if you have enough time but I would prioritise the Sant Jeroni walk (read on…)
Miranda de Sant Jeroni
➲ Type: loop
➲ Length: 7km (2.5hrs)
➲ Difficulty: medium
➲ Pictured map reference: route number 1, thick red line
The longest, most diverse and most visually rewarding route. Along the way you can spot rock climbers as they ascend ridiculously steep rock formations. The final lookout provides stunning views in every direction; factor in an extra 30min to take a lunch break and fully appreciate the views.
The route is steep in places but overall quite a gradual ascent to its furthest point (the Sant Jeroni viewpoint). The pictured route also includes a funicular ride – a one-way ticket costs €6.75 (£5.80/US$8.30) when bought as part of a combined ticket. However, you can avoid this by using alternative walking paths (via Santa Anna church and a river crossing) – this will add roughy an extra 30mins onto the walking time.
Do you want more hiking inspiration? Check out Ordesa National Park – it’s so stunning that I drew comparisons to the mighty Yosemite! You can read more on Ordesa here.
See the Montserrat Abbey
The Abbey of Montserrat is, well, exactly that – an abbey. Most people refer to it as a monastery but it is in fact a Benedictine abbey – a large collection of buildings (including a monastery) where a community of monks live and worship.
Montserrat’s Abbey is one of the most striking examples in the world due to its precarious mountainous location. But be warned, it’s size is deceptive! The large rocky surroundings dwarf it to such an extent that you can barely see it – especially from the bottom of the cable-car line – yet up close you’ll be craning your neck for a glance at the roof.
As the centerpiece of the area, it’s pretty much impossible to miss but can get crowded at peak times. Inside the abbey – including Basilica and famous Virgin of Montserrat statue – is well worth a look, just preferably at the quieter times of early morning or late evening. All I can say is that visiting Montserrat Abbey makes great pictures and even greater memories!
Other activities & amenities
Rock climbing is extremely popular in Montserrat as the dramatic rock formations provide the perfect playground. There are routes of varying difficulty to suit all ages and abilities. If you’re coming in the summer then I’d recommend booking ahead to secure your spot.
If you’re on a day trip from Barcelona, cafes and restaurants surrounding the Abbey offer a chance to enjoy a relaxed lunch. Other amenities include: toilets; drinking water fountains; information points; hotel; gift shop; museum; parking; viewpoints and ticket offices for the various trains.
How to get to Montserrat (from Barcelona)
First and foremost, you don’t need an organised tour in order to visit Montserrat as it’s easily reachable by public transport. Utilising this option also gives you the freedom to walk around at your leisure and perhaps explore further afield than a tour would’ve allowed.
From Barcelona, take the R5 train from Plaça d’Espanya to Aeri de Montserrat and then the cable car up to Montserrat itself. For more details, read the following section;
Detailed directions from Barcelona city centre
1- Reach Plaça d’Espanya subway station; from street level, take the stairs down to the station in front of Las Arenas de Barcelona or Hotel Catalonia Barcelona Plaza
2- Follow the orange FGC sign to the correct platform (ignore immediate ticketing machines – you get your special combined Monsterrat tickets directly on the platform)
3- Buy your combined train & cable car ticket for €20.50 (£18/US$25.5) and then take the R5 train towards Manresa (departures at 36 and 56 minutes past each hour, journey time 1hr).
4- Get off the R5 train at Aeri de Montserrat station and use your combined ticket to board the cable car up to Montserrat.
Try to sit in middle carriage of the R5 train – you’ll then be in prime position to exit the platform and be first in line for the cable car.
Cable car alternatives
If you’re scared of heights and don’t fancy a cable car ride then you can take the Cremallera (rack railway) instead; get off the R5 train at Monistrol de Montserrat station (one stop after Aeri de Montserrat) and use your combined ticket to board the rack railway. When buying your ticket at Plaça d’Espanya, ensure you specify Cremallera (rack railway) instead of cable car.
Getting back to Barcelona
Use your combined ticket to get either the cable car or rack railway back down the mountain, followed by the R5 train back to Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya. Both the cable car and rack railway departures correspond to the R5 train timings.
Cable cars leave Montserrat at 30mins past the hour (7 days a week) and 45mins past the hour (Monday to Friday). The corresponding R5 train departures from Aeri de Montserrat are 45mins past the hour and 05mins past the hour respectively.
Example: on a Monday, you could get the 16:45 cable car to Aeri station followed by the 17:05 train to Plaça d’Espanya station.
Using the rack railway is slightly simpler. Departures from Montserrat are hourly at 15mins past the hour. These connect with an R5 train that departs Monistrol de Montserrat station at 41mins past the hour. You can use the search function on this webpage to find more details about the rack railway or cable car: www.cremallerademontserrat.cat.
Have you experienced the beauty of Montserrat? What was your favourite part?