HOW TO GET THERE, THINGS TO SEE AND DO
In an epic mountain range located in the autonomous region of Catalonia in Spain, the Montserrat Monastery is one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona and an iconic tourist attraction, visited by millions of people every year.
The little village retreat high up in the clouds is a sanctuary from city life with various attractions to see and things to do. It is not only rich in spirituality but also history, art and nature. It is a symbol of the Catalan identity.
Definitely worth the visit for everyone and a real highlight on any Barcelona itinerary.
Here is my guide to Montserrat Monastery with everything you need to know about visiting this extraordinary Spanish landmark, plus information on what to see and do there, advice for tourists and more.
About Montserrat Monastery
Montserrat means ‘serrated mountain’, and the distinctive rock formations, with multi-peaks are over 1200 metres high. The curious mountain range resembles old knobbly fingers and is a huge attraction. Also called the Mountain of 100 Peaks, and Mont Sagrat (sacred mountain) by Catalans.
It’s a mountain retreat of spiritual importance for monks and visitors, with breathtaking views of the Spanish countryside.
The Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat here is almost a thousand years old and is home to 80 Monks. And before Christ, there was a Temple of Venus here built by the Romans.
Interesting fact: Every Catalan is expected to walk up to Montserrat once in their lives.
How to get there
There are many different options for reaching Montserrat Monastery, some you may not be aware of.
1. My visit to Montserrat Monastery was part of a tour group by coach with a tour guide, of Barcelona and surrounds, which made the whole experience comfortable and stress free, particularly for our family of 4 with young children.
2. If you want to make your own way there, one of the easiest ways is to take a train from Barcelona, from the rail station at Plaça Espanya in Barcelonato, to the bottom of Montserrat Mountain. Then take the mountain train (Cremallera) or the cable car (Aeri) up to the Monastery. Or, you can walk up the mountain if you’re feeling adventurous.
3. Alternatively, go by car, either a hire car or taxi, to Montserrat from Barcelona, a distance of 60km, approx. one hour drive. Driving up the mountain is a bit daunting and not recommended for inexperienced mountain drivers. Car parking is available on the mountain for the cost of a few euros.
4. Another option is by public bus from Barcelona, leaving in the morning from Plaça de la Universitat, but there aren’t many buses going there and back.
5. A great option is to buy the Barcelona Go City Explorer Pass which includes a Montserrat visit by Bus. See below.
6. Another fabulous idea is to take a Hot Air Balloon Ride from Barcelona to Montserrat Monastery and enjoy the stunning aerial views of the city and countryside. See below.
Basilica of Montserrat
The Basilica here is called Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. It is part of the Monastery and is one of the most important buildings here where masses are held and the world renowned Boys Choir performs.
This Catholic church is Gothic in style and its architecture and beautiful interior is a must-see for everyone, which is always open and free to enter.
Snazzy Tip: Be sure to join the queue for general entry to the Abbey, or you may end up in the long line to visit the Black Madonna.
Visit the Black Madonna
Enshrined inside the Basilica is the famous and adored statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, also known as the Black Madonna or Black Virgin (La Moreneta), an ancient wooden sculpture of Virgin and Child, dating from the 12th century, which is also Patron Saint of Catalonia.
The 27th April is Feast Day of Our Lady of Montserrat when celebrations in her honour are held at Montserrat Monastery.
According to legend, the sculpture was found in one of the caves on the mountainside by shepherds in the 9th century, but originally came from Jerusalem.
There are various theories as to why the statue is black, from candle smoke damage of many years to simply the colour of the wood, to being African origin.
Pilgrims come to worship her from far and wide, all throughout the year, hoping for miraculous intervention in their lives. Even famous historic characters have been on pilgrimages here, such as Colombus and Louis XIV.
It is believed by many that the Madonna holds special healing powers. For example, if you wish to have a child, climb the stairs to the shrine, worship and kiss the statue’s hand holding the sphere, light a candle, and your wish will hopefully be granted.
However, long queues often form where the wait can be quite long during busy periods, as this is one of the most popular attractions here, and one of the main reasons people come. I recommend booking a time to visit the shrine in advance.
Snazzy Tip: If you want to visit the Black Madonna, I suggest going in the afternoon when it’s less busy, after many of the tour buses have left.
Visit the Museum
The Museum of Montserrat houses artefacts and iconic artwork, the likes of Picasso, Monet, and Caravaggio.
There is quite a vast collection of works from 8 centuries to admire here, which makes it one of Spain’s most visited museums.
See the small Chapels called Hermitages
All around the mountain there are small cave chapels, or holy grottos, that monks once lived in as hermits, and were then abandoned. Some of these hermitages have existed since the 9th century, according to Catalan records.
Santa Cova Chapel and Sant Joan Chapel are accessible by the funiculars, which give you exceptional views over the landscape.
Ride a funicular up the mountain
There are 2 funiculars on the mountain called Funicular de Sant Joan and Funicular de Santa Cova, that you can take a ride on up and down the mountain to enjoy spectacular scenery, access the cave chapels, and a museum called Aula de la Natur, the Nature Centre.
Check times and when last ride is so you don’t get caught out.
Shop and Eat
There are several food and gift shops, as well as a few market stalls selling local produce, such as cheese, honey and cakes.
Enjoy one of the cafes and restaurants at Montserrat. I recommend you book restaurants in advance to avoid missing out, as they can get quite busy.
Montserrat is known for its Catalan gastronomy.
Explore the terrain a little by taking one of the various walking trails around the mountain to enjoy the flora and fauna, panoramic views and mountain air. They are generally of low to medium difficulty. Be sure to stay on the designated tracks.
You can hike to the tallest peak of the mountains, Sant Jeroni.
Take a picnic on your walk and make the most of the experience on the mountain. You can buy supplies there so you don’t have to bring them with you.
There is also a designated picnic area at the Monastery terrace.
GENERAL INFO FOR VISITING MONTSERRAT
- Once you arrive at the foothills of Montserrat Mountain, there are 3 ways to ride up and down the mountain – take a Cable car, a Funicular or the Cremallera Mountain Rack train.
- Montserrat is open everyday, including public holidays.
- Visiting Montserrat and the Basilica is free, including the Black Madonna.
- Bookings are now required to visit the Black Madonna, and for Mass.
- You must buy tickets if you wish to see the Montserrat Museum, L’Escolania Boys Choir, cable car rides, funiculars, mountain train and the audio guide.
- Tourist Information Offices and Kiosks are located around the mountain for your convenience.
- The actual Monastery is not open to the public, only to the Monks.
- Don’t take large bags with unnecessary items into the Basilica.
- Dress conservatively inside the church.
- The walking trails around the mountain are free.
- Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
- It is a few degrees cooler up the mountain, so come prepared. In Winter it may even snow.
- Preferably allow a day for your visit from Barcelona to do everything on offer.
- Avoid going to Montserrat on 11th of September, the National Day of Catalonia, as it can get super busy.
Photos of Montserrat Monastery and mountains
Guided tours and day trips
There are so many fabulous tours available, with transportation included from Barcelona, that aren’t too expensive and take all the hassles out of organising your own trip.
Some include lunch, a visit to a nearby winery, horse riding, cave visit, and much more.
Check out the awesome options below.