If you are staying in Catalunya then don’t miss a visit to Montserrat Monastery in Barcelona. This is one of the most beautiful trips in the area and the monastery of Montserrat is built high on a mountain with spectacular views. Despite this, it is easy to get to the Montserrat Barcelona Monastery with just one train ride or tour from Barcelona city centre.
The monastery is built on the mountain of Montserrat – mont meaning mountain and serrat coming from the word serrated, because the mountain looks like it has been carved with a knife with serrated edges.
When to visit Montserrat Monastery in Barcelona
Bear in mind that the Montserrat Monastery can get extremely busy at popular time of year. Avoid the holidays as it is particularly busy during Easter and Spanish school breaks. Regarding the time of year for the best weather, it can be windy and cold in the winter months between October and February. March is also still a little chilly.
May and June are great months to visit as the weather is warm and mild. Avoid the UK school holidays also as Barcelona gets a lot go British tourists.
In the height of the summer it can get extremely hot in Spain. If you on’t do well in heat then you might want to avoid August.
Overall, if you decide to do the trip yourself then you should go as early as possible as crowds of people and tourist buses start coming in from around 11am or midday. It opens all hours and trains start from around 5.30am so you can go very early to get pictures while it’s quiet.
How to get to the Montserrat Barcelona Monastery
To get to the Montserrat Monastery in Barcelona you need to take the R5 train from Placa Espanya Metro. It is well signposted and easy to do as a day trip on your own. Book a return ticket at the Place d’espanya station for around €11.50 and it takes approximately one hour. wouldn’t recommend the bus – it takes a lot longer and the roads are very windy.
If you would like to get more information on the history and what to see on Montserrat then you can book a guide. We travelled with City Wonders, an Italian company that specialise in guide tours around Spain, Italy, Paris and London. Our guide Iona was very knowledgable and informative. She helped us to carefully plan our day with the time that we had available.
What to Pack
There can be a fair bit of walking involved especially to get to some of the viewpoints, so wear comfortable walking shoes. Take a day pack with a camera, a bottle of water, tissues and any medication needed (particularly inhalers if you are asthmatic). Also take with you a wind or rainproof coat – it can be a little windy especially if you go right to the top!
Food can be expensive so you may want to take snacks from a local supermarket or pastelaria if you don’t want to spend a lot when you get there. However, remember that eating picnics on the grounds of the monastery is not allowed.
Where to Stay
As it is doable as an easy day trip from Barcelona, you will probably stay overnight in the city. There are many unusual and unique hotels and Air BnBs in Barcelona! To make your journey as easy as possible, and to be close to other main attractions, stay close to Place d’espanya. It’s one of Barcelona’s main squares at the foot of Montjuic. Some of the best options include:
- Hotel Catalonia Barcelona Plaza – 4 star hotel with rooftop pool just off Placa d’espanya
- Hotel Occidental Barcelona 1929 – 3 star hotel with sun lounge deck just off Place d’espanya
- Hotel Onix Fira – Good value 3 star hotel with pool located behind the arena
If you are eager to stay overnight on the mountain of Montserrat that is absolutely possible! You can stay at Albergue Abat Oliba which is a 3 star hotel/hostel which is accessible by foot from the monastery itself. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
History of the Montserrat Barcelona Monastery
The Benedictine monastery of Montserrat was built in the 11th Century by the abbot Oliba, next to the shrine of Santa Maria (built in 9th Century). There is nothing left of the Santa Maria chapel today, but there is, of course a legend behind it. In 1409 the Montserrat Monastery became an independent abbey.
The legend of Santa Maria is the story of a hermit who used to live in one of the caves – Count Joan Garí. A devil figure was sent to lead Garí astray and he predicted that he would rape and kill a woman. He said that he would never do such a thing. However, a beautiful princess called Raquilda hiked near his cave, and he was so tempted by her beauty that he raped and killed her, and buried her body in his cave. He did not reveal this to the guards, but he could not live with himself and so he banished himself to walk on all fours. When the hunters from the palace came to hunt for this strange ‘four legged creature’ that had been spotted in the mountains, they took him back to the city of Barcelona. He revealed what had happened and expected for his life to end, but he was offered forgiveness. Garí took the guards to the cave to show them where the King’s daughter was buried. She was found alive – it was a miracle! A chapel was built on the site to commemorate this.
The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) led to the monastery being abandoned, but thankfully it was protected and preserved by the Catalonian government of the time.
What to do in Montserrat – the perfect day trip
Remember that it is easy to do a Montserrat day trip from Barcelona. Below I have outlined the main recommendations which can be fitted into a half day. I have then made additional recommendations incase you have a full day to spend and want to see Montserrat in depth.
If you are on a half day visit then you will need to prioritise activities. The most important things to see are:
- The Basilica
- The Black Madonna inside the Monastery
- Ride the Sant Joan Fernicular and take photos of the Monastery from above
This will easily fill half a day or approximately 2-3 hours. Remember that your phone should be off when inside the Basilica and Monastery and you should be quiet in respect of worshippers and pilgrims.
The Basilica of Montserrat is free to enter. However, be aware of the time that you go in. If you enter during mass, they will lock the doors and you cannot come back out for the entire ceremony. This is to prevent disruption to the service.
You will enter through the atrium – a stunning open top courtyard with a view of the Basilica facade. Look out for the sculpture of St Benedict by the sculptor Enric Monjo. The Basilica itself is a fine example of Gothic architecture with Renaissance shapes and Catalan influences.
The Black Madonna
The Black Madonna is the best part of a visit to the Montserrat Barcelona Monastery. It is a 12th century Romanesque polychrome sculpture. She was not originally black, but the incense and smoke from the worship tainted her over the years darkening her skin.
It is free to get in, but because it gets very busy you will need to buy a ticket in advance with an allocated time slot. Go into the right hand side line to book your ticket. If they ask are you in a group always answer no, because the groups are pushed back until after 2pm. Explain that you came solo (or duo) and came on the train.
Then go off and do the fernicular and the basilica and return to the Monastery for a view of the Black Madonna and Jesus at your allocated time. When you visit the Black Madonna you should expect to queue, but trust me – it’s worth it! Keep moving when you are at the Black Madonna.
Take your photographs quickly because everyone wants to see her so you only have literally a minute to see the statue and make your wish. But remember, if Lady Madonna grants your wish and it comes true, you will have to return to thank her and bring her a gift!
Taking the Sant Juan Fernicular
The Sant Juan Fernicular is a fun experience – an elevator lift that will take you to the top of the mountain to take excellent arial shots of the monastery. The ride itself is not too anxiety provoking, because you don’t have sheer drops either side like you do with some cable car journeys! The cost of the ride up and back down is €14 – worth it if you like to do photography as there is an excellent viewpoint. It can be a little windy!
Alternative Fernicular – Santa Cova
If you prefer it, you can take the Santa Cova fernicular down to the sacred cave. It is often less busy than the Sant Juan fernicular. The Santa Cova de Montserrat is a hillside cave on Montserrat where the Virgin of Montserrat was traditionally hidden during the Moorish invasions. It was miraculously later discovered by shepherds in 880 and they have built a chapel inside the cave.
More Options for a Full Day in Montserrat
If you have a full day in Montserrat and have the desire, it is possible to do both ferniculars. However, there are other options for your day in Montserrat.
If you are a hiker, there are many walking trails that go from the monastery and also from the top of the Sant Juan fernicular. It is also possible to skip the Santa Cova fenicular and hike down to the sacred cave.
The Museum of Montserrat
Another option which will appeal if you are an art lover is the Museum of Montserrat. People in the Barcelona area who have a famous piece of art to donate often send it to this museum. It is a wealth of modern and antique paintings and sculptures as well as archeological pieces from the ancient world. The Museum of Montserrat boasts pieces by Caravaggio, Dali, Picasso and Monet. You need to plan to spend at least one hour in the Museum of Montserrat.
You can book your tickets and find out more about the Museum of Montserrat here.
Further Things to do in Barcelona
If you are lucky enough to be spending more time in Barcelona there are so many fabulous things to see and do. Why not check out some of the amazing Churches in Barcelona or the Art Nouveau in Barcelona by Gaudi and and many other architects of his time.
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