Several weeks before my trip to Barcelona, I sought recommendations from a well-traveled friend who’d recently traveled there himself. As we sipped our Starbucks, he began by telling me what he regretted not doing. And the number one thing was the monastery at Montserrat. Hearing the words mountain and cable car… I was sold.
Later that night, I started my Montserrat research and found this Tourist Guide Montserrat especially helpful. I happily learned that the R5 train out of Pl. Espanya (a major metro station in the city) was a straight shot to the base of the mountain. That was the easy part. The hard part was deciding which type of ticket to purchase, as the choices are many. I knew I wanted to take the cable car (Aeri de Montserrat) to the monastery vs. riding up on the rack railway – which narrowed my options, since the cable car and railway each have their own train stops. After reading the entire guide, I decided to purchase a combined ticket for the R5 train, cable car, and Sant Joan funicular to go further up the mountain.
If you choose to visit Montserrat, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead—even if you aren’t a planner. Trust me. Read that tourist guide. It will save you time and money, .and I promise you’ll have a must smoother experience.
Pl. Espanya + R5 Train
After staying up way too late on Facebook and Instagram the night before, I set my alarm 30 minutes later than originally planned—telling myself I could get ready really, really fast if I stayed focused. My goal was to catch the 8:36 a.m. train out of Pl. Espanya, and I barely made it. I mean, I had a minute to spare, if that. Though I did arrive early to Pl. Espanya, I failed to factor in the time it took to purchase my ticket at the station’s kiosk (there was a line!) and find the R5 train, since that station is an interchange for several metro train lines as well. (Tips: Go to the lowest level of the station for the R5. Be sure to check the train times. And, read about ticket options here.)
The train ride to Montserrat is exactly an hour. Once above ground, the views become progressively prettier the further you are from the city. Honestly, the hour passed quickly thanks to those window views and a little Instagramming. Plus, I was at ease, knowing I needed the first Montserrat stop (Montserrat Aeri) for the cable car. (Again, plan, plan, plan ahead.)
Though I’d already purchased the combined train & cable car ticket, I did still have to wait in line at the Aeri station. Each car holds 30 occupants, but there were a surprising number of people ahead of me—some sort of tour group, I think—so I waited probably half an hour for my turn. But oh, the views were worth the wait!
Arriving at the monastery level, I browsed the gift shop for a good 20 minutes, looking for a small, inexpensive souvenir. Normally, I shun gift shops for being too touristy, but made an exception for this place—with the goal of finding something that felt unique. I decided on a tiny, wooden-framed hourglass with the Montserrat name and logo branded on both sides.
Note: There is also a public restroom in this building, as well as a cafeteria. I opted to pack snacks and a S’well bottle full of water, per a tip I read online someplace. Another time and money saver for all you fellow frugal folks out there!
Choosing not to tour the monastery, I made my way to the Sant Joan funicular for the second leg of my trip up the mountain. This line was much shorter, as less people opt to go beyond this level. But why?? Yes, the views at the monastery are capital S Stunning. But, they only get better. And better than stunning is… well, it’s something I’d regret not seeing.
The funicular ride was quick, and landed me at a crossroads of hiking trails, each leading to a different point in the Montserrat mountains. I knew without a doubt I wanted to hike to the highest possible point—Sant Jeroni—and thankfully I learned from a blog (Probe Around the Globe) that the Sant Jeroni path is an IMMEDIATE right upon exiting the funicular station. Immediate, indeed! I think I would have missed it had I not read that blog post during my research phase. (I know. I know. Again with the research. But, see how vital it is??)
From the giant map next to the trail, I learned that this hike would take over an hour one way—not including all the photo stops I knew I’d make—so I got moving!
It took me close to 90 minutes to reach the top, and it was 90 minutes of my life I’ll never forget. Though I passed the occasional hikers—some going up, some going down—I was essentially alone in nature the entire time. I spent a good portion of that time talking to God, in awe of His creation. Though I’d taken a short mountain hike in Ireland years ago, this experience was completely different and much more emotional. For one, I was solo. If you’d told me even a year ago that I’d hike up a mountain in Spain by myself, I’d have laughed. So it was all a bit surreal. Also, as a recovered bulimic, there was a time in my life when this trip would not have been possible financially, nor wise for me physically. Reflecting on this, I teared up—and I am NOT a crier! Before reaching the summit, I must have thanked God 50 times for the physical and fiscal ability to even be on this adventure.
And, when I did reach the top… WOW. As I caught my breath from the final ascent, the 360-degree views overwhelmed me.
I spent the next 30 minutes etching those views into my brain and capturing them with my phone. Six other hikers were at the top when I arrived, so I asked one man to take my photo because selfies would not do this moment justice. Before heading down, I also snacked on two apples from my bag—and I gotta say, it was, without a doubt, the most stunning place I have ever tossed an apple core!
On the way down, I passed two American girls and we took turns snapping photos of each other on the edge of a wide-open vista. As I stood on a rock with my back to them, one girl asked if I wanted a panoramic shot. Unbeknownst to me, she was already snapping away (to give me options!) and candidly captured my response (below). Yeah. I talk with my hands. A lot.
Throughout the hike, I texted photos of the views to my family. And, wouldn’t ya know, my dad—Michigan-proud, concise texter, and a jokester to boot—chose the 5-minute window of my cable car descent to text me back. His text? Michigan has great views too. The moment I read that, I literally laughed out loud. In the cable car. Surrounded by 29 strangers, many of whom probably didn’t speak English. It was a jerk reaction, and everyone stared at me. And then I laughed some more… but on the inside, of course. (I’m not that crazy!)
Traveling from Montserrat to Barcelona
While waiting for the train back to Barcelona, I met a guy from California who ended up chatted with me the entire hour back to the city. It was a welcomed distraction from the length of the trip, and a treat to have a full conversation with someone who spoke English. Though I don’t remember his name, we’ll always have that train ride back from Montserrat. (Side note: The last train to Barcelona leaves Aeri de Montserrat at 6:45 p.m., so keep that in mind if you do any hiking.)
Dinner in Barcelona + Sagrada Familia at Night
Back at the apartment, my first priority was freshening up. Then editing photos. And then, dinner. One of my Instagram friends recommended that I see the Sagrada Familia lit up at night, so I decided that would be the perfect way to end my trip.
I ordered take away from two different eateries near the cathedral and ate in the park across the street – the same park I visited on Day 1. And yes, I meant to type TWO eateries. From Wok Show, I ordered dinner (a steamed salmon bowl), and then stopped at Picasso Restaurant and Bar for dessert (churros and chocolate—the other must-eat on my list, besides paella)!
Seated on the brick wall overlooking the park’s pond, I savored my food as dusk triggered golden lights to illuminate the façade of the cathedral. The reflection over the water was magical!
Once back at the apartment, I packed my bags, then finished my usual photo editing and posting to social. The thought of leaving Barcelona in the morning was not at all pleasant, but the trip was so beyond what I had hoped that I had no right to be sad. So, instead, I focused on all the fresh, new memories I made!
And, that concludes my 3-day trip to Barcelona. If you’ve been to BCN, please share a favorite spot in the comments. Or, if you haven’t, did my posts spark your wanderlust?