Catalonia has it all. The Pyrenese Mountains rise nearly 10,000 feet to create a stunning backdrop against fertile valleys and vineyards. Though it is the electric blue Mediterranean waters of the Costa Brava that attracts most travelers. Just be sure to trek inland every once in a while or you’ll miss amazing historical ruins, some of the world’s best wines and perhaps the most unique art museum in existence. An overview of the most exciting cities in Catalonia:
1. Lloret de Mar
At first glance, Lloret de Mar may not be the most attractive town in Catalonia. The splendor of the beautiful ocean and white sand beaches have made Lloret a crowded tourist destination full of casinos and fast food fried chicken restaurants. If vibrant, late-night party life is your things, then Lloret is the town for you. Those looking for a quieter retreat can find it in two places — the Parish Church of Sant Roma and the Lloret de Mar cemetery. The church is known for its beautiful dome while the cemetery houses aristocrats from the late 19th century.
Sitting just 22 miles southwest of Barcelona, Sitges has been a beach resort destination since the 19th century. This vibrant Catalonia town was instrumental in the development of Modernism which heavily influenced the works of Picasso. The city erupts into one big beach party through the months of July and August, and October brings a culturally enriching film festival. You’ll find jaw-dropping art galleries, high-end restaurants and some of Spain’s most lively nightclubs in this tiny city. While the city cools down during the off-season, you can still party like a rock star year round.
3. Tossa de Mar
A popular destination for vacationers from the UK, Tossa de Mar has no shortage of blood sausage and pubs. The center of the tiny coastal town offers up local vendor stalls and a handful of friendly bars. Try some wine as the libation has been perfected in the region for over a thousand years. French painter Marc Chagall once nicknamed the town Blue Paradise and it’s easy to see why when you hit the coast. The town is famous for a Game of Thrones-style Mediterranean castle defending the azure blue waters. The ancient stone walls meander along the rocky coast to creat beautiful curves. The castle has since been turned into a popular and modern resort, but the medieval structure still stands beautifully surrounded by lavish beaches.
The city of Lleida has been standing since the Bronze Age to make it one of the oldest cities in Catalonia. This arid island city has a war torn past. The walled castle-cathedral in the heart of town stands as a strong reminder of this violent history through centuries of bloody overthrows. The town had been reduced to rubble on more than one occasion as the ancient Lleidians had a penchant for picking the losing side. The rise and fall of many cultures have left an indelible mark on the town. You can see remanence of a Jewish and Arab past. The destruction has made room for the rise of beautiful modernist buildings. Now Lleida is a peaceful and busy city with one of Spain’s most renowned universities. Holy relics, including cloth and thorns, make the Lleida’s cathedral a popular tourist destination.
Catalonia’s largest and most popular city contains beautiful buildings, sun-bleached beaches, incredible nightlife and some of Spain’s best food. Roman columns dating back 2,000 years rise next to the Gothic Quarter where you can see buildings from the middle ages. Modernist architecture, including world-renowned buildings designed by Gaudi, is sprinkled throughout the city. You can swim in the Mediterranean in the morning and then hike Barcelona’s wooded Collserola Hills in the afternoon. Then it’s time to party. Watch the sunset while enjoying a drink at an oceanside chiringuito then hit the bars. Clubs open after midnight and rage all night long. The day after, indulge in the city’s famous Catalan cooking to nurse some energy back into you.
The city is cut by Riu Onyar, a river that divides the historic and commercial centers of the city. Girona was especially wealthy during the middle ages. Many of the time’s greatest Romanesque and Gothic buildings still stand defiantly after surviving centuries of siege and war. This survived physical history makes the city’s museums and galleries that much more enriching as you stroll to them on cobblestone lanes past medieval walls. This northern Catalonia city contains the best nightlife outside of Barcelona and arguably some of the best restaurants in the region.
This inland town is all about one of the world’s most famous artists — Salvador Dali. The self-promoting and eccentric Dali was born in Figueres and would embark on a career that took him to Barcelona, Paris and eventually the United States. He kept his birth town close to his heart and returned to build Teatre-Museu Dalí. One of the most interesting art museums in the world, Teatre-Museu Dalí is an ode to surrealism; the type of visual art that Dali helped to create. After visiting the museum, the quiet town offers cafes and shopping, as well as an impressive 18th-century fortress.
Tarragona is a region more than a city. The first thing you’ll notice is the scent of grilled seafood in the air that will lure you to the medieval section of the city. Tiny lanes weave their way past Gothic churches built with impressively large honey-colored stones. After enjoying the ocean’s bounty, stroll to some of the most important Roman ruins in the world. Incredibly preserved, an Oceanside Amphitheater still hosts events. And the Roman ruins museum holds impressive artworks and mosaics from the Roman times. Costa Daurada’s lush beaches are just a short trip away while the beautiful modernist architecture of Reus sits just inland. It’s all a part of the Tarragona experience.