Montserrat is a multi-peaked mountain in Catalonia, Spain. Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery situated high up in the unusual rock mountain is very popular among Catalans, and Catholic pilgrims come from far and wide to see the Black Madonna.
The monastery is Catalonia's most important religious retreat and groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat.
At 1,236 m above the valley floor, Montserrat is the highest point of the Catalan lowlands, and stands central to the most populated part of Catalonia. The stone monolith is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia.
However, the one who expects a tranquil and enlightening experience at the top will be shocked to see that the surroundings of the monastery has many touristy boutiques, shops, stands and restaurants.
Most public transit options will take you to the Montserrat-Aeri or Monistrol de Montserrat terminals at the foot of the mountains, where you transfer to cable car or rack railway to reach Montserrat and its monastery, high up in the mountains.
By trainIf you plan to take the train from Barcelona, decide before you leave Barcelona whether you will take the cable car (from Montserrat-Aeri) or rack railway (from Monistrol de Montserrat) for the second stage of the journey because they leave from different train stops. You can buy a combined, round trip ticket for both the train and either the cable car or the rack railway when you depart from Barcelona, at a discount from buying individual tickets for each segment of the journey.
Travelling from Barcelona, take Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat (R5 Line) train from Plaça d'Espanya to Montserrat-Aeri (or Monistrol de Montserrat respectively). Trains run every hour and travel time for the R5 is around 90 min each way. There are combined tickets available for train and rack railway or cable car, see website below. The combined tickets can be bought from the vending machines at the train station, or at the booth located right in front of the access gates to the trains. Buying from the booth is recommended as you'll also be given a brochure with an overview of the surroundings of the monastery and train timetables. It’s also possible to buy a voucher for a ticket through the website, which can be exchanged at the railway station.
By busYou have two options by bus:
- Autocares Julia leaves Barcelona Sants daily at 09:15 and takes you straight to the Monastry's Plaza del Funicular. Return trip departs Jun–Sep, 18:00 or Oct–May, 17:00. The trip is 1 hr 30 min and costs €5.10 each way.
- Bages Express departs Barcelona once or twice hourly from the Ronda de la Universitat, on the east corner of the Plaça de la Universitat. It takes you to Monistrol de Montserrat, where you must transfer to the rack railway. Travel time is about the same as the train and if you are in the old town of Barcelona, it may be easier to get to the stop than use the metro to get to the Plaça d'Espanya station. Cost is €5.10 one-way to Monistrol de Montserrat. Timetable on the Bages Express website.
By carThe top is also accessible by road, but it will cost you.
The cheaper option will be to park at the cable car (free) or the Monistrol-Vila rack railway station an get up from there. There is also a very large free car park at Monistrol-Vila, on the north side of Monistrol de Montserrat. As well as being cheaper than the cable car, the stop at the top is slightly closer to the monastery and the funiculars, and the last train down is later than the last cable car.
By cable car
From Montserrat-Aeri, take the cable car up to the monastery.
The cable car is also convenient for those arriving by car. Parking at the Montserrat-Aeri rail station is easy and free. The trains arrive every hour from Barcelona, so there will be queues at those times, but it is quiet just before they arrive. If there is a long queue, it is worth visiting the El Rincon cafe. Go though the tunnel, turn left and follow the platform to the end.
By rack railway
When arriving by train at Monistrol de Montserrat, change for the rack railway (Cremallera de Montserrat). The rack railway uses the same train platform as the R5 train from Barcelona.
The rack railway takes 20 min of travel and makes one stop en route to the monastery, at Monistrol-Vila (where the free car-park can be found). The service from the main station is always only one rack railway train per hour, but may be a service every twenty minutes from the rack railway's stop at Monistrol-Vila, so although it is a bit further to walk, you are likely to be better off going through the town there rather than crossing the bridge to the main station.
When returning, make sure to get off at the right stop, depending on your onward travel option—by car (Monistrol-Vila, first stop from the top) or by train/bus (Monistrol de Montserrat, second stop from the top). Trains from Montserrat Monestir to Monistrol de Montserrat leave every hour at 15 past the hour, from 09:15 until 18:15, or until 20:15 depending on the season.
On footYou can also hike up to the monastery from either Montserrat-Aeri (i.e. near the cable car) or Monistrol de Montserrat (the start of the rack railway and end of the regular R5 train), which takes about 1 hr or 1 hr 30 min respectively. Consult OpenStreetMap for the trails.
On footMost of the Montserrat monastery complex is explorable on foot (it's not too big though!).
Funicular de la Santa CovaIf visiting the Santa Cova, there is a funicular which copes with the steepest part, although its lower stop is a bit far away from the Santa Cova itself. It is very useful on the way back as it's uphill. As of July 2019, the funicular is out of service, it is expected to reopen in the first quarter of 2020.
Funicular de Sant JoanThis funicular connects the monastery and an upper viewing point. The upper viewing point is at the junction of three hiking trails: they connect to the monastery, to the hermitage of Santa Magdalena, and to the Sant Jeroni summit.
Monastery and the Black Virgin of Montserrat
Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat, and the Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house, the oldest press in the world, still running, with the first book published in 1499.
BasilicaConstruction on the basilica of Montserrat began in the 16th century, and Pope Leo XIII granted it the status of minor basilica in 1881. Its current façade is however more recent, dating back to the middle of the 20th century, and includes a representation of the monks who died during the Spanish Civil War. The basilica is open daily from 07:30 to 20:00, but keep in mind mass is held several times throughout the day.
Virgin of MontserratA statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ, and one of the two patron saints of Catalonia. She is popularly known in Catalan as La Moreneta, meaning “the little dark one”, due to the darkness of her skin. Believed by some to have been carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the Church, it is more likely a Romanesque sculpture in wood from the late 12th century. It can be seen inside of the basilica.
Escolania choirA boys’ choir, one of the oldest in Europe, which performs during religious ceremonies in the basilica: you can attend either the midday Salve and Virolai, or the evening Vespers. Times may vary due to religious celebrations and school holidays; so do check the daily calendar on the choir’s website. Expect large crowds, especially for the midday Salve, which is the most visited daily act at the monastery. The choir may be accompanied, as required by the repertory, by the Montserrat Chapel Choir, composed of old choirboys, and the monks of the Ministry Chapel Choir.
Museum of MontserratWhile tracing its origins to an early 20th century monk’s ‘Biblical Museum’, the museum’s collection today goes beyond religious works, and includes modern paintings by famous artists like Picasso and Dalí. Reserve about one to two hours for a visit.
PanoramaEnjoy the fantastic views over the local landscape. This is best done by taking the Funicular de Sant Joan to the top.
There are four main hiking trails that can be done around the monastery. These lead to the hermitage of Santa Magdalena, and to Sant Jeroni, the highest point of Montserrat. At an altitude of 1,237 m, almost all of Catalonia can be seen from Sant Jeroni, and on a clear day, the island of Majorca is visible. The trails are well marked with signs along the way, but you may still want to pick up a map at the tourist information office first. At the upper station of the Funicular de Sant Joan, there’s a sign with a map, listing the four trails as:
- Trail 1 connects the upper station of the Funicular de Sant Joan and Sant Jeroni, the summit. The trail also passes two other viewing points, and the chapel of Sant Jeroni. A return trip takes about 2 hours.
- Trail 2 connects the monastery and a junction on the first trail. It can be used as an alternative route to, or back down from, the Sant Jeroni summit. It also passes by the hermitage of Santa Anna and the chapel of Sant Bennet. Note that compared to the first trail, the second trail covers a bigger height difference in a shorter distance; there are some steep steps along the way. It takes about an hour for a single trip.
- Trail 3 connects the upper and lower stations of the Funicular de Sant Joan. It’s used as a driving route by staff, so it can be easily walked, which takes about 40 minutes.
- Trail 3a connects the upper station of the Funicular de Sant Joan and the hermitage of Santa Magdalena. There’s a viewing point along the way, as well as the chapel of Sant Joan, and the hermitages of Sant Joan and Sant Onofre. A return trip takes about 45 minutes. Note that this trail has sections with little shade, so you may want to avoid walking it in midday sun.
Although trail 2 is listed as less difficult than trail 1 on the tourist information signs, the easiest trip to and from Sant Jeroni seems to be to follow trail 1, using the funicular to get to its starting point and to return the same way.
There is also a marketplace, which offers many delectable homemade goods sold by locals, including canned honey, pastries, preserves, cured meat and candy. Also what can be bought is 2 cheeses that is provided only in Montserrat.
Eat and drink
It's a great idea to bring your own lunch, especially if you plan to walk away from the central area or go up the funicular to the top of the mountain. There is no restaurant at Sant Jeroni, although there is a cafe adjoining gift shop where the rack railway and cable cars terminate at their upper ends (at the bottom of the Sant Jeroni and Santa Cova funiculars). If you're coming from Barcelona, a good plan is to get up early and head to La Boqueria, the big open market near the head of Las Ramblas, to stock up on sandwich ingredients and snacks - bread, cheese, meat, olives, wine, etc. Pack it up and bring it with you.
El Rincon cafe and baraddress: Montserrat-Aeri rail stationSimple bar and outdoor cafe serving freshly prepared snacks, sandwiches and paella.
- Colònia Güell – A tiny settlement famous for its modernist architecture, on the railroad line to Barcelona.