Sant Pol de Mar
There’s plenty to like about the beaches in Barcelona. They’re a stroll or metro ride away at the most, there are plenty of chiringuitos (beach cafés), showers and toilets and, once you’ve had enough sun, you’re home in no time. While they’re convenient for a quick beach fix and we’re grateful to have them on the doorstep, though, there are plenty of other options available both north and south of the city that are less crowded, as well as cleaner and quieter. All the beaches listed here are reachable by public transport.
The Maresme coastline is directly to the north of the city, between Montgat and Malgrat de Mar, beyond which the Costa Brava starts. Most of the beaches on this stretch are wide and sandy and, with only a couple of exceptions, the train runs directly parallel to the beach next to the busy N-II road. The Barcelona to Mataró stretch of this railway was built in 1848 and was the first train line in Spain, marking the beginning of the country’s industrialisation. The resulting separation of the beaches from the towns is a shame for residents but certainly makes life easy for day trippers arriving by train.
Sant Pol de Mar
This small fishing town an hour north of Barcelona is about as charming as it gets before you head further up to the Costa Brava with its white houses, fishing boats and little winding roads. The main beach curves round directly in front of the town and the rocky backdrop makes it seem much more intimate than the typical wide open beaches of the Maresme. If you have time, there are also plenty of secluded rocky areas to be explored by walking north or south from the main beach, following the N-II. The rocks and clean, clear water make these great for snorkelling.
Lots of Barcelona residents happily make the journey to Caldes d’Estrac (or Caldetes, as it’s also known) and its two main beaches, both flat and wide enough to accommodate lots of people with a decent space between towels. As a big bonus, the town itself is also lovely with some wonderful 19th-century architecture and plenty to do, including an art museum, thermal spa and lots of shady cafés and places to eat. One of the beaches is lined by beautiful Modernista villas on the ‘Passeig dels Anglesos’, built in the early 1900s, when the Barcelona gentry would holiday there in the summer months.
Although it’s just 30 minutes by train from Barcelona, the water is already much cleaner by the time you reach Ocata, which has a big, wide and beautifully-maintained beach. So, lie here, admiring the views of the W hotel in the far distance and enjoy the relative peace and space that just half an hour of travel gets you. There’s also a path that runs alongside the train track with regular water fountains and shady picnic spots. If you need to stretch your legs, walk up towards Premià de Mar or back towards El Masnou.
SOUTH OF BARCELONA
Few tourists make it to this lovely beach that lies hidden next to El Remolar-Filipines (a protected natural space). The locals know about it, but even then, it rarely gets too crowded. There’s a laid-back, relaxed vibe at this beach and it’s also nudist-friendly. To get there, take the train to Viladecans and at the station get on the VB-4 bus, which will eventually drop you at the beginning of a dirt track. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach.
The beaches of Castelldefels are always an easy option, just 20 minutes away by train and a short walk from the station. The mood is lively as lots of young Barcelona residents head there on the weekend and it’s also a popular windsurf and kitesurf destination. The sand is clean and the water appetising and there are plenty of chiringuitos along the beach. The town centre doesn’t hold much visual appeal but it’s practical enough with lots of parking, beach shops, cafés and restaurants.
Gavà Mar is much more peaceful than its neighbour, Castelldefels. Although both have vast, wide beaches, the backdrop of dunes and the pretty, wooded area of paths and walkways in Gavà Mar give this beach a natural feel that you don’t get in Castelldefels. As it’s a little harder to reach, there are far fewer people and even on the hottest Sunday in August, there’s plenty of space for everyone. There isn’t much of a town to speak of (the nearest town is Gavà, located some kilometres away inland), but there’s a bar and a couple of restaurants plus a beach chiringuito. You can get to Gavà Mar by bus, car or by walking from the Castelldefels Platja train station.
This lovely cove nestles beneath the hills (and motorway) between Castelldefels and Sitges and is bordered by a row of picturesque privately-owned beach huts. This used to be a working fishing beach but it’s now a popular destination for beach-lovers from Barcelona. However, it’s still much quieter and more intimate than Castelldefels or Sitges. The restaurant that looks down on the beach makes for a great stop. Sit here, enjoy a cold beer and the city will seem very far away indeed.
The Costa Daurada stretches south from Sitges to beyond Tarragona, and is named after its golden sandy beaches. Many of the towns along this coast were built around castles or fortresses and still maintain a lot of their old charm despite the influx of tourists and the inevitable apartment blocks. Between the sea and the mountains are gentle lowlands of olive groves, almond trees and vineyards.
A favourite for many locals, Sitges seems to have it all. The downside, of course, is that it is very popular. The beaches nearest to the town centre get very crowded, but if you’re willing to keep walking along the promenade, the crowds eventually thin out. The Sausalito beach, near the Terramar hotel has a great chiringuito. The water on this beach is often very shallow, so it’s a also a good family spot. The nudist-friendly beach in Aiguadolç is another good alternative and is about a 20-minute walk from the station.
Torredembarra boasts one of the few natural beaches left in Catalunya, Els Muntanyans. It has fine white sand with shallow saltwater lagoons and semi-shifting sand dunes. All of this makes it a great beach for families with young children.
Just before Tarragona, this long, wide beach with golden sand and clear water is considered by many to be the Costa Daurada’s finest beach. It’s certainly well worth the longer train ride. The town itself has a beautifully-preserved old quarter and the beach is overlooked by an impressive tower on the cliff at the far end.
AND IF YOU’RE NOT A BEACH FAN
There are lots of places near water worth visiting around Catalunya. Here are just a few ideas for keeping cool away from the sand.
La Gola del Fluvià
The river Fluvià runs through the wetlands of the natural park Aiguamolls de l’Empordà until it joins the sea close to Sant Pere Pescador. The mouth of the Fluvià is where the Fluvià Gola school is located, an ideal destination for windsurf and sailing enthusiasts looking to gain confidence in the water before attempting the Mare Nostrum. www.fluvia-gola.com
The Medes Islands, a group of seven irregular rocky islets, stand just over one kilometre from the shore of l’Estartit. They have been well-conserved and are regarded as one of the most important reserves of maritime flora and fauna in the Mediterranean. Try the many diving courses and trips in clear-bottom boats that are organised around this area.
La Vall de Boí
The Boí valley and the rest of the western Catalan Pyrenees are famous for the practice of frenetic river rafting and canyoning. In this particular area, it is possible to enjoy the views of the Aigüestortes national park while rafting down the river Noguera Ribagorçana. Canoeing is also a popular extreme sport in these parts; head to the Escales reservoir, near Pont de Suert, to try your hand at it.