1. Montserrat

A stunning contrast to Barcelona, Montserrat is a mountain range that is a mere hour from the city, with its key attractions being set between towering peaks. Not quite a well-kept secret, this area has been one of the best Barcelona day trips for decades, with thousands of tourists visiting every year to marvel at the views, and you should definitely join them.

The train from Barcelona to Montserrat is a quick and easy way to reach this town, but try and make an early start where possible, as beating the crowds will ensure an infinitely more enjoyable way to see the sights. The cable car is an awesome way to really appreciate the majesty of these mountains and will deliver you to the famed sanctuary that is Montserrat’s spiritual heart and home of the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the most venerated holy sculptures in all of Spain, and said to be capable of miracles.

Adrenaline junkies can get a more hands-on approach with the amazing surroundings by scaling one of the cliff fronts. Of course, if a steep climb just isn’t your thing, the funicular railways are a much more laidback way to take in the sights.

2. Figueres

The art in Barcelona is a draw for many visitors, so for true art-lovers, a day trip to Figueres is a must, not least because it’s the birthplace of one of Spain’s most famous artists: Dalí.  The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí is an icon of the city and an enduring symbol of the man himself. The original site of the city theatre that turned young Dalí towards a life of art, after its destruction by fire, Dalí himself led its rebuild in the 1960s and, following his death, was laid to rest beneath the stage. Unsurprisingly, the museum boasts the largest collection of works by the surrealist in the world, which makes every step in and around this structure a treat for the eyes (and the social media feed).

Staying on an equally as whimsical vibe, the Toy Museum of Catalonia is also based in the city, and the local castle, Castell de Sant Ferran Figueres is a fun way to round up this Barcelona day trip – you’ll be sad to go back to reality.

The train from Barcelona to Figueres is a short and sweet 55-minute trip direct, perfect for a day of arts and culture before heading back for some Barcelona nightlife.

3. Sitges 

Known for it’s laidback and inclusive vibes, Sitges is one of Spain’s best LGBT-friendly locations, and very family friendly too. With over two dozen beaches to choose from, whether you’re inclined towards a bit of naturism or just want a sandy spot to build castles with the kiddies, a tropical palm-tree lined spot is easy to find. Sometimes called the Saint Tropez  of Spain, the beach promenade hosts some of Europe’s most expensive residences, and the whole resort has a definite air of elegance about it.

The perfect seaside escape for those who find Barcelona beach a bit too urban, Platja de Sant Sebastià is an easy-to-reach beach that is a compact and friendly pick for those with children. The Passeig Maritim is a great way to explore the beachfront before picking the perfect spot to lay down your towel, with cafes and shops along the way equipping you with the only beach accessory that matters – local ice cream.

The old town is also worth a visit to enjoy the traditional structures found there, with whitewashed houses giving Santorini a run for its money when it comes to sunshine towns. If after wandering and sun worshipping you’re in need of refuelling, food in Sitges is as fabulous as it’s beaches and often makes locally caught seafood the star of the dish, plus you can’t go wrong with beachside tapas. The town is also famous for its bars and nightlife, so it’s no wonder that Casa Bacardi, the home of the world’s favourite rum, is also located here.

The Barcelona to Sitges trains take just 30 minutes direct, that’s the perfect amount of time to apply your sun cream!

4. Tarragona

For lovers of history, day trips from Barcelona don’t get much better than Tarragona. Roman ruins are at the heart of this port city, with the Roman ruins of Tarraco, which includes the breath-taking amphitheatre over the bay, being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ancient remains are scattered throughout the city, including the Roman walls, the Palace of Augustus and the Aurelian Way – history buffs will be spoilt for choice.

The central market in Tarragona is a great place to explore local delights, from delicious fresh fruits to handmade crafts. And of course, because there is no escaping the gorgeous Catalan coast, Tarragona has plenty of beaches for you to enjoy a spot of sunbathing too.

It’s just an hour by train from Barcelona to Tarragona, who knew travelling back in time was so simple?

5. Madrid

Quaint towns are one thing, but if your trip is about the very best places in Spain, then a day in Madrid is essential. From one capital to another, the fastest trains from Barcelona to Madrid take just 2.5 hours direct, a mere dent in a day full of city slicking.

Head to the Royal Palace of Madrid for the obligatory holiday photo next to this impressive structure and take a tour of its inner chambers to marvel at the rich collection of art, weaponry, jewellery and porcelain. If seeing the possessions of the royals has you itching to treat yourself to something pretty, Gran Via is the beating heart of the city for shopaholics – Madrid’s shopping street, this 1.3 km parade of boutiques and department stores offers a generous dose of Spanish retail therapy.

El Rastro Market sets up every weekend and it's more than enough reason to set your Madrid day trip up on a Sunday. With more than 1000 vendors selling everything you could hope for, including tasty treats to fuel your browsing, there’s no better way to experience some local spirit than by diving into the hustle and bustle of this top Madrid market. If you’re looking for the perfect spot to admire your new finds and tuck into your stall-bought bites, head to Parque del Retiro, a beautiful park that covers 120 hectares and has the stunning Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in the middle of it.

Aim for the last train to Barcelona so you can enjoy a bit of evening time in Madrid, a city that never sleeps. Set your sights back to Gran Via, which doubles as the city’s take on the West End, with shows and performances on offer every night of the week. Head to a flamenco show to see this UNESCO-rated art form performed as only the local professionals know how. 

Barcelona day trips

And there you have it, plenty of excuses to broaden your travelling horizons and see beyond Barcelona’s city borders, all by train!