Explore the Basilica and Abbey
The Montserrat Basilica and Abbey is probably the most notable site of interest. It is still a working church and Benedictine Monastery that hosts regular, daily mass and spiritual retreats. So, it is essential to remember this as you explore, including modest dress and quiet respect. If you are religious, you can attend one of these masses, receive confession, light a candle, or make an appointment to visit the library. The world-famous Boy’s Choir called L’Escolania performs 2x daily singing.
The entire Abbey, Basilica, and Black Madonna are free to explore. Certain areas, such as the library and personal residences, are restricted, and museums require tickets. You can learn about mass times, opening hours, choir schedules, and events on the Montserrat Abbey official website.
Touch the Black Madonna
If you are willing to wait in line to see the Black Madonna, it is located inside the Basilica. The line moves as most people don’t linger at the statue, and there is plenty to look at while in line. This statue is believed to have been carved in Jerusalem at the start of the Catholic faith around 50 CE. The statue was brought to Spain and hidden, rediscovered in the 9th century. This is the pinnacle attraction for holy pilgrims and can be very popular. Since most people visit during an early half day, sometimes the late afternoons can be the quietest. But wait times can be anywhere from 20-45 minutes.
Throughout the complex, numerous chapels are dedicated to different saints, such as St. Peter, and St. Ignatius. Some of these chapels are inside the Basilican on your way to see the Black Madonna. The original chapel to St. Iscle is inside the lovely gardens. The gardens are certainly worth visiting for a stroll.
As you hike through the nature park, there are dozens of small chapels and hillside areas for prayer and reflection. Keep an eye out for small churches and chapels on your hikes. Some of the operate as shelters for long-distance pilgrims or climbers. It is a reminder that the entire mountain is considered holy, with a long history of harboring pilgrims, monks, and religious believers.
On our hikes, we passed by Ermita (chapels) dedicated to Sant Joan, Sant Martí, Santa Anna, Sant Miquel, and Sant Antoni.
Admire the Architecture
If you are not religious, you might enjoy visiting to appreciate the fantastic architecture. The basilica is mostly reconstructed after the Napoleonic wars, but you’ll see Gothic and Renaissance designs. The hanging candles inside the Basilica were donated by surrounding Catalan towns, representing a niche jewelry-making style from the region.
The Montserrat Museum
In the Monastery complex, the Monserrat Museum was originally a biblical museum housing works from monks and an extensive iconography collection featuring images of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, over the years, it has become quite an impressive museum with exhibits on ancient human history, Catalan paintings and art, and contemporary and modern pieces. The museum is constantly changing, with many rotating exhibits.
Unless your pass allows entry into the museum, tickets are €8 for adults.
The Espai Audiovisual Experience
The second museum is the Espai Audiovisual immersive experience, providing insight into life in and around Montserrat. There are different sections where you can learn about the mountain and place history of the natural surroundings and the significance of the mountain. Other sections provide insight into the culture, academia, religion, and monk’s life.
Unless your ticket includes admission to the Espai Audiovisual museum, it will cost €5.50 for adults.
Aula Nature Museum
At the top of Sant Joan Funicular is the nature museum. This is a naturalist museum that explores and explains the biodiversity and geology of the region. The Aula de la Natur has impressive views from the balcony. Inside is plenty of information about the wildlife and plant life you might encounter while hiking. This museum is important for environmental education. While it is free to visit, you will need to pay to ride the funicular unless you hike up or it is included in your pass.
Traverse to the Santa Cova Chaple
One of the most impressive architectural features is the Santa Cova Chaple. From the central Abbey, you can look off the cliffside and see a chapel perched on edge. This holy site is supposedly where the Black Madonna was hidden from the Moors. According to legend, children saw a great light fall from the sky and heard a beautiful song in the mountains. This happened several times until the statue was rediscovered in a cave. The Chaple was built around the cave; despite some battle scars, it is still standing since the 17th century.
You can hike down to Santa Cova, which is what we did. The trip is about 3km and should take over an hour RT. There is some elevation gain. Along the path are statues where you can stop and observe. The path is well-maintained and secure. I recommend this option for people who can walk comfortably.
You can also ride the funicular. It will not take you directly to the chapel but does traverse most of the way.
Hike to the Sant Miquel’s Cross
Another short walk we prioritized was a walk to Sant Miquel’s Cross and the observation deck. The views from this area are just stunning. You can reach the cross in a few ways. First, you could start at the bottom of the Sant Joan Funicular, walk up to the cross, and then return the way you came. You can also continue winding the path until you reach the top of the Sant Joan Funicular. From there, you can explore the top and walk or ride the funicular back down for a short trip – or continue to Sant Jeroni peak for a long half-day hike.
Enjoy the Art
Outside the museum, the Montserrat region is full of art for appreciating as you explore. One of the more notable pieces is the Stairway to Heaven. This piece is located at the top of an impressive view overlooking the valley and mountains.
Contrary to its name, it is art and not a stairway. Unfortunately, security has fenced it off due to vandals and people posing on top of the art piece. This is why we can’t have nice things. The art signifies the monastery’s importance as the climb for those on a pilgrimage to be closer to heaven. Remember to respect the religious site and art, and do not climb or deface art for pleasure. Certainly, DON’T do it for the gram.
Another exciting piece is the Abat Oliba, a bronze statue behind the abbey on a trail leading up the mountains. The piece was created in the 1930s to honor the founder of the Monastery, Abbot Oliba.
As you hike through the region, keep an eye out for more statues, sculptures, icons, and art installations.
Take in the Views
Montserrat is not short of impressive views. While the view from the main Monastery is impressive in its own right, there are dozens of observation decks or miradors (viewpoints).
The Mirador of the Apostles is a lovely lower-elevation viewpoint. Higher up, there are viewpoints at Sant Miquel’s cross, the Sant Joan Funicular, and Sant Jeroni peak for the hikers. Each observation point has a unique view to offer.
Ride the Funiculars
Even if you are like me and prefer walking most of the time, riding the funiculars is an enjoyable experience. If you have the TOT or Trans Montserrat Pass, you can ride as many times as you want. Otherwise, I recommend riding the Sant Joan one way to optimize your time during the day and get the experience.
The area is fantastic for hiking opportunities. There are plenty of easy walks around the Monastery. One I already mentioned is down to the Santa Cova Chaple. But that is just a tiny taste of what you can experience.
Ganesh and I hiked to Sant Jeroni from the Monastery and back again. You can take the funicular up, hike out to Sant Jeroni peak and then hike down directly to the monastery or return to the funicular. You can also combine this with a hike to Sant Miquel’s Cross.
Sant Jeroni is probably the most popular half-day hike, but even then, at times, we were the only ones on the trail. The hike is about 8 km and can take a few hours, depending on your pace. There are a lot of stairs, some scrambling, narrow walkways, and a total ascent of over 300m.
Other popular hikes include taking the GR5 or the GR 96 from the base to the monastery.
For a shorter walk, you can also walk from the monastery down to Els Degotalls along the Camí dels Degotalls, which is just over 2km.
You can review more hikes on the All Trails website, ask the nature center atop Sant Joan Funicular, or the Barcelona Tourism Center.
If you are not a confident hiker, book a guided tour to see Montserrat’s cultural and natural side with a exert that will get you home safely. If your main priority is hiking, I suggest you book this 5* tour with customization options so you can hike to your fitness level and get the most out of your experience.
For more extreme adventurers and expert climbers, Sant Jeroni and the entire Monsterrat nature park is a very popular mountain for rock climbing. The unique geological features make this an excellent spot for technical climbing.
Birding and Wildlife
Some more popular trails, especially in the afternoon, are void of animals. But for the early morning hikers or those that take trails with lower traffic levels, you’ll have the chance to see mountain goats, all sorts of bird species, small mammals, and more. Bring your binoculars to see if you can spot anything from a distance.
Explore Limestone Caves – Coves del Salnitre
Just near Callbató, there are impressive and vast limestone caves and caverns. This is the same cave system where the Archaeologists found neolithic tools and remains. While some caves are blocked for research, you can certainly enter a few. You need to reserve your visit ahead of time. The Caves are open from Wednesday to Sunday, and a guide must accompany you. The caves involve a lot of stairs and walking more than a kilometer. Visit the website to learn more and plan your visit.
Visit Small Villages
If you are interested in more authentic cultural tourism experiences, then the Montserrat Nature Park is also home to four small villages that offer accommodations and unique cultural experiences.
I would suggest visiting or staying at Collbató, for easy access to the limestone cave and adventure tours. You can also look at El Bruc or Marganell Sant Cristòfolor. Monistrol de Monserrat, is another town on the R5 train line and the trailhead to hike to the monastery. These small communities offer an authentic experience while surrounded by nature and impressive views of Montserrat.
If you are on an independent road trip, you should take advantage of the rich agritourism opportunities surrounding the Montserrat nature park. The rural countryside outside of Igualada has wineries such as Celler Grau or Caves Bohigas. The region between Sant Sadurní d’Anoia and Vilafranca del Penedès is also home to plenty of cava producers.
How Much Time Do You Need?
We spent a full day at Montserrat, leaving Barcelona early in the morning and catching one of the later trains back. If I were to visit again, I would stay overnight in one of the small villages inside the nature park to watch the sunrise/sunset and get a more authentic cultural experience.
Ultimately we prioritized nature-based hiking activities and cut some monastery and cultural exhibits from our plan. I would suggest deciding what is most important to you? Summiting Montserrat’s highest peak? Or seeing the Black Madonna in person?
You could prioritize what is most important to you and see how much time you have left. But, most tour groups visit in the morning and see the religious sites. The later you stay, the less busy it gets, so you can save the holy places for last and spend the morning hiking.
When to Visit
Summer and shoulder season during the weekend will be the busiest. If you can visit off-season, be prepared for cold temperatures, especially on your hike. I traveled to Montserrat near the Easter holiday, and it was still cold. Not sure shorts was my best clothing choice, but at least I am rocking the fanny pack.
As a religious site, there are certain times, days, and seasons with changing hours. Check ahead to ensure that the things you want to see are open and operating. For example, the boy’s choir takes off for the summer holidays.
All the funiculars, trains, and cable cars run on a strict schedule; make sure you are aware of the timetables, so you don’t get stuck on the mountain.
What to Pack
Plan to be out on your feet most of the day. Even if you aren’t hiking, you will want comfortable clothing with supportive shoes. The monastery and abbey are religious sites, and you must dress modestly, covering your shoulders and knees. I had to cover my legs with a scarf to enter the Basilica.
The temperature in winter can be cold, dropping close to freezing. Summer can be pretty hot and humid.
Bring a small bag. Large bags are not allowed on some sites, but if you are hiking, you will need room for water, packed lunch, and maybe a cheeky wine – like we packed.
Bring a reliable timekeeper. You will need to closely monitor the train timetables, funiculars, cable car, and rack railway. The last thing you want is to be stuck at the top of the mountain at sunset without booking accommodation.
Don’t forget your reusable water bottle!
What to Eat
We packed a lunch for our hike, so I can’t comment on the food at Montserrat. There is a restaurant in Hostal Abat that offers a sit-down meal. The cafeteria is self-service food.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Barcelona in a location with easy access to Plaça Espanya to catch the train to Montserrat. Sixties Ramblas was an excellent option for us and our budget. It was in a great location near Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, and public transportation, but it was on a nice, quiet street.
Montserrat also offers accommodation options, including simple apartments and hostels. You can also choose to stay in Monistrol for a night in a Catalan town with easy access to Montserrat.