Costa Brava Holidays: The Best Things to Do on the Costa Brava
Of Spain’s three holiday coasts the Costa Brava (‘rugged coast’) is the most refined and picturesque.
It’s a place to take a Blue Flag beach escape or a winter walk among the pines.
Yes, in any season the Costa Brava will dazzle you with its wild ways, feed you fine foods, and put you to bed in the quiet calm of a beach side village postcard.
And it’s all just a short ride away from the world-class tourist destinations of Barcelona.
Let’s check out the best things to do on the Costa Brava and the best towns to do them.
Costa Brava Tours
First of it should be noted that without a car you’ll have limited options.
If you’re looking at it as a day trip from Barcelona yet still want to see a big chunk of the main sights, it’s recommended to go for either an organized half day or full day tour.
There’s no effort required! Just strap in and enjoy the crystal clear waters, beaches, marine reserves, coves, and medieval towns.
Costa Brava Tour – Half Day
The half day tour of Costa Brava starts with a visit to Lloret de Mar: the beating heart of the area’s tourist activity.
This vibrant tourist destination offers so much, including the modernist Saint Roma church and two enchanting hills and their marvelous views of the area.
From here we follow the picturesque, rocky coast using Dofijets jet boats all the way along to Tossa de Mar – this little city is my favourite! The beach, the lighthouse, lush vegetation, and stony houses are really something to be seen.
- Booking includes: bus transport to/from Barcelona, flesh and blood guide in English, English audio guide and tickets for the Dofijets.
- Hours: half day tours run on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday. It departs at 8:30 from Plaça Catalunya (metro green L3 or red L1), in front of the Hard Rock Cafe with a schedule return at 4:30 pm. Make sure you arrive 15 minutes early.
- Price: €57.00 per person, children under 6 go free.
Costa Brava Tour – Full Day
This full day tour of the Costa Brava starts with Calella de Palafrugell – a little fishing village where you’ll have a brisk 30 minute hike along the famous Camino de Ronda, a seaside trail that was used to prevent smuggling.
This trail will bring you to Llafranc where you’ll get the bus to the medieval village of Pals and its little streets and classic “frozen in time” vibe. The view of the Costa Brava from the 12th century tower is amazing.
From here you’ll grab a boat to the Islas Medas where you’ll observe the flora and fauna of the best marine reserve in the occidental Mediterranean.
Turning back to the coast you’ll visit the Greco-Roman ruins of Ampurias.
- Reservation includes: bus transport to/from Barcelona, flesh and blood guide in English, English audio guide, tickets for the boat Nautilus, entrance and guided visit to the ruins at Ampurias.
- Hours: full day tours run on Tuesdays and Fridays. It departs at 8:30 from Plaça Catalunya (metro green L3 or red L1), in front of the Hard Rock Cafe with a schedule return at 8:30 pm. Make sure you arrive 15 minutes early.
- Price: €84.00 per person, children under 6 go free.
The Best Costa Brava Towns
Coming from Barcelona this is the Costa Brava’s first city.
As mentioned you can easily get to Blanes by train from any of the major Barcelona stations like Sants Estacio, Plaza Catalunya, Arc de Triomf, and Clot-Aragò. The trains should read ‘Massanet-Massanes’.
From here you can get to a lot of Costa Brava towns but you’ll either need your own car or to utilize one of the infrequent bus services – again, depending on the amount of time you have you could find buses quite limiting.
Blanes doesn’t offer anything particularly extraordinary but there are things to do if you look.
Here there’s beautiful countryside and some of the best beaches on the Costa Brava from a cleanliness standpoint. The clean waters here have been awarded the Blue Flag by the EU for sustainable tourism.
If you’re in Blanes in autumn or spring make sure you visit the Pinya Rosa e Mar i Murta Botanical Gardens: they’re considered among Europe’s most beautiful.
On your way to Blanes you can also stop at another beach town easily reachable by train from Barcelona: San Pol de Mar. It’s not officially on the Costa Brava but the coves and clean waters here are ideal for people wanting a change from Barcelona’s beaches.
It’s also a famous spot for nude sunbathing.
Lloret de Mar
Over 40% of the Costa Brava’s tourists land at Lloret de Mar.
The town of 40,000 is massive by Costa Brava standards and famous for summer visitors on package holidays. No other town in the area boasts more shopping opportunities and ‘Lloret’ has also been certified as a top sports tourism destination by the Catalan Tourism Agency.
Those looking for that seaside town vibe without losing the edge of Barcelona’s nightlife should head here. You’ll find a boat load of pubs and clubs with young people, late nights, and foreigners letting lose.
It’s the best place to stay in Costa Brava for hotel value.
Get to Lloret de Mar from Blanes train station: shuttles operated by the Pujol bus company run every 30 minutes.
Tossa de Mar
Of all the Costa Brava villages this is the most picturesque.
At Tossa de Mar the beautiful historic center closed in by medieval walls has been perfectly conserved, as is the emblematic castle on the hill overlooking the horseshoe bay and the city.
The water here is super clean even though the little beaches around Tossa get pretty crowded in the summer. If you end up here just before high season between May and June though you’ll be set!
Another little Tossa curiosity: here you’ll find endless amounts of roast chicken places: the ones turning on a spit for hours in their own juices. Highly recommended to try.
Tossa de Mar Beaches:
The best Tossa de Mar beaches are: Platja Gran (the biggest), Platja del Reig, and Platja Es Codolar.
Platja del Reig is the most visited beach due to all the restaurants and bars along the seafront while Platja Es Codolar is the most authentic with its net-mending fisherman getting on with their daily grind.
Tossa de Mar Coves:
From Tossa’s main beach a common thing to do is the boat trips including ones to the famous Cala Giverola, a gorgeous and isolated cove with Thailand-like waters found just 2 km north of the town.
In all we’re talking about 158 linear km of coastline: that’s a lot of beach!
There’s also another precious cove straight out of a photo competition with its pristine waters: Cala Llevadó. I recommend really exploring the areas because there are so many little coves – just make sure to mind the nudists 😉
For those not looking to break the bank on accommodation you’ll find a really cool campsite called Cala Llevadó. Here you can choose from standard tent pitches or bungalows. To get here you can get a bus from Tossa but you’ll have to do a bit of walking to get down to the water.
If you’re not in the mood for walking you’ll be better off getting your own car or taking a taxi.
You can get to Tossa de Mar directly from the Estació del Norte (a short walk from Arc de Triomf metro station) using the Sarfa bus company. Tickets cost €24.50 return.
Another option is to take a train from Sants Estacio, Plaza Catalunya, Arc de Triomf, or Clot-Aragò to Blanes and then take a bus from the train station.
Tip: if you’re going to head to Palamos via Tossa de Mar I suggest checking out another classic cove: Cala del Señor Ramon.
Palamós, combined with the nearby Platja d’Aro, is a really well known summer destination known for its nightlife and restaurants.
This is the ideal spot for a group of friends looking to have a night out holiday near some top Costa Brava beaches. The sandy beaches here are quite spacious and you’ll find enough little coves to wander around.
Here you’ll also find the famous Palamós prawns: a culinary delight that you absolutely must try!
To get to Palamós take the bus offered by the company Sarfa from the Estació del Norte (the same bus will get you Platja d’Aro)
These three Costa Brava towns carry the hallmarks of a typical villages by the sea: narrow streets, little blue and white fishermen’s houses, and artisan shops.
All three can be visited on the famous “Camino de Ronda”.
The Camino de Ronda is a typical walking trail that connects different villages off the beaten path. From here you”ll be able to discover little corners of the Costa Brava that would be impossible otherwise.
Careful: this walk along the jagged, hilly coastline warrants a good pair of hiking shoes.
The most visited of the three towns is Calella di Palafrugell with its stunning (if packed) beach.
Llanfranc and Tamariu on the other hand are much less frequented and as such have maintained much more of their authenticity.
Here you’ll eat like royalty.
The classic dish here is the mar y montaña (surf and turf) featuring delicious local crustaceans with some typical mountain foods like seasonal vegetables and meat. More adventurous eaters may want to go for the es niu, a traditional offering with cod, hard boiled egg, and potato.
A great place to eat along the seafront in Llanfranc is the restaurant at the Hotel Terramar.
It won’t be a surprise that I suggest you rent a car 🙂
If that’s simply not possible then you have two alternatives: bus and train. From Barcelona you can get the Sarfa bus service from the Estació del Norte to Palafrugell then taking a taxi to Calella, Llanfranc or Tamariu.
By train you can take the Renfe service from many Barcelona stations to Girona and then take a bus to Palafrugell.
I absolutely fell in love with this majestic little place. You’ll find this Costa Brava town in the Catalan backcountry just a few kilometers from Girona and the sea.
I’ve visited Pals on two occasions, once in winter and once in summer.
In summer it’s a very energetic place with curious tourists walking around the narrow streets taking pictures and ducking into souvenir shops.
In winter though it’s really something else: the streets transform back into Medieval times with the hauntingly quiet lamp-lit corridors in between stone houses offering mysteries at every corner.
Without renting a car I’m afraid you’re out of luck as the transport options are limited/complicated.
Another medieval village worth visiting on the Costa Brava is the village of Begur, which in summer attracts many tourists for the beauty of its nearby beaches.
Don’t sleep on Playa Fonda, Playa del Racó with the nearby Playa de la Illa Roja (the latter is a nudist beach like many in the area), Playa de Sa Riera, and Cala de Aiguablava.
Again, in this case transport is hard going so it’s best to rent a car.
- Camping El Maset (Carretera Platja de Sa Riera, S/N, 17255): this is the optimal location at just 400 meters from Sa Riera Beach and just a few minutes from the town of Begur itself. They’ve also got their own swimming pool and lots of other entertainment.
- Camping Begur (Ctra. d’Esclanyà, 4, 17255, Girona): found in the middle of lush greenery about 4 minutes from the town. If you’re looking for peace and quiet just steps from some of the most beautiful beaches on the coast this is your place.
Cadaqués is one of those Costa Brava towns that regardless of the tourist influxes has maintained its traditions and authenticity… in spite of its popularity, you won’t find any massive hotels and resorts but only little white houses typical of a fisherman’s village.
This may be the Costa Brava’s most charming and romantic place – so much so that the Chinese have actually created an entire replica of the town in Xiamen Bay.
From here you’ll also be in striking distance to the city of Figueres, the city where the famous artists Salvador Dali was born and died. Here you’ll find the famous Dali Museum.
Before getting to Cadaques I also suggest you visit the long sandy beaches of Playa de Sant Pere Pescador.
Cami de Ronda
The most beautiful places along the Costa Brava like Calella de Palafrugell or Tossa de Mar can be visited by doing the so called Camí de Ronda.
And what exactly is it?
The Camí de Ronda is a long walking trail (there are actually multiple depending on duration and difficulty) connecting the different villages and allowing you to discover nooks and crannies of the coast that would otherwise remain unknown.
Itinerary options cover the entire Costa Brava from Blanes to Portbou on the border with France.
Along the way you’ll come across breathtaking coastal landscapes and experience unspoiled nature under the shade of maritime pines.
You can get route information at any town’s tourist info point along the coast.
In general however those who travel the Camí de Ronda choose to do it along a linear path (starting from point A and arriving at point B) or a more demanding circular one.
If you’re not the most motivated walker I recommend taking the 8 km path that goes from Playa Castell to Cap Roig. It won’t take more than 3 hours and allows you to relax at some of the coast’s most amazing covers – like Cala Estreta.
If that’s not enough and you want more distance, I recommend taking the route from Palamós to Tamariu. This 18 km long route is perfect for a two day trek.
The first day you’ll start from Palamós and arrive in Calella de Palafrugell. In total it’s about 3 hours of walking and a 300 m rise in altitude for a total distance of 11 km. On the second day the 7 km from Calella de Palafrugells to Tamariu takes about 2 hours.
Even more hardcore?
You could start from Sant Feliu de Guixols to reach Begur over 43 km and a 1200 m rise in altitude. On the first day you can stop in Palamós and the second in Llafranc.
In total you’ll get 12 hours of walking in over 3 days.
If you’ve got time in spades then I’d choose the circular route that covers a total of 140 km and after the first stretch on the coast from Sant Feliu de Guixóls to Begur, you’ll head to the heart of Catalonia to reach Girona and then continue towards the sea again.
In this case the total walking hours will be pushing 40.
But it’s nothing dangerous of course, and in my opinion it’s really worth it! 😉
Where is the Costa Brava?
The Costa Brava starts 75 km from Barcelona in the town of Blanes.
The town is probably most famous as the last stop for many trains leaving Barcelona so technically you’ll be able to get on the outskirts of the Costa Brava by train from the city.
From Blanes it stretches all the way to the French border.
How to Get to the Costa Brava
Getting to most Costa Brava villages by train or bus is simple.
The problem is a lot of coastal gems are quite remote. You can get to local train or bus stations but those dreamy little coves from the postcards are even further along; you’ll need to walk a long ways, hitchhike, or simply know someone with a car.
My recommendation is that you rent a car if possible and for the best price search function and super-convenient booking I always use Rentalcars.com.
Regarding Barcelona airports the closest one is about 30 km from the Costa Brava and this Girona (GRO).
You also won’t have any problems getting there landing at El Prat de Barcelona (BCN) though this is going to be about a 2-3 hour drive depending on your final destination.
Visiting the Costa Brava in Spain?
If you’re still not convinced on any of these Costa Brava towns then make sure you get at me in the comments below: I am here to answer any and every question you have about your holiday.
I also suggest taking a look at my article on Sitges – another coastal getaway that’s just around the corner from Barcelona.
Until next time 🙂
July 1, 2022 at 2:02 pmHi ash, we are going to Costa Brava from September 26 for two weeks. It’s going to be two couples. We thought about rent one place on the south for a week and another place on the north for another week and then do a daily driving. Do you think is a good idea? Also would recommend not too crowded towns on the coast that we should stay for the week in south and the week in the north? Thank you. Joao
November 2, 2019 at 5:02 amHi Ash, The tours are only available until Oct. Would you know of any Costa Brave tours available in April? Many thanks!
November 2, 2019 at 12:43 pmHi Didit, There probably aren't a lot of tours so early... if there are I wouldn't have any first hand experience to recommend. But I'd check out Viator, Tripadvisor, the usual suspects to see. Their database of reviewers in this case will be better than my guess! Please let me know how you get on, Ash
August 20, 2019 at 5:56 amDefinitely going to check out Tossa de Mar. If you don't have a car but will be relying on a bus; can you also go to Calella de Palafrugell on the same day or Cacquedes ? Or would you recommend spending the night in Tossa and then visiting one or both of these sites the following day? And do you recommend buying bus tickets in advance for Tossa or can you just buy them the day of? Thank you!!!
August 20, 2019 at 10:04 amHi Jenae, It's not optimal getting to Calella de Palafrugell from Barcelona without a car... but if you get to Girona by train there are plenty of bus options from there. That said, if you'd like to combine it with a visit to Tossa the superior option would be to find a base in Tossa and go to Palafrugell the next day... Keep in mind though that even though it's a small distance, the bus will take almost 2 hours. That said, this is the reality of exploring a rocky coast with tiny roads via transport... I've done it myself! Still worth it ;) I always buy my tickets the day of but I usually go just off high season in May or September. If you're arriving in August I wouldn't risk it and would book in advance. Cheers, Ash
August 20, 2019 at 5:51 pmHi Ash, Thank you for the tips; very much appreciated. We are going in September (starting the 13th).... possible day trips... 1) Tossa de Mar 2) Girona 3) Sitges 4) Tarragona 5) Penedes wine region Can we book the trains and/or buses the day of by going right to the ticket center at the station or online the day of OR should we book any transportation tickets in advance for any of these places? Also, we will be traveling to different sites in the city...La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Tibidabo, Gaudi's sites, neighborhoods like the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta beach, etc. Would you recommend getting the 10 ride ticket or the Hola Card ? Happy to book it through here to support your site. :) Lastly, have you heard of Cabify? Since Uber left Barcleona she wants to use cabs for the end of the night and metro during the day. Thank you!
August 21, 2019 at 11:07 amHi Jenae, Maybe I'm just a bad planner but I always just buy my train or bus tickets for day trips the day of the actual trip. I have never had a problem with this. I wouldn't worry... you can kind of play it by ear if you like, but just make sure you arrive at the stations with plenty of time. As for the transport, yes if you'd like to support the blog I would be grateful if you booked through here! I always recommend the Hola for tourists doing a fairly involved itinerary. At the very least I'd grab a 48 hour one to take advantage of initial airport transport and the first busy days. If you've knocked quite a few things off your list or are leaving town for a day trip then you can then move over to the T-10 pass. As for Cabify I really did enjoy the service as I found it very professional and clean (even if the fleet was small and you had to wait more than taxis)... the unfortunate thing is that it doesn't exist in Barcelona any more! There is no ride share at the moment. Cheers, Ash
August 13, 2019 at 2:04 pmHi Ash! Thanks for the helpful articles. They're amazing and have totally helped me plan my trip to Barcelona. I can't find any info on the bus from Tossa de Mar to Cala Llevado. Do you know how we can get there? Timetables / cost / where to catch it? Thank you!
August 14, 2019 at 10:40 amHi Kristina, Thanks so much for your very kind words :) Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any transport to this secluded cove... that said, it's about a 30 minute bike ride or 55 minute walk which should be easy to do in the summer. I'd take the opportunity to get some exercise and explore the area :) Cheers, Ash
December 26, 2018 at 11:18 pmThis is the most helpful post I have found! I’d love some advice for our trip on June. We will have four or five nights for costa del sol. We’d love to be able to enjoy the town we are staying in with maybe one day trip. We are looking for walkable, good restaurants, artisan shops and outdoor recreation (kayaking, snorkeling, etc). We are considering staying in Cadaqués, Tossa de Mar, Calella de Palafrugell and saint Feliu de Guixols. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
December 27, 2018 at 3:25 pmThanks for the kind words Lindsey! Honestly, though I've been in Barcelona for almost 8 years one of my big regrets still is not having seen all of these wonderful places up the Costa Brava. From my personal experience I would say though that among the options you listed my favourite is Tossa just because it strikes that perfect balance between amenities and being a bit kind of undiscovered (albeit simply because it's a bit harder to get to)... My second choice would be Calella de Palafrugell not because I've been, but because I have a ton of Catalan friends and acquaintances who swear by this place. An added benefit is that in addition to having one of the biggest and most well-serviced population centres, you can also easily take day trips out to Llanfranc or Tamariu... if you want variety this is a good choice. My two cents! Ash
September 27, 2018 at 4:51 pmAsh! It's me again - Daniela! :) hehe Soooo, we have figured out the first part of our trip (THANK YOU for your suggestions!), and now looking into the latter. We are planning to rent a car and drive out to Costa Brava and rent a hotel room, probably in Toss Del Mar. I have read your wonderful article above, however, wanted to know what you think would be the best places to visit along the way and most efficient use of our time driving out to Tossa Del Mar. I see you’ve listed all these great spots (Calella de Palafrugell, Llanfranc, Tamariu, Begur, Palamós, Roses, l’Escala, Pals, Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar and Cadaqués), but I’m so confused on where to go! So many places, so little time! Ah! Also, since we will have a rental car, we’re thinking to visit Monserrat as well…. So, here’s what we’ve brainstormed: Day 1 - drive out to Costa Brava, visit some towns/beaches along the way to Tossa Del Mar. Stay overnight. Day 2 – visit any other towns/beaches on our way back to Barcelona (or visit Monserrat) Day 3 – if Monserrat is on this day instead, leave Barcelona with rental car to visit monastery Phewww… Is this itinerary doable, or a little far out? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! :) Daniela
June 1, 2018 at 4:46 pmHi Ash, What a fantastic site, very well thought out, taken many notes! I have been fortunate to visit Barcelona a number of times and this time taking my girlfriend with me. I am arriving in July on a Thursday, early A.M and leaving on the following Monday P.M, so 5 days in total. I have a hotel booked in Barcelona on Saturday but prior to going Barcelona, I am planning on renting a car and heading up to the Costa Brava as soon as I land. Looking around the internet and of course, your site, there is so many amazing places but I am on a bit of a tight schedule and only have Thursday till Saturday morning and then plane to drive back to Barcelona for afternoon check-in. My girlfriend loves Salvador Dali and the idea of visiting secluded coves and nice beaches is very appealing. I would really appreciate your advice and thinking of doing the following: Thursday drive to Tossa De Mar and spend the day and One night there. Enjoy the town and as I have a car visit some of the coves you mentioned. Friday morning set off to visit the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figueres and If we have time before visit Cala del Señor Ramon. Once finished at the Muesuem drive to Cadaqués and spend the day and One night there. Plan to visit Restaurant El Barroco for dinner. Saturday morning leave to head to Barcelona. I understand it maybe crammed but what do you think of the above is it doable or too much? Sorry if it’s a lot to ask and any recommendations for restaurants, hotels (mid-budget) and routes to use would be greatly appreciated. Kind Regards, Raz
June 2, 2018 at 12:36 pmHi Raz, If you were doing this using buses I would say no way, but in the end having a car will make this quite doable. I don't see any glaring issues with the itinerary... in fact if I had a car and that amount of time I am not sure I could have drawn it up better! Unless you really want to get some quality beach relax time in (it doesn't appear the biggest priority) I wouldn't worry. I wish I could give you some insider info on routes and hotels but not having any in depth experience with these I wouldn't want to steer you in the wrong direction... I've mostly done camping and had somebody else driving so I wasn't paying attention, haha. That said, Google Maps has always worked for me in my driving adventures in Spain and Booking.com has perhaps the biggest database of reviews so I will (lazily?) steer you in that direction. As for restaurants it's the same... I've only eaten in a few, one in Tossa which was rather average... and so not much knowledge here :( Apologies can't be of much help but would rather be honest than steer you the wrong way! If you have any more questions though, please fire away :) Ash
May 31, 2018 at 9:03 pmHi Ash, Firstly thank you for this site it’s an absolute dream! I’m travelling to Barcelona/Costa Brava with my girlfriend in August. We’ve got majority of Barca covered from the information on your website but Costa Brava is proving a little more difficult to plan. From our research and this article it seems Tossa is the place for us, but we’d also like to go kayaking through coves. Is there anywhere near here to do that? Pals/ Begur/ Cadaqués seems like great spots for that so we were thinking to do a day trip but it seems to be a bit far from Tossa. Are there any good and cheap transport links between the two, or do you think it’s worth renting a car? Thanks for the help Ash, Josh
June 1, 2018 at 11:40 amHi Josh, Thanks so much for the compliments! Glad to help. Let's see, as a big fan of Tossa myself I can say you won't be going wrong by doing this. I haven't used this company but I'm sure they're reliable... you can get Kayaks just to east of the city at Kayaks Nicolau. To try and visit other places it's not so easy and you'll likely have to take one bus to Llagostera and then change to get to Pals, Begur etc... this could eat up a lot of time. If money isn't an issue I would always recommend renting a car on the Costa Brava because it'll allow you to explore it properly instead of being limited to some basic bus routes. There are some amazing off-track coves you can get to only with a car. My two cents! Let me know if you have any more questions :) Ash
June 3, 2018 at 11:37 amHi Ash, Thanks for the advice and recommendation. We’ve had a slight change of plans - staying in Lloret de Mar instead of tossa as we were planning to go to lloret anyway for its depth of activities. Just a few more questions: Do you know of the best watersport companies in lloret, for jetskiing and things like that? We do still want to visit tossa for a day as it’s been highly recommended, is there anything that’s a must other than the beaches? We’ll be flying into Barcelona and travelling to lloret from there, how do we go about taking the train there from the airport? As previously mentioned we want to go to begur due to the kayaking in the cova d’en gispert or cova de la Sal, and then off to pals as it’s recommended to see a medieval town, as it looks to be only accessible by car is it worth travelling that way for those things or are there coves and a medieval town as good nearer to lloret? Thanks again Ash! Josh