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 main Barcelona transport 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.
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 🙂