You would think with the Costa Brava’s proximity to Barcelona and its stunning coastline that more people would flock to this beautiful part of the world. But when I was planning our trip to the Costa Brava two years ago, I found much less info on Pinterest, travel blogs, Instagram, etc. than I expected. While I wouldn’t entirely call this a “hidden” gem, it seems this part of Catalonia hasn’t yet reached the superstar status it’s capable of.
So I decided to make the guide I wish had existed when I was planning our trip because this part of the world is worth exploring. It couples perfectly with a few days in Barcelona for an epic week-long trip.
Costa Brava Practical Info
The Costa Brava is the “wild” Mediterranean coastline that stretches from just north of Barcelona all the way up to the French border. It’s dotted with small and medium-sized towns and stunning beaches all up and down the coast.
You have two options for getting into and out of the Costa Brava – Girona or Barcelona. Girona is the capital of the province of Girona, which encompasses the coast. It’s not a coastal town like Barcelona, but we found it very charming and vibrant. Both Barcelona and Girona are easily accessible by train and plane, so getting to these two jumping off points should be fairly straightforward.
Connectivity from Girona or Barcelona to the towns of the Costa Brava is limited. There are public buses that run from both cities to some of the major towns on the coast, but then you’re stuck in the coastal town that you bussed to.
My best recommendation for how to get around the Costa Brava? Without a doubt, rent a car.
We chose to rent a car from Girona since it’s a more central starting place than Barcelona and felt more manageable to drive out of as a city. Trains run between Girona and Barcelona frequently and take as little as 38 minutes. So even if you’re starting from Barcelona, I still recommend taking a train to Girona first and renting the car from there.
A word of caution: car rental offices have very different hours than what we’re used to in the US, especially in a smaller city like Girona. They close for siesta during the day and don’t operate on Sundays, so plan your car rental return accordingly!
What to do in Girona
If you are renting a car from Girona (and even if you’re not!) then I HIGHLY recommend staying in Girona for at least a night or two to experience this lovely little city. It’s worth far more than a quick stopover.
All of Girona is walkable, which makes this city feel very accessible. It is home to one of the best preserved Jewish quarters (El Call) in the world. While you explore the Jewish quarter, be sure to stop in to the Museum of Jewish History as well. The museum was very well done and worth a stop.
Girona also claims home to one of the best restaurants in the world – El Celler de Can Roca has been voted best restaurant in the world twice and currently sits at number 2. We didn’t go here when we went to Girona, and I regret it frequently! It’s far less expensive than most restaurants you would get to experience on that list, so it could definitely be worth a stop.
Girona has near perfectly preserved Medieval walls that encompass the city. You can walk across them for stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains. There’s an access point to the walls near the main cathedral in Girona, so I recommend starting from there and checking out the cathedral while you’re nearby.
When you need a break from all the walking around the Old Town, take one of the beautiful bridges across the river to the Plaça de la Independència. Walk around the square and find a restaurant that strikes your fancy. We came here twice during our day and a half stay in Girona for the ambiance and varied food choices.
Where to Stay in the Costa Brava
Picking which town to stay in on the Costa Brava was the most difficult part of the planning process for me. We had five nights in the Costa Brava so we spent two of them in Girona and three of them in Tossa de Mar. If you had more time, you could definitely stay in another city along the coast as well.
The southernmost town of the Costa Brava is Blanes and the northernmost town is Cadaqués – to drive between the two would take you 1 hour and 40 minutes. So bear in mind that the towns here can actually be quite spread out.
We only had 3 nights to spend in the Costa Brava, so we chose one town and made it our main location. If you had longer, I can definitely see spending 2 or 3 nights in 2 different towns.
The more interesting cities of the Costa Brava seem to be the central and northern towns. Blanes and Lloret de Mar are further south (closer to Barcelona) and from what I research were more touristy.
The three towns I recommend using as a home base for exploring the Costa Brava would be: Cadaqués, Begur, or Tossa de Mar. All of these cities are in close proximity to other towns or areas worth exploring and are easy drives from Girona. They also have more substance to them than just being a beach town – something you definitely want if you’re going to be spending several days in a place.
Begur and Tossa de Mar are both centrally located along the Costa Brava, and it’s where we spent our time. Cadaqués is further north, and we didn’t have a chance to make it up there. Next time!
Towns of the Costa Brava: Begur
After driving out of Girona, Begur was our first stop. The town of Begur is at the top of a large hill and actually not walkable to the ocean. It’s a quaint town, worth walking around and eating from any one of the very good restaurants in city. Of all the towns we looked at spending time in, Begur seemed to offer the most in terms of restaurants and food.
As you drive into Begur, be sure to be on the lookout for places to pull over and see the city towering above the Mediterranean sea. It’s a beautiful sight!
There are two main beaches located very close to Begur. They’re not walkable from Begur, but they are very easy drives. The first is Sa Riera and the second is Sa Tuna. We stopped at Sa Riera and walked along the coastline for beautiful views of the Mediterranean.
For more information on Begur, check out this Begur travel guide, which we found particularly useful when planning.
Towns of the Costa Brava: Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar is where we ultimately decided to stay during our time in the Costa Brava. It provided great proximity to beaches and hiking, but the town was larger and had good restaurants and places to explore. There were parts of it that centered on being overly touristy, most definitely. But it still had parts that felt authentic and charming.
Best things to do in Tossa de Mar
Our favorite thing to do in Tossa de Mar (as it is in most places) is to walk around the town and get a feel for the place. The roads leading into the main beach of Tossa de Mar are touristy. I wouldn’t recommend seeking these out. However, once you’re at the main beach, you’ll see the turret of the old castle that used to preside over Tossa de Mar. You can walk to the turret and access the old city walls from there. They make for a stunning afternoon.
As you make your way along the old walls, you’ll come across a protected cove – Platja d’es Codolar. Descend down to the Platja for a more relaxed beach experience than the main beach in Tossa (the Platja Gran).
Another favorite thing to do in Tossa de Mar was rent kayaks and go kayaking along the coastline. You can do this from the northernmost point of the main beach. You rent kayaks by the hour and can explore all the little coves and inlets.
Best Places to Eat in Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar didn’t always wow us in terms of restaurants. There were two places that stuck out though. The first is Bar La Lluna at the top of the cliffs overlooking the town and beaches. If you’re walking along the old city walls, La Lluna is an easy stop.
We had a sampling of small plates at La Lluna and loved them all. Don’t miss the Crema Catalana (and when you’re craving it again back home check out this easy Crema Catalana recipe).
Another surprisingly delicious meal we had in Tossa was at Pizzeria La Grotta. We had squid ink pasta and a seafood pizza that were both very, very good. During the shoulder season, we were some of the only people in the restaurant!
Hiking Near Tossa de Mar
One of our main reasons for choosing Tossa de Mar as our central location in the Costa Brava was for access to coastline hiking. The Cami de Ronda was created in the 1800s as a way of connecting the towns of the Costa Brava via coastal paths. It was originally meant to serve as a way to patrol the Costa Brava and stop smuggling, but the paths are now used as scenic hikes connecting the small towns.
From Tossa de Mar, you can go either north or south on the Cami De Ronda. South will bring you to Lloret de Mar. North will take you up towards Sant Feliu de Guíxols. We chose to spend a day hiking along the Northern route.
We started from the Platja Gran – the main beach of Tossa de Mar and made our way along the Cami de Ronda marked route. If you stop at the tourist office in Tossa de Mar, they can give you maps of the surrounding hiking trails.
Not far into the hike, you’ll stop at the Tossa de Mar viewing point where you can see the entire town and really appreciate the castle and the former city walls.
We continued along the coastline hike until we reached Cala Bona. The Cala Bona was a small, mostly deserted beach with calm protected swimming opportunities. We brought a picnic lunch with us and ate and swam here.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can continue even further North to Canyet de Mar, which is a very small little resort town. We didn’t make it there on our hike, but we did take our car there the next day and really enjoyed it.
Canyet de Mar had beautiful stone steps that jutted out into the ocean, but they were unfortunately closed when we were there. I’ve seen pictures from when they’re open though and they look stunning!
Towns of the Costa Brava: L’Estartit
The Medes Islands are a small, protected cluster of islands just off the coast and happen to be home to some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. We went snorkeling for the first time when we were on our honeymoon in Thailand and were completely hooked. So when I saw there was snorkeling available in the Costa Brava, I had to jump at it.
The easiest access point for the Medes Islands is the town of L’Estartit. We drove there from Tossa de Mar, and it took about an hour. It’s also very easily accessible from Girona as well.
L’Estartit itself was not the most charming town we visited, but the snorkeling was very good. One thing to note is the water is VERY cold. You snorkel with full wet suits including a hood for your head. If you like snorkeling or scuba diving, this is well worth a trip!
What We Missed
Our time in the Costa Brava was mainly focused on the towns in the center of the coastline. We missed the city of Cadaqués, which I very much wish we would have had time for. Near there is the Cap de Creus national park as well as the town of Figueres. Figueres is the birthplace of Salvador Dali, and there’s a museum that he designed there that is supposed to be great.
Also on the northern part of the Costa Brava are some notable wineries. One winery, La Vinyeta, really caught my eye and I’m sad we didn’t have the time to make it up to that part of Catalonia.
From Girona there are also several mountainous destinations worth seeking out. You could easily spend two weeks with Girona as your home base exploring the Costa Brava and the surrounding mountain areas (cities like Besalú, Banyoles, and Olot). There’s a little something for everyone!