Despite having grown up in Mallorca, I’ve never thought of exploring Costa Brava before this year. I think I imagined it to be super touristy, full of high-rise hotels, cheap booze, a couple of beaches, and not much else…
Well I was wrong. Turns out, the Costa Brava is pretty much the ideal summer holiday destination!
This beautiful area of Catalonia is steeped in history and culture. Located on the north-eastern shore of the Spanish peninsula, it offers brilliant sunshine, clear turquoise seas, interesting history, delicious food, fun nightlife, and a ton of activities for the whole family.
I went on a week-long trip to Costa Brava last month, and it’s really one of my favourite destinations of all time. I’ve been raving about it ever since I got back!
Here’s everything you need to know about planning your own brilliant holiday to Costa Brava:
How to get to Costa Brava
If you book a flight and hotel package with Jet2 Holidays, then you automatically get 22kg of checked luggage included for each person, so that’s something to think about if you’re travelling with kids, or planning on going for longer than a weekend!
Costa Brava is very seasonal, so it’s not somewhere I’d recommend in winter, just because a lot of places will be closed. July and August gets VERY busy (as you’d expect), so if you have the option, I’d suggest going in spring or autumn.
Flights in high season (ie: summer) start from around £180, but if you’re looking at September, this goes down to about £80 return per person.
Where to stay in Costa Brava
The rugged coastline Costa Brava is named after is dotted with a mixture of modern beach resorts, tiny local fishing villages, and incredible medieval towns. So take your pick!
We stayed at the Premier Gran Reymar Hotel and Spa in Tossa de Mar.
Tossa de Mar is smack bang in the middle of Costa Brava, so you’re perfectly placed to head north, south, or inland to explore other towns along the coast.
It has two beaches, a gorgeous old town, and some really lovely local restaurants.The nightlife isn’t as crazy as it is further down the coast (try Lloret de Mar if that’s more your style), but it does have a few good bars and nightclubs.
Travel Tip: If you plan on doing a lot of day trips, I’d highly recommend hiring a car for your Costa Brava holiday. There is public transport, and you can also book coach day trips (if that’s your thing), but you’ll have a lot more flexibility with a car!
1. Explore the City of Girona
Wherever you stay in Costa Brava, it’s definitely worth taking at least a day to explore the city of Girona. From the colourful houses that line the River Onyar, to the tiny tapas bars and popular public squares, there’s tons to see and do here.
Check out the Pont de les Peixateries, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yep, that Eiffel!), and keep an eye out for the flies of St Narcís. These stone flies are one of the city’s most beloved legends, and you’ll find them dotted around, decorating shields and walls.
Oh, and look for El Cul de la Lleona (literally: the Lioness’ Butt). It’s a stone statue of a lioness, and legend has it that if you kiss her butt, you will come back to Girona some day. You’ll find it close to the Church of Sant Feliu!
2. Take a Game of Thrones tour
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, then Girona might look pretty familiar! The city’s medieval architecture provided a lot of filming locations for season 6.
Places you might recognise include the exterior shots of the Great Sept of Baelor (filmed at Girona Cathedral), the streets, bridges and cobbled stairs of Braavos (where Arya fought the Waif), and even the entrance to the Maesters Citadel, when Sam and Gilly arrive in Oldtown.
You can book a proper tour if you want to, but this self-guided tour pretty much covers everything!
3. Eat your way around Girona
A galaxy of Michelin stars makes Catalonia one of the most celebrated food regions in the world. From traditional local dishes, to innovative modern cuisine, there are plenty of incredible restaurants to try in Girona.
Starting at the top: El Celler de Can Roca has three Michelin stars, and their inventive dishes have won awards across the world. If you’re after some thing a bit more low-key, head to Restaurant Casa Marieta in Independence Square and enjoy local dishes including croquettes, snails, fried squid, and grilled meats.
Or maybe you just want a snack? Head to Rocambolesc for ice cream. Some of the crazy flavours include toasted bread and olive oil, parmesan, asparagus and truffle, mojito, baked apple, and mandarin and passion fruit.
Also worth trying are the fun popsicles – from a Game of Thrones themed blood orange and mango “Hand of the King”, to a blackberry sorbet Darth Vader, and a strawberry and rose flavoured sorbet in the shape of a nose.
4. Tossa de Mar Old Town and Castle
Tossa de Mar is the only surviving fortified medieval town left along the coast of Catalonia. The castle is still standing, the defensive walls are still solid, and once you step through the arched entry, it’s like you’re in a whole other world.
The views are beautiful, the cobbled streets are steep and full of history, and (if you’re there at the right time of year), there are colourful blooms spilling out of every doorway and windowsill.
I loved it most at sunrise, when it’s quiet and golden, but I spotted several beautiful little tapas bars and restaurants in the Old Town, and I have a suspicion they’d be lovely for a date night.
5. Lunch at Sa Barca in Tossa de Mar
Our lunch at Sa Barca was the first meal we had in Costa Brava, and it set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the trip. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the favourite for most of us!
Black rice is made in a similar way to a paella, but it uses squid ink to colour and flavour the rice. It’s salty and savoury, full of seafood and peppers, and it’s one of my all-time favourite meals. Sa Barca is famous for their version of it, so it’s definitely one to hunt down if you’re in Costa Brava.
The service was brilliant, the sangria delicious, and you can easily roll down to the beach afterwards for a siesta!
6. Visit the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres
Salvador Dalí was born and buried in Figueres, a town in Costa Brava. This small town doesn’t have much going on, but its main attraction is the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum.
The giant pink structure, decorated with bread rolls and topped with giant eggs (which says it all really), is home to some of Dalí’s own favourite works. You won’t find most of his more famous pieces here, but the collection is much more personal somehow, and all the more interesting for it.
Make sure you get a ticket that includes entry to his moving jewel-art exhibition!
READ MY POST: The Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum In Figueres
7. Lunch at Dalí’s favourite hotel
Just down the road from the Museum, you’ll find Hotel Duran. This is where Dalí used to stay whenever he stayed in Figueres, a fact which is reflected in the hundreds of photos and letters displayed on the walls of the reception area.
The restaurant is absolutely beautiful and it looks pretty much the same as it would have done when Dalí visited. You can even book the private room Dalí used to eat in!
The food is mostly traditional Catalan fare, and they do a great value three-course daily lunch menu for €22.
FIND IT: Carrer Lasauca, 5, 17600 Figueres
8. Visit Dalí’s homes in Portlligat and Púbol
After your visit to the Dalí museum, complete the triangle by visiting his home in Portlligat, followed by a trip to Púbol to see his castle. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do anything other than the Museum in Figueres, but having seen his paintings of the place, I’d love to go back and see Portlligat especially.
Dalí lived in Portlligat for a solid fifty years. It’s a small coastal village, about an hour’s drive away from Figueres, and you’ll have to book tickets in advance to visit Dalí’s house.
He bought the castle in Púbol for his wife Gala in the 1960s. She lived there for twenty years, and apparently he used to have to write a letter asking for an invitation to visit! Dalí moved to Pubol in the 80s, once Gala had died and been buried there.
Allowing for travel time, you’ll need to set aside a solid two days to visit all three locations properly, but it’s well worth the effort if you’re a fan of the artist.
Travel Tip: here’s a great guide to visiting the Dalí Triangle, including links for booking tickets and details of how to get there.
9. Snorkelling in turquoise water
Fun fact I learned on our trip to Costa Brava: the clearest ocean water in the world is in the Caribbean. But the second clearest is the Balearic sea, between Costa Brava and Mallorca.
I really recommend booking a diving or snorkelling tour during your stay in Costa Brava. The water is absolutely spectacular, and you’ll be able to see all sorts of fish, starfish, sea urchins and sea slugs. Maybe even an octopus or two!
Our snorkel guides provided us with all the gear, including wetsuits to help fight the chill. (The water isn’t freezing, but it does get cold after you’ve been in there for an hour).
10. Kayaking along the coast
If jumping in the water isn’t for you, why not try a kayaking expedition instead? It’s a great way to explore the coast line, admire the beautiful rugged cliffs, and will also give you access to some of the quieter hidden coves and beaches.
You can rent the kayaks and take yourself off for a couple of hours on your own, but there are also guided tours available, where a local expert will you take you out on the water and show you all the best beauty spots.
11. Have a relaxing day on the beach
There’s a saying in Spanish: para gustos colores. It literally translates as “there’s a colour for every taste” and I think the Costa Brava beaches sum that up perfectly. There’s a beach for everyone!
Some are busy, some are quiet, some are popular with tourists, and some of them are only known by locals. Do you like rocks or sand? Rough and wild, or all modcons available? Plenty of water sports, or just a quiet bit of sea where you can swim in peace?
There are dozens of beautiful beaches along the coast, so if you’re a beach bunny, it’s worth researching what sort you prefer before booking your accommodation.
12. Walk the Costa Brava Coastal Path
The Costa Brava Coast Path (also known as Camí de Ronda or GR 92) is over 200km long and runs along the entire Costa brava coastline, passing through seaside towns, sandy beaches and secret coves. It was originally created as a look-out, where security guards could patrol and guard against pirates and smugglers.
The Path runs from Roses on the French border, all the way down to Blanes, the southern-most point of Costa Brava, and would take about two weeks to complete entirely.
If you just want to see a small section of it, I’d recommend starting at S’Agaró beach and walking north. The path here is well cared for and very easy to walk (no rocky slopes to clamber over!), and the views are absolutely stunning. Keep going until you reach the Mirador de S’Agaró (the temple structure pictured below), then walk up the steps and loop back to the town.
The whole journey shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes, depending how many times you stop to take photos!
13. Cocktails at Hostal Sa Gavina
Follow in the footsteps of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dalí, Lady Gaga, and Robert De Niro (among many others) and enjoy a cocktail in the oldest hotel in S’Agaró: Hostal Sa Gavina.
The hotel first opened in 1932, and became world famous in the 1950s when Hollywood came calling. Nowadays it’s considered one of the best hotels in Spain, and it’s definitely worth stopping in for a coffee or cocktail on the terrace if you’re in the area.
14. Enjoy the nightlife at Lloret de Mar
If you’re looking for a great night out, you’ll find your crowd at Lloret de Mar. It has a reputation for being a party town, and it’s a popular destination for stags and hen dos.
Obviously this part of Costa Brava will be a lot more touristy than others, but if you want a fun night out: this is the place to go!
15. Santa Clotilde Gardens at Lloret de Mar
The serene gardens of Santa Clotilde are a stark contrast to Lloret’s party reputation. Perched on top of a cliff, overlooking the beach, it’s a peaceful oasis of hardy evergreen trees, maze-like hedges, and fantastical sculptures.
It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to explore, but the views are spectacular and the gardens are lovely. Definitely worth the trip if you’re in the area.
Travel Tip: there are no toilets, cafe or vending machine on site, so plan ahead and make sure you bring enough water with you!
16. Eat paella on the beach at Restaurant Sybius Ses Canyelles
Restaurant Ses Canyelles is a beautiful restaurant just outside Lloret de Mar, right on the edge of Canyelles beach. It has great views, beautiful interiors, and an airy outdoor terrace, and serves really delicious Catalan food.
We all agreed that this was the best traditional paella we had on our trip. Perfect savoury rice with fresh seafood and plenty of lemon squeezed on top.
They also offer a fantastic selection of starters (I particularly enjoyed the chipirones and the deep-fried mussels), as well as vegetarian options, grilled meat and fish, and even pizzas.
17. Eat fresh seafood at Restaurant Es Blanc in Blanes
Blanes is the last town on the south border of Costa Brava. It’s known as the Gateaway to Costa Brava, and you can actually climb up a big rock and see the sculpture that marks the border.
Es Blanc is a trendy bar, cafe, restaurant, and cocktail bar. Sat right on the edge of Blanes beach, overlooking the sea, it serves a modern menu of sushi and freshly cooked seafood in the restaurant, with a selection of tapas and small plates available in the bar area.
My favourite dishes were the red prawn nigiri (pictured above), the baked sea urchin, and the perfectly cooked octopus with potato mousse!
18. Visit the fairytale town of Besalu
Besalu is a tiny preserved medieval town, about a 40 minutes drive outside of Girona. In 1966 it was declared a Historical National Property by the Government, thanks to its beautiful stone turrets, old houses, and ancient church. It’s also home to Spain’s last remaining Jewish ritual baths.
Cross the river via the one thousand year-old stone bridge, pass through the arched gateway, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped on to an old movie set. It’s very quiet. The lack of proper public transport makes this town hard (but not impossible) to get to without a car, which means it’s still a mostly undiscovered gem as far as tourism goes.
Travel Tip: if you have a car, head down on a Wednesday evening to catch the locals dressed in historical costume!
19. Go on an electric bike tour
If the thought of riding a bicycle through the Catalan countryside in 30 degree heat is too much to bear, I have a solution for you: try an electric bike. You’ll still have to pedal, but the motor helps properly you forward, making this the most effortless bike ride you’ll ever have!
Burricleta run electric bike tours of the Costa Brava region, and I really can’t recommend them enough. It’s such a fun way to explore the countryside, and I’d book it again in a heartbeat.
They provide the bikes, as well as suuuuuper stylish helmets, and have a wide variety of tours available across the area.
20. Visit Peretallada and Palau Sator
We stopped at these two towns on our electric bike tour, but they’re worth a visit even if you’re driving instead of cycling:
Peretallada literally means ‘carved stone’ in Catalan. Its foundations are built from stone cut from the moat that surrounds the medieval town. It’s a beautiful little place, with old stone buildings, archways, and rough-paved streets. Make sure you stop at Peretallada’s artisanal ice cream shop to sample their range of famous ice creams, including savoury flavours like cheese, anchovies and vermouth! Also, fun fact: Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood film was partially filmed in Peretallada.
Palau Sator is a teeny tiny village about 10 minutes from Peretallada, so it’s worth tying them in to one visit. The stone streets are laid out in a spiral shape, leading out from the castle in the centre, and only 305 people live there, so it’s even quieter than Peretallada.
21. Mooma cider restaurant
Mooma is Catalonia’s one and only cider producer. A short drive (or cycle!) from Palau-Sator, the orchards have been handed down through three generations of family, and in 2016 they decided to modernise and invest in a new branch of the business.
Their delicious juices and ciders are made from a variety of different apple types, with techniques learned from cider makers in Britain. They also produce vinegars, gin, compotes, jam…
They’ve recently opened a restaurant on site too, where you can enjoy classic Catalan dishes with views of the orchards. We particularly enjoyed the Spanish omelette stack!
FIND IT: Mas Saulot, 17256, Fontanilles
*My trip to Costa Brava was organised and paid for by Jet2.