If you like road trips with great food, fascinating architecture and history, here is an adventure for you: you can go scuba diving near Barcelona along Costa Brava while picking delicious food on the way. From Barcelona to Cadaquès, near the French border, you can diving in Costa Brava in 4 main areas while visiting 3 interesting towns. Evenly distributed on a total 140 km, they are easily accessible by train and by bus, or by car with an hour of driving between each point.
If you are looking for a scuba diving holiday in Europe for about a week, don’t look further, this is the ideal destination. You can fly to Gerona airport and make a loop but you can also consider the high-speed train from Madrid, Paris or Milan for a lower carbon footprint.
Map of my Costa Brava itinerary
You will find below the map of my 1-week road trip on the Costa Brava, Catalonia, Northern Spain, going through Barcelona, Palamos, Gerona, l’Estartit, Figueres and Cadaquès.
1 – Barcelona & Palamos: 2 days
How to summarise why you should visit Barcelona in only a short paragraph? Not so easy… it actually took me a while to put Barcelona on my bucket list as I was more attracted to more exotic locations. I thought it would be too touristy…
Well, this point might be true, but from my very first instant in the Catalan capital city, I understood why every person coming back from Barcelona was so enthusiastic and delighted, so much that they try to come back every year for most of them. Barcelona is an overwhelming explosion of art, culture, architecture, music and fiesta!
I’ve been astonished by the genius of Gaudi while looking at the vault of the Sagrada Familia Basilica or the ornaments of Park Güell. His architectural style is inspired by nature and, as a result, every project he designed looks like a magical forest.
I’ve been moved in the gothic district, while looking for some refreshing shade below orange trees, by the Spanish guitar player whose notes resonated on these century-old walls near the Cathedral.
I couldn’t stop exploring the different districts to find the best foodies’ destinations in town such as the market of la Boqueria next to the Ramblas, or calle de l’Argenteria in the district of El Born.
Barcelona is also a very cosmopolitan city and if you want to eat something different, this is one of the best places in Europe to eat food from South America. There are many excellent Mexican, Argentinian, Peruvian and Columbian restaurants in town, especially in the district of El Raval.
Only a 1h30 drive north, you can find a quiet harbour called Palamos, the nearest point from Barcelona where you can go diving in Costa Brava. To be honest, Palamos might not be the best scuba diving spot in the world but still, I loved it. It is charming, it has a nice sandy beach and a couple of nice, easy spots for scuba divers which are far from being boring.
I warmly recommend diving the Boreas shipwreck, a boat from the 1930s. Most of its mechanical parts are still visible, such as its engine, and where you can find a lot of marine life hiding inside, such as spiny lobsters and octopus.
A bit further north, 10/15 min by boat, the small Formigues Islands will give you the opportunity to attest to the diversity of the marine species of the Mediterranean Sea with gorgonians, barracuda, scorpionfish, many nudibranchs and even more spiny lobsters.
After your dives, stay in the marina for lunch with some fried “chipirones” (small calamari) with fresh lemon, this is the cheapest and most delicious option. Your next stop is only 40 minutes driving away.
2 – Gerona & the Medes Islands: 2 days
If you have a bit of time ahead of you, it is really worth it to spend one full day discovering Gerona. Only less than a 1-hour drive north-west of Palamos, this beautiful medieval town is quite small but rich in history. For example, it has kept memories of its Arabic past with places such as the Arab baths.
You can make a tour on the high fortress wall for a fantastic view of the old town, get lost in the small streets and then cross the red Eiffel Bridge over the Onyar River to finish on “Plaça de la Independencia”, to expand your knowledge in tapas for dinner.
After a 1 hour drive east from Gerona, you can find the famous scuba diving highlight of Costa Brava: the Medes Islands. With a decent early wake-up time, you can easily make it from Gerona to l’Estartit for the first dive of the morning.
The Medes Islands are a natural protected area since 1990, so for more than 20 years the fauna and flora have been able to recover without any threat. The result is stunning: it is now one of the best places in the world to see huge grouper by the dozen. They are by far the best spot for diving in Costa Brava.
The 2 main islands are Meda Grande and Meda Petita: in total, the archipelago has 7 islands. The entire area with a distance of 200m from the islands’ shores is protected; therefore fishing is forbidden and even night diving is not allowed. The main island is only less than a kilometre away from the harbour of l’Estartit, making this charming but not so exciting port a perfect base to organise the dives.
Beyond the possibility to see a very rich fauna and flora habitat, the Medes Islands are an incredible playground for scuba divers with amazing caverns and swim-through tunnels that cross the islands. The Medes Islands are among the top dive sites in Spain with diving in Costa Calida in the south and diving in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, so they naturally made it to my list of the best diving in Europe.
Try your best to scuba dive in the “Cova de la vaca”, on the east side of Meda Grande Island. The tunnel is 30m long and covered with sea fans and sponges while the blue light at the other end of the tunnel makes the atmosphere very special.
Another good spot for tunnels and caverns is “Cova del Delfi”, East side of Meda Petita, it has a short tunnel of 15m which is connected to a 50m long tunnel. A small statue of a dolphin marks the entrance.
To meet many big groupers, the spot called “Ferranelles” at the south tip of Meda Petita is another excellent option. In my case, I loved how groupers were not scared at all and were following us during the entire dive.
After all these emotions, stay for lunch in l’Estartit and try some grilled fish or a fideua, a sort of Paella made with noodles and served with a garlic mayonnaise – yummy! If you love the area and want to stay longer, you can extend your holiday by diving the “Costa del Montgri” from the port of l’Escala.
3 – Cadaqués & Cap de Creus: 3 days
Here we come to my favourite diving spot in Costa Brava. I have been really lucky to finish with Cap de Creus at the end of my first trip to Catalonia: it was totally the cherry on top! It is one of these places I consider as a scuba paradise: beautiful landscapes, chilled-out places with good food, not too expensive and really great diving. The kind of tiny places you can spend your whole holiday because of its unique atmosphere. No wonder why I came back for a full week the following year!
To go to Cap de Creus, where the village of Cadaqués lies, you will have to reach Figueres first. If you are not travelling by car, no problem the local train station in Figueres is just next to the bus station to go to Cadaqués. Be careful there is another high-speed train station outside of the centre, there are very few buses and taxis are quite expensive, it’s better to walk for about 30 minutes.
Contrary to Gerona, you don’t necessarily need to stay there but make sure to spend at least half a day to meet a local hero because of his artistic craziness: Dali! His heritage is very much alive thanks to his Theater-Museum in Figueres and his holiday home in Cap de Creus. After a nice breakfast or lunch on La Rambla, spend a couple of hours visiting this theatre which was burned during the Spanish Civil War and turned into a museum by Dali himself in 1974. Immerse yourself in his art and try to understand the work of the artist, surprises are to be expected! Do not miss, once outside, the exhibition of Dali’s jewels, so beautiful and intriguing.
I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.
— Salvador Dalí
Ready to hit the road again? After 45 min of driving on the curvy roads of the mountainous landscapes of Cap de Creus, you can finally see this little white village: Cadaqués. Beautiful shoreline, many good, gastronomic tapas places, and a supermarket which has an excellent choice of the local Emporda red wine for the day you feel like having your own tapas party on your terrace.
The best base to enjoy the underwater wonders of the area, is from the harbour of Portlligat, just on the other side of the hill, next to Dali’s holiday home (really worth visiting, make sure to make a reservation a couple of days in advance by phone: they speak English, +34 972 251 015 – only a limited number of people can visit the house every day).
Xavi and his team of Portlligat Diving take scuba divers every day of the diving season to the best spots depending on the conditions but also the time of the year as the action can be quite different from a month to another. For example, if you are lucky to be there in early June, you will be able to see some sunfish (mola-mola)! Seeing a family of three sunfish was one of my best moments underwater ever.
Cap de Creus is a fantastic place for deep diving as well, down to 50m you can still see a lot of fauna, with walls and canyons covered with Mediterranean red coral, gorgonians and sponges. You will see spiny lobsters everywhere, moray eels, octopus, barracuda and colouful nudibranchs.
You can easily stay a week without being bored: if you add to your list hiking around Cap de Creus or wine tasting in the vineyards of Emporda. I would recommend going to Cadaqués in May, June or September to enjoy nice weather but away from the crowd.
Where to stay on the Costa Brava ?
As you are only passing by in Barcelona and Gerona on this itinerary, I recommend treating yourself to a nice hotel room for the two first nights. During the shoulder season, even 4-star hotels can be surprisingly affordable.
In Barcelona, I would recommend staying in a hotel with a rooftop swimming pool in the district of the Eixample where the Sagrada Familia Basilica is. It is very central and convenient to reach all the main locations in towns.
In Gerona, I would recommend staying in a hotel right in the old town to make the most of its unique atmosphere.
Once you arrive in Cadaquès, you can relax and spend the rest of your holiday in a lovely self-catering studio apartment with a view. I went for the most convenient choice by staying at the Carpe Diem complex where the dive centre of Diving Portlligat is also located.
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Great post, Florine. Spanish coast has many spots to dive. Regards!