Things to do in Costa Dorada
You’ll be amazed by the variety of activities you can find in Costa Dorada. There’s family fun at some of the world’s best theme and waterparks, cities full of museums and historical sights, bags of serious shopping action and fiestas galore.
With four million visitors a year, PortAventura theme park is the area’s big crowd-pleaser. It has been likened to Disneyland but with more sunshine and even has a waterpark on the side – Costa Caribe. The zones are packed with everything from Sesame Street-themed SesamoAventura for kids to Shambala – one of Europe’s highest rollercoasters, which can be seen for miles. During July and August, there’s the added bonus of FiestaAventura – a nightly show with music, fireworks, floats, parades and fountains.
The family-focused parks don’t stop there though. La Pineda has its own waterpark, Aquapolis, where the children’s areas and high excitement slides are accompanied by hands-on dolphin and sea lion encounters. In Salou, you can spend the day with a picnic at Bosc Aventura activity park and let the kids loose on the zip lines, circuit bridges and climbing wall as well as and paintballing and mini golf.
For culture vultures
Sophisticated Sitges is known as the city of museums. Among its seven museums is Museu Maricel in the heart of the old town, which houses a collection of fine art with beautiful sea views. Or try nearby Cau Ferrat, a small museum that punches above its weight with displays including works by Picasso.
This area is home to some of the most well-known and wacky art and architecture in the world, including that of Salvador Dali and Antoni Gaudi. Barcelona’s streets and parks are full of examples of 19th century architect Gaudi’s intricate and unusual works. The most famous of which is the Sagrada Familia, a huge and elaborate church that he started designing in 1883 and is still not complete. If you love art, then you should visit Barcelona’s Picasso museum or the museum of Salvador Dali’s work in Figueres, which Dali compiled himself.
Step back in time
The city of Tarragona, 15 minutes from La Pineda, has more Roman remains than anywhere else in Spain. They include an amphitheatre and very impressive two-storey Roman aqueduct. In the city centre you can take a walk along the Passeig Arqueologic, which follows the top of the old city walls and looks down on a maze of charming medieval streets.
Monserrat is worth the trip less for the architecture and more for the setting and sense of adventure. Perched high on a clifftop, you can see the Balearic Islands on a clear day from this monastery, which monks first started building in the 9th century. There’s the choice of a rack railway or cable cars to get you up to the monastery, as well as a funicular train that takes you right to the top of the mountain. Visit at midday to hear the uplifting sounds of the boys’ choir echoing from the cloisters.
There’s more to Barcelona than gothic architecture. You can see imaginative street performers on the main tourist street La Rambla, visit Barcelona Aquarium – the largest of its kind in Europe – or hit the shops, which range from high street to high end. If you visit in the evening, the restaurants and tapas bars of this gastronomic centre are sure to tempt you. Don’t miss the mesmerising music and light fountain display on the edge of Park Guell once the sun sets.
The bright lights of Salou
Costa Dorada’s most popular tourist town, Salou is home to the magical House of Illusion, which has received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. The magicians and illusionists put on a spectacular theatre show and drinks are included in the ticket price – as is dinner if you go to the earlier show.
Salou’s illuminated fountains, have become part of the evening fixture of the town. Kicking off after sunset every day during summer and certain days between Easter and November, there’s also a laser show at the weekends. You’ll find them in Francesc Germa square, which you can access along the wheelchair and buggy friendly Passeig Jaume I Promenade. If your kids are still up, they’ll love the jets, geysers and labyrinth of water you can run through in the middle of Passeig Jaume.
Wet and wild
Watersports can be found all along the Costa Dorada, from banana boat rides to windsurfing and fishing. There are also plenty of options for boat trips to enjoy the wildlife off the coast too. The glass bottom catamaran runs from Salou to Cambrils and includes drinks, a compere and children’s entertainer in the ticket price. As well as spotting catfish and other creatures under the boat, you get the chance to stop off and swim in the sea.
To see nature with your feet on the ground, Ebro Delta Natural Park, about an hour-and-a-half from Salou, has marshes and saltpans that attract millions of birds, like herons and kestrels, as well as an eco-museum and an aquarium. When flamingos come to breed here, the lagoons turns bright pink.
The Spaniards know how to party and their carnival season starts in February at the beginning of Lent and carries on right through the summer. On the last day of the Sitges carnival you’ll see some of the best drag shows Europe has to offer.
The Nit del Foc or Fire Night is celebrated on 23rd June with huge firework displays and satirical cardboard sculptures of famous figures. The big event in Cambrils is the San Pedro festival, also at the end of June, which celebrates Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. These are the prelude to a series of summer events which include parties, firework displays and authentic dancing.
It’s easy to pick up everything from local produce to gifts and souvenirs, clothes and accessories in the towns and cities across the region.
In fact, there’s a market for every day of the week in Costa Dorada. You can start off with Salou’s Monday morning street market, take in Cambrils’ market on the Wednesday and stop off at La Pineda on the Friday. They’ll all keep you stocked up with fresh local produce and bags full of gifts and souvenirs. The biggest market, however, is saved for the end of the week. On a Sunday, people flock to Bonavista, 20 minutes from Salou, to hunt and haggle for ceramics, lace, tablecloths, handbags, shoes, clothing, music, toys and many other bargains.
For the latest fashions, Barcelona and Tarragona have everything from exclusive Spanish fashion boutiques and designer shops to big malls packed with high street names. Sitges and Salou have major chains as well as individual boutiques where you can buy something no one else will have. In Salou, tourist-centred shops open up on the promenade during the summer season as well. Some of the smaller, year-round shops do stick to siesta time, when they shut between 2pm and 5pm.