At the northern limit of the Costa del Marseme, Malgrat de Mar is a no-nonsense getaway, in the best possible sense.
So if you’re in search of big sandy beaches, friendly seafood restaurants, a picturesque little resort and inviting inland scenery it will suit you just fine.
There are no organised activities and obnoxious nightclubs here; Instead you’re in the perfect location to see the best bits from the Costa Brava and the resorts of the Barcelona province.
Here’s the best things to do in Malgrat de Mar:
1. Malgrat’s Beach
On the other side of the railway tracks are four and a half kilometres of beaches. In essence it’s just one long white sandy beach, separated occasionally by a breakwater and edged by palm trees and a small lane.
The beach is so wide that looking across from the town it can be hard to work out where the sand ends and the sea begins. The currents here are light, and in the summer you can even swim out to a floating play area, clamber on top and look back at the shore.
2. Marineland Catalunya
One of the region’s premier animal attractions is right in Malgrat’s backyard. Marineland combines animal shows, a large aviary and a water park for a day-out that will be a sure-fire hit with families.
The dolphinarium puts on shows twice daily and you can also watch sea lions get up to mischief with the help of expert handlers.
There’s a marine zoo at Marineland, with penguins and harbour seals, as well a large birdlife sanctuary with a feeding-time demonstration in the early afternoon.
The rest of the time you can spend relaxing on a lounger by the pools or plunging at high speed down one of the park’s six slides.
3. Torre del Castell
A trip on the funicular lift is one of those must-dos if you’re holidaying in Malgrat de Mar. It was completed in 2010 and carries you from the base at Carre de Passada up the slope to the Parc del Castell for free.
Here there’s a 14th-century tower that is a national cultural property and a popular emblem for Malgrat de Mar. It was built by the Lord of Palafolls as a watchtower to defend the coastal approach to Villanova de Palafolls, a couple of kilometres inland.
Pirates were a big threat to towns in this region from the late medieval era onwards.
4. Església de Sant Nicolau
Malgrat has a sizeable church considering this was no more than a village before tourism arrived. For a long time the neoclassical church has been known as La Catedral de la Costa (the cathedral of the coast) due to its impressive scale.
What you’ll notice straight away is the unusual bell tower. This has an octagonal floor-plan, but if it looks strange that’s because it was never completed, and ends abruptly with a flat stone roof.
Another fun little detail can be seen in the apse, which has gun loops installed at a time when France had its eyes on this part of Spain.
5. Can Cua Aqueduct
Journey into the countryside behind Santa Susanna to find this Roman fragment, which has only recently been declared a cultural property of national interest.
It sits in farmland and was originally built to channel water from a local stream to one of the plush Roman villas that were dotted along this part of the coast.
The monument has been left exactly as it was, and you can see a 39-metres of it, with five pillars, two pilasters and six arches, four of which are completely intact.
6. Castell de Sant Joan de Blanes
This castle was built by the Viscounts of Cabrera who held sway in this part of Catalonia from the 11th-centrury onwards. It belongs to the neighbouring resort of Blanes, climbing high above the rear of the town. It was put up just after Catalonia had been re-conquered from the Moors, who were conducting raids on this territory from their stronghold of Majorca.
One-metre-thick chunks of the powerful exterior walls are still standing, but the best-preserved feature is the tower. This is 173 metres above sea level, and on a clear day the view from here goes all the way down to Montjuïc in Barcelona.
7. Marimurtra Botanic Garden
A common but always welcome sight on the coast of northern Catalonia are seafront gardens, raised on rocky promontories and blessed with heart-stopping vistas of the Mediterranean.
Marimurtra was designed by the German botanist Karl Faust and started to take shape from 1920. Faust set about collecting all kinds of Mediterranean and subtropical plant species from as far afield as Central America and southern Africa.
The gardens take advantage of the steep slopes as you make your way up to the grand temple devoted to the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.
8. Water World
The perfect summer attraction for kids who are getting restless at the beach, Water World is a colourful tangle of slides and pools on a green pine-flecked hillside with mountain views.
There are free bus transfers to the park from Malgrat, and the ride won’t take more than 20 minutes or so.
Parents will enjoy the park’s scenic location, while kids and teenagers can go nuts on all the plunges and playgrounds.
Bigger kids can try Speed Furious, an almost-vertical plunge, or even take a real bungee jump from a height of 80 metres.
9. Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor
Maresme’s hinterland is a long sequence of mountain peaks, all protected as a natural park. By car you’ll be in this landscape seconds after leaving the resort, meandering along country with majestic panoramas of the coast and cobalt-blue Mediterranean.
The park is a mix of pine, holm oak and cork, and walking paths are often traced with wild thyme rosemary and even wild asparagus in spring, and mushrooms in autumn.
There are also plenty of neolithic vestiges around Montnegre, so keep your eyes peeled for dolmen and menhirs.
10. Calella Lighthouse
High atop a rocky spur, 50 metres above the water, at the far end of Calella’s beach is a working lighthouse that has been in operation for almost 150 years.
Its beacon can be seen 18 miles out to sea and the tower is a symbol for Calella.
Pop inside to see a small exhibition about the construction of the lighthouse and the history of maritime navigation along this busy stretch of Catalonia’s coast.
11. Food and drink
Paella isn’t strictly a Catalan dish, but all the basic ingredients are produced and sourced in this region, so the best restaurants nearby will do a great job.
It goes great with a glass of chilled white wine. Alternatives are arròs negre, anither rice dish made with squid or cuttlefish, or Fideuà, another simmered seafood fish, this time made with short noodles and served with aioli on the side.
For dessert: In Spain, crème brûlée is known as Crema Catalana, and the custard is flavoured with a pinch of cinnamon and citrus zest.
12. Neighbouring resorts
If you’re wondering what else you can find nearby you’re in a useful spot. All the way down to Barcelona is a continuous sequence of small resorts with broad, white sandy beaches, many of which have earned the Blue Flag.
It’s even more exciting as you head north, where the coast becomes rugged and steep, and broad bays are broken up by rocky capes with secret coves.
See the medieval costal defences of Tossa de Mar, or the pine-edged Fenals beach in Lloret de Mar.
13. Iberian Settlements
Lloret de Mar also has a trio of ancient Iberian archaeological sites, dating to the time before the Romans landed on these shores in the 3rd century BC.
Out of Turó Rodó, Montbarbat and Puig de Castellet, the latter is the most visitor-friendly. It’s just up and back from the resort in what would have been a smart strategic position with clear views of the sea and landscape around.
There’s a raised boardwalk crossing the site, giving you a good look at the stone foundations below, with informative signs to clue you in how the settlement might have looked 1500 years ago.
14. Castle of Palafolls
This mountaintop fortress may lie in ruin but what remains is absolutely beautiful. Anyone with so much as a passing interest in medieval architecture will want to get up there to see what they can find.
The castle was built in the 900s and is actually part of a citadel that had its own ironworks, courts, notary and mayor.
When you get to the summit you’ll notice the irregular shape of the compound, squeezing itself onto the narrow rectangular shape of the peak.
You can scramble up to the parapets and duck beneath old stone arches. The chapel is romanesque and has preserved some gorgeous early-medieval frescoes.
Get in the car or hop on a train and you could be in this world-famous city in an hour. Come for a day out, even if that wouldn’t be nearly enough to see the best of Barcelona!
What you get up to depends on your taste: If you want to indulge in some shopping, you’ve come to the right place.
The posh Passeig de Gràcia has every fashion house under the sun, but trendy independent boutiques abound too, as do huge branches of high-street favourites like Mango.
For culture there’s a big UNESCO-listed ensemble of Catalan Modernist projects, breathtaking apartment blocks, parks, concert halls and churches by Antoni Gaudí and other masters of this movement.