We're going to Barcelona for 6 days in December (over Christmas/New Year's) and are wondering if we're better off staying the whole time in Barcelona with side trips to Girona and maybe Besalu or staying in Barcelona for half the time, and staying in Girona for two nights. We're a family of 6 (four kids: 24, 21, 18, 16), and are interested in the outdoors as well as wandering historical sites. We're somewhat concerned that hiking in December will be too cold, so aren't sure if we can actually do that. Thoughts?
If you're coming to Barcelona just 6 days, I would recommend you not to waste time packing/unpacking more than once. Catalonia is a small territory, about the size of Maryland, and you can go from one end to the other in the same day. Our particular geography offers you a wide variety of landscapes, from picturesque little coastal towns (ie. Costa Brava) to high peaks and mountain ranges (>10000 feet) in the Pyrenees. Everything relatively close to Barcelona. Having said that, if you want to really get 'rural' you'll be better off renting a car, otherwise public transportation (bus/train) can take you to most places you might want to go. This is a promo video of the Catalan Tourist Board so you can have a sample of different landscapes within Catalonia: http://infocatalonia.eu/w/5g5Df and their website is: www.catalunya.com
To Girona you can travel to from Barcelona in a high speed train, there are several per day and it barely takes 40'. To Besalú you'd go by bus, the journey is 90'.
As per temperatures, it'll depend on what area of Catalonia you want to hike in as we have many different microclimates. Having said that, average weather will not be colder than in Maine, that's granted. This of course means near the coast will be warmer (ie. Barcelona's weather in X-mas is around 50F during the day on a normal year) while inland can get lower, as low as 10F in the Pyrenees and much lower up in the mountains.
But you don't have to go far for hiking... if you're based in Barcelona you can hike the Collserola Park (http://infocatalonia.eu/w/H5eCu), in the outskirts of the city. It's one of the biggest urban parks in the world, 22 times bigger than Central Park. Or if you're up for a less 'urban' patch, there's Montserrat (http://muntanyamontserrat.gencat.cat/ca/) and Montseny (http://www.turisme-montseny.com/en/) mountains -among other- both at between 45' and 90' by train from Barcelona for example.
Sounds great--thanks for the helpful info! The temperature sounds fine for hiking/walking. Another question--how's the rain that time of year?
Not much... the rainy months tend to be Apr/May and most importantly Sep/Oct. This obviously doesn't rule out rain through the year of course, but it's doesn't tend to be too important.
Vicky, in addition to Barcelona's Gaudi sites, Catalonia has quite a collection of Dali sites (nice alliteration, eh?). Both Pubol (Gala's castle) and Figueres (a museum he designed for HIMSELF) are doable in a day via a car. Caladques is a bit further out and the road is not a fast one; however, Dali's beach house is stunning.
If your taken by the fantastic architecture of Catalan you may want visit old Girona and be certain to visit Casa Maso; it's a stunning preservation and not to be missed if you're in Girona.