Visiting Spain with Dan Brown’s Origin

Visiting Spain with Dan Brown’s Origin

Visiting Spain with Dan Brown’s Origin is an excellent way to see some of the very best (though popular) highlights of Spain from Barcelona to Bilbao, and from Madrid to Sevilla.

Having checked off my list almost all of them, I can confirm that it’s a fair roundup of some of the country’s most iconic spots.

And, if you’re short on time and with no possibility of slow travelling through Spain, you’ll do well to put them on your list.

Here’s a summary of the Best Locations in Spain, inspired by Dan Brown’s Origin:

Montserrat Monastery

Dan Brown's Origin locations  in Spain Montserrat monastery

Brown takes readers to a spectacular tour of Spain, starting with the magnificent Montserrat monastery near Barcelona at the very start of the book. And without any doubt Montserrat is the best of them.

I’ve been up to Montserrat several times already, chaperoning the many friends and family visiting us across the years, and I’ll tell you this : you never really get tired of the beautiful, expansive views, slightly different every time you visit:

  • the sun kissed karst rocks
  • the morning misty valley, waiting for the clouds to uncover the spectacle all around
  • the thrill or riding 1350 meters to the top in under 5 minutes, with the yellow cable car (not for the faint of heart)

Hit by incessantly larger waves of tourists from year to year, the Montserrat Monastery risks the Ramblas crowds.

Despite the growing crowds, it remains one of my favorite places outside of Barcelona.

Hiking Montserrat Mountains

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Maman, amazing steel sculpture outside the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

If you’ve read Dan Brown’s Origin, you’ll remember the Guggenheim Museum: it’s when Langdon first speaks to Winston – a scene so eerily realistic in our present days, it makes your skin crawl (am I right Google, Alexa, Siri)

Bilbao was one of the first cities we visited after we moved to Spain 4 years ago and, even if we planned for a rain-free weekend away (in June!) there was no such luck in store for us.

It rained all through the weekend, so what better way to spend your time than in a museum?

And even more so, in a world renowned Guggenheim museum! And I was actually glad it was raining, because Maman looked stunningly creepy, as it loomed over the artificial mist, framed by grey rain clouds.

My personal favorite spot in the museum was walking through The Matter of Time.

The Something Else: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Not featured in the book, but worth a visit now that you’re in the Bilbao area: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

The weather was nice enough to give us clear, sunny skies for the hike to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe .Its name is as impossible to pronounce for the first time as the once infamous Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland; a bit of practice and you’ll manage.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe stairs, bilbao spain

I have to say, I am happy I got to hike to Gaztelugatxe before it achieved platinum-level popularity after starring in Game of Thrones.

According to The Culture Trip, in July 2017 alone 75 000 people had visited San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Not used to such crowds, parts of the rock are now in danger of eroding and crumbling into the sea. Thanks for nothing, GoT.

Gaudi’s Houses

Disclaimer: the imags below are not the famous La Pedrera, but its neighboring cousing, Casa Batllo.

Though La Pedrera is the one showing up in Dan Brown’s book, my recommendation to you is that you visit both Pedrera and Casa Batllo. Personally, I prefer Casa Batllo – check out the pictures and you’ll understand why it’s dubbed the house of bones.

Casa Batllo

It seems that La Pedrera inspired the author during his writing process. Dan Brown loved it so much that they also hosted the international launch of the book.

But the building has a cinematic history already: the official La Pedrera website mentions that Gaudi’s gem served as movie set for more than 15 international films throughout the years, including The Passenger and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

For that something else, if you visit Barcelona in the summertime, make sure you join the Jazz nights at La Pedrera. You’ll find a similar music-enhanced experience at Casa Batllo: Magic Nights at Casa Batllo

And do throw in a Sunday visit at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau (check out the end of this post)

La Sagrada Familia & Parc Guell

Sagrada Familia. How can we not visit the most visited site for 32 million tourists coming to Barcelona every year!

Compared to 10 years ago when I first visited Barcelona – when entry to Park Guell was free of charge and tickets to Sagrada Familia could still be purchased at the entrance – much has changed.

Because of the popularity of these two locations, decisions were made to control the influx of visitors – the only sensible thing to do, if you ever want to preserve something. (If only nature benefited from the same sustainable treatment..!)

Entry to Park Guell is restricted to only 400 tourists every half hour. The next 400 tourists are moved to the following half-hour slot, and so on. So to avoid dissapointment, make sure to buy your ticket online.

Madrid’s Royal Palace & Almudena Catedral

Madrid is a city I’ve visited often since 2013, yet I’d always end up having either a day trip, or an just overnight stay, en route to someplace else :

So while I am not one to properly guide you through the wonders and nooks and corners of Madrid I will definitely vouch for the Palacio Real.

Madrid’s Palacio Real is the largest royal palace in Europe, and one of the most stunning fusions of classical and baroque styles. Oh, and make sure you also visit the Armeria.

If you only have one day on Madrid, here are my go to’s. Rainy day trip to Madrid: Seven things to do

The Almudena Cathedral is my personal favorite place in town.

Did you know that this was the first cathedral outside of Rome ever to be consecrated by a Pope? (Pope John Paul II, in 1993)

Running away from the harsh winds (we were on our way to see a million flowering cherry trees – what’s with the arctic weather for heaven’s sake!) we escaped inside the Almudena Crypt mostly because it was our closest option.

I’m glad it was a windy day, and I got to enjoy a glimpse of the serenity fit for a final resting place, and those majestic columns lining up from all sides, framing crypts and tombs of famous Spanish royalty and families. 

Cemeteries and crypts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in a world overrun by tourists, it’s certainly a welcome escape.

Seville Cathedral

One of the most famous cathedrals in Spain, Catedral de Sevilla seeps with history.

Did you know: the cathedral’s Giralda Tower was originally a minaret for Seville’s primary mosque?

Also, the cathedral is the final resting place for (parts of) Christopher Columbus – the Columbus Lighthouse at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is said to have the other part of his remains (Even in death, he’s a globetrotter)

The Something Else : Hospital de Sant Pau

Add a stop to Hospital de Santa Pau, just 1KM away from Sagrada Familia.

The modernist complex , used until recently as a hospital, was designed by the Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the same genius mind behind the spectacular Palau de la Música Catalana (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites)

Hiking Mont Rebei Gorge: My Spanish Misadventures