Tossa de Mar – History, Sand and Sunshine on the Costa Brava

The fortified medieval town of Tossa de Mar (La Vila Vella) and the long sandy beach. A sunny day on the Costa Brava, Spain.
Tossa de Mar

Situated on the southernmost part of the Costa Brava, the charming seaside resort of Tossa de Mar is a popular day trip from Barcelona. Tossa’s attractions include sandy beaches and a picturesque old town whose narrow streets are lined with restaurants and bars. Not to mention the impressive 12th century medieval castle or Vila Vella.

Once an enclave of artists and intellectuals, Tossa became a popular holiday destination during the 1950s when it appeared in the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman starring Eva Gardner and James Mason. Nowadays  the town is popular with both Spanish and foreign tourists but has largely escaped the excesses associated with other resorts.

What to see and do in Tossa de Mar

Flowers blooming in the narrow backstreets of Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava, Spain
Backstreets, Tossa de Mar

Vila Vella – Fortified old Town

Any visit to Tossa de Mar inevitably starts at the Vila Vella which is the only remaining medieval walled town on the Catalan coast. Entering the historic old town by the arched gateway you can explore the narrow cobbled streets and take a walk along the fortified stone walls.

A winding path leads up past the ruins of the Gothic styled Church of Sant Vicenç to Tossa Lighthouse which was built in 1917. The 10m high lighthouse contains a small museum and affords excellent views of the Mediterranean coast.

Mar Menuda and the Costa Brava, view from the Vila Vella Tossa de Mar, Spain
Mar Menuda and the Costa Brava, Tossa de Mar

Can Magí Tower

During the 16th century Philip II built defensive watchtowers at strategic points along the Spanish coastline to defend against marauding pirates from North Africa. If attackers were spotted a fire was lit to send a warning which was then relayed from tower to tower. The three storey Can Magí Tower (Torre de Can Magí, also known as Torre des Moros) is a short walk from the Vila Vella (see map below).

Roman Villa

The Els Ametlleres Roman villa dates back to the first century AD and was one of the most important Villas in the Roman province of Tarraco. The ruins were discovered in 1914 and entry to the site is free.

Roman Mosaic in the Municipal Museum of Tossa de Mar
Roman Mosaic

Municipal Museum

Tossa’s small Municipal Museum is located inside the Vila Vella walled town. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the history of the Els Ametllers archaeological site and includes a mosaic which was recovered from the villa. The museum also houses an interesting collection of paintings and sculptures by artists who were either born in the area or lived in the town.

Walks & Hikes

Tossa located on the Cami de Ronda coastal path which runs from Blanes to Portbou. There are also several shorter walking routes which start from Tossa. You can pick up a free leaflet from the tourist information office with a map and descriptions of 5 marked routes which take between 1 hour and 4 hours to complete. Download leaflet

The ruins of the Gothic church of St. Vincent in the medieval walled town of Tossa de Mar
The ruins of the Gothic church of St. Vincent

Beaches

Tossa de Mar offers visitors a choice of 16 sandy beaches and coves scattered along a total of 13km of coastline. There are 3 beaches in the town itself:

Platja Gran – The main beach which starts in front of the medieval walls of the Vila Vella and continues for 400m around the bay,

Mar Menuda – A smaller beach at the other end of the bay facing the castle,

Platja d’es Codolar – A small cove which can be reached from the Vila Vella.

Boat Trips

FondoCristal operate hour long boat trips to the coves and caves north of Tossa de Mar. The small glass bottomed boats depart from the main beach where there are two ticket kiosks.

Traditional fishing boats on the beach in front of the medieval castle, Tossa de Mar
Fishing boats, Tossa de Mar

Take an abandoned dog for a walk

If your staying in Tossa during the week (Monday to Friday) and fancy a bit of exercise then you could volunteer to take a dog from the dog rescue centre for a walk.

Parish church of Saint Vincent in Tossa de Mar old town. Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain
Esglesia de Sant Vicenc (the church of St. Vincent)

Brief History of Tossa De Mar

Tossa de Mar was settled during the Neolithic period and was colonised by the Romans during the first century AD. During the 12th century the town was under the jurisdiction of the Monastery of Ripoll and Tossa castle and the Church of St Vincent were built on the top of mount Guardi. The battlements and towers surrounding the walled town also date back to this period. During the 15th and 16th centuries the town’s population increased and houses were built outside the fortified Vila Vella. The town remained largely unchanged until the arrival of tourism during the 1950s.

Medieval fortifications, turrets, towers, rooftops and gardens Tossa de Mar Spain
Walking the Medieval walls of Tossa de Mar

Vegetarian Restaurants in Tossa de Mar

Despite the wealth of restaurants in Tossa, there are no vegetarian restaurants nor restaurants which specifically cater for vegetarians. Having said that, you will have no trouble finding vegetarian dishes such as Paella de Verdures, Escalivada (roasted vegetables) and Canelons d’Espinacs (Spinach Cannelloni) which are available in most restaurants. If you aren’t familiar with Spanish food I suggest you read this article which will help you find vegetarian food while travelling in Spain.

There are also plenty of pizzerias in Tossa. The best we found was Pizzeria Anna (Pont Vell No. 13) which had a larger than usual selection of delicious thin crust vegetarian pizzas including Roquefort, walnuts and honey. They also serve an excellent lemon sorbet.

Statue of Ava Gardner, Tossa castle Costa Brava
Statue of Ava Gardner

How to Get There

By Car

It takes around an hour and twenty minutes to drive from Barcelona to Tossa de Mar via either the C32 or the AP7 motorway. There’s a large car park next to the main beach (Platja Gran).

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By Bus

Sarfa run 12 buses daily from Barcelona Airport and Barcelona Estacio del Nord to Tossa de Mar. The journey takes one hour and twenty minutes. Timetable and prices here.

By Train

In my opinion, the best way to get to Tossa de mar by public transport is to take the train to Blanes and then a bus from there to Tossa. The R1 train line follows the coast running right alongside the beach and takes an hour and a half to get to Blanes. Buses meet the trains and take 40 minutes to travel from Blanes to Tossa de Mar.

The entire journey takes about two hours which is slower than the direct bus, but there are more frequent departures and the journey is more scenic. Train and bus timetables here and here. You can purchase a combined ticket at train stations in Barcelona which is slightly cheaper than purchasing tickets separately.

Note: Buses which leave Blanes train station at ’50 go via Lloret to Tossa de Mar. Buses which leave at ’20 terminate at Lloret de Mar bus station where you have to change to another bus which goes to Tossa. The journey takes the same amount of time whichever you catch.

View of the Costa Brava from Tossa lighthouse on a cloudy afternoon. Catalonia.
View of the Costa Brava from Tossa lighthouse

Tours

Costa Brava Half-day Trip from Barcelona

Costa Brava Day Trip from Barcelona (includes hiking part of the Cami de Ronda)

Map

Zoom in to see the locations mentioned in this article.

My location
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6 thoughts on “Tossa de Mar – History, Sand and Sunshine on the Costa Brava”

  1. Very informative and well written. Thank you.
    I attempted to get more information via the the link provided regarding the dog rescue walk and it is broken. Is this an option that is still available? We would love to do something like this on our visit to Tossa de Mar later this month.

    Reply
    • Hi Treena,

      Thanks for letting me know about the broken link, I’ve updated it so it should work now.

      As far as I know, they’re still happy to let tourists walk their dogs. They were last year anyway.

      I recommend you contact them beforehand to make sure, you can email them at caas@selva.cat or there’s a telephone number on their website.

      Have a great holiday and be sure to let us know how you get on.

      Reply
  2. Hi, great article. Thank you !!
    All of the sites you listed above…
    1) is that the order in which you walk to each site once we get off the bus? We will be doing everything listed above except hiking due to a knee injury.
    But we definitely will be checking out the castle and the beaches and that boat tour sounds really nice.
    2) how many hours would you say it takes to explore these beaches and the sites?
    3) would we be able to combine a visit with other spots on the Costa Brava after (time pending), such as Calella de Palafrugell, Begur, Lloret, Palmos, Ocata beach? I am especially interested in Calella de Palafrugell but do not know if that is easily accessible from Tossa de Mar?
    4) is there a way to book the round-trip ticket online for transportation?
    I really appreciate any advice you can give. Thank you so much!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Jenae,

      The sites are listed in order of interest, not the order that you will come across them when walking from the bus station. If you zoom in the map at the end of the post, you’ll see that I’ve marked the locations.

      There is a tourist information office at Tossa bus station where you can pick up leaflets and a map.

      You should allow between 5 and 6 hours to visit the sites mentioned and take a boat trip. You can book the boat trip in advance using the FondoCristal link in the article.

      Of the places that you mention, I think that Calella de Palafrugell and Begur would be the most interesting but unfortunately public transport is infrequent and in most cases you will end up having to go via Girona.

      Because of this, it’s not practical to combine either of them with Tossa as a day trip from Barcelona using public transport.

      If you’ve rented a car you could visit both towns in one day. It takes about an hour to drive between Tossa and Calella de Palafrugell.

      Most buses in the area are run by Sarfa, you can check timetables and book tickets on their website. Here.

      Lloret de Mar has frequent direct buses to and from Tossa (timetables here) but, in my opinion, it’s not a very interesting place to visit.

      Ocata (which is on the Costa Maresme) is on the train line between Blanes and Barcelona.

      Assuming that you will be travelling to and from Barcelona by public transport, I suggest you consider visiting Blanes. It’s on your route and, in my opinion, it’s more interesting than Lloret or Ocata.

      If you like the look of Blanes, you could catch an early morning bus from Barcelona to Tossa de Mar. Spend the morning visiting Tossa and have lunch at one of the restaurants near the castle before catching the bus to Blanes. Spend the afternoon in Blanes then catch a train back to Barcelona in the evening (timetables linked to in the post above). The bus can be booked in advance. You can’t book seats on commuter trains for the return journey but it’s not a problem.

      Hope this helps, if you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to help.

      Reply
  3. My wife and I visited Tossa in September of 1974. We spent a week there, and I must say the town was wonderful. We discovered that the water in our hotel was salty, which made the coffee terrible. But fortunately, across the street the water wasn’t salty and the coffee shop made wonderful coffee. I still have a belt that I purchased in Tossa. It still fits, even though it’s been 45 years. I was in the US Air Force, posted in Germany and this was our first vacation while in Europe.

    Reply
    • Hi William,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience with us.

      You’ll be pleased to hear that Tossa is still a great place to visit, although I’m sure that it has changed quite a lot since 1974.

      Reply

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