While visiting new cities, taking a day trip is a great way to maximize your experience. During our recent trip to Barcelona, we found such an opportunity to take a small group day trip to the Salvador Dali Theater and Museum in Girona, as well as his beautifully and personally designed house in Port Lligat, along the enchanting northeast coast of Spain. As a student of art, and a lifelong fan of Dali, I was exuberant for this excursion, and it did not disappoint!
Starting out at the tour office in downtown Barcelona, just a few blocks walk from our hotel, we met up with the other eight or so fellow tourists. Everyone in our group was English-speaking, so the guide introduced herself in our native language and explained the details and timeline of the tour. She was extremely friendly and answered any questions we had before departing, as well as throughout the day!
The drive itself takes you around beautiful coastal areas while the experienced tour guide narrates along the way, telling the history of the areas you’re traversing as well as interesting and unique facts about Dali himself. We were quite impressed with her knowledge of the artist as well as his museum and home.
The Dali Theatre and Museum
After about a two hour ride, we arrived at the astounding Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Girona. Opened in 1974, it naturally houses the largest collection of his works. Adorned with large sculptures of eggs atop the parapets, and pink-hued walls covered with loaves of bread, it is surrealism personified. Take a minute to admire the uniqueness of the external façade; it is just the beginning of the amazing artwork sprung from Dali’s imagination.
Upon entering the museum, our first experience was quite mesmerizing. A 1941 Cadillac, complete with a non-sentient passenger, has been transformed into a rainstorm – on the inside. A quirky coin-operated attraction, Dali’s vision for this piece was a comment on how he could never seem to get a cab when it was raining! From there you’re free to roam the museum itself, and upon entering, you’ll find yourself in the presence of one of his most famous works, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea”. Although, at first glance, what you’ll most likely see is the bust of Abraham Lincoln instead of his much beloved wife, Gala.
Quick note: You’ll see Dali’s wife Gala represented frequently within his works. She was his muse, and lived in the house that he built on the coast in Cadaques, where she died in 1982.
Make sure to meander through every corridor and hallway in the museum, every wall conveys Dali’s genius and, perhaps, eccentricities. Another famous piece is the Mae West room, where a couch and other objects turn into her face once you ascend the short staircase at the back of the room to view it from its intended perspective!
This unique museum houses not only his largest collection, but some of his most prolific works, including Soft self-portrait with grilled bacon (1941), Poetry of America—the Cosmic Athletes (1943), Galarina (1944–45), Basket of Bread (1945), Leda Atomica (1949), Galatea of the Spheres (1952) and Crist de la Tramuntana (1968). In addition to the main gallery, the structure dedicates a room to Dali’s unique optical illusions and anamorphic art, as well as his final complete painting, The Swallow’s Tail, created in 1983.
As we walked through the winding hallways there was history at every turn. From early sketches to sculptures, it was hard not to feel a sort of drunkenness in the midst of his genius, every viewpoint was just one more indelible impression to take home with us.
Quick note: Make sure to look up as you make your way through the different areas of the museum, not all the art is hung on the walls!
In addition to Dali’s paintings, the most recognizable of his works, we visited the adjoining gallery of jewelry designed by his artistry. Glittering and thought-provoking, this small gallery lets you view these priceless pieces up close behind glass. Truly not to be missed!
After we took our time to take in all that the museum has to offer, we ventured outside to grab a bite to eat at the small café across the street where we got a couple small sandwiches from a welcoming owner. After relaxing outside, it was time to keep going… on to Cadaques!
Dali House in Port Lligat, Cadaques
A short drive from the museum is the quaint coastal city of Cadaques, where you can see a cheeky statue of Dali (a great photo op!) and find delicious food while you dine right next to the shoreline. Located on the Costa Brava on the Mediterranean Sea, the town is quiet with a serene and classic stretch of white-walled shops and restaurants against a mountainous backdrop.
Walking down the winding roads to the water, the view is breathtaking from the rocky shore, and despite the chilly weather, we buttoned up our coats and happily sat outside to enjoy our lunch. After a few glasses of wine, some sardines on toast, and meeting a friendly local cat, we made our way back up the misty streets and rejoined the group for the short ride to Dali’s house.
Salvador Dali’s house and museum in Port Lligat was designed by the master himself, a labyrinth of passageways and rooms so unique we were astounded at every turn. Built on the water in a remote fisherman’s village, it stood as Salvador and Gala’s main residence until 1982. Purchased in 1930, Salvador and Gala began building onto their initial space until it reached two stories and six connecting cottage spaces where they showcased their surrealistic tastes. He was especially drawn to the light and the landscape of this beautiful location, as well as it’s distance from the busy city streets.
Upon arriving at the small road that leads to the house, we came upon the calming and serene view of the port to the left of the path. The house itself is stark white, a striking contrast against the grey skies that day, while also quite minimalistic at first glance… on the outside!
The entry of his home brings you to the beginning of the whimsical experience ahead – a large bear figure holding a lamp in a sitting area. Though this initial living space, as well as other areas, are roped off to the public, most of the house is open for exploration where you can take as many photos as you like! We were free to roam the whole of the house, including the impressive pool area at the rear, where the famous sitting area showcases a reinvented Mae West lips couch surrounded by Pirelli Tire placards.
One of the most fascinating rooms within the Dali house was the round room, another living space designed as a domed circle, and while appearing cozy and colorful with couches and pillows surrounding the sphere, we made sure to stand in the center for its best feature. While in the middle of this circular space, start speaking out loud… you’ll hear your own voice echo against the walls! It’s a quirky and slightly mind-bending experience. As soon as you move to the periphery, that echo effect disappears. Quite astounding (and fun)!
The main bedroom features two separate and colorful beds, decorated in pink linens and small overhead canopies, its window facing the calming port waters. We could imagine the view each morning as they rose to see the calming view. As you meander, you’ll find yourself winding through the small halls and staircases, one of which leads down to a room where his paint and other supplies are shelved. Near this deeply historical display is his actual art studio, complete with a wall-mounted mechanism that allowed his canvases to be lifted and lowered into the floor as he painted. The guide informed us that, still sitting in this space, his last incomplete work hangs from the lift. As with almost all windows in the Dali house, his studio faced the shore of the port to capture the best light.
After meeting back up with the guide, who continued to narrate our experience with the history of the dwelling, she enhanced our visit by discussing interesting features and unique anecdotes about the owners, both Salvador and Gala.
Moving past the impressive and eclectic interior, we made our way out to the pool area to take a walk around the water feature as well as the additional pieces and spaces he’d created. At the rear of the pool is a covered sitting area full of plush and colorful cushions. It was all we could do not to sit down and relax for the rest of the day!
As an art enthusiast, I had one request at the end of the day – that I would have the time to sit on the shore of the port and sketch out a picture from what would’ve been Dali’s point of view. I’d brought paper, but at the time the bus from Portlligat to Barcelona was no longer parked at the entry, and not being able to access my sketch pad I was quite dismayed!
After hearing of my disappointment, our genial and compensating tour guide surprised me by hunting down a blank piece of paper and a pen so that I could complete my mission to sketch where the great artist sketched. Sitting along the stone above the calm waters while I drew the scene before me is one of my most cherished memories of travel.
If art moves you, if history intrigues you, take the time to visit this area of Spain and experience Dali in person. Though his work is seen throughout the world, there is nothing like actually seeing his collection in a museum he designed.
There is an indescribable feeling when walking the halls where he lived for more than 40 years, to see the studio where he crafted his timeless art, and to sit on the shore where the light inspired him. Watching the landscape disappear out of site as we made our way back to Barcelona was closure to a lifetime of admiration that I will never forget.