George Scott | 23 June 2019
With a beautifully preserved old town, a rich history, and the Costa Brava at your fingertips, Girona is an enchanting alternative to Barcelona, as George Scott discovers…
Girona has been one of Catalonia’s most sought-after prizes for more than two millennia, coming under attack 25 times since it was first established in 79 BC.
But the ‘City of 1,000 Sieges’ has long lived in the shadow of regional capital Barcelona. Now, it is stepping out from behind its noisy neighbour as the region’s most enticing city break.
Why Girona is growing in popularity with travellers
A view over the top of Girona's historic and energetic old town (Dreamstime)
Step foot within the ancient walls of Barri Vell and it’s easy to understand why. The old town is the beating heart of Girona, with a labyrinthine network of cobbled streets lined with museums, galleries, bakeries and bars – all overlooked by the towering cathedral that dominates the skyline.
Girona is the Yin to Barcelona’s Yang: the compact centre, dissected by the River Onyar with the old town to the east and new city to the west, is perfect for idle ambling. Crane your neck and admire the centuries-old buildings, while taking in the slow pace of life. This is a city happy marching to the beat of its own drum.
Girona's beautoful Independence Square (Dreamstime)
That hasn’t always been the case: the Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Napoleon have all fought for Girona.
That storied history has resulted in a beguiling blend of architectural styles – the Cathedral of Girona alone includes a Romanesque tower, a Gothic nave and a Baroque façade. Girona’s well-preserved Jewish Quarter is an atmospheric treasure trove of secret passages and courtyards.
La Rambla is a lively and popular spot in Girona (Dreamstime)
And yet, Girona also looks forward. The thriving hilltop university overlooks the old town, buzzing cafés and bars bring a sophisticated vibe and Roca Brothers three Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca has twice been voted the best restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best.
Add the rising foothills of the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava coastline – the wider region provides some of Europe’s best cycling, hiking and coastal walking – to the mix and it’s a compelling package.
What do the locals recommend?
“Walking through the old town at night feels like being on a movie set. Girona is a special city and the medieval buildings give it a unique atmosphere. It feels like a small village – you can walk everywhere – but with so many shops, restaurants and things to do.”
— Angela Pons
How many days should you spend in Girona, Spain?
Whether you're exploring Girona as an extenstion to a trip to Barcelona, or have decided to jet off to the city for a holiday in itself, there's plenty to keep you entertained here, for least three days...
Climb the 90 steps leading to the Cathedral of Girona (Dreamstime)
Spend your first morning strolling the medieval streets of Barri Vell; Girona’s old town’s best explored at a leisurely pace, venturing down arms-width passageways, admiring the architecture and peering into glass-fronted boutiques.
Climb the 90 steps that lead to the imposing Cathedral of Gironato fully appreciate the scale of the building. The Romanesque cloister and tower were first built in the 11th century, while the cavernous interior is home to the world’s widest Gothic nave (and the second widest of any style).
The nearby Basilica de Sant Feliu, with its castle-like bell tower, was the city’s main place of worship until the 10th century. Continue on to the exquisite Arab Baths, centred on an octagonal pool decorated with eight columns.
Continue your pilgrimage at the 12th-century Romanesque monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants, unique for its symmetrical eight-sided bell tower. Finish the day at Mimolet; try its seasonal tasting menu for a modern take on Catalan cuisine.
Walk across the Pont de les Peixateries Velles (Dreamstime)
Hit the Passeig de la Muralla – Girona’s 14th-century raised city ramparts – before they get busy, before heading to the Museum of Jewish History, which tells the story of a community that thrived for 600 years until the Inquisition in 1492.
Then go to the bridge, Pont de les Peixateries Velles, designed by Gustave Eiffel, and take in the view of the River Onyar. Grab an energy boost at the Roca brothers’ gelateria: Rocambolesc makes some of the most delicious sweet treats you’re likely to find. Continue to the Plaça de la Independència and admire its neoclassical architecture.
Return to the old town via the Pont d’en Gómez, one of 11 bridges in the city, and finish the day with your own slice of Eden at the Jardins dels Alemanys. For dinner, enjoy some delicious seafood at Arròs i Peix.
The whitewashed fishing village of Cadaqués (Dreamstime)
Hire a car from one of the usual suspects in Girona’s city centre and seek out the pounding surf, tumbling cliffs and smugglers’ coves of the Costa Brava.
The untamed Cap de Creus Natural Park, around 70km north of Girona, shows this dramatic coastline at its wildest. The drive is an adventure in itself, with the road rising and falling, twisting and turning to the whitewashed fishing village of Cadaqués. Continue to the lighthouse at Cap de Creus – Spain’s most eastern point.
Hike the coastal path to Cadaqués (14km round trip) – or take it easy and admire the scenery on a road train – for lunch, before returning to the Cap de Creus via the Portlligat Museum-House, the former home of the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Return to Girona and dine on La Rambla de la Llibertat, the old town’s main street.
What are the best things to do in Girona, Spain?
1. Walk the city walls
The raised walkway across Girona’s medieval city walls provides a unique perspective of the city: peer down into secret gardens, across the ancient rooftops and over to the Pyrenees on the horizon.
2. Flower power
Girona is at its most beautiful (and busiest) during the Temps de Flors festival, when the cobbles, courtyards, squares and staircases of the old town become a canvas for more than a hundred floral displays. 11-19 May
3. Take to two wheels
Girona is a cycling paradise, whether you’re exploring the old town on two wheels or heading out into the country lanes and rolling hills that surround the city. The Girona Cycle Centre bike hire and tours.
4. Visit the Dalí Theatre-Museum
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, around 40km north of Girona. Designed by Dali, this museum – clearly visible with its façade of giant eggs and glass dome – is a surreal journey into his mind and final resting place.
Essential Girona travel information
Girona during its annual flower festival (Dreamstime)
GMT+2 (GMT+1 Nov-Mar)
Euro (€), currently €1.17 to the UK£
When to go:
Girona to Costa Brava Airport is served by direct UK flights between April and October. For warm weather without sweltering peak mid-summer heat, visit in May, June, September or October.
Girona is known as the City of Festivals, with a year-round cultural calendar. To see the city in full bloom, visit during Temps de Flors in May.
Explore more of Spain:
These easy day trips from Barcelona are well worth doing
Here's Catalonia's best day hikes
Explore Catalonia in, on and under the water
Girona, located in Catalonia, Spain, sits between Barcelona and Costa Brava. It's a gorgeous place to visit, with medieval walls, narrow winding city streets, and one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters in Europe.How many days should I spend in Girona Spain? ›
For the ultimate week in the Costa Brava, you can spend two days in Girona, at least three days in Begur and on its beaches, and two or more final days somewhere on the coast. Girona's entire historic core is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the best-preserved Jewish Quarters in Europe.Is it worth visiting Girona? ›
' then the answer is a resounding yes. From sampling local food to delving deep into centuries worth of history, there are plenty of reasons to visit Girona and the city offers plenty of fun activities to keep even the most discerning of travellers entertained.Is Girona Spain a walkable city? ›
Walking the old city walls of Girona is a must-do on your exploration around the city. From the top of the walls, you can see gorgeous panoramic views of the city, the terracotta rooftops — and, in the distance, the Pyrenees Mountains and the surrounding countryside.Was Game of Thrones filmed in Girona? ›
We discover each and every one of the scenarios of the city of Girona where Game of Thrones was filmed. The filming of Game of Thrones in Girona ended on September 16, 2015. Since then to the present day, the city has become a true cult destination for fans of the HBO series.What is special about Girona? ›
Girona is known for its Ciutat Antiga (Old City) and especially its 13th-century Jewish Quarter. Known as the Call, the district is considered to be one of Europe's largest and best-preserved Jewish quarters.Is it worth going to Girona from Barcelona? ›
While Girona makes for a great day trip from Barcelona, you can spend longer than one day in this lovely Catalonian city. With more time, you can take in more of the sights at leisure, enjoy the river views at quieter times of day, eat more of the great food, and bask in the medieval ambience.Is Girona a party town? ›
Girona offers a wide range of options for enjoying the local nightlife all year round, ranging from friendly bars for a quiet evening drink to pubs, terraces, music bars and discotheques where the fun goes on until the small hours of the morning.How far is Barcelona Girona from city Centre? ›
A: Girona Airport is 103 km or 64 miles from Barcelona city centre or approximately 1 hour 30 minutes by car. Therefore, it is worth taking that into consideration when deciding whether to fly into Girona airport, rather than into the much closer Barcelona Airport (El Prat de Llobregat or Aeropuerto de Barcelona).Do they speak English in Girona? ›
The official language is Catalan
Everyone does speak Spanish, and most people in the business and tourism industry speaks English, so you'll be able to get by without any issue.
Summary of cost of living in Girona, Spain: A family of four estimated monthly costs are 2,822.7$ (2,629.4€) without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 813.4$ (757.7€) without rent.Is Tarragona or Girona better? ›
There is a lot to do in Girona itself and it also serves as an excellent jumping-off point for a number of day trips. If you're interested in fine dining, then Girona may be a great choice for you, as well. Tarragona is a good option if you are after a seaside escape but also want a larger city feel.What is the least touristy part of Spain? ›
Above all: Antequera is a great place to experience the real Spain without too many tourists. There are also two Bronze Age burial mounds, known as the Dolmen de Menga and the Dolmen de Viera. These are some of the largest of such structures in all of Europe.What is the most touristy spot in Spain? ›
What Is The Most Visited Place In Spain? Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain, and the Sagrada Familia Basilica is the country's most visited tourist attraction.Where is the world's most walkable city? ›
Sauntering into first place, the enchanting Italian city of Florence ranks as the world's most walkable city. Within 10 minutes, visitors are able to admire the unique Ponte Vecchio bridge, as well as the iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria—which boasts the largest brick dome ever constructed.Should you stay in Girona? ›
Girona is the best place to stay if you're searching for that perfect balance of modern and ancient. Its variety means that travellers of all shapes and sizes can enjoy spending time here! With a population size of around 100,000, it is still busy whilst not overwhelming – perfect for a short break!Is Girona good for nightlife? ›
Home to a stellar selection of diverse bars, pubs, nightclubs and more, the Girona nightlife is a pretty lively one.