Looking for the best things to do in Girona? Short and sweet, this pink and caramel stone city deserves an overnight stay at least. Let me walk you through what to do in Girona.
Why I Love Girona
I love the medieval city of Girona, although a city this size scarcely seems large enough to be a city at all. I love the way its cathedral rises out of the earth to greet you as the plane swoops in to land. I love the pomegranate and peach houses that line up all higgledy-piggledy, as though eager to please my lens.
And I love, most of all, the legacy you can find here thanks to the work of two men. We'll get to that in a minute. Along with an overall look at the best things to do in Girona, Spain.
For some more practical details, skim on down to the section on How to plan a trip to Girona.
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The Best THINGS TO DO IN GIRONA, SPAIN
Sweep Across the Bridges
Eleven bridges, or puentes, criss and cross the Onyar river and they each have different sense of flavour and fun.
From the bridges, you can see the city, all jiggledy, higgledy, wriggledy, piggledy in ochre and red, sunset yellow and chrome, jostling to overhang the river.
The Pont de Pedra deserves its fame for its arches but it's the Pont de Ferro in criss-cross red that's the more intriguing.
That's the work of one Mr Eiffel. Before he became famous and before he changed his name.
A Gentleman of Girona: Eiffel
Girona's most famous bridge comes thanks to the work of Gustave Bönickhausen, a French engineer.
I have a feeling you already know his work well and if you don't believe me, have a think about Paris. That's right, Bönickhausen's the man who came up with the ironwork that made lovers swoon. The creation that defied all critics and gave one of the world's most influential cities its icon.
Bönickhausen also changed his last name along the way.
But before he got around to either of those two things, he made a detour to Girona and built a bridge there. A short, scarlet mesh of a contraption that lured me dangerously close to the word "monstrosity."
But once I stood upon the Eiffel Bridge, I had a change of heart. Sure, critics might say it looks as though it was flung up one night by a car park construction company or, worse, the Ryanair website design team.
But once you're on the bridge, looking out at Girona, the sweetness of Eiffel's eye begins to shine through.
Girona's riverbanks are beautiful. They deserve to be seen as much as they can. The violence of the red and the criss-cross of the beams simply encourage your eyes to look away faster...
Taste The World's Best Ice Cream at Rocambolesc
Everyone said you must visit 50 Santa Clara.
And what lives at this hallowed address? Why an ice-cream shop from Jordi Roca, the man behind the desserts at the world's best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca.
Named Rocambolesc, it's filled from floor to ceiling with stripy boiled sweets captured in old-fashioned jars, plus scoops, cones and tubs of ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and spicy mandarin.
There are cookbooks to inspire creativity - and queues that snake out through the door.
Visit Girona Cathedral and Its Dramatic Cascading Stairs
Girona Cathedral took its time, being built between the 11th and 18th centuries, but the wait was worth it.
It roots itself in the city, its staircase filling the sides and walls and making a natural stony canvas for the exuberant annual flower festival.
It's also been used as one of the Game of Thrones filming locations.
GIRONA'S ANNUAL FLOWER FESTIVAL
Take one city that oozes with medieval charm and Mediterranean style, throw in hundreds of thousands of petals and then let creativity run wild. The result is the Temps de Flors, or Festival of Flowers, in Girona. Every year, this Spanish town scraps admission fees and lets the scent of roses fill the air.
Queues thread around the cloisters and crowds fill the squares, while classical music drifts across the streets. Shops display tulip stickers and buttercup cakes, while poets use broken pianos and flower cascades to reflect the pain of a life cut short.
Pop Into the Arab Baths
Sadly, unlike the Baños Arabes in Seville, you can't actually get in the water of the Arab Baths in Girona.
Still, the stonework is impressive and the shade is cool if you need a short break from the heat. These Arab Baths date back to the 11th century, combining Roman, Arabic and Jewish traditions in Romanesque style.
You won't need long here but it's a worthwhile thing to do in Girona.
Explore the Jewish Quarter
Known as "El Call," the Jewish Quarter forms part of the Old Town right in the centre of the city. Its labyrinth of narrow stone streets, arches, patios and sculptures gives an air of romance but, of course, the history makes for grim reading.
Jewish people lived in El Call for centuries before their expulsion from the area in 1492. The last synagogue now stands as a museum, the Museu d'Història dels Jueus i l'Institut d'Estudis Nahmànides (Jewish History Museum and Institute of Nahmanides Studies).
- Top Tip: for a great view of the Jewish Quarter, head to La Devesa park.
Note the Spire of the Sant Feliu Basilica
Right on the banks of the River Onyar, the Sant Feliu Basilica also took its time. Construction began in the 12th century and ran until the 17th century, mixing together Romanesque, Gothic and baroque styles.
Look out for landmark as a brief but beautiful thing to do in Girona.
Visit Sant Pere de Galligants
Both a Benedictine Abbey and an Archaeological Museum, Sant Pere de Galligants has a lot going on. The arches of its Bell Tower and the coolness of the cloisters can help you survive the summer heat, and during the annual flower festival, it looks absolutely stunning.
Walk Girona City Walls
One of the best things to do in Girona has to involve walking the city walls, or the Passeig de la Muralla. While part of the 14th century walls and towers were destroyed in the late 19th century, reconstruction work means that you can now walk all the way around.
Some parts are steep but almost all parts have magnificent views. Not only of the ochre stone buildings we've been talking about but also the snowy Pyrenees in the distance.
Start at Plaça Catalunya on the banks of the River Onyar and follow the signs.
Visit the Girona Art Museum
Ready for a break from the heat?! And, of course, an excellent collection of art.
Head inside the Art Museum of Girona, housed in yet another incredible building, the former Episcopal Palace.
Here, you'll find a collection of art from Girona and the surrounding province, as well as temporary exhibitions and provocative art.
Planning a Trip to Girona
Girona works well as a city break in its own right, as a day trip from Barcelona, or as part of a longer trip through the surrounding area of Costa Brava.
How to get to Girona
Girona is ridiculously easy to get to, either through direct flights from within Europe to Costa Brava Airport (GRO) or as a day trip from Barcelona. It's then a short trip into the centre of town from either the main station or the airport (around 12 km.)
Getting Around Girona
The city centre is compact and easily covered on foot, as long as you are fit and able. Streets are steep and narrow, with plenty of stairs, so it could be a struggle for pushchairs or anyone with injuries or illnesses.
How to Get from Barcelona to Girona
The best way to get from Barcelona to Girona is by train, a straightforward journey of just over an hour. You'll need the station Barcelona Sants and the ticket machines provide English options.
When to Visit Girona
One of the best times to visit Girona is during the annual Flower Festival. Although accommodation availability goes down and prices go up, you should still be able to find some space. And the effort is well worth it.
That usually takes place in May. But other than that, avoid August for a city break. It is simply far too hot and many places close down as people escape to the coast.
Winters do get cold in Catalunya, so I'd recommend the spring and autumn seasons for the best time to visit Girona.
Where to Stay in Girona
For atmosphere, nothing beats staying the Old Quarter, although if you have mobility issues or young children, you'll find life easier if you stay in the more modern parts of the city.
Even in the Old City, you'll find some gorgeous boutique hotels and special places to stay.
Here are some recommendations:
- Hotel Casa Cacao - a boutique hotel from the El Celler de Can Roca brothers. There's a chocolate factory, shop and cafe. Need we say more?
- Hotel Ciutat de Girona - offers conveniences like a pool, fitness centre and spa treatments.
- AC Hotel Palau Bellavista - provides panoramic views in addition to stylish, contemporary rooms.
Finding Tour Guides for Girona
Girona is a pretty easy city to explore yourself. However, sometimes a tour guide can bring a destination to life and introduce you to things you may otherwise miss.
Here are some recommended tours in Girona from Get Your Guide. You can easily book and cancel for free up to 24 hours beforehand, which is a handy touch for flexibility.
FAQS About Things to do in Girona
Is Girona worth visiting?
Oh my, yes! It's a stunningly beautiful place with some of the best food in the world. That's not an exaggeration, that's backed up by international awards.
If you are short on time, you can visit as a day trip from Barcelona. Most of the top attractions in Girona can be appreciated from outside and on foot, so you don't need to organise too much. But it's a real, lived in city and the atmosphere is far greater if you can stay overnight or for a few days.
What should I wear when visiting Spain?
Spain is a relaxed, welcoming destination. That said, most Spaniards dress with more care and style than their counterparts in the UK and US.
Shorts are rarely worn and many will wear leather shoes or sandals rather than sneakers or trainers.
The summers get hot and the winters are cold, so make sure to pack enough layers, sunscreen and hats to cope with the season you're in.
Should I visit Girona or Barcelona?
Well, ideally both! Although they are the two main cities in Catalunya, they are very, very different.
Barcelona is big. It attracts plenty of tourists and has a wealth of different things to do, plus the beach within the city.
While you'll still find plenty of fun things to do in Girona, she's a smaller city, with plenty of architecture, outdoor walks and gastronomy.
Where is Girona?
Girona is a city in northeast Spain, in the area of Catalunya. It is just over an hour from Barcelona by train and around the same travel time to the Mediterranean coast.
Map of Girona
More on Travel in Spain
Girona often goes hand in hand with a trip to Barcelona and the northeast region of Catalunya, so you may find these articles helpful: