Girona is an ancient city of contrasts, from its Byzantine old quarter to vibrant, contemporary city culture. With medieval baths and one of the best-preserved medieval Jewish quarters in Spain, Girona boasts stunning architecture for such a small (and easily walkable) city. Further off the tourist tracks than Barcelona, Girona’s city streets exude an enticing sense of calm, culture and colour. The well-preserved medieval city walls wrap around the tight alleyways of the old city centre, making it an excellent start for a little exploring on foot.
The creative pulse of the city can be traced through history, from the medieval and Romanesque architecture through Gothic spires and the whimsy of the Catalan architectural era par excellence, “Modernisme.” While Girona attracts far fewer tourists than Barcelona or some towns along the Costa Brava, its streets are lined with interesting boutiques and an array of intriguing museums.
Girona Featured As One Of The Best Alternative City Breaks & Europe’s Most Romantic Destinations
The Guardian selected Girona as one of the best alternative city breaks in 2015.
For the other romantics out there, Girona has been featured, along with some other wonderful destinations, in the European Best Destinations – Europe’s Most Romantic Destinations. In a 2013 feature in the British Independent newspaper, Terri Judd reminds us that Girona is:
Home to the ‘world’s best restaurant’, this lively Catalan city also offers chic boutiques, a colourful old town and intriguing folklore.
When planning a trip to Girona, less is often more. Instead of booking tickets to must-see attractions or worrying about waiting lines for museums, it’s a perfect destination for wandering and discovering local charms as you go. However many of us travel with a limited amount of time to see what a destination has to offer. This Insider’s Girona Travel Guide will give you a glimpse of this fabulous city, and suggest some of the top things to do, so you can get to know this romantic and richly cultural city, as well as some trips you can make from the city.
Read any guide about Girona, and within a few sentences, you’re likely to see the words “Call”, “Old Town” and “cobblestones.” While numerous travel writers may paint the picture, the overall ambiance of the old, medieval Jewish quarter is beyond description. Simply wandering along the narrow streets, you can see daily life spilling from the balconies above and from the varied shops lining each tiny alley.
Be ready for some serious walking. Although the locals love fashionable footwear, you’ll be glad to have worn comfortable shoes by the end of a full day. Some streets slope steeply with Girona’s hilly geography. In other areas, steps are carved into the roads. Altogether, the city is designed for pedestrians, and not cars, so you won’t need to hire any transportation.
One must-do activity is as simple as they come: sip a cup of coffee at one of the many Old City cafes. There’s no better way to take in regular, daily life. Plan a break mid-morning and you’ll rub elbows with many locals, who regularly head down to their local café from the office around ten in the morning, for an extra jolt of caffeine in the form of Spain’s excellent torrefacto coffee.
Things To Do
Carrer Ferran el Catòlic, s/n, 17004, Girona
The Banys Àrabs (or “Arabic baths”) are a jewel among Girona’s sights, easily earning their regular place at the top of must-see lists. Just a short walk from the Cathedral, the baths are modeled on Muslim and Roman bathhouses. However, they actually date back to 12th century, Christian-era Girona, and are done in a Romanesque style. As such, the bathhouse is the only one of its kind to be found in medieval Christian Spain. The extensive bathhouse complex features baths with cool and warm water and a kind of sauna, which is warmed by underwater heating elements.
More than a single destination, The Call is a place to explore. The name is the standard Catalan word for a Jewish quarter, and you’ll find similar areas in Barcelona and other towns in Catalonia. However, Girona holds the record for the largest and best-preserved such neighborhood. Wander the alleyways that fork off of Carrer de la Força where the local Jewish population lived until 1492.
To take in sweeping city views, you’ll want to ascend from the intricate maze of city streets and walk the “Passeig Arqueològic” at least once. This walk takes you along the ancient city walls, which now serve as elevated paths around town. Several access points let you climb up for a stroll before heading back down into bustling city life. One good spot to begin your tour is directly opposite the entrance to the Banys Àrabs.
Plaça del Vi
Plaça del Vi, 17004 Girona
In Girona, locals socialise and lead their daily lives in the streets. Instead of holing up in a restaurant or private home, you see people spilling onto terraces whenever the weather permits. The Plaça del Vi is an epicentre of this tradition. A fully-enclosed square, it often serves at the hub of city festivals. If you’re lucky, you can see locals dancing the Sardana here. It’s also a regular destination for protests, as the City Hall abuts this buzzing plaza.
La Universitat i Sant Domènec
Plaça de Sant Domènec, 17004 Girona
Currently serving as the faculty of letters, Girona’s oldest university building is also one of the city’s most stunning examples of Renaissance architecture and among the oldest examples of Gothic buildings in Catalonia. Formerly the Convent of Saint Dominic, the structure was built in the 13th to 14th centuries. Today, you can see students relaxing on its peaceful greens. Don’t miss the façade of Les Àligues, one of the main buildings, for an excellent example of Renaissance architecture.
Basílica de Sant Feliu
Pujada de Sant Feliu, 29, 17004, Girona
Until the 10th century, this Basilica was Girona’s main cathedral and place of worship. Today, it stands as a delicate fusion of architectural styles. Visitors can take in the original Gothic architecture and a distinctly baroque façade, with elements ranging from the 13th through the 18th century. Inside, glimpse early Christian and pagan sarcophagi dating back to the 4th century.
Plaça de la Catedral, s/n, 17004 Girona
Girona’s most celebrated icon, the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral stands majestically on the scenic Plaça de la Catedral. Its features the widest Gothic nave in the world and is the second widest Gothic structure behind St. Peter’s Basilica, overall. Inside, you may view an 11th century Romanesque tapestry as well as various sculptures, paintings and an illuminated manuscript from the 10th century.
Museu d’Història dels Jueus de Girona
Carrer de la Força, 8 17004 Girona
If you fall in love with the mystique and history of The Call neighborhood, make a stop at the Museu d’Història dels Jueus de Girona. Here, various displays showcase Jewish life in Girona through the centuries. For approximately 600 years, until the Inquisition in 1492, a Jewish community thrived in central Girona, the second-largest in Catalonia only to that found in Barcelona. Original documents and artifacts bring history Girona’s Jewish history alive.
Museu del Cinema
Carrer de la Sèquia, 1, 17001 Girona
For lovers of the seventh art, Girona’s film museum is an excellent place to learn about international cinema and enjoy unusual and epic examples of the art form. In addition to a permanent exhibition, a range of changing expositions feature various themes from film history, from Catalan auteurs to international stars and little-known genres.
Museu d’Història de Girona
Carrer de la Força, 27, 17004 Girona
If you want to learn about Girona’s past, this is the place to begin. The museum of Girona history traces the city’s past through a series of engaging exhibits. Featured exhibitions showcase everything from Napoleonic history to the traditional ‘Sardana’, Catalonia’s national dance.
Museu d’Art de Girona
Pujada de la Catedral, 12, 17004 Girona
While many art lovers flock to Barcelona to see masterpieces, Girona’s lesser-known art museum makes for an equally satisfying destination. Plus, you can see great works hailing from the Romanesque to contemporary periods, without any throngs of visitors elbowing toward the paintings. The permanent collection showcases great Catalan artists, from anonymous painters and sculptors of Romanesque works to Santiago Rusiñol and Francesc Vayreda of the 20th century.
Museu-Tresor de la Catedral
Plaça de la Catedral, s/n, 17004 Girona
If you’d like to gawk at the splendid artistry and riches of the Catholic church, don’t skip a stop at the museum that’s now housed within Girona’s cathedral. The cathedral treasury museum houses a famous Creation Tapestry, dating back to the 12th century. Other objects of note include a Beatus manuscript from the 10th century and a Renaissance altarpiece of St. Helena, from the 16th century.
Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants – Museum of Archaeology
Carrer de Santa Llúcia, 8, 17007 Girona
This Benedictine monastery sits right within the old city of Girona. It was originally built in 992 and construction continued through the 12th century, making it a standout example of Catalan Romanesque architecture. Now home to the Museu Arqueològic, the monastery offers many unusual exhibits of relics from the city’s prehistoric and Roman past.
La Devesa Park Girona
Paseo de la Devesa 1 , Girona 17001
La Devesa Park has lots of trees whose roots can be traced back to the 1850s, some of these trees are 55 metres high today. It’s an Asset of National Interest because of its uniqueness, and has a total area of almost 40 hectares. Its home to both foreign and native plants.
Apart from its huge tree population, it also has sunny areas that are used for sports, as well as a picnic area. On Tuesday and Thursday the weekly market takes place there. In the latter part of October, the fair attractions for the festival of the patron saint, San Narciso, are located in the park. The Congress Centre Auditorium and Girona Trade Fair also take place there.
Bloc Ribas Crehuet
Carrer de la Força, 6 17004 Girona
Just beside the Museu d’Història dels Jueus de Girona, a dazzling modernist apartment block makes a great starting point for a route around Girona’s own version of Catalan modernisme. Look for the intricate stone work, featuring a fanciful conch shell.
Passatge de la Farinera Teixidor, 4, 17005 Girona
Make your way to the southwest side of town to take in the architectural majesty of the Farinera Teixidor. Built by Rafael Masó i Valentí in 1910, this building was commissioned by a local guild of weavers, and originally was intended for industrial use. The design was influenced by various architectural figures, including Gaudi and the relatively recently built Secession building in Vienna, Austria.
Carrer de Santa Llúcia, 8, 17007 Girona
The Casa Masó stands as one of Girona’s most celebrated examples of modernist architecture. The home of famed architect Rafael Masó (1880-1935), the house overlooks the River Onyar. Visitors can tour the exquisitely preserved interior, which shows of period pieces and numerous architectural details of interest. Plus, the house now serves as a museum, letting visitors learn about the visionary who lived here.
Casa Texidor (“Casa de la Punxa”)
Carrer Santa Eugènia 19, 17005 Girona
Another example of work by Rafael Masó i Valentí, this apartment complex stands close by the weaving industrial complex. Its most prominent element is a tall, cylindrical tower with a green glass roof. Presently, the building is home to the College of Technical Architects of Girona.
Carrer Santa Eugènia 19, 17005 Girona
Also known as Farmacia Saguer, this modernist pharmacy still operates today. You can see evidence of Rafael Masó i Valentí’s characteristic style in the exterior façade, as well as among a few touches indoors. It’s well-worth taking a gander. Plus, you can pick up a tube of toothpaste or whatever toiletries you’ve forgotten at home, all while taking in modernist architecture.
Where to Sleep
Where to Eat
Mercat del Lleó
Plaça Calvet i Rubalcaba 15, 17002 Girona
The Mercat del Lleó is Girona’s most eye-catching food market, where both locals shop and tourists stand agog. You can see the sheer variety of fresh foods in traditional Catalan cuisine, including gleaming seafood, colorful produce and many local specialties. Marvel at the dozens of varieties of salted cod in one stand and numerous varieties of locally grown olives at the next.
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 07:00 to 13:30, Saturdays and days before holidays 07:00 to 14:00
Rambla de la Llibertat
Rambla de la Llibertat 17004 Girona
Not an enclosed marketplace exactly, the Rambla de la Llibertat is nonetheless Girona’s oldest and still its grandest commercial thoroughfare. If you’re looking to do some shopping, whether for touristy momentoes or authentic, simple items, numerous shops and stands are clustered along the Rambla’s length. Plus, the street is where you can find some of the best local examples of modernism, such as the fanciful façade of the famed Casa Norat.