The historical city of Girona, in the north of Catalonia, is famous for being the location of several scenes of Game of Thrones and of the best restaurant in the world. Savvy travelers come on a day trip from Barcelona and are left enchanted by its history and by the many things to do in Girona which you will find on this list.
Located a mere 35min by high-speed train or 1.5h by car, Girona is as far from Barcelona as a major city in Catalonia can be, yet as mesmerising as the Catalan capital. But don’t take my word for it, dive in and discover what the city has to offer.
- History of Girona
- Things to do in Girona
- See what is left of Roman Gerunda
- Explore Girona’s Jewish Quarter
- Get lost in the alleys of Forca Vella, Old Girona
- Walk the Medieval walls of Girona
- Admire the architectural feat that Girona Cathedral is
- Cross the River Onyar on Eiffel’s bridge
- Photograph the hanging houses
- Have a xuixo
- Marvel at the Church of Sant Feliu
- Trace Girona’s tales and legends: Saints, flies and lions
- Visit Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery now the archeology museum
- Visit the Arab baths
- Stroll along La Rambla to spot Modernist buildings
- Eat at the best restaurant in the world
- Enjoy a Michelin-starred ice cream
- Follow in the footsteps of Game of Thrones
- See the city flower at Temps de flors
- One day in Girona itinerary
- Hotels in Girona
- How to get to Girona from Barcelona
History of Girona
The name of Girona was first coined in the 8th century BC in Roman mythology to refer to a God called Gerio that had three heads and got into a fight near today’s Girona.
Either because of this God or for other reasons, the Roman city of Gerunda is thought to have been founded in the 1st century AC as a strategic enclave from where the trading routes into the peninsula could be controlled and where the start of the Via Augusta in Spain could be protected.
It is because of this military purpose that the Roman city had a peculiar triangular shape and was inland. Despite being far from the sea, it was easily connected to the Greek and Roman port of Empuries, the first maritime Roman port in Spain, from where products could be traded with the rest of the Mediterranean.
Via Augusta was the road that connected the entire coastal Iberian Peninsula with the capital of the Roman Empire, Rome, through a 1,300km long road that had inns and villages all along the way to welcome the troops or traders who used it.
Not much is left from Roman Girona but the Medieval city was built in the same place, around the same Via Augusta which ran along today’s Carrer Forca. The Roman temple of Gerunda should have been where the Cathedral is today.
Christianity arrived in Girona in the 4th century AC and this is when the city’s most well-known Saint, Sant Feliu (Saint Felix), died at the hands of the Roman Empire that was trying to control the spread of the religion. He is the city’s only martyr and has a basilica devoted to him.
As the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century, Girona and the rest of Catalonia, fell under the Visigoths who had disembarked in the peninsula through Tarragona.
These ruled the area until the expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate conquered most of Spain and the majority of Catalonia. The Iberan Peninsula was established as Al-Andalus from the beginning of the 8th century.
Girona represented the border between Al-Andalus and the Carolingian Empire for seven decades until it was handed over to the French, at which point it became part of the French Empire on the other side of the border.
Catalonia, and Girona, were part of Al-Andalus for a short period of time, which is why the Islamic influence in the region is minimal when compared to other parts of Spain such as Andalusia (which conserved the name) where the Caliphate ruled for seven centuries.
During Medieval times, the city expanded and thrived at the hands of the Count of Girona, a title that eventually became hereditarian. Many different counts governed an area that extended for 2,000 square kilometers from the Pyrenees to the sea, until the end of the 9th century when Wilfred The Hairy merged both Girona and Barcelona Counties.
From then on, the County was annexed to that of Barcelona and in the 14th century, the title of Count of Girona was elevated to the category of Duke and finally to a Prince when Girona became a Principality (like Andorra or Monaco). Today’s King Felipe of Spain still maintains the title of Prince of Girona which he decided to take possession of in 1990.
After the Inquisition and expulsion of all Jews and Muslims at the end of the 15th century from the Spanish Empire, Girona lost its important Jewish community which was a financial motor for the city.
In modern times, Girona followed the same history as the rest of Catalonia. With the merging of the Crowns of Aragon and Castilla and the birth of the Catholic Monarchy, many wars came. Girona’s proximity to France made it a first defense point for any incursions.
The city fought against Napoleonic troops and many others. Catalonia lost its rights in 1714 in the War of Succession and since then has seen itself centralized by Castilla. The Catalan language was forbidden and the Catalan institutions abolished.
The city continued to grow and develop in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. From this era are the stairs and facades of the Cathedral and the Church of Saint Feliu. The city walls expanded and were fortified through the centuries, some parts were also demolished.
The original Roman walls had expanded before and continued to do so on the other side of the River Onyer to help protect the city from invaders.
During the 20th century Spanish Civil War, Girona was sieged and finally conquered in 1939, as the rest of Catalonia fell to Franco’s troops.
Today, Girona is a booming city that sees a stream of visitors coming to explore its many tourist attractions. Since the late 1990s, convenient and very affordable low-cost flights from companies such as Ryanair or Easyjet brought thousands of visitors to an otherwise sleepy city using Girona Airport as a base.
At first, tourists arrived with the purpose to leave and go down to Barcelona. But little by little, the many things to do in Girona have become more well known and productions like Game of Thrones, which was filmed on-site, brought a renewed spotlight to the city.
When looking at how long to spend exploring the city, think about what to do in Girona from the list below and decide accordingly. I spent two days, but lots of people come for a day only and get a good feel for the city. It helps that high speed trains that connect Girona with Barcelona provide a quick 35min journey.
Things to do in Girona
Most of the things to do in Girona are within the old city and surroundings where the majority of the streets are pedestrian and closed off from cars, this makes it a very walkable and easy to explore city.
Even if you only have one day, you can see most of the places to visit in Girona, which is why it makes for such a great day trip from Barcelona.
While below you will find detailed information about each of the tourist attractions in Girona and you can simply visit independently, I highly recommend booking a walking tour. It is what I did and I am very happy that I started the day with a guide and then continued on my own.
This is particularly interesting if you want to learn more about the Jewish Quarter, perhaps the most unique part of Girona, because there isn’t anything per se to see, and there are no signs to follow, the story lies with the small details that hide in plain sight.
What is more, Girona is a city filled with legends, tales and myths that are present across the city. Why are souvenirs with flies sold everywhere? Why is Saint Felix so important? Why is this sugary creamy pastry everywhere?
Only a Catalan can share some of the insights and only a local Gironi can tell you the stories that make Girona so fascinating. You will not find those in any of the other online articles about things to do in Girona (I checked!).
Go on a walking tour, you won’t regret it. These are the best walking tours of Girona.
See what is left of Roman Gerunda
As I mentioned above, Girona was part of the Roman Empire and Gerunda was an important stop along the Via Augusta. Although there is not a lot of the Roman city left, there are a couple of elements you can still see and make for a cool thing to do in Girona.
Cross the small arch called Sobreportes (side note: the arch is called Sobreportes, above the doors, because it was above the Roman city wall doors) that is on your left when you stand at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Cathedral and look at the wall stones.
You will see the bottom part of the wall is very old, this is because they were part of the original Roman walls of Gerunda. What is even more fascinating is to look closer and see the shells that are ingrained in the sandstone blocks, proof the area was covered by the ocean millennia ago.
Explore Girona’s Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter of Girona is one of the most popular and beautiful parts of Girona. It is also one of the oldest and best-preserved Jewish Quarters in Europe and one which can still be discovered today.
Although no specific documents with dates have been kept, experts agree that the first 25 Jewish families to have arrived in Girona did so at the beginning of the 10th century and stayed until the Spanish Inquisition expelled all non-Christians from Spain in 1492.
During these five centuries, the Jewish community first lived mixed in with the Catholic one and later on moved to one side of the Roman Via Augusta in what became the Jewish Quarter or, in Catalan, El Call.
At its peak, those first 25 Jewish families grew to almost 800 people and took on various jobs within the community and the city. As providing credit and charging interest (usury) was against the Catholic beliefs, Jews became wealthy through lending but their activity was heavily regulated by the Crown.
While the communities lived in harmony for two centuries, from the 13th century onwards, Jews in Girona lived in a constant contradiction between the anti-Jewish rules set by the Church, who was already on a crusade to expel non-Christians, and the protection from the Crown of Aragon who wanted the financial contributions that these savvy businessmen made as direct serfs but were bound by the requests of the Church.
The tensions between the Jewish and Christian communities in Girona escalated from the mid 13th-century culminating in waves of attacks that happened every few years.
The Crown continued to defend them, for they needed the financial resources to finance recurrent wars, but the Church and the local population despised them.
Progressively, the Church eroded the rights of the Jewish community who were increasingly marginalized. With every attack, many converted to Christianity, others fled.
As a result, the Jewish Quarter diminished in size during the 15th century until the Catholic Monarchs eventually declared the expulsion of all Jews from their territories in 1492. You either converted or had to leave.
In Girona, this decree was implemented peacefully and the last Jewish families were given the chance to sell their houses and leave without the intervention of The Inquisition.
After their departure, the Jewish Quarter merged again with the rest of the city, the mansions were occupied by Christians (but maintained) and the streets and windows that were previously closed off reopened.
If you wander around the quarter and know where to look you will be able to recognize some elements, such as the stone holes to place a mezuzah by the entrance to every Jewish house. Some of them are still where they once were, others were moved when the stones were reused in another house.
I highly recommend booking a tour to explore the Jewish Quarter with a guided visit to the Jewish Museum to understand this unique part of Girona’s history. If you join any of the walking tours of the city, you will also be guided through El Call and can visit the museum independently after.
As a reminder, these are the best walking tours of Girona, all of them, except for the GOT tour, include the Jewish Quarter.
Get lost in the alleys of Forca Vella, Old Girona
One of the best things to do in Girona is simply walk around its narrow streets. The old city, known as Forca Vella, or old fortress, since the 15th century, is all pedestrian, cobblestoned and quaint.
You will find a myriad of narrow lanes making for photogenic stops. Climb up stone stairs, get into souvenir shops to discover some of the city’s tales, and look up. Take a peek inside the houses and you will discover the traditional Jewish or Medieval house with their internal courtyards, grand stone staircases and arched porches.
Walk the Medieval walls of Girona
The city walls are another important place to see in Girona. Not only are the walls interesting in themselves, but they also provide a great viewpoint from where to admire the city below.
Girona is set at either side of the River Onyar and the River Ter and is also on a hill which is why there are so many stairs everywhere. If you walk along the perimeter of the walls you will have fantastic views.
There are several entry points to the walls but I recommend that you walk the length by starting at either behind the Cathedral or the Jardins de la Muralla (Gardens of the wall). You can also get off the wall at a few points along the way if you have had enough.
Stop for photos or climb one of the many towers and bastions. Do not miss the garden area around the university, near the Cathedral, which has many benches and resting stops which make for a nice break.
If you still want to see more, there is a hidden and absolutely unknown part of the walls of Girona that even locals don’t know about, as our guide confessed. Luckily, she showed them to us and they are the perfect spot to photograph the monastery.
Standing at the entrance to the Monestir de Galligants, look left and walk 50m until you will see a set of stairs that goes up to the wall. You can continue walking or just admire the view from here.
Admire the architectural feat that Girona Cathedral is
The Cathedral of Girona has the second widest nave in the world after The Vatican, measuring 23m, and as soon as you walk in you will be left speechless by its size.
The current cathedral was finished at the beginning of the 17th century despite construction starting in the 14th century. You may wonder how, at the time, they were able to build something this large without the engineering knowledge and machinery we have today.
Pro tip: There are four models of the Cathedral behind the organ which show how the building evolved through the centuries.
The original Cathedral was built between the 11th and 13th centuries and was Romanesque. Today’s Cathedral is a mix of styles, from the Romanesque cloisters to the imposing three-level Baroque facade. The stairs were built along with the facade in the 17th century and were featured in Game of Thrones, although in the show they lead to the sea which is about 50km away.
The belltower was not added until the 18th century and towers above the building at 67 meters. At the very top there is a copper angel statue. The oldest bell, the one that marks the hours, dates from the end of the 16th century.
The Cathedral is not only important as a building or a religious structure, it is also where the museum of the Cathedral is located, a must see in Girona.
The Museum offers audio guides for a small amount, I highly recommend you get it, and you should not leave without checking out the Tapestry of Creation, one of the longest surviving pieces of fabric from the time which is a beautiful design.
The Romanesque tapestry is embroidered on linen and unfinished but dates from the end of the 11th century or beginning of the 12th century and measures 3.6m by 4.7m, making it a unique piece of art.
After years of neglect by the monks that didn’t think anything of it and used it as a carpet in the belltower cell, its importance and value was discovered in the mid-20th century and restored in 1952.
Look at the center of the tapestry for the image of the Creation, hence the name, and then note the level of detail of the images around it. Experts think this was a very common object at the time, used as a decorative element on church walls, but the fact that it has survived is what makes it particularly valuable.
Besides the museum, there are other interesting elements in Girona’s Cathedral. One of them is the sepulchre of Ermessenda of Carcassonne who was buried here and is on display in one of the chapels.
She was the wife of Ramon Borrell, mother of Berenguer Ramon and grandmother of Ramon Berenguer, three of the most important Counts of Barcelona in the 11th century, and she had a very strong influence over all three, ruling by their side when they were still young.
The sepulchre is not only important in of itself (although it does have historical value) but because it is one of the first places where the Catalan Senyera (flag) was displayed. Look for the four red bars over golden background that represented the shield of the Count of Barcelona, head of the Catalan Empire.
This flag, that still remains the flag of Catalonia, was given by the Pope in the 11th century and became the flag of the Crown of Aragon when the lineage of the Count of Barcelona died in 1410 and then the flag of the Empire of Aragon that extended from Sicily to Naples, Sardenia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Aragon.
Take a look at the gold, silver and enamel altarpiece which dates from the 14th century and is a real gem. You won’t be able to get very close to it because the altar is fenced off but can admire its detail from the sides.
Look for the chapel devoted to Saint Narcissus, Patron Saint of Girona, who is the main character of one of the city’s most famous legends. Looking out for flies is one of the most fun things to do in Girona and this is where you can see the protagonist of this tale.
Legend has it that Saint Narcissus saved Girona from the attack by the troops of Felip III from France. When the soldiers reached the city, they sacked the Basilica of Saint Felix and the Saint Narcissus tomb. Angry, he decided to release thousands of large flies from his tomb who attacked and killed the soldiers and their horses, including the King himself.
After visiting the main areas of the Cathedral, have a look at the 12th century cloister, one of the oldest parts of Girona’s Cathedral.
Don’t leave the Cathedral without walking around the building (outside) to the back, where the abscess is. From the main entrance at the top of the stairs, go to the right where the Apostles Gate is. This 14th century entrance was left unfinished only to be completed in 1975, but is of great beauty.
Continue along the abscess and you will have a privileged view of the buttresses. Because of the location of the building, on a hill, the street level is above so you can admire the buttresses at eye level.
Around the abscess you will find the Tower of Carlemany, the other Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral. It is on this tower where you can find a human gargoyle. These are pretty rare as gargoyles are usually fantastical, and this one in particular is tied to a local legend.
It is said that the figure represents a local witch. The female figure is holding a papyrus and wears a dress. Legend has it that the witch despised the church and either on marked occasions (e.g. Easter) or at random times, she would throw stones at the church or the processions.
One day, because of divine intervention, she was turned into stone and hanged from the side of the Cathedral from where she would no longer be able to throw insults but only clear rain water.
Cross the River Onyar on Eiffel’s bridge
Did you know that Mr. Eiffel, the one who built the famous eponymous tower in Paris, built a bridge in Girona just 13 years earlier?
That is right, the famous landmark which has become one of the top things to do in Girona was built by Gustave Eiffel’s company Eiffel & Cia. If you pay attention to its design, and not to the beautiful hanging houses, you will notice it follows the same iron mesh structure.
The bridge’s official name is the Old Fishmonger’s Bridge, not Eiffel’s Bridge, because this is where the fresh fish used to be sold.
When it was finished in 1877, it was called Iron bridge, in contrast with all the other bridges in Girona which were made of stone, but the name did not stick so the population reverted to the original name.
The current bridge stands where many have tried to be before. Every year, the river floods damaged the wooden bridges which had to be renovated or rebuilt dozens of times since 1733 until this one finally stood.
Not without several renovations either. River Onyar has the tendency to run huge amounts of water overflowing and destroying any river that tries to link La Rambla de la Llibertat with the other side.
The bridge was last renovated in 2008 when its stability was tested. During Christmas, it is nicely lit with twinkling lights which is a nice touch.
As an added curiosity, it is worth mentioning that this was not the only bridge that Eiffel built in Girona, he designed seven more which were used as train crossings.
Photograph the hanging houses
Either from the Eiffel Bridge or from any of the other viewpoints, the hanging houses over the River Onyar are one of the most characteristic landmarks of the city and probably the number one thing to see in Girona.
These houses seem to be floating over the water and a part of them hangs. They were built along the former city wall that used to run the length of the river along Argenteria and La Rambla and they are considered a National Heritage of Catalonia.
However, did you know these houses were not originally painted these pastel shades of yellow, orange and red?
It is said that the Mayor visited Florence and was inspired by the houses there so he decided to do the same. The color palette came about in 1982.
Homeowners can pick a color from a range and paint their facades accordingly. If you pay attention you will notice that not the entire facade is painted in the same color, sometimes, the ground floor belongs to an individual and the top floor to another, each decided their own color.
After years of neglect, the houses had deteriorated significantly and the Catalan government, La Generalitat, financed a project to renovate them in 2010.
Pro tip: All these houses are privately owned homes except for Casa Maso, no.29 on Carrer Ballesteries which belonged to Rafael Maso, a famous architect and can be visited. You can identify it from the river side because it is the only one painted white. Since 2006, the building belongs to Foundacio Maso.
Have a xuixo
Xuixos are a typical breakfast pastry that originated in Girona. My grandfather used to love them and we would always bring him one on Sundays as a treat.
The pastry was invented by a French pastry maker who worked at Bakery Puig by Emili Puig Burch in Girona at the end of the 19th century. Little is known about the Frenchman, some say he was escaping the wars with France, others that he was a wanderer.
In 2018, xuixos turned 100 and so Girona City Council organised events all year round to commemorate their sweetest son in the Year of Xuixo.
But what are xuixos?
They are deep-fried, cylindrical and sugared pastries with a typical Catalan cream filling. The result is total indulgence. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, many pastry shops and bakeries also sell them in smaller sizes.
You will find xuixos everywhere in Girona (and in Catalonia) but the original bakery no longer exists. A place which was recommended to me by pretty much every Gironi I asked is Casa Moner which has several branches in the city, including one very near the Eiffel Bridge.
Pro tip: If you are visiting La Garrotxa after Girona, the best xuixo in the world is in Banyoles!
Marvel at the Church of Sant Feliu
Sant Feliu is the city’s first Saint and a beloved one. So an impressive church was built in his honor very near the Cathedral. This church can be visited during opening times and is interesting because of the sarcophagus found inside.
Look out for the eight of them you will find on the presbyterium. Experts believe these were rescued from the necropolis that existed at the location before the church was built. The oldest of them dates from the 2nd century AD and the most modern from the 5th century AD.
Seven out of the eight were made in Rome with high-quality marble and transported here and the majority have religious Christian representations which indicate Christianity survived through the centuries and was followed by the wealthy.
Trace Girona’s tales and legends: Saints, flies and lions
I already told you about the flies when we were discussing the Cathedral’s history, but this is just one of the many legends that fill the streets of this city. As my local friends say, “Gironins really like a good legend” and going hunting for them is one of the great things to do in Girona.
If you want to actually see some of the flies, beyond the souvenir fridge magnets, there is a specific spot where locals paid homage to this insect. Go to Carrer de les Mosques (flies street) and you will see the corner of a pink house that has several stone sculptures of flies. You can touch them if you wish.
Nearby, is a statue of Saint Narcissus food and footstep, as he ran away from prosecution. Only note the footstep is the other way as he used this to distract those following him. You can also touch it and ask for a wish.
Perhaps the one legend most tourists have heard about, and the one you probably read from all other blog posts and articles, is the one about the lionese’s butt. This tiny statue of a liones placed on top of a flight of metal stairs is a popular spot for a photo.
The story goes that, when Girona’s walls were still up, this spot where the statue is was just outside one of the city’s doors. At night, when the city closed its doors off to anyone outside, those who didn’t make it on time had to sleep in the open.
But people devised a way for locals to be given an entrance in by letting the guard know they were from Girona and were not foreigners. The guard, who lived by the gate, would know you were a Gironi if you kissed the liones’s butt.
Today, kissing her has become a gesture to ensure your return to the city so it is typical to see tourists queueing up to do so.
Visit Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery now the archeology museum
The 12th century Benedictine monastery and cloister of Sant Pere de Galligants is located in the middle of the city, and is a unique Romanesque building in Girona.
It is not only peculiar for such a religious building to be found so close to the city center (monasteries are usually far from civilisation) but it is also one of a kind for its asymmetrical structure.
If you enter from the main facade you will immediately notice the square look but you probably won’t realise what lies behind. Inside is a large church with an attached cloister, both of which can be visited with a ticket for the museum.
There is a stone replica of the rose window in one of the side abscesses where you can see it in more detail.
Don’t forget to take a look at the octagonal bell tower which you can see if you walk around the building and to the back.
Since the middle of the 19th century, when the monastery was confiscated from the Church during the Amortizaciones de Mendizábal, the building has been an archeology museum changing hands from national to regional institutions.
In 1992, it became the local branch of the Archeology Museum of Catalunya and hosts archeological finds from the province of Girona including mosaics from Empuries. You can find the results of excavations dating back to Iberian times.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan you might recognise the river that runs parallel to the monastery walls, it was featured in one of the scenes in Season 6.
Visit the Arab baths
The 12th century Banys Àrabs de Girona (Girona’s Arab Baths) were originally the public baths of the city, but they were not Arab. They were rebuilt in the 13th century by King James II and later owned by the personal physician of Peter III.
It appears that the casual nickname is the result of the artistic influences shown, particularly in the first room, which remind one of Mudejar buildings in other parts of Spain.
Owning the baths was a lucrative business as they were used by all members of society, from the poorest to the royals, from Christians to Muslims and Jews who also used them as a mikvah (ritual baths), and these were the only baths in the city.
Eventually, in the 17th century, when the tradition of public baths declined, they were finally bought by Capuchin nuns who turned them into their convent.
Because they were hidden inside the convent, the existence of the baths was lost, until foreign explorers discovered their beauty and this prompted their restoration.
The nuns lived in the baths until they were purchased by the local council in 1929 and restored for visitors. The restoration efforts were carried out by Puig i Cadafalch, the same Modernist architect who built La Casa de les Punxes.
The baths were featured in one of the scenes of Game of Thrones. You can go in with a ticket which costs only 2 EUR and explore them on your own. Like other public baths, there were three rooms, each with a varying temperature and kept hot with heat from under the ground.
As you enter, the first room you will find is the changing room which has a pretty octagonal pool with columns. Next are the three bathing rooms, starting with the coldest and moving into the warmest or Caldarium which could reach up to 50 degree heats. Bathers would start in the warmest room and end in the coldest.
Stroll along La Rambla to spot Modernist buildings
Another Rambla in Girona you ask?
Yes, that is right, there is also a street called La Rambla here, in fact, it’s called Rambla de la Llibertat and runs along the river Onyar.
There is a Rambla pretty much in every big city in Catalonia, the word simply refers to a pedestrian street that is usually lined with shops and trees, has benches for a break and is frequented by the locals who like to take a stroll.
You can come to La Rambla de la Llibertat on the weekends to buy fresh flowers from the stalls or to enjoy a nice vermouth at one of the terraces. This is a place to people-watch and share a drink with friends.
La Rambla de la Llibertat has its origins in the 13th century and it is here where the market of Girona used to take place. The street was inscribed as a place of architectural interest in Catalonia and has lower level arcades.
But don’t forget to look up, some of the facades and buildings, such as Casa Norat, were designed following Modernist style.
Eat at the best restaurant in the world
Girona is well known for having some of the best restaurants in the world. The province of the same name, has several 3 Michelin star restaurants and for many years, it was home to the Best Restaurant in the World, elBulli which held the top spot for five years until it closed down in 2010.
Getting a reservation at El Celler de Can Roca is practically impossible. The restaurant opens online bookings and gets completely booked out for the year within minutes.
If you are interested to learn more, Netflix has a documentary series on some of the best chefs called Chef’s Table with an episode devoted to one of the brothers, pastry chef Jordi Roca.
Enjoy a Michelin-starred ice cream
Since you will not be able to eat at El Celler de Can Roca, the closest you probably can get to their wonderful creations is an ice cream from Rocambolesc.
The name of the store is a play on words on the three brothers’ surname, Roca (rock) and a Catalan word that means complicated, complex or surreal. And the flavors of some of their creations do indeed sometimes feel a bit like that.
If you don’t make it to the ice cream (maybe you already stuffed your face with a xuixo) fret not, Rocambolesc has a store in La Rambla in Barcelona.
Follow in the footsteps of Game of Thrones
You have seen me mention several scenes from Game of Thrones taking place in Girona. The show has no doubt brought many fans to Girona who want to relive the main scenes shot here during season 6.
As you are covering some of the things to do in Girona on this list, you may find people reenacting the Walk of Shame or taking pictures dressed up in what is the City of Braavos in the show.
But before you get too excited, you should know that there are several scenes that took place here, but that they were all enhanced by effects which made the city look quite different from what it is.
The most well-known scene takes place on the stairs of the Cathedral which in the show are the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing and lead to the sea. In real life, they face a building.
The cobblestone streets around the Old Town are used in several scenes in the season and the bridge that connects Sant Pere de Galligants with the city is where Arya is stabbed.
If you go down there you will see that the stream running under the bridge is mostly dry except for days of heavy rain. The scene itself where she is in the water was shot in Ireland.
As mentioned before, The Arab Baths were used in the show too, and in this case there was little deception.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, there are many tours you can take which will show you the locations as you explore Girona’s past. Here are my top picks:
- In-depth small group walking tour of Game of Thrones locations and Girona.
- Express small group walking tour of Game of Thrones locations.
- Private Game of Thrones tour.
- If you are in Barcelona, take a tour of Girona and Game of Thrones locations.
See the city flower at Temps de flors
Girona is most beautiful during the annual festival Temps de Flors when the entire city is covered in flowers and decorated beautifully. The festival takes place during the second week of May every year and lasts for a week.
You will find businesses and major landmarks in Girona fully decked with flowers and the streets full of people. If you plan to visit at this time of the year, make sure to book very early.
One day in Girona itinerary
Most people come to Girona on a day trip from Barcelona so I wanted to provide a good one day itinerary with a proposed schedule.
As always, remember that you can also simply book a group tour from Barcelona which will take you to Girona and back without having to organise anything on your own. Here are our handpicked day tours:
- Small group Girona half day tour with pick-up
- Girona and Costa Brava full day tour with pick up
- Girona and Costa Brava full day tour starting at meet-up point
- Girona and Figueres full day tour (incl. Dali Museum)
- Girona and Dali Museum full day tour (without the rest of Figueres)
8am get the high speed train from Barcelona Sants
Get one of the early high-speed trains that depart Barcelona at around 8:20am and arrive just before 9am. The high speed train station in Girona is about 15-20min from the old town so bear that in mind.
Make sure to buy the right train ticket with either Avant, Ave or Euromed trains and not the Regional trains which can take over 1.5h to make it to Girona (and are regularly cancelled or delayed).
You will know that you are buying the right one because of the train type (AVANT, AVE or EUROMED) and because of the journey duration (38 or 39 minutes).
Have a look at the How to get to Girona section below for details on buying the train ticket. I recommend you buy the ticket from the official RENFE website and not from the many other sites that are reselling them.
9:30 am Xuixu breakfast
You can’t start a day in Girona without recharging with a sweet decadent xuixu at Casa Monet. Grab a coffee too and get ready for an amazing day in Girona.
10:30am walking tour of Girona Old Town
Book this complete 3h walking tour that will take you all around the old town and give you insights into the Jewish Quarter, the Cathedral, the Eiffel bridge and the city walls.
1:30pm Lunch at Placa de la Independencia
This quaint porticoed square in the heart of Girona has many restaurants that are perfect for people-watching. Remember, all restaurants in Spain have set lunch menus that usually cost between 10 and 15 EUR and make for a yum and quick lunch. Take a walk around the square and look for the menu that you like most.
3pm Visit the Arab Baths
These medieval public baths turned nunnery are an insightful view into the past. Buy a ticket at the entrance and explore with our above guide.
3:30pm Sant Pere de Galligants
The only main monument you have left now is the monastery turned archeology museum of Sant Pere de Galligants. Get your ticket at the entrance and explore the finds following the exhibits and explanations. Make sure to get out into the cloister.
4:30pm Take a final tour
Walk up towards Carrer Forca and have one final look around the old city, photograph the many picturesque alleys, maybe do some souvenir shopping.
Make sure to enter into Sant Feliu Church and don’t miss the remains of the Roman walls of the city under the Sobreporta arch.
5:30pm Have an ice cream
You’ve earned it! Head out to Rocambolesc for a unique ice cream which you can enjoy on your way to the train station. Walk there through La Rambla and take the 6ish train back (there are usually two trains between 6 and 7pm).
Hotels in Girona
Girona is not a very big city and truth be told, there are not that many hotels which is why everyone agrees on which ones are the best. There is not a single 5* hotel in the city, but there are a few quaint and nice options that make for great places to base yourself.
- Hotel Nord 1901. This 4 star hotel is where I stayed, as did the entire crew of Game of Thrones. The hotel is nice and has spacious rooms but the best part is the courtyard pool and the art that decorates the common areas. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the location cannot be better, walking distance from everywhere. The hotel has a parking lot 2min walk away. See more pictures and availability here.
- Hotel Historic. Located in the old part of the city, this family-run historic hotel includes some of the original walls and has a rustic charming feel to it, mere minutes from the main things to do in Girona. They also have apartments for longer stays. See more pictures and availability here.
- Hotel Ciutat de Girona. Located right next to Hotel Nord 1901 it has a nice restaurant on the ground floor and cozy rooms. There is also a spa and thermal area indoors. Great location. See more pictures and availability here.
- Hotel Museu Llegendes de Girona. The hotel with the flies and the rest of the references to Girona’s myths and legends has a modern rustic feel to it. Great location in the old part of the city, a couple of minutes from the Cathedral. See more pictures and availability here.
How to get to Girona from Barcelona
Girona is a very well-connected city that can be reached by bus, road, train and plane.
Flights to Girona
Girona can be reached by plane with direct flights from several European cities. Since Ryanair started flying to the tiny airport in Girona more than 20 years ago, offering a very affordable rate to get to Barcelona, the city has become a great European break.
Girona Airport is located about 20min from the city and connected by bus.
Driving to Girona
Many visitors to Catalonia spend a few days exploring Girona, Costa Brava and La Garrotxa by car. I have visited the area multiple times, ever since I was a kid, when La Garrotxa was a typical school trip.
Girona is located about 45min from Besalu, 45min from the beaches of Palamos and 1.5h from Barcelona by car.
If you are driving from Barcelona, bear in mind that the tolls are ridiculously expensive. You will spend 20 EUR each way to get to Girona using the AP7 highway (there is a single toll that costs 11 EUR!).
If you want to avoid them and take the national roads, the journey will be significantly longer because you will have to cross a few villages. Driving from Barcelona is definitely not a cost-effective measure unless you are in a group of 4-5 people.
High-speed train to Girona
Since the last few years, Girona can be reached on the Spanish high-speed trains. This has cut the travel time from Barcelona to Girona to 38-39min and made the city the perfect day trip from Barcelona.
Tickets for the high-speed train can be bought in advance here or you can get them at the station. Things to bear in mind:
- The high-speed trains covering the route from Barcelona to Girona are called AVANT, AVE or EUROMED (depending on where they started the journey). These are the long distance trains and will go straight from Barcelona to Girona without making any stops.
- Make sure NOT to get a ticket for the regular regional trains because they can take over 1.5h to reach Girona and will waste your day. You will know you are buying the right one by the train’s name and by the journey duration.
- If you are going to spend a few days in Girona, you can bring your luggage onboard at no extra charge.
- The trains depart on time and you need to be at Sants station 15min before. Seats are numbered so if you are traveling with someone you should buy them together.
- There is about 1 train per hour, sometimes two (one AVANT one EUROMED) and sometimes (middle of the day) none. Make sure to check the timetable before planning your day.
Visiting Girona on a tour
One of the most popular ways to visit Girona is on a group tour. Not only does this give you insight into the city through the explanations of a guide, but it is also a very efficient way to discover the city.
Here are the best tours from Barcelona:
- Small group Girona half day tour with pick-up
- Girona and Costa Brava full day tour with pick up
- Girona and Costa Brava full day tour starting at meet-up point
- Girona and Figueres full day tour (incl. Dali Museum)
- Girona and Dali Museum full day tour (without the rest of Figueres)
This would make a great addition to your travel boards!
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
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- I find all of my flights on KAYAK. Check their Deals section too.
- Search for all your transportation between destinations on the trusted travel booking platform Bookaway.
- I book all my day trips and tours via GetYourGuide, they are the best and their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- Get USD35 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Compare hotels EVERYWHERE at HotelsCombined and book with Booking.com. Or swap your home with Love Home.
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