Girona, one of the most spectacular places that is somewhat overlooked by brits when they come to this province. Most of us are drawn somewhat to the various luxurious spots of the Costa Brava, and rarely venture inland that much. Girona’s popularity however, has been slowly changing, and not just because of Game of Thrones. There is so much more to offer in this small but historical city, and what you’ve seen on TV leave more questions than answers. Let’s look a little more into this picturesque Catalan capital.
Girona is the easternmost provincial capital in Spain and the smallest of the 4 Catalan capitals and is quite easy to get to given that it is only 80km from Barcelona. You are just 45 mins or so from the beach and a little over an hour from the high Pyrenees. France is accessible by AVE, bus and even local Rodalies (R11) and Cercanias (RG1) services. Girona also has an airport which has regular flights to London, though flights are very irregular during the winter, so it’s normal for many visitors to fly to Barcelona and connect. The only downside to the location of Girona, is that it quite a long trip if you are travelling to/ from most of the rest of the country, so the journey may be a long one.
The seasons of Girona are a bit more distinct and not as extreme as other parts of Catalonia. Winters are quite cold, but not extreme (though it will be cold at night), and summers are hot, but rarely sweltering, and for a location that is inland, that’s quite rare in Spain. Occasionally one might need to be aware of the Tramuntana wind that often affects the Costa Brava and occasionally may affect Girona. The geographic location of this city is also favourable for anyone staying, as it’s not far from other places with distinctly different climates. Like most places in Catalonia, Girona has wetter springs and autumns, so be realistic when packing your suitcase.
It’s very easy to distinguish your whereabouts in Girona, and the easiest way to tell is via the Riu Onyar. The old part is to the east and the newer part to the west, though parts of the old part spill over a few blocks to the west side as well in the north. It kinda works the same way with shopping but the other way round. Most of the high street names are on the west side, but many spill over on the east side, mostly on Rambla de Llibertat and connecting streets. But starting on the Rambla is where you are going to connect to most of the iconic sights Girona has to Offer.
The most iconic areas are located in the El Call/ Barri Vell part, which is the oldest, and the iconic cathedral steps are usually the first port of call, and from there you are spoilt for choice on where to visit next. All I can say is that this part can get quite crowded, so avoid it at midday or early evening. I continued round the back of the cathedral and took a walk on the muralla, which gave amazing views of the city and surrounding countryside. This also separates the urban area from the suburban districts that allow you to enjoy more tranquil sights such as the Monestir de Sant Daniel or the Castell de Montjuic. Some hiking routes from the city can take you to some of the hilltops in that area as well which would take only an hour or so from the muralla.
The Old quarter itself has a lot of heavily built up narrow streets which often have tunnels or arches running through them, and you will find evidence of moorish influence such as the banys arabs, and jewish architecture, a stones throw away from the Altstadt viewpoint near the cathedral. It’s also worth checking out the basilica se Sant Felix, often mistaken for the cathedral on the banks of the Onyar, and the Monesterio de San Pedro de Galligants. Popular museums include the Museo de La Historia de Girona, the Museo de la Historia de los Judios, and The Fundació Rafael Masó. The Riu Galligants also has some impressive trails for hiking starting from the old quarter.
The most impressive part of Girona for me is the River Onyar itself, with buildings in various colours pratically hanging off the edge. There are numerous bridges crossing over into the densely packed houses, many of which tunnel through them to reach an adjacent street. It is a very romantic setting, and one of the most famous would be the Pont de les Peixateries Velles. Weirdly, you cannot walk along the banks of the river, but a number of shops and restaurants may overlook it and give you a unique perspective. The views of the river from pretty much any bridge were one of the highlights of my time there.
Eating out in Girona can be a special experience if you find the right places. Some parts of the Barri Vell offer a variety of places that often cater for tourists. The better spots in my opinion, are further north of the city, and I had dinner in a great Pintxos bar on the river, but the other side of the Barri Vell called Xibarri, and the Plaça de la Independencia has a number of bars and reastaurants that make it a popular area especially at night. There are not many dishes that stand out that are really emblematic exclusively to Girona, but dishes like mar y muntanya, souquet, and escudella de pages are the ones I noticed quite a lot, and They all taste great. given it’s location between the mountains and the sea, dishes that often satisfy any fancy is usually plentiful. If you want something from the mountains, its there. If you want something from the sea, it’s there. If you want both, try the mar y muntanya.
The people in Girona may appear have a traditional take on things, but they celebrate a party just as well as anywhere else in Catalonia, just a little bit later than the rest. Sant Narcis is patron saint of the city and celebrated on the 29th October, which is one of the biggest events of the year, and compared to the other celebrated saints of the other Catalan Capitals, this is held a month later. Other than Semana Santa and Sant Joan, the Temps de Flors flower festival celebrated towards the end of May is a more recent fesitival that has grown in popularity, though it isn’t exclusively a Girones thing.
The people of Girona, like in most of Catalonia, will principally speak Catalan to you should you interact with anybody from there. But many will immediately switch to Spanish if they identify you as not a Catalan speaker. You may find that in the Barri Vell that some establishments may speak English as there are more tourists there. If you happen to know any Catalan it’ll go a long way, especially as Girona is one of the most important cities of the language and it’s accent is considered one of the most stereotypical. They love speaking it, and may love you a lot more if you can too.
Accommodation in Girona is quite abundant in all parts of the city, and it is often cheaper to stay here compared to a seaside town during the summer. Prices for a private single room are usually minimum of 30€ a night. While doubles are around a similar price. There aren’t many backpacker hostels here, but the ones that I saw in the off season cost about 20€ a night. It may be better value for money to get a double room to yourself if you’re travelling solo. Realistically, if you are planning to stay just to enjoy the city, one night may be enough, whereas two nights would definitely be enough. Both of my visits were purely just for the day.
So there you have my brief overview of Girona, a city steeped in history, and with appeal for pretty much any type of visitor. Whether you are staying in the nearby Costa Brava, or Barcelona, or even passing through on a road trip, Girona will not disappoint you. Enjoy!