I'd read so many wonderful things about Girona, Spain that I just had to go and visit for myself.
Girona is only half an hour by car from Figueres, where we visited the Dalí Museum, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone. After having admired the works of Dalí, we drove further south to Girona.
- Girona, a charming city
- Things to do in Girona, Spain
- Explore the Jewish quarter
- Visit Girona Cathedral
- Go onto the city walls
- Stroll in the Jardins dels Alemanys
- Visit the Monastery of Saint Daniel
- Explore Girona’s bridges Girona has eleven in total, crisscrossing between the old town in the east and the modern commercial hub in the west. Along the riverside, there are numerous colorful houses called “casas penjades” (hanging houses). Together with these brightly colored houses the bridges paint one of the most iconic images of Girona. Each bridge offers an alternative view so it’s worth checking out as many as possible. Pont de Pedra is one must-see bridge – its three-arch stonework cuts a striking shape. The Eiffel Bridge (also called the Pont Palanques Vermelles or Pont de les Peixateries Velles) is a narrow iron-latticed footbridge constructed by Gustave Eiffel in 1877, the same engineer that designed the Eiffel Tower. Another nice pedestrian bridge is the Pont de Sant Feliu which is a great place to take your camera and get some snaps of the vivid reflections of the cityscape in the water. Marvel at the Basílica de Sant Feliu
- Kiss the Lion’s bottom
- Go to the Arab baths
- Tour the Game of Thrones Filming Locations
- Go to one of Girona’s Museums
- Go for a stroll in the Parc de la Devesa
- People-watch in the Plaça de la Independència
- Eat out
- Go shopping at the Mercat Municipal del Lleó
- Visit the Old Hospital
Girona, a charming city
It took us a while to locate a parking spot – this place is popular! – but once we did, we quickly crossed the river into the historic heart.
While doing so we spotted these men. They were pulling loose the algae and other green stuff that was omnipresent there in the Onyar river. Quite the job!
We headed towards the tourism office on the Rambla de la Llibertat, a pedestrian shopping street, to get a map and then wandered off into the multiple small alleys that make Girona's old center so charming.
Things to do in Girona, Spain
The city of Girona is located just 65 miles / 105 km from Barcelona (with a high-speed train between them) in the northeastern corner of Spain. It’s frequently used as a travel base to explore the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, or as a day trip by train from Barcelona. Although it is often overlooked as a destination in its own right, there’s a myriad of things to do in Girona, Spain.
Meandering cobbled streets, medieval city walls and beautifully preserved ancient buildings. A web of bridges spanning the twinkling Onyar river that cleaves the city in two. Girona city may be off the beaten path but it’s a treasure trove of culture and history, with the dramatic Pyrenean mountains as a backdrop.
Explore the Jewish quarter
On the west side of the Onyar lies the Ciutat Antigua (Old City), a network of narrow alleyways, enchanting stone staircases and hidden doorways. Most of these alleys can be found in the Jewish quarter, also known as “El Call”, which comes from the Latin “callis” for “streets”.
After Barcelona, Girona had the second-largest Jewish community in Catalonia and it played an important role from the 10th until the 15th century, when they were forced to convert to Catholicism in 1492, just like the rest of Spain. Jews who refused to convert were expelled from the country.
The Jewish quarter in Girona hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages. In fact, it’s now considered among the best-preserved and largest Jewish quarters in Europe. Back then, Carrer de la Força was the main street and today it's where you can find the Museum of Jewish History and the Museum of History (more on these later).
Try to just let your feet take you wherever they fancy here. You could stumble upon the gorgeous flight of stone steps leading up to the Esglesia de Sant Marti, or the “escalinata” in front of the cathedral. You could end up in any number of magical passageways such as Carrer Manuel Cundaro, or Carrer del Doctor Oliva i Prat.
Visit Girona Cathedral
The first cultural site we came across was Girona Cathedral, a beautiful building but not easy to capture by photo as it's surrounded by buildings and not on a big open plaza, as you often see in other European cities. It is still an impressive sight, as it stands at the top of a huge stone staircase.
La Catedral de Santa María de Gerona was built between the 12th and the 18th century and has the second widest Gothic nave on Earth, after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Because it took so many centuries to complete, each element of the cathedral reflects a different architectural style, from the Renaissance to the Gothic.
Inside, you can find the Museu Tresor de la Catedral, which houses various works of art. The most significant masterpiece to see there is the Tapestry of Creation (“El Tapís de la Creació), an amazing embroidered panel that was created around one thousand years ago. There are remarkable stained glass windows and ancient tombs. The fee to get into the cathedral also enables you access to the Basílica de Sant Feliu.
From there we walked to the Jardins de la Francesa, Girona (French Gardens).
Go onto the city walls
I wanted to see the French Gardens, which are a little green paradise, but I especially wanted to go there because from the gardens you could get onto the ancient walls. These structures are still for a large part intact and you can travel all around the north of the historic streets on them.
The Passeig Arqueològic (the walk along the walls) is about three kilometers in distance making it one of the longest remaining Carolingian walls in the continent. They were constructed between the 9th and 14th centuries. Girona was so regularly attacked that it earned the nickname “city of a thousand sieges”.
There are a lot of ways to get onto and down from the walls, so you don’t need to follow the entire length if you don’t want to. Going up there in the early morning or late afternoon is one of the best things to do in Girona as you’ll get to enjoy the kaleidoscopic colors of the sunrise or sunset.
They offered some great views, but I have to admit that I didn't always feel as confident up there. I might have faced my fear of heights in Quebec, but I still haven't conquered it completely. That's why most of the photos below were taken by Siemen as I didn't dare to go near to the edge of the wall (although there was no way I could fall off).
At one point there was a tower you could climb up to reach an even higher viewing point. As I'd promised myself that I'd never just let my fear of heights stop me from doing activities, I bravely started climbing. After just a few steps, though, I suddenly got really dizzy and nauseous. I was physically unwell with fear and so I didn't climb this tower, but at least I tried.
Luckily the situation was also a bit funny. When I came down I heard a woman say to her husband, in Dutch: “Look, that girl doesn't dare to go up either”. She was surprised when I told her in Dutch that, indeed, I didn't. What are the odds of just stumbling upon another Flemish person who has a fear of heights as well?
I'm really grateful that my ex helped me out with the shots and I actually loved them so much that I couldn't choose. That's why I'm giving you loads of views on Girona, Spain:
Stroll in the Jardins dels Alemanys
You can also get up onto the walls from the Jardins dels Alemanys (German Gardens) that are just a bit further up the hill from Girona cathedral. These nice gardens are littered with ancient ruins.
There is a sign to say that in the 1800s during the Peninsular War, the barracks of the German soldiers were located here, which gives the gardens their name. They’re free entry and a relaxing place to hang out, with a winning combination of tree cover and crumbling walls.
Visit the Monastery of Saint Daniel
If you are up for walking a bit further, you’ll want to venture further afield to the Monastery of Saint Daniel, a walk of about ten minutes from the Jardins dels Alemanys.
Although it may sound like just another monastery, this 11th-century former nunnery is a breath of fresh air after the other attractions in Girona because of its beautiful setting surrounded by lush green forest. It has stunning cloisters to explore and holds a famous tomb, a sculptural piece by Catalan artist Aloi de Montbrai.