I was honestly, yet very pleasantly caught by surprise by all the things to do in Girona.
Bridges, cobbled alleys, a mighty looking cathedral, fantastic restaurants and lovely small cafés, and an infinity of small boutiques that will be the blessing (or the curse, depending on how you see it!) for shopaholics: Girona, the main city of Costa Brava, in Catalonia is a gem, and frankly underrated.
You see, most people who visit Catalonia completely ignore Girona. I bet you are one of those, too. You fly to Girona on a budget airline and you immediately jump on a train or bus, headed to Barcelona which is only one hour away. And if you eventually decide to visit Girona, you go there on a day trip at most.
What a shame! With all the things to do in Girona, it’s actually a pity not to spend a few days there and I strongly advise you to pick Girona over Barcelona during your trip to Catalonia.
Girona was the starting point of my trip to Garrotxa, and I got the chance to visit it thoroughly. So, I thought I’d put together a guide on the nicest things to do in Girona, and a few tips to plan your visit.
Planning to spend longer in the region? Make sure to read my posts 17 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region of Catalonia, La Garrotxa and The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.
Check out these tours of Girona:
- Girona small group walking tour
- Private walking tour of Girona
- Girona city tour train
- Secret Girona tour
- Night tour of Girona
- Girona walking tour and tapas dinner
20 Fantastic Things To Do In Girona
Cross all the bridges
Whenever I think of Girona I imagine the colorful buildings set along the Onyar river and the bridges to cross the river. It’s one of the most iconic pictures of Girona. There are eleven bridges that connect the two sides of the river, each of them different, and each of them giving a different perspective and slightly different view of the city. Needless to say, one of the things to do in Girona is walking its bridges.
Among the unmissable ones there is the Pont de Pedra, a beautiful stone bridge with three arches; and the famous Pont de Ferro, also known as Eiffel Bridge because it was planned by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1877, only two years after the construction of the Eiffel tower. If you are looking for what to see in Girona, this is definitely a must!
Then walk the city walls
If you want to get beautiful views of Girona other than those along the river, walk the city walls – it’s one of the ultimate things to do in Girona. A walk along the Passeig de la Muralla affords you views of both the Old City and of the newest part of town, and you can even see the Pyrenees in the distance.
There are three access points, one at the gardens behind the Cathedral of Girona, another by the Spanish Civil War Memorial, and the last one by the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants. You can start in one and finish on the other. It takes between one and two hours to walk the walls, depending on how often you stop.
The walls are part Roman and part dating to the 14th century, and there are various watchtowers along them, from where you can get even better views. The best time to walk along the walls is the early morning or the late afternoon – so that you can either enjoy sunrise or the beautiful sunset light.
TIP: Once you get to the Cathedral, make sure to continue walking to get all the way to the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants, on the last section of the walls: there are way less people on this section, and the views are stunning. You won’t regret lingering a little longer: it’s one of the nicest things to do in Girona.
Go to the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants
Visiting Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants is one of the best things to do in Girona. This is a fantastic example of Romanesque style architecture, as there are many in Catalonia. It was built in the 12th century, though there is evidence that the original structure was actually built in the 10th century.
Visit the Cathedral
The Catedral de Santa Maria is one of the landmarks of Girona. It was built between 11th and the 18th century in a mix of styles which include Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. 90 steps lead to the Cathedral, and a lot of people love taking photos of them and on them.
Inside the church there are beautiful stained glasses and the Cathedral Treasury Museum, where the masterpiece is the Tapís de la Creació (Tapestry of Creation), a Romanesque embroidered panel dating back to the 11th century that is incredibly well preserved.
With so much to see outside and inside the church, it’s hardly surprising that visiting the Cathedral is one of the things to do in Girona.
Then the Basilica de Sant Feliu
Right next to the Cathedral there’s the beautiful Basilica de Sant Feliu, which used to be Girona’s cathedral until the current one was built. It’s a good mix of Gothic and Baroque styles. Since it’s so close to the Cathedral, visiting is one of the things to do in Girona.
Go to the Convent of Sant Domenec
One of the first Gothic buildings of Catalonia was the Convent of Sant Domenec, built between the 13th and the 14th century. Nowadays, parts of the Convent are used by the University.
Explore the Jewish Quarter
Girona used to have one of the largest Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula. Here, much like in Besalú, they contributed to the development and wealth of the region. Visiting the Jewish Quarter is one of the things to do in Girona. Located inside the Força Vella and dating back to between the 12th and 15th century, this is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys where you will enjoy getting lost and taking endless amounts of photos.
You can even go on a guided tour of Girona and Besalu that takes you through their Jewish history – you can book it here.
To learn more about Besalú, read my post “11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain.”
Visit the Museums
One of the nicest things to do in Girona if you get stuck in the rain – like it happened to me – is spending some time in one (or all) of the excellent museums. Here are my favorite ones:
The Jewish History Museum: if you are a fan of history, then visiting the Jewish History Museum is what to do in Girona. This nicely details the history of the Jewish community of Catalonia and Aragon between the 9th and 15th century.
TIP: Don’t skip the lovely courtyard at the back of the museum!
The Archeology Museum of Catalonia: housed in part of the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants and the church of San Nicolau, you can visit after you are done with the monastery. It has a good exhibit witnessing human activity in the region until Roman time.
The Art Museum: housed in the old Episcopal Palace, it’s a good art museum with pieces that date back from the Romanesque period until the 20th century.
The Museum of Cinema: Girona became a more popular tourist destination when it started being the set of films and tv series. Visiting this museum is what to do in Girona if you want to learn about the history of film and the techniques used in cinema.
Discover the Game of Thrones Locations
For all the fans of Game of Thrones, one of the unmissable things to do in Girona is visiting the filming locations of the sixth series that are scattered around Girona. After seeing some GoT filming locations in the Basque Country, I was pleased to see more in Catalonia.
There even are Game of Thrones walking tours of Girona:
- Girona Game of Thrones locations tour
- Game of Thrones walking tour of Girona
- Girona express with Game of Thrones locations from Barcelona
Walk around the Old Quarter
One of the top things to do in Girona is going for a walk in the Old Quarter in search of the many hidden gems. You’ll get to enjoy the cobbled alleys, the archways and the many pretty corners of this beautiful city.
Check out the Arab baths
The Arab baths of Girona were built in the 12th century. Their design was inspired by both Roman and Arab influences. They were in use until the 14th century, and can now be visited for a mere €2 – one of the nicest (and most budget friendly) things to do in Girona.
TIP: Apparently the Arab baths also were a Game of Thrones filming location!
Kiss the Lion’s bottom
Lots of peple – visitors and locals alike – stop at the statue of a lion and kiss its bottom. Apparently doing it means that you’ll go back to Girona. I suppose it works, since I have already been twice! Anyways, this is one of the ultimate things to do in Girona, apparently – so much so that they even have steps to reach it more easily.
Chill at Plaça Independencia
This is the biggest square in Girona, and from there you can easily cross the river and walk towards the Old Quarter. It’s a large, airy square with lots of nice cafés where you can have lunch for a real steal. Locals love to go there in the late afternoon, to chill and have a drink. Hanging out here is what to do in Girona to catch a bit of local action.
TIP: Together with the rambla, right on the other side of the river, Plaça Independencia is one of the best areas in town for a night walk.
Visit Casa Masó
Of the lovely, colorful buildings that cling on the banks of the Onyar river, Casa Masó is one of the very few you can actually visit. It used to be the house of Rafael Masó, one of the most famous Catalan architects of the 20th century. Everything in the house is still set up as it used to be when Masó lived there.
Go to the Hospital de Santa Caterina
Now housing part of the offices of the Catalan government, this was a working hospital between the 17th and the 20th century, and one of the best preserved historical hospitals of Southern Europe. If you have some extra time in town, this is one of the places to visit in Girona.
TIP: You can book a guided tour of the Hospital de Santa Caterina through the Art Museum.
Chill (or run) at Parc de la Devesa
One of the things to do in Girona is you want to mingle with the locals is going for a run or a walk at Parc de la Devesa. It’s the largest urban park in Catalonia. You’ll definitely pass by it on your way to Plaça Independencia.
Have breakfast or brunch at La Fabrica
One of the things to do in Girona is eating at La Fabrica, located in one of the many tiny squares in town, near yet another flight of stairs. This lovely café is known in town as the best hang out for cycling fans. It was established by a Canadian couple – Christian Meier, who used to be a professional cyclist, and his wife Amber. It’s the kind of place where you are likely to find other cyclists, see bikes outside (and even inside, to be fair) and you may have a chance to discuss the Giro.
For the non-cyclists, the good news is that La Fabrica is a fabulous place to have breakfast, brunch or a light lunch. For a healthy yet tasty breakfast opt for the breakfast bowl with lots of oats, coconut flakes, honey and fresh fruit.
Then get a gelato at Rocambolesc
Eating gelato is one of the best things to do in Girona in the summer. Come to think of it, why keep it seasonal? This is really what to do in Girona any time you feel like a treat. Rocambolesc is the place to go – if you trust the Italian here, you’ll end up eating one of the best gelati out there.
Rocambolesc was founded by Jordi Roca, who in 2014 was recognized as the World’s Best Pastry Chef. The choice of flavors is great – though they change daily, apparently. They even have lactose free and vegan ice cream!
Dine in one of the fabulous restaurants
One of the best things to do in Girona is eating. Girona is one of the food capitals of the world, home to El Celler de Can Roca, one of the best restaurants in the world. Should you not be able to get a table at this restaurant – founded by the Roca brothers, including the same Jordi Roca of Rocambolesc, Joan Roca who is the head chef, and Josep Roca who is the sommelier, and for which you will need to make reservations in advance – worry not: Girona is packed with excellent bistrot were you can dine like a king.
If you happen to visit Girona in the spring or summer, you’ll be happy to dine al fresco: this is what to do in Girona to enjoy a delicious meal and continue taking in the lovely views. And if you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of options for you – my favorite is vegan restaurant is Bionéctar.
TIP: For lunch, do like the locals and opt to get a fixed menu. With something between €12 and €15 you’ll get an appetizer, a main course, a dessert and a drink.
Girona is packed with lovely small shops and boutiques were you will love rummaging to find the item you didn’t even know you needed. Whether you are looking for souvenirs to bring to your family and friends, or just want something nice for yourself, rest assured that you’ll have plenty of opportunities here: shopping is one of the things to do in Girona.
Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Girona
How To Get To Girona
Girona is incredibly easy and cheap to reach from pretty much anywhere in Europe, as it is a hub for budget airlines. From there, you have various options to get to the city.
From the airport, you can easily get to Girona by car. It’s just a 20 minutes drive. You can get a quote for car rental here.
By public bus
Sagalés operates buses from Girona airport to Girona city center. You can take bus n. 605 or 607. The ticket costs €2.75 and the journey lasts about 20 minutes. The bus timings follows the arrival and departure schedule of Ryanair flights.
By taxi or private transfer
It takes about one hour to drive from Barcelona to Girona. Alternatively, you can opt for the train. The fast train takes a mere 35 minutes, but there also is a slower one that makes various stops and takes 90 minutes.
On a guided tour
Should you – despite all I have said – still decide to visit Girona for a day trip, you can opt to take a guided tour departing from Barcelona.
Here’s a selection of the best guided tours of Girona departing from Barcelona:
- Girona, Figueres and Dalì Museum
- Girona and Costa Brava small group day trip
- Girona and Costa Brava full day trip with hotel pick up
- Dalì Museum and Girona full day trip
- Girona and wineries of Perelada full day trip
- Girona and Besalu Jewish history tour
- Girona city and county guided private day trip
- Girona express with Game of Thrones locations from Barcelona
Where To Stay In Girona
For a small city, Girona has some good accommodation options. Hotels in Girona tend to be pricey in the peak season, and hostels only have dorms. Apartments may be a good compromise. With a bit of research you should be able to find the perfect place for you.
Below is a selection of places to stay in Girona, arranged by hotels, hostels and self catering apartments.
Best hotels in Girona
- Hotel Ultonia is well located right outside the Old Quarter and with beautiful views of the Cathedral. Rooms are large, modern and comfortable. It’s great for business travelers, but suitable for anyone who wants to spend some time in the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel Carlemany is close to all the main attractions in Girona. Its rooms are large and comfortable. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel Nord 1901 Superior is located in the Old Quarter. Rooms are nice and comfortable, and there is a nice pool set in a beautiful garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel Historic is another great find in the Old Quarter, really close to the Cathedral. Rooms – which are all different – are gorgeous and comfortable. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Best hostels in Girona
- Bed in Girona has basic but clean dorms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Can Cocollona has nice, well equipped dorms and a beautiful garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Best self catering apartments in Girona:
- Lovely Loft is a tiny but cozy apartment in the Old Quarter. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Bravissimo is a beautiful, stylish apartment in the Old Quarter. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Other Things To Know Before You Visit Girona
When to visit Girona
Any time is a good time to visit Girona, if you ask me. I went in July for the first time, and it was hot, though it rained quite a bit one day. I went again in October, and the temperatures were pleasant, but again it rained one day.
Spring and summer are generally good seasons to visit Girona, but keep in mind that the Temps de Flors festival in May, and the Sant Joan festival in June mean the city is incredibly busy and imply you’ll have to book well in advance.
How to move around Girona
Good news! One of the best things to do in Girona to fully discover it is walking around, and the city is truly pedestrian friendly. Besides, Girona is actually quite small so you can easily walk to all the main attractions and points of interest.
Don’t expect to shop or eat whenever you want in Girona. This is a city that still observes the working times of southern Europe for the most part, so shops and businesses close between 2:00 and 4:00 or 5:00 pm.
Dinner time won’t be before 8:00 pm. If you are hungry before then, do what the locals do: have a merienda, or a snack. Even better, have a gelato at Rocambolesc!
The official languages in Girona are Catalan and Spanish, and what you’ll hear the locals speak is Catalan. Everyone does speak Spanish, and most people in the business and tourism industry speaks English, so you’ll be able to get by without any issue. Menus at restaurants are usually in Catalan, but most of them have an English copy as well.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona during my second trip to Girona, and wish to thank them for helping me out with the organization. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own.
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