Girona is a much less visited but equally as charming city as nearby Barcelona. Read on to discover 7 of my favourite things to see and do in Girona.
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At the beginning of this month I went to Girona for four nights on my own.
That’s not so unusual in itself, however despite my best laid plans I don’t think I actually spoke to anyone for the entire time I was there.
Unless you count the staff who served me food in restaurants.
Or the random stranger who gave me flowers in Jardins de L’Angel (although I’m still not entirely sure what he said to me as he did so).
I can’t even count the girl who gave me the keys to my cosy little Airbnb apartment, because she only spoke Catalan, of which I understand less than 10 words.
But do you know what? I actually really enjoyed myself.
I’m kind of a bit gutted that I missed the Temps de Flors (Flower Festival) by just seven days, due to wrongfully assuming that it ran for the whole of May when I’d researched it online months beforehand and no specific dates were given.
I’m also rather disappointed that I didn’t get to take the cooking class that I’d been desperately trying to organise a few days before my trip, due to Facebook not alerting me to the fact that I had a message with the owner of Tots a Taula‘s contact details in until a few hours before I was due to fly home. But I accept that it’s impossible for everything to run exactly to plan when you travel.
In fact, when I first arrived in Girona I was convinced that I was going to experience my first Airbnb fail. That I’d end up spending money I didn’t have to secure a room in a hotel that I hadn’t booked, while simultaneously trying to reclaim the money I had spent on an apartment I couldn’t gain entry to. Sound complicated? Let me explain.
My flight was due to arrive into Girona airport at 6:15pm, I didn’t have a checked bag to wait for (one of the major benefits of travelling with hand luggage only), so I figured that even if I’d had to wait half an hour for a bus, I’d still be on my way to Girona around 7pm, and it’s only a 20-minute journey into the centre of the city. So I (now rather optimistically I realise) informed my hosts that I’d be arriving at around 7:30pm.
As is the way with all things travel, I should have doubled my original estimations. My flight was late, we had to wait for what seemed like an eternity for an official to arrive at Passport Control, and then I missed a bus by literally two minutes, and the next one wasn’t until 7:30pm.
So I sent a text message to my hosts explaining that I was running about half an hour late. That half an hour turned into 40 minutes once I realised it was approximately a 20-minute walk from the bus station to the location of my apartment. However by the time I arrived at said apartment, I’d not received a response from my hosts and no-one was waiting there to greet me.
I sent another message to my hosts to inform them that I had arrived.
15 minutes passed and still I had not received a response.
I tried ringing.
At this point panic was starting to set in. It was 8:50pm and it was beginning to get dark.
I was hungry and desperately needed a drink.
There was a restaurant opposite. I contemplated grabbing a seat in front of the window and ordering some food while I waited for my hosts to arrive.
Perhaps they had sent me a message via Airbnb, a message that I couldn’t access because I didn’t have WiFi. If I connected to the restaurant’s WiFi, I could check my Airbnb messages.
But then that there was another part of me that was convinced they weren’t going to show, that I’d have to spend the entirety of my few days away in talks with Airbnb in an attempt to get my money refunded. That side of me thought that I should just bite the bullet and go and find a hotel for the night. If I left it too late, the cheaper rooms may all have been booked, and I’d end up paying as much for one night as I’d spent on an apartment for four nights. Or I’d end up in a hole, woefully reminiscing about the beautiful apartment I should have been sleeping in.
Unable to make up my mind, I decided to wait a little while longer.
It was at that point that the apartment door opened behind me and a young girl appeared.
It turned out that this was the agent that the hosts had sent to give me my key. She’d been waiting inside the apartment for the past hour while I was waiting outside.
Quite how she expected me to know which apartment I was staying in (and therefore which buzzer (out of about 15) that I should have pressed in order to be let in) I honestly don’t know, but I couldn’t communicate this to her as I didn’t speak Catalan and she didn’t understand English.
However at that point I didn’t really care; I was just relieved to finally be inside my apartment. My beautiful home for the next few days.
I downed a glass of water, connected to the WiFi and watched a YouTube video on how to use a coffee percolator (because yes I admit, I’d never used one before), before making myself a cup of coffee and getting comfortable on my large bed, with its even larger collection of soft cushions and squishy pillows.
Food would have to wait until breakfast time the next day. I wasn’t moving anywhere.
The next morning I headed to La Fabrica (one of the cafes that had been recommended in this Girona food guide) for breakfast and set about orientating myself with the city by taking a walk along its medieval walls.
La Fabrica (essentially a cyclist’s cafe; Girona seems to be an obligatory stop of one of the major cycle routes through Catalonia) ended up being my absolute favourite place to eat in the whole of Girona. The food is as tasty as it is beautiful. I ordered a Breakfast Bowl (a gluten-free combination of shredded coconut, oats, flax, chia and pumpkin seeds, served with hot coconut, honey and seasonal fresh fruit) and a cafe con leche while I poured over the the helpful map that had been left inside my apartment, and plotted my route for the day.
After breakfast I hopped on the walls by Plaza Catalunya and began to follow them towards the centre of Girona’s old city.
The sun was desperately trying to poke it’s head through the clouds (yep, even in May you’re not guaranteed constant sunshine in Catalonia) so I put my sunglasses on and tied my cardigan around the bottom of my camera bag strap.
Almost everyone I passed greeted me with a smile and bid me “bon dia!” (“good day”)
The further I walked along the walls the more the landscape started to change from a vast expanse of modern, characterless buildings stretching out towards the Pyrenees, to a horizon of terracotta-tiled rooftops and medieval architecture dotted with domed churches and Gothic towers.
Girona often plays second fiddle to nearby Barcelona (it’s about an hour away on the train), and there are just five pages dedicated to Girona in Lonely Planet’s latest Spain guidebook, but in my opinion it’s a city that’s worthy of lots more.
Here are my favourite 7 things to see and do in Girona.
1 | Walk along the entire stretch of the old city walls
I spent both my first and last days in Girona wandering along its city walls (the last day was primarily to recapture some of the first day’s cloudy shots in the sunshine), and the beauty of this activity is that there are so many different spots at which you can join or disembark from the walls. See a part of the city that piques your curiosity to explore it? Not a problem, you’ll find an exit stairway not much further along.
My advice though would be to walk the walls in their entirety on your first day, making a mental note in your head of where you’d like to return to later on. If you climb up on to the walls at Plaza Catalunya (the starting point of the southern end of Girona’s city walls) you can follow them as far as the city’s cathedral.
The gardens surrounding the cathedral are a wonderful oasis of calm in the middle of the city. There are shaded pathways flanked with well-maintained plants and colourful flowers, and the sound of birdsong follows you everywhere you walk.
I think I must have timed my visit to catch the Jasmine in bloom, because I distinctly remember the sweet smell of Jasmine all around me.
The temptation of course, once you’ve arrived at the cathedral, is to subsequently set about exploring the intriguing network of narrow streets and alleyways that branch off from it. That’s exactly what I did, and it’s an activity you absolutely must do. However, don’t forget to pick up the last section of Girona’s city walls, opposite the Monestir de Sant Pere de Gallivants, because that is without a doubt the best part (in my humble opinion).
The final part of Girona’s city walls sees far fewer visitors than the main section (not that you’ll see many tourists here at all, compared to somewhere like Barcelona), probably because most people disembark at the cathedral and don’t realise that the walls actually continue elsewhere. It’s also where you’ll get the best views of the cathedral and across the rooftops of the old city.
One of my favourite buildings to photograph along the final stretch of the walls was this rather odd-shaped little tower that totally looks like somewhere Rapunzel may live.
2 | Relax in the Garden of Angels
The final stretch of Girona’s city walls actually come to a close just around the corner from these gardens, which you can look down upon as you near the end of the walls. Although Girona is not a hectic city, you will find total and utter peace and quiet here. Plus it’s quite small and private, and as a result it’s not unusual to have the place completely to yourself.
(Yes I did set a Tripod up to take this shot, and no, I wouldn’t have had the balls to do that if there was anyone else around).
3 | Cross the iconic Pont de les Peixatereies Velles
From one very non-touristy part of Girona to one that is exactly the opposite. Designed by Gustaf Eiffel, the Pont de les Peixateries Velles was built around 1877 and remains one of the most photographed sites in Girona. To capture it at it’s best you’ll need to wait for a fine day when the sunshine casts shadows of its criss-cross design on to the pavement below.
But to get a shot of the bridge that’s devoid of people requires a lot of patience. I had to wait over half an hour (I’m not joking!) to capture the shot below. I would never have gotten away with that had I been travelling with the boyfriend!
4 | Get an ice cream from Wonka-esque Rocambolesc
There’s a bit of a debate online about where to come for the best ice cream in the city. Some say it’s Bonbonera, on the edge of Plaza l’Independencia, others insist that it’s Rocambolesc. Whilst I actually preferred the flavour of the ice cream at Bonbonera, a visit to Rocambolesque is definitely more Instagram-worthy.
Rocambolesc has earned its fame off the back of El Celler De Can Roca, a restaurant in Girona that’s been voted the World’s Best Restaurant in 2013, and again in 2015 (it currently holds third place this year, behind Eleven Madison Park (New York) and Osteria Franciscan (Modena)).
Rocambolesc was conceived by Jordi Roca, part-owner and dessert chef at El Celler de Can Roca. Jordi wanted to preserve the traditional dessert cart idea that was born in El Celler, whilst at the same time creating somewhere that was accessible and affordable for everybody in Girona. He wanted everyone, regardless of their budget, to be able to at least sample a few of his tasty desserts.
You’ll find Rocambolesc just around the corner from the Pont de les Peixatereies Velles. Whilst there are only around five ice cream flavours, you’ll be spoilt for choice with fancy toppings. This beauty set me back just €3.50 – substantially less than the €170 set menu at El Celler de Can Roca!
5 | Check out the street art
Girona certainly doesn’t do street art by halves. I mean, look at this piece for starters, it scared the living crap out of me when I saw it!
Whilst I did find the mural below just around the corner from my apartment, you’ll need to venture outside of Girona’s historical centre to find the majority of the city’s street art. Head west from Plaza Independencia, cross the roundabout, follow Calle de Figuerola southwest to Carrer Bonastruc de Porta and then turn left.
Just on the right you’ll find Txalaka, a Spanish restaurant that specialises in Basque pintxo style tapas (apparently well worth checking out; it had unfortunately just closed its doors when I arrived), but if you continue along the same road, and walk beneath the railway line, you’ll be treated to a whole host of quirky little pieces.
6 | Take an aimless wander through the ancient streets and alleyways of Girona’s medieval core
The historic centre of Girona is pretty compact and easily walkable several times over in one day. I know this because on my first day in Girona I walked a massive 26,000 steps, but the old city end to end is less than two kilometres long!
However, in spite of getting lost and wandering around in circles on multiple occasions, I still managed to discover parts of the city that were new to me, every single day.
7 | Learn about the history of film-making at the Museum of Cinema
Ok, so when the sun is shining you’ll probably want to stay outside, but when you’re not quite so lucky with the weather (as I wasn’t on day two of my trip), both the Museu del Cinema and the Museu d’Història dels Jueus (Jewish History Museum) make perfect rainy day activities.
I’m not a huge movie buff, but I found this museum utterly fascinating.
Using a whole spectrum of exhibits from Tomàs Mallol’s valuable collection of pre-cinema pieces, the museum takes you on a tour of the progression of film-making through the ages, from shadow puppets and the magic lantern right up until the present day. It explores the origins of story-telling, the invention of the Camera Obscura, the 19th century debut of the Lumière brothers, and optical illusions using mirrors and trickery of light.
The Museu del Cinema has – quite rightly so – received several awards and honours, which include a finalist nomination in the “European Museum of the Year Award” (2000), the Gonzalez Sinde Prize (2003) awarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences from Spain, and in 2006 the National Heritage Award, given by the Government of Catalonia.
The entrance fee is just €5, and I guarantee that it will be the best €5 you spend in Girona.
Although breakfast at La Fabrica comes a close second 😉
If you’re planning a long weekend break to Spain, certainly don’t miss the delights of the country’s larger cities such as Barcelona, Granada or Madrid, but absolutely do not overlook its smaller, lesser visited gems either.
Girona is perfectly placed between the coast and the mountains, making it a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. However it’s also a lovely city in its own right. It’s relaxed, compact, and stylish, and offers a wonderful mix of history, culture, architecture, and a vast array of quality dining options.
- I won my return flight from the UK to Girona by entering a competition run by Jet2, however there are a number of budget airlines who fly the route. My go-to website for finding cheap flights is Skyscanner. You can down load the app here.
- I stayed in this lovely little apartment, which was perfectly located in the nicest part of the old city, not far from the Basilica de San Feliu. If you’re not yet signed up with Airbnb, you can get £25 off your first booking by using this link (information correct at time of writing). If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel then booking.com is my go-to site for hotel bookings. You can use the search box below to browse properties in 112,252 destinations across the world!
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