Probably “visiting Girona” isn’t the first thought most tourists have when landing at the Girona-Barcelona airport, which isn’t as much a Barcelona airport as Liverpool’s is a London one. Surely Barcelona is the main destination of the passengers transiting through the airport, and that is completely fine. Barcelona is a splendid, modern and full of art city. I spent there a few months of my life and I loved it.
But then we’d miss Girona. Which is a shame. Visiting Girona isn’t thus one of the top priorities of tourists travelling to Spain but it’d better be, as the old medieval center of Girona is a charming place to spend a day out, either when staying in Barcelona or as a step towards it. Let’s see why.
Why visiting Girona?
Do you like being taken back in time? Do you like being away from the modernity, with its cars, noise and crowd? Well, then Girona is for you. Sorry about the crowd, that you’ll have to bear as you won’t be the only one wishing to enjoy the medieval streets and corners of the Jewish Quarter of Girona. Plenty of tourists come here, especially from the nearby France. But everything else stands true.
Visiting Girona thus is like going back to medieval times. Most of the old town is pedestrian so you will not be bothered by cars during the visit. It is all very well preserved, it reminded me of some small towns in the center of Italy, visually stuck in the Middle Ages.
There are still a few artisans with their little shops to be found here. Visiting Girona may then be an occasion to buy a souvenir that isn’t necessarily a mass-market production.
Oh and food. Lovely jamon, cava and queso. Can’t go wrong with some spanish/catalan food.
Ok I’m sold. What to see in Girona?
The most basic advice is to freely roam the city. It is not that big that can’t be walked from one side to the other in more than 1 hour and doing so will allow you to see most of the interesting locations Girona has to offer. Especially if you walk in a north-south direction. Start from the central Placa De Catalunya, on the southernmost border of the old Jewish Quarter, and head north.
The first landmark you’ll meet will be the Església de Sant Martí Sacosta, an unimpressive church on the top of a medieval staircase, Pujada de Sant Domènec. When I was there the staircase was covered with flowers as it was the Girona Temps de Flors, or a Flower Fair and the city was filled with flowers everywhere.
Don’t spend too much time here, it is just a step on the way to the other attractions. If you then keep heading north, either on the upper street or returning near the river and turning right, you’ll eventually reach the main area of interest: the Cathedral‘s and its surroundings.
As you can see, the flowers were put here too. I wanted to visit the interior of the cathedral, which boasts the widest gothic nave in the world, but there was such an huge queue that it would have taken half a day to enter and I had to give up. Crowds are hardly avoided in Girona. Next time for sure. Still, around the Cathedral there are plenty of spots to pay a visit: the Museum of Girona, the Jewish Museum, the Basilica de Sant Feliu and the Banys Arabs (the Arab Baths, the interior showed below).
There’s easily material enough for a full day of sightseeing just around the Cathedral. If you want to linger, do so as this is the main area of the city. If you feel tired, you can always take a rest in the lovely Jardins de la Francesa, on the back of the Cathedral. They aren’t that big but enough to rest and enjoy, if you’re lucky, the sun.
From the gardens I’d suggest you to take a walk on the old roman walls to admire the city in its entirety from above. They aren’t very long so no fear of getting tired. The view you can have from the walls is one of the best of Girona. After done with the walls, we better head back downhill towards the river as the old town ends with the walls.
The bridges of Girona
You may very well know nothing about Girona but probably have seen a picture of the houses facing the river, along with the bridges. The cover picture of this article is an example. There are 5 main bridges in the old town. Each one has a little story behind it and was built in a slightly different style. I personally liked them so much that I crossed each one, just for the fun of passing over them all. From north to south there are
- Pont de Sant Feliu, with its wooden walkway, leading directly to the Basilica and then to the Cathedral
- Pont d’en Gomez, disadorned but perfectly central, ideal to take a picture on each side of the colorful houses on the riverside
- Pont de San Agusti, a simple one, with esagonal pavement, protruding from the body of the buildings on each side of the river
- Pont de les Peixateries Velles, encircled all around by red metal which may correctly remember you of the Tour Eiffel in Paris, as Gustave Eiffel made it too
- Pont de Pedra, the southernmost and widest one. As the name says, it is in stone, large and the main one. Often it is held a small market on it during weekends
Where to eat in Girona
I had limited time to be in Girona so I have surely missed a lot of nice places to eat at. Next time I’ll explore more. Yet I want to mention at least one here.
Espresso Mafia is tucked under an archway in the middle of the old town. A quiet street so you can have your coffee outside on the 3 tables they have without being assaulted by noise. Inside it is a minimalistic/scandinavian setting, with a handful of seatings and two lovely girls serving coffee with such care that it can’t be just a job but it is a passion for them. Surely they don’t look like “mafia” 🙂 . I had the classic cortado and it was delicious, served on a wooden tray that fit the theme of the coffeehouse. They roast their coffee and even export it abroad. Coffee to go available, if you’re in a hurry. When visiting Girona a stop for a cup of warm coffee is a must here. You can have sandwiches too, so you can use Espresso Mafia as a breakfast/brunch place too.
Other places, I sadly didn’t have the time to visit. I tried to spend as much time as possibile visiting. Around Placa de la Independencia there are lots of bars with average food but very popular, quick and with local food. In a rush they will do. One that looked great from outside, and I will visit when back in Girona, is Occi. If any reader has visited it already it’d be great to hear your experience in the comments, thanks.
Thus, in the end, visiting Girona doesn’t take much and it is very enjoyable, especially if you don’t go on weekends to avoid the crowd. It’s purely catalonian charme with a strong hint of Middle Ages.