The largest city in Northern Catalonia, Girona is a strikingly beautiful destination that brings the opportunity to wander labyrinthine Medieval streets, walk along ancient city walls, and drink al fresco in grand neoclassical squares – just three of the best things to do in the city.
While Girona’s appearance in season six of Game of Thrones has led to fans of the show flocking to the filming locations, the city is still often overlooked in favour of nearby holiday spots Barcelona and Costa Brava. As a result, those who do choose to visit can marvel at how such a charming city has so far escaped mass tourism.
If you’re one of the clever few to have booked a visit to the city, be sure to keep reading to discover the best things to do in Girona.
The best things to do in Girona:
Walk the ancient city walls
One of the best things to do in Girona is undoubtedly walking along the ancient city walls. Originally built by the Romans before being given an extension in the Middle Ages, the walls were once the city’s first line of defence, and today they act as a wonderful viewpoint overlooking Girona’s cathedral and medieval cityscape. Tightly hugging the edge of the old town, they run for around three kilometres and feature several watchtowers, viewpoints and secret gardens along the way. For all you need to know about walking the city walls of Girona, have a read of this article.
Visit Girona Cathedral
Perched at the top of a towering flight of stone steps, the imposing Girona Cathedral casts a shadow over Plaça de la Catedral – the charming square that sits at the foot of the stairs. The impressive Baroque facade is decorated with a series of intricate sculptures while a blend of Roman and Gothic architecture can also be spotted – the result of a drawn out building timeframe that lasted from the 11th to 18th centuries. Other unique features include the singular tower and the Gothic arched south doorway while on the inside you’ll find a wonderful collection of vivid stained glass windows.
Enjoy a moment of calm at Basilica of Sant Feliu
Another spectacular example of Gothic architecture, Basilica of Sant Feliu is one of Girona’s most notable landmarks. The turreted bell tower rises high above the skyline and can be seen from many points in the city while the outdoor staircase offers a more peaceful alternative to the one found at Girona Cathedral. Inside, a series of remarkable artworks and beautiful chapels – including the huge marble-clad Chapel of Saint Narcissus – sit under a soaring ribbed vaulted ceiling. On a sunny day, the vibrant stained glass windows beautifully reflect onto the basilica’s light stone floors.
Admire the cloisters at Sant Pere de Galligants
Sitting just outside of the city walls, the historic Sant Pere de Galligants is yet another architectural masterpiece with gigantic archways and huge stone pillars forming the grand interiors. The 12th century cloisters, meanwhile, provide an atmospheric yet peaceful escape from the bustling city centre with the chance to spot mythical creatures and religious scenes on the numerous twin columns. Today the monastery acts as a museum and a visit provides the opportunity to see several artefacts dating from prehistoric to medieval times.
Wander the streets of old town
A labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways, medieval walls and hidden archways, Girona’s old town is a picturesque blend of architectural styles, and wandering through the ancient streets is one of the best things to do in the city. The Cathedral, Basilica of Sant Feliu and the city walls are the headline acts while wrought-iron balconies, overgrown foliage and intricate detailing complete the charming aesthetic.
Cross the city’s bridges
Offering far more than a convenient way to cross over the Onyar river, Girona’s distinct bridges each boast their own individual characters worthy of consideration. The most famous of all the bridges has to be Pont de les Peixateries Velles with an eye-catching red iron design created by none other than Mr Gustave Eiffel – the man behind the eponymous Eiffel Tower. Pont de Pedra is charming in a more traditional way with fairytale-esque stone arches that reflect in the shimmering water while the elegant arch of Pont d’en Gómez adds another unique element to the collection. For one of the best perspectives of both Pont de les Peixateries Velles and Pont d’en Gómez as well as a close up view of the colourful houses that line the riverbed, take a walk across the less intriguing but conveniently placed Pont de Sant Agustí.
Eat ice cream in Plaça de la Independència
With pastel-coloured buildings, well-manicured trees and perfectly symmetrical arches, the neoclassical Plaça de la Independència is a charming central hub for locals and tourists alike. An eclectic collection of bars, cafes and restaurants line the tiled galleries, creating the perfect spot for al fresco drinking and dining, while nearby ice cream parlours make it ideal for enjoying a cone of gelato in the sunshine. Rocambolesc is perhaps the most famous of all the gelaterias with an innovative line up of ice cream flavours and themed ice lollies (yoghurt and liquorice ‘icephone’ anyone?) whereas the more traditional La Bombonera can be found in the square itself.
See where Game of Thrones was filmed
With a large number of scenes in season six filmed in the old town, Girona is a must-visit for any die-hard Game of Thrones fans. The street of Bisbe Cartaña in the Medieval Quarter is where a blind Arya Stark was seen begging while the bridge over Riu Galligants is where she flung herself into the canal to escape the Waif. The steps of Sant Marti and the 12th century Arab Baths are two more filming locations while the most famous of all has to be Girona Cathedral, which can be seen in both episode six when Jaime Lannister climbs the steps on a white horse and the finale when Cersei blows it to pieces.
Have a drink in El Cafe
A quaint cafe by day and a lively bar by night, El Cafe is one of the best spots in the city for enjoying everything from a hot cup of coffee to an ice cold beer. Scarlet walls, exposed brickwork and retro tiled floors are punctuated with traditional bistro furnishings, eclectic artworks and Art Deco accents to create a vintage backdrop that feels completely authentic and not at all try hard. Perch at the bar in the back corner for the best people watching and stay past 11 pm to see the lights dimmed and the music cranked up.
Eat pintxos at Restaurant Artusi
Sitting at the heart of the old town in a picturesque stone courtyard, Restaurant Artusi is one of the best spots in the city for an early evening aperitivo and plate of pintxos. The bar seats by the door overlook two busy pathways leading to the courtyard as well as an adorable traditional toy shop, making it a great spot for watching local life pass by, while a daily selection of pintxos draws a crowd of hungry locals. The pintxos selection covers both the traditional and contemporary with everything from cured ham and crunchy croquettes to prawn sliders and smoked salmon among the options. Simply take what you fancy from the bar counter and pay for what you had before leaving.
Sample the Iberian ham at Don Jamon
One of the best places to try traditional Iberian ham in Girona is at Don Jamon. The small shop in the new town sells a selection of high quality ham with the knowledgeable staff on hand to let you sample the freshly carved range before you decide to buy. The shop also stocks a curated selection of cheese, sausages and wine, and the team host regular Ham Session events at a nearby restaurant. At these special social evenings, you can sample the range of Iberian hams alongside a generous buffet of chorizo, bread and cheese all washed down with local wine and cava.