Girona is one of our absolute favorite cities in Catalonia, and we visit quite often. The provincial city with metropolitan atmosphere, is easier to explore than Barcelona and the lively atmosphere, the many cafes and pedestrian streets, give the same atmosphere of metropolis and life. Great for a city walk - the walk on the city wall is very unique - or simply for strolling around and finding delicious shops in the small streets, or just soak up the sun in a cafe with coffee, cava or tapas.
The city of Girona offers a lot of delights and is definitely worth a visit!
There are two cities that I always visit every time I am in Catalonia. The one is of course Barcelona and the other is Girona - also known as "Barcelona's little sister", which is Catalonia's second largest city. When you come directly from a beautiful holiday home in a peaceful setting, a visit to central Barcelona may seem a little hectic. But if you are hungry for some city life, good atmosphere and Catalan culture, Girona is actually a fantastic alternative to the hectic and at times chaotic Barcelona.
The city has the authentic Catalan charm, with a heap of great restaurants with outdoor seating, beautiful places, friendly catalans, exciting shops and plenty of history. Girona has a new and an old town, divided by the River Riu Onyar River. Several small bridges connect the two districts, the most famous of which were built by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris). The charming colorful town houses along the river create a pretty spectacular expression. Sit on one of the little cute bridges and enjoy the sight and life on the many small terraces along the river.
The old town, in addition to the city's Rambla (main street), consists of a sandy maze of narrow alleyways, small squares, which accommodates fabulous cafes and invites for siesta in the shade. Girona's old town is located on a hill that is so steep in some places that that have chosen to build stairs instead of roads. At the top of the hill, the city's Gothic Cathedral rises above the old rooftops. The church is among the largest of its kind in the world, and is rightly famous for its rare treasures in the form of statues, ancient writings and in particular the 1,000-year-old tapestry. The Jewish quarter of the Old Town and the Arab Bath are also worth visiting. Read more about Girona's historical trademarks here.
Behind the Gothic cathedral is a defense which runs back to the 14th century, where the wall was built to protect Girona for various intruders, from Arabs to Romans. The wall is 1.2 km. long and is a fun, interesting and not to mention beautiful experience.
I am also crazy about the views from the Girona wall and if the sky is clear, you can even see the Pyrenees rise far on the horizon. The view that looks down into the little fine courtyards is special and the children love the historical battles that can be sensed as they are symbolized by the many bullet marks etc. The tour is free and a is a must see when you are in Catalonia and all generations can join. Link to Girona's tourist office information about the wall.
In the new district, Girona's main square Placa de la Independéncia, has a heap of restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating. If you have lunch here, do it in the Catalan way and make your way away from the tourist trap. All restaurants have on weekdays a lunch menu (menu del dia) for half of what the food costs ala Carte. Here you typically choose a starter, a main course and a dessert (often there is also a drink included) for about 12-15 €.
My absolute favorite restaurant in Girona is the small affordable restaurant "8 de 7" located on a side road to Carrer de Santa Clara (Carrer Hortes 10). For lunch they offer a nice lunch (remember to select "Menu del Dia") but at night time they serve the most wonderful tapas. For relatively little money, you will be served super delicious and tasty modern tapas. Keep in mind that the portions are large so choose different dishes that you share between the table. Here you can have an excellent dinner for 4 people for less than 50 Euros. Remember to book a day or two before. Link to 8 de 7.
In Girona you will also find one of the world's best restaurants, Can Roca. The two Can Roca brothers have opened an ice-cream bar, so city citizens can also enjoy the gastronomic creations. On the strait Carrer de Santa Clara 50, running parallel to the river beginning from Placa de la Independencia you will find the Ice-cream bar Rocambolesc Gelateria. The interior design of the shop is inspired by the magic world from the book and movie Charlie and the chocolate factory, so it's quite adventurous, and it is a true pleasure to visit. We recommend that you try their small ice-cream muffins. You choose an ice-cream and a pair of exquisite toppings that they put in a cake that is heated in an iron. The muffin is served warm with the exquisite cold ice in the middle. Price approx. 5 euros Link to Rocambolesc.
Girona's big market hall is filled with women with shopping bags, who are making their way home among the delicious food stalls with fresh fish, delicious local cheeses, olives, local vegetables, nuts and other gastronomic delights. When you are here, you should definitely purchase some local goods to cook on the BBQ back in your holiday home. The taste of Catalonia is unique and walking through the market is always an inspiring pleasure in a mecca of fresh produce most often from the local area.
As you might sense by now, Girona is worth a visit, so try you best to convince the children to leave the swimming pool, for a few hours, because they will definitely enjoy the city too: the world's best ice cream, a historic flock on the city walls of Girona followed by a good lunch (menu del dia) on Girona's main square. You will love it and I dare to say that the children will not complain.
If you already have a flight to Barcelona, there is no need to despair. Girona can easily be reached by train from Barcelona, and the city has plenty of sights and Catalan charm to justify a day trip or two from its famous, well-attended neighbor.