Even if it weren’t for its awesome cycling credentials, Girona is an excellent city break destination.
The old town is truly wonderful, and if you stay centrally, you’ll get to enjoy it when it’s at its best; before and after the tourist buses have left.
To give you a taste of what’s on offer, here are our top five recommendations for things to do in Girona, Spain:
1. Wander through the old town
Girona has an amazingly well preserved old town that dates from Roman times, two thousand years ago. It is a joy to walk over the River Onyar, past the brightly painted façades of the houses flanking the river, and get lost in the winding, cobbled streets. You’ll find ancient courtyards, rocky overhangs, beautiful street lamps and ornate stone buildings.
What we loved is that despite the town’s important heritage, it feels alive. This is no dry skeleton, all the buildings have been adapted to modern life and are full of bars, restaurants and boutique shops. We found it particularly special in the evening when the warm lights from busy bars and restaurants floods the meandering lanes and makes them glow.
2. Be wowed by the architecture
These were the buildings we were most impressed with. Add them to your list of what to see in Girona:
- The Cathedral. It’s the obvious starting point since it’s huge and difficult to miss. The Baroque façade and steps are particularly impressive (Game of Thrones fans will know them from Cersie’s walk of shame in Series 6).
- The Arab baths felt very atmospheric when we visited, perhaps because it was just before closing at 6:45 pm and we were almost the only ones there. The most impressive room is the first you come to, with the small octagonal pool surrounded by columns. It is thought this was the changing room for the baths.
- Place de Sant Feliu, dating from 1200 (but not completed until the early 1600s!). Its distinctive bell tower dominates the city’s skyline and was both a defence tower and bell tower.
- Plaça de la Independencia, a porticoed neo-classical square with a monument dedicated to the defenders of the city in the middle. It’s a bustling place with restaurants spilling out from under the arches.
3. Walk the city walls
You can walk for about 2km along the city walls, but the best section is between the point marked “Muralles” and “Passeig Arqueològic” on the map. You get far-reaching views of the city, and this section is particularly impressive as it’s around the old town.
Tip: there are loads of steep steps to get up and down the walls, and also up and down the towers on the walls, so not one for before or after a big ride!
4. Eat and drink like kings
Girona has a reputation for its outstanding cuisine. Like the town itself, it combines traditional with avant-garde.
If you want a table at its most famous restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca (three Michelin stars and proclaimed by Restaurant Magazine as the third best restaurant in the world), you’ll need to book at least 11 months ahead. Well, that’s what we were told when we tried to get a table anyway. If you don’t get in, at least you can console yourself with a fabulous icrecream from Rocambolesc, which is run by the Roca brothers, the team behind El Celler de Can Roca.
World famous restaurants aside, Girona has serious strength and depth on the restaurant front. There is no shortage of restaurants to choose from. We ate fantastically well without having made any prior reservations.
- Brots de Vi, Carrer de la Cort Reial (in the heart of the old town): a buzzy, industrial café vibe with exposed wood and metal chairs. Outside seating is more traditional. The menu is quite short, and the food is casual but fresh and delicious: salads, burgers, grilled dishes. Our favourite was a creamy buffalo mozzarella with fresh pesto and sweet sun-dried tomatoes. This is the place to come if you’re looking for early evening food (by Catalan standards) and don’t want pizza or tapas: it is open all afternoon and starts serving its full evening menu from 7:30 pm.
- Llevataps, Plaça de l’Oli (also in the heart of the old town, very close to Brots de Vi): a slick restaurant feel with a modern yet casual ambience. We loved their attention to detail, from the creative artwork on the walls, including a retro bike and wall serving as a wine library, to the meticulously presented food and decent (yet well priced) wine list.
Had we not had to get up early for a big ride the next day, we would have been sorely tempted by the nine-course tasting menu with wine pairings (and at 66 euros this would have been a steal). As it was, the cured pork, goats cheese and pistachio soufflé with shavings of black truffle followed by filet of beef with black garlic cream and wild blackberries was incredible.
- Don’t miss the cafés. Girona has no shortage of authentic, tempting cafés and coffee shops. All three that we visited were nothing short of superb. Our article, “La Fabrica Girona and friends: Girona’s best coffee shops” tells more.
5. Get a massage in Girona’s old town
Girona and the surrounding areas have a great range of spas to choose from.
Our choice would be Aqua Banys Romans, located in the heart of the old town. The spa is housed in an ancient building that was Girona’s first hospital (in use between 12th and 17th centuries). The building was converted in 2015 and sympathetically incorporates the ancient heritage into its design.
There are three rooms with water at different temperatures: Frigidarium (cold), Tepidarium (warm) and Calidarium (hot). There is also space for relaxation and massages, a hammam and salt sauna.
What did you do when you visited Girona? Let us know in the comments below!
If you’re planning a cycling trip to Girona, don’t miss our:
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