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After city rule passed from the Romans to the Moors, to the Jewish, and finally, the Christians, an influence of different styles emerged, an architectural goldmine for Girona’s visitors resulted. The most obvious thing to do in this beautiful riverside city is simply to wander through its narrow, winding streets, marvel at its pastel-colored homes and be transported to a different time. The medieval quarter, called Barri Vell can be found on the east bank of the river, and is the a huge point of interest for most visitors to Girona. It’s compact, easy to navigate and chock-full of nearly all of Girona’s main sights and monuments.
For a true step back into time, head to the Catedral, which is an exquisite example of Catalan Gothic style. A place of worship has stood on these grounds since Roman rule, and after a mosque before the now Catholic place of worship was built in 1083. As you descend the Cathedral’s steps, look for the tower of the Església de Sant Feliu, one of Girona’s best-know landmarks.
Near the Catedral, you’ll head through the Portal de Sobreportas and turn right to find the Arabic Baths (Banys Arabs), which were built around 1194, closed later to protect public morals and rebuilt. In 1929 they were restored and reopened, this time as a museum for the public. They feature advanced architecture for their time, including a floor heating system, carved out hooks for clothing, and a vaulted skylight.
Next door to the Catedral is the Museu d’Art, featuring Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque works, rare manuscripts, centuries-old objects rescued from old country churches and more.
Be sure to shop for the traditional products of the area while in Girona. From “butifarra” sausage, to black earthenware, crafts, “xuixo” cake and iron products,you’ll be sure to find any number of these souvenirs while in Girona, especially on Tuesdays and Sundays, which are market days.
The historic center of Girona is the ideal place to shop for its pedestrian-friendly streets. For more shopping, try the Eixample area and the new areas of Palau-Montilivi and Güell-Girona.
The best streets to eat butifarra and other regional delights are located on C/de la Forca and C/Ballesteries. Try Boira (Placa de la Independencia, 17) for a restaurant locals love just as much as visitors to the city. In the summer, sit out on the terrace in the plaza, and warm up in the wintertime with riverside views from the indoor dining room. Plats del dia (menu of the day) run from just 7-15 euros. For beautiful food served in beautiful surroundings, try El Pou de la Call (C/de la Forca, 14) where menus are always three-course and indoor (with AC in the summer).
Sip on a café con leche at any of the daytime cafés on Rambla de la Llibertat and on Placa del Vi. Try L’Arc (Placa Catedral, 9) for café with a cathedral on its terrace or La Terra (C/Ballesteries, 23) for a hangout popular with students, featuring river-views from its windows.
Though Girona is nowhere near the size of bustling Barcelona, there’s no shortage of accommodation, and it isn’t usually necessary to book in advance, unless you stay at a smaller hostel/hotel. Though staying in the old town makes for a convenient holiday in the center of the action, consider trying Mas de la Roda (C/Creu, 31) located 10km out in rural Girona, in a restored stone house complete with organic dinners made be the French-Swiss owners.
The Jewish Quarter is considered the best-preserved in Western Europe and makes for a great area to explore on foot. At its peak, this quarter, called the Call or the Alihama, held over 300 Jewish families. Though this community flourished for many years, the eventual persecution of Jews in the 13th century turned the quarter into a ghetto until their complete persecution from Spain in 1492.
Barcelona is a viable day-trip from Girona as well as the rest of the Costa Brava, which is under an hour away. To get a taste of the countryside, go to Figueres to visit one of Spain’s most popular museums: the Teatre-Museu Dali, created by Salvador Dali himself. Go to Besalu and Olot and explore the ancient volcanic area of Catalonia, now called the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica. Past the town of Olot, the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains aren’t too far off, making an active getaway for visitors with a flexible itinerary.
In the summer a group of open-air bars, called Les Carpes open in the Parc de la Devesa. This park is the largest public park in Catalonia and easily accessible by foot from the city. The Carpes bars feature live music from Wednesday to Saturday and many join in to dance. Also, the Auditori, a new modern concert hall, located in the park, boasts an international list of performers throughout the year.
Also try the jazz and film festivals running back-to-back in September and October. The Teatre Municipal, Teatre de Sant Domenec , Sala de la Planeta and Centre Cultural le Mercé host formal events and concerts put on by foreign guest artists. You’ll find info posted throughout Girona, or go to the local tourism office for more information on specific concerts, dates and times.
Trying to find parking in the center of the city. Many of the streets are pedestrian-only or reserved for residents-only, unless your accommodation provides parking. Try the free lots by Parc Pedret or on Passeig For a Murall outside of the medieval walls.