Lovely little Girona, the shining jewel in the Catalan crown, holds a special place in my heart. I called it home for seven years and married the love of my life in its beautiful cathedral, itself the centerpiece for the annual Temps de Flors. A Girona day trip from Barcelona is just a speedy 35-minute AVE train ride away from Sants station. Girona charms all who make the effort to visit this medieval town, whether it’s for a day trip or a more leisurely weekend break.
Although Girona has year-round appeal, make the most of your trip by coinciding it with one of the many wonderful cultural events that happen throughout the year. Here are a few highlights.
Every Easter, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Roman-themed processions take place in the old town. Hundreds of people dressed in golden Roman uniforms march or ride on horseback through the old cobbled streets, depicting the solemn scene of the soldiers taking Jesus to be crucified. Local residents have been recreating these processions for decades, passing down to the next generation the Roman soldier uniforms and the honour to participate. The uniforms are displayed in all their glory in the Sant Lluç church throughout the Temps de Flors festival in May.
Speaking of which, the magical Temps de Flors festival is a must-see. It presents a wonderful opportunity to see historical buildings in the old town covered in vibrant bouquets of flowers. The magnificent Cathedral steps and the Banys Àrabs (the Arab baths) are particularly gorgeous, with huge, colourful floral displays contrasting against the stone architecture. The savvy traveler books train tickets well in advance as they sell out at least two weeks before the festival takes place. Go on a weekday morning because the two weekends of the festival are always crowded and busy. Be a hero — if you’re going with a group, make meal reservations in advance and take a phone charger because your battery will wear down from the constant taking of photos. Every corner will have an Instagram-worthy shot.
Girona’s biggest festival, the Fires of Sant Narcis, takes place at the end of October/beginning of November. The roller coasters and rides in the fairground in the middle of the Devesa park will have you weaving and bobbing through the tree canopy. The Catalan castellers (human tower builders) are a marvel of teamwork and community spirit. I always find their human towers so moving (and nerve wracking!). The castellers also perform the “pujada” on the Cathedral stairs, walking up the 89 steps in a single file tower of four. It’s a heart-stopping, not-to-be-missed tradition. Nightly concerts and other activities make this a family friendly festival.
While there are plenty of specific places to visit in Girona, travelers who enjoy just wandering a place to absorb the ambience and see daily life in action will be especially thrilled with Girona. Some highlights include:
● The old Barri Vell historic centre is filled with beautiful buildings, monuments, and lots of charming bars, restaurants, and small boutiques.
● Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognise the facade of the spectacular Cathedral, which was featured in season six of the hit series. Of course, I may be biased about the Cathedral’s beauty given my more personal connection. My husband and I held our wedding ceremony here in 2008.
● Wear your sneakers and take a walk along the old city wall. The picture perfect sunsets visible from here should appeal to travel photographers and social media-lytes alike.
● The houses on the River Onyar, viewed from any of Girona’s four beautiful bridges, make for a special place to stop for a photo, a memorable kiss, or just a pause to take in the lovely reflections in the water.
● Girona’s Museum of Jewish History has eleven galleries of exhibits showcasing the daily life and history of the Jewish community in the city during medieval times. Jewish families settled in Girona in the 9th century and visitors can learn about the community, including the aljama system of payment and protection between the community and the Crown. Situated in a beautiful, historical building, the museum is especially a wonderful visit during the Girona flower festival.
As with much of Spain, there are numerous lovely spots in Girona to stop and refuel. If you prefer a little people-watching while having a snack, Plaça Independencia is popular with locals and tourists alike, a perfect spot to unwind and watch the world go by.
Girona is rife with cycle cafes, given the many popular routes, especially the Green Ways, that draws cyclists from across the globe to this little corner of Catalonia. Great breakfasts, coffees, and cakes can be enjoyed at La Fabrica, a hidden away little cafe popular with cyclists and non-Lycra wearing people alike. Rocacorba and Hors Categorie also guarantee pelotons and delicious food, although I promise you don’t have to cycle to eat there!
In the old town, just behind the town hall, Buttercup Cafe and the vermouth bar next door, La Malabarista, are in a lovely little plaça great for relaxing and more people-watching. Pretend to be a local and have a pre-lunch vermouth or two at the weekend before your lunch. Then head to Rocambolesc for some ice cream. It definitely has Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vibes — Catalan style. Rocamblosec is located on Carrer Santa Clara, which coincidentally also happens to be a great street for shopping, or at least window-shopping while enjoying a scoop.
The Roca Brothers of 3-Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca fame have also opened up their latest venture — a chocolate hotel, atelier, café and shop called Casa Cacao. The hotel has only fifteen rooms and boasts an enviable terrace with spectacular views of the historic district. The aromatherapy alone from the roasting cocoa beans make this a worthwhile stop (or overnight).
No Spanish evening is complete without a drink with a friend. For an evening glass of wine, I love El Secret, a bar on the rooftop of the Hotel Ultonia, which has the added benefit of a lovely atmosphere and great views.
With Girona, you can’t go wrong just wandering the little cobbled streets, soaking up the history and culture and enjoying the local food and drink. But, fair warning, as I did after I moved from Girona to Barcelona — “Girona, et trobo molt a faltar.” — you will miss this little city.
Can’t do a Girona day trip from Barcelona, but love to cycle? Check out these great options near Barcelona.
Guest Author: Pamela McKillop is an image consultant and fashion blogger at stylepop.es and creative director at thelabcn.com. Originally from Scotland, Pamela and her husband, Steven, moved to Spain in 2003 for one year. Seventeen years later, they can be found with son, Matthew, and Old English sheepdog, Teddy, loving life in Barcelona. Find her on Instagram @pamelastylepop.