The Girona Flower Festival (Temps de Flors)
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is about the time when we planned to begin posting articles on local travel in anticipation of summer. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the city of Girona has canceled this year’s festival, so below is is a virtual tour in anticipation of next year’s festivities.]
It seems like such a quaint throwback – an entire city decorated with flowers to celebrate Spring. Cities around the world observe this tradition and Spain is no exception. The Girona Flower Festival (Temps de Flors) taking center stage each May. It’s an easy day trip from nearby Barcelona. Yet, the experienced, been-there-seen-it-all world traveler in me had a few lingering doubts. Still, the hype eventually motivated me to check it out, albeit alone. While I would typically go with friends on a day trip like this, my well-honed traveler’s instinct told me the Temps de Flors festival would be better alone, moving at my own pace, and observing the beauty in silence.
Getting to Girona
What began in 1954 as a small flower contest held in the Resting Room of Girona’s Municipal Theater has turned into an international festival, attracting visitors from all over the world. The original event in 1954 had such a great response that the contest kept growing and expanding out to larger rooms, more spaces and courtyards throughout the city. Finally, in 1979 the Association of Friends of Flowers and Gardens officially organized the Temps de Flors. They eventually partnered with the City Council of Girona, turning it into the city’s largest international festival.
The Temp de Flors is such a popular festival that train tickets from Barcelona to Girona can sell out two weeks beforehand. If you want a less crowded, more spontaneous experience, go in the middle of the week. I purchased a same-day ticket for one of the AVE high-speed trains from Sants Estacio at 8:30am on a Wednesday and arrived in Girona within 45 minutes. While 9:15 may be the height of rush hour and morning activity in many countries, Spain’s no pasa nada attitude makes it a late riser. The tourist hordes had yet to descend on Girona, so the city belonged to me and a few visitors who seemed to be mostly locals. It gave the festival a small-town vibe, not to mention, better views of the floral displays without the urgency to keep moving along.
Around 12:00 a wave of people and even a few large groups of school-aged children arrived and by 5:30 pm the city was crowded. I knew it was time for me to leave. My 6:00pm return train ticket to Barcelona had me back home having dinner with my family by 7:30pm.
Girona Temps de Flors Experience
The Temps de Flors stands out amongst flower festivals because it’s more like a giant scavenger hunt rather than a traditional festival with a central event. Flower festivals can be found in easy travel distance from Spain, including the Moroccan Festival of the Roses in El Kelaâ M’Gouna and Portugal’s Madeira Flower Festival. My own experience with flower festivals includes the annual New Year’s Day Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade in Los Angeles, California. The parade celebrates the Rose Bowl (American) football game. Moving floats are decorated exclusively in roses. Local businesses and organizations spend months preparing these floats in large warehouses. At Girona’s flower festival, instead of sitting on the street watching all of the floats go by, the city itself is the spectacle. Visitors walk around the narrow streets and alleys trying to find as many displays as possible. The arrangements in Girona are displays of creative scenes, from gnomes taking a selfie to jellyfish floating in the sea.
The city helpfully provides a map of with all of the flower display locations. Follow the map to make sure you see every flower stop, or, if you prefer a more organic experience, just wander and discover the beautiful displays as you go. Many of the displays are quite obvious and cannot be missed, while others are more difficult to find — a narrow, unassuming street might just might lead you to something very special.
Of course, the steps of the Girona Catedral is the Instagram clickbait star of the festival. The medieval Catedral towers over the stairs and makes for a pretty dramatic backdrop to the immense floral display. The Girona Cathedral is also the location for the official festival kick-off on the first day. This is not to discount the smaller displays around the city, which although not as impressive in size, more than make up for it in creativity and charm. Not be missed are the Banys Àrab (Arab Baths), Església de Sant Martí (Church of Sant Martí and the Teatre Municipal (Municipal Theatre), where I found my favorite display — golden gnomes taking a group selfie on the stairs. Displays change each year, so don’t get too attached to a “favorite” display. If you’ve seen one Temps de Flors, you’ve seen one Temps de Flors.