Girona is more than just the setting for the latest season of cult television series Game of Thrones. This old Spanish city is a treasure trove to explore – a picturesque riverside, striking gothic buildings, winding cobbled streets and timeworn medieval walls. Plus, it’s home to one of the best restaurants in the entire world and a famous Willy Wonka-esque gelateria.
Many travellers overlook Girona, which is overshadowed by the allure of neighbouring Barcelona. I must admit, the first time I visited Catalonia I devoted all my time to the capital at the expense of exploring nearby gems such as Girona.
Girona sits on the steep slopes along the banks of Onyar River – notable for the fringe of brightly coloured houses and multiple pedestrian bridges that span across it.
This ancient Catalonian town is of considerable historic interest; with Roman ruins, Romanesque towers, Gothic spires, cobbled streets and cloistered gardens skirted by crumbling medieval walls. It’s also home to one of the most distinctive, well-preserved Jewish Quarters in Spain.
Although history and tradition is celebrated in Girona, when it comes to food innovation takes centre stage. El Celler de Can Roca is literally one of the best restaurants in the entire world. The three-Michelin-starred restaurant serves traditional Catalan fare with a twist, using the creative techniques of molecular gastronomy. The Roca brothers inventive ice creamery Rocambolesc is also well known throughout Spain.
Girona should be high on your travel bucket list if you’re a Game of Thrones fan who loves picturesque settings, history, architecture and food.
Things to see and do in Girona
Modernista mansions on the River Onyar
The River Onyar is one of the most scenic parts of the city, partially due to the unique houses that flank the banks of the river. Each facade is painted to create a stunning colour palette and casts a kaleidoscopic reflection onto the water.
Gustave Eiffel’s bridge
Although Girona has eleven bridges, the best recognised is the one designed by Gustave Eiffel. His name sounds familiar to you? You’re not wrong – his most notable piece of architectural work was none other than the Eiffel Tower. The sturdy iron bridge is painted in bright red so it’s impossible to miss.
The Jewish Quarter
Known as the Call, it’s one of the main tourist attractions in Girona. A maze of atmospheric, narrow streets still preserved from medieval times. The first Jewish family arrived in Girona in the 9th Century and within a few hundred years there was a thriving Jewish community. There are cafes, boutiques, bookshops and a Jewish Museum to be found in the incredible labyrinth of laneways.
The cathedral was built over a period of five hundred years, which explains the Romanesque frame and Baroque chapels. Inside the Cathedral’s museum is an exceptional masterpiece, the ‘Tapestry of Creation’, which makes it worth climbing up the eighty-six-step ascent from Plaça de la Catedral.
Basilica de Sant Feliu
A striking Gothic building complete with a bell tower that is a recognisable part of the Girona skyline.
Passeig de la Muralla
The reconstructed city walls now form a tourist route around the old city with panoramic views over Girona and surrounding countryside, even as far as the snow-capped Pyrenees.
Where to eat
El Celler de Can Roca
This destination restaurant holds the title for the ‘second best restaurant in the world’ and it was only bumped down from the coveted primo position this year. The restaurant is owned and run by a talented fraternal team who showcase their Catalan roots with creative flair. The famous Roca brothers are each a master in their particular field; a chef, a sommelier and a patissier. The dining experience is incredibly sought after, so if you plan to indulge in the twenty-course degustation you’d better start saving your pennies and be sure to make your reservation an entire year in advance.
La Fabrica Girona
This trendy cycle cafe specialises in healthy food and great coffee. The coconut chia pudding with granola, homemade pear compote and mango puree is almost too pretty to eat.
Plus the al-fresco seating on a quiet back street makes it a relaxing brunch spot, as long as you don’t mind being surrounded by the lycra-clad patrons who flock to this cafe.
The famous Roca brothers run Girona’s whimsical gelataria. This means you don’t have to score a coveted table at El Celler de Can Roca to taste some of their amazing creations.
Design your own perfect ice cream at Rocambolesc with a choice of unusually flavoured gelato and decadent toppings. I ordered violet and chocolate flavoured swirls of soft serve, topped with violet marshmallow cubes, house-made honeycomb, cocoa nibs and gooseberries.
Café le Bistrot
Cult institution Café Le Bistrot is positively charming and a great place to sample traditional Catalan fare. It’s a typical, atmospheric bistrot complete with white tablecloths, high ceilings, intricately tiled floors and walls hanging with antique mirrors and old posters. Better still, the outdoor seating is truly magical – romantic bistrot tables are set out below the staircase at Pujada de Sant Marti. This happens to be one of the most picturesque locations in town, so it’s the perfect place to while away a Spanish summer evening.
Where to shop
Boxes of organic fruit, beautifully packaged products and an incredible selection of Catolonia’s finest produce. Homegrown olive oils, rare wines, local cheese and gourmet chocolate to name a few of the special items you can find at Local Market.
This beautifully curated concept store stocks European designer clothes and accessories with a particular focus on local and Scandinavian designs.
Girona is a quick 40-minute train ride from Barcelona making it a perfect mini-break or even stop by Girona on your way to explore the Costa Brava. One of the easiest ways to see Girona would be to join an organised day-trip bus tour, which also includes a visit to the not-to-be-missed Figueres.