The Saturday City: Girona

the streets of girona in costa brava, spainLocated in the Costa Brava region of Spain just north of Barcelona, I had the pleasure of visiting Girona when it acted as host city for this year’s European travel blogger conference.

This region of Spain is not as popular as Costa del Sol or islands like Ibiza, which is good and bad. Good because there aren’t that many tourists here and it’s relatively quiet. Bad because this region is beautiful, picturesque, and filled with gorgeous coastlines that I wish they did advertise more so I would have visited sooner. I can’t believe I’ve been coming to Spain for 6 years and never made it here! Costa Brava has become one of my favorite spots in Spain and Girona one of my favorite cities.

The city of Girona has been inhabited since before the Romans. After the Roman Empire collapsed, the city was ruled by an endless stream of kings and princes throughout the centuries. Girona has undergone twenty-five sieges and been captured seven times in its history. One of the most famous of these sieges began in May 1809 when the city was besieged by 35,000 French Napoleonic troops until disease and famine compelled it to surrender that December. I actually got to see a reenactment of one of the battles from this siege while I was in Girona. It was a quite a spectacle seeing everyone dressed up and unlike reenactments in the United States, you got “on the battlefield” with everyone. Tons of people intermingled with the re-enactors and taking photos on the field. It also meant that the cannons and guns got scaringly close to me.

Modern day Girona is a city filled with abundant food, cheap bars, and winding cobblestone streets that I could spend hours getting lost in. During my amazing stay here, I found a number of activities to enjoy:

current housesit in the wilderness of Wisconsin

Ice cream at Rocambolesc – The three Roca brothers are considered some of the top chefs in the world and run the second-best restaurant in the world (see further down this list). In Girona, Jordi Roca, the youngest brother, runs this ice cream shop with a sort of Willy Wonka decor to it. You can enjoy interesting flavors such as apple, strawberry, various sherbets that can be topped with berries, cotton candy, popping candy, fruits, whip cream, chocolate sauce, fudge, and so much more. I went there two days in a row, and I regret not going more.

Monastery Sant Pere de Rodes – One of the oldest monasteries in Europe, this grand monastery is outside the city but is easy to get to by bus or car. This church is a great example of Romanesque architecture.

The Girona Cathedral – A spectacular cathedral, the interior includes the widest Gothic nave in the world and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Construction was first started in the 11th century and wasn’t completed until the 18th century. It’s right in the center of town and while not as amazing as the Sant Pere, if you can’t make it there, make it to the cathedral.

colorful houses in girona

Walk the wall – Girona used to be surrounded by a vast medieval wall meant to keep out unfriendly armies. That wall was destroyed centuries ago but you can walk around a reconstructed version that surrounds the historic center of the city and see all the main points of attraction.

The City History Museum – Are you a history buff? Good, me too! I try to visit every history museum I come across. After all, you can’t know where people are if you don’t know where they have been. The Girona history museum does a good job of explaining the city’s complex and often turbulent history.

dali painting in girona, spain

Day trip to Figueres to see Dali – A short trip from Girona is the Dali museum in Figueres. Dali is an important figure in this region, having been born in Figueres, though he lived in the coastal town of Cadaques most of his life (you can visit that house too). Some of Dali’s most famous surrealist art and statues can be found in the Figueres museum. The train from Girona takes around an hour. Be prepared for the crowds; at times, you are moving at a snail’s pace to see some of the more famous works. It’s always rush hour here.

The Jewish Quarter – The 12th century saw the birth of a flourishing Jewish community that was ended in 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Today, the Jewish quarter is one of the best preserved historic sites in Europe with centuries-old houses and facades still in wonderful condition. There is also a museum to visit, though I didn’t make it there. However, this writer did and had some interesting comments.

girona, spain

El Celler de Can Roca – Owned by the famous Roca brothers and considered the second best in the world, a meal here will cost “mucho dinero” (a lot of money) but if you have the money to spend, why not eat at one of the top restaurants in the world? The brothers catered our blogger conference (crazy, huh?) and the food was heavenly. I am sure the restaurant is just as mouth watering.

Gorge on the food – Ok, this activity isn’t limited to this city. Eating is one of the greatest activities in all of Spain but in Girona, eating is truly an art form. I went overboard on the tapas, cured ham, and ice cream. For tapas, check out Txalaka.

Girona offers a place to experience the Catalonian region without the hordes in nearby Barcelona. It also makes for a good gateway city into the regions of Costa Brava with its villages, famous coastline, and access to the Pyrenees.

  1. Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    I have been to Figueres and Girona but I’m sad to say I did none of these great activities! I did have jamon iberico so it wasn’t a total waste. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back, that ice cream sounds amazing btw.

  2. How close is actually Girona from Barcelona? After spending two weeks in the latter city and seeing these pictures I feel like kicking myself for not going there. I have a lot of excuses to return to the area though – and finally visit this place as well.

  3. I had a nice little experience that I would recommend as a possible daytrip from Girona if you’re staying there a while. I befriended some Mormons as I was finding my hostel on my first night in Girona. I joined them as they picnicked by the Susqueda Dam the following day. Its a 40min drive from the city, quite spectacular and off the beaten path.

  4. That ice cream looks insanely good. We had to skip Spain this time around, sadly, but that just means we’ll make Spain and Portugal a longer trip that they deserve – we didn’t want to rush it!

  5. Flew into Girona yesterday but sadly didn’t have time to stop. Will be sure to make amends next time. Looks like there’s more there than we realised.

    Bypassing Girona did allow us to spend the night in the similarly overlooked but quite beautiful Tarragona. It’s an hour south of Barcelona. Great food, views of the Med & Roman ruins. Highly recommended.


  6. I love Spain…was so sad to not make it to Girona. (I wanted to attend TBEX – but it was half way through the Camino for me so timing was off!!!) I know I will be back to Spain – will have to make sure Girona makes it on tour! I love relaxing into the quieter towns and exploring. More of a chance to experience the local culture than the bigger, more touristy places!

  7. Girona is my favourite Spanish city and I love to read other travellers’ positive opinions about it. I also had the exact same ice cream as in your photo at Rocambolesc! I can still taste the chestnuts and candy floss! I also went two days in a row.

  8. Your article takes me back a few years Matt. I was discussing with friends this week how I plan to spend 3 months in Spain during our winters in NZ. I miss the lifestyle and variety there and is one of the few things I miss about moving the other side of the world. Still, over-looking the ocean as I write this at home sort of makes up for it!

  9. As many times as I have been to Spain, I’ve never visited this city. Looks amazing. I am very interested in seeing the Dali museum and I think this summer would be the perfect time to do it. Thanks for the idea, Matt!

  10. Nice shot, That ice cream looks really good… :)

  11. mikey

    I’m in Girona right now, just arrived today. I can’t believe how amazing this place is. It’s the type of European city I’ve always dreamed of going too. I had no idea what it was gonna be like. When I started walking around I was truly amazed. I can’t believe this place isn’t more popular. Everyone should come here!!

  12. Girona has been a fav for Nancy and I for some time, living in Barcelona. It was fabulous to see it as the location for TBEX last year which gave it a lot of exposure, as did it being featured as a ‘must’ destination by National Geographic Traveler!

  13. Thanks for a nice tip on that ice cream parlor, Matt! Never knew about it before you mentioned the place, even though I’m intimately familiar with Spanish cuisine :)

  14. Hey Matt, you make a great point in your article about beautiful Cities like Girona not being that well advertised. When most people – myself included – think of holidaying in Spain the first thing that comes to mind is sunshine and seaside resorts. It’s obvious that Spain has a lot more to offer. Your post has certainly pirked my interest in the City of Girona.


  15. Nina R.

    I’m glad I found this on my Google search as I am planning my 28 day Spain/Morocco trip in Dec/Jan. The end of my trip is 6 days in Barcelona that I felt would be a great base.

    I’m wondering if you think it’s possible to visit the Dali museum & Girona in the same day trip or if you think these are separate trips altogether. Thanks!!

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