Girona had been the city of many “firsts” for us. To begin with, it was the first place where we stayed at an Airbnb apartment as a family. The hostess was a lovely Catalan woman called Susanna and she marked an awesome begining of our pan Andulasia road trip. Her house was located in the charming old city and although we spent only 48 hours in Girona, those two days were extremely memorable. Tarek and I loved it there and Girona captivated us from the very first moment. A gorgeous medieval city in Europe, Girona has a lot to offer and the city still retains a lot of its fresh authenticity. Being located off the well trodden tourist track has helped Girona maintain its calm, charm culture and colour and it is a delight to walk around.
The city of a thousand sieges
The preserved city center or Barri Vell with its looming medieval walls hold many enticing alleys and the cobbled streets are lined with interesting museums. Quirky boutiques make shopping a lot of fun and 48 hours in Girona often slip by unnoticed. The Barri Vell is a photographer‘s delight with gorgeous old pastel coloured mansions flaunting defiant Catalan flags from their wrought iron balconies. This feiry defiance is deep rooted in the entire Catalan region and perhaps it has been the reason why Girona has successfully survived its tumultous history. Though founded by the Romans, Girona was ruled by the Moors for 200 years before it was controlled by the French. A vast amount of wealth amassed during the Medieval period, made the city prone to invasions thus earning it the nickname of “the city of thousand sieges” or “immortal”. We found Girona to be pleasantly timeless and the early spring sun heightened the charm. A delightful cornucopia of galleries, Arab baths, Gothic churches and cute bistros, this ancient walled city was like a jewelry box full of surprises and the local food was to die for. There was a general joie de vivre in the air and our 48 hours in Girona melted away fast. It was beautiful just to walk down the narrow walled cobbled lanes, resting in the blue shadows against ancient stones and sipping icy cold sangrias with lively university students.
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Start with Cathedral de Girona
Geographically set at the confluence of the Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Güell rivers, Girona is one of the best preserved cities of Europe. Known for its shimmering reflections of Modernista mansions on River Onyar, Girona‘s old town is a beguiling mix of architectural styles and labyrinthine lanes, which twist up to the hill top perch of the cathedral. The views from the cathedral are breathtaking and it is a spectacular building in its own right. Famous for being a location of the Game of Thrones, Cathedral de Girona has one of the widest Gothic nave in the world and a white sweeping Baroque staircase lead up to its grand Romanesque facade. Its altar is a treasure trove of gold, silver and precious stones and the cathedral has a beautiful museum for those interested in religious art.
Travel Tip – Schedule your cathedral visit sometime during late noon to escape the mid day heat in peaceful 12th century cloister. Head towards the museum (10am-07pm, ticket = 7 Euros per person) for viewing encrusted bishop‘s mitres and one f the finest surving example of Romasque textile, the Tapestry of Creation.
Head over to the Arab Baths
Just behind the Cathedral, Girona‘s complex architectural contrasts begin to show itself. The Passeig de la Muralla or the walled ramparts of the old city still remain strong there and during sunsets, they glow a beautiful honey gold. The walls date back to as early as Charlemagne‘s time and a stroll along them offer beautiful views of the Pyrenees backdrop. The domed Arab Baths is also close by and like the rest of Girona, the complex comes with a curious heritage. Originally built in 1194 to an older Arab design, the bath complex used to be a convent prior to 1929. Today, it is a paid attraction with well articulated description and some parts of the bath have been beautifully restored.
Travel Tip – Entrance fee to Carrer Ferran el Catolic (Arab Baths) is 2 Euros. Dont forget to check out the pretty 10th century monastery of Sant Pere and 12th century chapel of Sant Nicolau. The former now houses an Archeology Musuem and the latter has been converted into a modern art gallery.
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Delve into Girona‘s Jewish past
From the Arab Baths, meander back inside the walled old city to navigate narrow labyrinthine alleys which hold the secret of Girona‘s Jewish heritage. El Call or the Jewish Quarter is one of the most enigmatic places of Girona and it is located within the Forca Vella. Reknowned as the best preserved Jewish Quarter in Europe, El Call evokes mystery and a medieval atmosphere. Consisting of a maze of very narrow labyrinthine lanes and patios, this historic quarter offer glimpses of the life of the community that inhabited Girona for nearly 600 years before being expelled in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It is a gorgeous place for photography with its immense play of shadow and light and pale light filtering through narrow dark tunnels.
Travel Tip – El Call is not friendly for those having mobility restrictions. If traveling with a baby like us, consider using a carrying bag. Though beautifully preserved, some stone steps can be slippery so wear good walking shoes and exercise caution. Don‘t forget to visit the Jewish History Museum during your 48 hours in Girona. Located at 8 Carrer Forca, this museum gives an incredible insight into daily life, along with the Girona‘s Jew‘s passion for astronomy and medicine (Tuesday to Saturday 10am-6pm; In winter until 2pm Monday and Sunday in winter, Entrance fee is 4 Euros).
Do some window shopping during your 48 hours in Girona
The old city opens up as you walk towards the River Onyar from Call and all the lanes lead to La Rambla de la Llibertat or the Plaça de la Independència. Many art galleries, chic cafés, cute stores, and trendy boutiques line these lanes and you can spend more than 48 hours in Girona there. Our favourite stores were located there and I loved the old fashioned toy shop. Many nice old fashioned cafes are also housed there and duck into any one of them for some lazy moments, reflections on River Onyar and tapas with cervesa (beer). There are also some new age gourmet cafes offering Iberian jamon (ham) tasting and you can learn to carve a leg of ham there. Continue along the tightly packed lanes until you reach the La Rambla de la Llibertat.
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It‘s time for some reflections
Though the Barri Vell with its grand Plaça de la Independència and narrow cobblestone streets with connecting stairways is hard to leave, for the best views of Girona, cross over the bridge to the left side of the river. Pretty much immediately, the classic and the most photographed panorama of the city emerges. Irrespective of the season, River Onyar flows quietly and on it still water shimmer the beautiful waterfront facade. They are a riot of colours in pastel yellow, pink, ochre and orange and many of the windows and balconies of the mansions are always draped with colorful drying laundry. The bright Catalan flags are also visible among them and the old hanging buildings are adorned with fretwork grilles of embossed wood or delicate iron tracery. Continue walking towards towards the popular cherry coloured Eiffel Bridge. Built by Gustave Eiffel, way before he created his famous Parisian tower, Pont de les Pescateries Velles is a perfect photo stop to mark the end of your 48 hours in Girona.
How did we go about our 48 hours in Girona?
First of all, we enjoyed slow traveling in Girona. It was pretty hot during the day, so we kept our excurions for the mornings and evenings, selecting indoor activities like eating, enjoying at a cafe for noon. Once I also explored the local market with my hostess Susanna and for a foodie like me, it was an orgasmic experience. Girona is extremely famous for having some of the world‘s finest restaurants and the late evening out culture is thriving there. According to us, 48 hours in Girona is not enough to enjoy the city and all it has to offer to the fullest, but this walking guide, nearly marks the best places in the city. Don‘t forget to try some Catalan cuisine, while you are there and though, they don‘t come cheap, dining out in Girona is one of the must things to do in the city. There is a lot that Girona has to offer and the best way is to read a bit of its incredible history before your visit. It is truly a very unique city, which has seen nearly every significant phases history pass through this region at one point or another. Many powerful armies like those of the Visigoths, Moors, Charlemagne, Napolean have lusted after Girona and seafaring traders like the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians have left deep impressions on the city scape.
The deeper you go, the more you will find
Experiencing Girona is like going through the pages in history and it is incredibly well preserved. The city‘s collection of museums is to die for and don‘t miss out the award winning Cinema Museum. Buy a M5 card after paying entrance to one of Girona‘s five main museums and you can access the rest four for half the price. Siesta time is strictly maintained by most of Girona shops and they tend to close for lunch between 2pm and 5pm. Shops reopen later and stay open till late almost until 9pm. On Sunday, all shops and many museums remain closed.
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Girona is easily reachable from Barcelona by train. During the week trains run between 6am and 10pm and on weekends, between 8am and 10pm. The journey takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and a single ticket cost range from 9 Euros to 12 Euros one way. Usually return tickets are not available except from Barcelona (Mitja distancia trains). The faster option is AVE train which takes only 35 minutes to go from Barcelona city centre to Girona. The Girona Costa Brava Airport is served by many airlines including budget ones like Ryan Air. The city plays host to many cultural events throughout the year and Girona Temps de Flors is a fabulous experience. Held every year in May, Temp de Flors or the Time of the Flowers recreates Girona into a garden of Eden. This beautiful event which goes on for 10 days, sees the old quarters buildings, gardens and courtyards of the old quarter are decked out with beautiful floral displays and art installations. For more information on Girona, check out the official tourism website.
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