On Day 2 of our Barcelona trip, we ventured beyond the city to Medieval province of Girona, which is still located in the Catalonia region of Spain.
While Girona has been inhabited for over 2000 years, Girona’s rulers have changed hands many, many times – mostly between the Romans and the Moors – and the previous ruler influences can still be seen in the city’s architecture which reflects the Baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque periods. While the city saw multiple rulers over its existence, for hundreds of these years, Girona’s Jewish community thrived, so much so that you can still visit the beautiful and historic Jewish Quarter today. Today, Girona is a draw for locals and tourists all year round who come to get lost in the winding streets, experience the great food scene and wonder at its historical beauty. And, most recently, Girona was one of the many sites where Games of Thrones was filmed.
Transportation to Girona
Although there are trains from Barcelona to Girona, we opted to rent a car within city limits so that we would have the freedom to come as go as we pleased for the day. Normally, the drive would take a little over an hour, but having the car allowed us the flexibility to take the scenic route up the Costa Brava through little beach towns like Tossa De Mar, where we admired the Balearic Sea from afar. Once we arrived in Girona, parking was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to find a free parking spot in the city center. And then, we were off exploring!
We spent several hours wandering around the city, walking up and down the narrow, cobblestone streets, admiring the town’s notable historic sites and a few modern day amenities.
Here are the highlights:
Arab Baths – The existence of Girona’s Arab Baths were first noted in 1194, but the baths may have been around for many years before then. The historical landmark allows a self-guided tour of several, fairly well-preserved rooms traditional of the public baths from Romanesque period. Although the baths are heavily influenced by the Romans, the baths were also influenced by the Muslims and Jewish, who may have used it as mikveh (bath used for rituals). But what’s most impressive about these rooms, is the thoughtful way they were laid out with sections for hot and cold treatments, relaxation areas, etc, much like the luxury spas of today. The tour can take as long as you like, but it’s pretty easy to admire all of its features in about 30 minutes, and at the bargain price of about $3.
Girona Cathedral – Girona’s Cathedral, aka the Cathedral of St Mary of Girona, is the grand dame of the city and hard to miss. Its prominent stone stairway has 91 steps leading up to the cathedral and reminded me of a smaller version of the Spanish steps in Rome. (Note, this was one of the many places in Girona used for filming Game of Thrones). The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th centuries and has the widest nave of its kind in the world (75ft). Inside the cathedral, the high altar is flanked on either side by what seemed like more than a dozen smaller side chapels, each more stunning than the next. Note – The audio tour was included in the cost of the entrance fee and was extremely helpful in understanding the cathedral’s history, including the beautiful cloister/courtyard in the middle.
Roman Wall – The tall stone walls that can be found throughout the town were originally built by the Romans but were extended in the Middle Ages. You can actually walk all along the walls (the walkway is called Passeig de la Muralla) and get a different vantage point of the city and beyond. As we walked along the wall, we noticed many nooks and crannies like narrow, vertical windows possibly used for keeping an eye on invaders while staying shielded, remnants of old stone staircases and even a spot for a chamber pot! Walking the wall is free and definitely worth the stairs and stroll.
The Eiffel Bridge – Girona has 11 bridges that cross over the Onyar River. The most famous of the bridges is The Eiffel Bridge built by Gustave Eiffel’s company in the 1870s, a few years before he built the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Eiffel Bridge (and several others) have an amazing view of the colorful building facades and their equally amazing reflections off of the water.
Shopping – The many cobblestone paths are lined with adorable boutique shops selling clothing, home goods, and lovely souvenirs. One shop, eseOese, reminded me of a mix of Banana Republic, JCrew and Anthropologie – I’m still bummed I did not make myself buy the cute little wool sweater I tried on 🙁
Cafes and Coffee Shops – Girona has a wealth of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops to choose from, many with outdoor seating (yes, even in January!) For lunch, we stopped by La Fabrica, a charming cafe serving a variety of breakfast/brunch items. Popular by tourists and cyclists passing through on their rides, the cafe is owned by a German-Canadian couple, one of who is, not surprisingly, a former pro-cyclist, hence the cycling decor and likeminded patrons. We greatly enjoyed our brunch – best avocado toast ever! – as well as coffees and pastries. This place is a must if you happen to be in Girona for the day.
And that’s a wrap! Stayed tuned for more about my Barcelona adventure!