Visitors to the Costa Brava often overlook Girona, heading instead to the regional capital Barcelona. However the Girona old town has some of the most complete city walls in Spain, medieval streets that seem hardly to have changed over centuries, and lots of traditional Catalan restaurants. And Game of Thrones enthusiasts may recognise it as one of the locations for Season 6. What more reason could you want for spending a day (or two) exploring one of Catalonia’s major cities?
The Girona City Walls
Girona’s walls exist for a good reason. Historically this was a wealthy city, causing it to be attacked and besieged on a number of occasions. The first walls were built by the Romans, but they were rebuilt and extended during the Middle Ages. Fortunately there is no risk of siege today and the walls now serve a rather different purpose, aiming to attract people to the city rather than keep them out. To this end much of the wall has been reinforced so that tourists can walk around the historical defences, only stopping at the point where the river forms a natural barrier.
I joined the wall close to the Cathedral, walking through old cemeteries and parks and past houses built into the fabric of the wall itself until I reached the recently strengthened section where you can walk along the top. Unlike some other city walls I’ve walked around these ones dip up and down, reflecting the undulating landscape.
If you have a head for heights you can climb one of the lookout towers for spectacular views over the surrounding hills (even if you don’t climb to the top the views from the wall are still pretty good). And you can peer down into the town for rooftop views of the Cathedral, churches and houses.
Inside The Walls: Girona Old Town
When I got to the end of the wall it was time to explore the old town. You could spend hours just in the Cathedral with its massive interior (apparently the second widest nave in the world), vivid stained glass and so many treasures, including a 12th century wooden Madonna, that many of them are housed in a separate museum area. For me the highlight was the cloisters, a large light area whose stone pedestals were carved with fantastical figures and biblical scenes.
There was lots more I could have seen, including more churches and the Arab Baths. But I didn’t want to miss the pleasure of just walking around the city with its narrow cobbled streets and tall buildings that give welcome shade from the sun. Many of the roads and passages are too narrow for traffic, giving the feel of a long vanished era.
Later, I sat in one of the numerous small restaurants to enjoy fresh fish and local wine. There was just one thing left to do. Legend has it that, if you kiss the bottom of the lioness beside the church of St Felix, you will be sure to return to Girona.
How To Visit Girona
Girona is around 100 km northeast of Barcelona. It has its own regional airport, mostly used by visitors to Lloret de Mar and the other resorts of the Costa Brava. To take a day trip from Barcelona, the easiest way to get there is by train. Twice-daily high speed trains take just under three-quarters of an hour; the more frequent regional trains take about an hour and a half.
Alternatively, you could take a day trip to Girona from Barcelona with LivTours (readers of this website can get a 10% discount from LivTours by using discount code WORLDWIDEWRITER). And GetYourGuide has tours of the Girona old town – GOT fans might like this Game of Thrones Small Group Tour.
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