Girona is a beautiful and budget friendly destination, one of our favourite to date. Located only 40 minutes by train from Barcelona, Girona also boasts its own international airport. Thankfully almost everything in the city is within walking distance. We much preferred the laid back medieval streets of Girona over the shoulder to shoulder tourism found in neighbouring Barcelona. Girona has been getting more attention due to Game of Thrones and we can't blame anyone, the city is beautiful and compared to the Catalan capital, much more budget friendly!
1. Stand in awe of Girona's immense cathedral
Of course the first thing to see in Girona is its gorgeous 11th century Romanesque cathedral. The sheer size of the building is hard to fully comprehend and getting a picture of its entirety is harder still! The Cathedral dominates the skyline of the city and the best shots can be taken from much further away. Entrance to the cathedral is only 7 euro, a very small sum compared to the fees charged by cathedrals in London, Rome or Paris, and opening hours are long (even in winter time). As always, be sure to arrive early in the day to have the cathedral to yourself.
2. Visit King's Landing (and the rest of old town Girona)
Girona is a city rich as rich in history as it is in unique Catalan architecture. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognise the steps of King's Landing as well as much of the historic Old Town of Girona. The steps can be found leading up to one of the entrances of the Cathedral. It's totally free to wander around the quaint little alleyways around the Old Town area, and getting lost is a perfect way of taking in that gorgeous architecture.
3. Kiss the Lion's butt (El Cul de la Lleona)
Catalan legend has it that anyone who seeks out 'El Cul de la Lleona' (which translates to 'The Lion's Ass') and puckers up to give it a big kiss, will surely return again to the city in the future. Like any true gentleman, I allowed Caitlin to be the one to give it a kiss...
The lion was a little difficult to find as Google took us to the restaurant 'El Cul de la Lleona'. To avoid our mistake, make sure to find 'la Lleona' on Plaça Sant Fèlix when using Google Maps in Girona to find the right location. It's worth seeking out so you can guarantee a future vacation to the beautiful Catalonian city.
4. Visit the Church of St. Felix
Another example of Romanesque Catalan architecture in Girona, the Church of St. Felix stands proud mere feet from the Onyar river. Admission to the Church is 7 Euro, again with discounts given to concessions. We decided to forego entering the church, and instead enjoyed a drink and snack on a bench, admiring it from the outside. This very tall church was once the cities main area of worship before the construction of the cathedral.
5. Take in the mystical Arab Baths (Banya Arabs)
Quite possibly our favourite place to visit in Girona, the Arab Baths offer a quiet getaway from the busy medieval heart of the city. At only 2 Euro for a regular ticket and 1 Euro for concessions (seniors, students, disabled people, groups, etc) visiting the baths is a no-brainer. Consisting of 5 rooms, each with a very different purpose, the bathhouse is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture. Again it is only a short walk away from both the cathedral and St. Felix church.
6. Relax in nature and ancient ruins at the Jardins dels Alemanys
We stumbled upon the German Gardens (Jardins dels Alemanys) by accident as we made our way to the staircase to the city walls, and a welcome accident it was. It's so easy to spend an hour sitting amongst medieval stone structures being overtaken by nature, the moss laden walls providing shelter from the hot Spanish sun. The gardens are totally free to explore and are a great place to enjoy a sandwich and drink that you brought earlier in your backpack. The picture below was taken on a raised platform as you head to the entrance to the walls.
9. Take in Girona's classic views on Eiffel bridge (Pont de les Peixateries Velles)
Girona is famous for its brightly coloured modern buildings hugging the banks of the Onyar river, with its Cathedral and churches in the distance. The best place to enjoy this view is from the Eiffel bridge, named after its creator who then went on to build a little known tower in Paris, France.
While on the subject of bridges, be sure also to cross the Onyar at the Bridge of Isabel II (pont de pedra). The views are just are beautiful as those at Eiffel Bridge however thanks to the abundance of plant life in the river around the bridge, it makes for the perfect spot to relax and watch swifts and swallows dance all around you.
10. Take a day trip to the charming medieval villages of Besalú and Castellfollit de la Roca
While in Girona, why not enjoy a short bus ride (about 4 euro) to the breathtaking villages of Besalú and Castellfollit de la Roca. The former a medieval fort come settlement boasting a terrific stone bridge and scenic views and the latter a village teetering on cliff-edges with a fabulous medieval church at its helm. Check out our guide on the day trip here.
BONUS: Visit the market in Parc de la Devesa
The market located on Passeig Devesa (Tuesdays and Saturdays 9am-1pm) is a favourite of the locals and is a great place to pick up anything you need at a much lower cost than at stores. We browsed here for quite some time, before bartering for a bag of fresh oranges and enjoying them in the beautiful Parc de La Devesa. Within the park are the Jardins de la Devesa, which is home to fountains, peacocks and most importantly a place to hide away from the sun for a while.
Top Budget Tips
- Don't buy food or drinks in the areas around the Cathedral as prices are hiked up to trap tourists. Rambla de la Llibertat (the main street) can also be quite expensive. Check out the market or venture outside the tourist area for prices enjoyed by locals.
- Unless you really have to, don't bother with public transport. Everything listed in this guide is within comfortable walking distance (with the exception of the day trip).
- Stay in an Airbnb away from the city center, we stayed in one in the district of 'Salt' and saved a lot of money. Salt is only a 20-30 minute walk from Girona's old town.
- So long as you have a working GPS, don't be afraid to wander aimlessly and explore the city with your heart.
- If you decide to take the day trip to Besalú and Castellfollit de la Roca, catch the earliest bus you can manage. Arriving before 9am will mean you have the village to explore as if you were the only one there.