Barcelona may have stolen the limelight for tourism in northern Spain, but the region of Catalonia is also home to a fabulous one-day destination: Girona. This medieval walled city has some of the best preserved historic neighborhoods and great spots for shopping and dining. It’s also a cinematic backdrop, emerging as a Game of Thrones fan favorite for its memorable street scenes filmed on location. With a distinct sporting pedigree that attracts cyclists, triathletes, and soccer players, there’s so much to discover here.
Less than an hour away from Barcelona by high-speed train, Girona is easily accessible for a day trip or can be your gateway to exploring the rest of Catalonia. Here’s how to make the most of your time there, including a day trip itinerary.
Getting To Girona
Girona is situated approximately 100 km (60 miles) from Barcelona, making it well-connected to the metropolis. In fact, many tourists visiting Catalonia start their journey by flying into Girona-Costa Brava Airport. Spend a few days by the sea on the Costa Brava, take in dramatic scenery from cliffside towns, and then head into the city itself before visiting Barcelona. Then plan for one of our favorite ways to experience this quieter yet fascinating Catalonia city — as a one- or two-day trip from Barcelona by train.
By Train From Barcelona (Girona Barcelona)
Barcelona is an ideal multi-day city break in Catalonia. But, if you want to delve deeper into the region’s culture and medieval past, you can’t miss Girona — just a short train ride away.
The Spanish national railway website, Renfe, lists all options from Barcelona Sants — but we love the very helpful Rail Europe platform, which highlights the cheapest, earliest, and latest trains of the day. Barcelona Sants is only a stone’s throw away from a favorite modern luxury hotel pick, too: the Hotel Casa Fuster, located conveniently between the Barcelona Sants and Sagrada Familia.
When booking train tickets via Renfe, make sure to look for the fast 38-minute trains instead of the regional, slower options. Pricing varies quite a lot (depending on how early you’re willing to go), but you can find deals for as little as around $35.
Train travel is by far the most efficient way to travel for a Girona day trip. Driving can be longer and busier. And, if you’re interested in seeing more of Spain by rail, you can benefit from excellent deals with a Rail Europe pass.
Girona’s Costa Brava airport (GRO) is a hub for cheaper airline travel to the northeast of Spain, as well as for those looking to stay on the coast. Girona is surrounded by coastal resorts, and close to hilly countryside retreats. This makes it a perfect destination for sports enthusiasts, seaside lovers, and city break-ers alike.
A taxi ride from the Girona airport to the Old Town (Barri Vell) takes no longer than 20 minutes. Local bus company Sagalés also runs regular buses to the city center.
In popular culture, Girona is known for its links with the sporting world (lots of international triathletes and cyclists train here) and as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Its rich history, Gothic and Romanesque architecture, and proximity to the seaside and the mountains make it a fantastic destination regardless of your interests. Here’s how to explore it in detail.
Girona City Center
Like any big city, Girona has expanded significantly over the years. But the core city center remains compact, easy to walk around, and extremely charming. Bonus: most attractions are within 10-15 minutes’ walking distance from the train station.
The heart of Girona is the Old Town (Barri Vell), where you can find landmarks like the Girona Cathedral, Arab Baths (Banys Árabs), and walkable medieval walls. This is a great location to extend your stay to an overnight visit. The boutique Hotel Casa Cacao sits just on the southern edge of Old Town and offers fantastic views, plus proximity to all the best spots.
Girona is home to one of the best-preserved Jewish Quarters in the world. Known as “El Call,” this section of town is made up of narrow streets that go back in time to over 500 years ago. Visit the Museum of Jewish History to find out how Girona’s Jewish past unfolded, or book a private walking tour if you want to take it all in relatively quickly. Some tours, such as Girona Trips, include not just the synagogues and cobblestone streets, but also the Arab Baths and a few more tourist attractions.
Beyond the Old Town and the River Onyar’s picturesque bridges, Girona is also a foodie hotspot. El Celler de Can Roca, a two-time winner of the World’s Best Restaurant Award and decorated with three Michelin stars, has prompted a food lovers’ pilgrimage to the area. The brothers Roca (a chef, a sommelier, and a pastry chef) have also expanded to other fabulous restaurants (we recommend Normal, a more informal affair with traditional Catalan cuisine), the Hotel Casa Cacao, and even an ice cream shop.
Exploring the Old Town
Girona’s Old Town is full of charm and must-see attractions. Well–preserved medieval city walls surround the quaint cobblestone streets and the imposing Cathedral of Saint Mary, a mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture and a recognizable backdrop from Game of Thrones. This is the first attraction you should plan to see before big groups of tourists take over later in the day.
Wander through the streets of the Old Town after visiting the Cathedral to stumble upon interesting antique stores, bookshops, and a multitude of museums. We’ve already mentioned the Museum of Jewish History, but not everything is about the city’s own background. Girona has a great Art Museum housed in a historic palace just near the Cathedral. Or you may be interested in delving into cinema history at the Museu del Cinema a little outside the Old Town streets. There’s something for every taste.
Finally, a visit to Girona can’t be complete without exploring the bridges over the River Onyar. To get that picture-perfect view of colorful riverside buildings, head to the Pont de Sant Agusti. And, for an architectural treat, check out the Pont de les Peixateries Velles further south. Also known as the Eiffel Bridge, this was indeed built by Gustave Eiffel and has an iconic metallic look.
Girona Itinerary: Making The Most of Your Day Trip
As a trip from Barcelona, you can see the essential attractions of Girona in a few hours. It’s an ideal destination for a day trip, particularly as there are trains there and back most of the day, and they are quick enough to allow you to experience the city before nightfall. Starting with a coffee stop and ending with a drink at the bar, here’s how to pack it all in.
Recommended Sights To See in Girona (Starting in the Morning)
- Coffee at La Fabrica: Have a lovely cup of coffee and a snack here before heading out to explore the city. You can walk in from the train station, admiring the views of painted houses from the western side of the city before crossing over on the Eiffel Bridge.
- Pujada de Sant Domènec: A picture-perfect alleyway that starts your walk through the Old Town, minutes away from La Fabrica.
- The Cathedral: Head here next to beat the crowds and walk up the imposing steps to admire the view behind you.
- The Arab Baths: A historic building, also featured in Game of Thrones, and just around the corner from the Cathedral. You can visit the bathhouse as well and even book a treatment for the full experience.
- Old City Walls (Muralles de Girona): Finish your morning tour on the walls and enjoy gorgeous views and some beautiful gardens. You can head up here from the bathhouse, following signs for the Torre Gironella, a 14th-century tower among the many you’ll be able to walk around.
- Museum of Jewish History or Jewish Quarter Walking Tour: Discover the history of the Jewish community of Girona and get lost on the narrow Old Town streets while you’re at it;
- Bridges of Girona: From the Eiffel Bridge north, there are multiple scenic crossings over the River Onyar;
- Riverside bars: If you’re heading back to Barcelona in the evening, make sure you stop for a drink and a snack at one of the riverside bars in the old town. La Terra serves food and drinks in a unique interior with mosaic tiles and unbeatable views over the river.
Where To Stay, Play, and Eat in Girona
For those who have more time to spend in Girona, some of the Michelin-starred restaurants (make certain you know the Spanish tipping customs) deserve a visit. The Massana is also a family business, serving a blend of traditional and modern innovative food.
Another excellent stop is the Restaurant Nexe, focuses on connecting visitors with local producers. The tasting menu features ingredients from around Catalonia, always seasonal and sustainably sourced. SiNoFos in the Plaza de Catalunya is an industrial-feeling, chic, and modern restaurant with tuna steaks to die for and a fantastic wine pairing option.
Beyond the best restaurants in Girona, there is also a vibrant local food scene. You cannot miss trying out xuixos – sweet local pastries from the bakery (check out Casamoner Santa Clara for a minixuixos selection to sample all the flavors). Seafood and anchovies in particular, are excellent and locally sourced from L’Escala on the seaside (book a table at L’Estrella del Mar in the Old Town to try their excellent seafood platter). Out of town, head to the 13th-century castle that houses Can Xapa bakery to sample their excellent chocolate sold by weight (you’ll need to drive there).
Among the guided tour options in Girona, a food and market tour like the one offered by Girona Food Tours takes visitors to the Mercat del Lléo, taking in local produce and a tasty lunch. For those staying a little longer, it’s worth scheduling a visit to a local winery, like Giró del Gorner, or taking a wine tour for a deeper exploration of the city.
If you are a fan of art, particularly Salvador Dalí, his hometown of Figueres is only a 10 minutes train ride away from Girona. The stop is the end of the line for trains from Barcelona, so you’ll see the name on the departures board. Figueres’ Dalí Theatre-Museum houses the largest collection of his art and is an amazing addition to the day.
Sporting connections in Girona
Thanks to mild temperatures all year round and some excellent cycling roads, Girona is home to many professional cyclists and triathletes. It’s also a hub for all types of sports, including football.
If you love cycling and endurance sports, you’ll have heard of Christian Meier — former professional World Tour cyclist turned ultra runner. He is not only the owner of the excellent La Fabrica café serving scrumptious brunches and coffee, but has also opened a trail running shop you may want to try out. They organize nice guided runs three times a week, a great way to explore the surroundings of Girona.
Spain and Catalonia in particular are football-mad. Beyond the world-famous FC Barcelona, sports lovers will be familiar with Girona’s own football club. It has recently been promoted to Spain’s La Liga (the top men’s professional soccer division in the country). While Girona’s football history is not as illustrious as that of FC Barcelona, if you like the sport, you can enjoy seeing top player Cristhian Stuani at the Estadi Montilivi (Girona’s home grounds).
For an immersive soccer experience and a fantastic tour through the history of Catalonian football, make sure to book a tour of Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s stadium, back in Barcelona.