Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Girona
Girona - also known as Gerona - has long stood at the crossroads of important trade routes, at the confluence of four rivers (the Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Güell), and between the Iberian Peninsula and France. Its mercantile wealth over the millennia is expressed in outstanding buildings, from the colorful art nouveau waterfront facades to the millennia-old stone buildings of the medieval Old Quarter.
Perhaps the most impressive edifice is the massive 11th-century cathedral; it stands atop the ruins of a mosque and even older church. This is not the only sacred site, however; in the Call, or old Jewish quarter, you'll find what were once among Europe's most important Kabbalah Schools and Yeshivas, the latter only recently rediscovered.
A handful of museums offer even more cultural enrichment, though some may prefer to experience Catalonia at the table. This region of fine cheeses and olives, so close to the sea, is famed for its fine gastronomy.
The baroque facade of the Girona Cathedral (Catedral de Girona) stands at the top of a grand staircase, high above the old city. The structure was built between the 11th and 18th centuries in a variety of styles: The cathedral boasts a Romanesque cloister and tower, Gothic nave (the widest of its kind in the world), and a baroque exterior.
Girona, one of Catalonia’s most atmospheric towns, is also home to one of the world’s best-preserved Jewish quarters, known as El Call. This neighborhood dates back to the 12th century when Girona was home to a thriving Jewish community. Its maze of medieval streets and narrow back alleys hasn’t changed much in the centuries since.
See pretty much all of Girona’s sights, but from afar, during a walk along the city’s roughly 3-kilometer-long Passeig de la Muralla. This path takes visitors along the tops of Girona's city walls, from which you can see all of Girona and beyond — from the rooftops of the cathedral to the mountaintops of the distant Pyrenees.
It is said that some of the oldest parts of the city walls date back to the first century during Roman times, with portions later destroyed during the expansion of the city in the 19th century. Many of these gaps have since been filled in, making it possible for visitors like you to take a seamless journey around Girona. During the visit, you can scale various towers for better views, or duck down off the walls to explore more of the city itself. The best part? The whole experience is free of charge.
The Onyar River (Riu Onyar in Catalan or Río Oñar in Spanish) will likely be your first and most lasting impression of Girona, its rainbow-colored-building-lined waters a warm welcome and unforgettable sight. Their dazzling appearance invites you to journey to the other side of the bank — the eastern side — where you’ll discover more of the city’s treasures, held within its old town.
But before you get there, you’ll likely cross one of the Onyar’s many bridges. Your eye will undoubtedly be drawn to its most peculiar and perhaps even familiar bridge, the Pont Eiffel. Indeed, this red, cage-like crossing is reminiscent of a more famous structure of the same name, the Eiffel Tower. This is, of course, because they share the same designer (the bridge was constructed in 1877, just before the tower). Once you arrive on the eastern bank, feed your river curiosity by visiting Casa Maso, the only waterside building open to the public, and once home to its namesake architect.
Surrounded by walls and marked with winding cobblestone streets, medieval Pals still has many of its aged stone arches, walkways, and balconies. A Romanesque tower dates back to the 11th century, while the Mirador del Pedró provides a lookout over the sea and surrounding Catalonian landscape dotted with citrus groves and rice fields.
Situated in the former home and workshop of surrealist painter Salvador Dali, the Salvador Dali House—Portlligat (Casa Salvador Dalí—Port Lligat) showcases the artist’s quirky work and offers a look into his eccentric life. Visitors can explore the house-museum’s maze-like interior, window-framed views, and kitschy decor including everything from mannequins to taxidermy. Outside, you’ll find a surrealist wonderland as well, with curiosities like a funky lip-shaped sofa flanked by giant Pirelli tire signs and an abundance of Dali’s signature giant eggs.
Halfway between Barcelona and the French border lies the town of Palafrugell, a jumping-off point to some of the prettiest and most pristine areas of the Costa Brava. Enticing spots include the fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell, Cap Roig promontory, and the beachy villages of Tamariu, Aiguablava, Fornells, and Llafranc.
If you tire of the crowds at many of Girona’s most popular sights, then the Arab Baths (Banys Arabs de Girona) will be just the perfect remedy. These 12th-century baths – or, rather, what used to be baths – are Romanesque in style and feature typical components such as cool and warm rooms, a changing room and a steam room. What they don’t feature: the hustle and bustle of other tourist stops.
A visit includes a guided brochure that will take you through each of the different rooms. Highlights include the octagonal, column-surrounded central pool that sits below a light-filled cupola, and a visit to the rooftop, where you can spy unique views of the city and cathedral. And though the visit is short, the entrance fee is nominal, making this otherworldly escape a worthy stop during your time in Girona.
The region of Girona offers so much more than just Catalan culture and historic towns; it’s also got a veritable nature wonderland called La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park in English, Parque Natural de la Zona Volcánica de la Garrotxa in Spanish, and Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa in Catalan.
Volcanic the park is, indeed, as it is home to 40 (dormant) volcanic cones, and 20 basaltic lava flows, making it the most prized volcanic landscape on the Iberian Peninsula.
You can explore La Garrotxa’s park by setting off on one of its 28 different walking routes, many of which interconnect, and many that take you beyond the region to others. During your adventures, climb to the top of Santa Margarida volcano to spy the see-it-to-believe-it Roman chapel that sits within it; get lost in the beech tree-filled forests of La Fageda d'en Jordà; and make stops at some of the region’s most beloved villages, such as Olot and Besalu.
Combine your beach excursion with exploration of the distant past by paying a visit to the ruins of Empuries. Founded in 575 BC by Greek colonists, Empúries was later occupied by Romans before it was ultimately abandoned given its exposed coastal location. Today it remains as the only settlement in Iberia that displays remains from both the Greeks and the Romans.
Among the Empuries ruins, which are only partially excavated, you can tour the amphitheater, old factory, basilica, exquisite Roman floor mosaics, and the foundations of former Greek houses. There’s also on onsite museum, where you can learn more about the excavations, and check out artifacts such as ceramics, utensils, mosaics and other items. Between the history, the views, and the beach and seaside cafes just steps away, you’ll be happy you made the effort to visit this unique corner of Costa Brava.
More Things to Do in Girona
The town of Palamos is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, northeast of Lloret de Mar and southeast of the regional capital, Girona.
The Mediterranean as a whole is a popular vacation destination, and Palamos has the added benefit of being near a large bay that makes an especially appealing spot for swimming and other water sports. Palamos is a port town, as well, with a busy fishing industry.
Visitors enjoy the beautiful beaches in and around Palamos, and the many opportunities to get out into nature. Swimming, diving, and sailing are popular on the water, and hiking is popular on land. There is a particular type of prawn caught in the area that is famous among foodies - Palamos prawns are flavorful and typically a bright red color.
Located on the scenic Costa Brava of the Catalonia region of Spain, Water World Lloret is one of Europe’s largest water parks. Its many slides, water rides, pools, and activities make it particularly popular with families. The variety of thrill levels and different areas means that there’s something for any member of the family, whether a toddler, a teenager, or an adult.
The park’s Water Mountain slide contains steep drops and turns in the dark, and the Kamikaze slide reaches high speeds on its drop from nearly 80 kilometers. There’s even a large bungee jump where daredevils leap from a crane that's 80 kilometers high.
On the gentler side, there’s a wave pool, family lagoon, jacuzzis, and toboggan rides. The park is shaded by pine trees and contains several picnic areas for families to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings as well.
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