The best things to see and do in Girona

Discover the top attractions, neighbourhoods, places to eat and more in this comprehensive guide to Girona, in the north-east of Spain.

From grand, ancient architecture to authentic Catalan cuisine, explore must-visit locations in one of the most beautiful cities on earth with the best things to do in Girona.

Barri Vell (Old Quarter)

Girona has a rich history that stretches back two millennia, and while you might not find anything quite that old at street level, in Barri Vell (also known as Ciutat Vella) at the heart of Girona, you can walk medieval streets and view the city as its residents did centuries ago.

Behind the iconic huddle of buildings crowded along the riverside, you’ll find cobbled streets that twist and turn between some of the city’s most important historical monuments. It is compact and walkable, located between Torre Gironella and the Onyar river, so you can park up your hire car nearby and enjoy a stroll into the past.

The area’s central location and proximity to many of the city’s best sights makes it a favourite, as there is easy access to the Archaeological Walk, with its superb views across the city, and it is home to attractions such as Casa de l’a Ardiaca, the House Pastors Palace of Justice, the Basilica of San Felix, as well as the monastery of Sant Pere de Galligans among other notable landmarks.

You will also be drawn to the view of those famous houses looking out onto the river. Their colourful facades might not date back to medieval times, but their burst of colour set against the blue sky is certainly something to see.

Fans of TV fantasy may also recognise the stunning sights here – as Barri Vell was used as the city of Bravos during the filming of Game of Thrones.

The area has plenty of hotels to choose from, as well as private apartments available to rent.

Catedral de Girona

Arguably Girona’s most iconic attraction, the Catedral de Girona towers over the city’s skyline.

Approached by walking up a wide set of 86 steps, it strikes an imposing sight, and has been an evolution of construction centuries in the making.

Your first view of the building is of a wall of baroque architecture. While the church has foundations that date back to the Roman occupation of the area, it wasn’t until 1015 that Bishop Peter Roger began building what we can see today.

The church and its beautiful double-columned cloister were completed in a Romanesque style in 1064, with the bell tower standing tall in 1117. The church entered its gothic phase when Pere Sacoma redesigned it in 1312, then the main façade was begun in the baroque style from 1606. The sculptures set into the building’s front (and the upper part of the structure) were actually only completed in the middle of last century.

Perhaps the building’s most notable feature is the colossal Gothic nave, the widest of its style in the world at more than 22 metres, and the second widest of any type (St Peter’s Basilica in Rome being the only structure to surpass it). Look for carved biblical scenes and richly imagined beasts in the southern gallery, a 14th century jewelled silver altarpiece, the ornate bishop’s throne and, in the museum, the incredible Tapís de la creació (Tapestry of the Creation) showing God creating the world, which dates back to medieval times.

Audio guides are also available here, to help usher you through the ages.

Museu d’Art de Girona

Located just around the corner from the cathedral, Girona’s Museu d’Art is impressive for the sheer scale of its collection. But it’s also worth a visit for the building itself.

Housed in the old Episcopal Palace, on the first floor the gold-flecked religious artefacts covering the old stone walls will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another time.

It’s the Catalan art, of course, that’s the real star of the show here. The museum’s collection covers a vast range of styles and periods, mostly drawn from the Girona region. It covers a millennia of art, starting at the Romanesque period and working forward to the present. Beginning with wood carvings and murals, you can gradually travel forward to modernist paintings by local icons.

For all the museum’s range (there are around 8,500 pieces in the collection in total) it may be the older works that stand out. Despite the civil war, Girona did a remarkable job of preserving its medieval and renaissance pieces – and the museum gives you a really unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Catalan history.

While you’re there, visit the Episcopal gaol and the garden, both of which are part of the building’s previous life as the Episcopal Palace.

El Celler de Can Roca

To sample some expertly-cooked Catalan cuisine while you’re in Girona, visit El Celler de Can Roca. You might need to hire a car to get there, but it will reward your effort.

The restaurant is world famous at this point, having won no less than three Michelin stars and been named the best restaurant in the world on two separate occasions by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.

Founded in 1986 by the Roca brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi – it has moved a couple of times over the years, arriving in its current purpose-built home in 2007. The first thing you notice as you approach is this light, airy modernist building with wooden floors, simply laid out tables and lots of natural light. (The kitchen has room for no less than 30 chefs to work, while the dining room only has capacity for around 45 diners – which gives you a sense of how much attention is paid to each and every dish).

You’re not visiting for the architecture, though. The dishes are elaborate, complex affairs that, nevertheless retain a sense of playfulness. Despite the laser precision of the menu, however, the base for it all is the Catalan cooking the brothers grew up with. Indeed, their parents owned a restaurant and still cook for the staff daily.

Highlights include such delights as freeze-dried oyster shells with oyster tartare and an ‘essence of old book’ infused dessert. Meanwhile, the wine-pairing is expertly overseen by Josep, the sommelier of the trio, and perfectly complements the flavours of the dishes if you’ve parked up for the night.

Such is the demand for dining here that if you want to sample the brothers’ food you’ll need to book around 11 months in advance (you can do it online) or join the standby list in case somebody can’t make their booking last minute.

Museu d’Història dels Jueus

Girona was once home to one of the most significant Jewish communities in the world. Now, what was once the city’s last synagogue houses a testament to the lives of the Jews that lived in the city during the medieval period.

To enter the museum, visitors have to first pass through the beautiful Centre Bonastruc ça Porta, where the gigantic Star of David on the floor gives you a sense of what you’re about to see.

Once you enter the museum itself you’ll find a series of rooms that draw a picture of daily Jewish life in the Middle Ages. You’ll learn what family life was like, which festivals the community celebrated, how it organised itself and what worshipers would have seen in the synagogue, as well as getting an understanding of the community’s contributions to mathematics and astronomy.

The museum also deals frankly with some of the more unpleasant experiences of the Jewish story in Catalonia, too, going into detail about forced conversions and the Inquisition’s persecution of the Jewish population.

Girona offers a truly rich cultural experience to rival that of neighbouring Barcelona. Its history is right there on the streets, its art is incredibly well-preserved and the food is sensational (even if you haven’t managed to get into El Celler de Can Roca). With car hire in Girona, there’s nothing to hold you back from visiting one of Spain’s great cities – and exploring all it has to offer.