Girona, an ancient Catalan city founded in 79 BC, is a beautiful pearl in the Northeastern corner of Spain. But given its close location to the city of Barcelona, Girona is often greatly underrated and overshadowed by its majorly famous big brother.
Being one of the major cities in Catalonia with a population of 97.000, Girona has a lot to offer and never fails to deliver for any visitor interested in ancient history. One could easily spend hours wandering about the old town, visiting the Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic cathedral built between the 11th and 18th centuries and the Basilica de Sant Feliu built between 4th and 18th centuries, walking the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter, and visit the Forca Vella, which is an old fortress built in the 1st century by the Romans. It’s even possible to walk the entire length of the town wall and climb to the top of the many towers, which is a great experience and offers beautiful views of the city and the surrounding countryside. That is definitely a must-do on a trip to Girona!
Characteristic of Girona is the river Onyar with the many colourful houses overlooking the river (pictured above). Walking along the river is a peaceful experience and it is definitely one of the most picturesque and charming places in the city.
Another important place in Girona is the Placa de la Independencia, designed by Martí Sureda in neoclassical style. The name of the square refers to the War of Spanish Independence against Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century. The square is a lively place with many restaurants and cafés and the history – and name – of the place gives the square a feeling of being the centre of the ongoing fight for Catalonias independence from Spain. In fact, it is very much clear to any visitor that the will for independence is stronger than ever with numerous Catalan flags hanging from windows and the word “independencia” written on a large number of walls in Girona.
Girona is an excellent choice for a short city break or even for just half a day of exploring something new while on holiday in Costa Brava, which is what my two brothers and sister-in-law did. We didn’t get to see everything that Girona has to offer – and I’m telling you, I’m definitely coming back to see it – but we did get a great impression of the city and saw enough to make us love and miss Girona!
I have experienced the madness of big brother Barcelona myself, and I must admit that not only was Girona a lot more pleasent to walk about in, the city is also much more interesting for a history nerd like me. Nowhere else in the world have I been so amazed by a city and for every corner that I turned, something new and unexplored caught my eye. I took over 1.000 pictures that day – and that never happens in any city! But Girona is special and very different from any city that I’ve ever set foot in.
So while many people will choose to start the 103 km. long journey to Barcelona as soon as they arrive at Girona-Costa Brava Airport, I definitely recommend staying in Girona for a few nights before heading South. Give yourself the opportunity to experience the real Catalonia in a city that has yet to be discovered by the World.