Our site includes affiliate links to products we recommend. If you use one to make a purchase, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Let’s start with a bold proclamation: lovely Girona is one of the most underrated cities in all of Spain. And the phenomenal Girona Old Town is one of the best we’ve experienced anywhere, not just in Spain. A manageably small city built around the picturesque Onyar River, Girona (pronounced hee-RO-na) is extremely walkable and filled to the brim with photogenic locations and historical landmarks spanning millennia from the Romans up through medieval times.
With an ideal location in Catalonia,close to both the Costa Brava beach towns and gorgeous Barcelona, beautiful Girona is very different from both, offering a compelling mix of the modern and the ancient, the natural and the historic. Girona Old Town boasts all of that, and is known officially as Barri Vell, which simply means “Old Quarter” in Catalan.
While parts of the labyrinthine Girona Old Town date back more than 2,000 years, it is still one of the best-preserved old towns in Spain, which is probably why they chose to film much of Game of Thrones – Season 6 here (pop culture alert!). Filled with adorable little plazas, random staircases and a maze of tiny, winding alleys, Barri Vell is a place that simply begs you to spend hours wandering aimlessly, often lost but never bored.
While the neighbourhoods adjacent to Girona Old Town are also appealing and have their share of interesting attractions, the old section is the star of the show, consisting of the area between the Riu Onyar (Onyar River) on the west side, Pont de Pedra (Rock Bridge) and Placa de Catalunya to the south, Murallas de Girona (Walls of Girona) along the east side and the Sant Pere de Galligants monastery at the north end.
Girona Old Town: Where to Stay
We were torn on whether to stay right in the Old Town or just across the river where we could enjoy constant views OF the Old Town. We chose the latter and loved our stay in the Onyar suite with Lateral Apartments.
Perched directly above the river and featuring a panoramic rooftop (chairless, but the views were still impressive) we couldn’t get enough of watching the world go by out the window. From ever-present ducks, cranes, fish and industrious muskrats in the river to the direct view of the riverfront homes across the river that appeared like a multi-screen TV show at any time of day.
People cooking, smoking on balconies, drinking wine or washing seemingly endless loads of sheets, there was always something happening across the way. Meanwhile, inside the actual apartment we rented, there was a good kitchen, fast wifi and even a washer and dryer for guest use. Very good financial value and plenty of bonus entertainment value.
However, if you want the full Old Town Girona experience, what better way than to stay right in the heart of Barri Vell just around the corner from the Girona Cathedral? Despite the extremely old location, the apartment is large, modern and has everything you could want for your stay, including a dishwasher and washing machine.
Finally, if you’re looking for an affordable budget option right on the edge of the Girona Old Town, this cute little apartment with a full kitchen and washing machine is a terrific deal. They require a minimum 2-night stay in high season – we’d recommend staying at least that long anyway – and there is another affiliated option in the same building.
13 Top Highlights of Girona Old Town
Well, number one should definitely be “wander without any real destination in mind until you get lost and eventually give up and stop for a beer at some random bar”, but since that is really hard to mark on a map, I’ll stick with more concrete destinations for now.
1. The Riu Onyar (Onyar River)
The main landmark in the city, everything in Girona fans out from this small but scenic river. After a long, hot summer and three years of drought in Spain, the Onyar was not exactly at its pulsating best during our visit, but it was still impressive and who’s to say those extra reeds didn’t attract more birds? And the shallow water made it easier to spot the huge carp swimming around (the ones left behind after a low-water rescue mission in spring relocated many to the Ter River).
The Onyar River represents the western border of the Girona Old Town and, while there is no malecon to enjoy, views of the colourful homes lining the river are terrific from either side. And it is easy to criss-cross the river multiple times on the many excellent bridges, getting looks from all different angles.
From north to south, you’ll find the following Girona bridges:
Pont de Sant Feliu
Pont d’en Gómez (or la Princesa)
Pont de Sant Agusti
Eiffel Bridge or Pont de les Peixateries Velles (Bridge of the Old Fishmongers)
Pont de Pedra
The red metal Eiffel Bridge is the most noticeable and most famous of the five, built in 1876 by Gustav Eiffel. Yes, the very same Gustav Eiffel you may have heard of from a little project known as the Eiffel Tower (which was, apparently, also red when it was first built). This little bridge is very unique, very photogenic and, apparently, very functional based on the number of locals steadily crossing back and forth at all times of day.
2. Girona Cathedral of Santa Maria
The most evocative of the multitude of awe-inspiring buildings in the city, this enormous, intricate and breathtaking cathedral dominates the Girona Old Town. Besides being gigantic and beautiful, the Catedral de Santa Maria de Girona dates back so far (11th century) that, although it started out as a church, it was later converted to a mosque, then back to a church again. Those push and pull years of Spain were endless fun, I’m sure.
It is the Seat of the Bishopric of Girona, features the impressive Placa de la Catedral, the fascinating Casa Pastors, has the 2nd largest Gothic nave in the world (behind only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and boasts a weird gargoyle that serves as a helpful cautionary tale.
Legend has it that some olden days woman forsook religion (or was forsaken BY it, possibly) and responded by devoting her life to cursing the church, plus chucking rocks at it just to make sure she got her point across. Well, eventually it all became too much for God or the priests or maybe just the window repairman – the facts are unclear on this point. Whoever it was, SOMEBODY turned her to stone and placed her body in the highest part of the façade where she was less likely to bother anybody. So, let that be a lesson, I guess.
The Santa Maria Church also served as the Sept of Baelor in Game of Thrones, although we’ll discuss that whole niche in more detail soon enough. Despite this, or maybe because of it, they do charge an entrance fee to explore the inside of the church but you can get a discounted price if you buy a combined ticket that also includes the Church of St Felix and/or the Girona Art Museum.
3. Drinks by the Stairs
Maybe you have to be a bit of a casual alcoholic to rank this one so high, but here we are. And from what I’ve seen, the average person on holiday feels similar. Of course, this is more about the great locations than the specific drink – the photos will be almost as good even with, ugh, coffee.
The point is, there are two excellent bar/cafés located right on each of our favourite sets of Girona Old Town stairs:
Café le Bistrot – located halfway up the Escales de Sant Marti, looking straight down the barrel of the Pujada de Sant Domenec tunnel.
Café l’Arc – at the bottom of the steps below the main cathedral.
4. La Rambla de la Llibertat
La Rambla is the main thoroughfare of the neighbourhood – the busiest street in Girona Old Town, full of shops and bars. It runs parallel to the river, is lined with stone arcades and is the best place to find food, drink or basically any way you can think of to spend money.
5. Las Murallas de Girona
The “Walls of Girona” are huge, free and still completely intact in places. Even the crumbling sections have their own charm and you can walk along the top of the walls along the Passeig de la Muralla for about 20 minutes, all the way from Torre Gironella to Jardins de la Muralla near Pont de Pedra).
The different sections of the wall were completed at different points in history ranging from the 9th to 17th centuries and there are some fantastic views along the way. There are several towers that can be climbed as well, although they seem to be less popular with tourists these days than homeless folks and teens smoking weed. There are some pretty fancy urine stains, though.
6. The Jewish Quarter
Known as “El Call” or “Call Jueu”, this historic Jewish enclave covers the few blocks surrounding the Jewish History Museum. It isn’t particularly clear exactly where it starts and ends, not that it matters, though, since the whole area is fascinating.
Carrer de la Força is the main street and the Jewish Quarter of Girona Old Town is considered one of most well-preserved in the world.
7. Arab Baths
How’s that for a racial segue? Actually, despite the name, the “Banys Arabs” were actually built by the Romans in the 12th century. The name is because they used the famous Moorish baths of the time as a template.
The whole place is pretty small and can be easily explored in 15 minutes or less, but the lounge, centre pool and apodyterium (changing room) are considered the main highlights. It is also a very festive destination during spring Festival of Flowers, happens to have starred in a couple Game of Thrones scenes and, these days, seems to be the preferred place where tourists go to cough into their hands, then touch stuff.
8. Green Spaces
Even though the main theme of Girona Old Town is “crowded medieval stone”, there are also some quite pretty natural areas where you can take a break from old buildings and getting lost.
Jardins de la Muralla – at the southern end of the old town.
Jardins dels Alemanys (German Gardens) – next to the Torre Gironella at the northern end of the walls.
Jardins de la Francesa – directly behind the Girona Cathedral.
Passeig Arqueològic (Archaeological Path) – between the Monastir de Sant Pere de Galligants and Girona Cathedral (and the best place to take photos of the monastery itself).
Jardins John Lennon – a nice garden in behind Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery that really has no connection to the legendary Beatle but was simply named after him as a tribute. John Lennon did not respond to our requests for comment.
9. Game of Thrones Filming Locations
No, I understand that not everyone who visits Girona Old Town has seen Game of Thrones. And I also understand that while the early seasons were excellent and on-par with the outstanding books, the last couple seasons were, to be blunt, garbage. But once you’re 6 seasons in, you’re pretty much invested, so we stuck it out to the end, contrived dragon battles be damned.
Anyway, the point is, Girona starred as the island nation of Braavos throughout Season 6, so if you’re a fan of the show you’ll probably find it interesting to recognize some of these locations:
Girona Cathedral – the Sept of Baelor, and the steps are where Queen Margaery started her “Walk of Shame”.
Escales de Sant Marti – just some randomly cool stairs in Braavos.
Arab Baths – one of the many parts of Braavos where Arya ends up fleeing (she does that quite often) and the Braavos market was filmed just across the street.
Placa dels Jurats – the Braavos theatre.
Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery – the Oldtown Citadel.
Be prepared, though, these locations do look considerably less interesting without gigantic statues in the background, hordes of peasants crowded in the streets and lots of guys sporting huge swords.
10. Church of Saint Felix
If it weren’t for the mammoth Girona Cathedral, the also enormous Basilica de San Feliu would be the starring attraction of Girona Old Town. With Christian sarcophagi dating back as far as the 3rd century, Saint Felix basilica is actually the oldest church in the city.
The approach across its namesake bridge, Pont de Sant Feliu, is quite dramatic and the 14th century bell tower is a standout feature. I also bought a fantastic baguette from a bakery around the corner. Just saying.
11. Sagrat Cor
Toward the southern end of Girona Old Town is yet another extraordinary church, Sagrat Cor, which translates to Sacred Heart. It is located right on La Rambla and boasts an incredible arched doorway – needless to say, you can’t miss it.
As you would expect in a neighbourhood where the newest buildings are still hundreds of years old, there are quite a few great museums to check out in Girona Old Town.
Museum Tresor de Catedral (Girona Cathedral)
Girona Archaeological Museum (Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery)
Girona Art Museum (behind Girona Cathedral)
Girona Museum of History
Jewish History Museum
13. The Girona Lioness
The Leona de Girona (Girona Lioness) is a small 11th century sculpture found on a nondescript plaza near Sant Feliu. She isn’t that big, not overly noticeable and not particularly intricate, at least not as far as famous ancient sculptures go. Plus, her tail is broken and she has the shattered muzzle of a failed boxer.
So why are we talking about her, you ask? Well, apparently, there is an ancient tradition in Girona Old Town that says if you kiss the ass of the lioness (Cul de la Lleona), you will be granted good luck. Or that if you don’t kiss the ass of the lioness, you are not a good citizen. Or maybe you’ll never be able to return to Girona. The stories are pretty vague and extremely inconsistent.
The one thing they all agree on, though, is that you have to LITERALLY kiss her ass, this isn’t just a figurative ass-kissing situation, like, complimenting a purse even though you personally find it tacky and, perhaps, even gaudy. Or thanking someone for helpful criticism, that kind of thing.
Nope, the exact instructions are to “hold the legs with both hands and kiss ass”. And to further facilitate this humiliating tradition, stairs were built so people could properly reach her (she is inconveniently found a few metres up a post). Stairs that in past years were consistently lined up throughout the day.
Alas, COVID, and an entirely new perspective on thousands of lips touching the same bit of symbolic stone. I don’t know how long it took the city to intercede but last we checked the pandemic rules were still in effect, so elegantly illustrated by this public service poster (starring a man with lips that truly seem made for kissing inanimate felines).
Things to See Outside the Old Town
Even though they don’t technically fall within the boundaries of Girona Old Town, it is still worth checking out a couple of the main highlights located just across the Onyar River.
Placa de la Independencia is a lively, vibrant square lined with arched arcades and great restaurants.
Parc de la Devesa is the largest urban park in Catalonia. Nestled into the fork between Riu Ter and Riu Onyar, it features exceptional views and more than 2,500 platanus trees.
Girona Old Town Map
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
Girona Old Town Tours
While you will certainly want to spend a chunk of time simply wandering the terrific streets and alleys of Girona Old Town, there are also several guided tours to choose from that can add to your experience or provide a little adventurous change of pace.
If you would like more detail on the specific Girona filming locations of this HBO mega-hit, knowledgeable guides can provide fascinating stories and screenshots from the show to help you envision the scenes.
Learn all the historical background behind this culturally significant section of the Girona Old Town.
I probably don’t have to explain the appeal of eating 11 different local specialties over the span of a couple hours.
When you feel like you’ve explored to your heart’s content, you can join this Highlights of Catalonia tour that visits massive Lake Banyoles, the famously photogenic bridge of Besalu (Pont Vell) and the unique volcanic landscape around Olot.
Finally, nothing compares with a bird’s-eye view of the gorgeous Costa Brava coastline.
How to Get to Girona Old Town
There are good public transportation connections to Barcelona (40 min by train) and even some of the cities of southern France (Montpellier, Beziers and Perpignan).
If you are driving, technically it should take less than 1.5 hours to Barcelona but be warned, traffic on the way into the city can be truly awful during morning and afternoon rush hours, pushing your time more into the 2-2.5 hr range.
On the bright side, it takes less than an hour to drive to beautiful Begur, one of the nicest sections of the Costa Brava.
If you do bring a car, I wouldn’t expect to find a good parking spot right in Girona Old Town but there is a big free parking lot on the edge of Parc de la Devesa close to Pont de Pedret.
Girona Old Town Summary
We have visited a lot of old medieval quarters in a lot of different cities around Europe. A LOT. And yet we would rank Girona Old Town among a group of the very best. Spectacular churches, photogenic alleys, surprising green spaces and even some meaningless but fun pop culture locations – quite the combination, and a little something for everyone.
Other Posts You Might Like: