Things to Do 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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