June 17, 2024

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Home to pristine beaches and stunning historic cities, Spain is the most popular destination for Americans crossing the pond this summer, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not Madrid, Barcelona, or even trendy Ibiza that’s on their radar.

Aerial View Of Girona, A Medieval City In Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe

Though it is not coastal, and thus not your typical sunny getaway, the inland city of Girona has seen visitors from the United States and Canada increase by 48% since 2019, making it one of the fastest-growing destinations in the Iberian country.

A medieval gem that featured on Game of Thrones, Girona has never been as popular to visit as it is now, and Americans are leading the way:

Girona Is One Of The Best-Preserved Medieval Cities In Europe

Scenic Riverfront In Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpgScenic Riverfront In Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpg

Located in Catalonia, an autonomous region in southwestern Spain best known for its capital Barcelona, Girona is a picturesque Spanish city just over 100,000 residents call home, boasting over 1,400 years of a fascinating History, and one of the best-preserved medieval quarters in Europe.

Unlike other European cities of its league, that have been built and rebuilt more times than we could count, Girona has remained virtually unchanged since its first stone was laid, and with the exception of a handful of subsequent Art Nouveau additions, it’s a literal getaway back to the Middle Ages.

Picturesque Old Town Of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe.jpgPicturesque Old Town Of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe.jpg

Criss-crossed by narrow streets and with buildings that carry that distinct ocher color, it is best known among Game of Thrones fans as King’s Landing, with some scenes from the HBO magnum opus of a show having been filmed here.

We know what you’re thinking, what about Dubrovnik in Croatia?

Well, Game of Thrones had filming locations all over Europe, and both Girona and Dubrovnik provided the backdrop for the fantasy world’s fictitious capital.

Girona Cathedral In Girona, Spain, Southern Europe.jpgGirona Cathedral In Girona, Spain, Southern Europe.jpg

If you’ve followed the show for years, you might recognize Girona Cathedral, a Catalan Gothic effort that’s been a symbol of the city’s skyline for centuries on end, and the Jewish Quarter’s arched passageways and maze-like network of cobbled streets.

Other noteworthy points of interest include the Romanesque church of Sant Pere de Galligants, attached to Benedictine monastery in operation since the 1100s, the Church of Sant Feliu, largely built in the 14th century, and the incredibly well-preserved Arab Baths.

Picturesque View Of Old Town Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpgPicturesque View Of Old Town Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpg

Why Do Americans Love Girona All Of A Sudden?

In short, Girona looks like it’s been ripped out the pages of a chivalric romance, with all the picturesque, hidden courtyards (with the classic ornate well in the center), defensive walls and fortifications, and tall church spires rising up to the bright-blue summer skies.

Speaking of, summers here are some of the balmiest in Europe, with temperatures averaging 87.8°F, and little to no rain: whether it’s getting lost in the Old Town, or strolling the scenic Onyar riverfront, lined by colorful skinny buildings, risks of being surprised by rain are minimal.

Colorful Houses On The Riverfront In Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpgColorful Houses On The Riverfront In Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpg

In total, 400,000 North Americans visited Girona last year, with overnight stays up by 147%, the biggest increase out of any year on record, and we of course now why, at least in part: it is one of Spain’s most beautiful historic settlements, and a cultural hotspot of the first order.

But historical value alone does not explain Girona’s significant uptick in visitors for this demographic in particular, especially when there are preserved medieval cities scattered all over Spain, from the overlooked Pontevedra in Galicia to the magnificent Granada in the heart of Andalusia.

Medieval Streets Of Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpgMedieval Streets Of Girona, Catalonia, Southern Spain.jpg

According to Cristina Gargallo, director of the Tourism Promotion Center of Catalonia in the U.S., Americans are now more interested in ‘secondary destinations’ that were previously ‘off their radar’, and this includes Catalonian hotspots outside Barcelona.

Not only is Girona surging in popularity, but also Barcelona’s neighboring coastal town of Sitges and the sun-kissed Costa Brava, interspersed with traditional fishing villages and golden sands: in sum, it’s the off-path appeal that gets U.S. travelers excited the most these days.

Off Path, Cheaper, Less Crowded

Young Woman Climbing Up The Stairs To Girona Cathedral, Girona, Catalonia, Southern Europe.jpgYoung Woman Climbing Up The Stairs To Girona Cathedral, Girona, Catalonia, Southern Europe.jpg

After all, lesser-known destinations tend to be less crowded and cheaper than their famous counterparts; Girona is no exception: despite being relatively busy in summer, it’s still far more quaint than the bustling Barcelona, and there are plenty of affordable hotels to pick from.

Located in the city center, the boutique Pensió Bellmirall costs only $82 to book per night, while four-star listing equipped with a pool and spa facilities Hotel Nord 1901 is still an acceptable $132, whereas in Barcelona, similar hotels in good locations would cost over $300 per night to book.

Medieval City Gates Of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe.jpgMedieval City Gates Of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe.jpg

Food in Girona is inexpensive, too, with tapa bars serving lunchtime menus for as cheap as $10-12, and three-course meals accompanied by a glass of wine, or a couple of pints of beer in mid-range restaurants averaging $40; overall, you should plan on spending $152 per day.

Girona’s proximity to Barcelona is equally part of the reason why it’s become so popular in recent years: a short 40-minute Renfe train ride separates the medieval jewel from the Catalonian capital, and tickets can be as cheap as $7 booked off-peak.

Female Tourist Checking Her Flight On A Board, Airport, Unspecified LocationFemale Tourist Checking Her Flight On A Board, Airport, Unspecified Location

Despite being close to the capital, Girona does have its own international airport, serving 42 destinations, mostly around Europe and vicinities: from a number of departure points around the continent, there are low-cost to Girona starting from as low as $14 this summer.

Unless they’re already in Europe, however, Americans will first fly into Barcelona, then switch to the train to Girona if that’s where they’re headed.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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