Barcelona gives you a metropolitan experience in Catalunya, but travel out to a nearby smaller city like Girona, Spain and you’ll experience the local culture: local food, local business and local history.

Girona is located about an hour north of Barcelona and near Costa Brava (the drive is beautiful, and Grup Limousines offers excellent services). Girona has a very well preserved historic quarter which includes Roman walls, stone streets and traces of Girona’s Arabic-style baths. This is where you will find the city’s postcard views with the Cathedral of Saint Mary Girona (commonly referred to as “The Cathedral”) and the Church of Sant Feliu standing above the buildings.

Girona is also modern, and you’ll find local shops and hotels nearby the historic quarter — perfect for business. It’s interesting that Girona is a destination that has been mostly chosen for regional meetings, but the intimacy of this smaller city with nearby transportation can certainly make it a contender for international meetings that are considering smaller destinations that want to create an authentic local experience.

Girona is located in the northeastern region of Catalan, so the weather is mild throughout the year (but this is Spain, so it can certainly get quite hot in the summer). My visit was in early December 2011, the weather was incredible, and I felt like the only American in town.

Girona is also a place where you can immerse yourself in Catalan culture and cuisine. Girona hosted more than 130,000 visitors in 2010, including more than 32,000 for business, according to the Girona Convention Bureau. Obviously the greatest number of visitors to Girona are from within Spain itself, but from an international perspective, it’s worth noting that more than 35,000 international visitors spent time in Girona as well. They were from France (19,199), the UK (10,081), Italy (4,180), Germany (6,086) and 35,344 from the rest of the world (that would include Americans).

If you’re here for a meeting and find some time to explore Girona on your own (or wish to extend your business travel for day), consider the following travel tips for 24 hours in Girona, Spain.

Take a Guided Tour of Girona, Spain

You can’t visit Girona not not experience its monuments and museums, and a guided tour is the best way to do this (contact the Girona Convention Bureau for official guides). Popular spots to visit in Girona include The Cathdral, Sant Feliu, the Arabic baths and the Jewish Quarter (where the Jewish community lived from 889-1492). Make sure you go all the way to the top of the Roman walls and take in the view of the city and region from all directions. The Cathedral has a fascinating history and has been built above where a mosque once stood that was used by the Moors (services are held here daily). Another important stop is the Girona Jewish History Museum (and a tour group was visiting from Israel on the day of my visit).

Enjoy Dining in Girona, Spain

Girona is actually a gastronomic destination — with a total of 20 Michelin stars. Looking for an activity? Catalan cuisine is Mediterranean cuisine, including vegetables, beef, pork and seafood, as well as sauces and sweet desserts. And, of course, wine (if you’re looking for an activity, try to find or organize a wine tasting here). Who couldn’t find something to enjoy on one of these menus? My picks: Mimolet Restaurant in the historic quarter near The Cathedral, Numun at the AC Bellavista Hotel, Blanc at Ciutat de Girona Hotel, as well as any small tapas restaurant where you can find a coffee, tea and roll for breakfast.

Stroll Girona at Night and Go Shopping
Girona’s historic quarter and the nearby medieval village area near the city center offers an amazing number of small, privately owned shops and tapas restaurants, so enjoy an evening stroll and stop into any number of local businesses. I like that Girona is filled with local businesses, although it also includes neighborhoods where you can find malls and chain stores. At night (and during the day) the streets in the historic center are filled with local residents, and you get a strong sense of community. Cross over to the historic quarter on the Eiffel Bridge and you’ll find Girona’s postcard view of the Cathedral and Saint Feliu which is also spectacular at night.

Hotels in Girona, Spain

There are 12 hotels with three, four or five star ratings in Girona’s city center (674 rooms), and I stayed at Hotel Nord 1901 which is located just next to the historic quarter (I think it was a perfect location). If you’re here on business or planning a meeting, Hotel Nord 1901 and several others are worth considering. The AC Bellavista is Girona’s five star hotel. Check out our review, Hotels in Girona, for more information.

Girona is next to the Pyranees, and just 40 minutes to France.

Girona is a member of the Catalunya Convention Bureau and is part of Caminos de Sefarad, a network of 23 Spanish Jewish Quarters focused on fostering quality cultural tourism based on the Sephardic legacy.

Updated. Initially published April 9, 2012.