Despite its atmospheric medieval quarter and proximity to the Costa Brava and Pyrenees, Girona has long stood in the shadow of neighbouring Barcelona. That’s about to change thanks to the current series of Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s fantasy book series. 

It’s one of the most lavish TV shows ever made, and has made stars of its scenic locations. In season six, viewers are transported to Girona’s labyrinthine old town, which has changed little over the centuries. It’s a great destination for a long weekend, whether or not you’re a George RR Martin devotee, or an easy day trip from Barcelona, which lies 70 miles down the coast.

From the southern outskirts, Girona could be any smart Spanish city, but cross one of the 11 bridges spanning the Riu Onyar and you find yourself in a medieval walled city of churches, winding alleys and towering arches (or if you’re a GoT devotee, the powerful free city of Braavos, where Arya Stark begins season six struggling with blindness). At its heart is La Força Vella, a Roman fortress established in the first century BC within a triangular perimeter wall, part of which still stands today.

Arya Stark in Braavos; Calle del Bisbe Cartaña, behind Girona Cathedral

When Girona grew beyond La Força Vella in the ninth century, the ramparts were extended – and it’s the best place to begin, peering down at the historic hotch-potch within and enjoying views out to the Pyrenees. From here, the cosmopolitan city quickly fades into rustic countryside, its quiet mountain roads popular with professional cyclists, such as David Millar and Dan Martin, who have made the city their home.

Girona’s best-known landmark is a magnificent cathedral: the imposing Baroque façade is reached via 90 steps and the Gothic nave inside is the widest in the world. It’ll become even more famous when one key Game of Thrones character ascends that stone staircase on horseback during a battle scene. At the foot of the cathedral is one of the best-conserved Jewish quarters in Europe. Within its labyrinth of cobbled streets, there’s a 15th-century synagogue that houses the Jewish History Museum, where you can learn how the city’s medieval Jews flourished for 600 years until persecuted and expelled by the Catholics.

A Game of Thrones character will brave Girona Cathedral's staircase on horseback

Due to its strategic position on the Via Augusta – the ancient road that linked Iberia to Rome – Girona was repeatedly conquered, earning it the nickname “the city of a thousand sieges”. Every occupier left their mark, giving the city its unique melting-pot identity. The 12th- century Arab Baths are the legacy of the Moorish invasion in the eighth century, and also boast a cameo in Game of Thrones. Whether it’s the cool air, dim lighting or shadows cast on the still water by colonnades, there’s something eerie about this series of furnace-heated rooms, which were once the meeting place of Girona’s elite.

Just outside is Plaça dels Jurats, which hosts festivals in summer and was the setting for a gladiatorial Game of Thrones battle watched by hundreds of fans, who gathered on the walls to watch filming.

When you’ve had your fill of fantasy, Catalan art can be admired at the Museu d’Art (housed in the former Episcopal Palace), and in the buildings designed by modernist architect Rafael Maso. Even the footbridges have their own distinct character, such as Pont de les Peixateries Velles, designed by Gustave Eiffel (who later built the Eiffel Tower). Also worth a visit is the Museu del Cinema, which chronicles the history of cinema from Chinese shadow puppetry to early moving images.  

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Gourmet Girona

Late-night eating: Like most Spanish cities, Girona gets lively late. Families dine out from 10pm onwards, and the bars stay open until the early hours.

Time for tapas: There are tapas bars on practically every corner. Try Boira on the Plaça de la Independència for its innovative menu.

The oldest restaurant: On the other side of the Plaça is La Casa Marieta, which serves traditional dishes including delicious monkfish.

Local favourite: In the medieval quarter, the seafood restaurant Arròs I Peix on Carrer dels Ciutadans is popular with locals. Try arroz negro, a dish of cuttlefish and rice darkened with squid ink.

The world's best: The three Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca on Can Sunyer has been voted the best restaurant in the world — book now for 2017. 

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