When planning a trip to Catalonia and short on time, you may find yourself in the tough place of having to decide between spending time in Girona or Tarragona or Sitges. These three smaller Catalonian cities are all very much worth visiting in their own right, but not everyone has the time to be able to properly dedicate to each of these.
They all offer different things – from Roman ruins to beautiful sprawling streets, to lovely seaside vistas. All are worth visiting, so that makes it more than difficult to choose between them.
In general, Girona is best for a sightseeing city break without the sea, Tarragona for a seaside escape within a larger city and Sitges for a small town on the sea.
However, let’s delve further into which town is right for you. Each place has something unique to offer visitors and you’re sure to find something to suit yourself and your travel style.
Table of Contents
Located north of Barcelona, this inland city is absolutely gorgeous. Known to once be home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Spain, the old Jewish Quarter and Old Town are steeped in history and breathtaking to wander through.
More recently, Girona has also been the filming location for some scenes from the popular Game of Thrones television series.
Girona is situated about 100 kilometres north of Catalonia’s capital and largest city, Barcelona, which means it takes about 1 – 1.5 hours driving to reach. The city is also incredibly well-connected to Barcelona (and throughout nearby cities) by the rail network, where you can reach it in roughly an hour.
If you happen to fly into Barcelona airport and want to visit Girona, your travel time will not be difficult regardless of whether you choose to rent a car or use public transport.
Girona is also home to its own international airport, which serves the city and the nearby Costa Brava. Numerous budget airlines fly into the Girona airport from across Europe and you can often find a better deal to fly in here than to Barcelona proper. Keep in mind that many routes only operate seasonally.
Once in Girona, you will find that the city is incredibly compact and very easy to navigate on foot. The vast majority of the sites are located very close to one another and though there is a lot to see in the city, it is entirely possible to visit Girona as a day trip, as well.
Girona is also well-located to explore a lot of other spots in the area, including Figueres, Besalú and even the Costa Brava. Because of this, it can be very well worth it to spend two or three days in Girona.
A major consideration when trying to decide which city to visit is how much each costs, especially if you’re trying to visit Spain on a budget. So is any city more or less affordable than the other?
The actual answer to that is yes, but it isn’t significant. Girona will often come out as the most expensive of the three. Compared with the rest of Spain, Catalonia actually tends to be a bit more pricey and Girona is one of the priciest cities within the region.
Things like restaurant meals and accommodation tend to be a bit more expensive (especially in the low season) than they are in Tarragona or Sitges and, in general, you can expect to spend about 5-10% more here for the same kind of thing that you would in either of the other two cities.
It’s worth noting though, that prices for things like museum entry tend to be about the same throughout Catalonia so the increase in price in Girona really only has to do with accommodation and restaurants. The price difference will be more drastic in the low season and will likely narrow in the warmer months.
Girona is an inland city and, therefore, the restaurants and bars don’t have as much of a concentration on seafood as Tarragona and Sitges, however, that isn’t to say that you can’t get it! Seafood is popular throughout Spain and Girona is not located far from the coast so you’re still going to be getting absolutely fresh seafood in Girona.
While there are great budget to mid-range restaurants and bars in Girona where you can get a very local feel and sample an array of Catalonian cuisine, Girona also has many fine dining establishments if that is what appeals to you.
Though you can definitely have wonderful meals in all three of the cities, Girona is definitely the best choice if you’re interested in dining in more upmarket establishments – though there are plenty of budget-friendly and more casual places as well.
Things to do in Girona
Girona is one of the best places to visit in Catalonia for very good reason — there is quite a lot to do and see in the city in a small area, so you can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.
You can surely get lost in the beautiful winding streets of the old town, take in the beauty of the Girona Cathedral, visit the Arab Baths and walk along the city walls. There are many museums to enjoy in Girona, as well, including the Jewish Museum, the Archaeological Museum and even a film museum.
There are plenty of beautiful plazas to people-watch in and countless cafes where you can have a drink, a snack and soak up the culture.
Girona is small enough that you can see the vast majority of the main sites in one day, however, it’s worth spending a bit more time to really get to know the city and perhaps use it as a jumping-off point to visit some other cities and towns nearby, like Salvador Dalí’s birthplace of Figueres, the towns on the Costa Brava or the beautiful town of Besalú.
Where to Stay in Girona
Hotel Nord 1901 Superior – If you’re looking for a luxury option in Girona, then this centrally-located hotel is a great choice. They have wonderful rooms available and even include a swimming pool, garden, bar and free parking. Breakfast is also included.
Hotel Costabella – This family-run hotel is a good choice for travellers looking for a mid-range option. Located close to Girona’s old town, they offer lovely rooms, a gym, a sauna and even a swimming pool. There is also parking included.
Little Home Girona – These flats are an excellent option if you’d rather have your own place over a hotel in Girona. Located in Old Town, they’re perfectly poised for exploring the city. You can choose from a one or two-bedroom depending on your needs and you can also enjoy a fully equipped kitchen.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Girona hotels!
This mid-sized coastal Catalonian city is located a bit south of Barcelona and it is a wonderful place to visit if you want the Mediterranean vibes of the Catalonian capital without the tourist crowds and high energy. Filled with history and great energy, Tarragona is definitely a wonderful place to visit in the region.
Tarragona is located on the coast roughly 100 kilometres south of Barcelona and it takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to reach the city by car, much like Girona. Unlike Girona, however, Tarragona does not have its own airport so if you want to solely visit this city, you will need to fly into Barcelona as that is the closest airport.
If you are keen to rely on public transit during your trip to Catalonia, Tarragona has a centrally-located train station that is well-connected with Barcelona (the train takes around one hour) and other nearby cities.
Because of its location in the south of Catalonia, Tarragona is also relatively close to Spain’s third-largest city of Valencia and it is about 250 kilometres north of the city. Tarragona can be easily accessed by car or by train from Valencia in about 2.5 hours.
Once in Tarragona, you will find that it is about as easy to get around as Girona or Sitges. The city centre itself is quite small and a good portion of the sites are situated quite close to one another. That means that you can easily traverse Tarragona solely relying on your own two feet.
Tarragona isn’t as popular of a tourist destination as either Girona or Sitges and, therefore, has a few more “local” prices than in the other two places. You can find very affordable restaurant prices, for instance (provided you venture outside of the tourist-centric old town) and accommodation prices can be extremely affordable.
In general, you can definitely expect some things like accommodation to be more expensive in the summer months when people from all over flock to Tarragona’s beautiful beaches, prices still will remain relatively affordable and a bit less expensive than in Girona.
Though Tarragona can be the most affordable city of the three to visit, it is really worth knowing that the price difference is somewhat minimal. But if you are travelling on a tight budget and watching where every Euro goes, then Tarragona can be a great choice. And it’s a great choice for any other reason, as well!
Where Girona is well-known for its plethora of fine dining establishments, Tarragona (and its seaside location) is home to plenty of great places for some incredibly fresh seafood.
In fact, if you want to have a great seafood rice dish or fideuá, then make sure to head to the Serralló neighbourhood and pick from an array of wonderful restaurants.
Tarragona also has great, casual bars where you can get a very local and very authentic Catalonian lunch menu at lower prices than you would find in central Girona.
Also, while both Girona and Sitges have central markets, as well, Tarragona’s central market is particularly vast and really showcases all of the fantastic local produce, seafood, aperitivos and meats.
In general, Tarragona is an excellent place to visit if you want to have a lot of great seafood and experience more down-home, local places to eat at a more affordable price.
Things to do in Tarragona
If you are interested in Roman history and antiquities, then Tarragona is a fantastic choice for you. The most distinctive feature of this coastal city is its impressive Roman Amphitheatre that overlooks the Mediterranean, but that is only one of many Roman ruins to explore in the city.
Tarragona also boasts a fascinating Roman circus where chariot races used to take place and beautiful Roman walls that you can stroll along the base of.
A bit outside of the city, you can also visit an excellently preserved Roman aqueduct — known as the Puente del Diablo — that you can even walk across.
Tarragona also boasts a beautiful coastline and plenty of beaches where, in the warmer months, you can spend your days soaking up the sun and swimming in the sea. And if it’s cool neighbourhoods that you’re into, the Seralló neighbourhood on the seaside has a lot going for it, as well.
Where to Stay in Tarragona
B&B Hotel Tarragona – If you’re after a luxury option in Tarragona, then this plush, boutique hotel is a great choice. Located in the centre of Tarragona, they have clean and comfortable rooms available, an on-site bar and include breakfast in the nightly rate.
Placa de la Font – This hotel is a great choice if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly hotel. Located in Tarragona’s old town, there are several basic though comfortable and clean rooms on offer, a bar and restaurant on the property and a lovely terrace so you can enjoy the Mediterranean climate.
Apartamentos Astoria – These apartments are an excellent option if you’d rather have your own place in Tarragona over staying in a hotel. There are different options to choose from that can suit any budget and they’re situated in a central location.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Tarragona hotels!
Though much smaller than Tarragona or Girona, Sitges is a popular place to visit in Catalonia and for very good reason — it is absolutely charming. This lovely coastal town is located a bit south of Barcelona and it is a popular day trip option from the Catalonian capital.
Sitges is a small coastal town located about 40 kilometres south of Barcelona. Because of this, you can easily reach Sitges in about 45 minutes by either car or train. Much like Tarragona, Sitges does not have its own airport (it’s much too small) but seeing as how close it is to Barcelona, this isn’t too much of an issue.
As already mentioned, Sitges is quite small meaning that it is exceptionally easy to get around the town on foot. There are plenty of little alleyways and a few sites to take in, but no need to worry about walking until your feet ache in Sitges — it’s far too small for that!
When weighing in on the affordability of Sitges, it sits pretty much in the middle. It is a smaller town, though this doesn’t necessarily mean it is more affordable. In fact, due to its proximity to Barcelona and its popularity as a seaside getaway for those from all over the world, prices in Sitges can be a bit steep – especially in the warmer months.
Accommodation prices are going to be a bit more expensive than in Tarragona and a bit less expensive than in Girona, except you might see them be about the same as Girona in the peak of the summer months.
Because there are a lot more tourist-centric places to eat and shop in Sitges, prices can be a bit inflated here, too. That is not to say that things are always of lesser quality, however. You just may pay a premium for, say, a great seaside view.
All in all, the difference in price between all three of Sitges, Girona and Tarragona is generally minimal, but Sitges does land somewhere in between the two other cities.
Sitges is a much smaller town than either Tarragona or Girona, however, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a myriad of wonderful restaurants and bars to choose from and great places to eat.
In fact, if you want to find great, authentic tapas bars, you will definitely find that in Sitges. But you will also find more tourist-centric places to eat that serve dishes that are more internationally well-known.
Because of how tourist-centric Sitges can be, you will likely need to search a little bit harder to find a good meal at an affordable price, however, this usually just means walking a bit away from the seaside.
If you’re not looking to eat Spanish or Catalonian food and are searching for just general continental dishes, you will find more options for that in Sitges just because of how it attracts so many European tourists.
Regardless of whether your choose to stay, you will have the opportunity to eat incredibly well, however, and you can’t go wrong with any of these options.
Things to do in Sitges
Sitges is much smaller than either Girona or Tarragona and, therefore, doesn’t really have as many sites or things to do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting. The town itself is absolutely charming, with quaint whitewashed buildings and plenty of cobbled, winding alleyways.
There is also a wonderful and long seaside promenade that is lined with cafes and bars where you can take in the beautiful sea views.
There are also beaches galore and it is the perfect spot if you simply want to relax, take in the culture, and enjoy the wonderful Catalonian climate without feeling like you’re missing out on a number of great historic sites.
Where to Stay in Sitges
Hotel El Xalet – This quaint hotel is located only a few minutes from the beach and has a prime location in central Sitges. They have a range of lovely rooms available and a pool and cocktail bar on site.
Sitges Views – If you’d rather stay in a private apartment than a hotel, then this is a great option. Located in the centre of Sitges, this place has a lovely terrace, a large double bed (and a pull-out sofa) and a fantastic location.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sitges hotels!
Girona vs Tarragona vs Sitges: The Verdict
Girona is an excellent option if you’re not interested in the seaside or if you simply want to visit one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
There is a lot to do in Girona itself and it also serves as an excellent jumping-off point for a number of day trips. If you’re interested in fine dining, then Girona may be a great choice for you, as well.
Tarragona is a good option if you are after a seaside escape but also want a larger city feel. The largest city by population of all three compared here, Tarragona has a bustling energy that is undeniable but also boasts a number of gorgeous beaches. If you’re interested in Ancient Roman history, Tarragona is also the obvious choice for you.
And if you’re looking for a smaller seaside getaway that is more about the atmosphere than tourist attractions, Sitges is the right choice!
This town is great for those looking for a holiday in a beautiful Catalonian crowd, but you do have to be aware that it does get very popular with tourists in the high season.
Regardless of whether you choose to stay in Girona, Tarragona or Sitges, you really can’t make a bad decision. Each place has something unique to offer visitors and are all worth visiting in their own right.
Are you wondering where to base yourself in Catalonia? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!