The glittering jewel in Galicia’s crown, Santiago de Compostela is the region’s most visited destination. Its mythical history is key to its popularity – the discovery of St James the Apostle’s supposed tomb in 813 sealed its status as a revered place of Christian pilgrimage. Not religious? You’ll still enjoy this lovely city’s medieval beauty and rich culture.
There’s more to Santiago de Compostela than religious history and spectacular architecture. The city’s large student population gives it a lively vibe, and there’s a surprisingly happening nightlife scene. An array of interesting and scenic places nearby makes for some great day-tripping too.
Day 1: Pilgrim’s Progress
First things first: Santiago’s undisputed superstar is its cathedral, towering proudly over Praza do Obradoiro. Its lavishly Baroque 18th-century façade welcomes newly arrived pilgrims; inside, its stunning Romanesque interior remains virtually unchanged since the 11th century. St James’ remains are believed to lie in the crypt beneath the altar. Finished marveling? Check out the praza itself: lined with beautiful old granite buildings, it’s one of Spain’s grandest. Wandering the city’s narrow streets, you’ll come across highlights such as the magnificent parador, Hotel de los Reyes Católicos, several ancient monasteries, and the delightful Praza das Praterias, complete with 17th-century fountain.
Day 2: North and South
As if Santiago wasn’t stunning enough, its environs are bursting with natural and cultural wonders. Heading north, you come to the infamous Costa do Morte (‘Coast of Death’), so-called for the innumerable ships sunk in storms or smashed into rocky outcrops over the centuries. Its untamed beauty is breathtaking, and its sunsets legendary. Admire scenic fishing towns like Noia and Muros, stroll along Carnota (Galicia’s longest beach) and take in wild Atlantic views from Cape Finisterre’s lighthouse. South of Santiago lies the important port city, Vigo. Foodies should make haste to the old sailors’ quarter, Bairro del Berbes, for some mouth-watering seafood tapas. A quick hop across to Portugal, and you’re in Valenca do Minho, a charming 18th-century fortress city with narrow streets and great shopping.
Day 3: Highs and Lows
Getting high needn’t always be illegal! North of Santiago, Galicia’s High Estuaries (Rías Altas) are known for their fishing, scenery and rich history stretching back to pre-Roman times. Breathe in the ocean air in Pontedeume, a pretty medieval fishing village; or explore Betanzos’ Romanesque and Gothic monuments. Regional capital La Coruña is a bustling port city, renowned for its unique glass-fronted houses and ancient Roman lighthouse. With postcard-perfect coastal scenery and a comparatively mild climate, the Low Estuaries (Rías Bajas) make for a pleasant visit. The ancient Roman site of Iria Flavia, the upmarket island of Toxa, and pretty provincial capital Pontevedra are just some of the area’s must-sees.