Galicia deserves way more than two or three days, but one has to make the most of the time he has available.
Let’s face it: most people in the world don’t have endless amounts of time (and money) to travel. To be fair, not even I do – though it is my job to travel the world and inspire others to do the same! Sometimes work constraints force me to literally flashpack through a destination. But at times, just a quick visit is enough to make me fall in love with a place and make me vow to go again. This was the case with Galicia.
A First Taste Of Galicia
I visited Galicia for the first time at the end of June 2016, when I toured the North of Spain.
Back then, my trip started in the Basque Country, where I was impressed by the Guggenheim museum and drank the crisp txakolin wine.
I then continued to the lesser visited (yet gorgeous) Cantabria to marvel at the Altamira cave and get lost in the narrow alleys of Santillana del Mar (and drink more wine).
I crossed into Asturias and was impressed by the gorgeous beaches, the lively Oviedo, and by the beautiful, peaceful coastal villages – and since wine isn’t so much of a thing there, I opted for cider.
I finally visited Galicia, where I could not believe the beauty of Playa de las Catedrales. I concluded my tour in Santiago de Compostela, where I didn’t spend nearly long enough to properly get to know it.
I went to Galicia again last October, and unfortunately I didn’t get to spend long enough there this time around either. I guess though that between the two trips, I managed to get a good feel for this beautiful part of Spain.
Hence, I have decided to put together a post on just a few places that can be visited in Galicia on a two or three days break – just about the amount of time that most tourists would have on a weekend break – and using Santiago de Compostela as a starting point for exploration.
The roofs of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, as seen from the Cathedral Museum
Five Gorgeous Places To Visit In Galicia In Just Three Days
Santiago de Compostela
The most obvious place to start exploring Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, whose airport is connected to the rest of Europe via budget airlines flights. The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and it is the ending point of a pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James) that each year sees over one hundred thousand pilgrims walk across Spain through various routes.
The city is beautiful – crowded with tourists and pilgrims, yet completely enjoyable. The Cathedral is stunning, and the view of Obradoiro square from the Cathedral museum is worth seeing: the square is huge, packed with people and busy with life, especially on sunny days (keep in mind that the North of Spain does get a lot of rain!).
The Mercado de Abastos de Santiago is another must see. Open from Mondays to Saturdays, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, not only it is the perfect place to buy groceries (especially the fish and seafood which are always delicious in this part of the country) but also to just observe life, and take photos. Apparently most of the action happens earlier in the morning, and towards the end of the week.
The rest of Santiago is a series of narrow alleys. Some of them are quite busy, others surprisingly quiet. Either way, it is lovely to take a walk around to enjoy the interesting layout and breathe the great atmosphere.
The gorgeous gardens of Pazo de Oca, in Galicia
Pazo de Oca
At around 30 minutes drive from Santiago de Compostela, there’s a beautiful palace called Pazo de Oca, often referred to as the Galician Versailles. Though the interiors can’t be visited (the owners still live in the palace, how amazing is that?!) it is possible to roam through the incredibly well kept gardens.
There is a labyrinth of hedgerows, beautiful flowers galore, and even a large pond with swans in it.
Pazo de Oca is open every day from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (November to March); or 9:00 am to 8:30 pm (April to October).
An unmissable stop in Galicia: Sobrado dos Monxes
Sobrado dos Monxes
The Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes is one of the most unique churches I have ever visited in my life. Located at about 1 hour drive from Santiago, it is a very important landmark during the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Nowadays, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It originally was a Benedectines monastery, which had been built in the 10th century and then abandoned at the very beginning of the 12th century. In 1142 it was re-founded as a Cistercian monastery, and the baroque church was built in 1708.
While the facade of the church is simply stunning, it is the interior that attracted my attention. The church is completely empty inside: no furnishing, no decorations and paintings, no statues or crosses. Just the bare floor and walls. Walking inside is a strange feeling. But the church is still enjoyable and worth visiting.
The stunning Playa de las Catedrales is a must see in Galicia
Playa de las Catedrales
Known as Praia das Catedrais in the Gallego language, Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most unique and beautiful beaches in the world. The fact that it is at a good 2 hours drive from Santiago de Compostela should not be a deterrent to visit. Trust me, it is worth it.
The peculiarity of Playa de las Catedrales is the rock formations which, carved by the sea and the wind, have taken the most incredible shapes – thus looking like cathedrals.
I recommend planning a visit after having previously checked the tide timings, because it is beautiful to walk along the beach at low tide. Otherwise, there is a footpath to follow from where there are gorgeous views.
A cat guarding a winery in Galicia
Pazo de Galegos Winery
Despite being a light weight, I love wine, and I love visiting vineyards and wineries. The good news is that Galicia produces some of the best wines of Spain, Albariño and Mencia, and it is a great region to learn a bit more about the process of making wine, from growing the grapes to filling up the bottles; and from cracking a bottle open to enjoying its scent and taste.
I recommend visiting Pazo de Galegos, a fabulous vineyard and winery with an annexed hotel at only 30 minutes drive from Santiago. The wine is really good, but should not be the only reason to visit this place.
The palace (Pazo) where the hotel is located used to be the residence of the Canon of the Cathedral of Santiago. According to history this man, himself a historian and a writer, is the one who located the hidden remains of Saint James.
Yet, what makes Pazo de Galegos a special place and a real treat is the owners (and their assistant cat), who put all their passion and care in producing excellent wines, running this family business, and in welcoming their guests. There’s also the bonus that they speak perfect English.
Santiago de Compostela is full of colors
Where to eat and sleep in Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is packed with good accommodation and eating options. There’s something for any budget and any kind of travelers. The following are the hotels and restaurants that I have had the pleasure to try.
Hotel Spa Relais & Chateaux A Quinta da Auga: wonderful hotel set in a renovated 18th century building. It is located a bit outside the center of Santiago. Rooms are cozy and incredibly comfortable, decorated in a style that mixes traditional furniture with modern touches. There’s a beautiful garden where guests can enjoy a drink. There’s also a spa. The staff is very kind and helpful.
Filigrana at Hotel Spa Relais & Chateaux a Quinta da Auga: annexed to the lovely hotel, Filigrana is a classy restaurant that serves traditional Galician food cooked in modern, innovative ways. It is simply delicious.
Carrís Hotel Casa da Troya: lovely hotel located in the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela. Rooms are beautifully decorated in a modern, stylish way – some also have a balcony. All bathrooms have a large bathtub.
Restaurante Casa Marcelo: one of the best restaurants of Santiago, Casa Marcelo serves fusion food, gracefully mixing local dishes and international cuisine and only using the best quality ingredients. The environment is classy yet easygoing.
If you haven’t been to Galicia yet, I bet you want to go now! Time to book a flight to Santiago then!
This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Boardand the local tourism board of Galicia, and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
I visited Spain for the first time when I was 8: my parents took me and my sister to Barcelona, one of the most well known places to visit in Spain. In fact, I think it was our very first trip overseas, and the one that eventually got me addicted to travel. It felt so exotic, so different from home (although growing up, I realized that Spanish culture is perhaps the most similar to the Italian one!) and there were so many cool things to do in Spain that were new to me, that I obviously loved it.
There are so many beautiful places to visit in Spain, such as the gorgeous beaches of Asturias
Since that time, I have been to Spain countless times – more than I can remember, actually. After all, it is fairly easy to visit Spain from anywhere in Europe (including from the United Kingdom, where I have lived for over 8 years) as there are direct budget airline flights and it is included in the countries that accept the Eurail Pass. Compared to the rest of Western Europe, the prices are still more than affordable. Besides, with so many places to visit in Spain, and with the amount of things to do in Spain, it is only obvious that I would want to go back.
Yet, for reasons I can’t really explain (other than obviously loving it there), every time I visit Spain I end up visiting the South of the country. Barcelona, Costa Brava, Costa del Sol, Andalucia, Valencia, the Baleares islands – I keep going again and again.
One of the top things to do in Spain is visiting its stunning beaches: this is Playa de las Catedrales, in Galicia
I ought to visit Spain – again
Until last time, when I eventually decided it was time for a change, and decided that of all the places to visit in Spain, I’d want to see some that really look different from the ones I already know so well.
Besides, I really wanted to fulfill one of my biggest traveling dream – walking the Camino de Santiago. This is considered one of the top things to do in Spain (if not in Europe). It literally is a pilgrimage, and there are a number of ancient pilgrim routes that all connect to the burial ground of Saint James (Santiago, in Spanish), one of the apostles, which was found in 814 in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.
Every year hundreds of thousands of people embark on this journey, which is both a physical and spiritual one, not to mention a leisurely one that provides an incredible boost to Spain tourism. A bunch of my friends walked the Camino de Santiago – some of them more than once – and came back with some incredible stories. I thought that definitely, walking the Camino de Santiago must be one of the top things to do in Spain and it was finally time I also did it.
Cantabria is one of the places to visit in Spain
My reasons were spiritual (though not religious, because I am an atheist, but I feel the two things don’t necessarily have to be connected): I felt the need to spend some quality time with myself, and to challenge myself too. But there was more than that: as I am an insatiable traveler, I felt ready to see some new places to visit in Spain that I hadn’t seen yet, and to hit both some of the most well known as well as some of the less famous Spain tourist attractions.
Walking the Camino del Norte – one of the top things to do in Spain
Of all the routes that from various places in Europe lead to Santiago de Compostela, I opted to walk the Camino del Norte – which crosses the Northern regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, considered among the most beautiful places to visit in Spain. I decided not to follow the more popular Camino Francés, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz, in France.
A number of reasons made me opt for this route. First of all, the weather conditions would be more favorable. I knew I would be walking in June, when the most well known places to visit in Spain get incredibly hot. On the other hand, this would be the best season to visit the North of the country, which is typically much colder and gets much more rain, but where the summer months are more pleasant and not nearly as hot.
Whenever I visit Spain, I fall in more in love with it
Furthermore, as one of the best things to do in Spain, especially along the Camino de Santiago, is walking, I wanted to make sure that this was fully enjoyable, with pretty views throughout. Rumor had it that of all the places to visit in Spain, the North would be the one with the most varied landscape and challenging walks, with lots of vegetation, mountains, beautiful beaches, charming coastal villages and nice cities. There must be a reason why this is considered the greenest part of Spain, after all.
Top this off with the fact that significantly less people opt for this route and that the accommodation options are generally of a better quality (I can do with some pampering at the end of a long day of walking!), and add the fact that food in this part of Spain is delicious (there’s so many dishes to try in Galicia!)and it is easy to see why I decided to walk the Camino del Norte and cross the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia: I wanted to visit Spain on my own terms and I knew the North of Spain would suit my needs.
Looking to discover more Spain tourist attractions
Discovering more of Spain tourist attractions
I knew the minute I arrived in Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country, that I had made the right choice: there wouldn’t be shortage of places to visit in Spain, there wouldn’t be wanting for more things to do in Spain, as I would hardly have a break from being completely amazed.
Of all the places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte, some completely stole my heart and I would love to go again and spend more time there. However, it would be impossible to mention them all. So, here’s what I think are the most beautiful places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte.
The gorgeous Pasai Donibane in the Basque Country is one of the places to visit in Spain
Amazing places to visit in Spain along the Camino del Norte
Amazing places to visit in Spain – the Basque Country
I truly enjoyed visiting the Basque Country, it is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Spain. For some reason, it really reminded me of Sardinia. Not so much for what I saw, as in this sense it is obviously different, but because of its character: independent, resilient, proud and unique.
Of the many places to visit in Spain that I had the pleasure to explore in the Basque Country, I was charmed by Pasai Donibane and Pasai San Pedro. These fishing villages are on two different sides of an estuary. A series of tiny, cobbled alleys goes a long the river. The pace of life is slow: elderlies sit at coffee shops for a drink, to observe people passing by; groups of younger kids enjoy a hot summer day jumping in the water (after all, swimming in the sea is one of the best things to do in Spain), dogs in toe. The atmosphere is incredibly pleasant.
Whenever I visit Spain I have a great time – photo courtesy of Duncan Rhodes
Not far from Pasai San Pedro, Albaola, the Sea Factory of the Basques, is one of the places to visit in Spain that I wholeheartedly recommend. It is a museum as well as a research centre where historical whale ships are being built, to uncover one of the most traditional occupations of the Basque Country: whale oil trading.
One of the best things to do in Spain is discovering its nature and environment. One of the best places to visit in Spain in order to do so is the Urdaibai Bird Centre, in the Basque Country. Before visiting, I had no idea that this part of Europe is one of the areas used by various species of birds to stop along their migrations: a lot of them come here to nestle. The centre was opened to monitor and research the migration and reproduction cycle of various birds, and there even is a stunning view of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO site since 1984) from which it is possible to observe various species, including ospreys.
It’s easy to see why Urdaibai is one of the best places to visit in Spain
I have never been one to fully enjoy cities. Even the most beautiful ones tire me after a short while. So I ran away from Buenos Aires after a few days, for example.
Sure enough, there are a few cities that are among the most incredible places to visit in Spain. I really liked Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country. It is a lively city where locals, tourists and the occasional pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela happily meet. What makes Bilbao one of the places to visit in Spain is a great mixture of old and new architecture: next to cobbled streets, colorful balconies and windows, and the gothic style Basilica de Begoña, there are state of the art examples of contemporary architecture such as the Guggenheim Museum, for sure one of Spain tourist attractions.
San Sebastian is one of the top places to visit in Spain – clearly!
One of the best things to do in Spain that is particularly popular in the Basque Country is surfing. San Sebastián is a pleasant coastal town with several lovely urban beaches with incredibly clear waters where locals and tourists go during the hottest days of the summer. It is such a pleasant town that it well deserves to be mentioned among the places to visit in Spain.
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Cantabria
I love archeological sites and I never miss an opportunity to visit one, when I can. One of the most incredible places to visit in Spain is the Altamira Caves, and it is located in the gorgeous region of Cantabria. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Altamira Caves contain some of the best examples of prehistoric art, with paintings of animals such as bisons, deers, horses and boars that date back to up to 16000 years ago.
One of the unmissable places to visit in Spain: Altamira museum
The caves have been closed to the public in order to preserve their delicate atmosphere. However, the Altamira Museum hosts a perfect reproduction and a visit to this museum is one of the top things to do in Spain for any archeology or history lover.
Another of the most gorgeous places to visit in Spain that is located in Cantabria is Santillana del Mar. This is a perfectly kept medieval village, locally known as the “town of the three lies.” Indeed, it is neither saint (santa), flat (llana) or by the sea (mar). The name actually derives from Santa Juliana, whose remains are kept in the Colegiata, a former Benedectine monastery and one of the most interesting sights in the village.
Gorgeous even on a rainy day, Santillana del Mar is one of the places to visit in Spain
I had heard that Cantabria is one of the greenest regions of the country, making it one of the top places to visit in Spain for nature lovers. Sure enough, I got proof of it when I walked part of the Camino Lebaniego, a 65 km route that connects the Camino del Norte with the Camino Francés and which is often used by pilgrims to move from one route to the other.
A curious kitty welcomes visitors in Cantabria, one of the fantastic places to visit in Spain
If one of the best things to do in Spain is hiking, Cantabria is where to go and the Camino Lebaniego won’t cease to amaze. From the small villages I walked through, to the creeks that run along deep valleys; from the beautiful Picos de Europa – so called because it was the first sight that sailors coming from the other side of the Atlantic would get when they approached Europe – to the sights of herd of goats that block the traffic: Cantabria is one of the most fantastic places to visit in Spain to savor a bit of nature and traditional lifestyle.
Incredible views along the Camino Lebaniego – one of the best things to do in Spain
Not only that: Cantabria is one of the best places to visit in Spain to enjoy the sights. The views from the Mirador de Santa Catalina are simply spectacular, and one of the best things to do in Spain, and preferibly on clear days, is taking the cable car from Fuente De to get to the view point. Unfortunately when I visited the sky was completely covered in clouds. It was still enjoyable – although incredibly cold!
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Asturias
I got the perfect introduction to Asturias as I arrived in Sablón beachfront, in Llanes. This has to be one of the top places to visit in Spain. It is a small, urban beach where locals go during summer days. Picture fine, golden sand, clear waters and all surrounded by gorgeous cliffs. It is simply stunning. I even walked all the way to the viewpoint of San Pedro, and from up there it was even better.
Sablon beachfront – easy to see why it’s one of the places to visit in Spain
I then rented a bike to follow the pilgrims’ path and had views over some splendid beaches – so beautiful that I could not help thinking that Asturias must be the most incredible place to visit in Spain.
Taking in the gorgeous views: one of the top things to do in Spain
Lots of people who regularly visit Spain told me that Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is a fun city. I must say I really enjoyed it. The historic centre is beautiful and I was immediately captured by the lively yet relaxing atmosphere. If one of the best things to do in Spain is enjoying its delicious food and drinks, Oviedo is definitely one of the places to visit in Spain. I had a fantastic dinner at Tierra Astur – a pub style restaurant where the waiters serve the famous sidra (cider) in a very choreographic way, slowly pouring it onto the glasses as they stretch their arm way up above the head.
Cudillero is one of the places to visit in Spain
Cudillero is a small picturesque fishing village that sits on the side of a mountain. The brightly colored houses literally hang from the cliffs and all overlook the small bay and the port. Here, life goes by slowly. Locals still walk everywhere (most houses don’t have access to a road where cars can drive). Cats hang out in the street. There’s various viewpoints from which to enjoy the view, which is simply stunning – making Cudillero one of the nicest places to visit in Spain.
Enjoying the pretty view of Luarca, one of the nicest places to visit in Spain
Another coastal village that I truly enjoyed is Luarca, also along the route of the Camino del Norte. It is known as the white town, and here the buildings all preserve their original charme. The atmosphere is special: welcoming locals enjoy a late afternoon drink and enjoy talking to visitors. I recommend going to anybody who decides to visit Spain.
Isn’t Luarca one of the top Spain tourist attractions?
Amazing places to visit in Spain – Galicia
I love a good beach and Playa de las Catedrales, which is the first place I visited in Galicia, didn’t fail to amaze me. It is one of the most unique beaches I have ever seen (and you know, being from Sardinia I am not exactly a newbie when it comes to beautiful beaches). But I felt this was really special, and indeed one of the most incredible places to visit in Spain.
Playa de las Catedrales uniqueness is due to the rock formations that have been carved by the wind and by the sea, forming curious shapes that can either be observed from the beach itself when the tide is low – one of the best things to do in Spain is walking on a beautiful beach – or from above, when the tide starts rising.
Playa de las Catedrales surely is one of the best places to visit in Spain
The intricate facade of Sobrado dos Monxes make it one of the most unique places to visit in Spain
Since the Camino de Santiago is meant to be a pilgrimage, one of the places to visit in Spain when walking it is the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes. What makes this place special is that it is one of the last stops before actually reaching Santiago de Compostela.
Sobrado dos Monxes is a UNESCO Heritage Site, originally a Benedectines monastery dating back to the 10th century, then abandoned and eventually re-founded as a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century. It has a gorgeous Baroque façade which was built in 1708. However, the interior is completely empty – there’s no paintings, no furnishing, no statues. It is so unique, that I would say it is one of the best Spain tourist attractions.
Last but not least, one of the places to visit in Spain is Santiago de Compostela, which is the arrival point of the many pilgrim routes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beautiful city, whose Cathedral is a real work of art. Yet one of the things that makes Santiago de Compostela one of Spain tourist attractions is the atmosphere. A mixture of locals, tourists and pilgrims walk along the street and crowd the squares and the many bars and restaurants to exchange anecdotes about their Camino. Most of the pilgrims look exhausted. But all look content. It is evident that they enjoyed their Camino.
Sure enough, I would love to visit Spain again and to walk the Camino de Santiago one more time – perhaps following a different route this time. With so many places to visit in Spain, I doubt I will ever tire of it.
Have you ever been to the North of Spain? What did you like the most about it?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the Tourism Board of Spain, and the local tourism boards of the The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia and in cooperation with The Travel Mob as part of the #InGreenSpain and #VisitSpain campaigns. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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