There are many reasons to visit Galicia.
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 flash-pack 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 is what happens when you visit Galicia.
I visited Galicia for the first time at the end of June 2016, when I toured the North of Spain, and was immediately captured with its beauty. Places like Playa de las Catedrales and Santiago de Compostela are world famous, but there’s more to Galicia than the Camino de Santiago.
If you are planning to visit Galicia, you may be interested to know about its most charming places and the best reasons to go. Continue reading to find out!
11 Perfectly Good Reasons To Visit Galicia
It’s where the Camino de Santiago terminates
This is probably the best reason to visit Galicia! This is where the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) ends after having crossed a variety of other regions – depending on the route you may follow. The overall pilgrimage takes an average of 35 days and you will qualify as a real pilgrim if you complete at least 100 km. I have walked the Camino del Norte route and crossed the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias before reaching the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where it terminates.
The most popular route, however, is the Camino Frances, which starts in Sarria.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Camino del Santiago can be easily walked independently and it’s a life-changing experience. It’s not a difficult hike per se, but walking days can be long and depending on the season and the route you follow, you may end up walking in the scorching heat or under the rain. You really don’t have to do much planning, as there are lots of albergues – pilgrim hostels – along the way where you can rest after a day of walking, and meet other pilgrims.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you would like to get a taste of the Camino de Santiago but don’t have time to walk all of it, you can join it for even just a day. For more information, click here.
Santiago de Compostela is splendid
Another great reason to visit Galicia is Santiago de Compostela.
With an international airport that connects it to the rest of Europe via budget airlines flights, this beautiful city should be the obvious starting point of your trip and one of the best places to visit in Galicia. Santiago was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and it is the ending point of the pilgrimage that each year sees over one hundred thousand pilgrims walk across Spain through various routes.
The city is 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.
TIP: To make the most of Santiago, you may want to consider joining a guided tour. I wholeheartedly recommend this Santiago de Compostela full day tour. You may also want to consider this Santiago de Compostela Cathedral and museum guided tour or this private Santiago de Compostela downtown tour.
But there are other, beautiful towns
While Santiago certainly is the most famous city in Galicia, it’s not the only one you should visit. Often overlooked for other more popular places, A Coruña is actually a fun place, with a port, a great beach, a beautiful historic center and a fantastic food and nightlife scene.
For smaller towns, one of the nicest places to visit in Galicia is Cambados, in the Pontevedra province. The 16th century Pazo de Fefiñanes, built by King Felipe II’s advisor Don Juan Sarmiento Valladares, is the main sight – the interiors are splendid, but the highlight of the visit will probably be the gardens surrounding the palace. There even is a winery attached to the palace – the Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes. It was established in 1904 and is one of the oldest in Galicia.
You will find the Galician version of Versailles
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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: 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). Admission to the gardens is free.
There are some stunning churches
The Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Sobrado dos Monxes is one of the most unique churches you may ever get to visit, and reason enough to visit Galicia. 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 Benedictines 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 will catch your 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 will give you a strange feeling. But the church is still enjoyable and worth visiting.
And spectacular beaches
Known as Praia das Catedrais in the Gallego language (an interesting mix of Portuguese and Spanish), Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most unique and beautiful beaches in the world, and one of the best places to visit in Galicia. 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.
TIP: Make sure to check the tide timings before visiting, 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. In case you want to opt for a guided tour, this one includes transportation from Santiago. Check it out here.
GOOD TO KNOW: For truly gorgeous beaches, you may want to visit the Cies Island, off the coast of Vigo. Illa de Monteaguo, Illa do Faro and Illa de San Martiño all have some excellent beaches with gorgeous clear waters and fine white sand.
You’ll find lots of Roman Ruins
The Romans left their mark in all of Europe, and Galicia certainly is one of the places you can visit to learn more about Roman history. Places to visit in Galicia to discover its Roman past include the Roman Walls of Lugo, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage site; the Roman bridge of Ourense and the Tower of Hercules in A Coruña.
GOOD TO KNOW: Other than Roman heritage, Galicia seems to have a connection with the Celtic culture of Ireland and Scotland.
Galicia makes some great wines
You may not know it, but Galicia produces some of the best wines of Spain – Albariño and Mencia – this being 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.
Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, D.O. Monterrei and O Ribeiro are great places to visit to discover local wines, but you don’t have to travel far from Santiago at all! Indeed, one of the best places to visit in Galicia for wine tasting is 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.
It’s the end of the world
In the past, people believed that Galicia is where Earth ended – after all, this is Europe’s westernmost point, after which there only is the Atlantic Ocean. One of the best places to visit in Galicia is Cape Finisterre – literally “end of the Earth.” It’s located in Costa da Morte – AKA Coast of Death.
There are excellent accommodation options
Santiago de Compostela is packed with good accommodation options. There’s something for any budget and any kind of traveler. I have tried all of the following hotels and I couldn’t recommend them more wholeheartedly:
HOTEL SPA RELAIS & CHATEAUX A QUINTA DA AUGA – A 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, and a spa.
CARRIS HOTEL CASA DA TROYA – A 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.
Food is always delicious
Spain is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to food, and if there’s one thing you can be sure of is that food is delicious in Galicia. As it is right on the Atlantic, Galicia is a great place to gorge on seafood. Make sure to try the ever-present pulpo (octopus), percebes, (goose barnacles), and angulas (baby eels).
Vigo is probably the best place to try Galician specialties as it has a thriving fishing industry, but by all means you will have no trouble finding good places to grab a bite in Santiago too. If you want something for a special occasion, there are some excellent places you may want to check out. Here are the ones I recommend:
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.
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.
If you haven’t been to Galicia yet, I bet you want to go now! Time to book a flight to Santiago then! Besides, did you know it is one of the best places to travel alone?
Are you traveling to Spain? Make sure to check out my other posts:
- The Best Places To Visit In Northern Spain
- 7 Reasons To Visit The Basque Country
- 10 Gorgeous Places To Visit In Asturias, Spain
- 5 Reasons To Love Cantabria
- 31 Awesome Things To Do In Madrid
This article is written in partnership with Spain Tourism Board and 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.