Galicia Holiday Planning Guide
Still largely untouched by international tourism, Galicia offers outstanding seafood and a strong connection to the ancient Celts. Steeped in history, Galicia often feels far removed from the rest of the country, as it traces its cultural ancestry to Northern tribes who began settling in the area about 3,000 years ago. Celtic traits remained ingrained in everyday life. Fiercely independent, Galicians take great pride in their cultural heritage and architecture, and well-preserved World Heritage Sites and other attractions are readily found in the region’s towns and villages. Its varied landscapes include spectacular sea views and rugged mountains.
Places to Visit in GaliciaSantiago de Compostela
: One of the world's most popular Christian pilgrimage sites, Santiago de Compostela lies at the endpoint of the famed religious route and features a rich array of gorgeous cathedrals, a mishmash of architectural styles, and even a preserved medieval city wall as a part of its World Heritage-listed Old Town.La Coruna
: Nestled atop an isthmus surrounded by interesting features of the peninsular landscape, La Coruna is steeped in contrasts; despite boasting an energetic modern party scene, the city has also witnessed the historic likes of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake, and local heroine Maria Pita.Vigo
: The region's most populous area, Vigo is an economic juggernaut that hosts the biggest fleet of fishing boats on the continent, though it also features a great deal of ancient sites, a pleasant waterfront, and perhaps the region's most under-appreciated Old Town site.Ferrol
: Long one of the country's most crucial naval bases and production zones, industrial Ferrol features plenty of attractions to fill your Galicia itinerary, including a surprising amount of historic buildings and its strategically located port guarded by a magnificent stone fortress.Ourense
: Often missed by tourists on their Galicia trip, underrated Ourense stands as one of the region's biggest gems, home to a very dense and walkable historic core, tons of opportunities for sampling traditional Spanish tapas, and a beautiful setting within a river valley accented by a millenia-old Roman bridge.Pontevedra
: A series of charming, interconnected squares and intimate lanes burst with a huge array of bars, shops, and cafes in laid-back Pontevedra, a riverside city with a quiet medieval core, attractive churches, and plenty of cultural sites to keep you occupied.Lugo
: Ancient Lugo is rightfully renowned for its litany of winding medieval streets, pedestrianized squares, and beautiful cathedrals, though it's the incredible variety of Roman sites and buildings that truly take the cake, most notably the totally intact Roman walls, some of the best-preserved on the planet. Ribadeo
: Right on the border with neighboring Asturias, the town of Ribadeo sits alongside an estuary rich with aquatic species that make huge contributions to local cuisine, and though the town itself features a large collection of historic homes, the biggest draw is its access to the nearby Playa de las Catedrales.Cape Finisterre
: Deemed by the ancient Romans to be the "end of the earth," the rocky expanse of Cape Finisterre does give a distinct feeling of being at land's end, with rugged cliffs, exhausted pilgrims, and incredible ocean views adding to the majesty of this windswept corner of Europe.O Grove
: With a decent claim as Galicia's shellfish capital, O Grove is a must-visit for seafood lovers, though nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike can also appreciate it, as its sleepy, fishing-village appeal, rich estuary environment, and nearby islands are famed for their medicinal waters.
Things to Do in Galicia
Popular Galicia Tourist AttractionsCathedral of Santiago de Compostela
: One of Spain's most impressive churches and the purported burial place of St. James, the ornate 13th-century Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is among the most important pilgrimage sites along the region's famed religious trail, and features twin spires, a combination of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque designs, and a stunning collection of exterior sculptures.Tower of Hercules (Torre de Hercules)
: Standing stoically overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the World Heritage-listed Tower of Hercules dates back to at least the 2nd century BCE, and this sturdy Roman-era construction, rising to a height of 57 m (187 ft), is among the coast's most recognizable symbols.Playa de las Catedrales
: The magnificent cliffs at Playa de las Catedrales are visible when the tide recedes, and some of these behemoths rise above the beach to heights of 32 m (105 ft); in addition to exploring the various hidden sea caves, rock arches, and other geological wonders, you can also go for a swim.Plaza del Obradoiro
: Named for its history as an epicenter of local stone work, the expansive Praza do Obradoiro at the heart of the city marks the endpoint for many pilgrims trekking the Way of St. James, and features the famed cathedral, beautiful Baroque facades, and a stately city hall.Muralla Romana de Lugo
: Entirely intact, the Roman Walls of Lugo stretch for a length of more than 2 km (1.25 mi), and these massive World Heritage-listed fortifications are considered to be the finest Roman remains of their kind anywhere in the world.Praia da Lanzada
: Featuring an enticing 2.5 km (1.5 mi) of white sands and blue waters and surrounded by dunes, Playa Lanzada is certainly among Galicia's fan-favorite beaches for swimming, surfing, and simply kicking back on its sunny shore.Monte de San Pedro
: Once a strategic military fortress, Monte de San Pedro has been transformed into an inviting green space with fantastic views out over the sea, so take a stroll through the grounds, exploring the park's array of historic bunkers, cannons, and fortifications.Playa Samil
: Home to a pleasing promenade offering all sorts of outdoor areas for swimming, sports, and strolling, Vigo's Playa Samil serves as a solid option for a day out enjoying the sun, sand, and beautiful coastal surroundings.Aquarium Finisterrae
: The aquarium is a great place to visit on your Galicia vacation to marvel at a colorful selection of sea life from Galicia's surroundings and around the world, housed in impressive (and gigantic) tanks and habitats.Barco Islas Cies - Cruceros Rias Baixas
: Hop aboard the boats of Barco Islas Cies - Cruceros Rias Baixas and head out into the coastal waters, where you can delve into the wild environment of the region's famous islands and estuaries and glimpse its energetic wildlife.
Planning a Galicia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Galicia with Kids
When it comes to city splendor, it's hard to beat the incredible architecture and tourist-friendly infrastructure of Santiago de Compostela
, and as the famed endpoint of St. James' Way it's absolutely packed with things to do. Pontevedra
, and Baiona
offer plenty of ancient sites, medieval delights, and historic atmosphere, which provides an entertaining backdrop for your family wanderings, along with plenty of interesting local attractions to keep any parents tagging along occupied. For a Galicia vacation focused on the region's fantastic coastline, head for the energetic urban centers of La Coruna
. Though both of these towns, along with many others near the seaside, feature less-than-attractive outskirts and industrial buildings, they make great bases for exploring the surrounding region, while giving you and the kids easy access to the beach--a convenient safety valve when everyone needs a bit of a break.
Things to Do in Galicia with Kids
Famed beaches, home to golden sands and sparkling waters, make great options for a day off of sightseeing in Galicia, and are often a great solution when you run out of things to do with the kids. Playa de Barra, Playa Vao
, and Playa de las Rodas are all popular among visitors, and the Playa de las Catedrales
offers solid beach fun and spectacular rock formations sure to make the kids' jaws drop. The Aquapark Cerceda
, with water slides, a wave pool, and a kiddie pool, provides a good alternative for colder days.
Of course, you can't have a family vacation in Galicia and leave out the region's natural gems. The province features spectacular wild stretches, encompassing varied ecosystems and landscapes. The Parque Nacional de las Islas Atlanticas is a huge stretch of national park containing four different islands along with massive colonies of migratory birds, and kids will love riding out to these islands to explore by foot. Alternatively, there is the Parque Natural de O Invernadeiro and its array of amazing waterfalls and lush foliage or the Marcelle Natureza
--a safari park where you can ride through outdoor enclosures, keeping your eyes peeled for zebras, buffalo, and other creatures running freely. Head to Guías Malouco -Turismo y Aventura-
for an adventurous taste of the outdoors, where you can explore the Galician landscape by hopping aboard a kayak, delving into a canyon, or even trying your hand at a bungee jump. It'll certainly be a visit that leaves the kids satisfied and is a great way to let off some steam during your holiday in Galicia. Ecoparque Multiaventura, an outdoor park with obstacle courses, ziplines, rope bridges, and more, is another solid choice.
For more indoor activities, try visiting the Aquarium Finisterrae
for a glimpse of local sea life. On the museum front, the Casa de las Ciencias
offers a litany of family-friendly interactive science displays, while the Domus
--a museum about the human body and human development--offers more than 200 activities, exhibits, and games to keep the little ones entertained.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Galicia
Though public transportation is certainly an option when it comes to getting around on your Galicia vacation, there is no real substitute for the flexibility offered by a rental car. When the whole family is involved, it can also be an economical option: while bus fares and the like aren't outrageously priced, they can quickly add up when traveling with multiple people several times per day. Galicia boasts plenty of important cathedrals and religious sites, attended frequently by both locals and the many dedicated pilgrims who visit the area, and while children are welcome they need to keep quiet, be respectful, and not disturb other visitors.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Galicia
Cuisine of Galicia
Galicia is all about seafood, and many visitors claim that it's some of the world's best. "Marisco"--the Galician word for shellfish--are ubiquitous, and you'll find tons of mussels, along with clams, stewed in all sorts of delicious and flavorful broths and sauces on most menus. Locals also claim that local sea scallops are a cut above those from elsewhere in Spain, and whipping them up into "vieiras a galega" is a popular choice; usually served up with wine or bread crumbs, these ocean morsels are sometimes even eaten raw, straight from the sea. Other shellfish, fish, and aquatic creatures are also big-time fixtures on many menus, including "percebes" (goose barnacles), "navajas" (razor clams), "necora" (velvet crab), "bacallau ao alvarino" (cod), and "langostinos" (big prawns).
If you're a fan of octopus, it would be a crime to finish your Galicia trip without sampling "pulpo a feira," a spicy boiled octopus dish served in oil, topped off with a healthy serving of paprika--one of the region's most famous specialties.
Landlubbers need not fear in Galicia, either, as plenty of inland treats await in addition to the veritable cornucopia of seafood. Pork and cheese are also Galician obsessions, and you'll find them in just about every form imaginable. "Caldo gallego"--a Galician stew once a staple of the rural poor--features potatoes, beans, cabbage, and plenty of tasty ham and chorizo, while "empanadas"--fried pies filled with pork, cheese, or fish--make for fantastic quick snacks.
For dessert, get your hands on some "tarta de Santiago;" this almond cake emblazoned with a cross made of icing is very popular among pilgrims and travelers. You can also sample the ever-popular churros with chocolate, a warming favorite served all around Spain in cafes and from streetside stalls.
The region produces plenty of renowned wines to go along with your meal, most notably the "Albarino" and "Ribeiro" varieties. If you're feeling brave, try some "orujo," a strong traditional liqueur used in making the popular flaming drink known as "queimada."
Shopping in Galicia
Keep in mind during your visit that many of the region's towns and cities, regardless of size, feature their own local farmer's markets, plenty of which sell homemade treats and gifts that come straight from their homes. Adding a few of these to your Galicia itinerary on the fly is a great way to both get a glimpse into a timeless local tradition and spend a morning or afternoon in a lively central setting. Santiago de Compostela's Mercado de Abastos de Santiago
is undoubtedly one of the city's - and the region's - can't-miss attractions. Standing among Spain's largest covered markets, the city's main center of commerce boasts a riotous array of cafes, bars, and restaurants, all intermingling with tons of stalls selling local foods and fresh produce from the region. This market, and other city markets, are fantastic places to pick up a few souvenirs, including plenty of one-of-a-kind mementos.
For a shopping experience more centered around the traditional mall, Galicia is also well-equipped. Most major cities along the coast like Vigo
and La Coruna
features tons of options in and around town, with well-known names and shops lining most of their main streets. They also have plenty of bigger shopping centers that offer dining and entertainment in addition to stores. Marineda city
--with tons of international chains and plenty of big-name brands--and the Ponte Vella Centro Comercial y Ocio
--which highlights Spanish and international brands in a relaxing riverfront setting--are just a few of the region's many notable examples.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Galicia
History of Galicia
Ancient Galicia was populated by a collection of Celtic tribes and peoples known as the Gallaeci, who occupied the region from the Bronze Age up until its takeover by Rome. The society and its communities were centered around hill forts; though built for defense, these forts (known as "castros") developed into permanent settlements and population centers. Parque Monte del Castro
, located atop the site of one of these Celtic hill forts, features archeological sites dating back as far as the 3rd century, BC. Though many Celtic structures and ruins were later incorporated into Roman and Spanish buildings, and often lie unseen beneath the ground, you can still get glimpses of this ancient past while on your Galicia vacation by visiting sites like Castro de Barona
, a Celtic settlement dating back about 2,000 years.
The Roman Empire began a campaign to conquer the region in the 2nd century, BC, which included a landing force in La Coruna
(then known as Brigantium) spearheaded by Julius Caesar himself. Though the local Celts put up fierce resistance, Roman rule over "Gallaecia" would solidify by the turn of the first millennium CE, and so began the area's gradual transformation into a Latin, Mediterranean society. Rome's most lasting physical impressions on the region are ones you'll want to add to your Galicia itinerary, along with the Tower of Hercules (Torre de Hercules)
, the massive Muralla Romana de Lugo
are truly awe-inspiring, and among the most remarkably well-preserved Roman fortifications on the planet.
After Roman rule fell apart, the Kingdom of Galicia was founded in 409 by an invading Germanic tribe known as the Suebi, and in the following centuries this population was joined by Celtic settlers from the British Isles. Ravaged by the Visigoths after the fall of Rome, Galicia was occupied during the 6th century, CE, and joined the growing trend of Christianization in the Spanish kingdoms in the following centuries. However, the Muslim Moors from North Africa were wreaking havoc on the rest of Spain, and though Galicia was never fully conquered during the Moorish period, the caliphate that occupied the rest of the peninsula did its best to extract taxes and exert peripheral control on the region. You can learn more about these early periods in Galician history, including the Celtic and Roman eras, by visiting attractions like Santiago de Compostela Museo do Pobo Galego
or the Castle of San Anton
in La Coruna
As the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula pushed southwards in the early Middle Ages, Galicia went through a brief period of unity with its newborn neighbor, Portugal, becoming independent once more in 1095. The year 1479 saw the rising power of Castille and Aragon, now united, crush Galician independence and establish more or less total control over the province. However, this new era would not be a quiet one, as Galicia now stood on the front line of the struggle between Catholic Spain, and Europe's Protestant powers, England and the Netherlands, and an ever-troublesome France. Naval raids were commonplace along the Galician coast, and both La Coruna
were famously sieged by English forces. Shipbuilding and the naval trade rose to become one of the region's biggest industries, and forts like the Castle of San Felipe
, a solid addition to your Galicia itinerary, were constructed to fend off rival powers.
A combination of devastating downturns in industry and agricultural hardships during the early- and mid-19th century (notably textile trade reforms and crop failures), led to a huge amount of emigration from Galicia. Between the 1830s and 1880s, more than 10 percent of Galicia's population left the region in search of a better life overseas, setting off aboard transatlantic ships from La Coruna
and other coastal cities for newly independent, Spanish-speaking nations in Latin America. Uruguay and Argentina in particular were popular destinations for relocating Galicians.
Though a referendum in 1931 saw Galicia win its autonomy, this was quickly reversed when dictator Francisco Franco, himself a Galician from Ferrol
, seized power in 1939 following the bloody Spanish Civil War. Franco outlawed the Galician language--"galego"--in schools and in public use, and this marked a rather dark period in which regional culture and autonomy was strictly repressed as a part of a campaign to assert Castilian Spanish language and traditions. However, after years of attempted suffocation, Galicia was reestablished as an autonomous community within post-Franco Spain in 1981, featuring its own parliament, president, and national assembly.
Landscape of Galicia
Galicia's interior is dominated by hills and mountain ridges (which help to separate it physically from the surrounding Spanish provinces) and expansive, fertile plains stretching to the coast, providing plenty of arable land for local agriculture. Thermal springs are also a major feature, one which you can enjoy for yourself while sightseeing in Galicia at locations like the Termas de Outariz
. These hills direct the area's many winding rivers to their outlets on the coast, setting the stage for one of Galicia's most famous features. Along the sea, estuaries and inlets define the landscape, and these renowned "rias" stretch up and down much of the coastline. The Rias Baixas, in the south, are the most famous and receive the lion's share of visitors, though the Rias Altas in the north are equally impressive. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay, which have long defined Galicia's industries and development, Galicia has throughout its history cultivated a very close relationship with the sea. The region's landscape also features an overabundance of islands, more than 300 in all. These range from tiny, rocky islets just offshore to the grand and lush expanses of the Islas Cies. The region's rugged coastline culminates in a series of rocky peninsulas and capes stretching out into the ocean, including the jagged peaks of Cabo Ortegal
and Estaca de Bares
, the most northerly point of the entire Iberian Peninsula, and the majesty of Cape Finisterre
, a site that to the ancient Romans represented the end of the known world.
Holidays & Festivals in Galicia
Most of Galicia's population is of the Roman Catholic faith, so you'll find that Western and Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are met with great celebration. There are also plenty of days dedicated to different saints and religious figures within the church that take place throughout the year. Individual pilgrimages are also extremely popular in Galicia, along with visits to the region's huge array of stunning churches and cathedrals. The famed Way of St James is perhaps the best-known: this extremely popular religious route is trekked by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors each year; a major engine of tourism in Galicia, it follows the route that St James' disciples walked as they carried his body for burial in Santiago de Compostela
On July 24, locals celebrate the Dia de Santiago in Santiago de Compostela
, highlighted by a massive fireworks show and street party. July also features the Festival Ortigueira, the country's biggest Celtic music festival, which pays tribute to the region's venerated and proudly remembered Celtic heritage. Another pre-Christian and Celtic-influenced holiday--Entroido, a kind of Galician Carnival--comes in the weeks leading up to Lent. Ceremonies include villagers gathering in larger cities and dressing up in regional costumes, singing door-to-door, wearing intricate masks, and all sorts of other performances along with plenty of dancing and fiery objects.
When it comes to food, Galicia also has tons of festivals dedicated to local fare, most O Grove's
famous Shellfish Festival in October, paying tribute to the area's influential fishing industry and starring the fan-favorite mussel as the tasty guest of honor.
Galicia Travel Tips
Climate of Galicia
Though it has a reputation within Spain as a rainy region, it's worth noting that Galicia in fact still boasts decent weather for much of the year. April, May, and June tend to be the wettest months, but depending on your location you'll likely receive interspersed sunshine and plenty of heat. However, the heat in the inland areas of Galicia, around cities like Ourense
, tend to come with above-average humidity by Spanish standards, so be sure to drink plenty of water on your trip.
You'll likely find while on your Galicia holiday that the coastal stretches feature a significantly different micro-climate from the interior reaches, as seaside towns like Pontevedra
and La Coruna
boast quite a bit more regular sunshine than potentially overcast Santiago de Compostela
. Similarly, there is a noticeable north-south divide, with the northern parts of the region featuring a distinct marine climate and the southern bits boasting weather more in line with the rest of the Mediterranean.
Transportation in Galicia
As the regional hub, Santiago de Compostela features both bus and train connections from elsewhere in Galicia and across Spain, including Madrid and Leon. You can even kick off your trip to Galicia by entering the region from neighboring Portugal. A regional train line runs along the western Galician coast, connecting most of the major towns along the way, along with a line along the northern coast from Ferrol. Hopping off in bigger seaside agglomerations allows you to catch local buses or commuter trains further inland. A network of intercity buses allows you to get just about anywhere in Galicia with relative ease, as you'll find that most major town along the way have regular and reliable service. However, renting a car during your trip is the surest way to give yourself ultimate flexibility when it comes to touring and seeing Galicia's attractions.
Languages of Galicia
The majority of people in Galicia speak Galician in their daily lives, and it is an official language of the region. Some claim Galician is a dialect of Portuguese, and speakers of Galician and Portuguese can in fact understand one another for the most part. However, interestingly enough, the Galician language tends to make use of spellings and writing conventions taken from Spanish. Almost everyone in Galicia also speaks Spanish fluently, and you'll find significant numbers of people, particularly from the younger generation, speak English along with their native tongues. Despite this, learning a few words of the local lingo will certainly go a long way toward making you stand out from the tourist crowd during your trip to Galicia.