Perched on top of Portugal in the far northwestern corner of Spain, Galicia has so far remained under the radar of most British tourists, who instead choose to flock to the country’s balmy southern coastline or bustling central cities. But with a dramatic landscape that boasts everything from thundering waterfalls to pristine beaches, the region shouldn’t be overlooked. Read on to discover the best of what Galicia has to offer.
Nestled between two sides of the Atlantic, Galicia has a unique character and a rugged charm with a countryside that’s reminiscent of Indonesian jungles and a coastline that’s not too dissimilar to the Caribbean or Seychelles. The richly vegetated landscape comes as a result of higher rainfall than the rest of Spain, and the rolling verdant hills punctuated with terracotta-roofed houses make for a spectacularly scenic drive. Hidden within the forests you’ll find glistening waterfalls tumbling down through the dense vegetation, falling into brilliantly blue pools of water that sit below. One of the most notable examples is Fervenza de Vieiros, a striking Balinese-esque waterfall located right in the heart of Galicia. It takes a little effort to find, but the drive and hike themselves are an adventure and when you arrive you’ll likely have the entire place to yourself even in the height of summer. Bring some food and drink for a scenic packed lunch.
While the region may welcome more rain than the rest of Spain, the sun is also pleasingly prevalent and the coastline is peppered with postcard-worthy beaches, the most famous of which can be found on the Cies Islands. The islands are home to the sweeping Rodas Beach – named the world’s best beach by the Guardian thanks to its chalk-white sand and unbelievably turquoise water – as well as the small but perfectly formed Nosa Senora Beach and the beautifully wild Figueiras Beach. The rugged topography of the islands also lends itself to hiking with several cliffside and coastal routes to choose from while the ban on motorised vehicles and hotels (a singular campsite is the only form of accommodation) provides a unique back-to-nature experience. Discover everything you need to know about visiting the Cies Islands here. For an island a little less well trodden, consider Isla de Ons, which is also accessible by ferry.
Elsewhere along the Galician coastline, Illa De Arousa is a charming island that’s connected to the mainland by a bridge, making it much more accessible for a day trip than the Cies Islands. Spectacular beaches line the perimeter of the island while picturesque pine forests, well-maintained walking and cycling trails, and impressive viewpoints bring the opportunity of outdoor adventuring. Rustic cafes and restaurants serving freshly caught seafood and local cuisine can be found within the harbourfront town and along the coastline. On the northern coast of Galicia, As Catedrais beach, which translates into Beach of Cathedrals, features several unique rock formations comprising natural arches and caves that reveal themselves at low tide. Praia de Xilloi, Praia de Carnota and Praia da Lanzada are three more incredible beaches to consider when visiting Galicia.
Its natural beauty may be the biggest draw to Galicia but the towns are also worthy of exploration. The capital of the region, Santiago de Compostela, is the most visited thanks to its magnificent 11th century cathedral and labyrinthine medieval streets. The city forms the conclusion of the 490-mile-long Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which today remains one of the world’s most popular pilgrimages, and every week thousands of weary walkers come together to rest their tired feet in the shadow of the awe-inspiring cathedral. The facade is a visual treat with romanesque, gothic and baroque architecture decorating its many spires. Further south, Pontevedra is home to a well-preserved Old Town and with a ban on cars, the city is perfect for exploring on foot. Further inland, the lesser-visited town of Ourense is worth a stop for its eye-catching bridges and riverside natural hot springs.
Vigo, meanwhile, is far more than a gateway to the Cies Islands. There’s a charming Old Town to explore, a hilltop fortress, over 40 beaches, and a huge port that ships locally caught seafood all around the world. And where better to try the seafood than the city’s fantastic line-up of restaurants and tapas bars? Octopus and oysters are the city’s signatures but if seafood isn’t your thing, you can find cheap, quality pizzas at Abadia de Nuria and contemporary tapas such as bao buns at Taberna Baiuca. Thanks to the Galician tradition of serving complimentary tapas with every drink served – you’ll struggle to find a bar that doesn’t adhere to this custom – you’ll also find yourself tucking into plates of mussels, chorizo and olives while sipping on crisp Estrella Galicia and locally produced wine.