Have you heard of Galicia? If not, I am not really surprised. It is the secret gem of Spain and has been my home for nearly 2 years. Located in Spain’s north-western corner, above Portugal, Galicia is known as ‘green Spain.’ The cultural cities and rural towns are surrounded by luscious green valleys and yellow sandy beaches that lead to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not really how most people picture Spain, but it is absolutely gorgeous, due to its unique Spanish nature.
Galicia is one of the 7 Celtic nations and it has its own language, separate from Spanish, known as Gallego, which is used daily by all ages. Don’t panic, in the most built up areas English is spoken although it can be quite basic. I am trying to change that as I am an English teacher here. The most famous city is Santiago de Compostela, as it the original finishing point of the Christian pilgrimage, Camino de Santiago. The whole Galician community can be explored in a week, if you are well organised, but if possible give yourself 10-14 days.
When is the best time to visit Galicia?
Galicia is most beautiful from mid-June, as the spring rainfall has ended and nurtured the land; blossoming into more shades of green than you thought existed. Throughout the course of summer, the temperatures range from 26° – 32°C (78°-90°F), but it depends where in Galicia you are. Towns and cities along the coast are cooler than those inland, as the refreshing sea breeze from the Atlantic sweeps through the streets.
If you prefer cooler days visit during Novemberor May. You may catch a tremendous rainstorm, which Galicia is famous for within Spain. The incredible storms are an absolute sight to see, especially from the comfort of your top floor hotel room.
Special Day: The best time to visit, in my opinion, is June 23rd (or the closet Saturday), this is when San Juan is celebrated. I spent my first San Juan on La Coruna beach and I remember every detail. The whole city was sat around hundreds of bonfires along the seashore, eating BBQed sardines and celebrating with friends and family. There was constant music, people dancing and at midnight a great firework display. When you celebrate take part by completing the traditional fire jumps. The more you jump the more luck you will gather for the year ahead, but 3 jumps are the minimum. Good luck!
How to Travel around Galicia
Unfortunately, the train and bus systems are not set up for fast regular journeys throughout the community of Galicia, as a majority of it remains untouched by tourism. Therefore, the best way to travel is to hire a car. European companies, such as Hertz and Sixt are available from both of the Galician airports, La Coruna and Santiago de Compostela. The cost for hiring a small manual car for a week is approximately €150 ($175 USD). Book ahead to get a good price and guarantee availability.
Tip #1: Always check the fine print, as some organisation have a cap on how many miles you should travel each day.
Tip#2: Carry change as the motorways (autopistas) have tolls.
If you are on a budget, the cheaper option is to carpool from place to place. I have successfully used Bla Bla Car. Basically, when someone is travelling from one place to anything, they advertise it online and you can catch a ride with them. In return, you pay a few euros towards the cost of the petrol. As well, as being affordable, it’s a great way to get tips on the best places to eat. A 145 miles (233km) trip from La Coruna to Ourense is less than €15. Bargain!
Taxis and public buses are available within the town. Spend 15 minutes in the tourist office and they will explain perfectly how they operate.
Galicia is home to chain hotels, boutique hotels and cute B&B houses. So, whatever suits your taste it is available. Air BnB is also becoming more popular, but only in the larger cities like Santiago de Compostela, La Coruna and Pontevedra.
The important thing about accommodation is its location, for accessibility reasons. Some parts of Galicia are very remote, so if you don’t have a car, they can be hard to reach. Select a hotel that has a local pick up.
I stayed in all types of set ups throughout Galicia and I have never had a problem with communication. Usually, there is someone with a basic level of English.
The best two cities to adventure to, in Galicia, are Santiago de Compostela and La Coruna. Then there are multiple unmissable activities doted around this green paradise. Here are enough activities and attractions to fill your 2 week vacation to Galicia, Spain.
Santiago de Compostela
The touristiest place of them all is Santiago de Compostela, which has the largest airport in Galicia, in order to accommodate the 100,000+annual hikers and cyclists that complete the ‘Camino de Santiago’. There are few things that you must do before leaving this ancient city.
- Take a self-guided tour around the grounds and inside the Santiago Cathedral. Highlights include the city’s main square and the chamber where St James is buried. The decorative detail inside is only matched by the beauty of the exterior architecture. It is free to enter.
- Navigate the narrow streets of the attractive Old Town. Bar hop for the best bar snacks, known as pinchos, in Spain. Try the mussels in spicy tomato sauce (mejillones con salsa de tomate picante), octopus, with olive oil and paprika (pulpo) and Padron peppers (Pimientos de Patron), which is a game of Russian roulette as you don’t know which green pepper, or if any, will be hot hot hot.
- After a pleasant walk around the Mirador Parque da Alameda; visit the Museum of Pilgrimage to learn more about the story of the pilgrims and their journey from France to Spain.
After a visit to La Coruna in 2016, it has become my permanent home and I cannot scream from the rooftops loud enough to display my love and affection for this city. It has the perfect balance city life, nature and beach life. Here are my top picks:
- Climb the steps to the top of the last remaining Roman lighthouse in the world that works. For just €3 you can walk through the 2ndcentury foundations of the Tower of Hercules and read about its history through fascinating exhibits as you slowly reach the open terrace at the top. For your fitness you will be greeted by the views of the park and ocean. Take a selfie with the giant compass and try to walk out the 7 Celtic nations. Tip: It is free to enter on Mondays.
- Enjoy a brisk walk along the Paseo, the promenade around the city. Enjoy the magnificent views of the harbour, beaches and skyline. Walk from the tower to the MUNCYT museum.
- Visit Maria Pita Square. Maria Pita is the city’s heroin, as she saved the city from a British attack. She will be eternally remembered with her empowering statue in the centre of the plaza. This is one of my favourite places as it’s the home of City Hall (Ayuntamiento). I never get bored of the 3 red domes that sit atop the building.
- Watch the latest cruise ship dock, with a delicious ice-cream along the Marina.
- Learn about human kind at the Domus, the first museum of its kind.
- Have a picnic on the highest point of La Coruna, Monte De San Pedro. This artillery park overlooks the city from the opposite side of the tower and is a great place for a family photoshoot before continuing your adventure.
Other unmissable attractions
Combarro: Explore the small fishing town of Combarro, the home of many ‘Los Horreos’, which are storage units on stilts, with the purpose of drying grains and fish. The tranquil place is filled with these traditional but unusual items.
Estaca de Bares: The most northern point of Spain is in Galicia. If you like cliffs, Estaca de Bares is the #1 place to visit. You’ll truly feel tiny on this planet, when you see and hear the never repenting ocean continually smash against these gigantic cliffs.
Tip: It gets very windy, so don’t wear a hat. It will be blown aware forever before you can say Estaca de Bares.
Ourense: This land locked province is situated alongside the lovely river Mino and is home to natural thermal pools. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit in order to feel the healing powers of this special water. Indulge in the private spa facilities or take full advantage of the free public pools. Bathe as the romans did at 'Las Burgas' the hot water spa that is located within the city, it is heavily signposted.
Finisterre: The English Way, is a route of the Camino that starts in the navy city of Ferrol and leads to Santiago de Compostela. If you want to add a few kilometres walk to Finisterre, which was dubbed by the Roman’s as the end of the World. This is the most western point of Europe!
Lugo: See the original layout of the city from above. It was protected by a Roman wall, built over 1700 years ago. Surprisingly and thankfully this wall has been kept in almost perfect condition. Although the city has expanded past the wall, it is still available for us to walk on. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the full 2-kilometre circumference. But based on the amount of times I stopped to take photos and also leave the wall to explore a little, allow at least 120 minutes.
The final activity
Ribadeo: This location is the only one left to visit on my own list of ‘Discover Galicia’. It is Catedrais beach or Cathedral Beach. My friends tell me it’s an absolute stunner of a place. The trick is to plan your visit with low tide, otherwise you won’t be able to walk along the beach and admire the unique formations of the cliff.
Do keep the name and address of your hotel handy. The language barrier can be a problem, but taxi drives and locals will always be able to read the address. So, if you get stuck don’t panic just swipe out the hotel business card.
Do pack your day bag wisely: Check the weather forecast for the day, before leaving to explore. Air on the side of caution and take a raincoat with you. The weather in Galicia is diverse, in that a warm sunny morning can quickly become a dark rainy afternoon.
Do live like a local and fill up at the bar with pinchos, the free snacks that often accompany a beer.
Do be safe: When you visit one of the many Galician beaches, check the safety signs as the currents are particularly strong and non-locals are normally the people who have the most accidents. Be particularly cautious in Ferrol and La Coruna.
Do take a siesta! Rest your feet between the hours of 2 and 4, as many shops close. Children leave school to have lunch at home with their families.
Don’t try to have dinner in a restaurant before 20:45. Most places don’t even open until then, as it is innate Spanish culture to eat late. But don’t panic they have afternoon snacks available, a meriendar, around 17:00.
Don’t be obnoxious and not bother to learn a few Spanish words and phrases.While English is usually available in the very touristy places, there are parts of Galicia where English simply does not exist. Plus, locals really appreciate it when you have a go. Here are some useful sentences to get you started:
- If someone speaks to you and you don’t understand, you can say “Lo siento, no entiendo. Soy Americana. ¿Hablas Ingles?” which is“Sorry, I don’t understand. I am American, do you speak English?”
- If you can’t find a toilet ask this question, “¿Dondeesta el bano?” You may not understand the response but as humans we all automatically point in the correct direction.
- When leaving an establishment or getting out a taxi, say “Muchas gracias, buendía” meaning “Thank you very much, have a good day.”
- When it comes to paying for things there are a couple of options “¿Cuanto es?” means, how much is it. This is great in a shop when you are buying your holiday souvenirs. If you are in a bar or restaurant you can say “la cuenta,” which is “I’ll take the bill.” Alternatively, you can say “mi cobras” this is more informal and translated it basically means, “I want to pay”. Also, doing the universally known hand gesture of squiggling a signature in the air, does the trick.
Finally, don’t say no to visiting Galicia, it’s an absolutely wonderous place. Who knows maybe you will fall in love and relocate, like I did.