A Travel Guide to Galicia: Spain’s Celtic connection

The cities

Out of the 6 main cities of Galicia (A Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Pontevedra, Ourense and Lugo), I explored Santiago, which is also its most famous city. It has a prestigious university, the entire old town is UNESCO heritage listed, there is plenty of stunning architecture and history to get lost in, and it is also the destination of the famous ‘Camino de Santiago’. Throw in some amazing food, bars and a mix of different people (tourists, locals, students and pilgrims), the overall atmosphere starts to feel quite electric. With plenty of well- priced accommodation options, Santiago also forms a good base to explore rías baixas, and day trips to different villages are an easy option.

The main sites to see in Santiago de Compostela include:

  1. The Cathedral (La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela)
  2. The different squares (plazas) surrounding the cathedral
    • Praza do Obradoiro
    • Praza da Inmaculada
    • Praza da Quintana
    • Praza das Praterías
  3. Monastery of San Martiño Pinario (Mosteiro de San Martiño Pinario)
  4. The Alameda Park (Parque de la Alameda)
  5. Galician Folk Museum (Museo do Pobo Galego)
  6. The University of Santiago de Compostela (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela)
  7. Museum of Natural History (Museo de Historia Natural)

The Cathedral

The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Praza do Obradoiro
Pórtico de la Gloria in the western part of the cathedral
Cathedral rooftop views

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of the most important Catholic churches, not just in Spain, but also in Europe. Built in a highly elaborate Baroque architectural style, this is THE main attraction of Santiago, and is something that your eyes definitely cannot ignore, even if they wanted to. It attracts tourists and devotees alike and upon seeing its grandness, you will quickly realise why.

Because the cathedral is so massive, its visits can be divided into different sections:

  • Main sectionfree to visit as individuals, with audio guides in English available.
  • Pórtico de la Gloria– the cathedral’s western, and its more elaborate entrance. Free to visit on its own but there’s always a LONG queue as only 25 people are allowed inside at once and for 15 minutes only. This is to maintain the 12th century sculptures on the inside. You will be given a pamphlet explaining the various stories behind the sculptures in detail.
  • Rooftop tour– this is a paid tour, but worth it in my opinion as you can see spectacular views of old Santiago from here. The tour is principally in Spanish, but there are guides who speak English- they will just explain things to you in English after they’ve given their Spanish speech to the rest. When I went, it was around €12 per person, or if you wanted to combine it with the cathedral´s Museum it was about €15 per person.

The cathedral’s website does not have an English option, so I went to the tourist information centre to figure out its latest prices and timings, as they can change without warning. Click here to get access to this information from their website.

The plazas

Praza da Inmaculada with the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario
Praza das Praterías

The atmosphere in the plazas is of a different kind because you’re surrounded by old buildings at every corner, making it seem as if you’ve been teletransported into the 16th century. If you’re lucky, you’ll also come across someone playing the traditional gaitas. It’s absolutely magical!

Obviously they are free to visit.

Monastery of San Martiño de Pinario

Located in the beautiful Praza da Inmaculada, this monastery is from the 10th century, but carries a mix of architectural styles due to its continued maintenance over the centuries. It has a beautiful church on the inside, which receives nowhere near as many visitors as the cathedral close by, resulting in a quiet and reflective space.

For information about price, timings and address, click here.

The Alameda Park (Parque de la Alameda)

Viewpoint of the Alameda Park

This beautiful park is located right outside the historical centre of Santiago, providing a much needed quiet and green space. It also has a viewpoint with stunning views of the old city and its cathedral.

Free to visit.

Galician Folk Museum (Museo do Pobo Galego)

This is a very interesting museum that details the unique history and culture of Galicia and its people. The only annoying part is that there is no explanation in English- only in Spanish and Galego 😪

For information about price, timings and address, click here.

University of Santiago de Compostela

Since its foundation in the 15th century, USC has continued to be one of the most prestigious universities of Spain. Appearing quite elegant due to its Renaissance architecture, it is a great place to take some amazing photos.

For information on guided tours’ price, timings and address, click here.

You can, of course, admire the stunning architecture from the outside for free instead of joining a group tour.

Museum of Natural History (Museo de Historia Natural)

A great collection of fossils and displays relating to various plants, animals, soils and ecosystems from Galicia and beyond. I only recommend it if you have a good knowledge of Spanish or Galego, as the information is not provided in English unfortunately 😥. But those of you who do know at least one of these languages, definitely go!

For information on prices, timings and address. click here.

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