Galicia and Portugal Road Trip Itinerary

Lisbon’s River Tagus

Galicia is an autonomous community in Spain’s northwest and a verdant region with an Atlantic coastline. The cathedral of regional capital Santiago de Compostela is the reputed burial place of the biblical apostle Saint James the Great, and the destination for those following the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

It is bordered by Portugal to the south, and both areas have many things in common like part of the local dialect/language (“Gallego“). It is well known for its delicious traditional food, and road trips crossing to Portugal are very common.

An important WARNING here: Portugal roads have electronic tolls without human intervention and WITHOUT the possibility to pay it as you go. Yes, it works like that and if you do not pay accordingly (in advance) you will get fined. Check this post to know more.

Day 1 and 2. A Coruña

Praia de Riazor
Tower of Hercules

A Coruña was our first stop. It is the second most populated city in Galicia (after Vigo), and because its location, size and airport is an excellent starting point for this kind of road trip.

Overall, we think it is an intriguing place that offers many things and it is too often overlooked by travellers. It is, at the same time, a busy port city, a cultural hub, a students city, a beachy hot spot, a historic city and a modern metropolis with a fine food scene and intense nightlife.

It is the main industrial and financial centre of northern Galicia and holds the headquarters of the Universidade da Coruña and Inditex, the biggest fashion group in the world (Zara, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, etc).

We stayed at Hotel Riazor and it was a good choice. Spacious, comfortable, generous continental breakfast and facing the central beach, Riazor. We stayed for two nights, giving us more time to discover the city.

Its main attractions are:

  • Tower of Hercules
  • Praia (beach) de Riazor
  • Aquarium Finisterrae
  • Castelo de San Antón – Museo Arqueolóxico e Histórico
  • National Museum of Science and Technology

We also recommend walking around Praza de María Pita, its main square; Avenida Marina, where you can see the galerías (enclosed glass balconies); and, if you like panoramic views, you can head to the top of San Pedro Hill.

Additionally, Estrella Galicia, one of Spain’s best-beers, was founded here, and it’s possible to visit the original location of the first brewery, in the neighbourhood of Cuatro Caminos. There is also a great tour available at Mundo Estrella Galicia. However; if you are not interested in those, you should at least visit La Cervecería Estrella de Galicia (see picture at the last section), where you will be able to enjoy tapas and “cerveza de bodega“.

There are also a couple of markets you can visit such as Mercado de las Conchiñas and Mercado de Santo Agustín. For more modern shopping, head to Plaza de Lugo.

In terms of restaurants, our favourite was Pulperia de Melide, where we had the best octopus of the trip. Another good one for octopus is A Nova Lanchina. For a local, good value for money shop, head to Taberna el Chipiron. Another one favourites are is Adega O Bebedeiro and La Bombilla.

Visit our post “Best Traditional food in Galicia” to know all the best regional dishes.

Day 3. Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims about to reach the cathedral
The impressive cathedral’s altar

Santiago de Compostela was our next stop. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, and one of the most popular cities. The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century. In 1985, the city’s Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is known around the world for the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a network of pilgrims’ ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organized tour groups.

Most of the popular routes are quite long, comprising more than 200 km, and up to 800 km in some cases. There are shorter alternatives, and even just 1 day full organised tours for hire.

Besides the camino, Santiago is not a huge city, but big enough to deserve one full day or two. Within the old town, there are many narrow winding streets full of historic buildings. The new town all around it has less character though some of the older parts of the new town have some big flats in them. Both areas are good to walk around, in particular the former.

Other attractions include:

  • Cathedral Museum
  • Praza de Obradorio
  • Mercado de Abastos
  • Alameda Park
  • San Francisco Convent
  • Casa do Cabildo

In terms of hospitality, the main streets are Orfas, Caldeirería and Rúa Raiña, hosting many restaurants and pubs. Some good recommendations for traditional Galician food are A Moa, A Noiesa and Benedita Elisa. And if you are looking for something more sophisticated, Casa Marcelo (1 Michelin star) and Filigrana are great options. O Curro da Parra is another recommended by locals, so is Costa Vella Hotel‘s garden for coffee or tea.

In terms of accommodation, we stayed at Hotel Universal. A modest option with an excellent location as it is in the centre of the city, close to the cathedral and the main attractions. Parking could be a problem, but there is a private one in front of the hotel, so you can leave your car for a moderate price. Overall, good value for money.

Dia 4. Vigo

Panoramic view from Castelo do Castro
One of Vigo’s piers

The next day we headed to Vigo, with a quick stop in Pontevedra for lunch. Vigo is the most populated city in Galicia and the most important port. It is located in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, it sits on the southern shore of an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ria de Vigo, the southernmost of the so-called Rías Baixas.

We stayed at Hotel Bahia de Vigo and it worked very well for us. It is located between Vigo’s old town and Cies Islands‘ departure pier. It offers great views of the Vigo Estuary and it’s only 10 minutes away from some of its main attractions.

Some of those popular attractions are:

  • Mercado da Pedra
  • Rua Cesteiros
  • Plaza Constitution
  • Mercado de las Ostras (try the oyster here!)
  • Paseo Marítimo (check Julio Verne’s statue)
  • Castelo do Castro (stunning panoramic views of the city, see picture above)
  • Illas Cíes

The latter is worth highlighting. Illas Cíes is an island close to Vigo that host stunning beaches with crystalline waters and white sand, tree-lined coasts, forest-covered mountains and vibrant natural life. It’s a natural reserve so human activity is restricted. You even need to get special permission from the government to go.

We couldn’t make it due to weather conditions and lack of time, but this should be a must on the trip. Mar de Ons and Piratas de Nabia are the main companies crossing from Vigo to the islands. It takes an hour and costs €17.5 per person with the return. Alternatively, there are private sailings trips for hire.

In terms of restaurants, some traditional options are La Taberna de Tony, La Cantina del Puerto and Casa Vella. And moving to high-end options, you can find Casa Marco and Morrofino Taberna (Michelin recommendations), and lastly, Maruja Limon, which has a Michelin star.

The next day we crossed to Portugal. Let me reiterate the warning about the tolls. Please check our post “Electronic toll roads in Portugal” if you don’t want to get fined.

And before that, if you still have time you should visit Baiona and Viana do Castelo.

Dia 5 and 6. Porto

Dom Luis I Bridge (Ponte Luis I)
Dom Luis I Bridge (Ponte Luis I). From Ribeira south
Sao Bento Train Station
Sao Bento Train Station (source: http://theluxurytravelexpert.com/)

Porto was a great surprise since the first time we’ve been there. The landscapes are stunning, the people are extremely friendly, the prices are very low, the weather is warm and sunny, and the food/wine are delicious. Since then we try to go whenever we are close or have time for a short break.

We wrote a detailed post called “Porto Travel Guide. Main attractions, hotels, food and wine“. To sum up, the main attractions are the following:

  1. Avenida dos Aliados
  2. Miradouros
  3. Jewish neighbourhood
  4. Clerigos Tower
  5. Sao Bento Train Station
  6. Cathedral
  7. Medieval city
  8. Ribeira (Riverside)
  9. Livraria Lello & Irmão
  10. Majestic Cafe
  11. Ponte Luis I
  12. Mercado Bolhao
  13. Casa da Música (Music House)
  14. (NEW) World of Wine

I strongly recommend doing one of the free walking tours, where you would visit items 1 to 9. You will also get a historical background of all the places, some funny/mysterious myths/stories and various recommendations from locals.

An extra walk crossing the stunning bridge Ponte Luis I is also a must. The other shore of the river is a very relaxing and special place, besides (or despite) all the Porto wineries and people visiting them.

In terms of accommodation, we can recommend Ibis Centro. We think Ibis hotels are always a good and modest option. They are generally close to city centres, airports or railway stations and offer low rates. There is a good hotel called Eurostars Das Artes, if you are looking for better quality (4 starts). And if you want a bit of luxury you should stay at The Yeatman, where you can also find its Michelin star restaurant.

For more details about traditional food and the best restaurants check our post about Porto. Some of the most recommended places that you should check are Fish Fixe (seafood), Bacchus Vini (Porto tastings), Santa Francesinha (for Francesinha, the most iconic local dish), Rei dos Galos de Amarante (“cantina” style restaurant, family-run shop), Murça No Porto (also a “cantina”),  Casa Guede (the best roast pork -Pernil- sandwiches) and Flor dos Congregados (try their slow-cooked pork and ham sandwich called Terylene).

In terms of length, Porto deserves at least two nights, and that’s how long we stayed.

Dia 7. Rivera del Duero (Douro Valley)

Douro Valley in Portugal
Douro Valley in Portugal
Porto Tasting at Quinta do Tedo
Porto Tasting at Quinta do Tedo

After Porto, and despite that it’s not on the way to Lisbon, we drove inland (East) to discover the fascinating Douro Valley. We also wrote a detailed post about it called “How to get to Douro Valley from Porto“. There are three options but we did it by car.

The Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula flowing across Portugal to its outlet in Porto. If you are in this lovely city, it is a must for you to visit the Douro Valley, an enchanted gem, land of beautiful landscape and good wine.

The N-222 road from Peso de Régua to Pinhao in Portugal has been awarded the World’s best road according to the Avis Driving Index. We did not get to Pocinho but to Pinhao as we stayed in a Quinta close to Folgosa. It took us in total a bit more than 2 hours.

From Porto, we went to Amarante via A4. I think is the right place for a short break. It’s a picturesque town along the banks of the River Tâmega, and one of the most ancient settlements in northern Portugal. The beautiful honey-gold granite monastery of São Gonçalo, its bridges and the river makes it a really special town.

After our short stay in Amarante, we took the  N-101 to Mesão Frio. Nice and easy road with lovely views, but it is after this village where you would be driving the most scenic road on the N-222 (see picture above).

We arranged to overnight in one of the local wineries because we wanted to do some wine tasting, so getting back with the car was not a good idea. This was the best decision we could have made. We stayed in Quinta do Tedo, a beautiful Quinta with lovely rooms and great views of the vineyards.

You will find many Quintas in the area that you should visit if you have the time. Some of these also have accommodation. Some suggestions are:

We stayed only a night in Quinta do Tedo, but if you have time, you should stay more. There are so many places to visit, wines to taste, roads to drive and pictures to take.

Dia 8. Aveiro, Fatima and Coimbra

Aveiro, “the Portuguese Venice”
Sanctuary of Fátima

We then headed West again until reaching Aveiro, our next stop. It is a city and a municipality in Portugal, and the second-most populous city in the Centro Region of Portugal, after Coimbra.

It is located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and has an important seaport. It is known as “the Portuguese Venice”, due to its system of canals and boats “similar” to the Italian city of Venice. This similarity is arguable, so don’t expect a small version of Venice because that does not exist. However; if you are on a road trip to Portugal, this could be an interesting stop.

We also have a specific post dedicated to this town: “Visiting Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal“. Besides the town itself and its boats, Praia da Barra and Costa Nova are two places worth visiting.

After a few hours in Aveiro and a light lunch, we headed to the popular Sanctuary of Fátima. It’s a group of Catholic religious buildings and structures in Cova da Iria, in the civil parish of Fátima.

In addition to the main building (see picture above), Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário), the shrine consists of the Chapel of the Lausperene (Capela do Lausperene), a great oak tree near where the 1917 Marian Apparitions occurred, a monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Monumento ao Sagrado Coração de Jesus) and the Chapel of the Apparitions (Capelinha das Aparições) which contains the area where three children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, said they were first visited by the Virgin Mary. In addition, several other structures and monuments were built in the intervening years to commemorate the events.

Across from the main sanctuary is the much larger Basilica of the Holy Trinity constructed after 1953, owing to the limited scale of the Sanctuary for large-scale pilgrimages and religious services.

Coimbra’s traditional streets

Our last stop for the day was Coimbra, the fourth-largest city in Portugal, a very common stop between Porto and Lisbon, the main urban centre in the country.

Coimbra has evolved into a major cultural centre, mainly due to the establishment of the University of Coimbra, the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world, and the most prestigious in the country. Apart from attracting many European and international students, the university is visited by many tourists for its monuments and history. “Coimbra offers an outstanding example of an integrated university city with a specific urban typology as well as its own ceremonial and cultural traditions that have been kept alive through the ages”.

Its main attractions, besides the university, are Sé Velha, Portugal dos Pequenitos (for children), Igreja de Santa Cruz, Biblioteca Joanina and Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro.

A good walk around the old town is the best you can do to discover the city. It really has a special vibe. Its main street, Rua Ferreira Borges, has many options for food and drink. The city’s old stone walls, some of them decorated by talented street artists provide a perfect cultural atmosphere. The traditional music here is called fado, which counts with guitarist Carlos Paredes and singer Zeca Afonso as its most notable and historical adherents. If you have enough time, head to a pub or music venue such as Fado ao Centro, so you can enjoy it.

Two recommendations for food are Ze Manel dos Ossos and Kabra Velha. For coffee, head to Cafe Santa Cruz. In terms of accommodations, we spent the night at Ibis Hotel. Good value for money, as usual for Ibis. Also well located and a generous breakfast. Try Abobora jam!

Dia 9. Lisbon

Vasco da Gama bridge
Alfama, one of the city’s older districts

After spending the night in Coimbra and a couple of hours in the morning, we finally headed to the last city on our fantastic road trip. Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal recognised as an alpha-level global city because of its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, education and tourism.

It’s is the 9th-most-visited city in Southern Europe, offering a huge variety of things to do, see and eat. A wide glittering river, steep cobbled streets, palaces, churches, a castle, street art, vibrant nightlife, diversity in many ways, delicious food and more. It’s decidedly lively and every year it seems there is more to do.

Lisbon deserves a dedicated post which we are going to publish soon. However; we do have a detailed post about one of the must-do in this great city: “Tram 28, the most famous tour in Lisbon. Tips, route and best stops“. It is a vintage yellow tram that crosses the city centre, passing by many of Lisbon’s main attractions. So a single ride on it has all the benefits of a sightseeing bus tour, and it is much cheaper. Tickets can be purchased on board or in advance from any metro station or kiosks located throughout the city, and the tram joins Martim Moniz and Campo Ourique (Prazeres) stations. 

Other popular attractions are:

  • Belém Tower
  • Jerónimos Monastery
  • Arco da Rua Augusta
  • Neighbourhoods wroth visiting: Alfama, Bairro Alto, Jewish quarter
  • Castelo de S. Jorge
  • Parque das Nações
  • Praça do Comércio
  • Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
  • Oceanário de Lisboa
Belém Tower in Lisbon

In terms of hospitality, there are many bars, coffee shops and restaurants that is hard to recommend. We visited as much as we could, taking recommendations from local friends as usual. It may vary depending on the area you are staying in.

One place you cannot miss is Time Out Market Lisbon. It offers more than 40 spaces with the leading representatives in all the food categories, all together under one roof. 24 restaurants some of them from very well-known Portuguese chefs, 8 bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue called Rive Rouge; on the other hand, home to some of the city’s best known (and longest-running) market vendors of meat, fish, fruit and flowers. 

One of our favourite local places, a kind of hidden gem for locals in Bairro Alto was Casa da India. Other more popular places for good food are Augusto Lisboa, Agulha No Palheiro, A Nossa Casa and Invicta.

In terms of accommodation, we stayed at Ibis Saldanha. As we’ve mentioned a couple of times, we consider Ibis hotels good value for money. This one offers a great breakfast buffet (including our favourite Abobora jam) and the location is convenient. 15-minute walk from Marquês de Pombal Square and Avenida da Liberdade.

Dia 10. Lisbon (II) and Sintra

Saint Anthony celebrations take place in June
Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace

We stayed in Lisbon for two nights and -almost- 3 days, and we did as much as we could but I strongly recommend staying at least 3 nights if possible. Besides all the attractions listed in the section above, Lisbon has a special character and charm, and so many activities during the whole year. Moreover, there are other places near the city worth visiting as well.

One of those places, the most popular day tour from Lisbon, is covered in our post “Visiting Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace“. A visit to Sintra and its National park, Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace is one of the main tours and day activities from the capital. It is also sometimes combined with a visit to Cascais and some of its beaches. If you have a car it is quite easy and fast, as it takes around 30 minutes from the city centre. And if you don’t you can manage as well with public transport.

Other activities include walking tours, wine tastings, exhibitions, museums, flea markets, river cruises and more.

We were very lucky with the dates and we could enjoy one of Lisbon top celebrations, Saint Anthony, which takes place in June. So if you were wondering when to visit Lisbon, this could be the answer.

Saint Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and has become the favourite and more respected saint. During the celebrations in his name, the cute and narrow cobbled streets of the most popular and historic neighbourhoods – Alfama, Castelo, Bica, Bairro Alto, and Madragoa – fill with music, dance, grilled sardines, lights and decorations, wine and beer, parades and free fun for everyone. You could also find and enjoy the arraiais which are the biggest and best street parties in Lisbon, and the colourful parades along Avenida da Liberdade.

Map

More pictures

Amarante
Vigo’s panoramic view from Castelo do Castro
Estrella Galicia’s “bar de bodega” in A Coruña
Time out’s market in Lisbon
Cascais
Santiago’s cathedral

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