Santiago de Compostela is one of the most historic and religiously important cities in Spain. This small city is the heart of Galicia, and it’s well known as the end point of the famous long-distance walking route, El Camino de Santiago, a route that for centuries has been taken by pilgrims and today, tourists too.
Santiago de Compostela is said to be the final resting place of Saint James, one of the original twelve apostles. For that reason, the city has held a prestigious place in Spanish history.
More than this though, Santiago de Compostela is in the perfect location to make it a great base for exploring the rest of Galicia.
The wild Atlantic coastline is just a short drive away, and here you can find rural fishing villages, incredible scenery and enormous waves.
The cities of Leon or A Coruna are not too far a journey away, and you could spend an eternity exploring the local communities in search of food, tapas and good wine, which you are sure to find everywhere.
To the south, the Portuguese border is never too far away. Cross over and you can easily reach the dynamic cities of Braga or Porto on day trips from Santiago de Compostela.
The city of Vigo is on the Galician coast, just an hour to the south of Santiago de Compostela. This is the largest city in the wider region of Galicia, and it’s must-do day trip while staying nearby.
The historic centre is a great place to learn more about Vigo, stroll through medieval streets, visit wonderful museums, and eat as much tapas as you can lay your hands on. Really though, the city is as much about its incredible setting as it is about its history.
The city faces out over the beautiful Bay of Vigo, and nearby you can explore the exceptional coastline, hike along rugged cliffs or sit back on some of Spain’s amazing but unfairly underrated beaches.
2. Cies Islands
These islands are located off the coast of Vigo. This collection of spectacular islands is part of the larger Atlantic Islands National Park, but are some of the most accessible and beautiful of the areas protected within this aesthetically striking offshore landscape.
The Cies Islands would look more at home in the Caribbean than off the coast of northern Spain. Picture white sand beaches framed by rocky cliffs which gaze across colourful, clear bays and inlets.
There are three main islands within the Cies Archipelago and you can easily reach them from the port of Vigo.
The island of Monteagudo has even been said to be home to the best beach in the world by notable media organisations.
3. Cape Finisterre
To the east of Santiago de Compostela can be found ‘The End of the World’. This is Cape Finisterre, a windswept peninsular that juts out far into the Atlantic Ocean.
The name is derived from the Latin term for the end of the world, as this is where the Romans, during their conquests of Galicia, believed the world literally ended.
This Cape marked the end of the Roman world. In its dramatic, rocky and strangely beautiful way, you can imagine why they believed this when you stand at the edge of the cliffs and look out over the seemingly endless expanse of water ahead of you.
Pontevedra is a small city located to the south of Santiago de Compostela. This city is about as picturesque as you can get in Galicia.
The streets and buildings sprawl along green hillsides and reach the wide banks of the river below. The historic centre is completely pedestrianised, allowing you the freedom to stroll at your own leisure through the ancient alleys, cathedrals and museums.
The most striking sight to see is a panoramic view of the iconic bridges that span the river, which could be one of the most beautiful scenes in Galicia.
Combarro is a small village that’s located just long the coast from Pontevedra. This is a rural, seaside community that offers visitors an authentic look at Galician life as it has been for centuries along the coast.
This is very much still a fishing village, despite its increasing popularity amongst tourists. You can explore the ramshackle streets and the old harbour to really experience the local charm.
Watch the boats returning from the Atlantic with their hauls, admire the distinctive architecture of Combarro, and sample some local delicacies in the tavernas and bars.
Northwest of Santiago de Compostela is the coastal town of Muxia, a place which is becoming one of the most popular day trips in the region.
This is one of the towns along the infamous Coast of Death, a long stretch of shore that through the centuries has been plagued with shipwrecks and shipping disasters.
From the town, you can gaze out across the violent waves and see why this place has caused so much anguish amongst mariners.
For pilgrims, Muxia has long been an important destination too, as this is a stop along El Camino de Santiago. For centuries, religious travellers have visited Muxia to see the shrines and hermitages that are found here.
7. A Coruna
Follow the Coast of Death further to the north of the village of Muxia and you reach the city of A Coruna.
This is one of the largest cities in Galicia and is arguably the most important, having been the Kingdom of Galicia’s capital for many years in centuries past.
Known as the ‘Celtic City,’ along the coast here you can find many examples of ancient Celtic ruins.
Ezaro is a rural community found an hour towards the coast from Santiago de Compostela.
The village is known for the nearby waterfall, Cascada del Ezaro, which is known as an iconic natural feature of Galicia.
The staggeringly tall waterfall reaches heights of 155 metres.
The many multiple layers add to the natural spectacle and ensure that this is a popular day trip to make.
Cambados is a charming town that’s located near the city of Pontevedra.
It’s a wonderful day trip to make from Santiago de Compostela, particularly for wine lovers.
This colourful town is the base for the region’s main wine production.
In the countryside, you can explore the wineries and see fields of grapes and vines dotting the landscape, while in Cambados itself you can visit the many local wine sellers stocking local bottles, or wash down some fresh seafood with a glass or two of vintage.
Inland of Santiago de Compostela, to the east, is the city of Lugo. This is an ancient city, with a heritage that dates back to the Celtic era.
The Romans, though, were to leave the longest-standing mark on Lugo, as the huge defensive walls that they built are still a prominent feature of the city and attract tourists from across the world.
Explore the walls and the incredibly well-preserved Roman ruins before enjoying some local tapas in the many tavernas in the old city.
Ourense is a relatively unknown city when it comes to tourism in Galicia, but that’s all the more reason to call in for a visit.
The town was established here by the Romans, who built the beautiful arched bridge that still spans the river and who flocked here to take advantage of the natural hot springs that bubble out of the ground.
Today, one of the best activities in Ourense is still a visit to the Roman Baths, and you can sit back in the warm, geothermal waters and relax after a day spent exploring the city.
Oviedo is a good drive north and then east from Santiago de Compostela, but it’s worth the long journey to experience a different side of Spain, as this is the capital city of the Asturias region.
This city dates back to the middle ages and is home to some lovely medieval architecture, including cathedrals and rambling historic streets. These are fantastic places to spend the day exploring, and subtly different to what you see in the cities of Galicia.
Leon is around 3 hours away from Santiago de Compostela. This makes for a slightly longer day trip, but an excellent opportunity to experience the long history of this important Spanish city.
You can also explore the renowned Gothic-style architecture of the historic centre, much of which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Two hours south of Santiago de Compostela and just across the Portuguese border is the city of Braga.
This is one of the biggest cities in northern Portugal and has played an important role in local history, particularly when it comes to religion.
There are many elegant cathedrals as well as some excellent Portuguese architecture to discover in Braga.
Further south, along the Portuguese coast, you can visit the large city of Porto on a day trip from Santiago de Compostela.
It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive but it’s an opportunity to discover Portugal’s second city.
Delve into the local cuisine and culture and explore the wonderfully historic UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are found in the city.
Porto is a vibrant and colourful place, with a great culinary scene to sample, and if you hang around, a lively nightlife too.