Vigo is Iberian Spain’s westernmost city, right on the Atlantic Ocean and with lush mountain landscapes all around. The city is a seafood fan’s dream, where oysters hardly travel more than a mile to your plate.
Vigo’s location also gives it a microclimate with temperatures up to five degrees warmer than other Galician cities. Even so, if you’re put off by the sweltering temperatures on the Mediterranean in summer, then the fresh ocean beaches and more temperate climate in Vigo will be more to your taste.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Vigo:
1. Castro Fortress
Surely the best introduction to the city and its epic landscapes is to survey them from the granite walls of this 17th-century fortress.
From this commanding position the Vigo’s estuary, harbour, historic quarter, mountainscapes and the Cíes Islands will all be on show.
The fortress was an artillery installation, designed to repel attacks on Vigo by the British Navy during the Portuguese Restoration War.
Within the walls are formal gardens with lawns, neatly-tended flower beds and a fountain at the centre, all with photogenic 360° views of the city.
2. Parque del Monte Castro
The park around the fort isn’t so much an urban pleasure garden as a wild mountain right in the middle of the city.
If you fancy a workout you can tackle Monte Castro on foot, and even though it’s a challenging walk there are lots of interesting features to divert your attention.
One is the Iberian settlement on the lower slope, where they’ve restored three Bronze Age conical stone dwellings.
You’ll also see the anchors that were placed on Monte Castro to commemorate the Battle of Rande, which took place in the Vigo Estuary in 1702 between the Anglo-Dutch and Franco-Spanish forces, during which several treasure-laden galleons went missing.
3. Cíes Islands
Allow a day or two for this stunning uninhabited archipelago that sits at the entrance to the Vigo Estuary.
During the summer there are two companies (Mar de Ons and Nabia Naviera) running ferries at roughly half-hour intervals from the harbour to the islands.
You can stay overnight at the campsite (which provides tent rentals), but you’ll have to book early as the 800-berth site fills up quickly.
On the battered western side you’ll hike along granite cliff-tops more than 100 metres high but a different environment awaits you on the sheltered east, where white sandy beaches gleam in the sun.
4. Beaches on the Cíes Islands
The Cíes Islands’ beaches deserve another entry, because you may not encounter more exquisite bays anywhere in the world.
Indeed, Playa de Rodas often qualifies for the top ten lists of the best beaches on the planet, and is an almost-paradisiacal place if you want to sunbathe and swim in summer.
It’s a landward beach, shielded from the open ocean and with perfect white sands that add an aquamarine glow beneath the water on sunny days.
On the other side of Punta Muxiero is Praia de Figueiras, 350 metres in length and a little less popular but no less ethereal than its neighbour to the south.
5. Fish and Seafood
You have to try the divine oysters that are caught right in the Vigo Estuary: At Calle de las Ostras (street of the oysters) they’re perfect raw with a pinch of lemon and a glass of the local Albariño wine.
The fish and seafood in Vigo are amazing; they say that this is down to the temperatures and type of plankton in the local waters.
If you don’t know where to start, just order a mariscada: This is a big platter of seafood with crab, seafood and lobster.
If you go out for tapas then fish and seafood will be on the menu there too in the shape of dishes like chipirones (fried baby squid) or xoubas, little sardines.
6. Galician Wine
Vigo is in Galicia’s Rías Baixas wine region, which like most of this part of Spain makes, pleasingly acidic whites with the Albariño grape variety.
They are the ideal pairing for the region’s amazing seafood.
If you visit the city between February and May you should drop in at a Furancho if you get the chance.
These are cellars, often part of private homes, where the year’s wine surplus is sold off in a convivial, typically Galician setting.
The wine is usually served with tapas dishes such as ham and chorizo.
There are more than a dozen furanchos around Vigo, normally marked with a wooden sign on the road side.
7. Casco Vello
Vigo’s old-town is set on a slope that meets the estuary at the old port, with alleys that lead onto handsome arcaded squares like Praza da Constitución.
This is the part of the city where fishermen’s houses and grander buildings like plush townhouses and the 19th-century church of Santa María were set side-by-side.
Almost all were built with Galician granite, which gives the old-town a dignified atmosphere distinct from many Spanish old quarters.
Many of the street names correspond to old trades, and Rúa Cesteiros you can still find basket-weavers in business and of course, Calle de las Ostras.
8. The Ensanche
In the 19th century Vigo grew dramatically as the canning industry became one of the city’s main sources of income.
Most of the entrepreneurs behind this boom were from Catalonia, and the posh Belle Époque apartment buildings they constructed are still standing in the Ensanche district, east of the Casco Vello.
This is Vigo’s centre for nightlife and shopping, and also boasts the leafy Alameda Park, where you can rest your feet for a few minutes.
By the estuary you can walk along the breakwater out to a red lighthouse, which is possibly the best place to watch the sun go down.
9. Samil Beach
You don’t have to go as far as the Cíes Islands for a day at the beach – there are 45 in total around Vigo.
Most convenient is Samil, just where the Lagares River meets the Atlantic, and when you’re sitting on these sands or walking along the promenade you’ll have the Cíes Islands and Vigo’s mountains as your scene.
The beach is 1,700 metres -long and has a load of leisure facilities like swimming pools, basketball courts and a five-a-side football pitch.
In the summer ice cream stands and bars are open behind the beach.
And on the days it gets really hot many people take shade on the pine-shaded lawns next to the promenade.
10. Ermita de Nosa Señora da Guia
On the northeast side of the city, right next to the estuary is the 100-metre Monte da Guía.
Cloaked in evergreen and deciduous woodland, it’s one of the largest parks within the city, and offers an instant escape from the traffic and activity on Vigo’s streets.
At the top, and with far-reaching vistas, is the shrine of Nosa Señora da Guia.
This chapel with its lofty central tower may look baroque, but is actually from 1952, and is built on an earlier 16th-century hermitage.
Take some time out in the manicured gardens to let the vistas sink in.
11. Quiñones de León Museum
The regal home for this art museum is the Castrelos “pazo”, a stately 17th-century manor house.
The collection here is of 20th-century works by Galician artists, as well as a few pieces that are part of collection at Madrid’s Prado museum but stored here.
If you take a turn in the grounds you’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’ve ended up in one of London’s royal parks.
There are large lawns with thickets of birch, plane and beech trees, and a rose garden adorned with the beautiful Príncipe de las Aguas fountain.
12. MARCO – Vigo Museum of Contemporary Art
This art museum opened in 2002, regenerating a complex that had been abandoned for decades.
It’s an incredible space right in the middle of the city, making use of Vigo’s former courthouse and jail, which were built in 1861. The prison had a “panopticon” utilitarian design, according to the principles of the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and the former prison courtyards were fitted with glass-roofs to create halls flooded with light.
There are no permanent exhibitions; rather the museum has a program of thematic shows, workshops and cultural events.
13. Museo do Mar de Galicia
Also from 2002 is this museum that was designed to include parts of an old cannery on Vigo’s waterfront.
The exhibits demonstrate Galicia’s long connection to the ocean, and also inform you about the ecosystems just off the coast.
Check out the room devoted to oceanography and underwater exploration, with some antique diving equipment and navigation instruments.
In the 19th century whaling was a big local industry, and there’s an original harpoon on display.
You’ll also find out about the massive fishing operation that takes place on the Galician coast, hauling in tons of tuna, sardines, octopus and shellfish for the Spanish market every day.
Vigo is a low-lying enclave surrounded by a protected mountain landscape densely wooded with oaks, pines, eucalyptus and chestnut trees.
So why not bring your walking shoes, as the you’ll be treated to yet more awesome views of the ocean and the city.
For really committed hikers there’s the GR-53, a 25-mile path that rides atop the chain of low peaks that encircles Vigo.
If you only want to a walk a section then there are plenty of access points from trails that lead right to the edge of the city.
A shorter, more family-friendly walk would be to trace the course of the Eifonso River, on the way stumbling upon old hermitages and mills with water wheels.
On the Vigo side of the estuary but closer to the ocean is another coastal town full of character.
Baiona also gets a lot of Spanish visitors in August fleeing the heat for breezier weather on the Atlantic.
Before tourism the economy was supported by fishing, and there’s still a quaint old harbour that is framed by the dark green hills of the headland to the north.
Behind it, unfurling along a small peninsula to the west of the town are the walls of the 16th-century Castillo de Monterreal.
Since the 60s the castle’s inner buildings have housed an upmarket Parador hotel.