With a population of around 300,000, the city of Vigo is the largest in the autonomous region of Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast. It lies some 600km north-west of Madrid, the country’s capital, but only 150km north of the Portuguese city of Porto which is the closest large urban centre. Both historically and economically the city is best known for its fishing port which is one of the largest in the world. This Vigo travel guide provides readers with everything they need to know to make the most of a few days in the city.
In recent times the Port of Vigo has become an important port of call for cruise ships on the Atlantic to Mediterranean route. The city authorities have invested heavily in a modern cruise terminal which currently welcomes around 250,000 cruise passengers every year. In addition, the city has become more accessible thanks to the expansion of Spain’s high-speed AVE rail network and due to the growing number of domestic and international flights arriving at Vigo Airport.
The region is highly regarded for its gastronomy which is thriving thanks to the availability of Spain’s freshest seafood and some of the country’s finest white wines from the Rías Baixas wine region. As such Vigo is blessed with a fine selection of excellent restaurants and tapas bars at prices significantly below those you’d find in similar establishments in the main cities.
In terms of weather the city enjoys warmer summers and milder winters than the average for Galicia thanks to protection provided by the inland mountains and the Cíes Islands in Vigo Bay. However, the beautiful, green countryside of the region is only possible due to the high rainfall figures recorded during the winter months
By Air: Vigo-Peinador Airport lies just 15km east of of the city by road. There are frequent incoming flights throughout the year from Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Lisbon together with a growing number of domestic and international arrivals during the summer months. There are frequent airport buses running into the city centre and the port area. The other nearest airports are in Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña and Porto (Portugal).
By Road: An excellent road system connects Vigo with A Coruña (160km) to the north and Porto (160km) to the south. The 600km drive to Madrid takes around 6 hours whilst Lisbon (460km) is a 4.5 hour journey. Direct buses arrive at Vigo Bus Station (Avenida de Madrid, 57) from many cities around Spain.
By Train: There are long-distance trains to Vigo from Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Alicante as well as an efficient network of shorter journeys to Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Ourense, Pontevedra, Ponferrada, León and Porto. The Vigo-Guixar train station is on Calle Areal in the city centre. High-speed AVE trains now travel to both A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela from Madrid which is also helping make Vigo more accessible. You can check train timetable on the official RENFE website.
By Cruise Ship: Vigo has become a major port of call for cruise ships travelling along Spain’s Atlantic coast. More than 100 vessels dock at the Muelle De Transatlanticos every year bringing a significant number of passengers to the city. Highlights of the shore excursions on offer from Vigo Port include tapas tours of the Old Town, a day trip to Santiago de Compostela and a visit to one of the region’s excellent wineries.
Recommended Hotels in Vigo
Gran Hotel Nagari
Address: Praza Compostela 21
Located in the city centre, this is one of Vigo’s most luxurious hotels which offers first-class facilities throughout. Many of the large, comfortable rooms come with a spa bath whilst there’s a swimming pool on the roof with sea views. Its restaurant is highly recommended both for its excellent buffet breakfast and for the fine standard of seafood dishes served at dinner.
Address: Rua Pablo Morillo 6
Another friendly and well-located option with easy access to the Old Town attractions and the port area where cruise ships arrive and ferries depart for the Cíes Islands. A lovely treat is to start the day with breakfast on their rooftop terrace.
Hotel Vigo Plaza
Address: Rúa Progreso 13
This budget option offers great value and lies very close to the Old Town with all the city’s attractions within easy walking distance. There’s a buffet breakfast option otherwise you could just go to the bar across the road for fresh churros with coffee.
Hotel Alda Puerta de Sol
Address: Praza Porta do Sol 14
Another excellent budget option located right on the city’s main square within easy access of all attractions. It’s a charming place where guests are made to feel most welcome.
Tourist Attractions: What to See
The city is known for being quite hilly so if you’re planning on walking from the port all the way up to O Castro Mountain which overlooks the Old Town you may find it a bit of a struggle. However, if you’re just taking a stroll around the historic centre you shouldn’t have too many problems. The main sights to look out for are as follows:
Casco Vello: The Old Town is referred to locally in the Galician language as ‘Casco Vello’. It is a small area packed with historic streets such as Calle Real, Calle Triunfo and Calle de los Cesteros which is the basketmaker’s street where you might pick up a unique souvenir of your visit. The Old Town’s four main squares are Plaza Constitución, Plaza Princesa, Plaza de Pedra and Plaza Almeida whilst the pick of its historic buildings include the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Vigo and the churches of Santa Maria de Castrelos and La Colegiata de la Santa Maria la Mayor. As well as the historic attractions of the Casco Vello you’ll find a good range of local cafés together with an impressive selection of seafood restaurants.
O Berbés Market: To get a feel for Vigo’s relationship with the sea you should head for the historic fishing quarter of Ribeira de O Berbés which lies close to the cruise port. Rúa da Pescadería (also known as rúa das Ostras) is lined with fish restaurants and stalls selling the freshest oysters you’ll find anywhere. It is also home to the city’s main fish market which is a hive of activity in the morning when the day’s catch goes on sale.
O Castro Mountain: For the best possible views across the Vigo estuary it’s well worth making your way up to this urban park which stands on a hill overlooking the city centre. The highlight of the mountain is O Castro castle which was built in 1665 to protect the city from naval attacks by the British who were allies of neighbouring Portugal. Another attraction is the small archaeological site on its lower slopes dating back to 5Bc which is where the first Celtic people established a settlement.
Museum of Contemporary Art (Príncipe 54): Located within the walls of what was previously a prison and courthouse this is Vigo’s premier cultural venue. It is officially known as the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Vigo (MARCO) and houses frequently changing art exhibitions.
Museo do Mar (Avenida da Atlántida 160): Housed in a former cannery this splendid museum tells the story of Vigo’s relationship with the sea.
What to Do in Vigo
Take a Tapas Tour: From the Rúa da Pescadería to the streets of the Casco Vello the city of Vigo is packed with tapas bars serving seafood delicacies and other Galician favourites such as ‘pulpo a la gallega’, pimientos de Padrón’ and a local cheese called ‘tetilla’.
A few recommended venues include:
- A Tapa do Barril (Rua Lopez Mora 63)
- De Tapa en Cepa (Rua Ecuador 18 )
- Living (Rua Alvaro Cunqueiro 34)
- Taperia Imperial (Rua Colombia 24)
- O Croquetas (Praza Princesa 8)
However, it’s important to note that tapas bars come and go in terms of popularity so what’s “in” this week might be “out” next week. To ensure you get the best possible tapas experience in Vigo it’s highly recommended that you sign up for the Great Galician Tapas Tour. This is a a small-group tour led by a Vigo travel guide who is a local food and wine expert. The tour includes visits to the port area, the market and the Old Town with numerous stops at some of Vigo’s best tapas bars. You’ll have ample opportunity to taste many local specialities together with a selection of Galicia’s finest wines. This 4-hour tour is highly recommended for food and wine lovers.
Relax on the Beaches of the Vigo Estuary: Vigo lies within close proximity of many beautiful beaches blessed with white sand and crystal-clear waters. One of the finest which is popular with the locals is Praia de Samil which lies 7km south-west of the city. This Blue Flag beach is almost 1500m long with views across to the Cíes Islands where there are more spectacular beaches including La Praia das Rodas which was selected by the Guardian newspaper as the best beach in the world.
Take a Ferry to Cangas: There are frequent ferries across the Vigo estuary to the historic fishing port of Cangas. This is a lovely spot for a seafood lunch or you could head a short distance west to discover some of Galicia’s finest beaches such as Praia de Nerga and Praia de Barra. Another way to visit Cangas and enjoy some of its best food and wine whilst you’re there is to join the small-group Coastal Escape Trek and Tapas Tour. This late afternoon excursion takes you to a local tavern in the fishing port where you can dine on a selection of traditional tapas accompanied with fine Galician wines in the company of a local food expert.
Watch a Football Match: If you’re a football fan and are in town on a weekend between August and May you might get a chance to see a Celta de Vigo match at their Balaídos Stadium.
Best Day Excursions from Vigo
Santiago de Compostela: This historic city is the capital of Galicia and best known as the final destination on the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. It is one of Spain’s most visited cities and is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. If you don’t have your own transport you can get there by taxi (1 hour) or on the train (1.5 hours) which leaves from the Vigo-Guixar station. For the sake of convenience you can arrange a private tour to Santiago with collections at any accommodation in Vigo or from the port if you’re arriving by cruise ship.
Cíes Islands: Located some 12km west of Vigo are the beautiful Cíes Islands which are one of Spain’s little-known gems. This island group is made up of three islands which form part of part of the Atlantic Islands National Park. There are frequent ferries from Vigo Port which take approximately 45 minutes to get there. If you want to stay the night you’ll have to camp at the Islas Cïes campsite, otherwise just enjoy an excellent lunch at the campsite restaurant then head back to Vigo later in the day by ferry. Alternatively, for those with deep pockets you can charter a private yacht and visit the Cíes Islands in style.
Baiona: Just 45 minutes to the south-west of Vigo along the coast is the beautiful fishing village which in 1493 was the first place to learn of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. It is home to a beautiful church dating back to the 12th century and the historic Parador de Baiona hotel which has been developed from what was formerly a 16th century castle. Non-guests are welcome to visit its restaurant for exquisite views of the Rías Baixas and the Cies Islands. Otherwise you can take a wander around the charming centre and have lunch in one of its attractive tapas bars. You can get there on an ATSA bus from Vigo’s main bus station on Avenida de Madrid or book a private tour to Baiona which includes a visit to a wine bodega in the O Rosal Valley where you can sample some local Albariño wines.
If you’re arriving in Vigo by cruise ship please refer to our page of Shore Excursions from Vigo Port as this is more specific to cruise passengers.
Casa Marco (Avenida Garcia Barbon, 123): Featuring in most Vigo travel guides, this is one of the city’s great restaurants where you’ll find Spanish food of the highest quality served by a very friendly team of waiters. Portions are generous, prices reasonable and the popularity of the place is such that you should book a table in advance. Fresh local seafood figures prominently on the menu although excellent meat dishes are also available together with an impressive wine list. Highly recommended as one of the best restaurants around.
Follas Novas (Rua Serafin Avendano 10): Located near the harbour, this cosy place is the sister restaurant of Casa Marco where the friendly waiters make you feel most welcome. Their serving of high quality meat and seafood dishes in a relaxed environment attracts a loyal following of local diners. The wine list with its selection of local Albariños is also impressive. Reservations are highly recommended.
Maruja Limon (Rua Montero Rios, 4): If you enjoy fine dining in Michelin star restaurants then you’ll love this modern establishment which takes Galician cuisine to a whole new level. Diners are treated to a 9 course degustation menu using fresh local ingredients from the land and sea accompanied by excellent wines from the region. Whilst such creativity has made this restaurant one of the city’s most popular in the haute cuisine category it is not attempting to offer local dishes in their traditional form so won’t appeal to all diners.
Tapas Areal (Rua Mexico, 36): This establishment would best be described as a tapas restaurant where fresh local ingredients are served in large portions to a mainly local clientele. It’s a great place to sample a selection of popular Galician dishes such as octopus (pulpo) and cod (bacalao) but also serves some excellent cured hams.
El Mosquito (Praza da Pedra, 4): This upmarket Galician restaurant has long been established as a leader on Vigo’s gastronomic scene. It is best known for its seafood dishes although some meat options are available. When ordering it’s a good idea to start with some of their delicious tapas such as octopus (pulpo) or jumbo prawns (langostinos) followed by a seafood main course such as monkfish (rape).
Picadillo (Rua Fermin Penzol, 10): Located in the Old Town, this is another spot which is highly regarded by the locals of Vigo. The dining is informal and service very friendly. They offer a fine range of fresh fish and meat dishes served as tapas dishes or as main courses. Try their ‘Salteado de Gambas y Pulpo’ with a glass of Albariño.
Festivals in Vigo
As is the case in cities all over Spain there are particular festivals in Vigo which represent the highlight of the cultural calendar for many local people. Such festivities include:
– March 28th marks the annual commemoration of the reconquest of the city from Napoleonic forces in 1809. It is celebrated in the Old Town where people dress up in costumes from that period and re-enact the battle before heading to the bars where the fiestas continue.
– The first Sunday of August in Vigo marks the beginning of Semana Grande which is a week-long celebration dedicated to El Cristo de la Victoria. On this day the statue of the city’s most revered religious character is paraded through the streets in the company of thousands of locals before being returned to La Iglesia de Santa María where it remains throughout the rest of the year.
– In mid-July the Vigofolcelta Fiesta is a Celtic celebration which takes place at numerous venues around Galicia. In Vigo some people adorn traditional dress whilst the Casco Vello undergoes a medieval makeover which includes the setting up of temporary market stalls selling local food specialities.
– A number of food festivals also take place during the year. In July the Marinated Food Festival is held in the Bouzas Quarter whilst September sees the Sardine Festival and the Mussel Festival held in Castrelos Park as well as the Vigo Seafood Festival which takes place in the port area.