The Romans who inhabited the area bestowed the name Vicus on the handsome city known today as Vigo. Since that time, it has flourished and developed into a scenic port city rich in maritime traditions and gastronomic culture, and one that appeals to seasoned and newbie travelers alike. For this, there are several things to do in Vigo to keep you busy for several days.
Being a major fishing port, Vigo has an abundance of fresh seafood, which is arguably the highest quality in Galicia. And apart from the food, the city has several art galleries and museums, water sport activities and sites. Known as the “gateway to the Atlantic,” Vigo is a popular port of call for throngs of international tourists each year arriving by cruise ship. In Vigo the sea is life!
While Vigo is a walking city, there is also a reliable bus system in place that can transport you to almost anywhere within city limits and beyond. Without further ado, here’s our list of top 10 things to do in Vigo.
Vigo’s large, industrial port is a bustling center of commerce, but just beyond the port, the Casco Vello stands out as a gem that embodies a much simpler way of life from times past. This is the old town, a small charming neighborhood with traditional buildings and narrow, winding streets. Its four original plazas, Plaza de Pedra, Plaza Princesa, Plaza Almeida and Plaza Constitución, are just as significant in the daily lives of locals today as they were a hundred years ago. Plaza Constitución is the largest of the four and is quite possibly the most beautiful with its outdoor cafés and antique buildings.
The Santa Maria Collegiate Church
In the Plaza de Pedra stands Vigo’s oldest church, the Santa Maria Collegiate Church. It was originally constructed during the Middle Ages, but was completely rebuilt in 1836. This neoclassical building that now dominates the square is dedicated to Christ of Victory, the savior who protected locals from Napoleonic domination in 1809. The church is open Monday to Sunday 9:30 AM to 1 PM and from 6 PM to 8:30 PM. Admission is free.
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Get up close and personal with one of Vigo’s major tourist attractions, which also happens to be one of its oldest structures. Built in 1665, the Castro Fortress complex was part of citywide defense system (then known as San Sebastián) intended to protect this major port city from invaders. Unfortunately, the original city walls have long been demolished, but the skeleton of the fortress remains a testament to Vigo’s turbulent past. In fact, the Castro Fortress was unsuccessful in protecting the city on more than one occasion. It ultimately it proved useless during the Battle of Vigo Bay in 1702 when an Anglo-Dutch convoy attacked a French-Spanish fleet carrying silver from Mexico. The event not only shaped Vigo politically, but also gave rise to a legend of a vast treasure still lying deep in the waters of Vigo Bay. On the day of the attack, the Spanish fleet was carrying over 13 million silver and gold pesos from Spanish colonies in the Americas.
The Castro Fortress is perched uphill from the Casco Vello and features panoramic views of Vigo Bay and the Cíes Islands (see Day Trips section). Begin at Praza do Rei and make your way up the steps. Explore the botanical garden with its gravel pathways and stone benches, the Las Anclas fountain monument commemorating Battle of Vigo and finally, the fortified Celtic settlement. It is comprised of three reproductions of Celtic houses showing what the area likely resembled when the Romans arrived.
Porta do Sol
Porta do Sol, also known as “Kilometer Zero,” is definitely one of the top things to do in Vigo. Heading east out of the heart of the Casco Vello will take you the modern Plaza Princesa where you will find the iconic El statue looking north towards the Atlantic Ocean. Since 1991, it has become the unofficial symbol of the city.
Past El Sireno is one of the city’s busiest shopping streets, Rúa do Príncipe. On the weekends, this area is packed with shoppers darting in and out of the shops. If you’ve still got energy after shopping, head to the parallel street, Rúa de Policarpo Sanz, where you can experience fine examples of 19th and 20th century architecture. The most notable specimen on the street is El Moderno – a 1902 structure by architect Michel Pacewicz. Originally the home of Count Manuel de Barcena Franco, it now belongs to Banco de Galicia. It still has the reputation as being one of Vigo’s most elegant buildings.
Porta do Sol is also home to the Galician Cultural Center; a dynamic complex located in Plaza Princesa that offers a broad range of artistic and literary exhibits. It features large galleries, an auditorium, three libraries containing priceless Galician texts and a prized museum collection of Galician art. Entrance must be pre-booked. The museum is open Monday through Friday (Tel: +34 986226459).
Due to rapid expansion of the Vigo Bay area over the past 100 years, the port area is now a blend of old and new worlds. Rúa de Pescadería, or Fish Street, is situated along the north side of the Santa Maria Collegiate Church in the historic neighborhood of La Piedra. For seafood lovers, this is the place to be anytime between 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. It is where Vigo’s famed ostreiras, or women oyster sellers, shuck and peddle fresh oysters for hungry passerbyers each day. Don’t let their age fool you. They are expert saleswomen who have been doing this for over 60 years!
You may hear one or two of them playfully call out to you about the aphrodisiacal powers of their oysters. A dozen oysters on the half shell will set you back about €10. You can slurp them up raw or take them into one of the nearby restaurants and have them cooked to your liking. Just remember to give them each a splash of fresh lemon juice and you’ve got authentic Galician street fare.
O Berbés is a seaside neighborhood located southwest of the Casco Vello. As it was over 200 years ago, O Berbés is where fishermen bring their catches to be sold in the lonjas, or fish markets each morning. There are several of these markets selling local delicacies like mussels, oysters, gambas, lubina and merluza as well as other types of seafood fished around the Iberian Peninsula.
Unloading a catch for sale is a boisterous and malodorous process, but the daily occurrence is one of Vigo’s longstanding maritime traditions, plus the seagulls don’t seem to mind the scraps. Rúa Ribeira do Berbés is the area’s main street. Facing Vigo Bay, it makes for a pleasant stroll and a great place to stop for a meal at one of the seafront restaurants. If you want anything fresher, you’ll have to fish it yourself.
Playa de Samíl
For those who want to enjoy the Galician coast to the fullest, there are multiple beaches southwest of the city center. The largest and most popular of these is Playa de Samíl, which is a 1,800-meter long stretch of white, sandy beach that has provided locals a much-needed refuge from the urban grind since the late 1960’s. The area features plenty of modern amenities: public swimming pools, a skating rink, cafés, picnic areas and public restrooms. Beachgoers can walk along Paseo de Samíl boardwalk, which spans the length of the beach, in search of the perfect place to spend the day. Surrounded by greenery and an unobstructed view of the Cíes Islands, Playa de Samíl is a retreat in every sense of the word. It is ideal for families with young children, as it is for curling up with a book in a shady spot. Head West along Gran Vía for about 5 miles (8 km) to access the boardwalk.
Day Trips to A Guarda, Valença, and the Cíes Islands
A Guarda is a coastal town 42 miles (68 km) southwest of Vigo. Historically a fishing community, A Guarda is often referred to as the “lobster capital” of Galicia.” Its natural beauty more than makes up for its small size because its proximity to the estuary, where the Miño River flows into the Atlantic, makes it a must-see in the region. The town also features coastal beaches, a charming seaside promenade and the fascinating Celtic settlement, Castro de Santa Tecla.
Visitors should first drive into the heart of A Guarda, park along the promenade and after a short visit to the tourism office to get a map, begin exploring the old town on foot (note that the tourism office, located in Praza do Reloxo, is only open in the summer). Attractions in the historical district include antique fishermen’s houses, a 12th century church, remains of the old city walls and the Fishermen’s Monument.
There are a variety of restaurants in A Guarda, with Casa Valladeiros being one we can certainly recommend for its mussels and lobster. If you’re in A Guarda during winter, or would rather forgo the beach for some history, drive up to Castro de Santa Tecla (pictured below) to explore the incredible dwellings left behind by ancient Galicians; a pre-Roman community that farmed and raised livestock.
Valença is half-castle, half-land fortified city located in Portugal near the Spanish border along the Miño River. The Valença fortification, or castel in Portuguese, was commissioned by King Sancho I in the 13th century, making it nearly as old as the country of Portugal itself. King Sancho I became the second king of Portugal when he succeeded his father King Afonso I in 1185. He had to find a way to protect this strategically located city from the Spanish, who were launching attacks from just across the river in the town of Tui. Valença sits high on a hillside, with a bird’s eye view of the surrounding landscape.
Right outside of Valença, the International Bridge (designed by renowned engineer Gustaf Eiffel) connects the two countries, making it simple for one to cross over to Portugal for a day of sightseeing.
Typically no border patrol checks are performed, but bring your passport for identification just in case. The fort of Valença is more than just a military relic; it is a living town with residential and commercial ties. Srtoll the cobblestone streets, walk along the outer fortress walls, and hike up and down the colossal bastions to take in the incredible views.
The Cíes Islands are a three-island archipelago in Vigo Bay. They were declared a nature reserve in 1980 and form part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. Their names are Monteagudo, Do Faro and San Martiño.
Each have steep cliffs, caves and diverse flora and fauna. A 45-minute boat ride from the port of Vigo will bring you to this natural splendor. Activities include camping, walking, hiking, scuba diving and bird watching. The Eden-like landscape of the islands is perfect for nature-lovers. Pine and eucalyptus forests, white sand beaches, rocky cliffs and magnificent water views comprise the landscape. Whether you come for a day or a few, you will understand why this unspoiled landscape is often called “the best beach in Spain.”
Other recommended day trips from Vigo: Baiona and Combarro.
Additional Travel Information
Time zone: GMT +1
Shopping: The main shopping areas of Vigo are Calvario (ACECA) Area, Príncipe Street, Vigovello, as well as various shops in and around the city center. Typical store hours in Spain are 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Many stores are closed Sundays.
Hours of operation: Typical hours of operation are 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Nightlife: Vigo features a lively bar scene in and around the Casco Vello. The Samíl Beach area is known for its late-night discos and bars. The Monte Ríos and Rosalía de Castro areas also have plenty of lively bars and casual pubs. Calle Arenal features the trendiest music bars in Vigo, which go on until the early morning hours.
Nearest airport: Vigo-Peinador Airport (VGO)
Getting there: There are several ways to get to Vigo, but if you’re not driving in from another city in Galicia, it is best to take a flight. If you’re flying from Barcelona we recommend you fly with Vueling and save! FlightHub is a website we recommend for finding cheap flights to Vigo. We checked the results and there were several non-stop flights by Air Europa and Iberia from Madrid Barajas to Vigo Airport. To learn more about how to use FlightHub to make travel plans to Vigo, check out the FlightHub review.
Best time to go: May to October. The weather can be unpredictable all year round, so pack an, rain boots and a coat.
Currency: euro (€)
Where to eat: Check out our Top 20 Best Restaurants in Galicia, Spain
What are your suggestions for top things to do in Vigo? Leave us your comment below!