Why go now?
Mainland Spain's westernmost city is cultured, gritty and highly affordable. This Galician city also has a proud heritage. Vigo was where the Roman Empire met the ocean – and, in the 19th century, it became the main transatlantic departure point for a nation. As one of the few large Spanish cities without a flight connection from the UK, Vigo has been off the radar for British travellers. But that changes later this month when Air Nostrum starts flying to the city from Luton.
Next weekend is an excellent time to visit: the Reconquest Festival takes place on 28 March, marking the 1809 uprising when the citizens expelled Napoleon's army – the first city in Spain to reclaim independence from the French. Huge outdoor markets are set up, as fisherman and farmers act out the conflict.
Until this month, the best way to reach Vigo from Britain has been via Santiago de Compostela, served from Gatwick by easyJet and from Stansted by Ryanair. But on 30 March, the Iberia partner, Air Nostrum, opens a new link from Luton to Vigo's Peinador airport, 9km east of the city centre. You can book through Iberia (020 3684 3774; iberia.com); there are a few flights over Easter, with fares at £119 return, before summer services start in earnest in July.
The airport bus, No L9A, runs into the city every 30 minutes (hourly on Sundays). The airport stop is across the road on the right as you exit the terminal. The flat fare is €1.32, the same as applies to all other city bus services in Vigo (vitrasa.es).
Get your bearings
Vigo spreads inland from a dramatically corrugated coastline. The temporary railway terminal, Vigo-Guixar (1), marks the eastern end of the city centre. Going west from here, 19th-century avenues parallel the shore. The main drag is Rúa Urzaiz and its continuation Rúa do Principe, running to the hub of the city: the Porta do Sol (2). The old town, Casco Vello, tumbles west and north to the water and the wharves that for a time comprised Spain's main gateway to the world. Avenida Beiramar separates the city from the sea.
Confusingly, there are two tourist offices. The Vigo tourist office is in the ferry ticket office (00 34 986 430 577; turismodevigo.org) at the Estación Maritima (3), and opens 10am to 5pm daily. The Galician regional bureau (4) is across the road from the port at Rúa Cánovas del Castillo 22; 9.30am to 2pm and 4.30 to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, 10am to 1.30pm Saturdays, closed Sundays.
Pick of the bunch is the Gran Hotel Nagari (5) at Plaza de Compostela 21 (00 34 902 444 456; gruposolvidahoteles.com), which has a rooftop swimming pool looking over the ocean. The cheapest double room, a "Loft Premium" costs €101, excluding breakfast.
The Hotel Puerto de Sol is at the heart of the action on the Porta do Sol (2) (00 34 986 222 364; hotelpuertadelsol.es), where the 19th-century structure has been comfortably modernised. It costs as little as €45 for a double room, or €79 for a studio room apartment, breakfast not included.
The Hotel Vigo Plaza (6) at Rúa Progreso 13 (00 34 986 228 243; hotelvigoplaza.com) is smart, central and staggeringly cheap at €36 for an "economic" double, including breakfast.
Take a view
Start the day with a panoramic vision of the city. To defend Vigo's naturally formidable harbour against the attentions of the Royal Navy and the Portuguese, the Castro fort (7) was built in 1665 atop the city's highest hill. Today, you can climb to the top and roam around the ruins in the Parque do Castro from dawn – which arrives over an hour later than on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
Take a hike
Descend to the Praza do Rei (8) and continue north over the Porto do Sol (2) into the tangle of streets that leads down to the sea past the busy Mercado das Ostras (9).
Enjoy the view across the harbour to the steep, wooded opposite shore, then turn east along the Paseo Maritimo – pausing at the statue of Jules Verne (10), a bronze tribute to the writer who featured the city in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He perches on the legs of a giant squid. At the spectacular modern Xunta de Galicia (11), turn inland and head south up Rúa Concepción, which becomes Rúa Colón. It joins the Rúa do Principe at the Museum of Contemporary Art or MARCO (12) (00 34 986 113 900; marcovido.com) – built in 1861 as the city's courthouse and jail, it's been a cultural centre for two decades. Open 11am- 2.30pm and 5-9pm daily except Sunday afternoons and Mondays, admission free.
Lunch on the run
Vigo claims to be the largest fishing port in the world (though Tokyo may have a rather stronger claim). Seafood is almost always fresh and good, but for some of the best seek out the La Cantina del Puerto (13), on a jetty in the port (00 34 986 224 516; lacantinadel puerto.es). Order the Galician favourite, pulpo (octopus), either as a tapa (€5) or a ración (€9).
Locals insist octopus should not be eaten late in the day, when the flavour has become too strong, and that you must accompany it only with white wine – drinking water with octopus, they say, can make you feel bloated.
Test the strength of sterling in a centro comercial: Vigo has about a dozen of these modern malls. with the most convenient, A Laxe (14), standing awkwardly on the waterside. It opens 10am to 10pm daily. But the streets south and east of the Porta do Sol are full of more interesting independent stores such as Almacenes Gonzalez (15), a delicatessen bursting with tempting produce at Ronda Don Bosco (00 34 986 221 017). The 2.30 to 5pm siesta is widely observed; most shops are closed on Sunday, and some do not open on Saturday evenings.
Order a local draught beer (€2.20) at La Taberna de Tony (16) at Rúa Gil 4, and you get a generous serving of tapas. The bar's slogan translates as "no wi-fi, no TV, talk among yourselves"; 11am-midnight, with a 5-7.30pm break. .
Dining with the locals
At the old-school and slightly theatrical Restaurante Don Quijote (17) at Rúa Laxe 4 (00 34 986 229 346), a generous portion of merluza Gallega (hake in a rich sauce with roast vegetables and garlic) costs €12.90, and a glass of local wine €2.50.
Sunday morning: go to church
For a spectacular fresh perspective take bus L17 to Avenida Doña Fermina – which you follow as it winds up to the hilltop Ermita de Nosa Señora da Guia (18). High above the city's hubbub, you can understand the message to worshippers: Aqui puedes escuchar a Dios – "Here you can listen to God".
In town, the 19th-century church of Santa Maria (19), "La Colegiata", has 1960s stained glass by Padrós Elias; 9.30am to 1pm, 6pm to 8.30pm.
Out to brunch
Despite the name, at the Gran Cerverceria El Puerto (20) you can get a lot more than beer. This engaging 19th-century den at Monteros Ríos 10 (00 34 986 437 551) serves good coffee from 9am, plus dishes from simple bocadillos (sandwiches) to paella.
A walk by the shore
Take bus L15A from Praza Espana (21) (eight minutes past the hour on Sundays, more frequent other days) to the beach at Samil. Walk back towards town along the shore, with fingers of rock reaching to the ocean.
Where the beach ends, the city's leading attraction begins. The Museo de Mar (22) describes Vigo's tempestuous relationship with the sea (00 34 986 247 750; museodomar.com; 10am to noon and 5pm to 7pm daily, except Monday; €3). This former canning factory was reinvented as a combination of aquarium and museum of social history. You can see the foundations of a fortress dating from the 8th century BC and a 19th-century submarine invented by a local entrepreneur.
Icing on the cake
On the harbour's opposite side is the breezy, relaxed resort of Cangas. Ferries sail at weekends on the half-hour from Vigo's Estación Maritima (3) and hourly from Cangas (day return €4.45). When the clocks go forward next weekend, sunset in Vigo will be at 9pm – making an early evening boat trip the ideal appetiser.
Additional research by Caitlin Hamilton
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