48 Hours In: La Coruña

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October days are still balmy enough to enjoy the urban beaches of this intriguing Galician city. And there are plenty of cultural diversions, too

Travel essentials

Why go now?

La Coruña is one of Spain's lesser-known but most intriguing destinations. Aside from Santiago de Compostela, it is the largest city in the "autonomous community" of Galicia (in the Galician language, it is known as A Coruña), and an appealing place in October. If the weather's warm, you can enjoy the urban beaches of Playa del Orzan (1) and Playa de Riazor (2).

If cold, culture abounds at institutions such as the superb Museo de Belas Artes (3), on Calle Zalaeta (00 34 881 881 700; museobelasartescoruna.xunta.es); it opens 10am-2pm and 4.30-8pm on Saturdays, 10am-2pm Sunday, closed Monday and open 10am-8pm on other days; admission €2.40. A series of free autumn classical concerts begins on 27 October at 12.30pm.

Touch down

The airport (00 34 91 321 1000) lies six miles south of the centre. Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com) offers the sole direct flight from the UK – daily from Heathrow. Bus 443 takes 20 minutes into town, operating every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour at weekends – for €1.45. Taxis take 15 minutes for around €12.

You can also fly to Santiago de Compostela, 45 miles to the south – which is served by easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com), three times a week from Gatwick, and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), three times a week from Stansted. Trains (00 34 902 320320; renfe.com) to La Coruña from Santiago take about 40 minutes, arriving at the main railway station (4), south of the centre on Plaza de San Cristóbal.

Get your bearings

Pitched almost at the north-west corner of Spain, La Coruña is a city flanked by water on a curiously shaped spur of land which juts east and then north into the Atlantic.

The beaches are on the upper side of the peninsula, and the port area on the lower.

The old town (Ciudad Vieja) lurks at the heart of the matter, spreading out above the Plaza de Maria Pita (5) – where you can also find the tourist information office (6), at No 6 (00 34 981 923 093; turismocoruna.com), open daily 9am to 8.30pm, except Saturday (10am to 2pm and 4 to 8pm) and Sunday (10am to 3pm).

Public transport is limited to 22 bus routes (busurbano.tk), which cover most of the city for a flat fare of €1.45. Most of the significant sights can be ticked off on foot.

Check in

An unfussy mid-range option just one block back from Playa del Orzan (1) at Calle Comandante Fontanes 19, Hotel Zenit Coruna (7) (00 34 981 218484; zenithoteles.com) has doubles from €53, room only.

The four-star Melia Maria Pita (8) shows a glass face to the beaches at Avenida Pedro Barrie de la Maza 1 (00 34 981 205 000; melia.com), doubles from €49, room only.

The five-star Hesperia Finisterre (9) has two outdoor pools at Paseo del Parrote 2-4. Doubles from €107, room only (00 34 981 205 400; hesperia.es).

Day One

Take a hike

Start in the Plaza de Maria Pita (5) – named after the city heroine who helped to defend it from attack by Francis Drake's English hordes in 1589. Her statue stares at the elegant three-domed Palacio Municipal, on the north side of the square. Exit to the east – up the steps on Calle Marques de Cerralbo and Calle Alfonso IX, and enter the Plaza del General Azcarraga (10) and Plaza de la Constitucion (11). These twin spaces, leafy and café-lined, epitomise the Ciudad Vieja.

Go left at the end of the latter into Calle del Principe, then take the second right into Calle de Santo Domingo – passing the hanging hams of Jamoneria la Leonesa (12) (00 34 981 212 944; facebook.com/jamoneriala leonesa) at No 2.

The street runs uphill to Plaza de Santo Domingo, where the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (13) is the third church sited on this spot, Drake's privateers having burned down the original (00 34 981 205 850; domicoru.com).

Window shopping

The lanes off the main drag of Calle San Andres have many retail options. Sombrerero Loco (14) (00 34 881 991 804; sombrereroloco.es) sells bright teapots and fruity brews at Calle Olmos 6 – while La Petenera (15), at Calle Riego de Agua 50 (00 34 881 926 073; bit.ly/LaPetShop), does quirky homeware and colourful crockery.

The Mercado de San Agustin (16) (coruna.es/mercados) has been dispensing fruit and vegetables on Plaza de San Agustin since 1932. For pricier purchases head south-west to the Centro district, where stores on Plaza Lugo include jewellers Swarovski (17) (00 34 981 207 387; swarovski.com).

Lunch on the run

The modish Adegas Abica (18), at Calle Riego de Agua 31 (00 34 981 903 766; abica.es), proffers inventive modern morsels – such as tuna with sun-dried tomato pesto for €8.90.

Walk in the park

A mile's stroll from the centre along the seafront promenade of Paseo Maritimo (a route also traced by bus 3), the Parque de la Torre de Hércules hogs the northern tip of the peninsula. Here you'll find the Torre de Hércules (19), a Roman-built lighthouse dating back to the First Century. The Romans, who believed Galicia (Finisterra) to be the end of the world, regarded this headland as the site where Hercules defeated the giant Geryon. Their Unesco-listed creation offers fine views (daily 10am to 6pm), at Avenida de Navarra (00 34 981 223 730; torredeherculesacoruna.com); €3.

An aperitif

Casa Lelin (20), at Calle Olmos 16-18 (00 34 881 942 453; casalelin.es) is a classic Spanish tapas bar known for its Asturian ciders at €3 per glass.

Dining with the locals

East of Plaza de Maria Pita (5), Calle de Capitan Troncoso is the restaurant zone. Pablo Gallego (21), at No 4, serves cod with onion gratin for €16 (00 34 981 208 888; pablo gallego.com). In the old town at Calle de Santiago 19, Italian trattoria Enzo's (22) has seafood pizzas for €10.50 (00 34 981 228328; enzos.es).

And Domus (23) is a "museum of mankind" at Calle Angel Rebollo 91 (00 34 981 189 840; mc2coruna.org/domus), where Casa Pardo does local roast lamb and potatoes for €18, under chef Eduardo Pardo (00 34 981 201 136; casapardo-domus.com).

Day Two

Sunday morning: Go to church

Hidden away at Calle del Parrote 1, the Iglesia Parroquia de Santiago (24) (00 34 981 205 696) shows the Ciudad Vieja at its most picturesque – a nugget of hard stone that sings of its 12th-century roots with sturdy walls, stained glass and incense aroma (services at 11.30am and 12.30pm on Sunday, plus 8pm daily).

Rather bigger, the Iglesia de San Jorge (25) rises up at the a corner of Plaza de Maria Pita (5) (00 34 981 221 348). An 18th-century feast of Baroque whimsy, its pretty façade opens on to an ornate interior (Sunday services at 11am, noon and 1pm).

Cultural morning

Still guarding the port on Paseo del Parrote, the 16th-century Castillo de San Anton has a new life as the city's Museo Arqueologico e Historico (26) (00 34 981 189 850; bit.ly/MusArq; €2). Open 10am-2.30pm on Sunday, 10am- 7.30pm other days, closed Monday. It contains shards of La Coruña's past.

Nearby at Plaza de Carlos 1, the Museo Militar (27) (00 34 981 205 300) details the city's long-held role as a Spanish watchdog; open 10am to 2pmon Sundays, 10am- 2pm and 4- 7pm on other days; free.

Opposite, the Jardines de San Carlos (28) underline the city's strategic location. Inside, you find the tomb of British general Sir John Moore, killed here fighting the French in 1809.

Elsewhere, the Museo de Belas Artes (3) displays European art from the 16th to 20th centuries, with a room of Goya etchings including Los Desastres de la Guerra, depicting the brutal Napoleonic Wars.

Out to brunch

A Taberno de Cunqueiro (29), at Calle Estrella 22, is a tapas bar noted for its pulpo gallego (octopus) from €8 (00 34 981 212 629; bit.ly/TapasPulpo).

Take a ride

Take bus 12 from Plaza de Cuatro Caminos (30) to Los Rosales, a residential district immediately west of the peninsula. Get off at the top of Calle Manuel Azanafor a short walk up the slope to the Monte de San Pedro (31). This hilltop park – open 11am to 8pm, extended Friday and Saturday (to 10pm), makes excellent use of a former military area. Vast guns still monitor the horizon, but now there are child play areas, and a hedge maze.

Icing on the cake

The park has an inviting cafe-restaurant, Mirador de San Pedro (daily 1.30 to 3.30pm, plus 9 to 11.30pm Fri and Sat), where you can sip a glass of wine (from €3) while gazing out at the city (00 34 981 100 823; miradordesanpedro.es). Or hit the beaches and admire the power of the Atlantic.

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