Vigo is known as “the Gateway to Atlantic” and is the largest and the most important city in Galicia, Spain. It is also the largest city in Spain which is not a provincial capital.
The urban area of Vigo is built over a Roman settlement and an old hill-fort (Castro).
Vigo has amazingly beautiful beaches, charming cafés, and excellent water sport facilities. It is famous for its fishing industry, food, and Museum of Modern Art. It is a must-visit for those, who love seafood in general and mussels in particular, as half of the world’s mussels are “harvested” in Galicia. The city is also an important research center that focuses on studies related to ocean-based industries.
Cruise ships dock at Muelle de Transatlanticos, which is an easy walk from the city. All you need to do is cross the Avenida del Castillo waterfront promenade, and you are there. If you are visiting Vigo for a short while, then don’t waste your time hanging around the port, all the best places are in town.
Getting around Vigo is equally easy, because you can walk pretty much everywhere if you have two or three hours to spare. However, if you are short on time and don’t fancy a bit of exercise (old Vigo is a bit hilly), you can easily get around by bus. Vigo’s bus service is very good and it connects all the main municipalities and districts. The electronic way of payments is cheaper than the usual ticket and it also lets you change buses without having to pay for a new ticket.
Taxis are also available in Vigo and are always an efficient way of getting around. You could take a taxi to the top of Vigo (perhaps the Plaza Eliptica at Plaza Francisco Fernández Del Riego – a shopping centre) and then wander back down, through the narrow streets and Plazas.
It’s best to get a map or at least a plan of the central part of Vigo before you go anywhere, so that you’ll be able to save a lot of time and get the maximum out of your stay. There is a tourist information kiosk as you come off the ship, by the large head and shoulders statue. The main tourist information office is across the road from the port, on the corner. This is also where the tourist bus goes from (see Must Sees)
The local currency is the euro. Although there are ATMs and banks in Vigo, it’s best to get your currency in advance or use a prepaid debit card for international travellers. That way you won’t have to pay high commission and exchange fees.
There are two languages spoken in Galicia: Castilian Spanish and Galego. Vigo lies in a remarkably non-English speaking part of Spain, so you will need a good phrase book, especially if you decide to visit one of the local villages.
Here are a few words and phrases that will help you get by:
Buenos dias = Good morning
Buenos tardes = Good afternoon
Hola = Hello
Adios = Goodbye
Por favor = Please
Gracias = Thank you
Cuanto cuesta? = How much is this?
Si = Yes
No = No
Habla usted Ingles? = Do you speak English?
No comprendo = I don’t understand
Perdon = Excuse me
Ayudame! = Help!
Even if you can’t speak Spanish very well, just remember to be friendly, mind your manners, and smile a lot, Vigoans are very easy-going people and you’ll have no trouble at all.
The time zone in Vigo is GMT +1.
In case of an emergency, call 112 for police, ambulance and fire brigade. The call is free from any phone.
There are plenty of shopping opportunities is Vigo, as it has an abundance of pretty little shops, as well as large shopping centres. One of the most popular shopping centres is Plaza Eliptica at Plaza Francisco Fernández Del Riego, which gets nearly 4 million visitors every year. Most shops are open Monday to Saturday, from 10am until 8pm. Lunch break is quite long, between 1 and 3 p.m., but large shops often don’t close for siesta. There is also a big shopping centre right next to where the ship docks. This is a handy short cut up to the top of the first hill – use the escalators to get to the top and then exit into the town.
Life in Vigo has always been closely connected to the sea, just like life in many other towns and cities in Galicia. There has been a settlement in Vigo’s present location since pre-Roman times, but it became the important city it is now only a short while ago.
From the days of the Romans through to the Middle Ages, Vigo was nothing more than a collection of fishing villages and parishes. Because of its sea-facing position, it was always the first to suffer from attacks. Like most of Europe’s coastal towns, Vigo was regularly invaded by the Vikings and the Normans. Then the town suffered from raids by the English and the Dutch naval fleets.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the city was attacked several times. In 1585 and 1589 Francis Drake raided the city and temporarily occupied it, leaving many buildings burnt. Several decades later a Turkish fleet tried to attack the city. As a result the walls of the city were built in 1656 during the reign of Philip IV of Spain. They are still partially preserved.
During this time, and in spite of the attacks, the city of Vigo developed its earliest commerce, and was given several privileges by the kings of Spain.
In 1702, the Battle of Vigo Bay occurred. The legend says that the Spanish ships, that were sunk by the British and the Dutch ships, were laden with gold and riches from the South American colonies, and that the Vigo bay still hides these lost treasures. Every once in a while expeditions are organized to search for the lost treasure and there are constant debates about the ownership rights if it were discovered.
Shortly after the beginning of the 19th century, Vigo saw one of its most significant historic moments. In 1808 Napoleonic France annexed Spain, but Vigo stayed unconquered until January 1809. It was also the first city in Galicia to be freed from the French rule. The event is now celebrated as Reconquista on 28th of March every year.
In the 19th century Vigo really started to grow and the town’s population began to expand. The days of a small fishing village were gone, as Vigo began to turn into a developed industrial powerhouse.
Unfortunately, the 19th century and industrialisation were responsible for the demolition of the old town’s walls and many of the original fishermen’s houses. Vigo started spreading beyond its ancient borders and concentrated on producing canned food and salt, thus forcing many farmers and fishermen to become industrial workers.
In the 20th century Vigo’s port continued to grow, which attracted more people and Vigo’s population approached fifteen thousand inhabitants. By then Vigo had become a center for trade with the Americas, the rest of Spain, and continental Europe. The same historic period saw the town’s most beautiful and regal buildings being built, which made Vigo a unique place for the lovers of the 20th century architecture and the centre of 20th century art in Spain.
As its port continued to grow and prosper, Vigo became the richest and the largest town in Galicia. The town used its wealth to employ creative approaches to town planning and constructed several uniquely beautiful individual urban areas.
Nowadays Vigo is the biggest port in Galicia, and probably in the whole of Spain. It has several important museums, a successful football team, and a healthy flow of investments from abroad.
If you love seafood, then you’ll definitely appreciate the choice in Vigo where everything is freshly caught and served up in style.
There are lots of places in Vigo that are open for lunch, from noon until 3pm. The best way to pick the right one is to walk around, read the menus, and just follow your intuition. However, here are some places that are well-known for their excellent lunch menus.
If you are looking for somewhere close to the port, then Meson Los Arcos, Bajada a la Fuente and Bar Cocadero Le Piedra are great for fresh oysters and other seafood. All these places are on Calle de Pescaderia – look just behind the open air stalls selling oysters.
But if you are looking for more than that, you should go to Plaza de Compostela. This square is well-known for many fine restaurants and food bars, like the Meson Jamoneria (famous for its tapas), La Yuca, and La Cata.
Even if you are planning to have lunch on board of your cruise ship, you should consider having a plate of freshly harvested oysters with warm and crusty local bread as a starter. There are not many places in the world where you can taste something as delicious as that!
The tip is not included in the bill and is not obligatory. However, it’s polite to leave 7 to 10 percent, just like at home.
Key Attractions & Must Sees
Vigo’s old quarter is a gem that is generally underrated and almost never mentioned in most travel guides. The old town is based around the original fishermen’s houses build on the slopes leading to the city’s earliest port. This quarter was there long before Vigo became a city, but a large part of it got demolished in the 19th century, just like most of the original city walls.
Despite that fact, the Old Town of Vigo still retains a lot of its original buildings, which are concentrated on Calle (or Rua) Real and the Triunfo. Some of these charming streets are connected by narrow alleyways that are full of character and have very steep flights of steps leading down to the marina.
The Old Town still retains four of the original squares – Plaza de Pedra, Plaza Almeida, Plaza Princesa and the largest of the four, Plaza Constitucion.
All of these squares are full of character, as they are framed with the original buildings of the quarter. Plaza Princesa and Plaza Constitucion have lots of little cafés with tables outside where you can sit and watch the world go by.
Walking around the Old Town is an amazing experience that is not to be missed and most visitors will be surprised that places like this still exist in large industrial cities like Vigo.
One of the most wonderful sights to visit in Vigo is La Colegiata de la Santa Maria la Mayor, the work of Diego de Siloe and the finest church in Antequera. This beautiful building dates from the early 16th century and is known for its beautiful Renaissance façade. Inside you can admire a fine wooden ceiling and slender Ionic columns. You even might get lucky and visit when there is a concert going on, as this church is a desired local concert venue.
If you are interested in Romanesque architecture, then you should see the 13th century church of Santa Maria de Castrelos. The church is 20 meters long, 7 meters wide and 7 meters high, with a semicircular apse at the sanctuary and a straight and semicircular stretch.There are also frescos and murals of Vigo. Every year the feasts of San Brais and As Candelas are celebrated in the Church of Castrelos, with devotees attending the liturgical services to make offerings to cure their illnesses and have their sins forgiven.
If you are interested in contemporary art, then Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Vigo is definitely worth a visit. This museum is one of the most important museums of contemporary art in Spain. It is based on the exhibition of modern shows, which are theme oriented and experimental. Museo de Arte Contemporaneo also gives a chance to talented emerging artists to display their works. The museum building is an attraction in its own way, because it used to be an old courthouse and jail.
Vigo has other interesting museums, such as the Naturnova Museum, which is dedicated to environment, Museum of the Sea, and Liste Ethnographic Museum.
Stroll through Calle de la Pescaderia, otherwise known as the fish market. It is very atmospheric and colourful and is one of the best locations in Europe for seafood lovers in search of a delicious fresh lunch.
Walk along one of Vigo’s most beautiful historic streets, the Calle (or Rua) Real, which was the main thoroughfare of the Old City.
Climb up La Guia Hill for a fabulous view of the city and the Rande Straits. While you are there, go to the sanctuary of the Vergin de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows) and the Castrelos Palace Museum, which features artefacts from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
The tourist bus gives a two hour tour of Vigo and the surrounding area. It’s good value at just 7.50 euros and leaves from outside tourist information at 10am. 12noon, 4.30pm and 6.30pm. Although it is hop on, hop off you need to be aware that there is just one bus – so it’ll be 2 – 4 and half hours before you can hop back on!
About 60 miles outside Vigo is the world-famous shrine of Santiago de Compostela. This shrine was Christianity’s third most important place of pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome in medieval times. Taxi tours can be arranged to take small groups at 35 – 40 euros per person. The firm recommended by tourist information can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve been told that they speak English.
• Vigo and the area around it is famous for beautiful beaches, three of which allow nudity.
• Because Vigo is built on a hill, you need to be quite fit to go around by foot.
• Vigo has one of the best fish markets in Europe.
Author: Lizzy Cornwell