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3-4 nights in Northwestern Spain/Portugal - any ideas?

We are ending a river cruise in Porto and have 3-4 nights to explore northern Portugal and the northwestern nose of Spain. We are renting a car and need suggestions! Santiago de Compostela is on my agenda, but we are looking for other suggestions as well. We tend to prefer out of the way and less touristy spots and don't plan on going to the beach at all. Two adults and two older teenagers.

Any great ideas of can't miss spots? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
1522 posts

Sara - For Northwestern Portugal, I would recommend driving and selecting a few of the following towns, Braga, Guimaraes, Arcos de Valdevez, and Ponte de Lima for a visit.

For Northwestern Spain, In addition to your desire to see Santiago de Compostela, you have towns like Vigo, Pontevedra, León, and Oviedo that is worthy of a visit.

Posted by
978 posts

With only 3-4 nights, you may not want to travel beyond Porto-Santiago de Compostela. We loved SdeC and Galicia in general. I would think Leon and Oviedo are too far for this trip.

Posted by
17861 posts

I agree with Jessica. No way would I go as far as Leon (240 miles) or Oviedo (330 miles), though both are really interesting cities.

I urge you to skip Vigo. I have spend 4-1/2 months in Spain in recent years. I haven't been everywhere, but I've been to a lot of places, and Vigo ranks as probably the dullest. In my view, the only reason to go to Vigo is to take a boat out to the Cies Islands. I found the latter underwhelming and most appropriate for people seeking uncrowded beaches.

These places in Spain I found interesting:

  • Tui: Small inland town on the (river) border. Historic district. Cathedral has an English audio guide.

  • Combarra and Cambados: Touristy but picturesque small coastal towns.

  • Pontevedra: Larger city with nice historic district.

However, Santiago de Compostela has a very large historic center. It could easily absorb two days by itself. It would be a reasonable decision to skip Pontevedra and spend all your Spanish-city time in Santiago de Compostela, especially if you also want to make a stop or two in Portugal. Santiago de Compostela itself is about 140 miles from Porto, and I assume you'll be returning the car to Portugal to avoid the usually-astronomical drop fee.

The Galician countryside is very pretty, especially in the southwest. If you go to ViaMichelin.com and ask for a route from Porto to SdeC, then keep zooming in, the most scenic roads will be highlighted in green.

Posted by
1993 posts

Agree above that going farther than Santiago de Compostela is simply impractical...

However, know that Galicia has been inhabited by Celtic peoples for 1000s of years, this manifests itself in the local culture and historic Celtic site. For me, the best Celtic ruins are on the way from Portugal, in the south, to Santiago de Compostela, called Castro de Baroña. The ruins of this fortified Celtic town sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic, a slight detour but a very unique place!

Posted by
2919 posts

About 40 miles west of Santiago de Compostela is Muxia. It’s a nice drive with pretty countryside. At Muxia is a nice lighthouse, Nosa Senora de La Barca chapel, and rocky coastline (all next to each other). Not certain when you will be there, but as of late September, while the front of the cathedral in Santiago (the major draw to the city) is scaffold free, the side where the entrance is, and the entire inside is covered in scaffolding and under renovation. Other than seeing St. James’ crypt, is hardly worth entering since you can’t get a feel for how massive and beautiful it really is. I haven’t spent much time in the area between Santiago and Porto. Even with the work going on at the cathedral, Santiago de Compostela is very much worth visiting. To expand on Carlos’ comment, there are Celtic ruins throughout Galicia, so if interested, just do a search for one near where you’ll be.

Posted by
1669 posts

With four nights, I'd spend one in Guimarães (which I slightly prefer over Braga), slowly work my way to Santiago de Compostela stopping at Tui along the way, and spend three nights in Santiago: one day for the town, one day for a coastal day trip (Cambados and Muxia áreas both are V good suggestions in my opinion). Then drive back to Portugal.
If only three nights, I'd skip Guimarães.