Northern Spain Trip - Recap

Hi, I just got back from two week trip to northern Spain. We stayed in Vigo, Santiago de Compostela, Santander and Bilbao. Here's the recap of things I liked and things to look out for for people who might be visiting that area in the near future.

Vigo.

We flew into Vigo and stayed at a decent hotel right in the port. Beautiful views. We enjoyed walking around the city. There is a real focus on shellfish and seafood. On one of the days we took the ferry to the Cies Islands. What a great beach and hiking area. I think it was about 18 E round trip and well worth it on a beach day. One of the other days we drove to Valenca Portugal (about 30 mins). This city is across the river from Tui Spain and has a large fort with lots of stores and great views. We loved it. On one other the other days we drove to Pontevedra - a smaller city with a great walking downtown. We hit Ourense (about an hour drive from Vigo) on the weekend and stumbled upon a huge festival with food, entertainers, and crafts. We couldn't see it all because of the size. We enjoyed it there, too.

Santiago de Compostela.
We stayed a hotel outside the old part of the charming city. We saw a lot of pilgrims coming into the charming city. The city is fun to walk around, but is very confusing -- make sure you're carrying a map. The streets are winding and it's easy to lose your sense of direction. In my opinion there are too many souvenir stores around the cathedral, but it's hard to ignore the majesty of the place and the buildings and their place in history. We took a side trip to Finisterra on the Costa de Morte, the very end of the Camino. We drove. What a breathtaking place -- the high cliffs, the open ocean, the pilgrims, the food. Go if you can.

Santander.
When we checked in here, we felt a bit tired. Our hotel was a little, modern hotel on the marina. This city is underrated. Some great beaches. We drove to the Matalenas Beach one day for a breathtaking day on the shore. So great. There are also lots of other beaches that very nice. While walking around one day, we came across a San Fermin celebration in a neighborhood of bars. Fun! We liked the restaurants here and ate lots of pinxtos. We sat at a table, the waiter told us our table number, we went inside and picked out what we wanted to eat and told the server our table number - they brought them out to us. One strange thing here - our credit cards did not work on those little machines the waiters use. Something about a chip. We have regular credit cards - CapitalOne, etc. and this was the only place there was a problem. We burned through cash here because of that.

Bilbao.
Great city. Take the HoHo tour to see the whole city. It's bigger than it looks. Of course we saw the Guggenheim. It's a beautiful building. The exhibits were cool, but nothing particularly Spanish about them. The people here were extremely nice and the city is set in a small valley of mountains. The views were spectacular. The weather was cool and cloudy, though. We took a side trip to Rioja Wine Country - Briones. Very well worth it. And another side trip to see the hanging bridge in Portugalete. Also worth it. A nice small city that competes with Bilbao for the port.

Observations.

Whew, we are tired. The car rental was expensive (we bought the extra insurance) for two weeks and most hotels charged 15-20 E per day to park it. A lot of money after all was considered (maybe 700 E?). We chose to eat breakfasts in the hotels, but then we started getting hungry again around 4:00, which is not a good time in Spain to eat. Best to eat breakfast earlier (like before 9), then eat a larger lunch around 2:00, because restaurants do not open until 8 or 8:30 at night. It was helpful for us to talk to people and bartenders at bars about attractions to see. Every one turned out great.

Thanks for all the great advice.

Posted by marctshark
41 posts

oh, packing. We brought one small suitcase for each of us. I brought too many clothes. For me, a guy, I ended up wearing the same pair of Sketchers loafers all the time. They were comfortable with or without socks and they look better than sneakers. I'd bring them again next time to save on packing socks. Other than that, I brought flip flops and a pair of sneakers, that gave me blisters -- and took up too much space in my luggage. I wore a pair of long pants on the plane (jeans - I know, not great travel clothes, but it's what I like) and packed two pairs of shorts (dark colored and comfortable). I found almost every day I could wear shorts and a t-shirt. I packed one of those golf polo shirts (black), that came in handy the few times we went out at night with the jeans.

And strangely, at almost every juncture, we got pulled out of lines and our passports were checked more carefully and we were brought into rooms for searches. I'm not sure why this is. We're two middle-aged men. We almost missed one flight because of this.

On our next trip, I'm definitely taking 5-6 days to sit on a beach before I do my exploring. Maybe the Costa Brava.

Posted by Wonderful
Europe
496 posts

I just read the replies to your planning question here.
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/spain/galicia-asturias-cantabria-and-basque-country
I am glad you enjoyed your route.
When i read your comments about eating times I thought this was your first trip to Spain. It seems not. Everyone who visits Spain has to change their ideas about when to eat main meals.
Yes all of Europe use chip and PIN cards. Maybe you should search for this as it has been written about on the forums may times. There are some US cards which now have this facility I believe.
Some tips for anyone else covering this trip If you visit Valença, try doing it on a Wednesday. There is a huge open air market that day.
Book your ferry to the Islas Cíes. It can be busy.
You was lucky to "bump2 it a fiesta. But that is the way it goes in Spain fiestas everywhere.
Hotels do charge for parking in cities. Top idea here. Try parking outside and getting free parking with day trips into the center. Parking charges will be a lot less for parts of days.
I am glad you relaxed about your style of clothing. Some other forums these days war breaks out when someone asks about what to wear in Spain.
It was a pity you never saw San Vicente de la Barquera just 3/4 of an hour away from Santander. There some very under rated beaches in this city too.
Thank you for writing this information.