Unlike the stereotype of sunburnt, package holiday Spain, the unique region of Galicia has a reputation for amazing food, for a history of smuggling, for superstition, and for some of the most spectacular (and unspoilt) coastline in the world. If you can brave a scary landing at the tiny hilltop airport in Vigo, you will find yourself in a city surrounded by stunning beaches, quaint coastal villages, and almost year-round sunshine, due to an unusual microclimate. A ferry from the city travels to the uninhabited Islas Cies—home to one of the world’s best beaches: Praia de Rodas. The Pristine white sands and clear blue waters are protected from the wild Atlantic Ocean by a ring of rocky peaks along the western coast, and as far back as the Roman era, Julius Caesar described this island as paradise.
Further inland lies the ancient city of Santiago de Compostela. Enveloped by mist and rolling green hills, it is the destination of over 200,000 walkers every year, who travel the Way of St. James, or Camino de Santiago. This is traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage that has existed since the Middle Ages, and leads to the stunning Cathedral at the heart of the city. This is actually thought to be the rainiest city in Europe, though the weather does not put off the crowds who soak up the lively atmosphere in the tapas bars and cervecerias that line the maze like streets of the old quarter. And like Manchester, Santiago is a University City, with a large student population and nightlife to match. The Rua de Franco is the site of a famous bar crawl, dubbed the Paris-Dakar rally after the name of two bars at either end of the street. With many of the city’s bars being small in size, there are at least 30 on this one street, and the bar crawl involves a drink of the local Ribeiro wine in each of them. Helping to wash that down, there is a variety of delicious tapas dishes on offer, with the Galicia region being especially famous for Pulpo (octopus) and Empanada (like a pie, but definitely not a pie).
The stunning capital city, Madrid, is famous for its pulsating nightlife, fashion and food. Madrid is also a magnet for art lovers, with an astounding number of exhibitions at galleries such as the world famous Prado. Whilst many visitors enjoy the traditional Retiro Park, Bullfights and glasses of Rioja at pavement cafés, there is a growing alternative scene represented by Malasana and Lavapies. Lavapies is an edgy part of town, with a melting pot of cultures and people from all over Europe, Africa and South America. The vibrant streets dance to the beat of exotic rhythms and the scent of a diverse food scene. The hipster haven of Malasana has a vibe reminiscent of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and the exciting nightlife is centred in the multiple bars of Calle Luna, with Bar Picnic being a personal favourite.