Discover the incredible West Coasts of Spain and Portugal following Michael Portillo and the Great Continental Railways guide from La Coruña down to Lisbon. Explore a different side of Spain through the beauty of Galicia with stops in the largest city, La Coruña, and the capital Santiago de Compostela, before riding the rails through three of Portugal's essential cities: the Duoro-side city of Porto, the historic university city of Coimbra and thriving coastal capital of Lisbon.
Portugal’s capital is an 18th-century city - elegant, open to the sea and carefully planned. Most places of interest are within easy walking distance. Rossio Square, the heart of Lisbon since medieval times, is an ideal place to start exploring. Many rebuilt houses with original façades provide stores and restaurants with modern interiors. High above Baixa is Bairro Alto - with its teeming nightlife. There are many monuments and museums, such as San Jeronimos Monastery, Royal Coach Museum and Gulbenkian Museum. Two well-known landmarks are the Monument to the Discoveries and the Tower of Belem. A statue of Christ looms above Europe’s longest suspension bridge. Madragoa, Bica and Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s older sections, offer a variety of sights: the Church of Sao Roque, with its beautiful tiles; St. George Castle, which offers a splendid view from its location above the Alfama quarter; the botanical gardens, featuring an unusual, cold greenhouse; and the cathedral, stunning with its Moorish design. Renowned Gulbenkian Museum is the cultural center of Portugal.
Vigo is Galicia's most populated city, with the most important port. The historic quarter is very charming and well preserved.
La Coruna, Spain
La Coruna is the largest city in Spain's Galicia region and among the country's busiest ports. Today the city's significant expansion is evident in its three distinct quarters: the Ciudad (City), and town center located along the isthmus; the business and commercial center with wide avenues and shopping streets; and the Ensanche to the South, built up with industry. La Coruna's beautiful main square, Plaza Maria Pita, has many buildings in the old section which feature characteristic glazed facades, which have earned La Coruna the name City of Crystals. Santiago de Compostela is located only 37 miles from La Coruna. The City is the original town with narrow, cobbled streets and quaint squares. Avenida de la Marina, running parallel to the waterfront, is lined by typical tall houses with glazed balconies at every floor. Mendez Nunez Gardens lie between the harbor and Los Cantones in a bustling quarter of the city. Once used as a prison, San Anton Castle now houses the Military and Archaeological Museum. The Roman lighthouse Hercules Tower is said to be the oldest in Europe.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is now considered by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site and attracts visitors from all over the world thanks to its fantastic monuments. The town is named after the Apostle Saint James ("Santiago"), who is buried here. In 2000 Santiago de Compostela was given the title of European Cultural Capital. Santiago is certainly one of Spain's most monumental towns, with a particular architectonical style all of its own. But it is as well a town plenty of life, with one of the most famous Universities and a large number of students who guarantee youthful ambience inbetween the historical walls. The region's cuisine is of great reputation, and it is said that nowhere has better seafood than Santiago.
Porto (Oporto), Portugal's second largest city, is full of interest, and the district it heads offers the visitor plenty to see. Along the coast, there are resorts like the cosmopolitan beach of Espinho, busy ports like Matosinhos, with splendid seafood, or traditional fishing towns like Póvoa de Varzim, and there is also an animated casino. Charming Amarante has 17th century mansions overlooking the river and is famous for a sweet egg pastries called "papos de anjo" (angel bellies). In Vila Nova de Gaia, there are lodges where Port wine is blended and aged and where tasting are offered, or visitors may take a river cruise along the Douro. The whole district is filled with prosperous towns, but there are also many calm roads with wonderful views over the river and a rugged and still unspoilt coastline.
Coimbra is one of the most romantically beautiful cities in Portugal, and it's ancient and ornate buildings are rich in historical and cultural importance. Also, being a university town the city is inevitably dotted with cafe's, and lively night clubs. Beyond the university, Coimbra has much else to offer the visitor not least an array of medieval churches, ancient Roman archaeological sites, and Portugal's largest national park, the Serra da Estrela, a popular destination with all visitors.
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