Pontevedra is a small city in northern Spain with a compact old town filled with antique alleys and interesting buildings. It’s a place to take life slow, sit in a plaza with a beer, and admire the years of craftsmanship that’s gone into creating beautiful buildings and heraldic carvings, which seem to poke out from between flowers at every turn.
Plaza de España
The Plaza de España is a good place to start: make use of the tourist information office, walk the Alameda del Arquitecto Sesmera, see the war memorial, and admire the facades of the buildings, including the Casa Consistorial. The tourist information point has a good walking map of the city which you can pick up for free. Here, you’ll also find the ruins of the Convent of San Domingo.
Ruinas de Santo Domingo / Ruins of the Convent of Saint Dominic
The soaring gothic arches no longer hold up a ceiling, and the whole thing seems to have been dropped beside the existing buildings, but this is definitely a pretty little corner. Now run as one of the (free) museums of Pontevedra, the ruins also house dozens of heraldic stone carvings and a few statues as well as preserving a corner of this historic church.
Real Basilica Menor de Santa Maria la Mayor / Royal Basilica of Saint Mary
Approaching from the Plaza de Alonso de Fonseca, you might be a bit disappointed with the sandstone crenilations, the simple archway entry, and the ageing cruceiro out front, but the interior is quite stunning with an arched ceiling, and a luxurious altarpiece and side chapels.
Exit on the opposite side, and head left to see the ‘other’ entrance, a wall of statues and embellishments that has been recently restored; and truly showcases the riches which the side entrances seem to hide.
Sanctuario de la Virgen Peregrina / Sanctuary of the Virgin as Pilgrim
The Camino Portugués — part of the Caminos de Santiago — passes through Pontevedra: you’ll notice the scallop shells and yellow arrows which mark The Way as you walk around town. This towering church, which sits in the Plaza de la Peregrina, is also scallop-shaped and features a statue of the Virgin Mary as a pilgrim with her walking stick, staff, gourd, and scallop shell: symbols of the Camino.
Plazas de Ferraria, Ourense, Estrella & the Jardines de Castro Sampedro / Plazas of Ferraria, Ourense, the Star & the Gardens of Castro Sampedro.
These three plazas and gardens are all one open space. Why have one thing when you can have four, right? This is the main square of Pontevedra, surrounded by cafes in vaulted stone galleries and the looming church of San Francisco above the gardens. Sit, people-watch, and relax to the sounds of one of the fountains. Café Pasaje, just off the plaza on Soportais, has free wifi.
Mercado de Abastos
This busy local market is big on fish, fruit, and flowers, although you’ll also find a café, cheese, and cold-cut meats, and a few butchers in there as well. It’s worth walking to the second floor to look down on the rows of fish and busy shoppers below. In front of the market, is a sculpture of a woman feeding ducks, and the one-meter-wide differently coloured strip of pavement out front marks the old town walls.
Isla de la Covo (or, Isla de las Esculturas) / Island of Sculptures
Follow the river behind the Mercado de Abastos for five minutes, and you’ll come to a white pedestrian bridge which crosses to the river island. There are several sculptures within the park, most built to last in stone and concrete. The whole park could have done with a facelift when we visited in 2012, with parts overgrown or tagged.
Plaza de la Verdura
The rectangular plaza houses a tourist office on the high side, but the attraction is the multitude of bars which fill the square. It’s good for a quiet drink anytime, but it begins to fill up around 7 or 8pm with friends and families out for a tapa and glass of wine. Atmospheric, and highly recommended.
Plaza da Leña
This small plaza has another cruceiro, as well as hosting the Museo Provincial. In the evenings the square fills with diners who spill out into more restaurants on the streets around it. A little less touristy than restaurants in the main square, and much more intimate.
This small museum in the Plaza da Leña is our pick of the city, with a well-curated exhibition of silver and jewellery, as well as local artefacts from the stone age to the Roman era. Don’t make the mistake we did, and miss the stairs opposite the welcome desk, where we’re told there is an interesting art collection. Entrance free.