Vigo’s top natural harbour was used by the Phoenicians and Celts before the city as we know it was founded by the Romans, who named it Vicus Spacorum. Vigo’s curse was often its pretty offshore islands, the Islas Cíes, which were used throughout history as cover and a supply base for a series of swashbucklers, raiders and pirates, including Vikings, Corsairs and Britons; Sir Francis Drake spent a couple of years menacing Vigo on and off. In 1702 a passing British fleet of only 25 ships heard that the treasure fleet from South America was in the port with a French escort. Their surprise attack was a success; they sank 20 and captured 11 of the fleet. The gold and silver was still on board because at that time only Cádiz had official permission to unload bullion from the colonies. Rumour has it that most of it was dumped into the sea; numerous diving expeditions have been mounted over the last couple of centuries, but no success had been reported. In the late 19th century, as the golden age of the steamer began, Vigo grew massively and became prosperous on the back of this and increasingly efficient fishing methods; nearly all its public buildings date from 1860 to 1890. Decline set in in the 20th century, particularly during the stultifying Franco years, when Spain lagged far behind other European powers, but more recently large manufacturing plants, such as the huge Citröen operation, have brought much employment to the city. Pontevedra’s status as provincial capital continues to annoy Vigo (until the new standardized numberplates came in, locals used to travel to far-away Vitoria so their car would bear the ‘VI’); there has never been much love lost between the two cities, and locals feel their city doesn’t get a fair slice of the pie from the provincial administration. Nevertheless, the local administration is making a big effort at urban renewal, including rehabilitation of the central barrios and the installing of a fine series of modern sculpture all around town, and little by little Vigo is beginning to recover the sparkle that its superb natural setting deserves.
Vigo’s airport is east of the centre and connected with the city by bus. There are daily flights to several Spanish cities and one to Paris. The bus station is a good distance south of the city centre, serviced by city buses from Praza Puerta del Sol (No 9A). There are dozens of local buses within Galicia and regular connections to cities throughout Spain. Some buses to Pontevedra arrive and leave from the Arenal, which is much more convenient for the centre. Vigo’s train station at the eastern end of town and is well served.
There are daily flights to several Spanish cities, mostly operated by Spanair and Iberia. Air France fly direct to Paris, and Iberia fly direct to Washington DC a couple of times a week.
There are frequent buses to Pontevedra, leaving both from the bus station and also from C Arenal 52 (€2.50, 25 mins). Buses to Santiago leave every 30 mins, and there are about 10 daily to Ourense. Buses leave ½-hourly for Baiona and for Tui and A Guarda. There are about 5 daily buses to Lugo (4 hrs).
Among many long distance interurban services, there are 6 buses to Madrid, 2 to Bilbao, 1 or 2 to Barcelona and Zaragoza, 1 to Salamanca, Gijón, and Valladolid. 2 daily buses at 0900 and 1830 leave for Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve.
Vigo’s days as a passenger port are just about over, but there are still hourly ferries to Moaña and ½-hourly to Cangas, across the bay. In summer boats go to the Islas Cíes, see page 482.
Galician destinations include A Coruña almost hourly (2hrs, from €13.65), Ourense 7 times daily (2 hrs from €15.70), and Santiago (1 hr 20 mins, from €8.40) via Pontevedra about 15 times a day. There are good long-distance connections. There is a Barcelona sleeper, a day train to San Sebastián and the French border, and a day and night train to Madrid. There are 2 trains daily to Porto (Portugal), and 4 a day to León.