Spain has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations worldwide, yet interestingly, a majority of visitors would focus their attention on only a handful of cities, such as Madrid or Barcelona, while ignoring the wider country.
This year, that persistent trend finally changed, as a growing number of travelers became wary of crowded spots, particularly in the wake of the wider global reopening, with overtourism simply picking up where it left off.
Lesser-known destinations are rising to prominence, and now of the most searched destinations on Booking.com is a small city in the unexplored region of Galicia, in Northwestern Spain: an unsung cultural gem, Pontevedra is having its breakthrough now, but what exactly makes it special?
A Forgotten Cultural Hotspot
Culture-based trips are one of the leading trends for 2024, and it's no surprise alternative destinations such as Merida in Mexico, a colonial town dating back to the Spanish colonization, multicultural Hoi An in Vietnam, and off-the-beaten-track Gökçeada in Turkiye are all making headlines.
It was indeed only a matter of time until the wider public caught wind of Pontevedra, this gorgeous Galician city known for being one of the most pedestrian-friendly not only in Spain but all of Europe and for the timeless charm of its Casco Viejo.
Corresponding to an ‘Old Town', the latter lies almost fully within the now-leveled medieval city walls, which once served as a protection against foreign invaders, and it's a Historical Complex protected by the Spanish state due to its well-preserved medieval remains and Baroque heritage.
Walking around the Old Town, with all its narrow, cobbled alleys, hidden patios dominated by centuries-old, ornate fountains, an intact medieval bridge, and romantic archways, it feels almost as if time has stood perfectly still, and you may find it hard to believe people actually live in this fairytale place.
The picturesque Lérez River crosses the town, and the townscape is characterized by a series of interconnected medieval plazas, including Blacksmith's Square, with arches guarding its two ends, Gothic convents, green spaces, and a landmark basilica with a Renaissance facade.
@meelcastillo Un lugar super bonito ✨🇪🇸 #españa #pontevedra #galicia #intercambio ♬ original sound – numero28cinema
To All The Foodies Out There
The foodie scene in Pontevedra is not to be missed, either, as it is home to a plethora of traditional restaurants specializing in pan-Iberian and typical Galician cuisine, where you can sample everything from polbo á feira, an octopus-based dish, Galician stew, empanadas and tetilla cheese.
Pontevedra sits on the banks of the river Lérez, which runs through town towards the South Galician Coast, where it meets the Atlantic, and in summer, it is a popular swimming spot for locals and tourists alike.
It offers access to both freshwater beaches and the azure ocean, and it's a short half-hour drive to the paradisaical Caneliñas Beach, where you will find soft, white sands hugged by a bright-blue, serene ocean.
Unlike other larger Spanish cities, and even Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and popular pilgrimage site for Catholics, Pontevedra is not yet overrun with tourists, and instead of tourists and their poor Americanized attempts at Spanish, you are likely to hear more of the local dialect.
What Sets Pontevedra Apart From Other Spanish Cities?
The autonomous territory of Galicia has two official languages, Castilian (widely known as Spanish outside Spain) and Galician (or gallego), a transitional language sharing similarities with both Spanish and Portuguese.
As it has not suffered the brunt of globalization, and throughout History it's remained a staunchly Galician town near the Spanish-Portuguese border, this 80,000-people-strong settlement has maintained much of its ancient cultural traits, which were to some extent diluted or lost altogether in sprawling urban centers.
@vagaspelomundo Pontevedra, Espanha 🇪🇸 Vídeo: @vagaspelomundo Consegui achar uns lugares bonitos para filmar, apesar do centro da cidade estar bem abandonado e mal cuidado 😔😢 #Espanha #España #Spain #Galícia #Galiza #Travel #Viagem #Viaje #Pontevedra #VisitGalicia ♬ som original – vagaspelomundo
Pontevedra is notably much safer as well, with low rates of crime than major Spanish conurbations, and it can feel more welcoming, seeing there is no incentive to keep tourists out, unlike in Barcelona, where authorities have pledged to reduce tourism and have gone as far as cracking down on Airbnb.
Affordability is yet another key factor, as visitors are expected to spend, on average, $46 on meals per day, and $134 per night on accommodation, according to Budget Your Trip, though some hotels offer overnight stays as cheap as $44, such as three-starred Virgen del Camino.
The hotel's name references Pontevedra's importance as a stopover on the Portuguese Path to Santiago de Compostela, which Christian pilgrims walk on foot to reach the Galician capital, where St James is allegedly entombed.
It makes sense Pontevedra is the most searched destination on Booking.com for the upcoming year, as 62% of respondents have shown an interest in exploring ‘unknown' destinations and being ‘surprised', and there is no shortage of fascinating landmarks to be seen.
Discover other lesser-known cultural attractions in Spain here.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.