Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, is known for its port wine production, massive bridges, and impressive architecture. If you travel due north about 140 miles, you'll land in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, a city in the region of Galicia and most well-known as the ending point of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route and for its famous cathedral.
The only direct method of travel between these cities is by bus or by car. The train is comfortable and easy to take, but you have to make a transfer in Vigo, Galicia's largest city. Remember, even though Porto and Santiago fall almost on the same longitudinal line, Spain's time zone is one hour later than Portugal's, so don't forget to take that into account in your travel plans.
Santiago has a small airport, but Porto is so close that there are no direct flights between the two cities. Most flights have a short layover in Madrid, but once you factor in time to get to the airport and go through security, it takes much longer than the train or bus.
How to Get from Porto to Santiago de Compostela
- Bus: 3 hours, 45 minutes, from $12
- Car: 2 hours, 30 minutes, 143 miles (230 kilometers)
- Train: 3 hours, 55 minutes, from $28 (with transfer)
- Flight: 3 hours, 30 minutes, from $65 (with layover)
The cheapest and most direct way to get from Porto to Santiago de Compostela is booking service on one of the buses run by Flixbus or Alsa. Several buses leave throughout the day, and both companies take about four hours to reach Santiago.
After you purchase your ticket online, you can just show up at the designated bus station and board. All of the Porto buses stop at conveniently-located points like Campo 24 de Agosto or Casa da Música in the city center, as well as at the airport. The Santiago bus station is about a mile outside of the city, just a short walk or an even quicker taxi ride.
Renting a car gives you the most freedom on your trip and allows you to stop in other alluring cities that you'll pass along your route, such as Braga in Portugal or Vigo and Pontevedra in Spain. And that's not even counting the scores of enchanting little towns you'll drive through in both countries that you would never be able to stop in if you take the bus.
If you don't plan on stopping, then taking a car is also the fastest way to get to Santiago and only takes about two and a half hours. Even though you're crossing an international border, because both countries are part of the European Union you don't have to worry about long lines, passport checks, or border control. Once you drive over the Minho River, you're officially in Spain.
Renting your own car comes with a lot of benefits, but don't forget about the other costs that come with it. Besides the gasoline, Portugal and Spain both use tolls on national highways that can quickly add up. Also, unless you're returning to Porto, most car rental companies charge a hefty fee for dropping off a vehicle in a different country than you picked up from.
If you want to take the train from Porto to Santiago, you'll need to make a stop in Vigo and change trains. Spain's national rail service, Renfe, runs both legs of the journey, but you'll still need to purchase each ticket separately.
First, look for trains from Porto to Vigo. There are two daily options, one in the morning and one in the evening, but you'll have to spend the night in Vigo if you take the evening train. Tickets have a fixed price of 14.95 euros, or about $17, even if you buy them on the same day. The journey lasts about two hours and 20 minutes, getting you to Vigo before noon.
For the second leg of your trip, you can book an early train from Vigo to Santiago if you want a short transfer, an evening train if you want to spend the day in Vigo, or for a later date if you want to spend a couple of nights there. The train ride is only an hour and a half and has a fixed price of 9.55 euros, or about $10.
If you have the time, Vigo is a great pitstop destination with a thriving nightlife scene and rich in Galician culture. The nearby Cíes Islands are considered to be some of the most beautiful islands in all of Europe, and if you're traveling in the summer it's worth staying in Vigo just to take the ferry out to these natural gems.
All flights between Porto and Santiago have a layover, usually in Madrid. Both legs of the flight are very quick, each one being a little over an hour, and if you also have a short layover you can be in Santiago in less time than the bus or train. However, that short layover also means that even the slightest delay on your first flight can put your connecting flight in jeopardy. Plus, with all of the additional hassles of arriving at the airport, checking in, and waiting at your gate, the plane trip ends up being significantly longer.
What to See in Santiago de Compostela
Each year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trek across northern Spain to reach Santiago and visit the bones of St. James in the city's cathedral. The imposing church is Santiago's most famous attraction, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of only three churches in the world that house the tomb of an apostle (the other two being St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica in India). Even if you arrived in a vehicle, you can visit the Pilgrimage Museum to learn more about this legendary route and what it takes to complete it.
Galicia is famous for its fresh-caught seafood, and anyone will tell you that the star dish is polbo á feira, or Galician-style octopus. The tentacles are served boiled over a bed of hot potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and paprika. Don't skip out on this local delicacy.