Lugo, in the heart of Spain’s green, northwestern province of Galicia, may be a rather small city with just about 100,000 inhabitants. Still, it’s the world’s only city entirely ringed by an intact Roman wall—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If that alone isn't enough to inspire a visit, there are plenty more things to do and see like the cathedral; lovely parks with Galicia’s national flower, the camellia: bridges; tempting food; or a boat trip along the Minho.
Like Santiago de Compostela, Lugo has been a pilgrimage destination during the Middle Ages. The so-called Camino Primitivo, which forms a part of the Camino de Santiago (St. James Way), starts in Oviedo, then leads to Lugo and south to Santiago de Compostela. This route has become very popular in recent years because it’s far less crowded than the other ways.
Walk the Roman Wall
To give you an idea about the size of this enormous third-century Roman wall, here are some figures: It's a complete circuit of nearly 7,000 feet, which consists of 85 external towers, walls upwards of 30 feet, 10 gates, four staircases, and two ramparts.
Legend has it that the Romans built the wall not to protect the city but a sacred forest, Lucus Augusti, from which the name Lugo derives. Whether that’s true or not, you can feel the magic taking your time to climb up through one of the gates and walk along the wall, enjoying fabulous views which stretch for miles, over the cityscape, or as far as the Ribeira Sacra region.
Cross the Roman Bridge
Conquered from the Celts in the 13th century B.C. by the Romans, Lugo became the most crucial town in Hispania Tarraconensis, not least because of its rich gold mines, which were very active during Roman times. During their many centuries of rule, the Romans left famous monuments, among them the bridge over the Minho River, which flows through the city. Repaired and restored many times, the six elegant arches still cross the river and are particularly pretty when illuminated from below at night.
Smell the Camellias in Rosalia de Castro Park
Not far from the wall and the city center, you can enjoy Lugo’s largest park, named after Rosalia de Castro, Galicia’s most famous poetess. Her favorite flower was the camellia, which is also the national flower of Galicia. The park covers 61 acres, with a lovely pond in the middle. Walkways, lookouts over the river, a kids’ play area, and plenty of flowers and trees like redwood conifers, magnolias, and camellias make for a peaceful break from all the sightseeing and walking.
Marvel at the Domus Oceani
For a glimpse of the luxury and splendor in which wealthy Romans lived, head to the center of the Old Town and visit the underground remains of an ancient villa, known as the Domus Oceani, or the House of Mosaics. Colorful mosaics that cover floor and walls remain fresh and intact. A video at the end shows a reconstruction of how the house might originally have looked.
Light a Candle at Lugo's Cathedral
Located within the Roman wall and reached by descending a flight of stairs, you reach Lugo’s Cathedral of St. Mary, an impressive church of many styles. The oldest part dates from 1129, but the two slender bell towers, the sides, and facade combine Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassic, making the church particularly picturesque.
In the backyard, you'll find the baroque Palacio Episcopal dating from 1738. The interior is richly decorated, and the cathedral has the privilege of displaying the Blessed Sacrament permanently, not only during mass.
Indulge in Lugo's Cuisine
An essential part of any trip is to sample the local delicacies, and in Lugo, you’ll be spoilt for choice. From pulpo to tasty cocidos, empanadas to cheeses, Galicia’s cuisine is full of flavor (and calories)—all washed down with the outstanding local wines.
Empanadas are savory pastries filled with anything from spinach and cheese to salt fish, minced meat, or vegetables. There are even empanada festivals in Galicia.
Cocidos—especially good in winter—are stews made from carrots, onions, chickpeas, potatoes, chicken parts, pork and sausage, boiled together, then eaten separately, the broth first, the other ingredients afterward.
For dessert, try a slice of Tarta de Santiago made with almonds, lemon, and cinnamon or, if you prefer, one of the region's delicious cheeses.
Get a Glimpse of the Past in Lugo’s Provincial Museum
Housed in the former Convent of San Francisco, this museum is divided into several sections, each dedicated to a different aspect of Galicia’s art and history over the centuries. From sacral art to a vast collection of Roman gold and silver artifacts, to things as mundane Galician traditional cooking utensils to the best examples of Galicia’s ceramics, called sargadelos, you’ll find something in this eclectic museum that will catch your attention.
Float Along the River Minho
Galicia’s longest river, Minho, also serves as a natural border between Spain and Portugal. It's also the main waterway in Lugo, where it's spanned by the aforementioned Roman bridge. A boat trip in Lugo is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Venture Into the Ribeira Sacra Region
Easily reached from Lugo and to the south, lies one of the most beautiful inland regions of Galicia, full of forests, meadows, vineyards, and gorges. A day trip to Ribeira Sacra is highly recommended to experience a very different side of Galicia and another World Heritage Site candidate.
Join Pilgrims on the Camino Primitivo
If you have thought of one day walk the St. James Pilgrimage but don’t have the time or the stamina to go the full length, you have a chance to experience a part, walking the branch called Camino Primitivo which leads past Lugo. Lugo, together with Santiago de Compostela, was a destination for pilgrims during the Middle Ages. The St. James route has many branches beginning in France or Portugal, and the so-called Camino Primitivo begins in Oviedo, then runs to Lugo and south to Santiago. In recent years this path has become popular because it’s far less crowded than the other routes, so why not become a pilgrim for a day when visiting Lugo? The Camino Primitivo is also by many considered to be the original pilgrimage route.
Mingle with the "Romans" at Arde Lucas Festival
Galicia, in general, and Lugo, in particular, aren't short on festivals. One of the most spectacular, celebrated each year from June 25-28, is the Arde Lucas Festival, which commemorates the Roman past and was held for the first time in 2000 to celebrate the declaration of the Roman walls as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you happen to visit at that time of year, mingle with Roman soldiers and legionnaires as they parade through the streets in colorful outfits, watch floats, reenactments of battles, eat, and drink with the locals.
Stroll Through Lugo's Old Town
Within the Roman Walls, you can explore the Old Town to your heart’s content. Despite being a rather compact city, Lugo has a feeling of space to it, mainly because of squares and parks within the old town. The most important landmarks are the Plaza Mayor with a baroque Town Hall and the Plaza Santo Domingo. There are plenty of cafes and shops where you can buy Lugo specialties to take home with you, as well as more churches apart from the cathedral, like the church of St. Dominic.
Admire the Roman Baths
Where ever in the world the Romans went on their conquests, they made sure to have their "essentials," among them their baths. Firm believers in the healing powers of thermal springs, the Roman Baths of Lugo, not far from the bridge, are today located within the complex of the Hotel Balneario de Lugo. Contact reception, and you can, free of charge, descend and see arches, bathing rooms, and changing rooms.
Cheer the Patron Saint Froilan
Lugo’s patron saint is St. Froilan, and each October since 1754, the town holds a festival in his honor. Saint Froilan is revered as the protector of the poor and his statue and relics are to be found in the cathedral.
It’s a great occasion to see Galicia’s folklore in the form of traditional dances, costumes, and bagpipe players. Everybody eats pulpo a feira at the many stalls which are erected between the Cathedral and the Rosalia de Castro Park. This squid dish isn’t fried, but rather boiled in huge copper pots, cut up with scissors, then served on crusty bread, sprinkled with paprika and vinegar.