5 Mistakes NOT to Make in Galicia (Spain)

My very first school as an auxiliar de conversación, CEIP Salgado Torres in A Coruña, which is named after a well-known home builder from the 1970s.

I have been in the very green and rainy northwestern region of Galicia for almost 4 months now. This is my first time here but my third time in Spain (as I may have mentioned before) so while being in Spain is not new to me, being in Galicia is. It’s unlike any other region of Spain that I have ever been in to date and day by day I’m discovering more and more little aspects of the culture, languages and people that are quickly capturing my heart. However, when you arrive in a new country or new city, you’re bound to make a few mistakes on your own and I am no exception!

Scroll through this post to learn the top 5 mistakes I have made and strive to not make them yourself should you visit or move here. Or if you want to have similar adventures and have some stories in which you can laugh at yourself later on down the road, then, by all means, don’t take my advice, haha!

The top 5 mistakes NOT to make in Galicia are (in my opinion):

1. DON’T leave your umbrella in a public paragüero (umbrella stand or holder) that’s near a door!

With thick clouds like these, you will not want to be without a good, sturdy umbrella or a waterproof jacket and rain boots!

The only thing I have left to show for from my first umbrella: the cover
Chances are if it’s a super cute or colorful umbrella, and it’s in the holder with all the rest, it will get stolen. When it starts to rain and someone else forgot their own umbrella and needs to dash on home, they’ll scoop yours right up and use it without a second thought. Having a good working umbrella is an essential part of daily life here. That is what happened to me when I accidentally left my super cute purple-colored umbrella with silver hearts and a silver curved handle in the public umbrella stand at the library that’s right near the door.

I have a slight vendetta against the person who took mine (which I highly suspect was a teenage girl or someone else who wanted it cause it was so cute – tear-). It was a rainy night and I spent the evening at the library working on a translation project and when I left for the night, I saw that all the umbrellas in the holder were gone – including mine. I still have the cover and hope that one of these days I will find it and get it back! I did buy another umbrella to replace the one that was stolen from me but I left that at my friend’s flat….in France! I just have bad luck with umbrellas these days. 🙁

Moral of the story: Buy a good sturdy umbrella (and rain boots) as soon as you arrive and keep an extremely close eye on them. You will need them both when the winter rain comes to stay!

2. DON’T take a long time to see the sights in your newly adopted region or city!

The Atlantic coast and the grounds across the Torre de Hercules in October 2014
With the Torre de Hercules on a cloudy day
Plaza de Maria Pita – where I finally felt like I was in Spain again!
Castillo de San Antón on a gorgeous day one Saturday
Lighthouse in the middle of the Castillo de San Antón with beautiful flowers.
Sailboats passing by the Castillo as seen from the top floor
The Torre as seen from distance on the huge walkway leading up to it
Playa de Riazor  – one of my favorite views here!

While there is still so much in Galicia I have not seen (Not to mention Northern Spain as a whole), I still haven’t seen everything there is to see in here in Coruña. I don’t live near the city center and my school is located way south of it so transportation and time are the biggest challenges I face. In fact, it took me almost a month to see the Castillo de San Antón and even visit the MUNCYT (Museo Nacional de Ciencias y Technologia) which is only a short 20-minute walk from my flat. I was always passing these places to go somewhere else so making time to go there and explore them took me well, sometimes, haha.

In the beginning of my time here I was also in the middle of trying to find a place to live and jet lag was sucking the life and energy out of me at the same time. There are many things you have to keep in mind when setting up in a new city or country but seeing the sights in your new home should be at the top of your list. If you don’t get to see them within the first few days or week of arriving, chances are you’ll develop a routine that you won’t deviate from a lot and then not be able to have time to go. However, if you’re the adventurous type and can keep the ‘carpe diem’ mindset, you’ll make sure you see all the sights and eventually be able to show them to visitors to your city, if you have some.

Side note: One of the downsides about living in Coruña is that the well-known historical sights are spread out in an already large city (in terms of land mass). The public transportation is good here but the buses stop running fairly early for a Spanish city which can make getting back from a trip to la cuidad vieja a little difficult if you don’t plan your time well.

3. NOT becoming a regular at a bar, cafe or restaurant

A cup of tea with an actual lump of sugar at my favorite tapas bar!

When I first arrived in Coruña, I stayed in an AirBnb that was close to where my colegio was located due to its neighborhood and affordability. While it didn’t have the WiFi that the host had promised, there was a bar with free WiFi just around the corner named Trébol Bar where I sort of became a regular the first weekend I was here. I even had a slight problem one evening and the owner of the bar helped me out because he recognized me. However, since that weekend, there hasn’t been a cafe or restaurant that I frequent every day or week.  

On the other hand, there is a fantastic Mexican place in my neighborhood that I go to fairly regularly and a tapas bar that serves cheap but fantastic local food but that’s about it (so far). I try my best to cook most of my meals at home in order to save money for future trips so I don’t eat out much. The past few weeks I have been thinking about choosing one place to be my regular hangout. Maybe I’d even get the chance to create “a usual” and get to know the people who also frequent the cafe or bar. I don’t necessarily recommend becoming a regular at a cafe or bar just to make friends with the other “regulars” but I think doing so would be an interesting cultural experience. You never know what kinds of people you’ll meet and chances are there is an older man or woman (an abuelo or abuela as they’re affectionately called) who may have some incredible stories or insights to share with you. Never know until you try!  

This “mistake” also might depend on your personality, though. I’m an introvert and need my alone time to think and process what goes on around me but I don’t mind the company of others when I’m trying to write or work. If you are more extroverted, you may want to do something like this immediately so that you can get your energy from being around other people. There are benefits for each personality type.

4. DON’T miss out on local/regional festivals and cultural events

Pulpo a la gallega (pulpo a feira) at a pulpeira in Santiago de Compostela

Pretty self-explanatory. It took me a month to try the famous octopus dish here and I didn’t even try it in A Coruña! I spent Halloween in Santiago and ended up going to a well-known pulpeira there and feasted on a half ration of pulpo marinated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and paprika. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t going to try it – because you have to- it was just a matter of did I want to shell out the extra money before we saw our first paycheck from the Xunta. Coincidentally, on the day we got paid, I tried it and was very impressed with the taste and texture of the octopus and plan to have it once in a while. I don’t have the urge to eat it everyday but I do want to take advantage of having it once a month while I’m still here.   

I did miss out on going to a couple of festivals in the beginning of my time here, one of them being a seafood festival (Festival do Marisco) in O Grove near Vigo but I plan to go to as many as possible including the festivals and cultural events that Coruña will have in the coming months. I’m paying more attention to the local posters and event calendars that I see here and will do my best to go check them out -especially the events related to the Galician language (like poetry readings!)

Bottom line: If there’s a cultural event or festival that you want to check out, go to it! Even if you have to go alone. It’s better to go alone than to never have gone at all. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to experience something so unique ever again!

5. DON’T always plan to shop at well-known stores, shop local

Torta de Santiago around Todos los Santos (in October/November)

Almost all bigger cities in Spain have the most popular chains scattered around: Zara, MaryPaz, H&M, Mango, Bershka, Burger King, McDonald’s, Telepizza, Domino’s, Mercadona, etc. And while most of them provide good service and fast, affordable food or products, you might not get the best quality or service had you visited a local shop. I actually haven’t frequented the big chain stores here and have shopped at local stores almost since day one.  I wanted to include this on the list as it’s something I believe is very important and can influence your time here in Galicia but also in every region of Spain.  

One of the major benefits of going to a local shop instead of a big chain store is that your purchase supports the local business and the community itself. You’re helping one more store owner stay in business and continue their family’s legacy. You’re helping them be able to put food on the table for their family, buy basic necessities and gifts, and perhaps helping them to be able to retire one day. Not to mention you get to feel like you live in your city and are not just visiting. Even though you may not be setting down roots and planning to live here forever, you did volunteer months of your life to teach your native language and get to know the country and continent around you. Might as well visit as many local shops as possible and feel like you live there too, right?  

I haven’t actually made this mistake but I’m sure a lot of other people that have come to live here have. I do need to get myself to a local market and get the full living local experience but they’re always closed by the time I pass by. I was also extremely spoiled while living in Sevilla as I was within walking distance of the Mercado de Triana. Nothing can quite compare to a huge local market experience but you have to give other markets a try. They’re an adventure for sure! And fruterias (froiterias) as well – never know what you’re going to find in there!

BONUS: 6.  NOT learning any of the Galician (galego) language 

Famous phrase about the Camino that’s engraved into the street in Santiago
The Biblia Galega that I purchased with my first paycheck from the Xunta back in November!
I think it goes well with my bilingual (English-Spanish) Bible, doesn’t it?

While galego is more widely spoken in cities in the interior of the region like Santiago de Compostela and Ourense (perhaps Pontevedra), you will still hear it spoken on the streets of Coruña. You will most likely only hear it spoken by older people but there are places where young and old alike speak it (Santiago for example that practically functions solely in galego, haha). You will use and hear more Spanish than any other language in the region but knowing even just a few phrases or words in the Galician language will not only impress the people around you but it will help you understand the culture. There are some words that are unique to galego that don’t have an exact translation to another language but are fascinating to learn. A lot of words in the language are directly tied to the culture so when you learn the word, you learn more about the culture and how to understand the people around you and how they live.  

Now, I’m a bit more ambitious than most having already studied Portuguese for the past year and a half. I first wanted to learn it as I heard that it was influenced by Portuguese. (And it is similar but not all at the same time.) But, I would recommend that anyone who’s going to be living in or visiting Galicia for a spell at least learn a few words and phrases. Before I came to Galicia, a friend of mine in the States from Ourense told me that while it’s not mandatory to learn galego, the people here would appreciate me more if I did. And I, in turn, would understand the culture and the people better and in a deeper way. I am die hard language lover so it didn’t really take long to convince me to do this. You may not feel the same way and that’s okay!

You can certainly get around and function just fine without it (and you won’t need it when you visit other parts of Spain) but you may miss out on getting to know and understand the local culture. I often tell people that I am pro-local culture and being here in a country I know well makes no difference. I’m learning new things about the Galician language and culture every day and it’s very fascinating to me. And it gives me more motivation to keep reading my Biblia Galega and thumbing through the kids’ books at my school’s library whenever I get a chance.

And all of the official announcements and paperwork at my school are always written in galego instead of castellano. It’s not common for a school in Coruña to do that I’ve heard but I like it! I learn a new word everyday. 🙂

Viva Galicia!


Have you visited Galicia before and made your own mistakes? If so, what would be your top 5 mistakes? Do you make the same mistakes over and over again when you travel? Why? Tell me below in the comments!

For more pictures and cultural facts on one of Spain’s most unique Northern regions, follow me on Instagram.

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