Born and raised in this charming riverside town, Galician writer Marta López shares her insider recommendations on the very best things to do in Ourense, northern Spain.
These are the things I love to do when I go home or when a friend comes to visit. These are Galicia’s best-kept secrets. This is Ourense from the heart. ~ Marta López
1. Get Lost in Ourense’s Ancient Old Town
And I really mean it. Known as “Casco vello” in Galician, Ourense´s old town is a labyrinth of narrow streets that will transport you to a different place in time. Many of the buildings have been renovated in the last few years, which has attracted lots of small business to the area. If you have passion for handmade clothes, be sure to pop into La Planta Carnívora (2, Rúa Colón), where you’ll find the latest pieces from young and local designers. By the way, don’t forget to say hello to the wild cats that happily live in the area.
2. Relax in One of Ourense’s Revitalising Hot Springs
Ourense may not be by the sea, but it does have warm thermal waters. And this is exactly what attracted the Romans (apart from the gold hidden in the river, of course) all those years ago.
I find it quite funny when Spanish people go to Budapest or Bath in the UK and come back talking about the incredible benefits of the hot baths. Don´t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s true but it’s also a fact that people keep forgetting that Ourense is a proper FREE thermal town – there’s nothing like getting up early in the morning and taking a walk by the Miño River, which finishes at the Outariz pozas (the Galician word for “natural spring”. This is the perfect place to see ourensanos of all ages enjoying the benefits of these peaceful waters.
Top tip: Visit the private spring pools at night at Estación Termal de Outariz, Lugar de Outariz (entrance is €5) and prepare yourself to relax whilst listening to zen music and watching the stars.
3. Enjoy Traditional Tapas and Sangria at El Rey del Jamón
There is always a good reason to walk through the bustling Calle Lepanto in the old town on a Friday or Saturday evening. No matter time of year, every time I’m in Ourense, I always make sure I get involved in the traditional tapas tour.
One of my favourite places is El Rey del Jamón, a family business founded in 1957 that welcomes regular customers of all ages on a daily basis with at appetite for devouring homemade pinchos. Grab a table, order a cold glass of sangria and the classic “completo” (it literally means “the full one”). It comes with tortilla de patatas, a croqueta and a pancetta toast. This is traditional Spanish dining you’ll never forget it…
4. Sip on Craft Beers and Ourense’s Famous “Licor Café” at El Bar Paris
If there is a must try drink when visiting Ourense it’s licor café, an ancient coffee liquor that us locals from Ourense feel enormously proud of – the tradition that surrounds it is so big that it even has its own song!
One of the best places to get introduced to this liquor is El Bar París, an institution in Ourense, and when I say an institution, I really mean it! This is something you will easily notice when trying to reach the bar. Located on the number 9 of the Calle Lepanto in the heart of the old town, this tiny bar is a meeting point for lively groups of friends preparing for wild nights out (considering the party in Spain starts at 12.00 am, El París is the place to start the night).
My personal recommendation is to get to El Bar París before midnight so that you can be sure to get a seat by the bar. Be sure to order from Suso, the owner, and ask for “un licor con hielo” (1.30 Euros).
5. Cross the Mińo River’s Romantic Roman Bridge
Ourense is split in half: the north side is called “El Puente” (the Bridge), and the south, which is where pretty much everything happens. There are 5 bridges that currently connect both sides and the Roman bridge, known as Ponte Vella in Galician, is the oldest and most beautiful. This is the bridge that pilgrims coming from Portugal and the south of Spain need to cross in order to get to Santiago de Compostela.
What used to be a bridge open to car traffic, is today a pedestrian walkway and the perfect spot to visit at night and watch the stars whilst enjoying the silence.
6. Discover Ourense’s Live Music Scene at El Auriense
Ourense is an incredibly vibrant city, especially at night, and El Café Cultural Auriense has a lot to do with it! Auriense is probably the best place to discover the city’s Celtic pride. My friends and I have been meeting here ever since I can remember throughout the year, but especially when local groups like The Tetas’ Van take to the stage.
Top tip: Have a couple of Estrella Galicians (the 1906 the best) and then move on to Bar Paris licor café. I atmosphere is wild!
7. Stroll Along the Idyllic Rúa do Paseo to La Plaza Mayor
If there is one street that embodies Ourense’s fascinating history, it has to be Rúa do Paseo – ‘The walking road’. Connecting the modern part with the old town, this gorgeous pedestrian road hosts the best boutiques and buildings of Ourense. Start the walk at El Parque de San Lázaro and finish at La Plaza Mayor – did you know it’s the only slanted main square in Spain?
8. Indulge in Galicia’s Famous “Pulpo” (Octopus)
It took me a while to start eating pulpo (octopus), something that used to annoy my grandma when I was little. She used to get the whole family together for a meal every 10th of the month. Of course, “pulpo á feira” (octopus) was the most popular dish on the table. There’s no better way to learn the savoir faire around the tradition of eating octopus as well as the secrets of serving it than visiting a “pulpeira”, which actually refers to the woman who sells the octopus. Today I can only say: it smells like heaven and it tastes even better.
It’s simple – If you visit Ourense, you can’t miss going to a “pulpeira”!
Where to find a pulpeira in Ourense? Every Sunday at lunchtime you will find a woman selling “pulpo á feira” for €7 at 13 Calle Sáenz Díez.
9. Explore the Abastos Square Food Market
You won’t find a noisier spot in town, but Plaza de Abastos smells amazing, like a mixture of the sea, baked bread, fresh flowers and cheese. If you love cheese as much as I do, visit Amalia’s cheese stand (1, Plaza de Abastos), where my dad and I have been visiting for as long as I can remember, tasting different quesos del país until we get the right one.
10. Take in the Majestic Views of the Sil Canyon
Along with the Miño River, the Sil River crosses the province of Ourense in the most spectacular style. It’ss very close to the place where both rivers meet, where you can enjoy the most incredible landscapes in Ourense (this is also where the main wine vineyards can be found).
There’s nothing like driving through the forest, smelling the eucalyptus and feeling the refreshing wind as you gain altitude. Once you reach your destination, stop the car and take in the main vistas: just the Sil flowing gracefully through the deep canyon, the silence and you.
Where to Stay in Ourense, Galicia (Northern Spain)
There are plenty of great hotels, hostels and apartments in Ourense and no matter what your travel budget is you’re sure to find the perfect pad. Check out Booking.com for great choice and amazing prices.