Ourense: The Complete Guide

Roman Bridge, Ourense Spain
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Victor Hermida Prada

Stretching along the banks of the river Miño is the city of Ourense, which maintains its traditional connection to the river through its iconic Roman bridge. A historic crossroads, the Old City preserves many significant sites, with the Cathedral standing out among them. The Miño River, which flows through the heart of the city, has shaped the provincial capital’s current appearance. Nearly two thousand years ago, the Romans settled in this area, drawn by its thermal springs among other attractions. The best-preserved relic from that era is “a ponte vella” (the Old Bridge), which spans the Miño and has become a symbol of the city. While some ashlar stones at the base are remnants of the original Roman construction, the bridge was restored in the 13th and 17th centuries, resulting in its current form featuring a pointed arch and ramps.

History of Ourense

Ancient Origins

Ourense, located in northwestern Spain, traces its origins back to prehistoric times. The area was inhabited by various Celtic tribes before the arrival of the Romans.

Roman Era

The Romans founded the city of Ourense around the 1st century AD, attracted by the region’s abundant thermal springs. They named the city “Auriense,” which means “city of gold,” reflecting the area’s wealth. The Romans constructed several significant infrastructures, including the famous “a ponte vella” (Old Bridge) over the Miño River, which remains one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The thermal baths, known as “Burgas,” were also developed during this period and have been used continuously ever since.

Medieval Period

During the Middle Ages, Ourense grew as a significant religious and commercial center. The construction of the Ourense Cathedral began in the 12th century, and it became a crucial site for Christian pilgrimage. The city’s strategic location along trade routes contributed to its economic development. The Roman bridge was restored during this period, enhancing its role in facilitating trade and movement.

Early Modern Period

In the early modern period, Ourense continued to thrive, despite facing several challenges such as invasions and economic fluctuations. The city maintained its importance due to its agricultural production and trade. The 17th century saw further restoration of the Old Bridge, ensuring its preservation and continued use.

19th and 20th Centuries

The 19th and 20th centuries brought significant changes to Ourense. The city expanded beyond its medieval walls, developing new neighborhoods and modern infrastructure. Industrialization and the construction of railways connected Ourense more effectively to other parts of Spain, boosting its economy and population growth.

Contemporary Ourense

Today, Ourense is a vibrant city known for its rich history, cultural heritage, and thermal springs. The city blends its ancient Roman roots with modern amenities, attracting tourists and locals alike. Landmarks such as the Ourense Cathedral, the Old Bridge, and the Burgas thermal baths continue to define the city’s character. Ourense is also known for its lively festivals, traditional cuisine, and scenic landscapes, making it a unique destination in the Galicia region of Spain.

Visiting Ourense for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Ourense on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Ourense

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is an excellent time to visit Ourense. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). The city’s parks and gardens are in full bloom, making it ideal for outdoor activities and exploring historical sites.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, is warm with temperatures often reaching 30°C (86°F). This season is perfect for enjoying the city’s thermal baths and riverside activities. However, it can be crowded, especially during festivals and peak tourist times.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers cooler temperatures ranging from 10°C to 25°C (50°F to 77°F). The fall foliage adds a picturesque charm to the city, and the weather is still mild enough to explore comfortably. This season is also less crowded, making it a more relaxed time to visit.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is mild compared to other parts of Europe, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F). It’s a quieter time to visit Ourense, perfect for enjoying the thermal baths and indoor attractions. The city’s Christmas markets and festive decorations add a special charm during this season.

Average Temperatures in Ourense

  • January 12°C 18
  • February 14°C 18
  • March 19°C 15
  • April 22°C 13
  • May 25°C 10
  • June 27°C 9
  • July 34°C 3
  • August 32°C 3
  • September 29°C 6
  • October 24°C 20
  • November 17°C 19
  • December 14°C 20

How to get to Ourense

Ourense, located in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, is accessible through various modes of transportation:

By Air:

The nearest major airports to Ourense are Santiago de Compostela Airport (SCQ) and Vigo Airport (VGO).

  • From Santiago de Compostela Airport (SCQ):
    • Train: Take a bus or taxi from the airport to Santiago de Compostela’s train station, and then a train to Ourense. The train journey takes about 1 hour.
    • Bus: Direct buses from Santiago de Compostela Airport to Ourense take approximately 2 hours.
  • From Vigo Airport (VGO):
    • Train: Take a bus or taxi from the airport to Vigo’s train station, and then a train to Ourense. The train journey takes about 1.5 hours.
    • Bus: Direct buses from Vigo to Ourense take approximately 2 hours.

By Train:

Ourense is well-connected by train, with regular services operated by RENFE, Spain’s national railway company.

  • From Madrid: Direct high-speed trains (AVE) from Madrid to Ourense take around 4 hours.
  • From Santiago de Compostela: Trains from Santiago de Compostela to Ourense take about 1 hour.
  • From Vigo: Trains from Vigo to Ourense take about 1.5 hours.

By Bus:

Several bus companies operate routes to Ourense from various cities in Spain.

  • From Madrid: Buses from Madrid to Ourense take around 6-7 hours.
  • From Santiago de Compostela: Buses from Santiago de Compostela to Ourense take about 2 hours.
  • From Vigo: Buses from Vigo to Ourense take about 2 hours.

By Car:

Driving to Ourense is a convenient option, especially for exploring the surrounding areas.

  • From Madrid: The drive from Madrid to Ourense takes about 5-6 hours via the A-6 and A-52 highways.
  • From Santiago de Compostela: The drive from Santiago de Compostela to Ourense takes about 1.5 hours via the AP-53 and N-525 highways.
  • From Vigo: The drive from Vigo to Ourense takes about 1.5 hours via the A-52 highway.

Local Transportation:

  • Walking and Biking: Ourense is a walkable city with many attractions located close to each other. Biking is also a popular way to get around.
  • Public Buses: The local bus network operated by Urbanos de Ourense provides convenient transportation within the city.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available for getting around Ourense.

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