The site of Galicia's principal city, La Coruña, is a rocky islet, linked to the mainland by a narrow strip of sand. The lighthouse stands to the north, the curved harbour to the south and along the west side of the isthmus, sandy Riazor beach. Three distinct quarters testify to La Coruña's growth : the city (Ciudad), at the northern end of the harbour, a charming old quarter with its small peaceful squares and Romanesque churches, the business and commercial centre on the isthmus with wide avenues and shopping streets (Avendida de los Cantones, Calles Real and Andres), and the Ensanche to the south, built up with warehouses and industrial premises, a reminder that La Coruna is the sixth largest commercial port in Spain as well as an important industrial and fishing centre.
The town was already well developed in Roman times as it can be seen from the old lighthouse, the Torre de Hércules. The city walls date back to the 13C although they were constantly being rebuilt until, the 18C, they formed a complete defense system to which was then added a castle, the Castillo de San Anton. General Sir John Morre, born in 1761 in Glasgow and mortally wounded in the Battle of Elvina in 1809, lies buried at the center of the old city, in the Jardin de San Carlos (St Charles Gardens).
It was from La Coruña (A Coruña in Galican) that Pilip II's Invincible Armada set sail in 1588. The fleet of 130 men-of-war, manned by 10 000 sailors and transporting 19 000 soldiers, set out for England ostensibly to punish Elizabeth for the execution of Mary, the Queen of Scots. The ill-fated expedition, however, dogged by bad weather and harassed by the smaller, more easily maneuvered English ships, was a failure. 63 ships and more than 15 000 men were lost. The defeat marked the end of the Spanish sea power. A year later, in 1589, Elizabeth sent Drake to attack the Iberian coast. The invaders fired at La Coruna but the town was saved by Maria Pita who seized the English standard from the beacon where it had been planted and gave the alarm. Over two centuries later, during the Peninsula War, Marshal Soult led Napoleon's forces to a decisive victory in the 19C, during the period of frequent liberal uprisings, La Coruña consistently supported the insurgents and in consequence suffered severe reprisals. The town is proud of being the birthplace of the novelist Emilia Pardo Bazan (1852-1921) and to have been a home to the poet Rosalia de Castro (1837-1855).
There are seven flights a week from Madrid to La Coruña. Serviced only by Aviaco, the Aeropuerto de Alvedro, which is six miles from the heart of the city. From Madrid there is an express train service two times a day (trip time: 8.5 hours). Arrivals are at La Coruña Station on Calle Joaquin Planelles. From Santiago, there's a frequent daily bus service leaving from the station on Calle Cabelleros. Four buses a day connect Madrid and La Coruña. By car, La Coruña is reached from Madrid by the N-VI. You can also follow the coastal highway, the N-634, which runs all the way across the northern rim of Spain from Sebastian to the east.
- Avenida de la Marina - The avenue, facing the harbour, is lined by tall houses with glass-in balconies typical of La Coruña. Extending it on one side is the Paseo de la Darsena and on the other the attractively landscaped Jardines de Mendes Nunes, gardens with a variety of flowerings trees.
- Plaza de Maria Pita - The vast pedestrian square just behind Avenida de la Marina is named after the town's 16C heroine. It has a great many terrace cafés and is lined on three sides by arcades upon which rest houses with glassed-in galleries. On the fourth side stands the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
- La Ciudad (The City) - La Ciudad is the original town with narrow cobbled streets and peaceful squares at the northern end of the harbour.
- Colegiata de Santa Maria del Campo - A 15C Calvary stands in the small square between a fine Baroque house and the Romanesque collegiate church of Santa Maria del Campo which, beneath its rose window, a 13C or 14C portal and a tympanum carved with the Adoration of the Magi.
- Palzuels de Santa Barbara - This peaceful, pretty little square, which hosts recitals and concerts of chamber music on summer evenings, lies in the protective shadow of Santa Barbara convent's high, somber walls. Above the doorway of the convent is a Romanesque lintel depicting the weighing of souls in the presence of Christ.
- Iglesia de Santiage (Church of St James) - The church's three apses, which overlook Plaza de Azcarrada, and the north door are Romanesque. The west door is Gothis; Santiago Matamoros or St James Slayer of the Moors is shown on horseback below the tympanum while the figure of St John and St Mark are carved against the piers. The massive arches supporting the timber roof above the nave are also Gothic. The church contains a beautifully carved stone pulpit.
- Torre de Hercules (Hercules Tower or Lighthouse) - This was built in the 2C AD and is the oldest lighthouse still functioning. In 1790 when Charles III modified the tower to its present square shape, the original outer ramp was enclosed to form an inner staircase. Form the top (104m/341ft), there is a view of the town and the coast.