City Guide: Spending Time in Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is an ancient city with a rich and fascinating cultural heritage that attracts huge numbers of visitors every year. Santiago de Compostela is located in Galicia, in the north west of Spain, and one of the most important places in Catholicism because it is believed by many to be the place where St. James, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, is buried. The Old Town of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site, but aside from its history and culture, it is also a great place to relax, unwind, and enjoy good food.

If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Santiago de Compostela then here is our guide to everything you should see and do in the city:

The Main Attractions of Santiago de Compostela

Thanks to its famous city square and cathedral, the Santa Apostolica y Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela is a city with an instantly recognisable skyline, and one that visitors love to photograph.

If you’re looking to gain the perfect view of the cathedral then head to Platerias square. From here you can also follow the clear paths through Alameda park, which boasts two Maria statues which are also popular with visitors. The best place to visit if you don’t have much time in the city though is the Old Town: this is a great base to view all of the most famous sites that Santiago de Compostela has to offer.

What to Eat in Santiago de Compostela

Spain is a country well known for its rich cuisine and its local delicacies, and the city of Santiago de Compostela is certainly no exception. Thanks to its location, razor clams are incredibly popular in the city and can be found in many of the best restaurants, and the Galicia region is famed for its seafood of all kinds.

If you have a sweet tooth then you should certainly try the Tarta de Santiago: this cake is a local delicacy, and is a rich almond cake flavoured with a generous helping of cinnamon. The cake is decorated with icing sugar sprinkled in the shape of the cross, to reflect the heritage of this holy city.

Santiago de Compostela has a reputation for being a rainy city, and whiling away an afternoon eating and drinking in a bar or restaurant as the rain pours down on the windows outside is considered a time-honoured tradition in this city.

Places to Visit

Santiago de Compostela is a city crammed full of attractions and artefacts, making it impossible to visit them all in a short break or weekend. Here is a breakdown of some of the very best of these attractions, so that you can plan the perfect itinerary for you:

  • The Abastos Market. This is a covered market that has been running since the late 19th century and is just a five minute walk from the city's cathedral. The market consists of eight aisles and is a great place to find local produce, including the prized barnacles that the city is famous for, and mingle with the locals.
  • The Monastery of San Martino Pinaro. Located in Plaza de la Inmaculada, this monastry houses a museum of religious art which is comprised of 12 large exhibition halls. It also boasts two cloisters and a choir, and its beautiful façade dates back to the 16th century.
  • The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria do Sar. This church is located on the banks of the river Sar and was first constructed in the 12th century. What makes the church noteworthy is that it was built in the Romanesque style: it is a beautiful building that is only enhanced by its prime location.
  • The University of Santiago de Compostela is a five-year-old university which a rich history, and is considered one of the most important in Spain. As a visitor it is possible take guided tours of its buildings, but even looking at these structures from outside, and seeing the students spill out from their study halls and across the city, is a wonderful sight when you’re in Santiago de Compostela.
  • The Cidade da Cultura (city of culture) is a dominating group of buildings installed on the top of Mount Gaias, and they are the most modern buildings in the city. Here you will find the city’s library, and the Gaias centre museum. But it is the architecture of these buildings themselves that makes them most worthy of exploration.
  • The Museum-Foundation Eugenio Granell is based in the city centre and is a wonderful contemporary art gallery. It houses a large permanent collection of surrealist works, whilst temporary exhibitions change on a regular basis.
  • Hike to the top of Mount Viso. Here you will gain perfect views of Santiago, and you can also enjoy some of the Galician legends that surround this summit. It is said, for example, that it is on Mount Viso that Hanibal crossed the alps. These legends and folklores only enhance the mystery of this beautiful mountain.
  • See the Relics of St John. The relics of the apostle and his disciples are held in  a mausoleum of Roman origin under the main altar of the cathedral. This crypt can be visited, making it one of the most popular activities in Santiago de Compostela.
  • The medieval city walls. Many of these ancient walls still remain, and are incredibly well preserved.

Exploring Beyond Santiago de Compostela

If you are enjoying a longer trip then you might find you have time to leave the city and enjoy some of the towns and villages that sit in its outskirts. Santiago is located incredibly close to the coast, hence the abundance of seafood in the city.

The Rias Baixas are a series of four inlets close to the city, and they are ideal for exploration. Noia is one of the most popular villages in this group and is a stunning medieval village that can be reached in just 30 minutes from Santiado de Compostela. Here you can see the sea and the mountains simply by turning your head, and you will receive a warm and authentic welcome from the people that live in the village.

In Ponte Maceira, you can follow the pilgrim trail that has been followed for thousands of years, and despite being just twenty minutes from the city, the incredible scenic wealth offered by the views here might make you feel you’re a million miles away. It is a short journey, but one well worth taking.

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