Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Plaza de las Platerías square
Botafumeiro ceremony in the cathedral
Discover Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Region of Galicia. Millions of people from all over the world come to this city every year, many of them reaching the end of the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route. Its historic centre has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. This is not the only reason to come, however. Here you can discover the main reasons to visit Santiago.
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A route through Santiago
Santiago de Compostela is the final destination on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route and its old quarter has the UNESCO World Heritage designation.
If there is one outstanding thing in this ancient city, it is its stunning buildings and monuments. Be sure to look at the palaces, churches, alleyways and squares in the historic centre and you will see why.
The best thing is to make a good plan for your stay in the capital of Galicia before you arrive. Dress comfortably, get a map of the city and don't forget the camera. This is our suggestion for a pleasant day out in Santiago.
An excellent way to start is with a good walk around the streets and squares of the historic centre. Here you will find a series of narrow streets, squares and granite buildings with centuries of history. Many of them date from the Middle Ages. The Cathedral is particularly outstanding. Its majestic façade towers above Plaza del Obradoiro Square. After visiting this architectural gem you can attend the 12.00 midday pilgrim's mass. During the service they swing the botafumeiro, a gigantic incense burner, from the ceiling of the church. Watching this spectacle from close to is a memorable experience, for sure. Make the most of the occasion to head up to the roof of the cathedral and look out over the whole city.
Before you continue, head for any of the bars and restaurants to discover the gastronomy of Galicia. Once the stomach is full, a good idea is to spend the first few hours of the afternoon in one of the many parks and gardens to be found in Santiago. We would suggest a visit to Alameda Park, in the centre, close to the old town. The park dates back to the 19th century and is, to this day, a privileged viewpoint over the old quarter.
After another pleasant stroll across the centre, you will come to Santo Domingo de Bonaval, another beautiful park situated in an old cemetery with a truly peaceful atmosphere.
Here, be sure to visit the Museo do Pobo Galego (Museum of the Galician People), and the CGAC (Galicia Contemporary Art Centre) - two venues where you can see priceless works of art. If you prefer, you could exchange this visit for another to Santiago University, with its emblematic Geography and History faculty building. As you can see, the capital of Galicia has an array of historic-artistic heritage. There are also many different guided tours available - walks that take in the most interesting points of the city. In any case, you still have much more to see in Santiago. This is why it is best to stay on for two or three days if possible. This is definitely the best way to get to know in detail everything it has to offer. We recommend you make for any of the tourist offices, where they will help you plan your visit. These are Santiago's most important monuments.
A place where swathes of green dominate the landscape
Nature not only surrounds, but gets to the very heart of Santiago de Compostela. The city is set in stunning surroundings, where green is omni-present. Forests, mountains and valleys with the scent of damp earth give this place an extra note of beauty.
Santiago is an ideal setting to enjoy the wonderful countryside and a range of sports. We recommend you get to know the city by exploring its parks and gardens. The list is long: Alameda Park, the Santa Susana oak wood, Santo Domingo de Bonaval and Belvís Parks… You can find these places both in the old town and the Ensanche area. They are emblematic spots in the Galician capital. More than a million and a half square metres of public parks and green areas are the clearest evidence of Santiago's commitment to its countryside and the environment.
In the area surrounding Santiago there are valleys and woods with luxuriant vegetation, ideal for hiking and other sports and activities. Just half an hour away by car, or with easy train and bus connections, you can get to beaches of great ecological interest.
Active tourism, golf, scuba diving…
If you like sports, then you are in luck: Santiago is the destination for you. Within a few kilometres you can practise everything from adventure sports and water sports to fishing and golf. As you can see, there is plenty to choose from. Why not try canyoning, with or without abseiling, in the Serra do Barbanza mountains, 50 kilometres from the city. Otherwise you can try kayaking, hydrospeed, whitewater rafting or kite-surfing on the Ulla, Miño, Tambre and Deza Rivers, or on the waters of the stunning Rías Altas and Baixas Estuaries. Beginner or expert, you can also go scuba diving on the Galicia coast, next to the Arousa estuary, with programmes and courses catering to all levels. There are also many river beaches offering a range of services on the outskirts of Santiago, such as those at Chaián, O Refuxio and Tapia. Not forgetting, of course, the broad sandy beaches to be found along the seafront, many of which are paradise spots, barely half an hour away by car. You can also put your patience and skills with the rod to the test - the rivers and reservoirs in the area are rich in species such as trout and salmon.
If golf is more your thing, however, then be sure to show off your best strokes at the Santiago Real Aero Club, an 18-hole course with an abundance of trees and lakes. It is just 10 kilometres from the city and next to Lavacolla airport. Santiago also has quality facilities for sports such as swimming, squash, tennis, paddle tennis and fitness, amongst others. If you fancy it you can even explore the age old streets of the city of Santiago and its surrounding areas by bicycle - highly recommended. This city is also the final destination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Thousands of pilgrims arrive here every year having covered hundreds of kilometres on foot, by bike or even on horseback in this unique experience.
Good food culture
Gastronomy is one of the major attractions in Santiago de Compostela, and it is an important part of the city's way of life and identity.
The restaurants in Santiago stand out for offering excellent value for money. We recommend dishes made with fresh, tender regional produce.
In the capital of Galicia you will eat well, and plenty, because the selection on offer is hard to beat: from the most select restaurants to informal dining houses, bars, taverns and, of course, shellfish restaurants. In Santiago you will find quality cuisine to suit every pocket. For under €10 you can enjoy a set menu in a host of establishments throughout the city. For about €30, the finest delicacies of the region await you, with Galician beef and an all but endless list of shellfish being the star dishes.
We suggest you head for Franco and Raíña streets, in the heart of the old quarter. Here almost all the doorways lead to restaurants and bars, with windows displaying a wealth of typical dishes and produce.
Restaurants offering traditional, regional cuisine are not only to be found in the old town of Santiago, but also in areas slightly further out such as the San Pedro neighbourhood, Rúa Travesa street or the Ensanche, the new part of the city. Besides tapas, raciones (literally "portions") and pinchos (tapas on bread), in San Clemente and Carretas streets, as well as in the Ensanche area and in the outskirts of the city, you will also find places offering more elaborate Galician specialities. On the other hand, if meat is your thing, then make for any churrasquería. Many of these are to be found on the outskirts of the city, serving flame-grilled meats, T-bone steaks, chorizo sausage and barbecued steaks. Bear in mind that they tend to get busy, especially on Sundays.
Try Galicia-style octopus, empanada (a thin pie), Galicia broth, chickpea casserole and shoulder of pork with turnip tops. Fish and seafood deserve special mention. Make sure you have a good plate of seafood before leaving Santiago: Dublin Bay prawns, lobster, oysters, scallops, clams, spider crabs, small crabs... all washed down with a local wine such as a Ribeiro or Albariño.
For young people
The streets of the city come alive with fun by night
Students, tourists, pilgrims... They are at the heart of Santiago de Compostela's bustling nightlife.
Every day of the week there are cultural events and places open to go out in Santiago. However, it is from Thursday that the atmosphere and nightlife really come alive, on account of the students. It is common to start going out for some tapas at eight or nine in the evening. There are plenty of places in the new part, but it is the bars and taverns of the old town that are the real specialists: the majority of them are to be found in Franco, Raíña, Troia and San Pedro streets, and the surrounding area. If you can, visit the squares around the cathedral, where you can see improvised performances by artists, musicians and, of course, the tuna (traditional university serenading bands), who can usually be found there.
In summer, terrace bars are ideal for the first drink: those in San Paio de Antealtares street tend to be busy, while the ones to be found in Plaza de Quintana Square, Rodrigo de Padrón and Vilar and Nova streets are more peaceful. The real nightlife gets started at about eleven, and lasts well into the early hours. There are many different kinds of places, and all types of people to be found in Santiago de Compostela's bars, pubs and nightclubs. There are even versatile places that start off staging concerts and cultural events to then become nightclubs.
The main areas for nightlife in the city are the historic centre and the Ensanche area. In the former, places tend to have character and unusual decor - some are set in historic buildings, such as the stables and garages of old palaces. This area runs from Rúa Nova Street, and covers Xelmírez, Conga, Acibechería, Entremuros, and other streets nearby, up to Virxe da Cerca.
The Ensanche, or new district, fills with students during term time: on Thursdays and Fridays there are real rivers of people in the streets. The majority of nightspots are to be found in Argentina, Santiago de Chile, Alfredo Brañas, Fernando III el Santo and San Pedro de Mezonzo streets. When the city's patron saint's day fiestas come around - especially the Ascension in May and the feast of the Apostle in July - they become another reason for young people to flood the streets in search of fun. Concerts, music festivals, street theatre, open air dances and fireworks are some of the activities you can usually find on these special dates. Furthermore, throughout the year, Santiago de Compostela has an excellent cultural programme. The university plays an important role, organising exhibitions, theatre, dance and film. It usually organises about a hundred events.
A fun city for children too
If you are travelling as a family, you will find unusual, fun ideas for everyone in Santiago de Compostela.
Your children will have a great time on the Tourist Train , as they discover Santiago's historic centre and its most interesting places. It departs from Plaza del Obradoiro and the trip lasts one hour. There is another way to see the city that adults and children alike will love: the tourist flights. They are amazing flights in a light aircraft. They last about 30 minutes and give you a bird's eye view of Santiago.
Guided tours in English are a good way to explore the historic centre. However, if you prefer to go at your own pace, there is a convenient mp3 audioguide system with which you can explore the heritage of Santiago with your children. After listening to an explanation of each monument, you can have fun talking about everything you are seeing with the family. This machine is light and easy to use. They can be hired for 24 hour periods at the Tourist Office at Rúa Vilar, 63.
Another enjoyable thing to do with the children is to follow the route of Santiago's many parks and gardens . Alameda, Belvís and Bonaval Parks, the San Lorenzo oak wood… the list of green areas is long. To find out all about them, head for the Compostela Parks and Gardens Visitor Centre, located in Alameda Park. You will have great fun in these outdoor recreation areas, where you will find "hidden" monuments, modern buildings and viewpoints with stunning views of the city.
Santiago con niños
Some museums, like the Natural History Museum, are an interesting idea for the little ones. They are sure to like the exhibition at the Galicia Pedagogic Museum (Mupega): it deals with schooling in Galicia from the 19th century to the present day, with reconstructions of period classrooms, old toys and various items of school materials. To get all the information on the options available in the city, the best thing is to visit one of the local tourist offices. If your stay in Santiago de Compostela coincides with the fiestas in honour of the Apostle, in the second two weeks of July, then you will also find ways to have fun with the little ones, as a range of children's activities are organised. One thing not to be missed are the amazing firework displays held on the evening of 24 and 31 July in the Cathedral square. They are truly spectacular.
Enjoy shopping in a city with great commercial activity
Santiago's long, historic tradition of commerce is reflected to this day in its streets.
Crafts and jewellery shops and workshops, boutiques, major brand names, traditional commerce, street markets, large shopping centres... In the capital of Galicia you will find typical, traditional products, but you can also purchase the latest in fashion and design.
The continuous flow of people - pilgrims and tourists - add hustle and bustle to the city and its shopping areas. The main areas for shops are the historic centre and the Ensanche area, along with two major shopping centres located not far from the centre. Don't leave without visiting the Mercado de Abastos, a huge market with Galician produce.
Other useful information
Opening times: most shops open from 10am-2pm and from 4.30-8.30pm. The shopping centres open from 10am-9.30pm.
Sales: the winter sales generally begin in the second week of January and go on until the end of February, and the summer sales begin on 1 July and run until the end of August.
How to pay: most people pay in cash or with a credit card, when you must show your passport or identity card.
Tax free: residents from outside the European Union are entitled to have Value Added Tax (IVA) refunded on purchases of more than €90.15.
A magical destination for holding meetings
Santiago de Compostela, with its wealth of tradition and culture, adds special charm to any business event.
If you are looking for a unique setting to organise a congress, then Santiago is a perfect option. First, for its magnificent historic centre and monuments - some of the most important in Europe. Second, because this is the final destination on the Camino de Santiago, a major cultural route with the UNESCO World Heritage designation. Can you imagine combining a meeting with an outing covering part of this route? It would be a unique experience, without a shadow of a doubt. If your are thinking more along the lines of sea and beach, however, then Santiago is also ideal for holding events - it is just 35 kilometres from the coast. Furthermore, Santiago has good communications with the main Spanish cities and other European capitals thanks to its international airport, 12 kilometres from the city centre.