El Sardinero beach in Santander
Santander is one of the most charming and beautiful cities on Spain’s north coast, and an ideal destination for a short break. Nestled between the sea and the mountains, this city delights visitors with its aristocratic air, its 19th-century buildings, its charming pavement cafés and its spectacular bay, regarded as one of the loveliest in the world.
HISTORIC QUARTERYou can begin your tour in the Paseo de Pereda gardens, where you can pick up some information in the tourist office. A walk through the gardens to see the cedars and magnolia trees will bring you to the historic city centre. It is not very large, so the best way to explore it is to stroll around, seeing the sights at your own pace, and soaking up the elegant atmosphere. The first thing you’ll notice is the majestic façades of the banks, historically of great importance to Santander. Continue on down Calle Hernán Cortes to Plaza Porticada. This Neoclassical square is one of the liveliest places in the city, and also symbolic, as it was built to be the new city centre after Santander was devastated by fire in 1941.Next door, you’ll find the church of El Cristo and Santander Cathedral, opposite the church of La Compañía. This is a good place to take a few photos and discover some of the legends about the origins of the city. Continue along Calle Juan de Herrera to Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the Town Hall. There is always a lively atmosphere here, with groups of people relaxing and chatting on the benches. From here, you can go on to the Municipal Fine Arts Museum or to the House-Museum and library of Menéndez Pelayo, one of the region’s great thinkers. But if you’re looking for a cheerful atmosphere and a chance to see the everyday life of the people of Santander, try a visit to the Esperanza market, where they sell some of the best fresh fish in Spain.After a cultural morning, you can take a little time off for shopping. If you continue along the streets of Jesús de Monasterio and San Fernando, you’ll find yourself in Santander’s main shopping district, the ideal place to find a gift or a souvenir of your trip.A CITY OPEN TO THE SEA Right in this area, and particularly in Calle Vargas (parallel to San Fernando) you’ll find several restaurants perfect for enjoying Santander’s traditional coastal cuisine. Local specialities include rabas (fried squid), caracolillos (whelks) and mejillones (mussels). Delicious.The afternoon is the ideal time to explore maritime Santander, with a stroll around the attractive harbour area. When you come out of the Paseo de Pereda gardens, you’ll see the famous Stone Crane, which can lift 30 tonnes. You can enjoy a cup of coffee on Paseo de Pereda, an avenue full of charming cafés with a literary air. Just a few metres away is the Palacete del Embarcadero, where you might be tempted to take a ride. A boat trip starts here, with a small boat to take you around the bay. There is an incredible view of the city from the sea, which makes this one-hour trip a wonderful experience.On your return, you could take the opportunity to visit what has become a new symbol of the city: Centro Botín. This centre is a cultural space dedicated to contemporary art, music, film, theatre, and literature. The building, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, is in an exceptional location overlooking the Bay of Santander. After that, a walk along the Calderón dock will bring you to the sculpture of “Los Raqueros”, which depicts a group of children diving into the water, created in memory of the children who years ago used to dive into the bay to pick up the coins thrown to them by tourists. The sculpture and its setting make for a fun, intriguing photo.If you continue on your walk you’ll pass by the Puertochico Yacht Club, and eye-catching buildings such as the Planetarium and the Festival Centre. A walk along Avenida Luis Carrero Blanco will take you to the Maritime Museum, well worth a stop to see the modern aquariums and learn more about humanity’s relationship with the sea. After the museum, the beaches begin (Los Peligros and La Magdalena beaches are the first), a good place to cool off and spend the rest of the afternoon.Things to rememberThere is a bicycle lane all along this route so you have the option of cycling instead of walking.The boat trips from the Palacete del Embarcadero are available from July to October, approximately.At dinner time, a good option is to return to the centre and dine on tapas, going from one bar to another to sample the local specialities, in the area around Plaza de Cañadío. This is also one of the best areas in the city if you feel like going out clubbing or for drinks after dinner. If it’s summer, the square will be full of people out having fun.
LA MAGDALENA PENINSULAThe plan is to spend the morning exploring the Magdalena peninsula, one of the most beautiful and attractive areas in Santander. Before you get there, you can go down Calle Horadada to the seashore for a beautiful view of the islands of La Torre and Horadada. Now go on until you come to the entrance to this great park. This is a large area of around 25 hectares, so if you don’t feel like walking, you can always hop on the “Magdaleno” sightseeing train which runs all around the park.However, these tips are for exploring it on foot. You’ll pass near the Los Bikinis beach, arriving at the Embarcadero Real pier and then on to La Cerda lighthouse. If you continue on around the peninsula, you’ll come to an esplanade which will take you to Santander’s greatest treasure: the Magdalena Palace You’re now at the highest point of the peninsula, so this is the moment to take a photo of this majestic Royal Palace and the outstanding views of the city of Santander. On your way back down, you’ll find three caravels donated to Santander by a sailor, which are said to be a replica of Christopher Columbus' ships, and the Marine Park mini zoo, where you can see seals, penguins and sea lions swimming and playing in seawater pools.EL SARDINERO BEACHESAfter a really great morning, it is now time to have lunch. If you go on along Avenida de la Reina Victoria and cross the beautiful gardens of San Roque, you’ll come to Plaza de Italia. Here you’ll find the majestic and iconic Gran Casino, built in 1916, dominating the city skyline and adding to its fin-de-siecle atmosphere. Especially in summer, this area is full of pavement cafés with views over the beach, ideal for lunch or a snack while enjoying the salty sea breezes.You're now in the most popular part of Santander's seafront: El Sardinero, so after lunch you can’t possibly pass up the chance to relax on its magnificent beaches. There are several to choose from, including Playa del Camello (so-called because it has a rock in the shape of a camel), La Concha, or the Sardinero beaches (over a kilometre long). You’ll never forget the experience of sunbathing on fine golden sand and gazing at the views… or you can even try surfing.After a refreshing dip, you can take a leisurely stroll along the seafront promenade and its parks, stopping at the spectacular viewing point in the Jardines de Piquío (a very romantic park for couples to enjoy) and continuing on until the end of Parque de Mesones. Along the way you’ll see some of the city’s most beautiful mansions and elegant houses in the city on one side, and sailboats on the other. What more could you ask?If you prefer not to swim and you have a little extra time, you can continue on along the path that will take you to the other end of the city, the Cabo Mayor lighthouse, 30 metres tall. The walk along Avenida del Faro is perfect if you’re hoping for a much wilder natural landscape, with open sea and imposing cliffs.To finish off your trip, you can’t miss one of the most special events in Santander: sunset. The best plan is to retrace your steps until you reach the viewing point in Plaza de Italia, take a seat on a bench, and watch the sunset with La Magdalena Palace in the distance. You also happen to be in an area with some of the city’s most notable restaurants, so you can round off the day with a good dinner. A perfect end to your visit to Santander, the city traditionally known as “the bride of the sea”.Things to rememberThere is a sight-seeing bus that stops at all the main tourist attractions.In the Faro de Cabo Mayor area, the Mataleñas golf course has views over the coastline.Santander has surfing schools and riding schools for fans of these sports.There are two excursions which shouldn't be missed if you have time to explore the area around Santander: Cabárceno Natural Park, only 15 minutes away; and the Altamira Museum, 30 minutes away.If you’re visiting Santander in July, this is the opportunity to see the Baños de Ola festival, which recreates the arrival of the first tourists in the early 20th century.
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