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A day of culture in Santiago de Compostela

A Coruña

What to see in Santiago de Compostela in one day

Thousands of people come to Santiago de Compostela with only one wish: to see the Cathedral, the final destination of the Way of St James. On our day of culture in the city, we will of course visit this monumental work of art, but we’ll also have time for much, much more. We’ll sample the lively atmosphere in its historic quarter (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), try some delicious local specialities, stroll around peaceful gardens, and take a look at contemporary art in its museums.

In the morning

Cathedral of Santiago Apóstol There is only one way to start a day out in Santiago: at the Cathedral. We go in through the door leading from the Obradoiro square, where pilgrims will already have been arriving from far and wide since the early hours of the morning. The first thing to meet our eyes is the Portico of Glory. Behind the mullion, years ago, people used to perform a curious ritual: knocking their heads three times (gently) on the statue of Master Mateo. This custom originates from the university students who used to do this to increase their intelligence and for good luck in their exams. We follow the traditional route in our tour of the Cathedral and go down into the crypt, which contains the remains of the apostle. We then go up to the main altar to embrace the statue of Saint James and to get an unusual view of the Cathedral. As we go through the ambulatory, we will see the Holy Door, which is only opened in Holy Years (when 25 July falls on a Sunday). Going through this doorway is a very special experience, although the large crowds of people who do so in Holy Years mean you may have to wait. Cathedral rooftops: We decide to take the guided tour of the Cathedral roofs, which allows us to climb to the very top of the building and look out over the historic town centre from the heights. To do so we make for the Museum, located next to the Cathedral on Plaza del Obradoiro square. This itinerary takes us through the interior of Gelmírez Palace, past the Cathedral gallery (above the Portico of Glory) and up to the roofs of the cathedral. The sensation of the wind on your face, this elevated vantage point, the view… it will all leave you speechless. Church and Monastery of San Martín Pinario: Behind the Cathedral, as we go out through the Azabachería door, we reach Plaza de la Inmaculada square with the Church of San Martín Pinario. The features worth noting in the interior include the restored walnut choir, originally from the Cathedral. Pilgrim Mass: We return to the Cathedral to attend the Pilgrims’ Mass. This is celebrated daily at midday, and during the ceremony a welcome is extended to all the pilgrims who have completed the Way of Saint James. Worth knowing Entrance to the cathedral is free. However, you must book tickets to access certain areas. There are actually three types of tickets: to the Pórtico de la Gloria (there are also free invitations that can be picked up on the ground floor of the Casa do Deán), to the Permanent Collection, and to the Museum of Religious Art of Santa María Real La de Sar. To make sure that you can visit the cathedral roof, we recommend booking in advance by telephone (+34 902044077) or via the website. The roof is currently closed for construction work. If you would like to see the Botafumeiro –a large incense burner– in action inside the Cathedral, bear in mind that it is only used during Mass on certain days of the year. If you want to ask for it to be used, go to the Pilgrims’ Reception Office. Due to restoration work inside the Cathedral, the Botafumeiro is not currently in operation.

Portico da Gloria and Staircase of the Museo do Pobo Galego
Places not to be missed

What to see


At noon

Cathedral area After mass, we take a quiet walk on the squares around the Cathedral (Quintana, Platerías, Obradoiro) to observe the details of each façade, and capture them for posterity with our camera.Shopping and lunch in the historic quarter We walk towards the streets of Rúa do Franco, Raíña and Rúa do Villar in the historic quarter. The tourist offices and the pilgrims’ centre are here, as well as a host of businesses and shops selling crafts, souvenirs, clothing, food... even small book and antique markets. Silver and jet are traditional local purchases, as well as everything to do with the Way of Saint James and the Apostle (botafumeiros, scallop shells, staffs, etc.). Also ceramics, leather, classic Galician bagpipes or “meigas” dolls (which is the name for witches in Galicia). Parallel to these streets, there are two other shopping streets: Rúa Nova and Rúa Calderería, where the local people of Santiago usually go shopping.We make a brief stop in the Rúa do Franco to see the Renaissance cloister in Fonseca College, which houses the library of the University of Santiago. There are also numerous bars and restaurants in this area. We can stop and have lunch whenever we like. We'll try some portions to share and local specialities. Good suggestions include pulpo a feira (octopus), gammon with turnip greens or potatoes, empanada (savoury filled pastry), marinated pork, squid, Padrón peppers (only in season, and look out! some are very spicy), steamed mussels, caldeirada (fish stew), pote (traditional Galician bean stew), fish or shellfish. And all accompanied by Galician wine (for example, Ribeiro or Albariño). For dessert, we recommend two classic local dishes: tarta de Santiago almond cake, and orujo liqueur (traditional orujo is colourless, but other flavours include herbs, cream, coffee, etc.).Another good option at lunchtime is Abastos Market, a food market which is open Monday to Saturday from 7 am to 3 pm. In addition to seeing its architecture and stalls selling fish, meat and vegetables, you can enjoy its take-away food stands, eat dishes that are cooked for you on the spot or try the famous tapas.

Plaza del Obradoiro from the tower of the Cathedral of Santiago

In the afternoon

Journey: Walking

Alameda Park: After lunch, continue along Calle Franco and Calle Villar towards Alameda Park It’ll take around ten minutes. You can take a leisurely stroll around its stately tree-lined paths, and look at the fountains, sculptures and buildings (Santa Susana chapel, the music pavilion, the dovecote, etc.). As it's fairly high up, you'll also have an outstanding view over the city. The park is connected to the gardens of the university campus by a flight of steps, so why not go and take a look?A tour through the city: Now go back to the centre, but along an alternative route so as to pass in front of the Geography and History Faculty, the church of San Fiz de Solivio and the food market or Mercado de Abastos. Continue on towards Bonaval park to visit two of the city’s museums. On your way you'll pass convent of San Agustín, the church of Santa María del Camino, and the Puerta del Camino gate.Museum of the Galician People and the Galician Contemporary Art Centre: You can now visit the site formed by the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo de Bonaval, which also houses the Museum of the Galician People. The most curious feature is the triple spiral staircase which leads to the different floors of the building, and makes a good subject for a photo. Next, it’s time to change styles and go to the Galician Contemporary Art Centre next door. This building is modern both inside and out, and was designed by the eminent architect Álvaro Siza.A suggestion: Although it is a bit far from the city centre, another good afternoon option is to visit the cultural complex Cidade da Cultura de Galicia. You’ll find it at the top of Mount Gaiás and be surprised by the avant-garde architecture of its buildings designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman. You can stroll around the outside from the Hedjuk Towers to the central square. There are also guided tour programmes.

Terrace bars in Santiago de Compostela
Places not to be missed

What to see


At night

Journey: Walking

We leave the museums behind and return to the Cathedral. The idea is to see it illuminated by night, It will take no more than 20 minutes. We go through the Puerta del Camino gate, Plaza de Cervantes and Calle de la Azabachería until we come to San Martín Pinario. We stay for a while at Plaza del Obradoiro to admire the monumental buildings surrounding it, all of which are lit up: the Cathedral, the Parador de los Reyes Católicos, Rajoy Palace and San Jerónimo College.We deserve a hearty dinner after our day out, so let’s find a restaurant where we can enjoy a delicious dish of shellfish, fish, or rice. After dinner, what about a little music while you have a drink? In the area around the historic centre there are several bars and pubs which offer an inviting atmosphere and décor.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at night