Destination of pilgrims for centuries, home of scholars and students … Santiago de Compostela, Galicia’s capital, is much more than the last stop on your Camino de Santiago journey. Let us take you on a tour of this wonderful historic UNESCO World Heritage city, here’s our list of top things to do and see in Santiago de Compostela.
This small city in the North West corner of Spain is small in size but its charm, character and beauty is magnificent. If you are walking the Camino, don’t rush home just yet, savour your achievement and take some time to get to know Santiago, the city of St James but also a city of culture, history and food.
CATHEDRAL AND PRAZA DO OBRADOIRO
Having walked the Camino, Praza do Obradoiro and Santiago Cathedral are going to be, of course, your first encounter with the city. Pilgrims Mass takes place at this masterpiece work of Romanesque and Baroque religious architecture each day and we recommend attending whether you are religious or not, you might even be lucky and see the Botafumeiro in action!
We recommend taking one of the fantastic tours of the cathedral to learn about its history, visiting the recently restored Portico da Gloria or taking the rooftop tour which gives you a unique viewpoint over the city.
HISTORIC OLD TOWN
And while Santiago Cathedral is its jewel, there is so much more to see in Santiago Old Town. If you are starting from Praza do Obradoiro, go in to admire the grand building that is the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. Founded as a pilgrim hospital, today it is a luxury Parador hotel and it is still hosting pilgrims 500 years later.
Take your time to wander the UNESCO-listed historic quarter uncovering layer by layer the beauty of the place: from the big squares to the tiniest corners and laneways, admiring its quaint arched streets and beautiful buildings. Santiago de Compostela reveals itself differently depending on the time of the day so if you go for a stroll in the morning you will get a completely different atmosphere than if you head out in the evening when bars and restaurants get lively with groups of friends, both of locals and visitors, out enjoying a drink, some food and a good time.
If the Cathedral is the spiritual heart of the city, Abastos Market, also in the Old Town definitely captures its soul. It is the second most visited attraction in Santiago and is always busy with locals doing their shopping, as well as visitors fascinated by the array of edible creatures on display. This is no hipster tourist attraction, although there are some fashionable bars and restaurants taking Galicia’s traditional gastronomy to new exquisite contemporary dimensions. While moving with the times, Abastos remains a fully functioning food market for the people of Santiago and for any visitor interested in Galicia’s food culture and tradition.
The Alameda Park is the city’s best loved park, a place for socialising, jogging, playing, strolling or just watching the world go by. As you take a stroll along the Alameda, you will get some lovely views of the cathedral and also find interesting statues dedicated to important Galician writers and other iconic characters such as the local sisters known as ‘As Marias’, playwright Ramon Maria del Valle Inclan and poet Rosalia de Castro.
MUSIC AND CULTURE
Santiago has a vibrant cultural scene with poetry readings, theatre and music taking place in pubs, bars and outdoors during the various festivals that take place in the city each year.
And if you are looking to include a trip to the museum the Pilgrimage Museum; Museo do Pobo Galego (Museum of the Galician People) and CGAC contemporary art museum are some of the best art spaces in the city; all three with a very different focus.
Check out the programme of activities at Santiago Turismo for concerts, theatre and other upcoming cultural events.
OLD UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Santiago de Compostela is home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe, dating back to the 15th century. Many of the old university buildings are scattered around the Old Town, some of them still fully functioning Faculties. One of the must-sees is the Pazo de Fonseca, built in the 16th century and today part of the University Library. Students still make about a third of the city’s population during the school year, which gives the city its unique character and atmosphere.
FOOD TIME IN SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
As the capital of Galicia, a region obsessed with food, Santiago de Compostela has restaurants and bars serving traditional and international food for all palates and pockets, from humble bars with free pinchos to eclectic cafes and Michelin level restaurants.
Many bars in the Old Town will serve a little free ‘pincho’ of food with your drink. Rua da Raina and Rua do Franco are the classic bar trails in town but there are many great bars scattered all over the city.
Souvenirs have been sold and bought in Santiago for as long as there have been pilgrims, and that is quite a few hundred years! Praza de Praterias, for instance, takes its name from the silversmiths that settle in that square in the Middle Ages to make and sell all kinds of silver mementos to pilgrims. Today you can find the classic silver chains with scallop shell motifs as well as more contemporary designs.
Amber, black amber (azabache), leather goods and of course, scallop shells have been sold as souvenirs to pilgrims and visitors to Santiago for centuries. Work by local artists can also be found in little stores across town with prints, ceramics, t-shirts and other little mementos inspired by life in the city.
In the new town you will find all the stores and shops you might need, from camera shops and supermarkets to fashion and bookshops.
For more tips on things to do and see in Santiago de Compostela and start planning your Camino de Santiago experience with JWT, contact our expert travel team.Contact Us