Visiting Santiago de Compostela - What to See and Do
(Santiago de Compostela Lavacolla Airport SCQ, Spain)
The ancient pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela is certainly one of the most famous and important destinations in Spain
. However, you don't need to be on a spiritual journey to appreciate the beauty and attractions of this charming university and market town in the far north of the country.
Of Spain's many great historic cities, few are as endearing and romantic as Santiago de Compostela. The frequent rain helps create some of the ambience, giving the cobblestone streets a shine and keeping the parks lush and green. There are dozens of interesting landmarks, churches, shrines and other sites within the UNESCO-protected Old Town area to investigate.
Santiago de Compostela also has a lively modern side to it as well, contained partly in the New Town area frequented by students. Between the Old and the New, visitors have plenty of material to work with as they craft their visit to the beautiful corner of north-western Spain.
Ten things you must do in Santiago de Compostela
- Santiago de Compostela's Old Town is so important and impressive that UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site way back in 1985. At its heart is the city's magnificent cathedral, where all journeys seem to begin or end. Wandering the ancient streets of the Old Town reveals an endless stream of religious monuments, historic landmarks and beautiful buildings.
- The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the star attraction in this city. Not just because of the religious role the city has played as a pilgrimage destination, but also because the church is so impressive. Workers began building it in the 11th century, and it truly is a crowning achievement of the Spanish Romanesque era of design. The crypt holds the remains of the Apostle St. James, the focus of the city's pilgrimage allure.
- After spending a couple of hours slowly absorbing the majesty of the cathedral, drop in next-door to the Museo Catedralicio, a smart little museum containing religious relics, tapestries and documents. The 12th-century archbishop's palace, Palacio de Gelmirez is here as well, offering another remarkable example of Spanish Romanesque architecture.
- Of the city's main public squares, few are as lively and fun to sit around as the Plaza de la Quintana. Preferred by the university students, who like to sit on the long steps leading to the back of the cathedral, this is the place to hang out and people-watch when the weather is fine. The domineering Casa de la Canonica will give you some historic character to contemplate.
- The Galician Centre of Contemporary Art is the main art museum in Santiago de Compostela. It houses an ever-changing selection of exhibits from local and regional to global talent with a flair for modern style. The centre also has a superb open-air exhibit hall that boasts one of the finest panoramas of the city, and best of all, the museum is totally free.
- Santiago de Compostela may well be a religious destination, but that doesn't mean the locals don't kick back after dark and have a good time. The students ensure that the scene here is kept fresh and creative, so just head down to the Rua do Franco or Rua da Reina and hop from bar to bar.
- Enjoy a little green space and fresh air just to the south-west of the Old Town, in the gardens of the Paseo de la Herradura. This charming walking path has the bonus of sweeping views over the Old City and its landmark cathedral most of the way.
- One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Galicia is the Santa Maria del Sar, a church that epitomises the Romanesque style of building and design that was so popular in this part of Spain during its Golden Era. It is a real gem that is just a short (but pleasant) walk down the Calle de Sar, affording both a little exercise and a star attraction at the end.
- Ranking amongst the most famous pilgrim hospices in the city of Santiago de Compostela is the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos. Located just next to the cathedral, it was opened in the 15th century and is now a parador (government-owned hotel) open to the public. Tours of the cloisters are available if you have a guide with you. The interior courtyard and its 16th-century fountains are an instant refresher for whatever is ailing you.
- You may like to venture out a little way on the 1,000-year-old Way of Saint James, the original pilgrimage route that is still used by thousands of pilgrims every year. There are many different paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela, but the French Way is the most popular one leading into the city. You can easily make a fun day walk out of it with just a map and a little effort.