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10 Things to do in Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is not just the final point of the Camino de Santiago, it is a fantastic place to explore, wandering around its alleys and quaint granite streets. It is quite pocket-sized too, so make sure you dedicate at least a couple of days to soak in the city’s vibrant atmosphere.

As some Galicians say, more than a city, Santiago is a ‘big village’. The city population is just around the 100,000 mark but with nearly 40,000 students settling there for the academic year and thousands of pilgrims walking into town every year, Santiago de Compostela gets a very special mix of people.

I think Santiago is a great city but I’m obviously biased. I lived in Santiago (or ‘Compostela’) for four years while studying at the city’s University (one of the oldest in Europe by the way, founded in 1495) and the mention of Santiago always gives me a warm excited feeling. I still have many great friends living in Santiago. That’s the thing: many of the students arriving in Santiago for four years end up never ever leaving…  for such a small place, Santiago can make quite a big impact on people, whether pilgrims, visitors or students.

santiago-de-compostela-camino-de-santiago-caminoways10 things to do in Santiago de Compostela:

1-Cathedral

If you have walked all the way to Santiago de Compostela, your first stop is likely to be the Praza do Obradoiro with its imposing Cathedral, where the remains of Saint James are (allegedly) buried. The cathedral is Santiago’s most famous building with a Romanesque structure and later Gothic and Baroque elements. At the Cathedral, check out the Pórtico da Gloria (the original Romanesque porch entrance by Mestre Mateo), the Botafumeiro (its giant thurible) and, if you are not scared of heights, take a guided tour of the Cathedral’s rooftop to enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Santiago (they run every day from 10am to 8pm and it lasts one hour approximately).

2-The Old Town

Santiago is divided in two main districts: the Old Town (Zona Vella) and the New Town (Zona Nova).

The Old Town with is winding granite streets, arches, squares and monuments has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Here you will find not only Romanesque and baroque churches, museums and some of the oldest University buildings but also many cosy cafes, traditional and contemporary restaurants, interesting shops and some of the best nightlife too!

The New Town isn’t much of a sight, mostly apartment buildings housing the student population, but you will also find shopping areas, good bookshops, as well as restaurants and bars.

alameda-santiago-de-compostela-caminoways-things-to-do3-Alameda Park

Take a breather at the Alameda, Santiago’s most emblematic green space. Go for a stroll along the Paseo da Ferradura, get a nice tree-framed view of the Cathedral, sit by the statue of writer Valle Inclán or take a picture with the statue of ‘As Marías’, the two Fandiño sisters dressed in their colourful outfits. The sisters used to go for a walk in the Alameda every day at 2 o’clock on the dot. The Alameda park is also central point to many celebrations in Santiago’s busy festival calendar.

4-‘De Viños’ – Wine trail 

Rúa do Franco goes all the way to the Obradoiro Square and takes its name after the French pilgrims that used to follow this street to get to the Cathedral. With adjacent Raíña, this is the most famous street to go out for a few drinks with friends. Many bars and restaurants along the Franco display their octopus, shellfish and other Galician delicacies on their windows (vegetarians beware!) and most offer a free bite with each drink: croquettes, tortilla or even tiger filet (not really tiger meat, by the way). After a few wines with their bites, you probably won’t need any dinner, but if you are still hungry, you can always order a few dishes to share.

5-Museo das Peregrinacións

After walking to Santiago as a pilgrim, you should probably visit this museum, dedicated to the pilgrimage.

6-San Domingos de Bonaval Park

santiago-food-market-santiago-de-compostela-caminoways‘Bonaval’ for short, is another popular park in Santiago de Compostela. Bonaval sits on the grounds of a Dominican convent’s old cemetery and has been re-invented into a  secluded public green space by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Next to Bonaval you’ll find two of Santiago’s best museums: the CGAC (Galician Contemporary Art Centre) in a modern building also by Siza and the Museum of the Galician People (Museo do Pobo Galego) in the former convent. Bonaval is loved by visitors and locals, who like to enjoy a good book there or just relax under the shade of the oak grove (carballeira) on a hot day.

7-Mercado de Abastos

Santiago’s food market has a rural chic feel: traditional stores run by ladies from surrounding farms mix with stylish stalls. Modernity and tradition really live in harmony in the Abastos area, with exciting new restaurants also opening their doors in recent years. Here you will find some of Galicia’s best produce.

8-Culture

Santiago has a very active cultural life: from poetry recitals to concerts big and small, galleries, exhibitions, museums, theatre, etc…there is always something to fulfill your cultural ambitions. Many pubs and cafes also have their own cultural activities.

st-james-festival-santiago-de-compostela-camino-de-santiago-caminoways9-Festas

Festas da Ascensión in May and Festas do Apóstolo in July (celebrating Saint James Day and Galicia’s National Day) are the main celebrations in Santiago, with outdoor concerts and many other events taking place, some of them free of charge. However, there are many more festivals in and around the different neighbourhoods in Santiago. Before you travel, check out the Santiago Turismo website, local tourist board, to see what’s coming up in Santiago.

10-Try octopus 

You can’t leave Santiago (or Galicia) without trying the land’s most iconic dish: octopus. The Galicians call it octopus fair style (‘pulpo á feira’) as it used to be a dish eaten on market day; while Spaniards like to call it octopus Galician style. Whatever your choice of words, you must try it at least once before you go back home!

For more information about the Camino de Santiago or to book your Camino trip, contact our travel specialists

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Maria
Writer at CaminoWays.com
Marketing Manager Maria Golpe is from Viveiro, in the misty and beautiful northern coast of Galicia. She loves Santiago, where she studied Journalism at Santiago de Compostela University. She also loves good food, travel and all things arty crafty.
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14 Responses to “10 Things to do in Santiago de Compostela”

john

Hi
i have just booked a 8 day trip which finishes in santiago de compostela.Just wondering how we go about maybe doing a day or two walk


Maria

Dear Cheryl, thank you for getting in touch. Our Customer Care team will email you some details. We have various options for that section, walking the Camino from Sarria to Santiago. We have one guided tour departing on 8th April and then in May, while self-guided tours can depart at any time (http://caminoways.com/our-services/camino-de-santiago-guided-tours). We also have various options in terms of distance covered each day: you can walk it over a week (20-25kms per day) but you can also choose to walk it over 10 days with an average of 12kms per day (see ‘booking’ tab here: http://caminoways.com/ways/french-way-camino-frances/french-way-section-8). Let us know if you require additional information. Kindest regards. Maria


Cheryl

Hi. Could you please send me details for a 6 days walk from Sierra in end April next year. Please send me details as to cost, hours walking and if we will be in a group etc. thank you.


Maria

Hi Anita, that’s no problem at all, our colleagues in Customer Care will be in touch with details. Sarria to Santiago will be great from May on.


Anita Denton

Hello is it possible to send details of a full trip from Sarria to Santiago my husband and I would like to book it for next year and also please could you tell me the best time to go


Lisa

Hi Elizabeth, thank you for your comment. There are two main options when walking the Camino; the hostels and the hotels. In general you cannot book the hostels in advance. We do book the hotels and luggage transfers. If you want we can send you an itinerary based on your plans. Please e-mail info@caminoways.com. Kind regards, Lisa.


Elisabeth Anghel

My husband and I are going to walk the camino part from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela late may early june at a pace of 10 miles a day. should we have reservations for night made ahead of time? thank you. elisabeth


Maria

Hi Elizabeth, thank you for getting in contact. The Customer Care team will email you details. Kind regards.


Elizabeth Nichol

Please could you email walking from Sarria to Santigio as i would like info on that too.
Thank you Liz Nichol


Maria

Hi Angela, thank you for your message. Country cottages are lovely family-run boutique properties in rural settings, such as restored family farm houses, old rectory properties, etc… They are really special places and an upgrade from our standard package. I will get my colleagues in Customer Care to email you some details. Walking from Sarria over 10 days is ideal, as you will be walking an average of 12kms per day. Kind regards.


Angela Andrews

My friends and I are looking to begin this walk in October from Sarria (116 kms away). We want to do it over 10 days to break up the walk so it is not over 20 kms each day. We want to stay in the country cottages only if they have a clean toilet and bathroom with hot water attached. Please advise us. Thank you.


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