Known for being the burial site of the apostle St. James and the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes, Santiago de Compostela is a dream destination for both cultural aficionados, pilgrims, and travelers in search of spiritual adventures.
Santiago de Compostela is usually filled with thousands of pilgrims who have walked a long way to reach it, and it offers an impressive atmosphere, enhanced by its beautiful architecture, museums, and cathedrals, as well as the local, colorful bars and “cafeterias”. Whether you plan to adventure onto one of the Caminos or only want to see the city where the remains of St James are buried, check out these things to do and see in this charming Spanish city.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
- 2 2. Catedralicio Museum
- 3 3. Old Town
- 4 4. Museo da Peregrinaciones – Pilgrims Museum
- 5 5. Casa da Troia Museum
- 6 6. The Monastery of San Martiño Pinario
- 7 7. The Eugenio Granell Foundation
- 8 8. Parque de la Alameda
- 9 9. San Domingos de Bonaval Park
- 10 10. Sea Food
- 11 11. Local Beverages
- 12 12. San Francisco Convent
- 13 13. Hostal dos Reis Catolicos
- 14 14. Mercado de Abastos
- 15 15. Fiestas del Apostol Santiago
1. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
There is no doubt that your first stop should be the imposing Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the place where, as already mentioned, Saint James is believed to be buried. Admire its mesmerizing Romanesque structure, the later Gothic and Baroque elements, and see the city from above during one of the guided rooftop tours available daily.
Although I am not religious, I find peace in churches of all faiths. At the end of each of my hikes along the Camino I have taken time to sit quietly and think about my journey – a lot can come up.
2. Catedralicio Museum
If history is your passion, and you want to understand the history of this charming city, besides visiting the Cathedral you should also check out the Catedralicio Museum, which is located inside it. The museum is also a delight for art lovers who can admire the interesting collection of tapestries and paintings.
The museum is open all year. Between April and October, the opening times are 9 am to 8 pm, and during the winter from 10 am to 8 pm. The cost of admission is €6. Guided tours are available.
3. Old Town
If you love walking, exploring the Old Town, known as Zona Vella, should be on your must-do list. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so expect to be amazed by its beautifully arranged streets, bustling square, amazing arches and monuments, old buildings, as well as the colorful cafes and traditional restaurants. In addition, this is also a great area for the night owls who want to experience the party scene of the city.
However, to get some great photos you will need to be up very early or be lucky with a bright sunny day in the offseason. During the summer the city is always busy.
4. Museo da Peregrinaciones – Pilgrims Museum
The Museo da Peregrinacions is dedicated to pilgrimage and visiting it is mandatory, especially if you have walked to Santiago as a pilgrim. This incredible place will give you the chance to explore the phenomenon of Santiago in a deeper way and learn about the city, the cathedral, the pilgrimage, and of course, the apostle himself. In addition, from the third floor you can admire a lovely view of the cathedral’s towers.
5. Casa da Troia Museum
If you plan your arrival during the summer or Easter Week (the Semana Santa), you must add the Casa da Troia Museum to your must-see list. During the rest of the year, this charming museum is closed. The building used to be a boarding house for university students in the 19th century and it inspired Alejandro Perez Lugin to write his famous novel, La Casa de la Troya. Now it gives visitors the chance to catch a glimpse of how university life used to be in the past.
6. The Monastery of San Martiño Pinario
Another incredible site Santiago offers history lovers is the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario. Founded in the ninth century when a group of Benedictine monks learned about the discovery of St. James’ remains and decided to settle in Santiago, the church is considered one of the most beautiful representations of baroque architecture in the country.
7. The Eugenio Granell Foundation
If you love art, you can’t miss visiting the Eugenio Granell Foundation and admire an amazing collection of the Spanish-born surrealist painter, as well as works of art signed by famous artists like Cruzeiro Seixas, Copley, or the famous Miro. There are also great temporary exhibitions, theatre plays and workshops waiting for art enthusiasts from all over the world.
8. Parque de la Alameda
Galicia is famous among Spanish people for its parks, and one of the most beautiful ones is Parque de la Alameda. With its breath-taking green areas, imposing oaks, eucalyptus trees, and palms, as well as ponds, sculptures and charming alleys filled with cheerful people. The park is a great stop for every visitor who wants to take in a breath of fresh air. But what you will probably love most are the views of the Cathedral, which make this park a meeting point for romantic locals and travelers alike.
Another popular park in Santiago de Compostela is San Domingos de Bonaval, known among the locals as ‘Bonaval’. Located on the grounds of a Dominican convent’s old cemetery, this park was designed by Alvaro Siza, a Portuguese architect who made it the public green area that it is today. Besides being a great spot for relaxation, Bonaval is also a must-visit for travellers interested in art and history, as it hosts the Galician Contemporary Art Centre and the Museum of the Galician People.
10. Sea Food
Nobody can leave Santiago without indulging in Galician dishes, especially their most iconic one, the octopus. Known in this area as ‘pulpo á Feira’, because it used to be eaten on market day, and in the rest of Spain as Galician style octopus, this dish will conquer every foodie’s taste buds and heart. I must admit that eating, preferably with friends, is my favorite thing in Santiago de Compostela. Almost everywhere I sit down to have a drink or coffee will sell calamari and I can eat them all day long.
11. Local Beverages
Whether you are interested in exploring the nightlife in Santiago or are only looking to see the city by day, tasting its local alcoholic beverages should be on your list. Orujo, for instance, is a pomace brandy and is a great drink to have when celebrating the end of your pilgrimage. It is made with what’s left of the grapes after the wine pressing process and is usually distilled with nuts, dried fruits or herbs. And if brandy is not your cup of tea, indulge in a glass of albariño, a tasty Galician white, slightly acidic wine.
12. San Francisco Convent
If you want to end your pilgrimage in a special restaurant, San Francisco Convent is your answer. As you imagine, this is a San Franciscan convent, where the Franciscan monks used to live. However, they are now residing in another building, and this one has become a hotel and restaurant. Order the special Pilgrim menu, and let the atmosphere and typical convent dishes offer you an unforgettable experience.
13. Hostal dos Reis Catolicos
Travelers who are interested in a luxurious stay in Santiago should consider booking into the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. The hotel has been operating since 1486, and it is considered to be the oldest working hotel in the world. This is the best place for tired pilgrims who want to spoil themselves after their long journey.
14. Mercado de Abastos
For a rural but chic experience, foodies from all over the world are invited to Mercado de Abastos, Santiago’s vibrating food market. Filled with both modern and traditional stalls where farmers sell their products, this place gives visitors the chance to see the harmonious mix of the modern and traditional life in Santiago, while indulging in local delicacies.
15. Fiestas del Apostol Santiago
If you plan to arrive in Santiago in July, you have the chance to celebrate the Fiestas del Apostol Santiago together with the locals. Expect two weeks of parades and festivities that culminate with the Feast of St James (Día de Santiago) which is on the 25th of July, the same day as Galicia’s national day. So get ready for a fiesta you will not forget!
The above are my favorite things to do in Santiago de Compostela. Now it is your turn, let me know in the comments what your favorite things are.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.