Santiago de Compostela is a city of stone streets, mouth-watering tapas and impressive views.
This Galician capital receives new visitors every day, some arriving at the end of their Camino de Santiago, exhausted but exhilarated, others taking the more typical route from the airport. Regardless of where they come from, they all end up enchanted by Santiago. If you’re one of these visitors, get ready to fall in love! To help you do so, we’ve put together our definitive list of the top eight things to see in Santiago.
1. The Cathedral
The cathedral is the literal and figurative center of the historic center. Without a doubt, it is one of the most important things to see in Santiago. The Catedral de Santiago is the burial place of Saint James and the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, making it a popular place to visit every day of the week. Walk all the way around the cathedral to appreciate its different façades, but especially take in the view from the Praza do Obradoiro. Praza do Obradoiro is Santiago’s main square which features the most impressive and most famous view of the cathedral.
Insider’s tip: Take a guided tour of the cathedral’s rooftop for an entirely different perspective on this Santiago essential.
Address: Praza do Obradoiro
Hours: Daily, 7:00 – 20:30
2. The Old Town in the Rain
Santiago’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a must on this list of things to see in Santiago! While strolling the streets of the old quarter, make sure to look up and take in the buildings that surround you. You’ll notice architecture from many styles throughout history: Romanesque to Gothic, Renaissance to Baroque. If it’s raining (as it often is!), make sure your umbrella protects you as you amble, or peer out from under the beautiful covered walkways lined with arches. If it does happen to rain, you’re in for a treat! The old town is beautiful rain or shine, but there’s really something special about the way that it glistens after a shower.
3. Santiago’s Tapas Culture
Many people travel to Spain expecting to receive free tapas with their drinks. In Madrid or Barcelona, these people are sometimes disappointed—but not in Santiago de Compostela! In Santiago, this custom is alive and well. With each drink you order, you might receive something small like olives or potato chips, or something larger and more elaborate. Either way, you know it’s going to be delicious!
If you’re really looking to understand the food culture in Galicia, and taste the best things this region has to offer (hello, octopus!), join us on a food tour of Santiago. We will show you our favorite spots for great food while sharing the stories of the people behind it, and how they fit in to the greater story of Santiago.
4. The Postcard View of Santiago
You can’t leave Santiago without taking in one of the most famous views of the city. Visit Alameda Park and enjoy a leisurely stroll through this lovely green space. Head over to the Santa Susana hill for a magnificent view of the cathedral towering over other historic Santiago landmarks. Take it all in as you check this off of your list of things to see in Santiago.
Insider’s tip: This view is beautiful day or night, but pay a visit after dark to admire the lights of the cathedral and fully grasp its importance in the city.
5. Galician Culture and History Firsthand
One of the most enriching things to see in Santiago is the Museum of the Galician People. This museum of Galician culture will show you how the region’s inhabitants have traditionally lived. You’ll get insight into all aspects of their lives, from the way they worked to the way they dressed. The building is a work of art in and of itself and they often have interesting temporary exhibitions. To really understand the area you are visiting, the Museo do Pobo Galego is one of the best things to see in Santiago.
Insider’s tip: While most of the specific exhibit descriptions are in the regional language, Gallego, there are general explanations of the different areas in English, which should be enough to help you appreciate what you are seeing.
Address: San Domingos de Bonaval, s/n
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 – 14:00, 16:00 – 19:30; Sundays and bank holidays 11:00 – 14:00; Closed Mondays
Price: 3 euros
6. Fresh Food Through the Eyes of a Local
To experience grocery shopping like a Santiago native, the Mercado de Abastos is one of the things to see in Santiago that you simply cannot miss. Stroll past stall upon stall of seafood, meat, cheeses and vegetables that are fresh from the farms and sea nearby. There’s even a milk vending machine where you can fill bottles with the freshest milk around!
If you want to partake in some of these incredible ingredients, but lack the kitchen—or the know-how!—to prepare them, don’t worry! You can take your purchases to Mariscomanía, located inside the market, to have them cook what you’ve bought! Check out their website for conditions. To simplify the decision-making process even further, try Abastos 2.0. Abastos 2.0 is a restaurant that serves up a daily menu of that day’s best picks from the market.
Insider’s tip: While you’ll find great, local products any time you visit, for maximum freshness, Thursday and Saturday are the best days to do your shopping at the Mercado de Abastos!
Address: Rúa das Ameas, s/n
Hours: Monday, 9:00 – 14:00; Tuesday – Friday, 7:00 – 15:00; Saturday, 7:00 – 16:00; Closed Sunday
7. A Glimpse of 16th Century Santiago
If you’re looking for things to see in Santiago with historical importance, head over to the Monastery of San Martín Pinario. After the cathedral, this monastery is the second-largest religious institution in the city. It was originally constructed in the 12th century and then rebuilt in the 16th century, principally in the Baroque style. Today it is the home of a seminary, and you can walk inside to immerse yourself in Santiago’s history.
Address: Plaza de la Inmaculada, 5
Hours: October – May: Tuesday – Saturday, 11:00 – 13:30, 16:00 – 18:30; Sundays and bank holidays, 11:00 – 13:30; Closed Mondays. June – September: Daily, 11:00 – 13:30, 16:00 – 19:00.
Price: 2.50 euros
8. The Galician Countryside
While in Santiago, why not travel outside the city center to take in some of the nature that the region has to offer? It’s a great region for hiking, and the green spaces surrounding the city are one of the best things to see in Santiago. Monte Pedroso is a great choice if you don’t have a whole day to devote to outdoor exploration but still want to take in the Galician countryside and enjoy a beautiful view of Santiago. You can start walking from the center of Santiago and be at the summit of this hill in about an hour! Our friend Trevor Huxham has more details on this and other Santiago hikes on his blog.
Whether you’re in Santiago for a day or a week, make the most of your visit by checking out these must-see places. Join us on a food tour while you’re in town to get a true taste of Santiago de Compostela. We will explore its most fascinating neighborhoods and show you another side of this charming city while enjoying the best food it has to offer!