This is our list of things to do in the capital of Galicia and the final stop for pilgrims of the epic Camino trail, Santiago de Compostela is a glorious city in northwestern Spain. It is one of the major tourist attractions featuring stone streets, artistic Baroque buildings, amazing Spanish cuisine, the awe-inspiring cathedral, and scenic landscapes coupled with pleasant weather. In 1985, the city’s Old Town became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to locals, Santiago de Compostela is most beautiful when it rains and the whole city is bathed in glistening mist. Each year, over 250,000 pilgrims and thousands of tourists hit the town. They bike, hike, ride or even walk to the city via the ancient routes. It is most crowded during the months of July, August and September when the weather is warm and the ambiance is festive. However, if you would like to explore the city peacefully, May, June and October are the best months that will offer you a quiet refuge and tranquility.
Whether you are at the end of your holy journey or on a Spanish vacation, there are plenty of things to do, Santiago de Compostela is never disappointing. It is best to do some homework ahead of time especially if you are short on time. Gather some maps, collect brochures, Google the best restaurants and most popular things to do and then follow your instincts. Here are the top things you must never miss when you are in Santiago de Compostela.
The Marvelous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Right in the heart of Santiago, there is a magnificent cathedral that soars high into the sky. Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is one of the main sources of attraction for tourists and pilgrims alike. The remains of St. James the Great, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, is reputed to be buried here. Featuring Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles on its exterior facades and interior, the cathedral is an architectural masterpiece without a doubt. On special occasions, the Botafumeiro, one of the world’s largest incense burners is brought out in the church and is swung by eight tiraboleiros in red robes. Besides a church, the cathedral has a library, music center and a museum where one can get a glimpse of the city’s culture and history.
The Wild Cape Finisterre and the Lighthouse
Cape Finisterre, often referred to as the end of the earth, is a 90-km walk from Santiago de Compostela. The westernmost ‘edge of the world’ is the culminating point for many pilgrims walking the Way of St. James. Unlike other places at Santiago de Compostela, the cape has no shops, eateries or hotels. It is simply a wild destination boasting verdant beauty, unspoiled nature and sea waves crashing into the rocky shores. The main attraction of Cape Finisterre is the lighthouse. The Lighthouse of Finisterre stands atop the peak of Monte Facho, a mountain on the cape. If you have decided to go to the cape, be prepared to enjoy ocean breeze, picturesque sunsets and Celtic spirituality. Right alongside the cape, there is a quaint fishing village by the name of Finisterre. It is a perfect stopover for travelers to get some rest and enjoy fresh seafood.
The Charming Casco Antiguo (Old Town)
The Old Town, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, extends from south of the cathedral to the Plaza de las Platerías. There are two streets, Rúa Nueva and the Rúa del Villar, running across each other right in the heart of the town. These two arched streets will marvel you with their festive ambiance. There are cafes, boutiques, restaurants and gift shops where one can enjoy a cup of coffee and Spanish pastries and buy souvenirs for loved ones back at home. To the delight of many, the town does not allow automobile traffic.
The Church of Santa María a Real do Sar – Off the Beaten Track
On the outlying district of the town by the banks of Sar River, there is a Church of Santa María a Real do Sar that was built way back in the 12th century. The church features a Romanesque design, rounded arches, arcaded colonnades, rose glass windows and a remarkable cloister that offers splendid views of the garden. In 1895, the church was declared Bien de Interés Cultural which means “Heritage of Cultural Interest”. The church is open daily to general public for visitations. If you want to seek some time out far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the church is one of the ideal things to do in order to indulge in some quiet and peace.
The Galician Contemporary Art Centre for the Art Enthusiasts
Devoted to the modern-day Galician artists, the Galician Contemporary Art Centre is located in the middle of Santiago de Compostela. The building boasts a phenomenal futuristic architectural design by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. The art center is a perfect place for those who are enthusiastic about Galician culture and art. The exhibition halls display permanent and temporary works of both local and international artists.
Casa do Cabildo – A Hidden Gem
Galicia is well-known for its Baroque architecture, and if you wish to witness one of the best examples of Compostelan baroque, there is no place better than Casa do Cabildo. The hidden gem is sitting on the southern side of Platerías Square. The aristocratic residence was built in 1758, and is today a cultural and historic landmark, and a museum. The house is only accessible to public during exhibitions.
Explore the Seaside Town of Vigo
Santiago de Compostela is not just about museums and churches. There is so much more things to do. Travelers who want to experience the charm and peace of an old town should take a day trip to Vigo. The quaint fishing town lies along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and is a place filled with warmth and beauty. You will find a number of cultural attractions and archaeological monuments.
Join the Walking Tours in Santiago de Compostela
There are many fun-filled walking tours taking place in Santiago de Compostela. There are day tours that allow you to indulge in exciting activities as well as educating you about the history and myths of Camino de Santiago. For foodies, the Feast Galicia Tour is a wonderful chance to explore the town, discover and try famous Galician cuisine and even learn the secret recipes.
A Stroll at Alameda Park
Alameda Park is a lovely sprawling park right in the heart of Santiago de Compostela. It has over 90 types of plants, a flamboyant statue of the Fandiño sisters, and scenic walkways where one can take a breather from the busy life of the city. From Paseo da Ferradura, you can observe amazing views of the Cathedral. While you can visit the viewpoint any time of the day, the views of the city are most spectacular at nighttime. The park also hosts a number of festivals annually.
Experience the Galician Culture
The City of Santiago de Compostela has many things to do as it’s the hub of Galician cultural life. From religious festivals and poetry recitals to contemporary exhibitions and theatrical performances, there is so much going on in the city that will fascinate you.
Once you have visited the historical destinations and famous landmarks, take some time to learn about the culture and lifestyle of Galicia.