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Is it Worth Visiting Santiago de Compostela?
Santiago de Compostela, located in the northwest corner of Spain, is an ancient city steeped in history and culture and Yes! It is worth visiting Santiago de Compostela?
Santiago de Compostela has so much to offer a visitor, from its iconic cathedral to its fascinating pilgrim history and medieval centre, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Whether you are looking for a cultural getaway or you’re a pilgrim walking the Camino, Santiago de Compostela is a destination that should be on your bucket list.
Why is Santiago de Compostela Famous?
Santiago de Compostela is famous for being the end and ultimate destination of the Camino de Santiago, one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage routes and an important cultural centre since the Middle Ages.
People have been travelling on this route (The Way of St James) since the 9th century; millions of people have walked the Camino and it remains ever popular today. The end goal is always the same; to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St James are said to be buried.
The Apostle St James and the Cathedral
The focal point of the city is its magnificent cathedral dedicated to St James. The remain of St James were discover in 814 and the original church was built on the site in 829. Built in 1075, today’s cathedral is a romanesque masterpiece in the heart of Santiago’s old town and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and continues to attract tens of thousands of tourists each year.
Inside, visitors can visit the tomb of the Apostle, St James’ in the crypt beneath the main altar, explore its many chapels and marvel at its majestic stained glass windows. You can also attend one of several daily masses held there and if you’re lucky you may even see the cathedrals famous Botofumeiro swing.
The Camino De Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is an iconic pilgrimage. The most famous route, the Camino Frances, begins in St Jean Pied de Port in South West France, crossing the Pyrenees and winding its way through northern Spain until it reaches the cathedral and the tomb of St James in Santiago.
I discovered the Camino in 2013 and I have walked at least once a year since. Reaching Santiago, even after so many visits, continues to enthral me and is always a very special moment.
As well as being incredibly beautiful, the Camino offers pilgrims an opportunity for spiritual enlightenment and personal growth as they walk 800 kilometres across Spain.
The Camino de Santiago offers a unique insight into Spanish culture and local traditions along with some breathtakingly beautiful scenery! I should note though, to receive a Compostela from the Cathedral de Santiago you must walk at least the last 100 kilometres of any route that ends in Santiago.
How long to Spend in Santiago?
Santiago can easily be enjoyed in just a few days but if you really want to get under its skin then three days or more would be ideal. This gives you enough time to explore all the key sights without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. Plus, with such great food and wine on offer, why would you wish to rush!
Many Pilgrims only allow a day; myself included. I’ve visited Santiago many many times and each time I discover something new and yearn to stay longer. So if you are planning to visit the city make sure you allow enough time to discover her secrets!
But be warned though; I have several pilgrim friends who fell in love with Santiago de Compostela and up-rooted their lives to live here! There is something very special about this ancient city!
Is it Worth Visiting Santiago de Compostela : There is So Much to See!
There is so much history and culture and life to Santiago that’s it’s impossible to quantify what you must see! However, if you are visiting for the first time there are a few things that should be on your to-do list.
Explore the Cathedral de Santiago
Visiting the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a must. The Cathedral is 97 meters long and 22 meters high, with a barrel-vaulted cruciform interior. It consists of a nave, two lateral aisles, and several chapels and inside you can find many works of art including sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows.
Of course, the most significant reason for pilgrims to reach to the Cathedral is to visit and pay homage at the tomb of St James the Apostle who is buried here.
The Cathedral does offer tours but often they are only in Spanish, however there are excellent private Cathedral tours in English that you can book in advance of your visit.
Take a Tour of the Cathedral Roof
I have taken this tour three times and I would happily go again. It’s an incredible experience to see Santiago from the roof of the Cathedral! I would also say that I am not great with heights but I have no problems with this tour.
You’ll get to meet at the statue of St James, ascending to the roof via an internal staircase. From up here you’ll see some incredible sights such as panoramic views over Santiago de Compostela, beautiful architectural details, and monuments like El Obradoiro Square.
These tours are booked directly on the Cathedral’s website. They aren’t always available in English but I would still recommend you take the tour!
Explore the Old Town on a Walking Tour
Explore Santiago de Compostela like a local on a guided tour. You can explore some of the most famous landmarks such as Plaza do Obradoiro, the beautiful squares around the Cathedral, Plaza Cervantes, the infamous Torno de las Monjas and the Mercado de Abastos. Visit the beautiful Monasterio de San Martin Pinario and Convento de San Francisco and more.
There is so much to see; a tour provides a unique opportunity to explore some of the city’s most iconic attractions as well as hidden gems that you wouldn’t find on your own.
For something a little different, get in touch with a friend of mine, Andrea who offers Walks with a Pilgrim
People Watching in Praza do Obradoiro
People watching in Praza do Obradoiro is an experience like no other. Located in the heart of Santiago de Compostela, this historic square has been a the end point of the Camino de Santiago for centuries. Admire the stunning architecture around the square, it’s here that you’ll find iconic views of the cathedral and its grandiose portico.
Take some time to stroll around the square and you’ll find a vibrant mix of locals and tourists and pilgrims. Listen to the conversations, watch pilgrims as they finish their journeys from across Spain, listen to the buskers and street music and simply soak up this unique atmosphere.
Exploring the Mercado de Abastos
If you’re looking for the authentic side of Santiago de Compostela, then look no further than the Mercado de Abastos. This bustling market has been around since 1873 and is the perfect place to explore the culture and cuisine of Galicia.
The Mercado de Abastos is located on Rúa das Ameas and offers a wide variety of fresh produce, seafood, meats, breads, cheeses, and more. It’s a great place to find local specialties like chorizo, empanadas, and other regional delicacies. You can also find handmade crafts such as pottery and jewelry.
The atmosphere at the Mercado de Abastos is lively and vibrant. You’ll hear people chatting in Spanish or Galician while they shop for their groceries or browse through the stalls. The vendors are friendly and knowledgeable about their products, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
The Mercado de Abastos is open mornings from Monday to Saturday and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Santiago de Compostela.
Discover the Cuisine of Galicia
Santiago has so many restaurants and tapas bars it’s difficult to know where to start. The dishes and ingredients found in Galician cuisine are heavily influenced by the abundance of seafood available from the Atlantic Ocean.
Popular dishes include boiled octopus, fresh seafood platters, hearty stews, Ternera Gallega (Galician veal), Albariño (white wine), Godello (white wine), Pementos de Padrón (small green peppers), and various types of cheese.
The preparation and cooking of these dishes varies greatly, with some being fried or grilled while others are boiled or stewed. One popular dish is Pulpo á feira which consists of octopus boiled in salted water and served with olive oil, paprika, and salt. Another favorite is Caldo a la gallega which is a soup made with potatoes, vegetables, chorizo sausage, and other meats.
Galicia’s cuisine also includes various types of pies such as Empanada gallega which is filled with fish or meat and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Cheese lovers will enjoy the variety of local cheeses such as Tetilla cheese which has a distinctive shape said to resemble a woman’s breast.
And you can’t leave the city with out trying it’s famous Tarta de Santiago which is an almond cake flavored with lemon zest.
One of the best ways to discover the local cuisine is on a food tour where the guide can take the guess work out of where to find the best places to eat like a local!
Visit Museo do Pobo Galego
Muséo do Pobo Galego is an incredible cultural museum founded in 1972 and is dedicated to the culture of Galicia, with exhibits showcasing the region’s history, art, music, and traditional customs.
The museum consists of several galleries which explore different aspects of Galician life. There are permanent collections focusing on regional ceramics, woodworking, weaving techniques and musical instruments as well as temporary exhibitions exploring current topics. Visitors can also take part in regular workshops that cover a variety of topics ranging from cooking to dance and theatre.
Enjoy the views from Parque de la Alameda
Parque de la Alameda is a small park with plenty of charm and offers beautiful views of the old town and the cathedral. Stroll through the garden and enjoy its Mediterranean garden design with numerous species of trees and plants. The park dates back to the mid-16th century when it was donated to the city by the Count of Altamira.
The Alameda Park is one of Santiago’s oldest and most beloved parks. The history of the park is closely linked to that of Santiago de Compostela itself, making it an essential part of any visit to this beautiful city.
Learn about Pilgrim History at the Museo das Peregrinacions
The Museo das Peregrinacions is a museum dedicated to the history of religious pilgrimage. It was founded in 2010 and is located in the old city centre, close to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The museum houses a collection of artifacts and artworks related to the history of pilgrimage, including sculptures, paintings, photographs, and documents.
Visitors can learn about the different stages of the Camino de Santiago, from its origins in medieval times to its modern-day popularity as a spiritual journey.
Discover Santiago at Night
I love a walking tour and Santiago at night is a wonderful place. There are so many secret corners and narrow streets to discover that makes a walking tour such a great idea!
I love the Night Tour Land of Legends and Meigas which takes you through the streets of Santiago de Compostela, exploring the city’s unique history, culture, and mythology. You can hear local stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, visit special places where local superstitions are still alive and well, and sample some of the delicious local food and drink along the way.
If you’re lucky you might also get to see the shadow of the pilgrim under the baroque clock tower in the Plaza de la Quintana!
Take a day Trip to the End of the World at Cape Finisterre (Cabo Finisterre)
I found my pilgrim shell on a beach in the shadow of Finisterre and it was for me, confirmation that I should walk the Camino de Santiago. If you wish to explore beyond the city boundaries then Cabo Finisterre is the perfect place to visit!
The Finisterre and the oddly named Coast of Death Tour offers a fabulous opportunity to explore two of Galicia’s most popular tourist destinations. This full-day tour takes you to Finisterre – the End of the World as it was known in ancient times – and then along the stunningly beautiful Costa da Morte (Coast of Death), so named from its turbulent seafaring history and treacherous coastline.
Finisterre is beautiful; an area filled with rugged cliffs, beaches, lighthouses, ancient ruins, and more. Here you can soak in the sun on unspoiled stretches of beach or learn about the wild Celtic traditions that still exist in this part of Spain.
You’ll visit a number of seaside villages with their own unique stories to tell, including Laxe, Malpica and Muxia. This is a beautiful trip and one that may pilgrims take at the end of the pilgrimage!
Explore the stunning Galician Coast at Rias Baixas
Galicia is world famous for it’s seafood. Octopus is the regions most celebrated dish but it’s also famous for shellfish and the local white wine that accompanies it. Indeed if you walk the Portuguese Camino you’ll walk through Arcade and possibly Combarro which are both famous for their shellfish.
If you have time, explore the beautiful Galician coastline and sample some of the region’s finest delicacies on the Rías Baixas Boat with Mussels and Wine tour.
You’ll board a boat and set sail for Rías Baixas, a stunningly beautiful region along Spain’s northwestern coast. As you make your way through the Galician waters, you’ll pass by towns like Cambados, Sanxenxo and Vilagarcía de Arousa – all of which have their own unique histories and cultures. You’ll learn about the history and culture of the region and have chance to sample some traditional dishes and regional wines from local vineyards.
Where To Stay In Santiago : 2 Iconic Hotels
Santiago has a myriad of hotels and hostels ranging from 5 star luxury accommodation to simple pilgrim bunk beds. I ‘m not going to list all of the options (that’s for another time) but I will mention two noteworthy places worth investigating.
Parador de Santiago : Hostal Reis Catolicos
Don’t let the word hostel deceive you; the Hostel Parador de Santiago is a luxurious four-star hotel located in the heart of Santiago de Compostela, in the Praza do Obradoiro opposite the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The hotel offers guests a wide range of amenities including spacious rooms and suites, an on-site restaurant serving traditional Galician cuisine, a spa and wellness center complete with sauna, steam room, and whirlpool, as well as a fitness center.
I have stayed here once when I walked the Camino Portuguese in December 2019; it was beautiful but felt odd staying in such opulence in a pilgrim city when bunk beds are more usual for me. But if you’re looking for somewhere very special then this beautiful stunning hotel is a must!
And if you can’t afford the 4 star prices you can also visit their bar for a glass of local wine; it’s a beautiful building and the restaurant is also very good!
Hospedería San Martín Pinario
This is where I choose to stay when I’m in Santiago de Compostela but be warned places book a year ahead so be quick! There are two options for accommodation 1) the modernised rooms which are more akin to a hotel and 2) pilgrim rooms which whilst very comfortable are not renovated. When I’m walking with my groups we stay in the pilgrim rooms and we’ve always been very happy.
To reserve your room you must contact the Hospederia direct or try booking on their website; I’ve had more success with an email.
Hospedería San Martín Pinario is a beautiful building and well worth a visit even if you’re not staying, It’s opposite the cathedral before you enter the Praza do Obradoiro. Honestly my favourite place to stay in the city!
The Last Word : Is it Worth Visiting Santiago de Compostela?
Absolutely! With its rich history, unique culture, stunning architecture and beautiful Galician countryside – not to mention its delicious cuisine – there really is something special about this corner of Spain that makes it worth visiting. Whether you’re seeking adventure or enlightenment on the Camino de Santiago or relaxation on a city break, you’re sure to find it here. Santiago is a wonderful city and you won’t regret making a visit.