City Guide to Santander, Spain
Author: Julie Thompson | Last Updated: 22 Jul 2018
Santander is one of northern Spain’s beautiful coastal cities, alongside the likes of its more expensive counterpart San Sebastian. Located in the wild, mountainous region of Cantabria, Santander has some of the best beaches around and offers tourists a very modern, urban playground. The city is surrounded by beaches, meaning you can walk from one end of the city to the other following the coastline, and there are very different neighbourhoods with their own unique things to offer.
Best time of the year to visit:
Like most northern regions, Cantabria is partial to rain for most of the year, meaning the best time to visit this coastal city and make the most of its wonderful beaches is in the summer. Santander is a city to be enjoyed in the open air, unfortunately due to a devastating fire a big part of the old centre was burnt down, so the city lacks the cozy old centre hideaways that are great for those cold, rainy days.
It goes without saying that the main reason to come to Santander is for its high quality beaches, of which there are many to choose from. A great place to start if you’re planning on spending the day at the beach is the Sardinero district on the east side of the city. Here you’ll find 4 or 5 beaches next to each other, some with big waves, others more mild, some with terraced bars overlooking the sea, and others with ‘chiringuitos’, small stands which serve drinks from the side of the beach. If you’re seeking more privacy though, you’ll want to head playa de mataleñas or one of the other ‘calas’ (enclosed beaches) around just north of Sardinero. These beaches are often protected by the cliffs and provide a great spot for a swim in the calm sea. So as you can imagine Santander literally has beaches to suit everyone: beaches for the family, couples and even surfers.
Even if you don’t go to the playa de mataleñas, after you’ve had plenty of time taking in the sun on the beach, walk northwards towards the big cliff that wraps around to the lighthouse of Santander. The walk to get to the lighthouse is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the journey on the way to the destination. Walking behind some modern apartment blocks you will gradually ascend the side of the cliff, passing by hidden beaches and gradually getting a better view of the vast beaches expanding into the distance as far as the eye can see. Once at the top, take in the breathtaking views and walk past one of the better placed golf courses in Spain for the splendid views. It doesn’t stop there either, next you will walk around the playa de mataleñas enclosed by high cliffs all the way around, stop to see the waves crashing against the rocks far below and the lighthouse looming in the distance. Then several fields later you will be at the lighthouse which is impressive in itself, and is of course high up on the dramatic cliffs and rocks.
Water based activities
Yes, that’s right, while you may associate surfing with slightly more exotic destinations, there is plenty of surfing to be done on the waves of the Cantabrian sea. There are surfing schools in the city, meaning even if you’ve never tried it before, you can practice surf here. If you’re not in the mood for surfing, or you just fancy a more relaxing journey across the water, consider taking one of the boat trips with Santander bahia tours. Starting from the Sardinero district, this boat trip will take you all the way around the coast if you are wanting to go from the beaches to the centre. Though, it’s worth getting off at the halfway point to see the next recommended place to visit on this list, the Magdalena palace.
The Magdalena palace, which would be worth visiting just for its location at the southeastern point of the city, surrounded by beaches and jutting out from the peninsula. This regal palace wouldn’t look out of place in a grand estate in England, such is its majestic appearance and splendour. Take the time out to experience all the palace has to offer both inside and in the surrounding grounds which give way to great views of the horizon over the sea.
Centre and bars
While Sardinero is the district to be during the day for its numerous beaches and activities, the city centre of Santander on the western side is where you should go to spend the evening. First check out plaza Porticada, a grand plaza characterised by the many archways of the surrounding buildings and with some of the more ritzy bars and restaurants if what you’re seeking is a fine dining experience in a great location. If what you’re seeking though is a trendy plaza tucked away in a less-well known part of the city, head to plaza de cañadio where you’ll find a row of bars spilling out onto the streets and great atmosphere every night as people delight in evening drinks and tapas.
Mercado de la esperanza
It’s always fun to sample the local produce, and there’s no better place to that in Santander than in the ‘mercado de la esperanza’. Located a stone’s throw from the centre of Santander, this market is similar to other markets in Spain like Barcelona’s ‘mercado de la boqueria’, in that you can both buy fresh produce to take away or take up a seat and tuck into some interesting local dishes. Naturally being a coastal city, some of the best food to eat in the city is seafood, so you will encounter plenty of it in the market.
Before leaving the city, make sure you ride ‘el furnicular de rio de la pila’ up to Santander’s secret lookout point high up in the city. While maybe not on the level of some lookouts in Spain, you’ll be in a great vantage point to see the Cantabrian sea and the green hills in the distance of small towns pertaining to the region. It’s interesting to see the city from high up but more so the rugged Cantabrian countryside which is a typical feature of the region.
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