City Guide to Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Author: Julie Thompson | Last Updated: 14 Aug 2018
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the northwestern region of Spain, Galicia. Galicia is known for its Celtic influence, unmatchable seafood and its incredible nature and coastline. Santiago de Compostela epitomises everything that makes up this view of Galicia and more. Not only is the city recognised for its gastronomy and live music culture, the city’s cathedral marks the end of one of the most famous walks in the Way of St.James giving it a very unique character.
Best time to visit Santiago de Compostela:
Whilst there is some truth in the locals’ claim that Santiago de Compostela is a city that looks even more beautiful in the rain, it is advisable to visit in either the summer or spring to avoid the heavy rain which is so characteristic of the region. In both spring and summer there are many festivals and events going on to keep you entertained.
The first stop on your visit has to be the famous cathedral of Santiago, a beautiful cathedral which has been converted into a powerful symbol for the region and the increasingly popular Way of St. James. The cathedral sits in the ‘praza do obradoiro’, the more astute of you will notice this isn’t actually Castilian spanish, but the regional language of Galician. The Galician people are proud of their roots and culture and so it isn’t uncommon to hear the musical language of Galician spoken in the streets, often drawing comparisons to the Italian language. While at the cathedral, it is definitely worth doing a tour so that you can see all the art they have collected and housed in the historical rooms. What’s even better though is the view from the balcony that wraps around the cathedral, allowing you to really get a sense of the magnitude of the building.
Camino de Santiago
Called the Way of St. James in English, the ‘Camino de Santiago’ is a pilgrimage that thousands of people have taken from as far away as Italy, France or even Germany. The route passes beautiful scenery in the northern part of Spain and many towns and cities where you can stay at special hostels and meet other people doing the same. If you are only in Santiago de Compostela for a few days but still want a taste of the experience, it’s possible to walk from the city of Santiago de Compostela, to the place that was previously thought to be the end of the world, Finisterre. This notion of being the end of the world is reflected in the gorgeous coastline and the lighthouse perched atop the edge of a steep cliff.
Back to the city though and its enticing gastronomy; consisting mainly of meat and fish, the Galician people pride themselves on using only ingredients of the highest quality. So while you’re not likely to find an elaborate meal with many different vegetables and food groups, you will find some of the best steak in Spain and certainly some of the best, if not the best seafood in the whole country. To demonstrate the freshness of the seafood and proximity to the coast, many of the restaurants close to the cathedral show off their produce in large fish tanks to the awe of many visitors.
Tapas and drinks
On the topic of food, a great place to experience a variety of fine Galician cuisine is to go to the market ‘La Galiciana’. This isn’t the kind of market you might expect, it is an ultra modern hub for high quality food and drink vendors, spread across 2 floors. In this impressive dining hall you can expect to find fresh octopus with paprika (one of Galicia’s specialties), a wide range of fresh shellfish as well as Galicia’s own fine cheese, called tetilla cheese. After dining on some of the best food Santiago de Compostela has to offer, walk just 5 minutes down the road to bar Momo for a drink in a unique bar. Bar Momo is very unassuming, a simple door on the side of the road it doesn’t look like much, but open the door and you’ll realise that inside the bar there are several rooms each with their own themes, including a pool table, table football and a dart board. If it’s sunny outside, take your drink outside onto the large terrace complete with water features and views over the old monastery on top of a hill in the distance.
The old centre
One of Santiago de Compostela’s biggest draws is its old centre which is much larger than in other spanish cities. The cobbled streets and old stone buildings make for a very pleasurable experience walking around. It seems like you can’t go 5 minutes here without seeing something that makes you stop and stare, such is the stonework of the old buildings and the fairytale like nature of the city. Make sure to visit the university campus, just off from the cathedral, with its enviable courtyard that would make anyone wish they could study there.
If you thought the cathedral of Santiago was impressive standing in the plaza, just wait until you go to Alameda park. Close to the cathedral, this park fuses so well with the city and provides a splash of green to contrast with the old, grey stonework. As well as being a fantastic place to walk around and explore, the park has one of the best complete views of the cathedral and the city.
El museo del pueblo gallego
Lastly, if you want to know more about the rich culture and history of the Galician people and their wondrous region, then a visit to the museum of Galicia people is essential. The museum houses exhibits spanning all elements of Galician culture, from the sea and the land, to clothes and music, this museum really captures the spirit of the region and those who inhabit it. Learning about the history of the Galician people is important in appreciating why the region is so beautiful and how their current culture, especially music, has strong celtic routes.
City: Santiago de Compostela
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