Santiago de Compostela an amazing town located in the Spanish north west (above Portugal).  It is known as a university town, and also acts as a beautiful finishing line for many pilgrims who have trekked for days along the Camino de Santiago.  To top it all off, in 1985 the Santiago old town was designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Sounds like an amazing travel destination right?

Yep, no doubt about it, Santiago is a joy to visit and explore … but why is it that you so rarely hear it mentioned in the same breath as Barcelona, or Madrid, when talking about a weekend break destination?  No doubt both Barcelona and Madrid are great in the their own right, but within this blog post I am (no prizes for guessing) here to sing the praises of one of my new fave European cities – Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela 48 hours guide

Friday

travel to airport, board plane, snooze for a bit, land, collect bags. All pretty standard.

Making your way from the airport to the city centre is a relitively simple task, consisting of a 20 minutes cab ride, or a bus (3 Euro). I went with the cab option.

No matter which option you choose, my top tip at this point would be to either a) politely ask you cab driver to take you to Gozo monument first, or  b) get off the bus at San Marcos (depending upon how much luggage you have) and walk up the hill to visit the very same monument. Basically the view you get from atop the hill where the monument Resides is the same view of Santiago de Compostella which  the pilgrims of the Camino get to experience, and so many days on their feet. Being that It’s kinda of on your way to town, I would recommend taking in the views and spotting the 3 spires of Santiago.  

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago (or in English, the Way of St James) is a network of pilgrimage routes, generally walked but also cycled, all which end with arrival at the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Reasons as to why someone might walk hundreds kilometres along one of the Camino routes varies, but typically include discovering something about oneself, spiritual reasons,  having suffered in some way and wanting to use the journey as a form of recovery and/or reflection.

The most popular route is the Camino Francés which extends a feet blistering 780 km (that’s roughly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

Along the different routes, pilgrims are guided along the way by an extensive series of yellow arrows which can be found on trees, sign posts, tiles, rocks/boulders etc, and accompanying Scallop Shells, but more on those later.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Camino, check out this post by Flora The Explorer – You Know You’ve Walked the Camino When…

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

Monte de Gozo Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Visiting the Monte de Gozo should keep you occupied up until evening time, when I recommend a little more walking, so to reach some of the more authentic restaurants in town. 

Rua de San Pedro is a road littered (in a good way) with mouthwatering tapas joints.  One such establishment called Amaceta is where I spent my Friday evening, scoffing town fresh bread, croquettes, prawns and steak, all while sitting out in their lovely garden.

Of course there’s always room and time for a quick night cap before bed. How about a LARGE Pomada (Gin), or bottle of Estrella in one of the towns squares to see out your first day in Santiago de Compostella?!

Amaceta Santiago de Compostela

Amaceta Santiago de Compostela

… unless it’s Saint John’s Eve (Noche de San Juan), in which case you’ll want to carry on walking some more, until you find one of the many bonfires which have been lit within the cities old town.  What happens after you find one of these bonfires? … Well, all will be explained in a separate blog post, but here’s a little clue.

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Saturday

Come Saturday morning and after a quick breakfast it’s market time. Head away from the tourist hotspots and down towards Mercado de Abastos, aka Santiago’s food market.

Admire the surrounding, and the fresh produce on sale at over 300 different market stalls. Home grown fruit, veg, bread, meats, fish and flowers appear to be the mainstays, but there is also some clothing and trinkets available. It’s quite probable that you won’t actually purchase anything (save maybe a pastry), but soak up the atmosphere of a market which first opened its doors(?) way back in 1873.

Probably best to do so before peak tourist time kicks in around midday.

Market de Abastos Santiago

Market de Abastos Santiago

Market de Abastos Santiago

Market de Abastos Santiago

Market de Abastos Santiago

Post market experience continue in a northerly direction and check out the CGAC (Galician Centre of Contemporary Art). First opened in 1993, it’s small centre, but free to enter, air conditioned, and upon my visit I found the exhibits to be really quite interesting.  Of course the exhibits will vary over time, so if you’re unsure whether it’ll be worth you time, maybe check the exhibitions schedule first.

Once you’ve had your fill of art, which I dare say won’t take any more than an hour, I’d say it’s time for lunch, as you must have worked up quite an appetite by now I imagine. 

Modern art museum Santiago

Modern art museum Santiago

For lunch my tastebuds would recommend that you mosey on back towards the food market and pitch up a Cafe de Altamira where the chefs do something amazing  with ribs and cocoa! It’s located just opposite the market.  Alternatively, if that’s not your thing, just rock up anywhere else which may take your fancy and enjoy all of the tapas, all of it!

altamira cafe santiago de compostela

altamira cafe santiago de compostela

Suitably stuffed, there may be a temptation to indulge in a siesta, but come on! … you’re only here for 48 hours, lets make the most of its and waddle around town a bit more.

Personally I started with a bit of shell spotting, remember I mentioned them earlier!?

OK so the thing with all the shells dotted all over Santiago is this, the Scallop Shell is symbol of the Santiago de Camino.  The story (or one of them) goes that the shell is a metaphor, and that the grooves/ridges represent the network of different Camino routes which can be walked to a single, final destination – Santiago de Compostela, and the tomb of Saint James.

Camino Shell

Santiago de Compostela

santiago_de_compostela_3

Santiago de Compostela

Camino shell

Camino shell

Santiago de Compostela

As you wander through the winding streets of Santiago it is somewhat inevitable that at some point you’ll find your way to the giant Cathedral, and to all of the other beautiful, intrinsic and towering structures which Santiago gifts to you.

At this point you’d do well to actually watch where you’re going, and no doubt your neck will begin to ache having looked skywards for so much of your afternoons exploration, fore those stunning specimens of sky scraping architecture are really quite difficult to take your eyes off of.

The details in the decorations and carved faces staring back down at you are so detailed and life-like that they’re almost hypnotic, seriously they draw you in. OK that may sound a little OTT, but believe me, when you too set eyes on these incredible structure I dare you not to be awe struck like I was. 

For clarity I’m talking about …

All of the above are within easy reach of one another, and all worth spending some time within/taking in.  The walk really is very easy and you’ll more than likely find your own way without too much trouble.  However, should you want a bit more detail and/or love a bit of pre trip research, check out this Monumental City walking route put together by the Tourism Board of Santiago de Compostela.  They also have a cool photography route too. 

Back to the cathedral quickly.  Built back in the 1300’s and currently (2017) undergoing extensive renovations to it’s exterior, I think it’s just worth mentioning that it is free to enter the cathedral, and you’ll want to because a) it’s simply stunning and drenched in gold, and b) the famous Botafumeiro! It is incredible, both inside and out,  but when inside please be careful with taking photos etc, as more than likely a service will be going on around you, so be aware and respectful. 

I believe it is also possible to gain access to the roof of the cathedral for a small fee, although upon my visit I did not find such ‘tours’ to be taking place.  This could have been due to the renovation work.  A reason to return at least :D

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

cathedral_santiago

San Martin Pinario Monastery

San Martin Pinario Monastery

San Martin Pinario Monastery

San Martin Pinario Monastery

Praza da quintana Santiago

Plaza de la Quintana

hostal dos reis catolicos

Palacio de Raxoi

Palacio de Raxoi

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

With lunch fully digested and a couple thousand more steps racked up on your fitbit, now may be the time to search out a slightly greener part of town and experience the tranquil paths and fountains of Alameda Park.

The origins of Alameda Park date back to the mid 16th century when the grounds were donated to the city by the Counts of Altamira.  Today it is best known for it’s relaxing vibe, great oak trees, fountains, and magnificent views the old town’s red roofs and of course, it’s cathedral.

Personally I was quite taken with the fountains, but was also quite happy to sit along the main promenade and listen to a group of locals break into chorus.  It really is a great place to unwind after a days exploration, and also a decent spot for an ice cream!

Alameda Park Santiago de Compostela

Alameda Park Santiago de Compostela

Alameda Park Santiago de Compostela

… I fully understand if your visit to the park is more snooze on the grass than walking of its twisty pathways.

Either option is fully acceptable, but be sure to check out the views of the Cathedral before you nod off.

Alameda Park bench

AND be sure to visit this guy, Ramón María del Valle Inclán, a renowned author and potentially the original hipster!?  I jest, amazing beard though!

Alameda Park Santiago de Compostela

Alameda Park Santiago de Compostela

As the sun begins to dissappear and evening draws in, you’ll not doubt want to nip back to your hotel/hostel/apartment and spruce up a bit. It is Saturday night after all.  

If hunger strikes, I can recommend restaurante El Papatorio for exceptional tapas.  OMG, some of the food these guys served up! …  baked cheese with jam, delightful mini burgers, peppered steak cutlets, battered cod, slice tuna steak, and of course patatas bravas (I devoured those before I even thought to take a photo tbh).  To wash that down I enjoyed ginger ice cream with strawberries.

Delicious!

El Papatorio tapas Santiago

El Papatorio tapas Santiago

El Papatorio tapas Santiago

Being a university town the nightlife scene in Santiago is far from dull. There are bars all over the place, and whether you like a nice glass of wine in an open square, or a large cerveza in the back of a dive bar, Santiago has you covered. 

I chose the cerveza option, but not before stumbling upon a small orchestral performance taking place just in front of the fountain de Los Caballos.  The steps up to the cathedral became VIP seating for the evening, as a small (ish) crowd gathered to enjoy a musical end to their Saturday evening.

santiago_cathedral

Sunday

Come Sunday morning and your time in Santiago is sadly coming to a close :( #sadface

Depending upon your flight time you may just be able to squeeze in a trip to the museum of the pilgrims (free entry), or maybe a spot of last minute shopping, but otherwise you’ll be on your way to the airport.

Sad times.

Museum of the Pilgrims, Santiago

The airport itself is really small.  You may have noticed already, but if not I dare say that arriving 3 hours before your flight is due to depart would be excessive, and you’ll quickly run out of shop and cafe.

Just be sure to pick yourself up a fridge magnet to add to the collection. There is no better memento.

Travel Information

Getting Around

Santiago is a city which is easy to get around on foot, or at least it is if you’re fresh from the airport, those who’ve walked xxxx miles over previous weeks to reach this point may not willingly agree with me, and that’s understandable, but my point is that all of Santiago’s goodness is condensed with a fairly small space. My 45k worth of steps over my 48 hours, as logged on my fitbit, are a testament to this, and I even took plenty of breaks for beers and tapas breaks!

The ease at which you can explore Santiago of course makes it perfect for a small break i.e. a weekend or any 48 hour period (because other days of the week are available).

The Weather

While the climate is warmer than Blight (normally, but not during June heatwaves), it’s not so hot that you dare not remove yourselves from the shadows. At the time of my visit, the temperature ranged between a pleasant 24-26°C. 

Atmosphere + Safety

The locals as you can imagine are somewhat used to foreigners walking into town. They are extremely friendly and very accommodating. Language wise I would have to say that outside of the Main streets you may have to use a bit of Spanish to get by, but if I can manage it, you certainly can. 

I also felt very comfortable walking the streets of Santiago. While beautiful, late at night I could understand a certain nervousness felt walking through small, dark, twisting alleys, but honestly I felt more than comfortable, and never in any danger. That extends to my possession. While I really love Spain, cities such as Barcelona and Madrid have issue with pick pocketing, it’s sad but a fact. Santiago may we’ll have some instances of the same, but I couldn’t particularly sense it, and never really worried too much about my phone or wallet leaving my pockets by any hands other than my own.

Shops + Restaurants

Inside the old town you’ll find an abundance of tourist trinket shops, as to be expected, but the bars and restaurants all appeared to be independently owned, or at least I didn’t recognise any chains. The only recognisable chain/brand I saw was  a single Burger King on the edge of town. 

I personally wouldn’t class Santiago de Compostela as a shopping destination, but for foodies – welcome to paradise :D

Where To Stay

Any hotel within the old town should be considered to be well located. I personally stayed in the Hotel Compostela which was just on the edge of town. It suit my needs perfectly and was very comfortable.

Hotel Compostela

Currency

Obvious euros, but most  bars and small restaurants appeared to prefer to deal in cash. Visa/MasterCard are accepted for the most part.

Cash points (ATM) are also fairly abundant. Just watch those exchange rates, OR get yourself a Monzo Pre paid MasterCard and be done with withdrawal charges and terrible exchange rates. 

Santiago De Compostela Summary

Santiago was a great weekend break destination. The flight time from London was just under 2 hours, the transfer time is around 20 minutes. 

Pssst, check out my discounts and offers page for a 10% saving on airport parking and hotels ;) 

Where in the world?

#SpainCities

This guide has been created as a part of the #SpainCities project, whereby 9 fantastic bloggers, and myself, each travelled to 10 different cities across Spain to experience 48 incredible hours over the weekend of 23 and 25 June 2017.

If you want to know and see more of each of the cities covered, check out the below links to the other 9 awesome bloggers who went out in search of the best Spain has to offer.

  • Segovia – Sabrina from Girl Vs Globe
  • Cadiz – Chloe from Wanderlust Chloe
  • Santander – Mark from The Common Wanderer
  • Cacares – Nicola from Polkadot Passport
  • Girona – Andrew from Along Dusty Roads
  • Ovideo – Nienke from The Travel Tester
  • Bilbao – Jessica from The Travelista
  • Zaragoza – Ellie from The Wanderig Quinn
  • Murcia – Emily from Emily Luxon Travels

… Also check out the hashtag on twitter #SpainCities and Instagram #SpainCities

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Santiago de Compostela 48 hours guide

Santiago de Compostela 48 hours guide