8 Things To Do In Santiago de Compostela: Complete Guide To This Beloved Pilgrimage City


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Aug 10, 2023

8 Things To Do In Santiago de Compostela: Complete Guide To This Beloved Pilgrimage City

Not only is Santiago de Compostela the last stop on the Camino de Santiago, but

Not only is Santiago de Compostela the last stop on the Camino de Santiago, but the medieval city is also an unforgettable travel destination.

Globetrotters dream of crossing epic feats off their lists, like journeying to Mt Everest, hiking to Machu Picchu, or completing the Camino de Santiago. Also known as the Way of St James, the Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage with trails crisscrossing Europe. All routes lead backpackers across the north of Spain to one point of singularity: Santiago de Compostela.

Sangría and flamenco may come to mind when travelers think of Spain, but Santiago de Compostela proudly stands apart. The small city is the capital of Galicia, a northwestern province more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest than of sultry Spain. Marked by rugged Atlantic beaches, rolling green pastures, and timeworn villages, Galicia is one of the many unique destinations in Europe.

Santiago de Compostela is known as a Holy City and one of the most sacred sites in Catholicism. The Apostle James is believed to have preached the gospel in present-day Galicia before his death and martyrdom in Jerusalem. Two disciples returned his body to Galicia on a mythical stone boat, later to be discovered by a hermit in the first century. King Alfonso II of Asturias made the first pilgrimage to the site, known as the Camino Primitivo (Primitive Way), to visit and erect a church over the Saint's remains.

Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims complete some variation of the Camino Primitivo to marvel at Santiago de Compostela's cathedral and St James' tomb.

Apart from being the final destination for weary pilgrims, Santiago de Compostela is a worthy travel destination. Discover the holy city's cultural and historical attractions, places to stay, and where to eat in the complete guide below.

Santiago de Compostela is testimony that Spain has more to offer than Europe's only desert.

Hundreds of thousands of hikers will complete the Camino de Santiago at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but the Galician capital has much more to experience.

A charming historic center, cultural museums, lively markets, and quiet outdoor walks are only a few activities visitors can enjoy throughout the day in this marvelous city.

Over 150,000 annual trekkers tackle a pilgrimage with one shining destination in mind: the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, the final stop on the Camino de Santiago.

For many pilgrims, this breathtaking cathedral at the journey's end is as precious as all the experiences and lessons learned along the Way of St James. According to legend, in 814 AD, Pelayo the Hermit stumbled across the remains of Jesus' disciple St James.

After alerting the local bishop, the event was quickly recognized as a miracle. A chapel was constructed over the tomb, spurring a pilgrimage route that has endured over a millennium.

Related: Meet Steve Hay: One Man Walking The Camino de Santiago For A Cause

Dominating the lovely Plaza del Obradoiro, the current cathedral was built between the 11th and 13th centuries, blending Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque features. Visitors can only bask in the glory of its ornamental gates, imposing columns, and intricate ceilings.

Tradition dictates that pilgrims attend mass with the botafumeiro, one of the most spectacular attractions in Santiago de Compostela. An enormous incense censer hangs from the cathedral's center and swings back and forth during mass, reaching heights of over 60 feet.

The botafumeiro only swings on certain religious holidays, and travelers must reserve a spot ahead of time. Tourists can enter the cathedral or attend mass for free. There are also paid tours to view the museum, cloister, and crypts.

Related Hike The Camino de Santiago: The Most Popular Christian Pilgrimage Walk In The World

Most European cities have treasured Old Towns at their core, and Santiago de Compostela's Casco Histórico is no exception.

Explore the cobblestone alleys surrounding the cathedral to find hidden town squares, beautiful architecture, and lovely houses. Tables spill out onto the streets from bars and restaurants for those who prefer to sit back and people-watch.

Some of the mythic streets to check out include:

Check the city's pulse at Mercado de Abastos, one of the most colorful places to visit in Santiago de Compostela.

Start by browsing the indoor stalls and follow them as they overflow outdoors. A gathering place for tourists and locals alike, the traditional market offers cheeses, flowers, fruits, and much more.

Shoppers can try fresh milk from Galician pasture cows or buy fresh seafood and ask the stall to cook it onsite.

An essential site to see in Santiago de Compostela is the Monastery of San Martín Pinario. The historical landmark was originally a chapel constructed in the 9th century, later growing in size and wealth to become the second-largest in Spain.

Today, travelers can visit the Benedictine monastery free of charge. An impressive brick facade with intricate engravings welcomes guests inside to explore the church and cloisters.

Visitors should seek out the mesmerizing altarpiece and the gorgeous renowned choir stalls.

Guarding the outskirts of the town, Monte do Gozo is a gentle mountain perfect for an outdoor escape in Santiago de Compostela. Hikers can take an easy route that starts in the center that leads them out of town and up the mountain.

Just over two hours long, the trail offers fresh air and the best views of Santiago and its endless countryside.

Apart from the panorama at the peak, trekkers will find the statues of two pilgrims signaling toward Plaza Obradoiro.

Travelers can consider staying at the hostel at the top of Monte do Gozo. The enormous inn is the final resting place for many pilgrims before completing the Camino de Santiago.

After walking hundreds of miles, pilgrims will undoubtedly want a quiet place to rest. Not only a town with historic buildings and sites, but Santiago de Compostela also boasts beautiful open-air parks.

Alameda Park conveniently lies near the town center, offering wooded trails and green areas. The dense trees provide shade in the steamy summers or refuge on blustery winter days. The haven is excellent for picnics, strolling, or an afternoon nap.

Tourists should find the statues of Las Dos Marías (the two Marys). Supposedly, the figures represent two provocatively-dressed women who used to prowl the park and central streets, flirting with university students.

Very few travelers know about the richness and complexity of Galician culture. History buffs can dive into the region's heritage at the Pobo Galego Museum, a fascinating attraction in Santiago de Compostela.

The 13th-century convent houses the museum's collections, including historical clothing, ancient pottery and stonework, and regional artwork. Culture lovers will enjoy the chance to peek into ancestral Galicians' religious, domestic, and everyday lives.

The crown jewel of the museum, visitors will find an extraordinary stone spiral staircase.

Despite what pilgrims believe, Santiago is hardly a final destination. The Galician capital is an excellent starting point for day trips into the pastoral surroundings, rocky coasts, and quaint villages. Rent a car or rely on buses and trains to explore more of Galicia, Spain, and the rest of Europe.

Some incredible day trips from Santiago de Compostela include:

Weary pilgrims arrive in Santiago hungry but leave with full bellies. The pilgrimage's final destination is a bountiful foodie haven. Travelers can find delicious eats everywhere, from local taverns and bakeries to Michelin-star restaurants.

As with most cities in Spain, the best way to try a variety of new dishes is to hop from bar to bar, ordering tapas. Given its proximity to thriving rivers and the ocean, tourists must try fresh Atlantic seafood and fish in Santiago. Essential plates to sample include:

Nestled amid lush green Galician pastures, Santiago de Compostela also specializes in hearty rustic meals, including:

Finally, no meal in Santiago is complete without trying the emblematic Tarta de Santiago: an almond cake from the Middle Ages, dusted with powdered sugar and the silhouette of St James' Cross.

Café Venecia

Mercado de Boanerges

Mesón 42

A Moa

The Spanish are famed for their late lunches and siestas. Lunch typically starts between 1 PM - 3 PM, and many restaurants will close during the late afternoon. Dinner typically starts between 8 PM - 10 PM.

O Gato Negro


Pub Modus Vivendi

Pepa A Loba

Hikers who had to budget, plan, and scope out guesthouses along the Camino de Santiago should reward themselves at the final destination.

Fortunately, Santiago de Compostela offers multiple affordable accommodations throughout its ancient streets. Whether travelers want to relax in luxury or just a hotel to put their feet up, the Galician town delivers reasonable options for everyone.

Parador de Santiago de Compostela

Hotel Spa Relais & Chateau

NH Collection

Exe Peregrino

Related Budget Travelers: Here Are The Top 10 Most Affordable Hotels In Spain

Pombal Rooms

Hotel Ciudad de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela boasts an oceanic climate due to its proximity to the Atlantic coasts. Buried in pastures and the countryside, the capital city has relatively warm and dry summers followed by cool and rainy winters.

Tourists contend with an influx of pilgrims to the sacred city from April to October when the weather is best. The ideal climate conditions for the pilgrimage coincide with more crowds and expensive rates. Travelers not trekking the Way of St James have more flexibility in deciding which season to visit Santiago de Compostela.

Spring and fall are the best times to go to Santiago de Compostela. Although March and November can signify more precipitation, the city is beautiful when painted with blooming trees and gardens or in earthier autumn tones. The Galician countryside is specifically charming with fall foliage.

Travelers can enjoy mild temperatures, fewer crowds, and more affordable prices in spring or fall. However, tourism spikes during Holy Week, the week preceding Easter Sunday.

Nevertheless, spring tourists who can visit over Easter break will not be disappointed by the majesty of the city's celebrations, religious processions, and the swinging botafumeiro.

Related Planning To Walk The Camino De Santiago? These Are The Items You Must Bring In Your Backpack

Summer is an excellent time to visit Santiago de Compostela, albeit more crowded and expensive. The warm temperatures and rare rains are perfect for wandering the city streets or escaping to the coast for a beach day.

Lucky tourists who visit during the summer of the Year of San Xacobeo are in for a special treat. Also known as Holy Year, these are the years in which July 25th, the Saint's Day of the Apostle James, falls on a Sunday. The city bursts with pilgrims, festivals, and ceremonies.

The next Holy Years are in 2027 and 2032.

Winters are typically cold and rainy in Santiago de Compostela. Cold-weather travelers who don't mind dreary days will find the cheapest hotel rates and can enjoy a local's perspective of the city. Fortunately, hearty Galician stews served in taverns will keep tourists warm.

There are numerous ways to get around Santiago de Compostela and see the sights.

The best way to navigate the small city is on foot. Most visitors stay in the dense and compact Old Town, where they can visit many restaurants and attractions on fully-pedestrianized streets.

The walking is on flat terrain, and any sites outside the center are just a short jaunt away.

A free walking touris an excellent way to explore and learn about the history that courses through the city's streets.

Many pilgrims complete the pilgrimage by bicycle. Thanks to its quiet streets and traffic restrictions, Santiago de Compostela is a bike-friendly city and offers cyclists an enjoyable ride.

While visitors will not need public transportation to explore the city, they should know that Santiago de Compostela is serviced by a dense network of buses and trains connecting riders to the rest of Spain and Europe. Public transportation in Spain ensures that no matter how remote the village, travelers always stay connected.

Tourists should not try driving around Santiago de Compostela, as the city is small and traffic is heavily restricted.

However, road-tripping through Spain is one of the best ways to explore its magical pueblos (villages) and gorgeous beaches. Public transportation requires patience and planning and can only get travelers so far. Discovering Spain by car is an invaluable way to experience the incredible country.

Road trippers can find many car rental companies in Santiago de Compostela, near the airport and bus and train stations. Some reliable companies include:

Tourists must carry their national driver's license and an International Driver's Permit to rent a car and drive in Spain. Carefully read the fine print before renting with any company, and consider purchasing full coverage insurance for peace of mind.

The nearest airport is Santiago-Rosalia de Castro Airport (SCQ), about ten miles from the city. Travelers can take a bus or taxi to arrive.

Tourists can also arrive by bus or train from other Spanish and European cities. The most convenient way to get to Santiago de Compostela is by car.

Traveling across the Atlantic to Spain can feel daunting, but with some time and planning, it's as easy as traveling around the United States. Americans only need a valid passport to enter Spain and will be issued a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival.

The currency in Santiago de Compostela is Euros. While most establishments will accept credit cards, carry some cash for small restaurants and market stalls. There are many ATMs throughout the city.

If asked to proceed "with or without conversion" when using a credit card, the best is to select "no conversion." Banks will often choose unfavorable rates when authorized.

Related: Your Most Common FAQS About Visiting Spain

Galicians are a friendly and welcoming community. They are proud of their heritage and towns and are typically willing to point tourists in the right direction. Be respectful when visiting, and remember the places many locals call home have become tourist magnets.

The most common languages are Spanish and Gallego (Galician), a Romance language exclusive to Galicia. Due to tourism, English is widely understood.

Finally, bring Type C or Type F power adapters for the electric outlets. These are two circular prongs used widely across the European Union.

Santiago de Compostela is one of the many amazing cities to visit in Spain on a first-time trip. Thousands of trekkers will end their journey along the Camino de Santiago in this small city, while others will come to soak in the beauty of its heritage. Either way, Santiago de Compostela is an excellent day trip in Spain and offers visitors a full day of culture and history.

The perfect day in Santiago de Compostela starts at the Cathedral of Santiago. The stunning monument is the city's centerpiece, so travelers should marvel from the outside, explore the interior, attend a mass, or visit the museum. Later, tourists can explore the preserved alleys and streets of the Old Town surrounding the cathedral.

While in the Old Town, foodies can't pass up the opportunity to browse the stalls of the colorful Abastos Market or try traditional Galician plates and fresh seafood at one of many restaurants.

Depending on energy levels, culture lovers can spend an afternoon in Santiago de Compostela at historical sites like The Monastery of San Martín Pinario or the Museum of Pobo Galego. Others could instead take their siesta on the shaded green lawns of the lovely Alameda Park.

At sunset, tourists should take the easy route from the center to the top of the gentle mountain of Monte do Gozo. Beautiful sunset panoramas of the city and countryside await before returning to the lively streets of the Old Town for a dinner of tapas and cervezas.

Santiago de Compostela boasts some of Spain's most beautiful buildings.

Fortunately, tourists can visit many of these buildings for free. The town's iconic Cathedral of Santiago and the Monastery of San Martín Pinario are free places to visit, in addition to strolling through the Mercado de Abastos or relaxing at Alameda Park.

Tourists must visit the capital of Galicia to understand all the awesome things Spain has to offer.

Some unusual things to do in Santiago de Compostela include attending pilgrim's mass at the main cathedral to watch the swinging botafumeiro, finding the statues of Las Dos Marías at Alameda Park, or going to a traditional restaurant to try p ulpo a feira: boiled octopus with paprika.

Barcelona and Madrid are two cities that come to mind when deciding which cities to visit on a first trip to Spain.

Santiago de Compostela is another remarkable place worth visiting. The small city is the capital of the northwestern region of Galicia, an area marked by Atlantic beaches, rolling green hills, and a rich heritage.

Santiago de Compostela is known as the final destination for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who complete the Camino de Santiago. An imposing cathedral indicates where St James' remains are reportedly buried.

Besides attending mass at the cathedral or wandering through the precious Old Town, Santiago de Compostela is a foodie haven. Visitors should try traditional plates featuring fresh seafood or hearty rustic eats.

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Dylan is a travel writer from the United States Midwest, now living and teaching English in Madrid, Spain. He believes every day living abroad contains a year's worth of invaluable lessons. Dylan considers himself a budget traveler and always strives to find the best balance between budget and convenience. He has traveled extensively across the United States, Europe, and Asia. His interests include hiking, biking, cooking, reading, languages, and food.

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