Not much is necessary to enjoy two perfect days in Santander, Northern Spain’s wonderful coastal city. This article is going to showcase Santander’s must-have places and – it wouldn’t be us if not – some “Besides the Obvious” tips on how to spend a magical weekend in one of the most beautiful
Cantabrian cities. Santander definitely stole our hearts, and we are happy to share our Santander bucket list now.
Santander – on the north coast of Spain – is the capital of Cantabria. It is a port city located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao with a population only of 172,000. The city with this population is very calm, not too crowded, so even with tourists it’s bare-able, the crowd has more than enough space to fill the city.
This city is a combination of green mountain landscapes with white sand beaches, elegant mansions and palatial architecture with avant-garde buildings and the unmistakeable echo of its seafaring past. Santander has managed to successfully retain much history, old landmarks and monuments to the past. The city center is full of remarkable buildings, it’s worth looking up, we can admire grandiose architecture all around the city.
Santander has been a port since ancient times, due to its favourable location. Much of the medieval city was lost in the Great Fire of 1941. Today, its remaining old town, beach and other attractions are popular with tourists and other visitors and its economy is mainly service based. The port is still very active and a regular ferry service operates to the United Kingdom. Fish and seafood dominate the local cuisine. Santander notably houses the headquarters of multinational bank Banco Santander.
Things to do in Santander
Catedral de Santander
The city’s premier religious landmark is without question this glorious cathedral. The construction of Santander Cathedral began during the 12th century and much of the architecture is rather Gothic in its appearance. Inside, we can find the 15th-century cloister, a magnificent altar and some lavishly decorated tombs. The Cripta del Cristo (Crypt of Santisimo Cristo) is even older than the cathedral itself and is located underneath the ground.
Mercado de la Esperanza
The Mercado de la Esperanza is a food market in the center of Santander, next to the town hall. It was designed by the architects Eduardo Reynals and Juan Moya in 1897. Its architectural and historical importance lies in the fact that it is one of the great and few examples of nineteenth-century iron architecture preserved in Spain.
They opened it on April 10, 1904, earning its creators the Medal of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. It became a historic-artistic monument in 1977. Currently it is the largest market of its kind in Cantabria, dedicated mainly to food. The ground floor gives home entirely to the sale of fish and seafood, while the upper floor is for the sale of meat, dairy, fruit and vegetable products.
Mercado del Este & La Casa del Indiano
Mercado del Este was built between 1839 and 1842, it occupies 2,600 square meters of the new city. it gives home to the legendary restaurant: La Casa del Indiano. The market is open during the day, it gives home to different shops, sellers and bars. It’s a nice haven to stop by while walking around the city center.
The Plaza de Pedro Velarde, better known as Plaza Porticada, is a central, busy and iconic square in the very center of Santander. It’s a common meeting point, that was built in the Herrerian neoclassical style after the terrifying fire of 1941 that destroyed most of the historic center of the city. It was inaugurated in 1950 and since then it became a crucial point in the every day life of Santander. It gives home to random exhibitions, pop-up stores and sellers, demonstrations or just random events.
The Centro Botín is an arts centre designed by Pritzker Prize-winner architect Renzo Piano. It is located in a privileged part of Santander and uses a broader urban intervention to integrate the city centre and the historic Pereda Gardens with the Bay.
The building has a total built-up area spanning 8,739 m², which is made up of two blocks, connected by a structure of squares and the walkways known as – “pachinko”. The west block is dedicated to art, with two exhibition rooms measuring a total of 2,500 m2; and the east block is for cultural and educational activities, boasting an auditorium for 300 people, classrooms, work spaces, and a rooftop terrace to enjoy the breathtaking views of Santander and its Bay.
For the current & recent exhibitions, click here.
The Funicular – Ascensor Río de la Pila
This Funicular was designed to be a public transport to overcome the steep slope between Río de la Pila street and Prado de San Roque street. Due to the fact that the views are simply spectacular from the top, it became a tourist attraction. It is indeed highly recommended.
Besides the Obvious Tip: Use the Public Elevators
Besides the famous Funicular we can also find other random public elevators in the city. They are for the people of Santander – kind of a public transport to elevate them quickly to upper districts. They are in good condition, completely free, so it’s definitely a good idea using them.
Peninsula de Magdalena
The Magdalena Peninsula is one of the most iconic places in Santander. It is located near the entrance to the Bay of Santander. The peninsula is a popular recreational destination for both tourists and locals. The historic Palacio de la Magdalena we can find on the peninsula, which along with its surrounding gardens, is a cultural heritage site. Besides that we can find on the peninsula a small zoo, two sandy beaches and it also gives home to a lighthouse.
It’s just the perfect spot for romantic walks, daily jogging, biking, or just reading a book, having a picnic while admiring the amazingly beautiful nature in the background.
Besides the Obvious Tip: Use the Magdalena Train Experience
You can enjoy a relaxing tour around this unique place on board by a red tourist train. You can enjoy the incredible views of the Cantabrian Sea and the beaches of the Sardinero. Also, you can discover the peninsula in all its splendour and enjoy it calmly. You can book your place at Magdalena Train Experience, here.
Palacio Real de la Magdalena
Palacio Real de la Magdalena serves as the headquarters of the city’s very own Menéndez Pelayo International University (Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo). The palace was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. Immediately used by the Spanish royal family as their official summer residence, the palace was refurbished and updated in the seventies, and is now used an a meeting and conference centre.
It is believed that the Palacio Real de La Magdalena was actually inspired by Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The grounds are particularly beautiful and since the palace enjoys a somewhat elevated setting, the views are superb, with both Santander Bay and also the Bay of Biscay being clearly visible.
Playa El Sardinero
The Sardinero is a popular beach located in Santander. The beach is stretching from the Magdalena Peninsula to Mataleñas. In total about 1,300 meters long and 80 meters deep, the beach features fine golden sand and moderate waves. A wide promenade runs its entire length. Sardinero is full with hotels, restaurants, and a casino, and is definitely one of the most elegant beach resorts in Spain.
Gran Hotel – El Sardinero
This grandiose hotel is located on Plaza Italia, right next to El Sardinero beach. It opened in 1890 with 109 rooms. Most floors are also accessible by elevator and majority of the rooms has sea view, right above the Sardinero beach. The available services, a luggage room, a safe and a currency exchange are also for the convenience of the guests. The catering unit includes a restaurant, a cafe and a bar. If guests arrive by car, they can park in the garage or in the outdoor parking lot. The offer also includes room service and laundry service.
Besides the Obvious Tip: Book your stay at the famous Gran Hotel – El Sardinero
You can easily book a room at this amazing hotel. Feel free to use our direct booking service hereby:
The Casino of Santander is also located on the Plaza Italia. It opened in 1916, designed by architect Eloy Martínez del Valle. Since it opened the casino has combined roulette and baccarat with dancing and staging of plays, musicals and operas. In 1978 – after some restorations by the architect Ricardo Lorenzo – they reopened it as a gambling casino.
As of 2011 it has a game room and a room of slot machines, a restaurant, three dining rooms, two bars, installed in each of the gaming rooms, a café and a party room. It also has a showroom is usually the presence of works of art by various artists. The Gran Casino sponsors and organizes various cultural and sporting events (Festival Internacional de Santander), photographic contests, sculpture and painting exhibitions, bowling, football, rowing and other activities.
Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico
The Cantabrian Maritime Museum (MMC) is a museum and aquarium dedicated to the maritime heritage located in the city of Santander. Its collections are some of the most importants of the entire country. It represents a global approach to marine biodiversity and the various forms of relations of human kind with the Cantabrian Sea, through the centuries.
Even though the famous Altamira cave is not located in Santander, but it’s not that far from here. If you are around, Altamira is a must-see, and it’s worth driving a bit for it.
The Cave of Altamira is near the historic town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. It is renowned for prehistoric cave art featuring charcoal drawings and polychrome paintings of contemporary local fauna and human hands. The earliest paintings are from the upper paleolithic, around 36,000 years ago. The site was discovered in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas and subsequently studied by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola.
As Pablo Picasso said: “After Altamira, all is decadence.“
Where to stay in Santander
La Maruca Beach
We have decided to stay a bit out of the city, and we have chosen La Maruca Beach. This place offers newly renovated complete apartments in different sizes. If you are looking for more freedom than a regular hotel, it’s good option, a not too expensive either. In the neighbourhood you can find a nice restaurant too, but for more options you need to drive your car a bit.
If you prefer to stay a bit closer to the city center, we can recommend taking a look at the below map, and choosing based on the desired location.
How to get to Santander
The easiest to arrive to Santander is by car. Since the city normally is not very busy, you can easily find parking places. There are official parking lots, garages too.
With Madrid, the A-67 road connects Santander, while with Bilbao your preferred road should be A-8.
Santander is well-connected by train with all bigger cities in Spain. Book here, based on your location & ideal schedule.
Santander has an airport, so it’s possible to arrive from certain locations by plane as well. The airport is not very busy though, at the moment there are only 6 airlines present with different connection options: Binter, Iberia, WizzAir, Ryanair, Vueling, and Volotea.
Best experiences in Santander
Enjoy our discounts in the place
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