The best things to do in Santillana del Mar, Spain

Santillana del Mar is an open-air Museum kind of town. It is beautiful and full of history. Everyday there are tourists strolling on the Medieval streets and enjoying its heritage. However the town never lost its authentic local character regardless of the decades of visitors breaking its natural calmness. In this article, you will discover the best things to do in Santillana del Mar, a hidden gem in the North of Spain. 

Santillana del Mar became very popular due to Altamira Cave. The prehistoric cave called the Sistine Chapel of rock art was discovered in the 19th Century. The massive influx of visitors to the cave began to worry scientists about possible deterioration of the paintings. This used in 1979 the closure of the Altamira cave in order to preserve its valuable content.

In 2001, the current Neocave, a reproduction of the original rock art cave, and the Museum allow to learn about this amazing period of human history. Nevertheless, the tourist fame of Santillana del Mar was already a fact and the notice of the rest of the assets and town heritage was already spread.

What to expect about Santillana del Mar

In its cobbled medieval streets we can also find multiple artisan workshops. It is possible to taste traditional products and very famous local pastry. One of the most important assets in Santillana del Mar is the collegiate church of Santa Juliana dating back to the 12th century. That is the first and most important exponent of Romanesque art in Cantabria with its beautiful cloister, from the 13th Century. The Merino and Don Borja towers and some other splendid buildings. The ame applies to the Casa del Águila and La Parra, the Velarde palace and tower, the house of Leonor de la Vega, the palaces of Barreda, Tagle and Villa complete a long list of important historical buildings the visitor can spot in his visit. 

Santillana is in the mountains, surrounded by an amazing green hilly landscape, very far away from the stereotype of Spain. However, it is close to the Ocean and has all the potential to be one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the North of Spain. Indeed, Santillana del Mar in Spain is a different destination you cannot miss on a Northern Spanish tour. 

The best things to do in Santillana del Mar

We propose a walking intinerary in the old town of Santillana del Mar and a visit to Altamira caves from there by car.

Walking itinerary of the best things to do in Santillana del Mar

The walking itinerary of the best things to do in Santillana del Mar starts in Plaza del Rey Parking, where we could park our car and go for breakfast. From the we could go to Barreda Palace, Houses of Águila and La Parra and Casa de los Villa. We will arrive to the Old Plaza Mayor and visit Torre del Merino and Don Borja Tower. We will get to the other side of the town where we can visit Santa Juliana collegiate church. Finally, we will come back to our car spoting on the way Velarde Palace and House of Tagle. We can go from there to visit the small and interesting Museum of Torture.

Altamira

Altamira Cave is one of the most important archeological sites in Cantabria, Spain. The cave was discovered in 1879 by a group of local shepherds and has been open to the public for over 100 years. The site is famous for its Paleolithic paintings.

Altamira Cave contains over 1000 square metres of prehistoric art. It is one of the few caves in Europe that contains paintings on every wall. The cave was closed to the public in 2002 because it had become very popular and there were concerns about how people were interacting with the artwork inside it. The Altamira Caves are a complex network of caves. They contain some of the best-preserved Upper Paleolithic cave art in Europe, dating from between 30,000 and 10,000 BC.

In order to preserve the precious rock art of Altamira the historic cave is only visitable in concrete dates with special permits. We recommend to visit the Neo Cave, which is a perfect replica of the original cave.

Neo Cave Altamira Museum

Neo Cave Altamira museum is an interactive art museum that is situated in Cantabria, Spain. It was originally created for the purpose of preserving the world’s most important cave paintings.

The Neo Cave Altamira museum offers a unique experience to visitors. It features a total of twelve exhibition halls and three cinema rooms which are all designed to offer an immersive experience. The museum also has a total of eight themed areas and more than 20,000 square meters of space.

Schedule of Altamira Neo Cave: 

  • From May to October: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. uninterruptedly and Sunday and Holidays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. uninterruptedly.
  • From November to April: From Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. uninterruptedly and Sunday and Holidays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. uninterruptedly
  • Monday all year closed

Tickets to Altamira Neo Cave:

The price of tickets to the Neo Cave and Museum of Altamira is 3 euros for general admission. Reduced admission is 1.5 euros. Admission is free for all visitors on Saturdays from 2:00 p.m. until closing and all day on Sundays.

Tip to Altamira:

We recommend to go by car. In Altamira there is a big free parking and in Santillana you can park also for free in the Plaza del Rey Parking.

Santa Juliana collegiate church 

The Santa Juliana collegiate church is a Romanesque-style church that was built in the 12th century. It is one of Cantabria’s oldest churches. The church has a rectangular shape with a nave and two side aisles. The side walls are supported by buttresses while the nave has an arcade on each side and three semicircular arches at the ends. The church also has a bell tower, which was constructed in the 16th century, as well as frescoes from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Torre del Merino

Torre del Merino is located in the center of the historic center of Santillana del Mar. It is very close to the Torre de Don Borja and just in front of the town hall. Torre del Merino used to be in the Old Plaza Mayor or market square, the center of the Medieval town of Santillana del Mar. It is a Gothic tower from the 13th or 14th century and owes its name to the fact that it was intended to be the home and defensive tower of the Merino Mayor de las Asturias de Santillana, the highest representative of the king and administrator of the area.

Don Borja Tower

Don Borja Tower was built in the 14th century and it stands at 40 meters tall. The tower had many different purposes over the years, including as a lookout point for pirates and as a defense against possible attack from the sea.

Houses of Águila and La Parra

The houses of Águila and La Parra are located in the historic center of Santilla del Mar, next to the Town Hall and in front of the Casa de Barreda-Bracho, currently Parador Gil Blas. Within the historical-artistic complex of Santillana del Mar, in the Plaza Ramón Pelayo or Plaza Mayor, these two magnificent buildings are exponents of civil architecture from the 17th and 16th centuries, respectively. The buildings belong to the Government of Cantabria which rehabilitated and dedicated them to host exhibitions of the Ethnography of Cantabria.

Casas del Águila y La Parra, Santillana del Mar

Velarde palace

The Velarde palace is a beautiful example of Spanish architecture from the 18th century. It was a royal residence for King Charles III in 1760, obviously not the new English King. And the same for his son Ferdinand VII. The palace has been declared an official monument of cultural interest and is currently open to public visitors.

Barreda Palace

Barreda Palace is a beautiful castle built in the 16th century. It is a design of the Italian architect Domenico da Cortona. Barreda palace was built as a summer residence for the family of the Duke of Barreda. The palace was constructed on the site of an old hermitage and it took about 20 years to be completed. The Barreda Palace is one of the most important monuments from the Renaissance period in Cantabria. In addicion, it has been classified as a National Monument since 1931.

House of Tagle

The House of Tagle family is in Campo del Revolgo and dates back to the end of the 17th century. The Tagle family made their fortune in the current Mexico when it was one more of the Spanish American Colonies. Some members achieved important positions of power including the Bishop of Michoacán and Prior of the Consulate of Mexico. 

The house preserves an excellent archive and art collection, which provides it with a stately atmosphere worthy of its origin. The façade of the building shows on the upper floor the original coat of arms of the lineage.

House of Villa

This is a classic example of urban architecture from the 18th century. It has a lintelled door, between pilasters flanked by oculi. Above them are two iron balconies with a pulpit-type stone corbel, with lintelled access doors and between them the family coat of arms.

Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar

The Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar is one of the few museums in the world that is dedicated to torture. The museum houses a collection of instruments and objects used for torture, including iron maidens, cages, stocks and pillories. It also features a sketchbook by Francisco Goya depicting scenes of torture. In Spain there are some of this kind of Museums because of the long presence of the Spanish Inquisition. 

Schedule of Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar

Summer: From Monday to Sunday from 10 a.am. to 9 p.m.

Winter: From Monday to Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tickets price of Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar

The general entrance to the Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar is 4 Euros. Reduced tickets is 2,80 Euros. 

Where to stay in Santillana del Mar

In Santillana del Mar there are excellent and full of history places to stay. Here you have a selection of the best places to stay in Santillana del Mar: 

  • La casa del Marques: It was the real residence to the Marquis of Santillana back in the 15th century. Currently is an excellent renovated hotel with a intriguing historical background. This is a top experience. 
  • Hotel Spa San Marcos: This is a nice rural hotel with an outdoor pool and a spa center to entertain the clients after visiting Santillana del Mar. 
  • La Casona de Revolgo: It is a rural style hotel in a renovated 17th century house. Very cute.

How to get to Santillana del Mar

The recommended routes to access the villa depending on its origin are:

Car

The Cantábrico highway A-8 that follows the North Coast of Spain is the best access road from Oviedo or Gijón and from Santander and Bilbao. If you come from the center of Spain (Madrid, Burgos or Palencia) you may take A-67 to Torrelavega and follow the signs from there. From Santander takes 25 minutes to arrive to Santillana del Mar. 

Bus 

There are buses from Santander and Torrelavega. They have unfortunately some stops. From Santander it takes around 1h and 30 minutes to get to Santillana del Mar and the tickets are around 8 Euros. 

Enjoy our discounts in the place

Useful information about Santillana del Mar

Is Santillana del Mar worth visiting?

Yes, Santillana del Mar is worth visiting. It is a beautiful and full of history open-air museum town.

Where is Santillana del Mar?

Santillana del Mar is in the North of Spain. It is in Cantabria Region. It is just 25 minutes driving from Santander.

What are the best places in Santillana del Mar?

The best places in Santillana del Mar are Altamira Caves, Santa Juliana collegiate church and Plaza Mayor.

How much is the entrance ticket to the Museum of Torture in Santillana del Mar?

The general entrance to the Museum of Torture of Santillana del Mar is 4 Euros. Reduced tickets is 2,80 Euros. 

How much are the entrance tickets to Altamira Neo Cave?

The price of tickets to the Neo Cave and Museum of Altamira is 3 euros for general admission. Reduced admission is 1.5 euros.

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