Santiago's best bits

Santiago remains a small city with some 40,000 university students contributing to its permanent population of around 100,000. These numbers swell in the summer months when tourists flood its busy little streets.

The city has two distinct parts; the old medieval town, once enclosed by its own city walls, and the new town to the south of the old city gates, where the locals go about their modern day business.

The old town is a real labyrinth of flagstone paved alleyways and narrow streets that gently meander towards the cathedral. The real hub of tourist activity and cafes, bars, restaurants and shops are around, and to the south of the cathedral, and they can become extremely busy. But look beyond these streets to the maze of alleyways and squares that form the eastern quarter of Santiago and you will discover the true secrets and passions of the locals, away from the crowds. 

Get Up On The Roof

An absolute must - where else in the world can you walk upon the roof of such a magnificent cathedral? It is a unique and exhilarating experience. You get to view the city and the cathedral from extraordinary angles, learn a little more about its history and gain entrance to the 12th century palace of the Archbishop Gelmirez. 

Bookings in advance from ticket office at front of the cathedral.

Visit the Mercado de Abastos 

This delightful daily indoor market is housed on the eastern side of the old town. Four grand hallways separate the fish, meat, fruit and vegetable produce. It is a true focal point for the local community and a buzz of activity alive with wonderful characters selling their homegrown and homemade products. 

It is a great place to be in the morning when the sun begins to warm the city and the air is filled with the fresh aromas of the market. It closes at around 2pm. Come lunchtime, you can park yourself in one of the nearby cafes, confident in the knowledge that you will be enjoying the freshest seafood in the city. 

Go to the parks

There are two main parks in Santiago, both within easy reach of the old centre.

The famous Alameda Gardens are pitched to the south of the city. Within minutes, you’ll find yourself strolling uphill and leaving the city crowds behind you. It has two outstanding vantage points, one of the cathedral and city, the other looking west towards the university campus, offering a great place to watch the sunset.

Parque de Santo Domingo de Bonaval is more of a hidden treat. Situated on an upward slope on the opposite side of the city, it is surrounded by a famous cemetery and offers surprisingly different views of the red roofed city.

They are both small parks but great places to get away from the crowds and admire the city from afar. 

Museums & Exhibitions

The city of Santiago is like a living, breathing museum in itself but look beyond the obvious historical sites and there are many contemporary exhibitions worth visiting.

The three main museums are The Cathedral Museum, The Galician Centre for Contemporary Art, and The Museo do Pobo Galego, which guides you through the real life history of the Galician People. Next to this building is the famous stairwell at the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Bonaval. In addition to these three popular attractions, there are many historical buildings that now house more contemporary and local artist exhibitions.

The tourist information office in Vilar Street (Rúa do Vilar) publishes a monthly guide with information on current exhibitions.

Get Lost

The city has two distinct parts; the old medieval town, once enclosed by its own city walls, and the new town to the south of the old city gates, where the locals go about their modern day business.

The old town is a real labyrinth of flagstone paved alleyways and narrow streets that gently meander towards the cathedral. The real hub of tourist activity and cafes, bars, restaurants and shops are around, and to the south of the cathedral, and they can become extremely busy. But look beyond these streets to the maze of alleyways and squares that form the eastern quarter of Santiago and you will discover the true secrets and passions of the locals, away from the crowds.

Our advice? Throw away the guidebook and get lost!

Galician Produce

Galician food products really are unique to the region and  there seems to be an assortment of everything that taste buds could ever desire. Look out for the cured hams and the Queso de Mama, (a round breast-shaped soft cheese), there are local wine labels and home made liquors, including Aguardiente (Fire-water,) which comes in different flavors and vibrant colours.

Pastries and chocolates are also a speciality and a tradition to bring to home-made dinner occasions.

Quality souvenirs are also easy to find; the traditional artisans of Santiago were the silversmiths and jet-stone artists and their work continues today. You can purchase these gifts in the knowledge that you will be buying a unique piece of art and giving something quite special to a chosen one. 

Indulge in a seafood feast

Galicia claims to have the finest seafood in Europe and who can argue?

Fresh from the market, the city’s restaurants stock up their enormous bubbling fish tanks with giant lobsters, oysters, clams, razor fish, barnacles, cockles and muscles, enticing you take the afternoon off and indulge in a once in a lifetime seafood feast.

Rúa do Franco is the capital’s most famous restaurant street. Look out for the Menú del Día on offer at lunchtime and you can get great value but don't forget a nice cheeky bottle of Albariño.

Shopping in New Town

The new town resides to the south of the old, walled city. Aesthetically pleasing it is not, but it is a hive of local activity and the best place for modern day shopping. 

Famous Spanish brands such as Zara, Mango, Berska, or renowned Spanish designers such as Adolfo Dominguez, and Roberto Verino can be found lining the up and down streets that make their way to the central focal point of the New Town: Plaza Roja. 

So if shopping is on your agenda head south to Plaza Roja with your credit cards.

Track down an outdoor concert

Music is the cornerstone of the Galician culture. Traditional costume, dance and music led by the Galician Bagpipes remain prevalent at most Galician festivals. In Santiago students form Tuna groups play late into the night serenading loved ones. This “music on the move” can build up quite a following through the narrow streets. 

There are also spontaneous jamming sessions conjured up by local musicians outside bars  contributing to the jovial atmosphere of the city. The council often puts on outdoor concerts in the summer and some are ticket-only affairs, these are worth the entrance fee as you get to experience one of the main squares as part of an exclusive audience. 

To see what’s on during your time in Santiago, pick up a free copy of the “Culturall” magazine from one of the tourist information offices or www.santiagoturismo.com.

Stay out late...very late

For the Spanish, the day is split in two, separated by a long lunch and a long siesta when most shops are shut. 

Santiago remains predominantly a student city and as is their calling; they enjoy themselves until the early hours of the morning. Restaurants and bars start to fill up at around 9pm, but the real buzz of activity doesn’t occur until about 11pm and it can go on until 5am. 

Santiago is a beautiful golden city at night that enjoys a warm, gentle atmosphere through the night as tucked away taverns and bars fill up with local residents. Thursday nights through to Saturday nights are particularly busy but there is always a friendly and safe atmosphere around the city, 

So don’t be afraid to take that siesta and gather up the strength to really enjoy the local culture all through the night.

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