By Sally Pederson
On Spain’s north coast you will find one of its most beautiful cities, Santander. It boasts natural wonders, graceful mansions, and iconic palatial architecture. This capital of the Cantabria province used to be called “Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium” during the Roman colony of Portus Victoriae. The Romans established a famous harbor in the city which made it the port city it is today. Santander was officially declared a city of Spain in 1775 and opened its doors to tourism in the mid-19th century. Even though the city was destroyed by fire spread by a windstorm in 1941, it recovered completely. There are still notable buildings that stand to this day. Santander’s economy thrives through tourism, heavy industry, fishing, and other port-related activities.
Santander is an ideal holiday destination. The city is rich in cultural and historical heritage that await tourists to discover. The palaces in this city were among the favorites of the Spanish royalty back in the late 19th century. Today, they remain one of the most-visited attractions in Santander.
Aside from the palaces, the seaside elegance of Santander is hard to miss. One of the most popular is the El Sardinero beach. It used to be a rugged section of the coastline but was transformed and even became famous among Spanish royalty. Los Peligros beach is close to the city center and has a safe swimming area. Inside the grounds of Magdalena Palace, you will find Los Bikinis beach, where you will be in awe of the beautiful bay and mountain views. Families will also enjoy exploring rock pools at El Camello beach.
The climate in Santander is considered temperate oceanic as the city is located on the coast of the Cantabrian Sea. Because of this, the city’s overall temperature is decidedly cooler and more humid compared to the rest of the country. Winters can be mild and rainy, while summers can be cool and cloudy. The coldest months are usually January and February, with an average temperature of 51 F. Meanwhile, the warmest month is August, with an average temperature of 69 F. The best time to have a vacation in Santander is from June to mid-September since these months have the mildest and driest periods.
The culinary offerings of Santander are one of the city’s pride. One of the main ingredients in the local cuisines of Santander is fish. Fish soups are popular here, as well as the cocido montañés and marmita de bonito. Tapas are popular throughout Spain, so you will have your chance to try them here. Rabas or fried squid is a favorite seafood tapa on the Cantabrian coast.
Tudanca cow, a local breed from the Cantabrian mountains, is a good source of meat in Santander. Cheese is also popular in Cantabria. Some of the types of cheese you should try out while in Santander include Quesucos de Liebana, Picón Bejes-Tresviso, Queso Nata de Cantabria, and Queso Las Garmillas. For those who have a sweet tooth, you will want to try local desserts, the leche frita, flan, natillas, and sobaos pasiegos.
5 Reasons to Visit Santander
Santander may not be like the other large cities of Spain like Seville, Barcelona, or Madrid, but it offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The city is full of beaches, parks, monuments, and royal palaces, ensuring you will have no downtime on your trip. Once you get to visit Santander, you’ll most likely want to book your next trip right away. Take a look at some of the city’s highlights and learn more about why it is worth a visit:
1. Natural Wonders
Santander wouldn’t be Cantabria’s capital if it didn’t have a lot going on. One of the main reasons why it became a capital is because of its natural attractions. A perfect example is the Bay of Santander. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The sea and the mountains make a majestic landscape leaving locals and tourists amazed. For a more magnificent view of this bay and the entire Cantabrian coast, join any local boat trips available for half-day or full-day trips.
La Magdalena Park borders beautiful beaches and mountains. It has a large playground and zoo which the kids will surely love. Schedule your visit in August so you can attend the Santander Music Festival held in this park.
Discover more nature offerings at Cabo Mayor. It is home to Parque de Mataleñas, a golf course, camping, and a children’s playground. Visitors can also swim at Playa de Mataleñas. Moreover, you can take in panoramic views of the city from the 19th-century lighthouse.
2. Tropical Beaches
Santander’s location on the coast of the Cantabrian Sea makes it accessible to many beaches. The El Sardinero beach used to be a favorite destination of the Spanish royal family. In the late 19th century, Santander also made a name in the tourism industry due to the popularity of the city’s wave pools (los baños de ola) and their healing properties. Today, there are several Santander beaches to explore. Los Peligros beach is the easiest to visit as it is near the city center. Magdalena beach is a long golden-sand beach offering excellent bay views.
Meanwhile, El Camello beach is for those who want to discover rock pools and formations. This beach also has a unique charm as a sculpture of Neptune sits at the top of the beach’s main slob of rock. Los Bikinis is an interesting beach to visit as it is situated inside the grounds of Magdalena Palace.
3. Architectural Attractions
Despite being destroyed by fire in 1941, Santander is filled with several grand monuments as well as marvelous architecture to explore. Palaces such as the Palacio de Pronillo and Magdalena will give you a glimpse into the royal lifestyle in the early days. The glorious Santander Cathedral, a premier religious landmark in Santander, boasts of preserving its Gothic-style architecture. Seminario Del Monte Corban is also an important religious landmark that features two stunning cloisters and a Renaissance-style facade. City buildings like the Palacio de Deportes, Palacio de Festivales, and Botín Centre are notable for their modern architectural features.
4. Cultural Experience
Another reason why Santander has been made Cantabria’s capital is because of its plethora of cultural attractions. There are many museums and exhibition centers that portray the city’s rich historical and artistic side. For the history buffs, you can get a slice of Santander’s history through the artifacts displayed at the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria.
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is a treat for art lovers. It features 1,870 works of paintings, photographs, engravings, and more done by Spanish, Italian, and Flemish artists from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
Another prominent museum in Santander, the Museo Maritimo Del Cantabrico, is ideal for the whole family to visit as it displays collections about marine life.
There’s also Botín Centre which is not just about its architecture. This museum features exhibits and educational programs relevant to contemporary art from the late 20th century to the 21st century.
5. Delectable Gastronomy
A trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling the city’s local specialties. Santander satisfies the taste of each visitor through its wide array of culinary offerings. Seafood is popular in Santander, most especially fish. A typical fish dish in Santander is marmita de bonito or a tuna pot. Other cuisines to indulge in are cocido montañés (a hearty Cantabrian stew that is very popular in the winter months) and chipirones or small calamari. You’ll find the best seafood restaurants in Barrio Pesquero.
Cheese in Cantabria, like Queso Nata de Cantabria and Quesucos de Liébana, is something you should try. Get your share of cheese, honey, and other transport-friendly goods at Mercado de la Esperanza.
Don’t forget to cleanse your palate with traditional desserts like leche frita, flan, natillas, and sobao pasiego. End your day with drinks and socializing with other tourists and locals at the relaxed bars and restaurants at Plaza de Cañadío.
10 Best Things to Do in Santander
A fire disaster didn’t stop Santander from flourishing into one of Spain’s charismatic cities. The museums, art centers, architectural monuments, and native culinary offerings await all holidaymakers. Are you planning a trip to Santander soon? Check out this list of must-see destinations in the Cantabria capital.
1. Have Easy Walking Trips at Paseo de Pereda
Start your Santander trip slowly by wandering around Paseo de Pereda. It is a waterfront walkway stretching 800 meters long between Puerto Chico and Santander Cathedral. A leisurely stroll along this area will automatically bring you to an awe-inspired state as you pass by the city’s most emblematic and beautiful 19th-century buildings. It is also home to Jardines de Pereda, a public park, and Botín Centre, a cultural and exhibition center. A walk in this area sets the tone as you begin discovering more of Santander’s attractions.
2. Live Like a Local in Puerto Chico
Continue taking things easy on your Santander trip by going to Puerto Chico. This district is in the city center and north of the marina. It was a former fishing pier until the boats moved to Barrio Pesquero. This fishing port also drew painters and writers in and used the neighborhood’s charisma as inspiration. It is lined with 18th- and 19th-century buildings and has views of the mountains and sea. The area’s tranquility makes it ideal for going on long leisurely strolls or sampling tapas and fresh seafood. Puerto Chico also has excellent beaches awaiting travelers. The Playa de El Bocal is notable for its golden sand and isolated setting, which is perfect for those wanting to have some peaceful relaxation time. Meanwhile, the Playa de Los Molinucos is another small beach with mild waves. It is also near Santander’s municipal golf course if you want to play a round while you are there.
3. Ride a Boat in Santander Bay
Take it up a notch and join a leisurely cruise in the Bay of Santander. It is one of Spain’s most treasured gems as it is part of the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World. This astonishing bay features sandbanks and islands, as well as dunes and beaches. To further explore the bay and the rest of the Cantabrian coast, you may join boat trips sailing in half-day or full-day schedules.
4. Tour Around Magdalena Peninsula
Set close to the entrance of Santander Bay is La Magdalena Peninsula. It is a 69-acre park covered with trees and meadows with beaches and rocky shorelines encompassing the area. The lush surroundings make it an ideal spot for picnics or tranquil walks. The peninsula also houses several attractions, including a zoo, three galleons (large, multi-decked sailing ships), a lighthouse, and the Palacio de la Magdalena.
5. Experience Royalty at Palacio de la Magdalena
One of Santander’s iconic palaces is the Palacio de la Magdalena. This opulent palace is located at the highest point of the Magdalena Peninsula and was built between 1909 and 1911 as King Alfonso’s summer residence. What used to be home for the Spanish royal family is now one of Santander’s famous attractions. It features a combination of architectural styles and resembles traditional English country estates. The palace is a crowd favorite because of its cliff-top setting and mock-Tudor former stables. If you are planning any grand or unforgettable event, it can be rented.
6. Surf at Playa del Sardinero
Santander takes pride in having plenty of beaches. El Sardinero used to be one of the best-loved destinations of the Spanish royalty. Today, locals and tourists get to dip in its cool waters. It is even known to be the most popular beach in Santander. The golden sand of El Sardinero is 1,300-meters long and is divided into two sections by a rocky headland. This coastal paradise is lined with restaurants, ice cream shops, and public baths. For those who want to learn how to surf, several surf schools are available along the beach.
7. Hike Your Way to Parque de Cabo Mayor
Take in a different aerial perspective of Santander at Cabo Mayor. It is situated three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from El Sardinero beach. The cliff-top trail going to this area is an alluring scenery that attracts hikers and photographers alike.
There is a lighthouse here open for visitors to explore. It stands 91 meters above sea level, perfect for admiring the whole of Santander. The lighthouse served as a vital lifeline for the city because it provided light for the incoming ships. It also houses a museum that displays paintings and other illustrations relevant to Spanish lighthouses.
8. Pay Respects at the Santander Cathedral
The Santander Cathedral is a religious landmark in the Cantabria capital. The original construction began between the 1100s and 1400s, where the architecture features a stark and austere Gothic style. It underwent minor reconstruction after the 1893 Cabo Machichago disaster and the Civil War in the 20th century. The cathedral also has a stone chamber called the Iglesia del Santisimo Cristo. It has floors with glass panels that exhibit archaeological remains from the ancient Roman era. The tombs of early Christian martyred saints, Celedonius and Emeterius, are also in here.
9. Be Mesmerized with Botín Centre
Centro Botín is a new and enormous cultural center in Santander. Since its opening in June 2017, the facility has showcased art collections from the Botín Foundation. It also accommodates film screenings, special exhibitions, live shows, and art-related educational programs. It’s hard to miss this museum as the building’s modern architectural style resembles a spaceship structure. The complex was designed by Renzo Piano, a Pritzker Prize winner. The contemporary art pieces inside are from the late 20th century to the 21st century, including paintings, sculpture, photography, and rotating temporary expositions. This art center also has a café and gift shop on site.
10. Savor Seafood Specialties in Barrio Pesquero
Complete your Santander trip by indulging in the city’s local delicacies. Seafood is the key ingredient in the local dishes. It shouldn’t be a surprise as Santander sits along the Cantabrian coast. Head over to Barrio Pesquero, as this is where the best seafood restaurants are located. You can even witness fishing boats bringing in freshly caught seafood when you visit. Popular seafood creations include rabas or fried squid and bocartes rebozados or breaded, deep-fried anchovies. It’s best to pair your seafood with a glass of Cantabrian vermouth with lemon and ice.
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