Even though I have explored several cities in northern Spain, I have never been to Santander! Therefore, Stuart from Just Travelling Through kindly stepped in to help me out with this post. Honestly, after reading this post I cannot wait to visit Santander! 🙂
The beautiful city of Santander is located on Spain’s often forgotten north coast and is the capital of the Cantabria region. You may wonder, is Santander worth visiting? I’m so close to amazing places like Bilbao and San Sebastián? Well YES! There are so many fun things to do in Santander that make it worth your visit.
What's coming up
- 1 Must-Do in Santander – Head to the beach!
- 2 Enjoy the views over Santander from Mirador Río de la Pila
- 3 Marvel at local architecture at Centro Botin
- 4 Check out some Santandar Street Art
- 5 Soak up the local vibes on a walking tour
- 6 Stock up on local produce at Mercado de La Esperanza
- 7 Eat, Eat, Eat, Eat!
- 8 Visit the Magdalena Palace
- 9 Take a hike in Santander
- 10 Take the ferry from Santander to Somo
- 11 Support the local football team
- 12 Learn to surf at Sardinero or Somo Beach
- 13 Stroll through Parque Las Llamas
- 14 Things to do in Santander when it rains
- 15 Things to do Around Santandar
Must-Do in Santander – Head to the beach!
When searching for what to do in Santander, you cannot avoid going to the beach. Sardinero Beach is a world-class beach. It is the most popular beach in Santander and one of the prettiest city beaches in Spain. Divided into two halves by Piquío Gardens, Sardinero is the spot for relaxing in the sun, playing sports such as football, palas or volleyball, swimming in the sea or surfing.
Other popular beaches in Santander include Playa de Los Peligros (which isn’t as dangerous as the name suggests) or Playa de los Bikinis. This beach is called after the foreign exchange students that used to sunbathe in the 60’s, thereby introducing Santander to the bikini.
Both of these beaches are close to the palace and have minimal waves, while across the bay is the best surf spot at Playa de Somo. Near the lighthouse is the isolated Playa de Mataleñas, situated in a protected cove and perfect for swimming.
Enjoy the views over Santander from Mirador Río de la Pila
Being a somewhat hilly city gives Santander plenty of spots to enjoy the beautiful surrounding scenery. To get a bird’s eye view of what to see in Santander take the funicular on Calle Río de la Pila.
To get to the funicular you will have to face some of the steep hills leading up from the bay. But luckily, one of Santander’s best features is the outdoor escalators. Saving your legs as you navigate the city 🙂
When you arrive at the upper point of the funicular you will find that the Mirador Río de la Pila is one of the best viewpoints in Santander. From here you can look out over the city and across the bay, with the picture-perfect mountains and green Cantabrian countryside beyond.
For a view that’s a little easier on the legs, head to Centro Botín.
Marvel at local architecture at Centro Botin
It sometimes feels like the north of Spain is an open-air museum with so many architectural highlights! Whilst the appearance of the building definitely divides opinion, taking either the stairs or the ‘singing’ elevator to the roof offers yet more views over the area.
We find the Centro Botín next to the ferry to Somo. It was built as Santander’s answer to Bilbao’s famous Guggenheim Museum and opened in 2017. Centro Botín houses an art gallery (admission €8) with regularly changing exhibits year-round and a cafe.
A visit to the roof is one to put on your list of “free things to do in Santander”. It offers great views of the city and across the bay. Access to the roof is granted by taking the steps or the ‘singing’ elevator. From the top you’ll notice the large arch directly opposite, which is the first Santander bank.
The bank was named after the city, and owned by the same Botín family who paid for Centro Botín. The appearance of the building itself divides opinion and it certainly stands out on the waterfront with its futuristic spaceship-like design.
Check out some Santandar Street Art
With local artist Okuda famous for his unique style around the world, it’s no wonder there is plenty of street art in Santander to admire. Most of the street art in Santander can be found by wandering around the city, with spectacular pieces by local talent and others from elsewhere in Europe.
Streetart is not something Santander is particularly known for, but definitely worth checking out while you’re exploring!.
Soak up the local vibes on a walking tour
After you’ve searched for streetart, dive into the historical center of Santander. Even though a large part of the historical city center was destroyed in the fires of 1941, it’s still a joy to explore Santander by foot. You can, of course, do a walking tour yourself and just get lost 🙂 or if you want some more background information on Santander you can take a free walking tour with official guides. If you want to head off the beaten track, take a stroll through the neighbourhood of Puerto Chico!
Stock up on local produce at Mercado de La Esperanza
Markets are usually the epicentre of activity in cities, and in Santander this is also the case! The Mercado de La Esperanze (the Market of Hope) first opened its doors in 1904 after 8 years of construction! After several closures for construction, the market is these days famous for its 80 stalls.
On the ground floor you find an amazing array of seafood and upstairs you find all other typical market items, including typical local products. There are also little food stalls on the second floor where you can buy prepared food like burgers.
Dive into the smells and colours and make sure you have some room in your suitcase for the beautiful meats and cheeses 🙂
Eat, Eat, Eat, Eat!
The typical cuisine of Santander is seafood. This is of course not surprising, being on the coast! Sardines and rabas (otherwise known as calamari) are both very popular! If you have room for dessert, make sure to try sobao (a type of spongecake) and quesada (a cheese-based cake). You can find these dishes throughout the region. After a big Spanish lunch the locals tend to eat a few pinchos in the evenings.
Insider tips on where to eat in Santander:
- Casa Lita close to the bay is a very popular spot for tapas – alternatively, head anywhere around famous tapas sqaure Plaza de Cañadío.
- Calle Peña Herbosa has more restaurant-style options including seafood
- Bodega Fuente De – make sure to try the ‘picón’ in Bodega Fuente de
- La Tasca for the best pizza in Santander
- Icecream shop Regma’s sell enormous scoops for just €2.50, with the cheesecake flavor a real stand-out!
If you want to explore more of Santander’s and Cantabria’s gastronomic scene, have a look at this tour.
Visit the Magdalena Palace
Did you know Santander had a palace? The Magdalena Palace has enjoyed a long and interesting history since it was built in the early 1900s. Initially used as a holiday home for the Spanish Royal family, the grounds housed prisoners of war during the Spanish Civil War. After that it was sold back to the city of Santander and used for University students. It’s also been used as the location for the Spanish TV series ‘Gran Hotel’.
Situated on a picturesque peninsula of the same name, tours of the Magdalena Palace happen daily for just €3. Outside the grounds offer the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon with friends. The views across the bay towards the beach at Somo and the nearby lighthouse on Mouro Island are some of the best in the city.
Take a hike in Santander
If you’re looking to stretch your legs in Santander you’ll find two scenic coastal walks, each taking around two to three hours.
- The first starts in the city centre and follows the coast to the Magdalena Palace.
- The second begins at the far end of Sardinero beach by Hotel Chiqui and leads to the lighthouse at Cabo Mayor. The Cabo Mayor area is a great place to visit on a sunny day and on your way you will pass the Parque Magdalena.
Along both routes are several beaches where you can relax. Whilst the walk to the palace is generally flatter, the lighthouse walk takes you to the top of rocky cliffs where you can stand and watch as the waves crash below your feet.
Take the ferry from Santander to Somo
If you feel like taking a break from the city centre, a ferry trip across the bay to Somo is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. The chilled-out surfer town has a completely different feel to Santander. Somo has plenty of restaurants and bars, not to mention an incredibly long stretch of golden beach.
Further along you’ll find a nice walk taking you out into some of Cantabria’s beautiful countryside as you follow the path along the coast.
The ferry from Santander to Somo costs just €5 for a return ticket and takes around 30 minutes each way. You find the timetables here.
Support the local football team
Watching a football match in Spain is one of the must do things. The locals are always passionate about their team and football is well embedded as part of the country’s culture. Whilst not what they were several years ago, Racing Santander are trying to slowly work their way back to the top.
El Sardinero stadium, located close to the beach of the same name, opened in 1988. With the crowds smaller than in its heyday it’s easier to get a ticket for that authentic taste of Spanish football. Games against local rivals Bilbao and Ovideo are the most passionate affairs! They draw the biggest crowds and the most enthusiastic atmosphere.
Learn to surf at Sardinero or Somo Beach
Surfing is something that is extremely difficult to master whilst being incredible fun at the same time. The north coast of Spain is one of the best spots in Europe and Cantabria is no different. Close to Sardinero Beach you’ll find several surf shops where you can rent boards and wetsuits for reasonable prices, while across the bay in Somo you can find daily classes.
The waves on Sardinero are ideal for beginners. More experienced surfers find that the better waves are over in Somo. Both beaches are regularly packed with those trying to improve their technique on any day with good waves. It’s all about biding your time and waiting patiently for the right wave 🙂
Stroll through Parque Las Llamas
Parque Las Llamas is a large stretch of green fields close to the football stadium and Palacio de Deportes (or “The Whale” as it’s known locally). Covering around 11 hectares, Las Llamas features walkways, running routes, children’s play areas, restaurants and various lagoons. It’s a nice place to enjoy a few hours with friends and family.
Located at the rear of the city’s university, it’s also the site of an impressive supercar exhibition once a year in June 🙂
Things to do in Santander when it rains
Below Santander attractions are worth a visit on their own. But if you cannot do all the above activities because it’s raining, these are must-visit places 🙂
- The Museum of Modern Art Santandar (MAS) – Even though it has been closed for renovations for a while now, people are eagerly waiting reopening!
- Gothic Cathedral of Santander – A beautiful building with a small garden in the middle
- The Santander Casino – for some gambling or fine dining in Santander – Tripadvisor Page
- The Maritime Museum – Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico
- Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria – gets great reviews on Tripadvisor
Things to do Around Santandar
I hope you have enjoyed. your time in Santander. If you still have some spare time, check out below places to visit around Santander.
If you are looking to soak up some nature or visit a waterfall close to Santander, have a look at visiting the Nacimiento de Río Ason in Cantabria. It’s only a quick one hour drive!
Also close to Santander are
– Comillas with its Gaudi house
– The pretty cobblestoned lanes of Santillana del Mar
– Potes high up in the Picos de Europa mountain range
If you are travelling around by yourself, joining one of below tours may be a great idea!
Contributed by Stuart from Just Travelling Through
This awesome blog about Santander was contributed by Stuart from Just Travelling Through. Stuart has worked as an English Language teacher in Spain for three years. He lived in the cities of Santander, La Coruña and Valencia.