Santiago de Compostela has been for years just the destination of one of the most ancient pilgrimage of history, but today the city is living a period of intense cultural renaissance and become the perfect place where to spend a week end between art, history and great food.
While until the recent past Santiago was known just for the pilgrimage that from San Jaques Pied de Port (France), trough 800 km, drove the pilgrims to the redemption of their sins, today the number of tourists that come here just to spend few days visiting the city and his surroundings has increased quite much. Indeed the city center is a UNESCO site and its historical heritage cohabits perfectly with its new contemporary leap.
In 2013 the Cidade da cultura de Galicia was inaugurated; the project took almost 10 years to be realized, but now, with 141.800 square meters, it’s one of the biggest cultural and exhibition center in Europe, with a huge library, a museum, and a theatre. Another destination for contemporary art and architecture lovers is the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, museum with a huge permanent collection of modern and contemporary Galician and Spanish art and with a deep seasonal program of exhibitions. The city itself is gorgeous, with its majestic cathedral, and during the last decade the city center has been completely restored so now it’s possible to admire the old buildings and the churches in their entire splendor.
The holy atmosphere of the city, where the St. James way, after 800 km, ends up is broken from wineries and noisy bars for the student of the university (one of the biggest in Spain with 42.000 enrolled students) that make party and confusion in the roads of the center. And it’s not rare to see some pilgrims to join them in order to celebrate the achieved goal in a proper way.
The Italian Eye offers a complete guide to this city between the eclecticism of its wanders, the places where to have the delicious Galician specialties and bars and club where to party as only Spanish can do!
WHEN TO GO
Owing to the proximity of Santiago with the Atlantic Ocean, temperatures are mild all year long, with never too cold winters and hot but not sultry summers. Rainfalls are pretty frequent in every season (remember to bring a raincoat and an umbrella). The best period to come are early autumn (September/October) or spring (from March to the end of May). Or could be nice to come on July 25th, the day of Patron Saint festival, when many events and manifestations take place in the city.
WHAT TO VISIT
As soon as you arrive, indulge in a couple of hours walk within the city center, so to get a general idea of the city and to get a bit of orientation in the narrow streets of the center. Even if it could be considered a bit touristic, we suggest to get the city map at the Santiago Tourism Bureau (Rùa do Villar, 30, 15705 Santiago de Compostela): on the map there is a marked route through the monuments, squares and foreshortenings of the city you shouldn’t miss.
Cathedral and Museum of the Cathedral (Praza de Obradorio, 15705, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruna)
This is absolutely the main attraction of Santiago. The baroque cathedral is stunning and the Museum, containing St. James treasure, is kind of a wander. The cloister is one of the most beautiful in Spain and the collection of tapestries is incredible.
Mercato de Abastos (Traversìa de Altamira, 15704, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruna)
It’s open everyday (but Sunday and Holidays) from 7.00 Am to 2.00 Pm. Founded more than three centuries ago, it’s one of the oldest in Spain. The building was rebuilt in the 40’s but it’s very picturesque as well. It could be an alternative to restaurant for a mid day snack.
CGAC: Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo (Rúa de Ramón del Valle-Inclán, 5, 15703, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
Summer: Tuesday-Sunday 11.00 Am – 8.00 Pm. Winter: Tuesday – Sunday 12.00 Am – 9.00 Pm. Closed on Monday. The first feature of CGAC is its architecture: designed from the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, mixes an exterior respect through the surroundings with a modernist temper. Inside it contains a permanent collection with modern and contemporary pieces from grand names of Galician and Spanish art. Moreover there are cyclically exhibition of emerging artist or retrospective about famous Spanish artists (program on http://www.cgac.org/)
Cidade da Cultura de Galicia (Città della Cultura della Galizia) (Lugar de la Ciudad de la Cultura, 15702, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña )
This complex, designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, has a formidable volume that equals the one of the historic center of Santiago. The avant-garde architecture and its cultural offer represent the will of the city to become a basic reference in the international cultural circuit. Inside the Culture City there is a Museum with a permanent collection and various exhibition, a theatre and various multi-task spaces.
Alameda Park – Paseo da Ferradura (Paseo dos Leóns, 15705, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
The most beautiful viewpoint on the city where you have the impression to touch the cathedral with a finger. We suggest to go there at the sunset so to admire the lighted cathedral at night, very stunning. This belvedere, located in the Alameda Park could be a destination after a picnic in the park, one of the biggest in town.
Costa do Morte e Finisterre
The journey to Finisterre, that ancient Romans thought to be the end of the world, is an essential custom for those who travel in Galicia. A trip to this land, scene of ancient legends and melancholically beautiful, requires an entire day. You shall start your trip from the picturesque city of Muros, than Carnota, O Pindo and Ezaro (all little villages close to the ocean) before to arrive in Finisterre where you’ll have a scenic stroll till the recently restored lighthouse. You can join organized tours (Santiago’s Official Reservation Office. Phone: +34 981 958 058). However we strongly recommend to hire a private car (with driver or without) so to be more independent and free to do what you prefer (the same office can provide information about the car hire).
WHERE TO STAY
Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos (do Obradoiro, 15705, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña. Tel +34 981582200)
This building was made in 1486 by the Queen Isabella of Castilla as an hostal for pilgrims. It’s still on function and so it’s considered the oldest hotel still in use in Europe. It’s a Parador (luxury stately owned hotel chain) and it has been described from the irish writer Jan Morris as the ‘most beautiful hotel in Europe’. The baroque courtyard and the spacious rooms make us make i tour best choice. Double room from 250 euro.
Hotel Spa A Quinta da Auga (Paseo da Amaia 23b, Urbanización Brandia. Vidán, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña. Tel +34 981534636)
It’s part of the international hotel chain ‘Relais and Chateau’. This hotel was obtained from the conversion of an old factory. It sets out of Santiago city center that’s reachable wit a 2 km walk. The strong point of the hotel is its spa that’s the perfect place to relax after the visit of the city. Package for two people, two nights breakfast and spa treatments 629 euro.
Moure Hotel (Rúa Loureiros, 6, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña. Tel. +34 58 36 37)
This boutique hotel, conveniently located in the city center has a contemporary design and 15 spacious rooms with many facilities. Definitely to try the ‘patio Room’ with a terrace open air bathtub, or the room with the bathtub recumbent on a glass window thet overlooks the entire city: to feel hanging in the air while taking shower. Double room from 85 euro.
Hotel Pazo de Altamira (Rúa Altamira, 18, 15704, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña. Tel. +34 981 55 85 42)
Modern design for the bright and elegant rooms situated in a historic building in the city center. Many rooms have a superb view on the cathedral. The restaurant of the hotel serves organic and bio food. There is a library and a game room as well. Double room from 80 euros.
WHERE TO EAT
Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos (Praza do Obradoiro, 1, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
This restaurant is located on the ground floor of the namesake hotel, in the rooms once used to host pilgrims. This restaurant has a luxury but not tacky atmosphere and a glorious Galician and international cuisine. You dine under the stone archways dating half a millennium ago. Suggested event for those who don’t stay in the hotel.
Casa Marcelo (Rúa Hortas, 1, 15705, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
Michelin star chef Marcelo opened this ethnic and fusion restaurant with a convivial concept. Indeed there are two big tables where you eat sitting next to unknown people with whom u usually start to converse. In front of you the open kitchen where the chef cooks. To make a reservation you need to be at least a party of 8 people, while if you are less than that first comers are first served. A familiar atmosphere with a Michelin level cuisine. Our best choice.
Casa Pepe. (úa Cantón de San Bieito, baixo nº5, 15704, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
This family run tapas bar and winery is in the ceity center, close to the cathedral. It’s perfect for a fast lunch while visiting the city, for an aperitif or for a cheerful dinner. Galician cuisine with high quality raw materials and profusely red wine. Maybe leaving the restaurant you’ll feel a bit dizzy.
La bodeguilla de Santa Marta (. da Liberdade , 11, 15705, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
Design restaurant close to Santiago University. Fish and meat specialties with a good value for money. Cozy and relaxing interiors. Perfect both for lunch and dinner.
Cafe de Altamira (úa Altamira, 18, 15704, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
This is a café where it’s possible to have some organic plates. International and Galician cuisine. Bright, modern and elegant design. Perfect for a mid day sweet snack with homemade cakes.
A curtidora (úa da Conga, 2-3, 15704, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
Good level restaurant located inside an old house in the center of the city. Simply but elegantly furnished. Very convenient lunch menu (12 euro) and even for dinner it’s good value for money. In rua do Doutor Teixeiro 28 has been recently opened the winery of the restaurant where you can have an glass of wine choosing from a very great wine list.
Costa Vella (Rúa da Porta da Pena, 17, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña)
In the beautiful season we strongly suggest to visit this restaurant located in the highest part of the historic center. You eat in a luxuriant garden that give the impression to be on a tropical island. At night the garden is completely candle lighted making your dinner very suggestive. The food is good with good quality ingredients. But just the location is worth the visit. If it rains or it’s not possible to eat outside we don’t feel to recommend it.
Fuco Lois (úa de Xelmirez, 25, 15703, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña). This pub, more than a hundred years old, offers good cocktails and live music. It’s an institution in town and it’s very popular between the students of Santiago university. It’s the perfect place where to have some fun and where to familiarize with locals.
Club Insomnia (Tras tunel Pl. Bombero, 15702, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña ). Grunge club (LGBT nights) where to dance funky, rock and techno minimal music. It’s a funny club where the atmosphere is quite different from the holy one you breath in the city.
Modus Vivendi (Feixoó, 1, Soto , Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña). Old pub with live music. It’s way calmer than the previous ones. It’s perfect to have a drink or a beer with friends listening to soft music.
Text by Federico Sigali