15 Reasons You Should Visit Santiago De Compostela at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Visit Santiago de Compostela
Visit Santiago de Compostela | © Galicia Photo Tour / Flickr
Photo of Esme Fox
15 March 2018

There are many different reasons to visit Spain’s Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, from seeing its magnificent cathedral to watching the pilgrims complete the Camino de Santiago.

To watch the pilgrims completing the Camino de Santiago

It’s quite an emotional and humbling experience to watch the pilgrims enter Santiago de Compostela after their epic journey of 780 kilometres (500 miles) across the top of Spain, from the small French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Stand in the square of the grand cathedral to get the best view.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Galicia | ©Contando Estrelas / Flickr

To attend mass at the Santiago Cathedral

Map View
Door of Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
Door of Catedral de Santiago de Compostela | © Opinador / Wikimedia Commons
Even if you’re not religious at all, attending mass at the Santiago Cathedral is quite an experience. During the ceremony, the priest will welcome the pilgrims who arrived that day and state what country they are from. Here you will see pilgrims from all walks of life sitting down to mass, some hobbling because of blistered feet or injuries, and others simply crying with emotion.

To see one of the biggest censers in the world

Also inside the cathedral, you’ll be able to see the famous botafumeiro, weighing 53 kilograms (117 pounds) and measuring 1.5 metres (4.9 feet). It sits suspended 20 m (65 feet) high up in the centre of the cathedral. On special occasions or after certain masses, a group of eight tiraboleiros will swing it across the crowd at great speeds of up to 68 km/hr (42 miles/hr), emitting strong incense from it as they do.

Santiago Catedral Botafumeiro | ©Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez / Wikimedia Commons

To walk part of the Camino

You don’t have to have walk the whole Camino de Santiago to get some idea of what it’s like. Why not head to the next town along and then walk from there into the city? You’ll hear nods of “Buen Camino” along the way and feel the strong camaraderie of other pilgrims around.

Camino de Santiago | ©carrodeguas / Wikimedia Commons

To explore the historic quarter

Santiago de Compostela’s historic quarter is among the most elegant in Spain, dotted with graceful monasteries, impressive churches and historic palaces. Its magnificent Gothic architecture and quaint cobbled streets are definitely worth exploring.

Plaza de las Platerías, Santiago de Compostela | © Diego Delso /WikiCommons

To see one of the most controversial building projects

The Cidade da Cultura de Galicia is a huge modern space, which measures roughly the same size as the city’s Old Town. It was commissioned by the Parliament of Galicia and was run as a design competition. American architect Peter Eisenman won with his design of leaning towers, undulating roofs and thousands of glass windows. Construction ran on the project for almost a decade, and costs almost doubled, until it was finally decided to stop it all together. Although the final two buildings were never completed, the cultural city does feature a museum, a library and a number of creative centres for culture and design.

Monte Gaiás, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 881 99 75 65

To discover some of the most impressive monasteries

Santiago de Compostela is filled with so many amazing monasteries that it will take you more than a day to explore them all. One of the most impressive is the Monasterio de San Martín Pinario. It was founded in the 10th century by a group of Benedictine monks, after the remains of Saint James (Santiago) were discovered.

Praza da Inmaculada, 5, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 981 58 30 08

To sample Galician cuisine

Galicia has its own unique cuisine, and Santiago de Compostela is a great place to try it. The king of Galician cuisine is, of course, pulpo, or octopus, which you can find on almost every menu. Other types of seafood, local cheeses or tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) are also excellent choices. To finish, order the tarta de Santiago – a dense almond spongecake from the city.

Pulpo a la Gallega, Galicia | ©Javier Lastras / Flickr

To listen to foliada

Foliada are traditional Galician musical performances, which feature gaitas (bagpipes), pipes, violins and flutes. It has similarities with Celtic-style music.

Galician bagpipes | ©Dario Alvarez / Flickr

To visit one of the most amazing university libraries you’ve ever seen

The University of Santiago’s geography and history faculties are home to the most amazing library, festooned with elegant floor-to-ceiling carved bookshelves, crystal chandeliers and old-fashioned reading lamps. It’s so impressive in fact that the students here refer to it as Hogwarts, after Harry Potter’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Colexio de Fonseca, Rúa do Franco, s/n, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

To eat the best tortilla you’ll ever have

Galicia produces some great tortillas de patatas (Spanish omelettes), and in Santiago de Compostela you can try one of the best. At the popular and crowded Bar La Tita, sit down to huge, gooey, freshly-made tortillas that will cover your entire table. Just half of one of their tortillas will feed at least six people.

Bar La Tita, Rúa Nova, 46, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 981 58 39 81

Spanish tortilla CC0 Pixabay

Spanish tortilla | Pixabay

To experience the city’s nightlife

Santiago de Compostela may be small, but it does has a lively nightlife scene. The Old Town is filled with small pubs, old taverns, cocktail lounges and tapas bars. Take a look at our list of the ten best bars in Santiago de Compostela for some great choices.

Casco Historico, Santiago de Compostela | © Nair / Flickr

Need more travel inspiration? Take a look at our Top Tips for Walking the Camino de Santiago.

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