Santiago de Compostela may be small, but it’s brimming with historic buildings, stunning architecture, museums, monasteries and luxury hotels. Here’s our pick for the top 20 must-visit attractions in this Galician city.
Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is without a doubt the city’s most famous sight – the culmination of various pilgrimage routes across Spain and Portugal. Construction of the Cathedral began in 1075; however, it wasn’t consecrated until 1211. It comprises multiple architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Plateresque and Neoclassical. When inside, look out for the Botafumeiro – one of the largest censers in the world, weighing 53 kilograms (117 pounds) and measuring 1.5 metres (4.9 feet).
Museo de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
To learn more about the Cathedral, head next door to the Cathedral Museum. Here you’ll find out how a small tomb and church became one of the world’s most famous and most impressive cathedrals. Marvel at objects, which date from the 13th to the 18th centuries, from the cathedral, and view its collection of textiles and tapestries.
Centro Galego de Arte Contemporáneo
The Galician Centre for Contemporary Art is the place for Galician art, and it also offers one of the best views of the city. It sits in a modern building, designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Its permanent collection houses 1,200 pieces, and there are also changing temporary exhibitions to see.
Mercado de Abastos
Santiago’s main market, the Market of Abastos is the second-most visited spot in the city after the Cathedral. The market, built in 1837, has around 300 stalls selling everything from local cheeses to cured meats and empanadas (filled-pastry pies).
Mercado de Abastos, Rúa das Ameas, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 981 58 34 38
Hostal dos Reis Católicos
The Catholic Monarchs commissioned the Hostal dos Reis Católicos – which sits on Praza do Obradoiro square, next to the Cathedral – in 1501 as a hospital for sick pilgrims who walked the Camino de Santiago. Today, the building serves as one of the most luxurious Parador hotels in Spain – the five-star Hotel Parador.
Museo de las Peregrinaciones y de Santiago
Santiago de Compostela is most famous for being the last stop on the Camino de Santiago, so why not find out all about it at the Museum of Pilgrims and Santiago? Housed in the old Banco de España building, it was redesigned by award-winning architect Manuel Gallego Jorreto and reopened as a museum dedicated to the city and its famous pilgrimage route in 2012.
Restaurante Pulpería Fuentes
You can’t visit Galicia without trying its most famous regional dish – pulpo a la Gallego or Galician-style octopus. The octopus is boiled and then chopped up into small chunks, served on a layer of potatoes and sprinkled with paprika. One of the best places to try this dish in Santiago is the traditional Restaurante Pulpería Fuentes.
Museo do Pobo Galego
Housed inside the old Convento de Santo Domingo de Bonaval, built in the 14th century, the Museum of Galician People is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Galician culture. It houses 11,500 items, including art, archaeological and agricultural objects, costumes, jewellery and musical instruments.
Cidade da Cultura de Galicia
The City of Galician Culture sits on the outer edge of Santiago de Compostela and measures about the same size as the city’s Casco Historico. The building, designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, winner of a design competition, features lots of undulating roofs and leaning towers. Although the project ran out of funding and was never properly finished, it does house a library, an opera house, a museum and spaces for various cultural events.
Cidade da Cultura de Galicia, Monte Gaiás, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 881 99 75 65
Museo Casa de la Troya
The Museum of the House of Troya is the museum of the famous boarding house, run by Doña Generosa at the end of the 19th century and written about by the writer Alejandro Pérez Lugín in his novel La Casa de la Troya. The house is set up exactly how it was in Lugín’s time and features photographs, books and objects belonging to the writer.
Museo Cada de la Troya, Rúa da Troia, 5, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 981 58 51 59
Monasterio de San Martín Pinario
A group of Benedictine monks founded the Monastery of San Martín Pinario in the 10th century, after the discovery of the remains of Saint James. Baroque in style, today it’s a church-museum, which also houses temporary exhibitions.
Plaza de las Platerías
Platerías Square sits south of the Cathedral. It was named after the silversmith (plata is silver in Spanish) workshops, which used to be located here under the arches. The Cathedral’s single Romanesque façade, the Casa del Cabildo and the Casa del Deán – an 18th-century palace-house – borders the square. In its centre sits the Fuente de los Caballos (Fountain of the Horses).
Parque de la Alameda
The most spectacular park in Santiago de Compostela is the Parque de la Alameda, which features graceful stairs, fountains and manicured lawns. It was originally created in the 16th century; however, many of the elements you can see today were made in the 19th century.
Mosteiro de San Paio de Antealtares
The Monastery of San Paio de Antealtares was originally built in the 11th century to house Benedictine monks; however, it was virtually destroyed years later and rebuilt during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it houses the Museo de Arte Sacra – the Museum of Sacred Art, where you can see objects such as the original altar that was above St. James’ tomb and the silver reliquary where St. Palayo’s arm is kept.
Fundación Eugenio Granell
The Foundation of Eugenio Granell is dedicated to the surrealist artist Eugenio Granell, who was born in A Coruña and lived in Santiago de Compostela during his childhood. The museum features the artist’s oil paintings, sculptures, drawings and collages, as well as pieces from some of his contemporaries, such as Miró, Caballero, Copley, Rodríguez Luna and Duchamp.
Pazo de Xelmírez
The Palace of Xelmírez is a beautiful 12th-century Romanesque building, which was once the Bishop’s Palace and commissioned by the Archbishop Diego Xelmírez. Inside, you can see an old medieval kitchen and the 13th-century dining hall used for meals.
Museo de Tierra Santa
The Museum of the Holy Land sits inside the Hotel Monumento San Francisco, which, in turn, is housed inside the old San Francisco monastery. It houses around 700 pieces from the Paleolithic era to the present – artefacts all brought from Jerusalem in the Holy Land. There’s everything here from ornaments and carvings to military objects, models and ceramics.
USC: Museo de Historia Natural
Santiago’s Museum of Natural History is part of the University area and lies within an innovative building designed by César Portela. The structure, built as a series of cubes, has various rooms dedicated to natural sciences, including a soil room, an African savannah room and a South American jungle room.
Museo da Colexiata do Sar
The Collegiate Church of Sar’s Museum is a small museum housed in the Romanesque Church of Santa María de Sar. It houses a number of important historical documents, gold and silver items from the 18th century and a series of pieces from the old Romanesque cloister.
Museo da Colexiata do Sar, Rúa de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, +34 981 57 22 89
Lastly, you simply can’t miss a meander around Santiago’s Old Town, filled with its charming winding alleyways, cobbled streets, delicious tapas bars and souvenir shops. Take a look at our article on the ‘Best Shops in Old Town Santiago de Compostela’ for some ideas of places to go.