Santiago de Compostela is renowned for its shrine of Saint James the Great. The city was built to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims that would, and still do, gather there every year. The architecture and atmosphere of the city are impregnated with history and visitors may feel like they’ve taken a step back in time. Let’s take a look at the top 10 places to visit as you wander along Santiago’s winding streets. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Composetela
You can’t go to Santiago and not visit its cathedral. Built during the 1300s, the changes over the subsequent centuries have added Gothic and Baroque features to its Romanesque architecture. The grand Plaza del Obradoiro leaves enough room to admire the Cathedral’s impressive size and design, and through the front doors you will find the Portico de Gloria, the Corticela chapel and the relic of Saint John – all for free. For a small fee you can climb to the roof and admire the view over the city. Every day at noon there is a mass, and if you’re lucky you might see the famous Botafumeiro, an incense spreader weighing 80 kilos and measuring 1.6 meters high!
After visiting the cathedral you should also visit the Cathedral Museum, which is inside the cathedral. Here, the layers of history, the very bones of the city, are unveiled and it is only then that you can truly understand the place. The exhibitions are well displayed, there are a number of artworks including a collection of tapestries and paintings, and during your visit you can also see a medieval stone choir, a cloister, a library and a lovely view from the top floor.
San Francisco Convent
If you’re feeling hungry you should head over to the San Franciscan convent, which housed Franciscan monks in the 18th century. The monks have now moved to a more modern building and the old convent serves as a hotel and restaurant. The food is delicious, and they offer a special Pilgrim menu with typical convent or monastery dishes. The unique food, combined with the architecture and décor, will make for an unforgettable experience. If you have time, check out the chapel and Holy Land museum next door.
This is a beautiful park with wonderful views of the cathedral and the old town from the Ferradura walk. Alameda park is great place to seek peace and quiet away from the busy center or to eat a lunchtime picnic. One of the park’s many statues is ‘Las dos Marias’ (the two Marys), which depicts a fun piece of local history. The two women became famous during the 1950s and 1960s by walking through the city center every day at 2pm sharp, dressed and made up in what was considered an eccentric manner, and flirting with the university students.
San Martin Pinario Monastery
The 10th-century baroque Benedictine monastery and church are open to visits for a very reasonable fee. The church has a beautiful stairway and its walnut choir stalls made by Mateo de Prado are considered the most impressive in Galicia. When you visit, try to imagine the bustle of the daily lives of the monks who only left towards the middle of the 19th century. The Monastery is now used as a university residence, a hotel, and it also houses a museum with a miscellaneous array of historical artifacts. Lucky students who have the privilege to live there!
The City of Culture
Designed by Peter Eisenmann, the City of Culture is a great white mound copying the curves and bumps of earthy hills. The construction costs have been the cause of great controversy, but Santiago’s City of Culture is still worthy of a visit if only to see the extraordinary architecture. Visit the library and check out the events program to learn about any exhibitions they are running, and they also organize concerts and workshops. To get to the City of Culture there are buses from the city center.
Casa da Troia Museum
Only open during the semana santa (Easter Week) and the summer, this museum is a little jewel. Walking through its front door is like walking back to the end of the 19th century, when the building served as a boarding house for university students. The place was the source of inspiration for Alejandro Pérez Lugín’s novel La Casa de la Troya. Anyone who was ever a student will find it fascinating to compare the 19th century university life with their own experiences.
San Pelayo Church and Monastery
San Pelayo Church and Monastery is just a stone’s throw away from the main cathedral. The church contains several baroque altarpieces and there is a small Sacred Art Museum attached to it which is worth a tour. There are still nuns living in the monastery who sell scrumptious baked goods – such as the typical Santiago almond cake – from a revolving window. Dare to ring – if you’re lucky you might hear them practice their music or Gregorian chants.
Eugenio Granell Foundation
Eugenio Granell was a Spanish-born surrealist painter. The foundation owns a collection of his works as well as a collection of artifacts he and his wife collected throughout their travels. The foundation also owns works by other surrealist painters such as Miró, Copley or Cruzeiro Seixas. They organize temporary exhibitions, workshops, theater plays and conferences, and they are currently amassing an ever-growing library dedicated to Surrealism and 20th-century art. This is a perfect find for any art lover.
Casco Historico in Spanish means Historical Center. Take time to explore the little streets around the cathedral and you will find lots of hidden squares, like the Plaza de Cervantes, with beautiful statues and intricate fountains. The district is alive with activity, and as you walk around the old streets you are likely to chance upon a mass or the gathering of a procession. There are also lots of cafés and restaurants where you can sit down to enjoy some Spanish tapas and watch the world go by.
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