A Visit To The Sagunto Castle Valen...
A Visit To The Sagunto Castle Valencia: (Castillo de Sagunto)

Santander Spain Visit Guide & Highlights

Jan 10, 2020

view of santander spain with water and buildings
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Winter in the north of Spain sounded like a good idea when we started planning our first trip of the year and nailing one of our wishes to see more of Spain.  It was to be a welcome change from the mild weather we were experiencing in Valencia. Snow sounded good. Imagine my surprise arriving to mid sixties temperature and blazing sun. I’m just glad l didn’t bring my big winter coat. Here’s what to see and do in Santander.

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Santander Spain Visit Guide:

ice skaters at the ayutamento
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An ice rink set up in the plaza mayor. Sure it will be taken down soon since the holidays are over, but in the meantime, it’s enjoyed by locals.

Santander is a beautiful port city. This capital of the Cantabria region of Spain is smaller than Valencia, both in size and population, and is good for a two day stay at most to see and enjoy what the city has to offer.

There are not too many highlights and it only reinforces the fact that we chose well with Valencia. If you enjoy the beach, you could easily add a day or two as the Sardinero beach area is quite popular with travelers in the summer. We didn’t visit there because it holds no interest for me. We have spent the time eating, and wandering through the streets.

view of Santander Spain from the centro Botin in our Santander Spain visit guide
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Doesn’t it remind you of Porto? Imagine living way in the back? The Bank of Santander looms large in the foreground. It’s a beautiful city.

Santander reminds me of so many cities. It reminds me mostly of Marseille (not a big reveal since they are both port cities) with a dash of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and San Francisco or Porto for good measure, thanks to the hills, something l never imagined. Not so bad going down, but quite a bitch walking up :-). Looks like the city is busy making changes by building escalators for people to ride.

Santander also reminds me in a way of Bologna, Italy in that it seems to be a popular destination with Spanish people, and not so much foreigners. This is good in a way as you really get a feel of real Spanish life.

The biggest Santander attractions, apart from the beach:

 

Centro Botin:

Centro Boting building Santander Spain visit guide
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Very unusual looking building that hugs the waters.

Located in the center is this very cool and modern building that reminds me of the City of Arts and Science in Valencia. The building doesn’t touch the ground, but rests on pillars and columns. Art exhibitions are held on the main floor, but the best part are the stunning views of Santander from the top, and that part is free! There is a charge to visit the musuem, I think about four euros. Visiting in winter meant no big lines. We had the place practically to ourselves. I highly recommend doing that. The bottom floor has a big cafeteria with amazing views of the water and the mountains. The Pareda gardens are a nice compliment to the building.

 

Santander Cathedral:

Santander Visit guide Cathedral Spain front with steps and cafe
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The lovely Cathedral in the center of the city. You can see people hanging out at the Cathedral Cafe to the right.

We didn’t get a chance to see the interior of the building as there are renovations going on that we could see. I wasn’t too keen anyway, but l can imagine it’s a nice one, just like many we’ve seen before.

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The Shopping District:

Santander Spain visit guide store window with scarf and big channel 5 bottle
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Window shopping in the centro.

 

Well, what can l say? Santander is great for shopping. It reminds me a little of the Larios area in Malaga, only much bigger. In addition to the promenade with loads of shops, there are pedestrian only areas that seem to run for about a mile lengthwise and there are like three streets, so maybe three miles of shopping in total on one side, then there’s the side with even more shops! We really enjoyed meandering with the crowds who seem to still be in a festive mood. A lot of small businesses with very few chain retail stores.

Mercado del Este:

 

mercado del este santander bar with people
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Nice bars and pintxos at the mercado.

In addition to the central market much like the one in other cities where you can buy fresh fruit and meat, this one is similar to the mercado de San Miguel in Madrid where it’s all cafes and tapas. Very nice.

Find your Santander accommodation:



Booking.com

Food in Santander:

The food in Santander is quite good. We found the most amazing Tex Mex place close to our AirBnB flat (went twice), which was fantastic by the way, and one we highly recommend as it’s in the old town, but a residential part so it was very quiet and it had just been remodeled and the host couldn’t have been more welcoming. Everything pretty much was walking distance, save for the beach.

Frida Street Food had the best chili con carne l have ever tasted… ever. The burrito, and chili burger were so good too. It was also refreshing to have margaritas that were freshly made, not frozen. It’s been much too long. The menu is pretty funny too. They had the tacos de la muerte (death tacos that are insanely spicy), and the roulette tacos .. a meal of 5 tacos that would either make you laugh or cry. We had the medium salsa and it was very spicy already, so skipped the death.

chili at Frida's street food santander spain
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This chili con carne was so good, we had to come back the next night and have it again :-).

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margarita with lime wedge
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My weakness :-).
2 soft tacos
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Truth be told, I can have tapas any old time in Valencia. Gotta take advantage when l see my favorite Mexican food.

 

We also ate twice at this restaurant, La Gloria because it was cozy and the food delicious and hearty.

tripe and chorizo plate
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Santander visit guide: This was so good, the chorizo was spicy, and the tripe melted in your mouth.

 

Tuna with onion rings
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Fantastic! Incredible quality tuna on a bed or red peppers and topped with just the right touch of onion rings (not too crunchy or soft, just right). Finished every last drop :-).

The diet is mostly seafood, which worked for us , but these two places were the standout ones.

Could we live in Santander?

escalator on the street to ferry people up the hill
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Escalators on the street to ferry people up. It would suck having to do that everyday without it.

Not for me, much as l like the city. It’s just a tiny bit on the small size, and those hills would wear me out after a while, pretty as they look.  Some of the streets have these escalators that people take to get to the top of the hill. This one had two levels, so you get off on one street, or take it up the next level and then walk the flat part to your place. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like before they put these in.

Next up is the city of Bilbao, and from the first look.. yep! I could live here :-).

Pin for later:

Santander Spain highlights #santander #northspain #portcity #spaintravel #visitsantander
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What do you think of Santander? Would you care to visit it? Or would you stick with popular destinations like Barcelona and Madrid?

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15 thoughts on “Santander Spain Visit Guide & Highlights”

  1. Great post. Thanks.
    We have looked at visiting Bilbao and the Guggenheim located there. Routing seems a bit of a challenge–our preference being trains. Would like to know how you traveled to the northern Spain area.
    Santander will definitely have to be added to the list to visit.

    Reply
    • You’re right. Routing is indeed a challenge and gave me quite the headache trying to figure it all out. In the end, we chose to take the hour flight to Santander and start there. We are using/train bus combo whichever takes less time, in this case, bus to Bilbao at a cost of $7.50 per person :-). You should definitely add Santander. It’s very nice.

      Reply
  2. Kemkem,

    Enjoyed reading about your visit to Santander as we never had time to stop there in the fall of 2018 when we were in Spain for a month. We loved Bilbao and had a fantastic time driving from Barcelona north and then through the Pyrenees to Andorra and Lourdes and back into Spain to tour Bilbao area and on, very slowly, to Madrid. Hope you have as good a time as Steven and I did in and around Bilbao!

    Annie

    Reply
    • I have to agree with you there about Bilbao. I really could live there :-). I find it hard to believe that it’s smaller than Valencia and we lucked out on the weather. Cold but only had rain for one afternoon. How fun your trip must have been. I am not too fond of a car because l don’t have my license here and l am a terrible backseat driver so it’s no fun for either one of us. I was surprised by Santander. I had no idea what to expect, and it was a very pleasant one. For sure this is a trip we could both do again.

      Reply
  3. Well, there it goes – I saw my first city ever with an escalator on the streets. I’ve been to a few places in Croatia that could’ve used a few as well 🙂 Good idea!

    I am fond of warm weather, so I would’ve been pleasantly surprised by the weather – but I can imagine it sucks when you’re expecting snow 🙂 The city itself does look nice and that Botin building is particularly enticing. But it’s even better that you keep seeing all these beautiful places and still have no regrets for choosing Valencia.

    Reply
    • I also think it’s a fantastic idea to have those escalators to help people get around. Yep..it was a first for me too. Next to the flat we stayed in, the city was putting up a double one because it was very hilly and l bet the people can’t wait. Here’s another close to where we were. They are so cool.

      I got over not having snow pretty quickly. We had one day of rain in Bilbao, otherwise it was cold and sunny. It reminded me so much of London weather wise…cold..then sunny, then windy, then cloudy, then sunny. It was schizophrenic :-). Yes, so far, we are still pleased with Valencia even though Federico says that Bilbao is his most favorite city to visit so far in Spain, not to live as it is costly..and of course the weather. No regrets :-).

      Reply
    • Hah! The best and most useful things ever over there! 🙂

      Reply
  4. A very interesting post. I’ve not been to Spain and doubt I will ever get there, though I have a family member who has visited a few times. Thank you for posting.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Dianne. Spain is a very interesting country for sure, but then there are lots of places in the world. I visited Sydney quite a few years back and really liked it :-).

      Reply
  5. I love beaches and the sea but spending a visit wandering and eating fabulous food is very close behind. Thanks to the info and a look at Santander. It’s on my list now when I make another roadtrip to northern Spain. Enjoy Bilbao. I loved it!

    Reply
    • It was a pleasant surprise and the food was fantastic. I can see why it’s a hidden gem for the Spanish people, much like Bologna. Bilbao is really lovely, another very wonderful surprise. We both say we would love to come back already..haha! Now, Burgos is another story altogether. F*****g freezing!!! :-). I thought it would be warmer than Bilbao..haha!

      Reply
  6. I’ve never been to Santander. Who’d have thought you could get Tex Mex food there? You can get Tex Mex just about anywhere in the states but it’s not something you’d think about finding in Europe. Those people movers look like fun. Does anyone walk up the hills anymore?

    Reply
    • I certainly would have never pictured being able to get Tex Mex in Santander. The owner was cool too, complete with a black cowboy hat and black gear…think Johnny Cash. He was eager to speak in his limited English and it was a good time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had spent some time in the States, enough to impress him. Haha! You know in Spain, they tend to live a really long life and also live alone so l think this is the government’s way of making sure they are still self sufficient. I would hate to climb those hills on a daily basis :-).

      Reply

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