Santiago de Compostela travel guide

About Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela in Galicia is the destination of the famous pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, and a remarkable place of historic and religious importance. 

A place of pilgrimage

The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, is the most famous pilgrimage route in Europe. Pilgrims have trekked across the Spanish landscape for centuries to the famous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It’s even protected as a UNESCO Heritage Route and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. 

According to the medieval legend, after King Herod killed the apostle James the Greater in Jerusalem, his remains were sent away in a rudderless ship which landed on the Iberian coast. In the 9th century, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was built to house these remains as sacred relics. The tomb of St James is in a crypt beneath the main altar and is the final stop on the Camino for pilgrims.

There are several routes that form the Camino de Santiago starting from destinations across Europe. Most pilgrims follow the Camino Frances, the French Way, from St Pied de Port in northern France. Passing through Aragon, Navarra and Castilla y Léon before reaching Galicia, this well-worn route is the most popular for good reason. However, if you’re visiting northern Spain, you also have the option of the Camino del Norte, the Northern Way. Passing through Pais Vasco, Cantabria and Asturias, you can join the route from either of our ports in Bilbao or Santander. 

The landscape of the Way changes endlessly, meandering through stunning medieval towns and cities, and picturesque villages. One day the Way could take you alongside a coastal path with beautiful views of the sea, another through plains full of sprawling grassy fields and another into a rich and verdant forest. In Asturias, you'll have the stunning backdrop of the Picos de Europa mountains. Once in Galicia you'll really notice the buzz about the Camino and you'll see many more travellers on the Way. The closer you get to Santiago de Compostela, the better marked it is and you'll find more places to stay and stop-offs, such as monasteries and churches, to visit.

Things to see and do

Your time in Santiago de Compostela will not be complete without a visit to the cathedral. Admire the stunning Romanesque architecture with lots of Baroque additions while above ground and travel below the cathedral to the underground crypt containing St James' tomb. Take a tour of the cathedral rooftops for lovely views of the city. And be sure to explore the cathedral museum, which contains lots of archaeological finds from excavations below the cathedral - as well as providing access to the Chapel of Relics, the Renaissance cloister, the Royal Pantheon and more.

The fiestas del Apóstol Santiago really bring the city to life throughout the second half of July, with fireworks, music and dancing in the streets, and the High Mass involving the giant botafumeiro censer (which takes eight men just to set it in motion). With Galicia Day on the 25th as well, prepare for the city to be in full carnival mode.

There are many beautiful convents and churches in Santiago de Compostela and some stunning palaces including the Pazo de Raxoi, which is now the City Hall. Santiago de Compostela has much to offer those interested in the region of Galicia, its history and its culture with the Museum of Galicia and a Museum of the Galician People. There is also the Museum of Pilgrimages and Santiago where you can discover much about the Camino and enjoy a wealth of Jacobean art, and the Galicia Centre of Contemporary Art is perfect if you enjoy your art more modern. 

Surrounded by hills, there are some excellent scenic viewpoints of the city and countryside. Enjoy wandering the streets of Santiago de Compostela on a host of walking tours to discover the city. Relax and have fun in the greenery of Alameda Park, the main green space in the city, or visit one of the smaller gardens.

Shopping

An excellent city for shopping, Santiago de Compostela has several shopping districts. Head for the malls of Compostela, Area Central and Santiago Centro in the district of El Ensanche, which are full of international and Spanish brands. 

In the Old Town you’ll find an eclectic mix of shops with Galician fashion boutiques, prestigious brands, gastronomic shops and traditional products and souvenirs. The city is famous for its silverware and also jewellery and crafts made using jet stone, known locally as azabache, which is said to protect the wearer from evil spirits.

Food and drink

Galician food is full of amazingly fresh fish and seafood (known as morisco) such as hake, turbot, clams, spider crabs, trout and salmon. A stew called caldo gallego is a popular dish made from a mixture of pork, chicken, chorizo, pig's ear and snout with boiled potatoes, chickpeas and turnip tops. Galician beef makes tasty T-bone steaks and sirloin is enjoyed barbecued. For dessert, try a slice of tarta de Santiago, a cake made with ground almonds and cinnamon that has been made for over 200 years and is marked with the apostle's cross on top.

Ribeiro wines are great with dinner and why not finish the evening with a glass of eau de vie, a clear fruit brandy? Eau de vie is also used in a local drink known as queimada, which is made whilst reciting spells to protect against the curses of witches and goblins. Enjoy it in one of the many tapas bars and see where else the evening takes you.

Why visit Santiago de Compostela?

  • St James' Way
  • The Cathedral
  • Shopping
  • Food and Drink 

Overview

  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Galicia
  • Province: A Coruña
  • Population: 95,000
  • Coordinates: 42.885776,-8.545012

Coordinates shown are based on the WGS84 system, please check driving directions before departing.

Places to visit nearby

A Coruña in Galicia is a busy port town and historic city, famous for the Battle of Corunna during the Peninsular War, which juts out on a pretty peninsula into the Atlantic.

Vigo in Galicia is a fascinating port city with a vibrant maritime history, elegant architecture and incredible cuisine among many other delights.

Ourense in Galicia is the home of glorious hot springs, once beloved by the Romans, and a dynamic natural landscape of steep hills, rushing rivers and dramatic canyons. 

Nearby attractions

A visit to Santiago de Compostela cathedral is unmissable in order to admire the stunning architecture and to travel below the cathedral to the underground cemetery containing St James' tomb amongst other Roman, Swabian and...

One of the city's most interesting monuments, San Anton castle (Castillo de San Antón) in A Coruña was constructed during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Aquarium Finisterrae, the 'aquarium at the end of the world' stands on the Atlantic coast below the Tower of Hercules lighthouse.