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Santiago de Compostela Travel Guide

About Santiago de Compostela

With its beautiful historic centre, atmospheric granite streets, and a fabulous Romanesque-baroque cathedral at its heart, Santiago de Compostela is so much more than Europe's most famous pilgrimage site.

Ever since medieval times, Santiago has been a holy city, and its central place of worship, the imposing Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, was allegedly built over the tomb of the apostle James. True or not, the story is enough to encourage thousands of folk from all nations and all creeds to walk, bike or ride horses hundreds of kilometres along the Way of Saint James, aka El Camino de Santiago.

Each year, the goal and ambition for over 250,000 trudging pilgrims is to reach the Plaza do Obradoiro. The city's main square is surrounded by magnificent buildings, including the elegant 18th century Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi Palace, now the town hall), and the Hostal dos Reis Católicos - founded in 1492 as a pilgrims' hospice, it is now a 5 star parador (luxury hotel in a converted historic building). Pride of place, however, goes to the majestic twin towers of the magical cathedral, a jaw-dropping masterpiece of baroque architecture.

But while the city's delights may begin with this inspiring building, they certainly don't end there. The old town is filled with narrow winding streets lined with historic buildings that are a delight to wander through.

Having been the site of the University of Santiago de Compostela since the early 16th century, the city has a large student population and a vibrant nightlife that often continues into the early hours.

The Galicia region is also famed for its seafood, and there are some excellent places to eat in Santiago, from select marisquerías to no-frills pulperías – literally, octopus bars. It's all delicious, but don't leave without trying zamburiñas (mini-scallops), navajas (razor clams) and percebes (goose barnacles). Wash everything down with an excellent Galician dry white wine.

Whether you're here as a pilgrim or merely as a casual observer, stunning Santiago offers everyone plenty of reasons to linger.

Key facts

Population:
94,339 (2008).
Latitude:
42.881693
Longitude:
-8.536463

Featured Hotels

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Hostal Alfonso

Close to Santiago de Compostela's city centre, this small hostal makes a big impression. Run by a husband and wife team, Alfonso has a quaint family atmosphere, with cosy rooms and friendly service. The proprietors have even written their own fantastic guide to sights and anecdotes of the Old Town that the guidebooks have missed (sadly in Spanish only). There are only six rooms here (all en suite and with TV) so book well in advance. Ask for the top floor room with the cathedral view, it's remarkable, especially at night. Breakfast is included.

San Francisco Hotel Monumento

Located in the Franciscan convent of San Francisco, this is an excellent luxury parador-style alternative to Reis Católicos, with the added bonus of being set back from the main touristic thoroughfare. This UNESCO listed building has a heated pool and Jacuzzi, while the 82 rooms are air conditioned, decked out in plush bed linens and furnishings, and offer room service in addition to the a la carte restaurant on site.

Hotel Virxe da Cerca

Set in two buildings next to Plaza de Abastos Market and close to the Cathedral, this characterful hotel has an intimate, classy feel. Rooms in the modern building overlook a private courtyard garden, and upgraded rooms set in an 18th century building feature exposed stone walls and traditional furnishings. The restaurant serves traditional Galician cuisine.

Hotel Costa Vella

Located in a quiet street above the Convento de San Francisco, close to one of the seven doors leading into the old medieval city, this small, charming hotel in Santiago boasts comfy, cosy bedrooms and a peaceful garden. A real Galician home from home, you will feel warmly welcomed here. Costa Vella represents excellent value for money and is thoroughly recommended.

Hotel Parador dos Reis Católicos

This magnificent Santiago hotel, one of the best in the country, is located in the heart of the city, right on the Praza do Obradoiro, between Santiago's splendid cathedral and the Galician president's headquarters. Beautiful rooms (each individually decorated with period furniture and fine fabrics), great facilities and exquisite service will make you feel you're being treated like royalty.

Carris Casa da Troya

Although it's set in a beautifully restored historic building in the old town, the rooms at this hotel have a modern simplicity, and the high ceilings and thick walls provide a spacious and private feel. Superior rooms overlook the Cathedral. The staff is excellent and on hand to offer local advice and guidance on where to eat and visit. The hotel also has its own café attached.