Our 9 favourite things to see and do in Santander, Spain
This is our guide to the best things to do in Santander, Spain.
It includes all the stuff we loved, including the the best day trips from Santander, where to find the best tapas, which beaches you should visit, and more.
Ahead of the boardwalk I’m wandering on lies the delightfully green Magdalena peninsula; to my right, the golden sands of Playa el Puntal beach. In the distance, the vertiginous peaks of Cordillera Cantábrica are surrounded by low lying cloud, while Santander's shiny new tourism attraction, Centro Botin, sparkles in the pleasant morning sun.
‘This is a place I could actually live’, I muse, as a local cycles past me leisurely, no doubt enjoying another glorious morning in this part of the world.
It's not often that I'm attracted to a city so quickly, especially one with such little fanfare; indeed I knew nothing of this Spanish coastal city before my arrival.
Yet after three days spent exploring the best things to do in Santander, I was hooked.
There are certain things we always seek out in a new city; a strong local culture, vast natural beauty, an impressive gourmet scene, and most importantly, many beautiful golden beaches, and Santander has all in spades.
To help you plan your own Santander itinerary, we’ve put together this guide to our favourite things to, see, and eat in the city — plus all your essential travel information and tips (at the end!) to help you make the most of your time here.
9 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN SANTANDER, SPAIN
WHY VISIT SANTANDER?
If you’re someone who’s enjoyed ticket off many of Spain’s major bucket list items; strolled Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, admired Madrid’s stunning squares, danced late into the evening in Seville, or enjoyed real paella in Valencia, then underrated little Santander should be your next Spanish holiday destination.
Popular with Spanish locals (always a good sign!), Santander may lack the major attractions and historical beauty of it’s counterparts, yet it’s beautiful natural setting, including excellent urban beaches and meandering peninsulas, incredible foodie scene (seafood lovers, rejoice), and slower pace mean it’s a thoroughly enjoyable destination to spend a few days.
Coupled with easy travel connections from the UK and Europe, and there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t visit Santander.
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTANDER
Despite being a relatively small city, Santander is stocked with accommodation options catering to all budgets.
Unsurprisingly, accommodation in Santander is extremely affordable when compared to larger European cities, so what you can save on accommodation you can spend on delicious pinchos!
We recommend staying downtown, close to the all the best things to do in Santander.
Below are a few accommodation options, including our recommendation, the four-star Silken Coliseum.
AIRBNB IN SANTANDER
If you’re a fan of AirBnB, there are heaps of options available in Santander. The rates are extremely affordable too, with some of the cheapest we’ve seen in Europe.
BOOK | Book using our code and receive up to £30 off your booking.
READ MORE | Our complete guide to Airbnb (what to do, and what not to do)
MID-RANGE HOTELS IN SANTANDER
We stayed at the four-star Silken Coliseum hotel, located in downtown Santander, and just a short stroll from all the major attractions. While catering mostly to a business clientele, the rooms were large and comfortable, while the breakfast was excellent.
BOOK | Check dates, prices, and availability here.
BUDGET ACCOMMODATION IN SANTANDER
While not huge on the European backpacker scene, Santander does have a number of comfortable hostels to choose from. Our pick is Santander Central Hostel, located right in the centre of town. With cool communal spaces and comfortable rooms, it’s the perfect budget-friendly option in Santander.
WHAT TO DO IN SANTANDER | OUR COMPLETE GUIDE
#1 VISIT SANTANDER’S ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE, CENTRO BOTIN
Renzo Piano, notable Italian architect and Pritzker Prize-winner, designed Santander's newest architectural masterpiece, Centro Botin, which opened to much fanfare in June 2017.
Poised to become a major art destination, similar to the Guggenheim in nearby Bilbao, the impressive building is divided into two sides with interconnecting bridges, covered in over 300,000 pearlescent discs, and featuring many vantage points. Located on the bay of Santander the building integrates the city centre and the historic Pereda Gardens with the Bay.
Santanderinos were initially sceptical of the project, conscious that the structure may negatively affect the surrounding area, however after the success of the gallery, much like in Bilbao, has proved exciting for the city.
Similar to the great art destinations in the world, a visit to Centro Botin is one of the best things to do in Santander.
The building itself is fabulous and the space inside is large, impressive and full of light. There are amazing views across the bay from the windows, and a free viewing platform on the rooftop.
Many famed artists have had periodic installations on display at Centro Botin. During our visit, we enjoyed Carsten Holler’s installation, Y, will took us on a weird journey of individual choices. Objects designed to enhance our sense of orientation, restriction and displacement literally blew my mind, and provided a thrill other art galleries rarely do.
Unfortunately, the exhibition has now moved on, however you can view the most up to date exhibition schedule here.
Centro Botin's exhibitions range from traditional to modern as well as concerts and musical performances, and changes from season to season.
When you’ve finished admiring art and architecture, stop for a coffee and pastry at El Muelle, the centre's own cafe housed on the ground floor of Centro Botin.
Opening hours | 10am - 9pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) - June to September. 10am - 8pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) - October to May
Location | Centro Botin, Jardines de Pereda, Santander
Buy Tickets | You can purchase your Centro Botin tickets here
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#2 TAPAS TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT
The Spanish know how to do food, and the Cantabrians know how to do really good food.
Santander’s location on the edge of the vast North Atlantic means seafood is available in abundance and quality. Tapas/pinchos bars exist all over Santander, serving delightful dishes formed of incredibly fresh local ingredients at super affordable prices.
The epicentre of Santander’s culinary scene is the centrally located Plaza de Cañadίo, favoured among locals as the perfect place to spend an evening, with many quality tapas bars jam-packed into the late evening.
Local specialities include pescado y marisco - unfortunately wasted on me as I don’t eat seafood, yet I can vouch for the delicious patatas bravas, croquetas, tortilla de patatas, and mushrooms in garlic oil.
Standout restaurants and pinchos bars include 'La Tuta' on Calle del Medio (read reviews here), which does ridiculously good (and cheap) croquetas, and 'Bodega del Riojano' (read reviews here), a rustic dining room lined with colourful wine barrels painted by the hands of contemporary artists, including Picasso, in return for food. Try the sharing platters!
For lovers of seafood, everywhere is good.
#3 WALK THE COAST AND ENJOY A FRESH SEAFOOD LUNCH IN LA MARUCA
Located on the rugged north Atlantic coastline, Santander’s natural beauty is probably its most appealing feature; the deep blues of the ocean juxtaposed with the verdant landscapes provide eye and camera candy in equal measure.
Hands down the best thing I did in Santander was to walk along the jagged coast from the famous El Faro lighthouse, stopping at various deserted beaches on the way.
The air was fresh, the scenery breathtaking, and best of all, I had (almost) the entire walk to myself.
Starting at El Faro lighthouse (Faro de Cabo Mayor) on the outskirts of Santander (about 20 minutes from the centre), follow the coastline all the way to the quaint coastal town of La Maruca, where you can stop for a well deserved seafood lunch and beer (I had vegetarian tapas, which was still great!).
Along the way, stop in at various hidden coves for a quick swim, or admire the stunning coastal views.
Although challenging in parts, the walk is leisurely; just take enough water, and a snack or two for the hike, and don’t forget your sunscreen.
Location | Faro de Cabo Mayor, Santander
Pack | Towel, sunscreen, water, cash for the bus, lunch (or take a packed lunch) and drinks
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#4 SWIM OR SURF AT EL SARDINERO BEACH
After a lifetime spent enjoying the coastlines back home in Australia, I know a good beach when I see one.
And El Sardinero is a good beach. A very good beach.
Its golden sands draw many visitors to Santander, and for good reason; it’s a stunning stretch of sand with crystal clear waters. Placed in Sydney or Rio, El Sardinero would be considered one of the world’s great city beaches.
El Sardinero beach comprises of two large, golden swathes of sand; each about a kilometre long, divided by a beautiful lookout point. Unsurprisingly, one of the best things to do in Santander is to spend the day upon this golden beach, enjoying the deep blue Atlantic and a little sun therapy.
If you're keen on learning how to surf, El Sardinero is a great place to try, and Escuela de Surf have a week long surf lesson from €130, or €50 for a 2-hour private class.
The El Sardinero promenade is filled with bars and restaurants serving the days best catch, so if you’ve not packed delicious goodies from Mercado de la Esperanza (see below), then head up and grab yourself some pinchos before heading back to the beach.
We guarantee, on a warm summer's day there’s no better thing to do in Santander than head to El Sardinero, so if the weather gods are on your side, jump aboard the city bus or bike and head straight here.
For those wanting a more relaxed beach, head west towards Playa de Mataleñas. Located at the base of a cliff, Playa de Mataleñas is where the cool kids and in the know locals go for their summer beach sessions.
If it’s warm, head there early as it can get busy very quickly.
Location | El Sardinero, Santander
#5 ADMIRE THE VIEWS FROM MAGDALENA PENINSULA
A short bus ride from the city (or a wonderful morning walk) lies Magdalena Peninsula. With 24.5 hectares of parkland perfect for picnics or leisurely walks, the peninsula is also home to the beautiful Palacio de la Magdalena.
A former royal palace built in the 20th century, its interiors are opulent, its gardens expansive (entry is €3 per person).
There are also many attractive beaches, such as Playa de Bikinis, and Playa de Magdelana, which are far quieter than the popular El Sardinero and Playa de Mataleñas, and are our recommended beaches for those wanting a more relaxed summer weekend.
Overall, the best reason to visit were the incredible views overlooking Isla de Mouro, the Santander coastline to El Sardinero beach, and the Bay of Santander
#6 EAT DELICIOUS ICE CREAM ON THE PASEO DE PEREDA PROMENADE
If you know us, you’d know we’re a little obsessed with good ice cream - it’s our summer vice (minus Aperol Spritz), and there’s not a day go by that we don’t devour one during our travels.
So you can imagine our surprise when we stumbled across Santander’s outrageously delicious ice cream scene.
Although it wasn’t possible to try all of Santander's ice cream options, we can safely say that Santandineros know what they’re doing!
We recommend visiting our personal favourite, the artisanal delights of Monerris Helados (read reviews here), which serve delicious, creamy gelato - our recommendation is the nougat and dark chocolate.
Or, grab yourself an obscenely large and delicious ice cream from Santander favourites Regma (raspberry cheesecake was my favourite), where you’ll likely struggle to eat through an ice cream the size of your head.
Then head on down the beautiful Pereda Promenade, which is the perfect place to enjoy your flavours under the summer sun, while watching as the locals go about their weekends.
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#7 STEP INSIDE THE UNIQUE SANTANDER CATHEDRAL
We're certainly not the most religious of folk, but we do love exploring good cathedral, and the Santander cathedral is well worth the visit.
Composed of two Gothic churches, one above the other, construction began in the 13th century and was completed in the 14th.
The lower crypt consists of the Church of El Cristo, the oldest monument in the city, and one of the most interesting churches we’ve been to. Small, with very low lying ceilings, the crypt contains the 13th century Iglesia del Santismo Cristo, where it’s possible to view relics of Santander’s patron saints, including San Emeterio (after whom city is named), and San Celedonio.
It also houses ancient Roman foundations of a hot spring resort, which you can see through the glass floors.
For an extra fee, it’s possible to reach the top of the bell tower, which gives great views of the surrounds. If you explore the rest of the cathedral complex, you will appreciate a beautiful mural at the right side of the altar, painted by the Valencian painter Jose Cataluña Miralles in 1959. The mural depicts the original cathedral being built in the 12th Century.
It’s worth noting the church itself has suffered considerable damage on a number of occasions, firstly from an large dynamite explosion on the steamship Cabo Machichaco during 1893, and again during the Santander Fire of 1941. After extensive repairs from 1942 to 1953, it was reopened. Fortunately, the cathedral still maintains the grandiose you’d expect from one the oldest buildings in the city.
Location | Calle Somorrostro, Santander
Cost | €2
Opening hours | 10-1 and 4-7.30 (Closed for siesta between 13:00 till 16:00)
#8 HAVE A DRINK (OR TWO) IN PLAZA DE CANADIO
You can’t come to Santander and not go for a drink or two in the lively city centre.
Plaza de Cañadío is once again home to the action, where locals come to sip vino and cerveza under the delightful summer skies.
Further on, the best bars and clubs for those wanting to really kick on are located around Calle Rio de la Pila, which is home to everything from hipster bars to heavy metal clubs.
As with most of Spain, crowds don’t really begin to appear before midnight, so be prepared for a long night!
#9 FILL UP ON FRESH PRODUCE AT MERCADO DE LA ESPERANZA
We believe that markets are the best way to understand a city; if the produce is good, the vendors friendly, and the vibe humming, the city will likely be so.
And this was definitely the case at Santander’s centrally located Mercado de la Esperanza.
Housed in a 19th century cast-iron structure behind Santander's town hall, it’s here the locals come to buy everything from fresh seafood and meats, to fruits, cheese, vegetables and flowers from throughout the Cantabria region.
Moreover, the atmosphere in the markets is buzzing with the sound of locals calling to each other and stall owners singing their wares.
We managed to pick up some seriously large and tasty cherries, and a few other stone fruits to accompany my day exploring the coast to Faro de Cabo Mayor for next to no Euro. Perfect.
For those who are famished, there's a snack bar located on that second floor where some of the delicacies on show are cooked, so we recommend grabbing a little something for the road.
The Mercado de la Esperanza (meaning 'Market of Hope’) is open daily, however there is a veggies market on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Location | Plaza de la Esperanza, Santander
Opening Hours | Monday - Saturday, 8am - 2pm, 5pm - 7:30pm (closed Sundays)
BEST SANTANDER DAY TOURS
Santander isn’t blessed with a huge range of tours for you to book on to prior to arriving, however we’ve listed our favourites below.
If you’re keen to book an alternative tour to the ones listed below, visit the Tourist Information point near Centro Botin for more information.
SANTANDER HOP-ON-HOP-OFF TOURS
Like almost all cities around the world, City Sightseeing has a hop on, hop off tour which offers you the best opportunity to see all the main sights in the city.
BOOK | Book your tickets here
FLAVOURS OF CANTABRIA GOURMET DAY TOUR
A full-day tour through some of Cantabria’s best gourmet highlights, including the famous anchovies of Santoña, the sobaos pastry of Joselin, and the excellent white wine of Cantabria. Also includes a visit to the fishing village of Santoña and the beautiful Pasiego Valleys.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR SANTANDER, SPAIN
WHEN TO VISIT SANTANDER
Although summer in this part of Spain is changeable, July - August is still the best time to visit Santander.
The weather is at its warmest, and the city is abuzz with festival season supporting the usual after-dark fun. It’s important to note the city is busy during this period, with domestic tourism popular in this part of Spain.
The winters in Santander are mild and almost never freezing, while the mountains to the south offer skiing during the winter months.
HOW TO GET TO, FROM, AND AROUND SANTANDER
When you visit Santander, you'll be surprised at how easy it is for a tourist to travel around Santander. Local buses are frequent to almost all points of the city and its beaches, small ferries operate to outlying beaches and suburbs such as Pedreña, while taxis operate within the city.
It’s worth noting Uber is not currently available in Santander.
FLIGHTS TO SANTANDER
Santander is serviced by Ryanair and Iberia, with Ryanair flying direct from London daily. Skyscanner is your best bet to find the cheapest airfares to any destination, every time.
Want to visit Santander? Search for flights by clicking here.
FROM THE AIRPORT
Santander’s Seve Ballesteros airport is located a short distance from the city. A regular, dedicated service operates between the airport and Santander bus station every 30 minutes (on the hour, and half hour), and takes around 15 minutes. The return journey departs every 30 minutes from Santander bus station (at a quarter-past the hour, and a quarter to the hour). A one-way ticket costs around €2.50.
Alternatively, taxis are easy to come by and should cost no more than €10.
Local buses are frequent and inexpensive, at €1.30 per trip. At every bus stop, there is a clear map showing the bus routes and stops and many stops have information boards that indicate the time interval for each bus arrival. For complete bus network map and timetables can be found here.
Alternatively, jump on a hop-on-hop-off guided tourist sightseeing bus - a 1-day pass starts at £13.
Santander is a very bike-friendly city and has bikes for hire at various points around the city. All you need is a credit card to release a bike, and they must be returned to a bike station.
Taxis operate all over Santander and can be booked from a fixed point, or caught from taxi ranks throughout the city. They’re actually quite cheap for a city and can be a more comfortable alternative to bus transport.
Boats operated by Los Reginas leave Jardines de Pereda (on Santander’s promenade), for either Somo or Padrena on the opposite side of Santander's bay, every half an hour, and cost €4.95 for a round-trip ticket.
For more information, or for the timetable, click here.
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR SANTANDER
Whatever you do, don’t travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance.
Even though Santander is safe, things can go wrong, be it sickness, lost baggage, theft, or an accident.
Travel insurance is your only way of mitigating the issues, so grab a policy before you travel!
READ | Our ultimate guide to travel insurance
PLANNING TO VISIT SANTANDER, SPAIN SOON?
We have a heap of essential reading before you travel to Santander:
TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t leave home without travel insurance (seriously, don’t!). Click here to get the best deals with World Nomads, our trusted travel insurance provider
PHOTOGRAPHY | Love our photography? Wondering what gear we use to get all of our photos around the world? Click here to view our detailed photography gear guide, as well as our top travel photography tips!
ECO FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials
Have you visited this little gem in Northern Spain? What were your favourite things to do in Santander? Let us know in the comments!
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