“Santander is a very beautiful city; we have the sea, the mountains, and real culture”, says my host Carolina, as I gaze across the glassy Bay of Santander, admiring the rising peaks in the distance. And she’s right too.
Here in northern Spain’s Cantabria region, an area still largely unspoiled by the hordes of tourists that flock to the south, green rolling valleys spill towards sleepy towns, while beautiful Mediterranean-like beaches hug the coastline. Admittedly, the seaside capital of Santander is somewhat misleading at first encounter. It’s definitely not as elegant as other Spanish towns – much of the old city burnt down in 1941 – but what it lacks in old-world charm it certainly makes up for in character, and natural beauty.
I recently spent a weekend here, arriving with no prior knowledge or expectation and departing having immensely enjoyed all this charming city has to offer. From the elegant tree-lined ‘Paseo de Pereda’ promenade, to the atmospheric plazas; the golden sands of El Sardinero, and the impressive (yet blustery) coastal walks; and the newest jewel in Santander’s cultural crown, Centro Botin.
Curious? You should be. Santander offers the perfect weekend getaway. And with flights just two hours from London, it’s a city calling your name. Here’s how to make the most of your own weekend getaway to Santander.
HOW TO SPEND AN AMAZING 48 HOURS IN SANTANDER
Early birds catch the worm, and if you’re that way inclined, head for a walk along the Paseo de Pereda promenade, when the waters of Santander bay are still, and the paths quiet.
Alternatively, sleep in and leisurely make your way to Mercado de la Esperanza, Santander’s historic marketplace. Here, fishmongers hawk the freshest of fresh seafood plucked straight from the surrounding waters, and local farmers sell a huge array of delicious summer fruits.
We also recommend picking up some local cherries and peaches for the day.
Wind your way slowly through what remains of the city’s old town, stopping at the imposing Santander Cathedral, before arriving at Centro Botin, Santander’s glorious (and somewhat divisive) arts centre.
If you’ve been to Paris’s Centre Pompidou you probably already have an idea why Centro Botin divides opinions. Designed by the same renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, this contemporary gallery is bold and futuristic. Locals were wary of it pre-construction, saying it would block their views to the sea, but today this contemporary gallery is likely to be the highlight of your weekend in Santander. Featuring installations by famed artists, including Carsten Holler, and Francisco de Goya, as well as the impressive architecture and rooftop terrace, it’s the perfect place to spend at least a few hours.
When you’ve finished admiring art and architecture, stop for a coffee and pastry El Muelle, housed on the ground floor of Centro Botin.
Just a short work away is the Estaciόn Marίtima Los Reginas, where the ferry between Santander and Padrena departs from. It’s also the perfect spot to admire the impressive view of Santander, before following the scent of barbequed seafood to one of the local seafood restaurants. Local specialities include oysters, squid, octopus and tuna, and we’d definitely recommend a glass of white wine to accompany your meal.
While there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, El Tronky was a personal fave for us, located just off the pier. You can’t miss it, just follow your nose.
Jump aboard the ferry back to the mainland, before heading straight back into the city centre proper. Have a wander, or perhaps indulge in a little Spanish siesta!
Santander wouldn’t be a Spanish city if it wasn’t filled with many amazing tapas bars – which means you’re definitely not short of excellent dinner options! Rio de la Pila houses many great restaurants, including Bodega del Riojano. The rustic dining room is lined with colourful wine barrels painted by the hands of contemporary artists, including Picasso, in return for food. The Cantabrian cuisine served here is delicious too – try the rabas (fried squid), or the sharing platters!
If you’re after something more modern, Cadelo is your pick, while those seeking a tasty burger should look no further than Nobrac, a hipster burger and beer bar straight out of Shoreditch.
Of course, Spanish nightlife is renowned around the world, and to experience it for yourself in Santander, Plaza de Cañadίo is the place to be. Overflowing bars filled with locals spill out onto the plaza making it a raucous, yet fun affair for all involved. For those ready to dance the night away, Calle del Sol houses many clubs with differing styles of music.
SANTANDER INSPIRATION: OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN SANTANDER, SPAIN
After a big day exploring, and a larger night enjoying Santander’s hospitality, a sleep in is on the cards.
Make your way to Paseo de Pereda promenade and catch the local bus (€1.30) to Peninsula de la Magdalena, home to the former Royal Palace and incredible views of the headland. If you’re up for it, take a tour inside the luxurious Palace (€3), or slowly make your way to the beaches to the east.
Make sure you’ve packed your bathers, because the beaches of Santander are beautiful. El Sardinero and Playa de Mataleñas are the pick of the bunch, both wide expanses of sand with clear waters. If you’re ready to shake off the relaxation, surf lessons are also available.
Pop into one of the local tapas bars and grab a tortilla de patatas (a Spanish omelette with potatoes) to go before embarking on a leisurely walk from El Sardinero to Faro de Punte Silla lighthouse. The walk is spectacular and provides some of the best views of Santander’s dramatic coastline. Pack some snacks and set up for a picnic wherever you like to enjoy the fresh coastal breeze.
Jump aboard the #1 bus (€1.30) back to Paseo de Pereda promenade and grab yourself a hard earned ice cream at one of the exceptional ice creamery’s located on the promenade. Opinions are divided amongst locals as to which is best, but Regma consistently seems to come out on top. Our personal fave was Monerris Helados in plaza Cuadro, who won us over with the most delicious raspberry cheesecake ice cream!
Museums in the city are free on Sunday afternoons, so make the most of it by visiting the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueologίa de Cantabria, or the archaeology museum. Located under the former city market, Mercado del Este, the museum takes you through Cantabria’s extensive history, which includes some of the oldest prehistoric caves in the world.
You’ve made it through to our favourite time of day again: dinner time! Time to sample a famous Spanish dish, Cocido, at Fuente De, a nondescript family run restaurant in the heart of the city. A chickpea based stew originally from Madrid, Fuente De’s version of Cocido has a distinct Cantabrian twist, and is best washed down with a local red wine.
If you’ve not collapsed from exhaustion, drop into one of the many city bars on the way home and drink to a wonderful weekend in Santander.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR SANTANDER
WHEN TO VISIT SANTANDER
Having left a rare beautiful London afternoon behind me, I have to admit I was a little distraught to see Santander shrouded in a thick blanket of clouds. Fortunately the temperature was still a balmy 21 degrees, and over the course of the weekend the clouds cleared to let the glorious summer sun blankets the city. Santander, and its locals, seemed to come alive, and with everyone out enjoying some of the many outdoor pursuits.
Although summer in this part of Spain is changeable, July – August is still the best time to visit. 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTANDER
Despite being a relatively small city, Santander is stocked with accommodation options catering to all budgets.
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 for a business clientele, the rooms were large and comfortable, while the breakfast was excellent. To book, or to discover more, click here.
Read Tripadvisor reviews here.
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.
Read Tripadvisor reviews here.
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 using our code and receive up to £30 off your booking.
HOW TO GET TO, FROM, AND AROUND SANTANDER
Being a smaller city, it is easy 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.
From the airport
Santander’s Seve Ballesteros airport is located a short distance from the city. A regular, dedicated services 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 quarter-to the hour). A one way ticket costs around €2.50.
Alternatively, taxis are easy to come by and should cost no more that €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.
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 Santader’s bay, every half an hour, and cost €4.95 for a round trip ticket. For more information, or for the timetable, click here.
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.
Search for flights to Santander by clicking here.
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