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6 Best things to see & do in Santiago de Compostela

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros
  • Spain

Camino de Santiago trail

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Camino de Santiago trail

Every year since 814 AD, millions of pilgrims have tramped the Camino de Santiago or ‘Way of St. James’ to Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of St. James, the Apostle of Spain. According to legend, his relics arrived here in a stone boat covered with scallops – now the symbol of the route.

UNESCO declared the 760km 33-stage Camino Frances, lined with Northern Spain’s most spectacular medieval churches and sites, ‘The Foremost Cultural Route in Europe.’ It’s the most famous and popular of the many possible routes.

The route officially starts in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, crosses the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles into Spain, then passes through the main cities and towns of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, and Sarria, before ending at the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela (though some go slightly further to finish at Cape Fisterre).

See our ‘Recommendations’ section below for key highlights along the way, and the ‘Where to stay’ section for great hotels along the route.

Adult price: £50

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 30 days

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Cathedral of Santiago

Bucket List Experience

Cathedral of Santiago

A Romanesque and Baroque jewel, Santiago’s mighty cathedral offers a fitting climax to the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

The first church, begun after 814 and discovery of the body of St James, was burned by the Moors in 997, although they left the holy relics intact. The current cathedral dates from 1075, and in 1188, sculptor Master Mateo completed its sublime Portico da la Gloria.

One façade wasn’t enough, though; a spectacular encasing Baroque façade was added in the 18th Century. At the head of the 97m nave is the wildly ornate baldachin and altar over the crypt holding the saintly relics. Suspended from the crossing is the 80kg Botafumeiro, the incense ‘smoke-spreader’—the world’s largest censer.

Adult price: £9

Good for age: 18+

  • Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Rias Baixas Wine Region

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Rias Baixas Wine Region

South of Santiago de Compostela, the Rias Baixas is a series of four estuarine inlets (Ria de Muros e Noia, the Ria de Arousa, the Ria de Pontevedra, and the Ria de Vigo).

As well as being famed for exceptional seafood, this small area of 4,000 hectares boasts more than 6,500 wine producers, with vines uniquely trained into pergolas to allow air to circulate away from the wet soil. Some farmers grow another crop underneath, or allow farm animals to graze there.

Rias Baixas produces a dry, mineral, aromatic wine from the Albarino varietal, and the area is divided into five sub-regions, each with a subtle difference. Cambados, in the Val do Salnes and an hour’s drive from Santiago, is the capital and oldest sub-region, and one of the best to explore.

Good for age: 18+

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Fiesta of the Apostle Santiago

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Fiesta of the Apostle Santiago

The official feast day of Saint James is 25th July, but the celebratory party in Santiago de Compostela starts ten days earlier, with exhibitions, concerts of traditional Gallego music (with plenty of bagpipes – it’s very Celtic) and theatrical performances in the main squares.

There are several main events worth timing it for. The Fuegos del Apostol, on the night of the 24th of July, is a spectacular firework and multimedia show that takes place in Praza del Obradoiro. On the 25th of July, Saint James’ Day, a Mass held in the famous Cathedral culminates with the swinging of the enormous incense burner, the botafumeiro. It takes eight men to pull the ropes, sending it almost to the cathedral ceiling as it swoops down the nave.

There’s also a suitably large and impressive fireworks show on 31st July, marking the fiesta’s end.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 2 days

When: 24th & 25th July

Freq: annually

Museum of the Galician People

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Museum of the Galician People

Experience

Housed in a former convent, this ethnographic museum is dedicated to the cultural heritage of Galicia. Learn about the local culture through their exhibits of traditional costumes, archaeological finds, music, crafts and artworks. Don’t miss the famous triple spiral staircase, beautiful garden and sculpture by Chillida.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 18+

Galician Contemporary Art Centre

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Galician Contemporary Art Centre

Experience

This art centre, founded in 1993 and housed in a striking granite building designed by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, exhibits works by established international artists as well as leading Galician ones. There’s a panoramic terrace on top.

Good for age: 18+