Santiago de Compostela
The capital of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, is the final destination for the majority of pilgrims, regardless of which pilgrim route you have taken. Because it’s the end of the road that doesn’t mean you have to go home quickly. The capital of Compostela is an ideal spot to take a few days off while discovering all its wonders.
Visiting the cathedral is one of the main things that all pilgrims do when they arrive in Santiago de Compostela. In this article, we tell you all about the corners you need to discover in Santiago Cathedral. However, in addition to this impressive work of art, the city hides many other fantastic monuments.
Here, we will tell you everything you need to know about Santiago de Compostela. Do not miss any detail and discover the end of the Camino de Santiago!
Basic information about Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia, the fifth largest autonomous community in Spain. The city is a municipality in the province of La Coruña and is part of the Santiago region. The city has a surface area of 220 square kilometres and there are more than 96,000 people living there.
The history of the end of the Camino de Santiago
The history of Santiago de Compostela is strongly linked to the discovery of the remains of the Apostle Santiago the Elder. It is recorded that in the place where the Cathedral of Santiago is located, there existed a Roman settlement, between the 1st and 5th centuries. However, the city of Santiago de Compostela, as we know it today, dates from the 9th century.
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After the finding, on the part of Alfonso II, between the years 820 and 830, that the remains found belonged to the apostle, a religious community was founded in Santiago to take care of the tomb. This was formed by the Bishop of Iria Flavia, to whom the discovery is attributed, and a community of monks.
From that moment, a flow of people who go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela begins, and the first routes on the Camino de Santiago were constituted.
Little by little the city of Santiago de Compostela was populated by people coming from different places. The weight of the discovery of the remains in the town was such that, between the 9th and 11th centuries, the city was known as Locus Sactus, which means place of the saint, or Locus Santi Lacobi, the place of Santiago.
The principle of freedom, which the city benefited from, also contributed to the installed foreigners. According to this, anyone who, after arriving in Santiago, was not claimed as a servant within forty days, was considered a free man and was entitled to live in Santiago de Compostela.
Curiosities in Santiago de Compostela
Next, we want to share with you some curiosities about Santiago de Compostela. The city hides a lot of secrets and we want you to know them all.
According to some theories, it is said that its current name comes from the Latin expression Campus Stellae (Field of the Star). This is the name of the place where the remains of Santiago the Apostle were discovered. The concept comes from the legend that a star pointed to the place where the sepulchre was.
World Heritage Site
Santiago de Compostela has been catalogued as a World Heritage Site since 1985. Later, in 1993, the Camino Frances also obtained this recognition. Previously, in 1987, the Camino de Santiago had been declared a European Cultural itinerary.
Its historic town centre stands out for the presence of dark stones. This fact is related to the antiquity of these and the effect of the constant rain that plagues all of Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela University
The University of Santiago de Compostela has more than 500 years of history. It was founded in the year 1495, by Lope Gómez de Marzoa.
The University is considered one of the top ten in Spain. More than 30,000 new students are enrolled each year. This fact makes the population of Santiago, in fact, surpass 200,000 inhabitants.
Myths and legends
To finish this chapter of curiosities, we wanted to tell you a mysterious fact: the shadow of the Pilgrim in the Plaza da Quintana. They say that at night, at the base of the clock tower, the figure of a pilgrim is projected, with his cane and everything!
According to legend, it is a pilgrim in love who returns every night to wait for his beloved. If you want to know more about this story, consult in our blog the article on myths and legends on the Camino de Santiago.
What to visit in Santiago de Compostela
In this section, we will not tell you that you have to see the extraordinary Plaza del Obradoiro, the Cathedral of Santiago or the four majestic squares that surround it. It is probable that you already know all these things or that, almost without wanting it, you end up discovering when you arrive in Santiago de Compostela.
In this article of our blog of the Camino de Santiago, we want to offer you other plans to enjoy a few days of sightseeing in the city. Here you will find 10 places to see in Santiago de Compostela.
The 4 most visited places in the city
Like any big city, Santiago de Compostela has very touristic places that constitute almost obligatory visits. But there are also other alternative plans that will allow you to discover corners, not so well-known. We will begin by talking about the places that you cannot miss during your stay in the Galician capital.
Mercado de Abastos
After the Cathedral of Santiago, the main market is the second most visited place in Santiago de Compostela. It is located in Rúa das Ameas, in the old town. Next to the Palace of the Counts of Altamira.
In this market, you can enjoy handcrafted products. If you plan to come home with a gift for your family or friends, it is an ideal place to buy gourmet souvenirs.
Hostal de los Reyes Católicos
The Hostal de Los Reyes Catholics is located in Plaza del Obradoiro. Many point out that this is the oldest hostel in the world. In the past, it was the Royal Hospital of Santiago.
Its construction was carried out in 1486, after the visit of the Catholic monarchs to the city. At that time, after the previous hospital suffered a fire, the cathedral functioned as a pilgrim’s hostel. After seeing the terrible conditions in which they were found, the Kings ordered the construction of this new lodging.
The architect Enrique Egas was in charge of its construction. The works were completed in the year 1509. The building has Gothic influences and a plateresque portico.
In 1954 it was converted into a Parador (National hotel). At present, you can visit every day except on Saturdays.
The Alameda is another of the classic places you have to see in Santiago de Compostela. It is a landscaped complex, of historical character, formed by three areas: the Paseo de la Alameda, the Ferradura and the oak groves of Santa Susana.
The Paseo da Ferradura borders the oak groves of Santa Susana. From the promenade you will get magnificent views of the city. The tour concludes next to Rosalía de Castro’s monument.
At the beginning of the Paseo de la Alameda, you will find one of the most photographed monuments of Santiago de Compostela. This is the monument to Las Marias. A bronze sculpture, made in homage to popular sisters who used to walk around the place, during the second half of the 20th century.
Convento Santo Domingo
The Convent of Santo Domingo is located outside the walled city, next to the door of the Camino. Although there is no evidence to prove it, they say it was founded by Santo Domingo de Guzmán, after a pilgrimage to Santiago in the 13th century.
Originally the convent was consecrated to St. Mary. Later, it became known as the Convent of Santo Domingo. Throughout history, the location has had multiple uses. Nowadays, it is the seat of the Museo do Pobo Galego.
This museum space had put together a collection of objects from traditional Galician life. It also has a collection of Galician painting and an extensive library. You can visit every day except on Mondays.
What else to see in Santiago de Compostela
If you have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the city, in addition to the four previous visits, you can discover other charming corners that are hidden in the capital of Compostela. Now we will talk about them.
Parque de Santo Domingo de Bonaval
It is located on a hill in the neighbourhood of San Pedro, near the traditional access to the city by the Camino Frances. The park is surrounded by monuments such as the Convent of Santo Domingo and the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, giving rise to an exquisite contrast between the old and the contemporary.
At the entrance you can admire an ancient cemetery surrounded by a vast green expanse. You’ll be charmed by its wonderful views over the cathedral and the historic quarter.
Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, CGAC
After walking through one of the most picturesque parks in Santiago, we advise you to come to this free museum which is a few steps away. Both its architecture (internal and external) and the exhibits it houses are worth a visit.
Parque de Belvís
Belvís Park is located on the border between the old zone and two historical buildings: the Convent of Belvís and the Minor Seminary. This is an immense area for walking.
In Belvís you will find mazes, walls, play areas, trees, a stream and, if you go on a Tuesday, also a market for organic products. As if it were not enough, in the upper part of this park there is another of the best viewpoints over Santiago de Compostela.
Hiking route Ponte a Ponte
A 5-minute walk from Santiago Cathedral, a fascinating hiking trail begins around the River Sarela. The city is rich in rivers and streams, so there is a saying among the locals who pray:
“Between the Sar and the Sarela, Santiago de Compostela”
This walk is a world apart, completely oblivious to the city. The tour enters a forest, allowing you to enjoy direct contact with nature.
Carballeira de San Lourenzo
Listen, this is a secret! Perhaps an open secret, but the truth is that few tourists know this wonderful oak grove, located very close to the city centre.
In the 12th century, located on the banks of the Sarela, the convent of San Lorenzo de Souto was constructed in the oak groves. Today this convent has become a palace (“Pazo” in Galician) that houses a fantastic restaurant.
Among the centennial trees, you will discover a fountain and two stone crosses that are a symbol of the identity of the Galician culture. In addition, enjoy a wide range of botanical richness.
Museo das Peregrinacións e de Santiago
The Pilgrims and Santiago Museum is located in As Praterias Street. The place houses an extensive permanent collection of Jacobean iconography, as well as temporary exhibitions from other centres. If you want to find out more about the Camino de Santiago, it’s a visit that you should not miss.
Celebrating your arrival in Santiago: what to eat
Probably on your tour of the Camino de Santiago you have already discovered some Galician gastronomy. Nevertheless, Santiago de Compostela has some gastronomic traditions that, if you are a lover of good food, you should not miss.
A tradition widely spread among the pilgrims who make the Camino de Santiago is to enjoy a good seafood on arrival in the capital of Galicia. Many of them choose seafood restaurants that are located next to the Cathedral of Santiago. However, our advice is to stay away from the tourist centre. So you can taste delicious seafood, for much less money.
Tapas culture is very present in the city. The most famous street for tapas is Rúa do Franco. However, there are many other places where you are offered a free tapa with every drink.
If you are a wine lover, you will have already tasted O Ribeiro wine. But you must not leave the city, without tasting it in one of the typical stone cups, found in the most traditional taverns.
Of course, the octopus, empanada, meat and traditional Santiago tart, made with almonds, cannot be missed on the menus of your rest days in Compostela. What is opening up your appetite?
Beyond Santiago de Compostela
If after a few days’ rest in Santiago de Compostela, you still don’t have to go home and if you feel the urge to continue walking, the Camino de Finisterre is a perfect plan to finish the Camino de Santiago. To learn more about this tour, you can check our article on this route to end of the world.
If you are reading this information because you have completed your pilgrimage to Santiago, we do not want to say goodbye without congratulating you: Congratulations, Pilgrim! You can get more ideas for activities you can do in Santiago de Compostela by visiting its official tourism website.
If, on the contrary, you have not started your adventure, we want to tell you that in our blog on the Camino de Santiago we have much more information for you. You can resolve your basic questions in this article about all that you need to know about the Camino de Santiago.
Start preparing your pilgrimage with our guide on how to do the Camino de Santiago. Or, if you prefer, you can put yourself in contact with us and we will take care of the whole organization, so you just have to worry about enjoying the great experience.