Here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Santander (Spain), along with famous landmarks, museums, and other points of interest.
Palacio Real de la Magdalena
The Spanish Royal Family commissioned the Magdalena palace in 1909 to have a place to vacation in Santander. The royal family, in that time led by King Alfonso XIII, visited every summer after the palace was finished.
It was designed by architects Javier González de Riancho and Gonzalo Bringas Vega. The building is a slate-covered combination of French and English styles and draws over 60,000 visitors a year.
Taking a cue from its neighbor to the east, the Guggenheim, Santander commissioned this art museum from famed architect Renzo Piano. The building makes up nearly 9,000 square meters, over two blocks.
One block is dedicated to art, with two large exhibition rooms, and the other is focused on cultural activities. Exhibits range from topical exhibitions on a single subject, such as Portraits, to retrospectives on international artists, such as Alexander Calder.
The Santander Cathedral, whose full name is Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Santander, spent the 12th through the 18th century being built and expanded.
The lower church is the oldest part, with recent excavations showing it is actually built on a Roman settlement. The upper church is an austere Gothic style, though there are important individual pieces to the church.
Pay special attention to the coat of arms with lions and castles coming together, which is the first-known example after Castile and León were finally unified.
Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico
When a city has such an important link with the sea and maritime history, it’s only natural it should have a museum dedicated to local marine heritage.
The Cantabrian Maritime Museum was inaugurated in 1981, although previous museums and maritime stations that served as predecessors actually date back to 1886.
The building, with its exposed concrete and glass façade, took three years to build at the hand of architects Vicente Roig Forner and Ángel Hernández Morales. The main exhibitions detail local marine life and the relationship man has had with the Cantabrian Sea throughout history.
Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria
In the center of Santander lies a museum dedicated to the fascinating archaeological history of Cantabria. Founded in the early 1900s, the museum specializes in regional Cantabrian artifacts recovered in Paleolithic sites across the region.
Today, the museum is divided into two sections, Prehistory and History, which contain over 1200 pieces. Check out the evolution of stone tools, cave drawings, and bones to help you trace an idea of Cantabria’s past.
Faro de Cabo Mayor
This lighthouse’s nickname translates to the Beautiful View Lighthouse, and with reason—whether looking at it or out from it, the view is gorgeous.
Originally built in 1839, the 30-meter tall lighthouse was and remains an important signal for boats out at sea. Today, the lighthouse also houses an art center, which has occupied the lighthouse operator’s living quarters since 2001.
It displays exhibits and collections related to the ocean and lighthouses.
El Sardinero Beach
Santander’s coastal location is highlighted by one of Spain’s most elegant beaches. El Sardinero is the most famous, popular beach in Santander, stretching 1.3 kilometers along with the city and its elegant promenade.
The beach is divided into two by the Piquio gardens. The “First” Sardinero Beach is the smaller one, and traditionally where nobility bathed. The “Second” is the largest beach in town, with golden sand and water whose surf ranges from calm to moderate.
Mercado de la Esperanza
Inaugurated in 1904, the “market of hope” is one of the most important examples of turn-of-the-century iron architecture still around today in Spain.
It is the largest food market in Cantabria, and it is divided into two floors. The bottom floor hosts over a hundred meat and fish stalls, while the top floor is where you can find vegetables, cheeses, and everything else.
The design is virtually unaltered from the original, a production of the architects Eduardo Reynals y Juan Moya.
Playa de el Puntal
From Santander’s Sardinero beach, one can see a sandy outcropping across the bay. That is the Playa El Puntal, which holds over 4 km of sandy beach in a peninsula shape and has wonderful views of the city of Santander.
During summer, you can take a boat to the beach from Santander proper. The rest of the year, you can reach the beach from the village of Somo.
Funicular del Rio de la Pila
The Funicular del Rio de la Pila is, unlike many of Spain’s popular funiculars, a relatively recent addition to Santander. Opened in 2008, it was built to assist the scaling of some of Santander’s steepest neighborhoods.
Riding the funicular is free, and it takes you up to some of the best views in the city, a bird’s eye view that encompasses all of the city’s most well-known landmarks.
Jardines del Piquio
The PIquio Gardens jut out into the Sardinero beach, making them a popular endpoint for a stroll along the esplanade. The gardens hold a monument known as The Ball of the World.
This limestone sphere, 65 cm in diameter, represents the oceans and continents and aligns with the earth’s north-south axis. The curious blue-floored gardens are also the site of different cultural activities and concerts.
Ermita de la Virgen del Mar
The hermitage of the Virgin of the Sea pays tribute to the patron saint of Santander, la Virgen del Mar. It originally dates back to 1400, although its exposure to the elements means it has been rebuilt and renovated several times.
Legend has it that when choosing where to build the hermitage, the materials for its construction were mysteriously displaced to a different place overnight, the current location of the building. The hermitage only opens for mass and special celebrations.
This neighborhood in Santander was once a quiet area frequented only by fishermen. Boats docked and moored there, and the occasional artist painted scenes from it in the 20th century.
Linked to the rest of Santander by the Paseo de Peredas, one of the few areas of the city not affected by the 1941 fire. Take a stroll down to the Puerto Chico neighborhood, which is today filled with shops and restaurants, and very popular among Santander residents.
Edificio del Banco Santander
It makes sense that this imposing building would be the headquarters of one of the most important banks in Spain. Formerly a hotel that was renovated by Javier González de Riancho, between 1919 and 1923, it has a principal façade that faces the sea.
The left side was added in 1950. The four structures in the rectangular plaza represent art, culture, commerce, and navigation. The bank announced another €40m renovation in 2019, by the artist David Chipperfield.
Sacred Heart Church
Built in 1890, this Neogothic church has soaring ceilings and three naves, with an interior painted by Enrique Immencamp. From the entrance, a peculiar staircase leads up to a sculpture of Jesus Christ, by Castellanos, inaugurated in 1912.
The church is a Jesuit church. Some say it is more beautiful than the actual cathedral, so be sure to visit both!
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