Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
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Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

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Santiago de Compostela travel guide

With its beautiful historic centre, atmospheric granite streets, and a fabulous Romanesque-baroque cathedral at its heart, Santiago de Compostela is so much more than Europe’s most famous pilgrimage site.

Ever since medieval times, Santiago has been a holy city, and its central place of worship, the imposing Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, was allegedly built over the tomb of the apostle James. True or not, the story is enough to encourage thousands of folk from all nations and all creeds to walk, bike or ride horses hundreds of kilometres along the Way of Saint James, aka El Camino de Santiago.

Each year, the goal and ambition for over 250,000 trudging pilgrims is to reach the Plaza do Obradoiro. The city’s main square is surrounded by magnificent buildings, including the elegant 18th century Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi Palace, now the town hall), and the Hostal dos Reis Católicos - founded in 1492 as a pilgrims’ hospice, it is now a 5 star parador (luxury hotel in a converted historic building). Pride of place, however, goes to the majestic twin towers of the magical cathedral, a jaw-dropping masterpiece of baroque architecture.

But while the city’s delights may begin with this inspiring building, they certainly don’t end there. The old town is filled with narrow winding streets lined with historic buildings that are a delight to wander through.

Having been the site of the University of Santiago de Compostela since the early 16th century, the city has a large student population and a vibrant nightlife that often continues into the early hours.

The Galicia region is also famed for its seafood, and there are some excellent places to eat in Santiago, from select marisquerías to no-frills pulperías – literally, octopus bars. It’s all delicious, but don’t leave without trying zamburiñas (mini-scallops), navajas (razor clams) and percebes (goose barnacles). Wash everything down with an excellent Galician dry white wine.

Whether you’re here as a pilgrim or merely as a casual observer, stunning Santiago offers everyone plenty of reasons to linger.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.