Santiago de Compostela is a small town nestled within the Spanish region of Galicia: a natural wonderland filled with lush forests, towering mountains, and jagged seas. Most people know it as the ending point of the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile long pilgrimage dating back to the Middle Ages. However, beyond the after-glow of the pilgrimage, you’ll find that the actual city of Santiago de Compostela is a gem all in its own.
A medieval university town, you’ll spot plenty of Spaniards, young and old, paseando along the cobblestone alleyways that wind through the Old Town, a spiraling maze that you never actually want to figure out. The sound of seagulls echo through the streets, a reminder that seaside pueblos are not too far away. With its Celtic charm and rich history, it’s no wonder why Santiago de Compostela has stood the test of time as the final stop on this famous pilgrimage.
To help you continue your journey and discover the town beyond the walk, we’ve put together our own insider guide of Santiago de Compostela.
Part 1: Jazz, Blues and Traditional Galician Folk Music
Part 2: A Culinary Journey From Pulpo to Pimientos
Part 3: Café, Craft and Chill
Part 4: The Art of Paseando
PART 1: Jazz, Blues and Traditional Galician Folk Music
What better way to celebrate finishing a month-long trek than with a bit of music? The main attraction of Santiago is the cathedral, which is the official ending point of the Camino de Santiago. It’s right outside of its gates where we begin our guide. Here, in Plaza de Obradoiro you can hear the jolly melodies of La Tuna, a traditional male choral group that are famous for their cheeky songs filled with double entendres, sure to put a smile on your face. They’re easy to spot as they all wear black robes with embroidered patches and draw a crowd every evening around 9pm. But be aware, as they like picking people from the crowd to participate in their nightly chorus!
La Tuna aren’t the only ones putting on a show in Santiago. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for signs of the many free concerts that take place daily, which range from full orchestras playing in open air plazas to locals busking with their gaitas, a local Galician instrument similar to a bagpipe.
Want more? Here are our recommendations for the best places to hear music in Santiago de Compostela:
Traditional Folk Music
To experience a great display of traditional Galician folk music, check out Casa das Crechas on Wednesday nights at around 10:30pm. Here you’ll see gaita players breaking a sweat to keep up with the rhythm of old-school Galician tunes. Dance to the beat of the pandeireta, a large tambourine, and if you’re feeling daring enough the locals in some traditional dance.
Blues and Jazz
If you like blues and jazz you came to the right spot, as Santiago has a plethora of bars with weekly shows. La Borriquita de Belem plays live blues every Wednesday night and jazz on Thursdays starting from 10:30pm. If you want a slightly grittier locale, check out Fraggle Rock’s live blues on Thursdays, and for a classier vibe check out Dado Dadá Jazzclub’s live jazz on Tuesday nights. Shows are either free or a couple of euros cover charge.
Alternative DJ spinning
Known as the local punk bar, A Reixa always draws a crowd and even though the music isn’t live it doesn’t mean the crowd isn’t lively! Alternatively, if dancing the night away with some 80’s to modern-day pop sounds like more your groove, be sure to check out Albaroque.
PART 2: A Culinary Journey From Pulpo to Pimientos
Each region in Spain has its culinary delicacies, and Galicia is no different. If you put a gastronomic spotlight on Santiago de Compostela you’d find that pulpo, pimientos de padron, and albariño are the three things that stand above all. Pulpo (polbo in Galcian), means octopus. In Galicia they prepare it boiled, sliced in medallions, and drizzled with olive oil, red pepper and rock salt. This is known as polbo á feira and is a must-try to initiate yourself into Galician cuisine. Pimientos de padron are a typical appetizer of small green peppers, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, making them way too easy to pop down! If you need something to wash down all this deliciousness, order a glass of albariño, a local white wine with a light a fruity zest. Wondering where to get all three? We recommend restaurant Os Concheiros.
Want more? Here are our recommendations for the best places to eat in Santiago de Compostela:
Para Picar – Tapas
On top of our culinary checklist is Bar La Tita, a go-to for its famous tortilla española, an omelette of potato and egg, which they’re known for serving a bit runny. Think crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside – the best of both worlds! While this tapa comes free when you order a drink, you might end up ordering another serving because it’s just that good! If you enjoy a good glass of wine and some seafood, head to Abastos 2.0, a modern little spot integrated into the Mercado de Abastos. Here you can try a killer plate of navajas, or razor clams, typical of the region. If you want to transport yourself back in time, enter the cave-like atmosphere of O’filandon. Here you can sit by a wood burning fire surrounded by stone, and nibble on a generous serving of jamon and cheese tapas.
What’s for Dinner?
Maria Castaña is a great place to discover the fresh range of fish and seafood that Galicia is famous for in a rustic and traditional setting, while O Celme do Caracol offers an updated twist on traditional dishes that match its modern décor.
Worth the Drive
If you have a car, we highly suggest taking a drive though the outskirts of Santiago’s city center to discover the organic haven that is Fogar do Santiso. Here they use only their own produce and local meats to create fresh, seasonal dishes, many of which are vegetarian friendly. They even make their own jams and alcohol. Every Saturday night a queimada is held. This is a Galician tradition where they burn augardente, a Spanish liqueur, and recite a special incantation based on folklore.
Seeing as lunch and dinner in Spain are the main gastronomic attractions, it’s no wonder Spanish breakfast tends to be on the lighter side. However, if you’re hankering for something a bit heartier than a coffee and piece of toast, there are two places in Santiago that offer American-style brunch. Bicoca has different menu combinations, from poached eggs and mimosas to bacon and bloody mary’s, while Café Tertulia offers a broad range of teas as well as pancakes end eggs.
PART 3: Café, Craft and Chill
Sitting down for a cup of café con leche or a caña is a typical afternoon tradition for Spaniards. It’s all about taking your time, catching up with friends, and people watching. So we thought we’d break down some of our favorite spots to take up this afternoon pastime.
Here are our recommendations for the best places to have a drink in Santiago de Compostela:
Café con Leche
Starting out your day with a cup of coffee is a must for many, and what better place to do this than on a beautiful terrace with a view? Introducing Costa Vella, part hotel, part garden-café, it oozes charm and is the perfect place to go when the sun is shining. For a dose of interesting décor, head over to Café La Flor, where birdcages hang from the ceiling and wicker statues greet you upon entering. SCQ café on the other hand, has a retro vibe, making you feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s living room from the 1950’s. Along with the swell ambiance, they also serve some great home-baked goodies like the famous Tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that pairs perfectly with that cup o’ joe. O Paris is situated right next to Alameda Park, so it makes for a great stop after taking a stroll. Sticking true to their name, they play Edith Piaf and have a backroom that is reminiscent of a Parisian curbside café.
Una Caña Por Favor
A caña is the Spanish term for a glass of beer from the tap and in Santiago de Compostela will usually get you a frothy cold Estrella Galicia. Pub Momo is the most popular spot on a sunny day since it has one of the biggest terraces in town. They also offer 2 for one drink specials, which means that third beer is on the house. If you’re near the cathedral you can wander over to O Boneca Bar which is known for its generous pours and ham and cheese tapas. With a retro ambience akin to SCQ, you may find yourself wanting to dial in from the old school telephones they have hanging from the walls. If you hear the distant sound of reggae in the distance, it may be coming from Camalea, a mellow spot situated in Plaza San Martín. Here you can grab a beer or order one of their popular milkshakes, and if you’re around on Wednesday nights you can watch their weekly Spanish improv comedy show.
A Craft Beer Revolution
Are you a fan of craft beer? If so, you’re in luck, because Santiago is one of the few places in Spain where craft beer has just started to flourish. With local brewers like Keltius in Peccatum, Ancora and Jakobsland, there are plenty of Galician specialties to try. O Bandullo do Lambón is a small bar tucked away in the heart of old town and has a weekly rotating tap with Spanish and international craft beers. The BeerLab is a bit of a walk from old town but has live music and tapas every Sunday afternoon and a nice outdoor terrace to relax with a pint. If you want to take some local craft beer to go, step into La Atlántica, Santiago’s own bottle shop haven.
PART 4: The Art of Paseando
Paseando is a Spanish term to refer to walking. One can take a walk or dar un paseo, or actively pasear. Either way you say it, Spanish people love going for walks and with all of the parks that you can encounter in Santiago, it is a great place to perfect the art of paseando.
Here are our recommendations for the best places to walk around Santiago de Compostela:
All About the Parks
The first park you’ll probably hear about is Parque Alameda, located right between the Old and New Town. This park offers great views of the cathedral and south campus, and has hidden alcoves where you can discover interesting statues and lots of shady benches. Parque Boneval has plenty of open green space, making it the go-to for afternoon picnics. Here it’s not out of the ordinary to spot people slacklining, playing guitar, or taking an afternoon siesta. If it’s a Tuesday, you can walk down to Parque Belvis where they hold a small organic farmers market. Local produce and baked goods line the stands and you can even get a glass of sidra, Spanish cider, to-go after you’ve finished shopping around.
The Local Market
Mercado de Abastos is the most famous market in Santiago. Here you’ll find fresh fish, charcuterie, homemade wine and liqueurs, and a plethora of fresh produce. This is also a great place to buy Santiago de Compostela’s traditional cheese, queso de tetilla, which comes in an original and smoked version. Saturday morning is the big day at Abastos, and stands fill up both inside and around the market. Our favorite Saturday stand has got to be the pulpo stand, where you can watch the quick preparation of octopus, being dropped in boiling water, cut with scissors, dressed and served on a wooden platter. Que delicioso!
Still Craving More Walking?
If completing the pilgrimage has left you feeling hiking withdrawals, don’t fret! A popular day hike from Santiago de Compostela will lead you from the Cathedral up to Monte Pedroso. With the summit only 40 minutes away, it’s the perfect leisurely hike for when you want to get a great view of Santiago during sunset.