Things to do in Santiago de Compostela

Today we are bringing you the second post about what to do in Santiago de Compostela, the most popular city of Galicia region. Just like Jerusalem or Rome, Santiago stands out as a Christian Pilgrimage destination; this is where the remains of the Saint James the Apostle are buried. The most popular building is the Cathedral, where more than 300.000 pilgrims finished their Camino de Santiago in 2017.

The city combines culture and traditions, that is why you will enjoy it as a student, pilgrim or tourist.

Today we will talk about some of the most important places to visit in Santiago de Compostela. And some of the activities you can do if you are around, so you can take the most of the city before you leave.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral is by far the most popular building of Santiago de Compostela. It was declared a Good of Cultural Interest in 1986. For these, and many other reasons, it is the must see of Santiago de Compostela.

What to do in Santiago de Compostela Galiwonders
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The origin of the Cathedral goes back to the year 814. The remains of Saint James the Apostle were transported from Jerusalem to Galicia, and abandoned in the III century because of the Roman persecutions. In 814, the tomb was discovered by a hermit called Pelayo, after seeing some strange lights on the sky. It was then when the King Alfonso II of Asturias ordered to build a chapel in that place. 

Even if the first steps towards the construction of the cathedral dates from 814, with Alfonso II, the works did not start until the 1075, with Alfonso IV. The Cathedral has a Romanesque style, but with some touches of Baroque and Gothic, which come from later restorations. All these restoration have lead the building to look the way it looks nowadays.

Did you know that, besides the Cathedral, the Obradoiro Square or the “Two Marias”, there are many other things to do in Santiago de Compostela?

We are always surprised to know about the perception that many tourists and pilgrims have about Santiago de Compostela: that is a very tiny town, that there is not a lot to do around, that half a day is more than enough to visit everything… And of course, if we restrict the list of things to do in Santiago de Compostela to the Cathedral, the Obradoiro Square, and the park, just a couple of hours would be enough to see it all.

But today we want to go a bit further. We have prepared this short list of places that you would never see on a “top 3 of tourist attractions in Santiago de Compostela”, but still valuable in terms of beauty and cultural interest.

If you want to get a deep insight of the city, keep reading, this could be very interesting:


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    The Cathedral: outside

    On the external part of the Cathedral, we can see: the Pórtico de la Gloria (Portal of Glory), the façades, the towers, and the Puerta Santa (Holy Door). 

    The façades of the Cathedral of Santiago

    Obradoiro Façade 

    The main façade of the Cathedral (or west one) can be seen from the Obradoiro Square (Plaza del Obradoiro). It has a Baroque style, that dates back from the XVIII century. It was built to protect the main entrance against adverse meteorological conditions. We can see the figure of the Apostle in the central tower, with two disciples who are dressed up as pilgrims; there is also an urn and a star (these represents the discovery of the remains, made by Pelayo). On the right part, we can see the mother of the Apostle (María Salomé). On the left side, his father (Zebedeo). The stairway of the main entrance was built in the XVII century, and it has a Renaissance style. 

    In this façade it is located the Pórtico de la Gloria (Portal of Glory).

    We strongly recommend to spend some time at the Obradoiro Square when you arrive. You get the chance to meet and chat to other pilgrims.

    Platerías Façade

    The Southern façade of the Cathedral can be seen from the Plaza de las Platerías (Silver-Smithing Square in English, and Praza das Praterías in Galician). This is the only façade with a Romanesque style, and it was built in the XII century. 

    There are two main entrance doors, and the representation of Christ and the Three Wise Men.

    Plaza de las Platerías GaliWonders
    Plaza de las Platerías
    La Azabachería Façade

    The Northern Façade is located in the Plaza de la Azabachería (or jet-smithing Square) and it has a Baroque style. It was remodeled in the XVIII century, after being damaged because of a fire. 

    The entrance door is known as the Puerta del Paraíso (Heaven Door), and it where pilgrims doing the French Way, the Primitive Way, the Northern Way or the English Way, finish their Camino de Santiago. 

    Puerta del Paraíso GaliWonders
    Puerta del Paraíso
    La Quintana façade

    The Easter façade of the Cathedral can be seen from the Plaza de la Quintana (Quintana Square) and is one of the most popular ones. It also has a Baroque style. 

    plaza de la Quintana GaliWonders
    Plaza de la Quintana

    In this façade there is the Puerta Santa o del Perdón (Holy Door or Forgiveness Door) and the Puerta Real (the Royal Door). This last one was the one used by the Spanish Monarchs. 

    The Pórtico de la Gloria

    This Romanesque sculpture is formed by three arches, that represent the Original Sin, the Redemption, and Doomsday. 

    The central arch is also the bigger, and it is divided by a mullion, that represent the Apostle holding the pilgrim walking stick. The left arch represent scenes of the Old Testament. And the arch on the right, has two faces, that represent Heaven and Hell. There is also a figure of Christ. This is the arch that also represents Doomsday. 

    Pórtico de la Gloria GaliWonders
    Pórtico de la Gloria


    Puerta Santa (Holy Door)

    This is one of the most important doors of the whole Christian tradition. It is only open to the public during the Holy Years. That is, when the Day of the Apostle (25th of July) is on a Sunday. The next Holy Year will be in 2021. The door will be open from the 31st December of  2020, and will remain like that for the whole next year for anyone willing to get the plenary indulgence. For this reason, it is also known as the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness). 

    Puerta Santa o del Perdón GaliWonders
    Puerta Santa o del Perdón


    The inside of the Cathedral

    The inside part of the Cathedral is formed by the Capilla Mayor (Mayor Chapel) where we can see the botafumeiro (the big censer). There are different chapels, but the Capilla de San Pedro (Saint Peter Chapel) is the most popular one. It is right beside the Holy Door. 

    The Botafumeiro

    This big censer comes from the Middle Ages, and it is full of coal and incense. It is seen as a instrument of purification. It is moved with the strength of five men, in the Main Altar of the Cathedral, when the hymn of the Apostle starts to be played. 

    It can only be seen on specific dates, or if its financed by particulars. There are some fixed dates:

    – 6th of January: Epiphany
    – Resurrection Sunday 
    – 23th of May: Anniversary of the Battle of Clavijo
    – Pentecost
    – 25th of July: Festivity of Saint James the Apostle
    – 15th of August: Asuncion
    – 1st of November: All Saints day
    – Festivity of Christ King (Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent) 
    – 8th of December: Immaculate Conception
    – 25th of December: Christmas
    – 30th of December: “Traslación Festivity”

    Botafumeiro GaliWonders

    But the Cathedral is jus the beginning. There is even more to discover in Santiago de Compostela. Just keep reading to discover other secret jewels of the Capital city of Galicia!

    Museums and Monuments

    Museum of the Pilgrimage (Museo de las Peregrinaciones)

    This museum is located in the Plaza de las Platerías. It was built in 1951, but it was not open as a museum until 1996. 

    It is considered a national institution and a documentation centre, also for investigation and interpretation about Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrimage. Besides this building in Plaza de las Platerías, there is another administrative building known as the Gothic House (Casa Gótica). It is one of the very few examples of civil architecture in the XIV century in Santiago de Compostela.

    Pilgrimage Museum what to do in Santiago de Compostela GaliWonders
    Pilgrimage Museum


    • Monday to Friday: from 9:30 to 20:30
    • Saturdays from 11 to 19:30
    • Sundays & Bank Holidays from 10:15 to 14:45 
    • Closed on Mondays and the following Bank Holidays: 1st & 6th of January; 1st of May; 24th, 25th & 31st of December; and one local Bank Holiday (16th of August)


    • General entrance fee: 2,40 €
    • Reduced fee: 1,20 €. Holders of the Carné Joven (Youth Card), Student Card (older than 18 years); groups from 15 pax (need to prebook at least 15 days before); pilgrims showing their Pilgrim Certificate (Compostela). 
    • Free: younger than 18 year, older than 65, retired, unemployed & volunteers. 

    Museum of the Cathedral (Museo de la Catedral o Museo Catedralicio)

    This museum is located on the right side of the Western façade of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It will allow you to discover many different artistic pieces coming from archeological excavations carried out in the subsoil of the Cathedral. Also, the remains of the Cathedral previous to the restorations. They also offer guided visits to the Pórtico de la Gloria and the rooftop of the Cathedral. 

    Museum of the Cathedral what to do in Santiago de Compostela Galiwonders
    Museum of the Cathedral


    • From April to October: Everyday from 9 to 20 
    • From noviembre to marzo: Everyday from 10 to 20


    • Permanent collection of the Museum:
      General fee: 6 €
      Reduced fee: 4 €
    • Pórtico de la Gloria:
      General fee guided visit + permanent collection: 10 €
      Reduced fee guided visit + permanent collection: 8 €
      Self guided visit: 3 €
    • Rooftops:
      General fee guided visit: 12 €
      Reduced fee guided visit: 10 €
    • Archeological Excavations:
      General fee guided visit: 10 €
      Reduced fee guided visit: 8 €
      Please check other combined entrance fee, discounts and specials

    Palacio de Rajoy (Rajoy Palace)

    The Palacio de Rajoy is the building located in front of the main façade o the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This palace has French Neoclassical style, and the person who ordered to built it was Bartolomé Rajoy Losada in 1766 (for this reason, it is called Palacio de Rajoy). It was built to host the kids from the choir and the seminary. We can see an sculpture of the Apostle on its main façade, and the representation of the Battle of Clavijo. 

    Palacio de Rajoy what to do in Santiago de Compostela Galiwonders
    Palacio de Rajoy

    It is very common to see the student music groups (tuna in Spanish) singing there.

    Hostal de los Reyes Católicos

    It is one of the most impressive buildings, and pilgrims are usually amazed by its architecture when they arrive in Santiago de Compostela. 

    The origin of this construction dates back from the year 1486, when the Catholic Kings visited Santiago de Compostela. They ordered to build a hospital, to help those pilgrims who needed medical assistance after walking the Camino. It is located in the Obradoiro Square, close to the Cathedral and the Palacio de Rajoy. Its main façade has a Plateresque Gothic style, the only representation of this style we can see in Galicia!

    This building used to be known as the Hospital Real de Santiago (Royal Hospital of Santiago de Compostela).

    It was used as a guesthouse until the XIX century. It was after transformed into a Parador Nacional de Turismo (a very particular kind of hotel, usually in historical buildings).

    Hostal de los Reyes Católicos GaliWonders
    Hostal de los Reyes Católicos


    Monasterio de San Martiño Pinario (Monastery San Martín Pinario)

    This monastery was built in the X century, and it is right in front of the Northern façade of the Cathedral (Plaza de la Azabachería). 

    It used to be the biggest and most influential benedictine monastery of Galicia. We can see Renaissance, Baroque ad Neoclassic elements inside the building. 

    Nowadays, it has collections of paintings, sculptures, gold-smithing… And it is also the place where the students of Social Work and the Major Seminary take their lessons. 

    Also known as Hospedería San Martín Pinario, one side of this building has been converted into a hotel. It is a very popular accommodation for pilgrims who arrive in Santiago de Compostela, because of the architecture of the building and because it is right in front of the Cathedral.

    Hospedería San Martín Pinario what to do in Santiago GaliWonders
    Monastery San Martín Pinario

    Other interesting places in Santiago de Compostela

    Mercado de Abastos

    Hundreds of tourist and pilgrims go to the Mercado de Abastos (food market) every day. Here we can see different stalls offering all the varieties of the Galician gastronomy: meat, fish, seafood.. but also liquors and traditional beverages of the region. 

    It is the second most visited place of Santiago de Compostela, after the Cathedral

    Mercado de abastos GaliWonders
    Mercado de abastos

    This place will allow you to experience the magic of the culture and gastronomy of Santiago de Compostela. Not to be missed!


    Parque de la Alameda 

    The Parque de la Alameda (or poplar grove park) was given to the city by the Count of Altamira, in the XVI century. 

    It is an urban garden, very related to the history of the city. It can be divided in three areas: the poplar grove promenade, the oak grove of Santa Susana (Carballeira de Santa Susana) and the promenade of La Herradura (horseshoe). It is a reference point for the locals of Santiago de Compostela. It is seen as a very welcoming space, like a sort of outdoor living room. Many people go there to practice sports, and it is also the scenery of the local festivals. 

    Here we will be able to meet the popular “Las Marías”. It is the statue of two sisters, Coralia and Maruxa, who became celebrities in the city. They are a symbol of the Civil War period, and the subsucuent repression. 

    As Marías GaliWonders
    As Marías

    Tours in Santiago de Compostela

    One of the best ways to discover Santiago de Compostela, is joining a guided tour. And of course, taste its delicious cuisine!

    When we were talking about the Mercado de Abastos, we had a quick mention to the gastronomy of the region. But if you want to visit the historical quarter of Santiago de Compostela and taste the typical gastronomy, here you have two foodie tours. 

    Just before letting you know the details, please note that these tours last for about three hours, are organized for small groups (8 people max) and are flexible. If you have any kind of dietary requirement, we can adapt the menu to your needs. 

    Let’s learn a bit more.                                      

    Santiago Tapas Tour

    One of the most popular streets of Santiago de Compostela is the Calle del Franco. There you will be able to see all the shop windows full of traditional food (meats, fishes & seafoods).

    The best way to verify the quality of each product, is trying them! If you want to try the best tapas of Santiago de Compostela, with an English speaking guide, around the old quarter of the city, you just need to contact us. 

    Pimientos de Padrón (Padrón Peppers), empanada, mejillones (mussels)… What a feast!

    Pimientos de Padrón what to do in Santiago GaliWonders
    Pimientos de Padrón or Padrón Peppers


    Gourmet Tapas Tour in Santiago

    For the most demanding palates, those who are looking for a unique culinary experience, here we have the Gourmet Tapa Tour in Santiago de Compostela. 

    The tour departs from the old quarter of Santiago; you will visit three of the most popular restaurants of the city, with an English speaking guide. On the first one, you will taste the starter. On the second one, the main dish. And finally, on the third one, a traditional Galicia dessert. 

    Gastronomy, history and culture! 

    Santiago tapas tour galiwonders
    Gourmet Santiago

    -Cervantes Square (Plaza de Cervantes)

    If we go deep into the heart of the old quarter of Santiago, once we leave behind the Cathedral, and walk along the Preguntoiro Street (Rua do Preguntoiro) we will end up in Cervantes Square, the old forum of the city. This square is formed by the convergence of three cobbled streets: Preguntoiro, Algalia de Arriba and Azabachera. All three of them are characterized by the charm, the presence of traditional small shops, and the vitality of the pedestrians. In the middle of the square, there is the statue of the author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes y Saavadra. He was from Alcalá de Henares, but his surname was originally from Galicia.

    Colegiata de Santa María del Sar Santiago de Compostela-Collegiate Church of Santa Marí­a del Sar

    This stone-made building from the XII century, was erected by the side of the Sar River, and it is considered to be a National Monument, and an Asset of Cultural Interest. It stands out because of its flying buttress, the arch, and the cloister of the monastery.

    Just a 20 minutes walk from the old quarter of Santiago!

    -Casa de la Troya Museum

    We continue through the old quarter, and we arrive to the Casa de la Troya, a small museum that recreates the life of the students of Santiago, in the XIX century. The building decorated with furniture from that period, used to reproduce a student boarding house. The Spanish author, Alejandro Pérez Lugín, wrote a book with the same name (Casa de la Troya) that was published in 1905, about a student from Madrid that came to study at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

    -Belvis Park (Parque de Belvi­s)Parque de Belvís santiago de compostela

    This central park is very close to the Plaza de Abastos, but it is not really included among the most typical tourist attractions. From the viewpoint, we will be able to see the Seminario Menor (the seminary, that is also used as an Albergue for pilgrims) and the cloistered convent of Belvi­s. We will also be able to contemplate the modern area and the old quarter, and the top of the towers of the Cathedral, standing out among the buildings.

    -Chapel of Las Ánimas (Capilla de las Ánimas)

    Let’s leave the Cathedral behind, and walk towards the Rúa das Casas Reais; we will arrive into the Chapel of Las Animas. This temple was built in the XVIII century, thanks to the alms given by the neighbors. The Ionic columns, the façade, and the realistic sculptures we can see inside, are the most remarkable attributes of this Chapel.

    -Museum of the Galician People (Museo do Pobo Galego)Museo do Pobo Galego Santiago de Compostela

    The Museum of the Galicia People was created to spread the culture of Galicia. This way, both visitors and locals, will be able to learn the different aspects of the region: the sea, the professions, the art, the fashion…

    The museum is lodged in the Convent of San Domingos the Bonaval; just the building itself is worth a visit.

    What do you think about this brief selection? You have been in Santiago de Compostela, and you would recommend another place? Don’t worry, this is just the beginning of the list, we will be back soon with more places to visit in Santiago de Compostela.

    For more information about the Camino de Santiago, and other tours in Galicia region, do not hesitate to contact us.

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