Everyone knows about the blister inducing pilgrimage route that reaches its culmination at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – but in addition this beautiful historic city has so much more to offer. Quite uniquely, the capital of Galicia boasts an almost completely pedestrianised old town that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1985). Anyone familiar with the historic old town quarters peppered around the Iberian peninsula will be even more impressed with Santiago, which has a tantalising maze of narrow, medieval cobbled streets just made for exploring. Visitors who enjoy nothing more than wandering impulsively around Gothic Spanish streets will be left breathless by the staggering beauty to be found in the many squares, medieval buildings, ecclesiastical monuments and arcaded walkways in Santiago’s atmospheric centre.
But don’t expect a dead open-air museum town. Santiago de Compostela is alive and well, and thanks to its large university population its old centre is full to busting with quaint, quirky taverns and inviting restaurants offering inexpensive drinks and tapas, including the local delicacy of octopus (Pulpo a la Gallega). In the heart of Santiago’s old town and dominating its skyline is the emblematic cathedral located in the Plaza de Obradoiro, where up to 200,000 pilgrims arrive every year. Around the edge of the centre it is still possible to see parts of the ancient city walls and the main entrance gate. Close to this is the Plaza de Galicia, which marks the boundary between the old and new towns, the latter being where you will find the majority of the city’s shops and modern-day hustle and bustle.
In addition, the 19th century Parque Alameda to the west of the town gives spellbinding views over the old quarter, while also serving as a leafy retreat from its sights and sounds. Another park well worth a visit is Santo Domingo de Bonaval, which is located in an old cemetery just a short stroll from the centre. A popular spot with locals in the summer, this carefully designed green zone looks like it belongs on the pages of a children’s fairytale book thanks to an abundance of toadstools and bubbling springs criss-crossing the lush grass and shady tree areas.
It is almost impossible to aptly describe everything that Santiago has to offer, so we very much recommend people to visit this special city and see for themselves why year after year hundreds of thousands of visitors find themselves seduced by its Gothic splendour.