Santiago de Compostela is without a doubt the most well-known city of Galicia. Nevertheless Santiago is not the biggest town of the region. To many people the city is especially known as a place of pelgrimage, the end of the famous Camino de Santiago. But I would like to mention the city is much more then just a place of pelgrimage, it’s a vivid and beautiful city, full of history and leisure.
Santiago de Compostela attracts yearly many pilgrims and they all end in the enormous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to fulfill their pelgrimage. The last miles to the cathedral the pilgrims walk through the beautiful old centre of Santiago de Compostla. This whole old centre is an Unesco Heritage and main attraction of the city. A must see, even if your not a pilgrim!
History of Santiago de Compostela
The history of Santiago de Compostela starts in the 9th century. According the legend a shepherd saw a star rising who led him to the tomb of the apostle James. The shepherd called a bishop, who declared that on this place the remnants of James were located. They decided to build a church on this special place. From that moment that place, that we know today as Santiago de Compostela, is a place of pilgrimage.
In the middle ages, between the 11th and the 13th century the amount of pilgrims grew fast. At the beginning pilgrims to Santiago just came from Aragon, later also from the south of Spain. In the 12th century the French followed and discovered the pilgrimage, they created 4 official routes to Santiago de Compostela. And in the 13th century also pilgrims from England and Ireland followed the camino.
In the late middle ages the amount of pilgrims declined a bit, due to wars and the plague. But Santiago already grew from a small village to a thriving city. Many buildings from that time still form the old center.
More then just a place of pelgrimage
Santiago de Compostela is more then just a place of pelgrimage. The city has 100.000 inhabitants, among them 35.000 students. The city is a real student city. Santiago is 1 of the 3 big student cities of Spain, together with Salamanca and Granada. Thanks to all the students Santiago de Compostela has a vivid nightlife. A nightlife many pilgrims probably don’t know about.
Besides students and pilgrims Santiago has even more to offer. I will tell you later about the attractive old city with it’s beautiful buildings and history. Let’s first have a look at the good looking parks you will find in the city, like the city park Alameda. In this park, located just in the city centre you will encounter some splendid views of the cathedral. And around the city there are some nice hills to go for a walk, and again enjoy a beautiful view of the old city and cathedral.
Last but not least, Galicia’s gastronomy! Santiago de Compostela is a perfect place to enjoy the marvellous gastronomy of the region. The city is also a perfect base from which to discover Galica.
Sights Santiago de Compostela
Main attraction of Santiago de Compostela is its world famous cathedral. The impressive building with it’s glorious towers can be seen from all around the city, and even its surroundings. The cathedral towers over the old town.
The whole old town (ciudad vieja or casco historico) is an attraction and main sight of the city. Walk through the medieval streets with its characteristic bolders and have a look at the many old buildings.
And when strolling through the old city dive into the traditional Galician culture. Visit the old bars and restaurants where traditional food and drinks are served. Visit the old fresh market, a museum, walk through the park. The main sights of Santiago de Compostela are all located in it’s old town.
City map and city guide
You probably are equipped with a smartphone and Google Maps by the hand. Still, it’s often comfortable to have an old school city map at hand, a piece of paper that guides you and gives a direct overview.
The tourist office of Santiago (Oficina de Turismo) is located at the Rúa do Vilar in the old town (find on the map). At the office you can obtain a free city map. Off course there are also offered several city maps and guides at cost.
By the way, you can prepare yourself already and save a trip to the tourist office by downloading and printing the city map of Santiago de Compostela (PDF).
On the official site of the tourist office you can also find some interesting city walks. Read and download here.
Read more how to plan your city trip to Santiago de Compostela.