14 Unmissable Things to Do in Santander, Spain

Santander is one of the most underrated destinations in Spain; however, this charming city located in the Cantabria region, in the north of Spain, has incredible activities that will make you fall in love with the city.

My expectations weren’t high before my trip, but I must admit that it really surprised me! Santander is different from other cities – its chilled vibe, the combination of sea and green spaces, beautiful and colourful architecture, seafood and fish dishes and historic buildings make it special.

It isn’t the place to rush through seeing all the attractions, but taking it easy and enjoying its uniqueness.

If you want to discover unmissable things to do in Santander, keep reading this travel guide, where I cover the incredible activities to do in my favourite city in Northern Spain, the best place to stay and tips to help you make the most of your time there.

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Things to do in Santander

1. Discover Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

A few minutes’ walk from Centro Botín Museum, you’ll find Santander’s cathedral, known in English as Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary of Santander. 

This beautiful Gothic cathedral was built between the end of the 12th century and the start of the 14th. Although you can still appreciate Gothic architecture, there are many parts of the cathedral that have been rebuilt due to damages from the Santander Fire of 1941.

As you enter the cathedral, you’ll see a small squared courtyard surrounded by corridors with beautiful Gothic arches. 

You’ll access the Cathedral with colourful stained glass windows on the left side.

Don’t miss the opportunity to walk around the cathedral to contemplate the lovely squares. Santander Cathedral is one of the best things to see in Santander, and entry is free.

2. Feel like a royal at Real Palacio de La Magdelena

Magdalena palace in Santander Bay, Spain.

One of the unmissable places to visit in Santander is Real Palacio de la Magdalena . This beautiful palace, located at the top of the Magdalena peninsula, is one of the best things to do in Santander (and my favourite too!).

The palace is surrounded by breathtaking views of the sea, impressive rock formations and another part of Santander City.

It’s an amazing place to admire from the outside and the inside. The palace looks like a fairytale castle that you see in films and has a lot of history behind it.

It used to serve as a summer residence for Spanish Royals between 1913 and 1930, then became the home of the International Summer University, and finally, it was bought by Santander City Council in 1977.

Since then, this emblematic building has been a museum that recreates the charm of the former Royal Residence.

To enter the palace, there’s an entrance fee of 5 euros, and you must book in advance to ensure your tour. Unfortunately, I missed it.

3. Go on a free walking tour

Santander cathedral square.

The best way to learn about Santander, its attractions, and the local life is by taking a free walking tour. If you do a free walking tour with a local guide, you’ll save time planning and discover hidden gems as well as the secrets of some historical buildings.

Botin Centre, the cathedral, the funicular, the Magdalena Palace and the Town Hall Square are some of the places you will probably visit during a free walking tour in Santander.

📌 Check out this free walking tour in Santander

4. Look for Santander street art

An art mural of a person holding a dog in Santander, Spain

When you walk in the city centre, keep your eyes open and look up to find unique and colourful paintings on the wall. There are many talented artists in Santander, and this is reflected in the incredible wall murals, which aren’t always very visible.

You don’t want to miss two street art murals: “Alejar a la Muerte” in Calle del Río and the person hugging a dog mural in Calle Valliciergo. But there are many more murals across the city, so pay attention to your surroundings.

Looking for street art is one of the best free things to do in Santander.

5. Take Santander’s funicular for stunning city views

Santander Funicular isn’t as attractive as other funiculars and cable cars in other parts of Spain.

It’s very small and feels like it’s a bit old-fashioned, but despite these two things, it’s worth taking, as you’ll get one of the best panoramic views in Santander. 

Taking the funicular is completely free!

6. Explore Puerto Chico

Boats at Santander Port.

Puerto Chico is a neighbourhood just next to the little harbour of Santander, which is very popular among locals who fish or practice water sports activities since the School of Marine Engineering and Cántabra Sailing Federation are in the area.

The harbour area is often very peaceful unless there is an event or it’s a sunny Sunday when families go out for a meal and an afternoon walk. However, Puerto Chico is also a great place for foodies.

You’ll find plenty of good local restaurants and bars in the area that become a popular point to meet up on a Friday evening too. 

7. Go on a scenic hike to the Magdalena Peninsula

Leave a day to hike to the Magdalena Peninsula, located approximately 50 minutes from Botin Centre.

During this walk, you’ll contemplate some of the most beautiful landscapes in Santander. I highly recommend walking through Playa de Los Peligros and Playa de la Magdalena to access the peninsula on a sunny day.

Once you get to Magdalena Peninsula, there are some incredible activities to do – from visiting Palacio de la Magdalena to enjoying the sea views.

It’s a place where you can’t rush and won’t want to rush. You can easily spend a few hours looking at the waves crashing on the rocks, taking photos of the landscape, enjoying the views and having a picnic.

Here it’s also the Marine Park, an open-air mini zoo where you can see sea lions and penguins. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there just in time for feeding time.

If you feel tired as soon as you get to Magdalena Peninsula, a hop-on-hop-off train runs around the peninsula. This can be extremely useful for travellers with kids; however, if you aren’t travelling with little ones, I wouldn’t advise taking it as it’s much better walking the peninsula.

8. Take the ferry from Santander to Somo

A photo of the ferry that goes from Santander to Somo.

A few islands and a town, Somo, can only be accessed by ferry.

The ferry from Santander to Somo runs all year round, every 30 or 60 minutes from the Estación Marítima Los Reginas, on Santander’s seafront near Centro Botín. The price is so affordable (5 euros return) that there is no excuse not to take it.

During the 30-minute journey, you’ll enjoy the city and its natural surroundings from another perspective. You have the option to take the indoor or outdoor seats, but I highly recommend the outdoor seats if it isn’t too windy, for a better view.

The best thing about Somo is its sandy and golden beach, very well-known for surfing.

📌 If you want to relax while seeing the city highlights, like Palacio de la Magdalena, from a different perspective, you can also go on this 1-hour cruise.

9. Try Santander’s traditional dishes

A photo of a estrella galicia beer and a piece of tortilla with peppers and onions.

Santander is a paradise for those who love seafood and fish, and it isn’t a surprise that Santander and Cantabria get good quality fish products with their extensive coastline.

Apart from fish dishes, Santander cuisine also includes hearty stews like cocido montañés, a good variety of cheese and cakes.

Ready to taste Santander’s regional dishes? Here is a list of the food you must try:

  • Cocido montañés. A hearty stew whose main ingredients are white beans, meats like chorizo, and collard greens.
  • Rabas. These are fried squid, often served with mayonnaise and a slice of lemon.
  • Merluza en salsa verde. It consists of hake cooked in a green sauce made with parsley, garlic and white wine.
  • Anchoas. Cantabrian anchovies, which are very popular and pricey.
  • Picón Bejes-Tresviso. A blue cheese that is often poured over sirloin.
  • Quesada Pasiega. The Spanish version of the American cheesecake.
  • Sobaos Pasiegos. Spongy cakes made with eggs, flour, butter, sugar and lemon.

And let’s not forget about the amazing Spanish tortillas you can eat in Santander!

10. Visit Centro Botín

A photo of Botin Centre in Santander, Spain.

Centro Botín is one of the main museums in Santander. Its unusual but unique rectangular container shape stands out in the Peredas Gardens and Santander Bay. 

Inside Botin Centre, you can find two galleries, lecture rooms and workspaces. However, one of my favourite places is the rooftop terrace which you don’t need to pay to access in case you aren’t interested in the art gallery.

From the terrace, you’ll be able to contemplate the breathtaking views of the sea, the snowy mountains in the background, green spaces, and of course, Santander’s colourful buildings. It’s a must-see place if you love a panoramic view and taking photos.

11. Take a photo at Plaza Porticada

Porticada Square in Santander, Spain.

Located a few minutes’ walk from Pereda Garden, this Neoclassical city square, built after Santander’s fire in 1941, is worth adding to your itinerary.

It’s a beautiful place to take photos, and it’s very lively during the summer months as live performances take place here.

In addition to this, you can see the Statue of Pedro Velarde, go to the nearby market or have a coffee in the nearby cafes.

12. Buy local products at Mercado de la Esperanza

If you love visiting food markets, add Mercado de la Esperanza to your list. It’s the largest market in Cantabria County.

The market is located in the heart of the city, near the town hall, and has two floors with 80 stalls. It offers a wide variety of local products, such as anchovies, Picón Bejes-Tresviso (a blue cheese from Cantabria), and sobaos cakes.

13. Relax at Playa del Sardinero

Sardinero beach in Santander, Northern Spain.

One of the most beautiful beaches in Cantabria is Playa del Sardinero; this beach is located just outside the city centre of Santander, not very far from La Magdalena Peninsula.

Its golden sand and shallow beach are perfect for everyone, and although it can get busy during the summer months, you never feel like it’s crowded. 

Its relaxing atmosphere and outstanding views of the combination of sea and green will make you want to come back.

The beach is also popular among water sports lovers as it’s great for surfing and sailing. So if you love surfing, don’t hesitate to visit this beach.

14. Explore Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno

Only a 20-minute drive from Santander, you’ll find Cabárceno Nature Park, which isn’t a regular zoo as animals live in semi-captive conditions.

It’s a great activity near Santander for anyone who loves nature and animals. You can see lions, elephants, gorillas, and much more while going through botanical areas with abundant trees.

The entry prices to this natural park change according to the season. During the off-season, you can get tickets from 24 euros per adult and from 14 euros per child, although it is free for kids under 3 years old.

Where to Stay in Santander

Hotel NH Ciudad de Santander 

Hotel NH Ciudad de Santander is located in the heart of the city, a few minutes walk from Santander’s promenade. The hotel is perfect if you want to stay central in Santander. 

The rooms are spacious and well-equipped with comfortable bedding, flat-screen TV, safe, complimentary water, a kettle with a wide range of tea and an en-suite bathroom.

I loved my stay at NH Ciudad de Santander. The staff was very friendly and allowed us to check in earlier than expected. 

My booking included a buffet breakfast for two nights. 

Since my partner and I were going to go on a day trip to Bilbao, we were going to miss breakfast, but the staff kindly prepared us a packed picnic with sandwiches, an orange, Oreos, and water for each. 

On our second day at the hotel, we enjoyed the buffet breakfast. They had a great selection of cold meats, pastries, cereals, bread, juices, tea and coffee. 

What I also loved about the hotel was its mission to be more eco-friendly. 

You’re given a door sign to put if you don’t want cleaners to tidy your room and put fresh bedding and towels. In exchange, they give you the option to grab a drink from their mini-bar in reception. 

📌 Check out NH Santander availability and price here

Where to eat in Santander

Whether you fancy traditional food or international cuisine, you’ll find endless options in Santander. 

If you want to try local gastronomy, there are some dishes that you can’t miss the chance to try. For example, tortillas with ham and cheese, fresh fish and seafood and sobaos (a delicious buttery cake).

Here is a list of my recommended restaurants:

Amarella Café & Bistró

Amarella Café and Bistró changes their menu according to the time of the day. It’s a great place to enjoy small bites or tapas and try the local cuisine.

They have outdoor tables to enjoy your meal on a sunny day, but also indoor tables to escape the breeze. 

The menu offers a range of salads and meat and fish dishes to choose from – croquetas, roasted salmon, steak, patatas bravas, etc.

You can’t leave without eating their hake and langoustine meatballs! 

La Malinche Santander

La Malinche Santander is a great place to have dinner. They offer a menu that combines Cantabrian food with other international cuisines. 

This restaurant’s atmosphere is lively, the staff are friendly, the food is amazing, and the portions are generous. 

Fried chicken with basil mayo sauce at La Malinche, Santander.
Apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

It’s become a trendy place among locals, so don’t be surprised if it’s crowded at times, especially on Friday and Saturday.

My advice is to go early so they’ll find a table for you.

If you’re wondering what to eat, the fried chicken with basil mayo sauce is delicious and the grilled langoustines too. Last but not least, make space for dessert. The apple tart with vanilla ice cream is mouthwatering.

Salvaje

Salvaje, a restaurant in the centre of Santander, Spain.

For breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, Salvaje is one of my favourite places to eat in Santander.

You’ll love their menu if you’re looking for a good variety of international dishes. You can enjoy anything from poke and chicken Thai curry to shakshuka and burgers. 

This is also a safe alternative for any vegetarians, as you may notice it isn’t easy to find vegetarian dishes in Santander.

My food recommendations are the courgette and carrot soup topped with fried onions and olive oil, the chicken Thai curry and the cheesecake. 

A bowl of courgette and carrot soup topped with fried onions and olive oil and a plate of chicken Thai curry.

Day trips from Santander

Day Trip to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

One of the most popular day trips from Santander is Bilbao. This vibrant northern city has great things to do – from eating pintxos (tapas) to contemplating outstanding art at the Guggenheim Museum.

Although one day isn’t enough to see everything that Bilbao offers, you can visit the main attractions, such as the Guggenheim Museum or Bilbao Cathedral.

Getting to Bilbao from Santander is easy by car and public transport. If you opt for public transport, then travelling by bus is the best option.

Buses from Santander to Bilbao are regular and quick, as it only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes. You can take the bus from Santander coach station.

Day Trip to Santillana del Mar

A cobblestone street in santillana del mar, northern spain.

Who doesn’t love discovering hidden gems? Santillana Del Mar is a quaint town to add to your Santander itinerary.

It’s known for its rich history, art, and architecture, which you can contemplate in its medieval towers and Renaissance palaces. 

Here you can visit the Collegiate church and cloister of St Juliana as well as quirky museums, like Museo de la Tortura (the Torture Museum), and galleries.

In addition to this, if you love hiking, Santillana del Mar is packed with amazing trails that lead you to beautiful landscapes.

📌 Check out this tour to Santillana Del Mar from Santander

Other useful information about Santander

When to visit Santander

The best time to visit Santander is summer. It’s the perfect holiday for those who don’t want a very hot summer in Spain but still want pleasant weather.

Santander is a less touristy city with beautiful beaches, incredible green landscapes and good food. 

How to get to Santander

From Spain 

Airlines like Ryanair and Iberia offer direct flights to Santander. You can fly from several Spanish airports, including Malaga (AGP), Barcelona (BCN) and Madrid (MAD). 

If you choose another way to travel, you can have a look at buses and trains here

From the UK

Ryanair flies direct to Santander from Edinburgh, London-Stansted and Manchester Airport. 

📌 Check out flights to Santander 

From anywhere else

Santander Airport is small but well-connected with other big European destinations such as Paris, Dublin and Rome. 

If you’re flying from outside Europe, you’ll have to fly to another airport in the Cantabrian region. The only intercontinental flights to Santander are from Africa.

Getting into Santander

The cheapest way to get to Santander from the airport is by getting the bus S4, which leaves you at Santander coach station. The journey takes about 15 minutes, and a one-way ticket costs 2.90 €. 

Alternatively, you can get a taxi for approximately €20 or rent a car if you’re planning to travel around Northern Spain. 

The weather in Santander

The weather in Santander is cooler, cloudier and rainier than in the south of Spain.

In winter, you’ll expect a maximum of 13ºC degrees (55.4°F) and a minimum of 8ºC (46.4°F); in summer, you can enjoy a maximum of 23ºC (73.4°F) and a minimum of 17ºC degrees (62.6°F). 

Frequently asked questions about Santander

Is Santander Spain worth visiting?

Santander is an underrated destination. The city has beautiful golden sand beaches, green landscapes, vibrant buildings, and delicious fish and seafood dishes. 

If you like exploring charming cities with a relaxing atmosphere, you’ll fall in love with Santander.

Does Santander have a beach?

There are plenty of beaches in and around Santander. The most popular beaches in the city are Playa de los Peligros, Playa de la Magdalena and Playa el Sardinero.

Can you surf in Santander?

Yes, Santander is an excellent destination for those who love water activities and sports such as surfing, paddle boarding and fishing. 

Conclusion on the best things to do in Santander

Santander is a very underrated destination, and you’ll be surprised by how beautiful and peaceful it is. Although it isn’t a city packed with many attractions, the ones you can find in Santander are unique.

I recommend staying longer than a day, but if you want to visit Santander in a day, you can always take this hop-on-hop-off bus to move around easily and see as many attractions as possible.

Are you adding all these activities to your Santander bucket list?

If you have any questions about what to do in Santander, you can always leave a comment below. I’m happy to help!

Safe adventures,

Cristina x

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Things to do before visiting Santander

  • Compare and book flights to Santander with Skyscanner.
  • Book the best accommodation in Santander for you with Booking.com
  • Have a look at guided tours and day trips from Santander here
  • Get travel insurance. This is a must for any trip.

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7 Comments

  1. I have a friend who studied in Santander and told me how much she loved the place! the architecture looks great and food seems so yummy! thanks for sharing this! I love to see not typical destination of Spain!

  2. I’ve always wanted to visit Santander! Will definitely be saving this for when I finally get to go, thank you 🙂

  3. This looks like a beautiful city to explore. I haven’t made it to this part of Spain yet but I hope to later this year. Definitely adding Santander to my list!

  4. I haven’t heard of Santander yet but I’m adding it to my list as it looks really great! Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Elena Pappalardo says:

    Santander looks like such a gorgeous city! I’d love to explore Puerto Chico. Plus, your food photos are making me so hungry — I will definitely need to try some of your recommendations when I go! 🙂

  6. Santander looks like the perfect city for waking and wandering with the sea breeze blowing through your hair!

  7. My number 1 thing to do would be to take a day trip from Santander is Bilbao to see the art museum. But all the activities sound wonderful.

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