Santander, in case you were not aware, is not part of the Spanish Basque region. It is the capital of Cantabria, a different area altogether, but also lies along the northern coast. The city is roughly two hours by bus from Bilbao. things to do in santander
Santander is not a city that would pop in a tourist’s mind. What are entertaining things to do in Santander, anyway?
However, I have a somewhat personal connection to it: one of my lovely colleagues that I used to work with was born and bred in Santander. It was a perfect opportunity to feed my curiosity on how a native resident goes about their daily life in their city. I could imagine myself as my colleague, thinking of how she views familiar streets and shops, and how a tourist like me will take it in.
We were travelling out of season which the weather is touch-and-go. Unlike in Bilbao where our luck with good weather ran out, we had lovely sunshine while in Santander. We stayed at Hotel Bahía Santander, a four-star establishment and generally priced at a rate that we as budget travellers don’t go for.
But — and take note of this TRAVEL TIP — travelling out of season means cheaper flights and accommodation prices! The rate was low enough for our budget, and it was the best one we stayed at in terms of comfort. I honestly did not want to leave the room because the bed was comfy and we had a nice view!
I know what you’re thinking! “Really, Gemma, this is your definition of ‘a nice view’?!”
It’s a personal preference, okay? I liked seeing the streets from our windows. It made me visualise where we could go exploring because we did not do much research other than how to get to the city and where to stay.
Playing things by ear, that’s how my husband and I roll.
TAKE NOTE: Hotel Bahía Santander do have rooms providing unobstructed views of Bahía de Santander which gleams brightly blue when the sun is out.
After dumping our bags at the hotel, we were perfectly in time for lunch. Aforementioned colleague recommended Cadelo but they were closed for the season! I obviously did not think about that! I was so disappointed. We ended up in nearby Bodega del Riojano and sat at the bar area, ordered some pintxos and killed time reading.
We wandered around the streets after getting filled up before making another stop at a random pub along the main pedestrian thoroughfare. One of the most memorable moments during this trip was sitting outside that pub, sipping red vino while reading an enjoyable book!
I try to check out bookshops in every city we visit and share it with book lovers online. I usually use Google to find them. One of the top results was Estudio, which was right across from the massive post office building very near to our hotel.
Most of the books were in Spanish (of course), although I spotted a few English ones here and there. There were also some Spanish versions of contemporary English books, as well as some bookstagram-worthy stationery! (You’ll only understand this if you’re on bookstagram!)
I also accidentally found Librería Gil when we were making our way back to the hotel from a massive walk! Unfortunately, my feet were positively dying at that point, so I just had a quick look around and was in no mood to take any photos. I liked it better than Estudio. I wish I could show you why but self-preservation came first! If you do find yourself in Santander though, don’t miss Librería Gil!
“Okay, that’s lovely, but you haven’t mentioned any significant things to do in Santander!”
*sigh* Don’t you chill out and try to take a city in, watching the locals, thinking if you could live there, randomly musing? Travel is not just about ticking off the major tourist spots so you can brag to your friends and anyone who cares to listen that you’ve been here, there, and everywhere.
I mean, sure, you do you if that’s how you prefer it. But frankly? I think you’re missing out.
We only had one full day in Santander, and that was allocated as sightseeing day.
We took the bus to Península de la Magdalena, where the Palacio de la Magdalena stands. It was initially constructed for the use of the Spanish royal family as a summer residence, but now it is used as a conference and meeting hall. And unfortunately, you are not allowed inside if your only business is to look around.
I did not know this before coming (the perils of winging it), so I was kind of miffed. It looks quite beautiful outside and I was really keen to see the architecture indoors.
TAKE NOTE: You can do a virtual tour on their official website, but I’d really prefer to see it in person!
Thank goodness the grounds surrounding the palace were quite entertaining. There were random wooden sculptures dotted here and there: they seem to be tree trunks turned into intricate little chairs. It made my imagination run — what happens at night when the peninsula is empty and devoid of people after closing hours? Are there ~spirits taking their thrones? I’m a scaredy-cat, and I am terrifically good at scaring myself!
As a book blogger/bookstagrammer, I took books with me in case photo opportunities come up, just like these! If these wooden sculptures are actually thrones for otherwordly creatures, does that mean I may have just ~disrespected them? Eek!
Santander is a port city, so there was a small area in the peninsula about its historical seafaring vessels as well. There, that’s one of the touristy things to do in Santander!
Standing on the peninsula and looking back towards the mainland, the city’s most popular Playa del Sardinero gives a pleasant view on your right. Beach lovers may not think much of it, but still file it under things to do in Santander. If you visit during peak season, you’ll definitely want to catch some of the Spanish sun!
Despite a leisure walk around the peninsula, we still had a lot of time in our hands, so we walked back towards the direction of our hotel.
Lunchtime was upon us then, so we diverted to Nobrac Soulfood. It’s a charming little restaurant cafe with a relaxed vibe. The husband loved their hamburgers and fries, and I concur. Best one I’ve had in a long while, and it tasted so fresh!
Back to the hotel for a nap, but there was still quite a bit of time before dinner when we woke up. We had enough to explore Cabo Menor and burn off the calories we acquired in San Sebastian.
We decided to take the bus for the second time and went a bit further past the Magdalena Peninsula. Cabo Menor has a nice park as well as and clear, well-worn paths that go around the peninsula. If you love seeing the azure of the sea, I highly recommend it. It made me feel small compared to the greater scheme of things, but I also appreciated the unexplainable beauty of the vastness and the openness of the sea and the horizon.
Heading back, we hopped back on the bus and got off near a restaurant that was apparently known for its seafood. However…*drum roll* they were closed for the season! Ugh. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel and ate there instead. We were pleasantly surprised to find it good for the price and I was definitely glad I didn’t have to walk far to slither back to bed.
You’re probably wondering: why does mention all the places they’ve eaten at but have ZERO PHOTOS of the food or the interiors? Well.
UNO. Indoor lighting usually sucks.
I usually use my phone camera which isn’t great when it’s dim.
DOS. I’m very particular about photo quality.
It can take a while to get a good shot with the bad lighting. The husband gets hangry quickly!
TRES.I just cannot be bothered, especially if I’m getting hangry too.
In the rare instance that I bring my compact system camera with me, dim lighting still involves fiddling with settings and possibly even the use of flash. Nope. I ain’t got time for that!
For a city that is not usually visited by tourists, I found Santander quite charming in its laidback way. I know, there were not a lot of things to do in Santander, but it was perfect for us at the time — San Sebastian was a whirlwind! We were also only there for a very brief time, and during off peak season too. You may find more things to do in Santander if you visit during high season!
Around the same time last year, we went to Northern Spain, somewhat skirting the coast of the Bay of Biscay for a week. We flew into Bilbao, took a bus to San Sebastián and spent most of our time there, then another bus to Santander, before returning to Bilbao to see the city for two days then flew back to London. This post has photos from the Santander leg. Here is the post featuring Bilbao.
Let’s have a chat!
Have you ever thought of visiting Santander? Or maybe you’ve been to other parts of the Cantabria region — any recommendations? If you’ve been to Santander or are a native of the city, what are things to do in Santander that you recommend?
things to do in Santander