16 Best things to do in Santander

Santander is a city that isn’t well known among travelers which is a shame because Santander is a typical Spanish city where you can do a lot of great things. Santander is a port city with kilometers of sandy beaches and a pleasant center. Because it is not touristy, you can experience real Spain life here without having to share it with many others.

In this article, we share why Santander is worth a visit. You will read all our tips that will ensure that you will have a great time in Santander. Continue to discover: things to do in Santander.

Things to do in Santander
Beach of Santander

Things to do in Santander?

Santander is a large city that can be divided into the northern and southern parts. In the north, you will find the beaches and peninsulas. In the south are the old center and the harbor. Read our 16 recommended activities below.

Tip: use the below map to see where all the best things in Santander are located. Click on the right top corner to view the map bigger. If you click on the star symbol next to the title you can save this map in your Google Maps account. In the map you can show or hide different categories. You can then use this map to navigate when you reach your destination.

#1 Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Due to the fire in 1941, a large part of the historic center was destroyed. The cathedral, built in the 12th century, is one of the few historic buildings that can still be admired. When you stand on Plaza Asunción you will be impressed by the size of the cathedral. If you walk up the stairs at the right side of the building you will reach the entrance. Once inside, you will notice that the cathedral has many statues depicting Crusaders. The most beautiful part is the inner garden, where it seems as if time has stood still.

Tickets can be bought for €1 per person, which also allows you to go to the catacomb under the cathedral. To do enter this part you need to follow the stairs down at the entrance and turn right.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

#2 Discover the beaches

For many travelers, traveling to Spain means: good food, discovering a beautiful culture, and enjoying wonderful nature. In Santander, you can enjoy beautiful long sandy beaches. In the city of Santander alone you can visit 7 beaches with each beach its advantages:

  • Playa Del Camello: located in the beautiful neighborhood of El Sardinero. This is the most popular beach because the size of the beach and the view of Cabo Menor;
  • Playa de Mataleñas: a beautiful sandy beach in a cute bay in Parque de Cabo Mayor;
  • Playa de Los Molinucos: Santander’s smallest beach in Parque de Cabo Mayor, beautiful location;
  • Playa de los Bikinis: located on the Magdalena peninsula, it is a quiet beach;
  • Playa de la Magdalena: this beach is located next to Playa Los Peligros and is similar. The advantage of this beach is that you can swim here and have a view of the dunes;
  • Playa Los Peligros: Peligros means dangers which indicates that this beach is not suitable for swimming. Therefore, this beach is the least suitable to visit.

If you love surfing, visiting Playa de Somo is recommended. Read more about this at activity #9.

Playa Del Camello

#3 Magdalena Peninsula

The La Magdalena peninsula is a special part of Santander to visit. Here you will find a palace that used to be a summer residence of the Spanish Royal family. In this park you can relax, especially the gardens of the palace and the palace itself are worth visiting. It is not possible to follow a tour of the palace because a hotel is located in the palace. We recommended walking around the peninsula so that you visit all sights on your own. You can see a small zoo, a maritime museum, a viewpoint (Mirador a la Isla de Mouro), a beach, and a lighthouse.

Magdalena Peninsula

Where to stay in Santander

In the Sardinero district 150 meters from the beach, you find Santemar. The location is perfect because you stay next to the beach. The rooms are big and the kitchen serves typical dishes from Cantabria. The hotel is highly appreciated by other travelers and is a perfect place to discover Santander. Check availability here!

Another great place to stay in the Sardinero district is Gran Hotel Sardinero, this hotel is located 20 meters from the beach. The location of this hotel could not be better because you have a direct view of the sea from your room. This hotel is slightly more luxurious than Santemar but you also need to pay a little more. Both hotels are more than fine! Check here the current prices per room.

If you want to stay in the center close to all the bars Abba Santander is recommended. This hotel is located 100 meters from the station which is great if you travel by public transport. The rooms are as you would expect from a hotel. This hotel is perfect if you prefer to be close to bars and Santander’s main attractions. Check availability and prices here.

#4 Parque de Cabo Mayor

While the La Magdalena peninsula is especially popular for its palace, the Cabo Mayor park is popular for its stunning views, its unique lighthouse, and two beautiful beaches Playa de Mataleñas and Playa de Los Molinucos.

From the beach Playa Del Camello you have to climb some steep stairs to finally be rewarded with a fantastic view. In the lighthouse, you can visit an exhibition of Eduardo Sanz, a painter who mainly painted lighthouses.

When visiting this park, wear swimwear so that you can cool off in the sea at the two beaches.

Tip: visit this park in the morning when it gets very hot in the afternoon.

Cabo Mayor

#5 El Sardinero district

In the north of Santander, you find the neighborhood El Sardinero. This neighborhood is worth visiting because you can see the most beautiful buildings of Santander here. For example, the building in which the Gran Casino is located and the Gran Hotel are beautiful to see because of the architecture. The best thing that you can do is to walk around the neighborhood and simply enjoy the sightseeing.

The main reason that the neighborhood of El Sarindero is the most popular neighborhood in Santander is because of the beach and the promenade. The beach is large and with many beach pavilions very cozy. The promenade that runs through the neighborhood is one of the most beautiful walking paths in the city for locals. Read more about this in the next activity.

Historical center

#6 Walk the boardwalk

An activity that you need to do is walking the boardwalk. You can walk from Parque de Cabo Mayor along the promenade to the center. The nice thing about this walk is that it is very relaxing because you have a view of the sea. During this walk, you will pass beautiful buildings and visit many activities on this list.

This walk lasts +/- 2 hours, this does not include the time spent at the different places.

Tip: you can also rent one if you like cycling. There are several points on the beach where you can use bicycles such as the photo below.

cycling in Satander

#7 Plaza Porticada

Plaza Porticada is the main square of Santander and was created after the fire of 1941. The square is surrounded by two imposing buildings built in neo-Herrerian style. The square is nice to visit because of the various restaurants and bars that you can visit. There is nothing more fun than enjoying your view while enjoying a cold drink on the terrace.

#8 Picos de Europa

At 80 minutes from Santander, you find the most beautiful natural park in northern Spain called Picos de Europa. Are you a traveler who loves nature? If so, a visit to Picos de Europa should not be missing from your list. The best thing that you can do is hiking in Picos de Europa. We stayed a few days in this beautiful area and have written an article about it. Open our article if you want to read more about it. In addition to our advice, we hope to give you an impression of this park with the photos and to inspire you to visit it.

Picos de Europa hike aliva

#9 Centro Botin

One of the great things to do in Santander is to visit Centro Botin. This is a museum next to the harbor. The Botin family are the founders of the museum and are one of the wealthiest families in Spain. They have made a lot of money with Banco de Santander. This museum is symbolically built opposite the Banco de Santander headquarters for this reason.

A visit to this museum is recommended due to its unique architectural style. The museum focuses on modern art and has a permanent collection that is supplemented with exhibitions. Check out the museum’s site here for more information. You can also buy the tickets via the site(€4 per person).

Tip: if you don’t want to visit the museum, it is still worth visiting because you have a great view from the rooftop (entry is free).

Centro Botin

#10 Learn to surf

The north of Spain is known for its rugged coastline which is perfect for surfers. In Santander, you can find a couple of beaches that are nice to relax but outside the city, at Playa de Somo you have the perfect conditions for surfing. Due to its location, there is a strong current, which means that waves are larger compared to the other beaches.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to surf, this is your chance, book your spot for a surf lesson here. If you can surf you can buy a ferry ticket near Centro Botin at the Los Regina to sail to Playa de Somo. The ticket is €4.95 per person and takes about 20 minutes. You can rent a surfboard at Escuela Cantabria de Surf. Check prices and availability here.

#11 Enjoy Spanish food at Bou Café

Bou Café is a nice place to eat! From the terrace, you have a great view of Santander Cathedral. Since Santander is not that touristy places to eat like this are no more expensive than others.

Bou Café has a terrace where you can enjoy a delicious meal. You can order different tapas here with a drink or one of the dishes from the menu. We ordered patas bravas, serrano ham on toast, and salad with tuna which was delicious.

Spanish food at Bou Café

#12 Boat tour

Do you want to be active on the water? Following a boat tour is recommended in this case. During the boat tour, you will sail along the bay of Santander and can enjoy the beautiful view from the boat. More information can be found here consult.

#13 Museums

The best museum to visit is Centro Botin but others in Santander are worth visiting. See below museums:

  • Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo de Santander y Cantabria: in this museum you can find a lot of art from the 17th to the 20th century. Work from well-known artist like Goya and local artists can be found here. Since the 19th century, the library of Santander has been housed in the same building, which is also worth a visit;
  • Museo Provincial de Prehistoria y Arqueologica de Cantabria: this museum focuses on archaeology. The pieces were almost all found in the province of Cantabria and date from prehistoric times.
  • Museo marítimo del Cantábrico: in this museum you will learn everything about the province of Cantabria, with particular attention being paid to maritime navigation and its influence on Cantabria over the past centuries.
Museum in Santander

#14 Be a pilgrim for one day

If you travel through the north of Spain you will encounter pilgrims in different places, you can also experience this yourself by being a pilgrim for one day. From Santander, you can walk with an organization from Potes to Monastery Saint Toribio. During this tour, you will also visit the mountain village of San Sebastian de Garabandal. You can only do this activity with an organization because it is simply too much of a hassle to do it on your own. Do you want to know more? Open this link for more information.

#15 Visit Santillana del Mar

Close to Santander is Santillana del Mar located which is considered by many travelers one of the most beautiful villages in northern Spain. In this village, you find a lot of historic buildings, of which the 12th-century abbey is a crown jewel. The reason that it is so popular is that in the cave of Altamira you can admire prehistoric rock paintings.

When you are in Santillana del Mar you feel like you are walking in an open-air museum, the medieval influences you see on every corner of the street are beautiful. You can visit this village with a tour, book your tickets here.

#16 Cabarceno Natural Park

Just outside Santander is a nature reserve where you can admire animals that is called Cabárceno Natural Park. Unlike a normal zoo, these animals have a lot of space because the park has 750 hectares. The park is built on a former iron mine between the mountains of Cantabria. This activity is great for families with children. Due to its size, you can make great hikes in this park. There is even a funicular to discover parts of the park. Tickets can be purchased easily via the website from the park.

How many days do you need for Santander?

Santander is a large city that has a lot to offer that requires a minimum of 2 days / 3 nights. If you are going to enjoy the beaches for one day and also want to see many sights in the center, you simply need more time than 1 day. If you want to do many activities from this list, it is recommended to stay 3 days / 4 nights in Santander.

Where to stay in Santander?

Santander is a big city, so it is important to choose an accommodation that has a good location. The two areas we recommend are the center and the Sardinero district. Be on time with booking to secure the accommodation you prefer. If you use one of the links below you can change your reservation 24 hours in advance. This is very useful if plans change at the last minute, so you retain your flexibility.

In the Sardinero district 150 meters from the beach, you find Santemar. The location is perfect because you stay next to the beach. The rooms are big and the kitchen serves typical dishes from Cantabria. The hotel is highly appreciated by other travelers and is a perfect place to discover Santander. Check availability here!

Another great place to stay in the Sardinero district is Gran Hotel Sardinero, this hotel is located 20 meters from the beach. The location of this hotel could not be better because you have a direct view of the sea from your room. This hotel is slightly more luxurious than Santemar but you also need to pay a little more. Both hotels are more than fine! Check here the current prices per room.

If you want to stay in the center close to all the bars Abba Santander is recommended. This hotel is located 100 meters from the station which is great if you travel by public transport. The rooms are as you would expect from a hotel. This hotel is perfect if you prefer to be close to bars and Santander’s main attractions. Check availability and prices here.

Tip: if you travel by car and you are staying in the Sardinero district you can park your car for free next to the football stadium. The location is indicated on the map that you can find at the beginning of this article. You can also park your car here if you are visiting Santander as a day trip.

Where to eat in Santander?

As mentioned at activity #11 Bou Café is a great place to eat! From the terrace, you have a great view of Santander Cathedral. Since Santander is not that touristy places to eat like this are no more expensive than others.

Bou Café has a terrace where you can enjoy a delicious meal. You can order different tapas here with a drink or one of the dishes from the menu. We ordered patas bravas, serrano ham on toast, and salad with tuna which was delicious.

If you like tapas, a visit to Casa Lita is recommended. This tapas restaurant is located in the center close to the harbor. This place is very popular among the locals because the quality of the tapas is very good. The traditional skewers filled with fish, meat, and/or vegetables are recommended to try. Due to its popularity, you may have to wait a while before you can enjoy your meal.

Many eateries are located in the center of Santander but the Sardinero district also has some excellent places to eat. Our recommendation is Balneario de la Concha, the restaurant is located on the beach so you can enjoy a fantastic view of the sea while eating. The menus are different when you sit inside the restaurant or outside on the terrace. We sat on the terrace and recommend plato marinero, which is a delicious fish prepared in white wine.

Gambas

How do you get to Santander?

Santander can be reached by plane, car or public transport. The easiest way is to book a flight to Santander, within 15 minutes you are in the center of the airport.

It is also possible to drive from different countries in Europe to Santander by car, judge for yourself whether you find this an acceptable travel distance. To reduce the travel distance from your location to Santander, you can first visit two cities in the Basque Country before traveling to Santander. San Sebastian and Bilbao are the two nicest cities of the Basque Country that are worth visiting! San Sebastian is located just over the French border, minimizing long travel distances.

If you are in a city in Spain you can easily travel to Santander by public transport. Tickets can be purchased here buy. It is not recommended to travel by public transport from the Netherlands to Santander because of the long travel time.

What is the best period to visit Santander?

The best time to visit Santander is during the spring and summer period from April to September. Although this is the high season, these months are recommended because of the pleasant temperatures. Santander activities are mainly outdoors. Due to the maritime climate, it can be cold in the autumn and winter, making a city trip in Santander less fun. However, the advantage of this period is that the prices are lower.

Want to see more of Spain?

If you are traveling through Northern Spain, you can use our Northern Spain itinerary to inspire yourself and gain knowledge. If you follow our itinerary, the wine region of La Rioja is the next destination.

If you do not follow our itinerary but are still curious about which places you can travel from Santander, it is recommended to go to Picos de Europa. In Picos de Europa you can make some awesome hikes. Besides Picos de Europa, Oviedo is a nice city when you travel to the west. If you travel east, Bilbao and San Sebastian are worth a visit!

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