Santiago de Compostela is an ancient pilgrimage destination, with trails spread across Europe. A journey of reflection that brings together adventure, conviviality and introspection, in addition to walking incredible roads.
In this guide we will tell you about the city, the legend, the moments, but also the Portuguese and European routes, in addition to important tips if a route to Santiago is in your plans. Pack your backpack and embark on this journey.
Before embarking on the so-called Caminhos de Santiago, we will explore the city – the gastronomy, the monuments and the life that pulsates through the streets steeped in history. A city worth visiting beyond the pilgrimage.
Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia
Santiago de Compostela grew up around religion and Catholicism. The university and religious tourism are important sectors in the economy of the capital of Galicia, founded in the 9th century.
Haughty and sad from the top of its Baroque architecture, stone soiled by time, the city, whose center has been a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site since 1985, has many charms beyond its facades.
With a unique life that fills terraces on summer days and nights, Santiago de Compostela lives between mysticism and reality – a land of saints and witches, which deserves a visit.
Visiting Santiago is like eating tapas, in the Spanish way. It’s jumping from cafe to restaurant and tasting the best delicacies in the region, ranging from seafood, to cheeses, passing through the famous Rías Baixas wines.
Visit the Abastos Market, which has been open since 1941, where you can find everything from vegetables to traditional Spanish sausages, as well as artisans who work with wood, leather and other materials.
But visiting Santiago de Compostela is also getting lost in the medieval historic center full of unique details, which will make any walk worthy of a historical account.
Live the Galician night on the streets, like any Spaniard: at night, the streets are filled with musicians and itinerant shows (puppets, theater or dance) that give the city another life and charm.
The legend behind the story
Despite the busyness of today, Santiago de Compostela grew up in the shadow of the disciple Saint James (Santiago), who came from Palestine to evangelize the Iberian Peninsula.
The story goes that São Tiago arrived in Spain, on a boat transporting gold and tin. Upon docking, the disciple of Jesus Christ quickly began to spread the good news, until he was sentenced to beheading by Herod Agrippa I, becoming the first disciple martyr.
The legend comes after his death. Santiago was taken by two disciples to be buried in the confines of Galicia. In the 9th century, several nights followed by showers of stars, witnessed by a hermit from the Pelaian forests, were the motivation for the bishop of Iria Flávia, Theodomir, to order the area to be excavated, until a marble chest was found with the remains, which they think of the disciple Saint James.
From now on, he was the man who built the Legend. 3 churches were built in his memory, which soon became a pilgrimage destination, until the reign of Afonso III, who ordered the construction of the majestic cathedral we know today.
From then on, until today, word of mouth, evangelization, did the rest, and more and more pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela, transforming the city into the 3rd holy place immediately after Jerusalem and Rome.
Monuments not to be missed
It is in this mysticism that the city lives since its foundation. The Cathedral of Santiago, between neoclassical, baroque, gothic and romantic, is majestic.
Observe the exterior facades and enter with an audio guide and the visit will make more sense. In the Cathedral area there are several squares such as Obradoiro, Quintana and d’O Toural, with several terraces and cafes.
In the heart of the city, stroll through the exuberant Alameda Gardens. Parque San Domingos de Bonaval is also worth a visit, an old Dominican farmhouse with a cemetery and right next to the Pantheon of illustrious Galicians.
In the old town, the former Baroque Hospital and the Church of the Convent of San Agostiño are worth photographing. Side by side with the magnificence of history and religion, Santiago de Compostela has been asserting itself as a central pole of Galician culture. Proof of this is the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporânea, designed by Siza Vieira, and the Palacio de Congresos e Exposicións de Galicia.
Where to eat
In addition to seafood, almond tart is another delicacy that you cannot miss on a visit to Santiago de Compostela. The Orrela restaurant, with an informal atmosphere, is a good option to eat the seafood that is so famous in the region.
Another option is the Bierzo Enxebre Sl. But above all explore the central area of the city, there are plenty of restaurants for all budgets and tastes.
Where to stay
Overnight at Quinta da Auga Hotel Spa Relais & Châteaux or at Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Católicos and embark on the atmosphere of crusaders, kings and queens. At more modest prices, Hotel Montenegro Compostela is a good option.
After understanding your destination well, it’s time to gain courage and embark on the pilgrimage paths – Caminhos de Santiago, which we explore in the next ‘chapters’ of this pocket guide.