I have been fortunate to have lived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain for nine months of my life. I had never heard of this intriguing town before signing my study abroad papers. Now I know that it is a place rich in history, a place perfect for the traveler to visit.
1. Santiago de Compostela is rich in religious history, known as the final stop of the pilgrimage of St. James, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. In the beginning of the Old Town is the Cathedral of St. James, a cavernous church that even an agnostic like me can be in awe of. Quiet on the inside, the cathedral invites peaceful tourists to wander freely throughout its interior or simply sit and gaze at the golden pulpit.
2. Santiago is one of the holy cities according to the Catholic religion, which also include Vatican City and Jerusalem. The city also has many more churches and smaller cathedrals to explore, such as Igrexa de Santa Maria Salomé and Parroquia de San Fernando.
3. There are pilgrims from all over the world completing their journey after hiking for several weeks or even months on the Way of St. James, a path that traditionally begins in the Pyrenees Mountains and ends in Santiago. You won’t find more excited and exhausted tourists anywhere. The cathedral even holds special masses just for the pilgrims. It was so packed I had to sit on the steps near the door.
4. Santiago has the best churros con chocolate I’ve had in Spain. Something about the cooking at Galician cafés makes those long fried doughnuts taste amazing with chocolate.
5. Speaking of desserts, there isn’t one much better than a thick slice of rich Tarta de Santiago. Specifically from the Galician region of Spain, the rich almond cake is from the Galician regions of Spain and goes perfectly with café con leche and an afternoon siesta.
6. The old town is a maze of medieval alleyways and buildings. The cathedral itself was constructed in 818 and rebuilt in the eleventh century after a war against Islam and the rest of the Old Town was then reconstructed around the cathedral.
7. What is so fascinating about the Cathedral of Santiago? Legend says the bones of James the Apostle were brought by boat from Jerusalem, laid to rest there, and that they continue to lie within the cathedral in a beautiful silver tomb. You can visit the tomb for free.
8. Santiago de Compostela is a budget-friendly town. You’ll have no problem finding a decent menú del día (menu of the day) for less than ten Euros in many restaurants. You might even want to wash it down with the region’s local beer, Estrella Galicia.
9. The Celtic influence is present in the music scene of Santiago. You can hear the Irish-based music and live bands throughout the city. There’s even a bagpipe player right next to the cathedral who plays day in and out.
10. You can hear a new language that you might not have known existed. The locals here don’t speak English – many of them don’t even speak Spanish (or what Spain refers to as Castillian). They speak Galician, or galego, which sounds like a mixture of the southern Portuguese influence and Eastern Castillian. Everyone in Galicia needs to learn and speak Galician and all street signs are in the local language (which is very confusing for tourists who have only brushed up on their Spanish). For example, “street” is “rúa” instead of “calle”.
11. Santiago is a beautiful and underrated weekend stop on the way to Madrid, so it’ll be easy to add it to your Spanish itinerary. If you’re already in Madrid, a quick RyanAir flight of 40 Euros will take you directly there to Santiago de Compsotela. I guarantee you the town is absolutely worth a couple days’ visit!