Santiago is much more than the goal of the pilgrimage. Santiago de Compostela has a lot to offer and I have selected the must-sees of the city for you to enjoy it to the fullest:
1. Visit the Cathedral, climb its rooftops and get cultured in its museum
Undoubtedly, the first thing to do in Santiago is to visit the famous cathedral where the remains of the apostle are buried. The entrance to the main nave is free, but if you want to see it in depth you can buy tickets to climb to the roofs, visit the Portico de la Gloria and the cathedral museum. On a guided tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, you will have a guide at your disposal who will explain everything you need to know about the different areas of the cathedral and its surroundings.
I definitely recommend the guided tour, so that, in addition to entering the temple, you can visit places like the Obradoiro square, the Quintana square, the Platerías square, the Mercado de Abastos, or the Alameda park accompanied by a guide. This is the best option if you want to learn about the history and architecture of one of the most visited cathedrals in the world.
If you want to take splendid photographs with you when you return from your trip, I recommend going up to the roofs to see the panoramic view of the city and then go to the Alameda park to photograph the cathedral itself. I tell you here everything you need to know to organize your visit: Visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
2. Take a guided tour of the historic center
The historic center of the city has many things to see and, after having visited the Cathedral, the first thing I advise you to do to discover them all is to book a tour of Santiago de Compostela. With this experience you will not only locate all the points of interest of the Galician capital; thanks to the guide that accompanies you you will learn about the history and legends of the city in a much more authentic and original way than with any travel guide.
What will you see on a guided tour of Santiago de Compostela? Places like the Cathedral, the four squares that surround it, the monuments scattered around the center, the most authentic streets of the city, the Abastos market, or the Alameda park. Here is a selection of the ones that, for me, are the best: Best Tours and Day Trips from Santiago de Compostela.
Ana's Traveller Tip
The guides who do this kind of tour are experts who also live in the city. Don't hesitate to ask them for advice on where to eat in Santiago or what places to visit.
3. Take the opportunity to get to know Galicia
Santiago de Compostela is a city that you can see in a few days, so you will likely have enough time during your trip to visit nearby places. If you rent a car and know the roads you can do it on your own, but you can also hire organized tours to places like Finisterre, the Rías Baixas or Lugo.
The Finisterre cape is a cliffed area with impressive landscapes that in the past was considered the end of the known world for being the westernmost point of the European continent. It is located one hour away from Santiago by road and surrounded by fishing villages, Galician places of worship, and natural sites such as the Ézaro waterfall. If you want to see the splendor of the nature of this region, the excursion to Finisterre is for you. You can read more in my article about the best excursions to Finisterre and Costa da Morte.
The Rías Baixas
On the other hand, Rías Baixas is a group of coastal areas located on the west coast of La Coruña. This is another ideal excursion for nature lovers and for those who want to get to know the essence of Galician culture. If you visit with an organized excursion you will also get to know the city of Pontevedra, whose historic center is one of the best-preserved in Galicia.
Finally, the excursion to Lugo, a city with more than two centuries of history famous for its cathedral and its wall, also includes the beaches of Ribadeo bordering Asturias. Whether you do this excursion in summer or winter, you will discover landscapes that are worthwhile, but in summer you will also be able to enjoy a swim.
4. Walk around the food market
After the Cathedral, the Mercado de Abastos is the most visited place in the city. Here you will be able to observe closely the everyday life of the city, but also to taste authentic delicacies of Galician gastronomy. You will find mostly food such as fruit, seafood, fish, and homemade sweets.
In addition, in the market, you will see several Michelin-starred restaurants and others where they can cook the food you buy on the spot. On Sundays the market is closed; the rest of the days you will find it open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturdays, the atmosphere is even more special.
5. Climb up Mount Pedroso
If you don't mind walking and you want to take advantage of your trip to do some exercise, the climb to Pedroso mountain is highly recommended to get one of the best panoramic views of the city. From there you will see the cathedral stand out in the middle of a natural environment, something especially beautiful at sunset. The way up to Mount Pedroso is an hour walk starting from the street Ponte da Asén, but you can also make the climb by car.
6. Stroll through the Alameda Park
Another site very visited by travelers is the Parque de la Alameda, known above all for its views of the Cathedral of Santiago. This park is considered the green lung of the city and an ideal place to relax and unwind; you will find oak, chestnut, and eucalyptus trees.
If you take a guided tour of the city, they will probably tell you the meaning of many of the statues in this park such as Valle-Inclán or Rosalía de Castro. This park is open 24 hours a day and inside you can have a picnic.
7. Taste the Galician gastronomy
It will be difficult to land in Santiago de Compostela without having heard about Galician food before, as it is famous all over Spain. Of course, seafood dishes are the most demanded, but you will find all kinds of specialties in both prestigious restaurants and small bars run by locals.
The ideal is to take an organized tour to try Galician gastronomy or, at least, ask for recommendations from someone local to the city about what you can't miss. Some of the most typical dishes are Galician octopus, pork shoulder with turnip greens, Galician soup, or empanada. It is essential to accompany them with a good wine of the house.
8. Enter the Museum of the Galician people
Galicia is a land full of legends and that is why, of all the museums you can visit in the city, my recommendation goes to the Museo do pobo Galego, located outside the historic center of the city. It is located in the convent of Santo Domingo de Bonaval, so the building itself is worth a visit.
Visiting hours are from Tuesdays to Sundays, but on Sundays, it is only open in the morning. The museum was created in 1976 and is intended to learn more about Galician culture. Take your time to see it and don't rule out eating nearby.
9. Visit the Monastery of San Martín Pinario
After the Escorial Monastery in Madrid, this is the largest religious building in Spain. Its facade, its golden ashlars, and its main altarpiece are architectural exponents of the Spanish baroque. You can visit it every day from 11 am to 7 pm and take the opportunity to take a relaxing stroll through its gardens.
10. Visit the San Francisco Convent
This convent was inhabited by the Franciscan order in the 18th century and today has been converted into a hotel and restaurant where many visitors come for simple interest in its architecture and history.
Tradition has it that this place was ordered to be built by St. Francis of Assisi to welcome pilgrims at the end of their journey. If you dare to try the "pilgrim's menu" in the restaurant, it will be another unique occasion to enjoy Galician gastronomy in a privileged environment.