Santiago de Compostela is the end of the journey for many who have embarked on the long pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago to reach this holy site. For others, it’s just the beginning of a fun-filled vacation. Regardless of what brings you to this beautiful historic city, you’ll want to know what there is to do there. We here at Road Affair have done all the heavy lifting for you and compiled a list of the best things to do in Santiago de Compostela. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a thrill seeker, or a history lover, this list has something for everyone. So start scrolling to plan your next great adventure!
Stroll Through Parque Alameda
This beautiful 16th-century park is the ideal place for an afternoon stroll. Not only does it offer shady spots to sit and relax, but the park is also home to botanical gardens filled with ornamental trees and vibrant shrubbery. Visitors can discover many sculptures and monuments throughout the grounds, plus enjoy a phenomenal view of Miradouro da Catedral. If there is one thing you shouldn’t miss on your walk, it’s the lovers’ eucalyptus tree. The tree branches from this tree perfectly frame the old town of Santiago, offering a picturesque postcard view. A stroll through Alameda Park is definitely one of the best free things to do in Santiago de Compostela.
Visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
As mentioned earlier, Santiago de Compostela is a very popular pilgrimage destination, and it has been since the Middle Ages. That is because the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the reputed final resting place of one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, Saint James the Great. It’s one of the last remaining churches said to be built over the grave of an apostle.
Even if you’re not religious, the cathedral is a must-see in Santiago de Compostela. The Gothic and Baroque stylings mix with its Romanesque design to create a truly magnificent architectural experience. Visitors are welcome every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and can roam through the church while admiring the details and designs. Those who wish to learn more about the history and art of the cathedral can visit the on-site museum. Guided tours of the rest of the building, including the north tower, are also available, or visitors can opt for an audio guide. It’s best if you book your tickets to the cathedral in advance here.
Walk Through the Mercado de Abastos
If you are looking for fresh local food or want to try some of the local cuisine, then head on down to the Mercado de Abastos Food Market.
This traditional market is the ideal place to shop for local foods. Visitors can pick up some regional cheese and wine or make their way to the restaurant building (Building 5), where they can sample homemade Galician food, fresh seafood, or tapas. The market is open Monday to Saturday and most busy between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Go on a Wine and Seafood Tour
If you are a wine or seafood lover and are wondering what to do in Santiago de Compostela, then consider booking this day tour from GetYourGuide.
This is the perfect tour for couples or small groups of friends looking to discover the surrounding region. The first stop on the tour is at a premium winery where visitors will get a full tour of the fields and cellar, followed by a wine tasting of three of the winery’s most exclusive wines that are not found in any regular market. After a tour of the winery, it’s time for a visit to the beach of La Lanzada, where visitors will learn about the history of the area. Afterward, hop on the boat and sail to the island of La Toja, where you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat mussel buffet accompanied by as much wine as you would like. Other highlights of this tour include the beautiful fishing village of Combarro and tours of estuaries. The tour is conducted in both English and Spanish and lasts roughly 9.5 hours.
Learn About Galician Life at the Museo do Pobo Galego
This fantastic museum is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about Galician life and culture.
The Museo do Pobo Galego is located in a converted 13th-century convent and houses thousands of artifacts, with the main focus being on utilitarian pieces instead of decorative. This is because the main goal of the museum isn’t to showcase the most beautiful artifacts with artistic value or artifacts from high society but instead to remind visitors of the way most Galicians used to live. The collection consists of clothes, tools, furniture, and much more that were the foundation of beliefs, customs, and lifestyles in the Galician area.
The museum is open every day except for Monday and offers free entrance on certain holidays and days. It also offers free entrance for students under 18 and those who are unemployed.
Sample Famous Local Dishes
Santiago de Compostela has some seriously incredible dishes that you need to try when visiting.
The first must-eat dish is pulpo a la gallega (known locally as polbo á feira). This is a Galician delicacy of boiled octopus topped with sea salt and Spanish paprika. When cooked properly, this dish is sure to satisfy all your seafood cravings. The best restaurants to order this meal at are El Mesón Do Pulpo, Bodegón Os Concheiros Pulpería, and Restaurante María Castaña.
The second must-try dish is the tarta de Santiago, also known as an almond tart. This is the perfect way to finish off a traditional tapas meal or pulpo a la gallega. The tart is made without flour, so even those who are gluten intolerant can enjoy it. This soft, moist cake is topped with powdered sugar and pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee. Most come with an imprint of the cross of Santiago on the top, making it 100% Instagram-worthy. The best place to try the Santiago tart or Santiago cake is at Pastelería Mercedes Mora. This family-run bakery was the first to top its tarts with the famous powdered sugar cross of Saint James.
Explore Pazo de Oca
Next on the list of the best places to visit in Santiago de Compostela is this breathtaking 18th-century stone mansion that features impeccable gardens.
Located about a 25-minute drive from Santiago de Compostela, Pazo de Oca is a hidden gem. According to the Ducal House of Medinaceli Foundation, those who have visited have dubbed this great mansion the Generalife of the North and the Galician Versailles due to its striking beauty and architecture that cannot be described unless it is compared to other buildings of well-known beauty.
The grounds and courtly gardens are massive and feature a lake in the middle, grand fountains, and an orchard. Exploring the entire estate is no quick task, but it’s well worth the time to visit for “the inseparable unity of water, stone, and vegetation that makes this monument a masterpiece of architecture, engineering, and garden design,” according to the historian and academic Javier Sánchez.
Visitors can opt to visit just the gardens or the garden and the palace interior. If you plan on visiting the interior as well, tickets must be purchased in advance.
Listen to Live Galician Music at Casa das Crechas
This quaint Celtic pub is where visitors can listen to traditional Spanish music almost every night of the week.
If you head to the downstairs bar area around 10 p.m., you’ll likely hear live traditional flamenco, Celtic, folk music, jazz, or gaita (Galician bagpiping) music. Couple this with a hundred thirsty pilgrims who have been walking for weeks on end, and you’ve got quite the party! The atmosphere is fantastic in the bar, and it’s often quite packed due to its reputation for great live music. Check the bar’s Facebook page or website in advance to see upcoming events and gigs.
Learn About History and Architecture on a Free Walking Tour
Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful old city with plenty of breathtaking architecture and historical monuments, buildings, and squares. The best way to learn about the city is with a free walking tour with Santiago Freetours!
This is an excellent way to go sightseeing in Santiago de Compostela, and it only costs as much as you think the tour deserves. If you haven’t heard of the emergence of free walking tour companies, the idea is that they are accessible to all tourists. At the end of the tour, you pay what you can (or want), whether that is €5, €25, or nothing at all. Santiago Freetours offers plenty of different routes for night and day tours, along with guided tours of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Night tours are adult-only.
Explore Spanish Artwork at the Contemporary Art Center of Galicia
Another free and fun thing to do in Santiago de Compostela is to visit the Contemporary Art Center of Galicia.
Not only does the museum house hundreds of breathtaking works, but the building itself is a work of architectural genius. The museum primarily focuses on Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American artists. After wandering among the artworks, visitors can head to the coffee shop for an afternoon tea or snack and then head to the bookstore to browse for a souvenir. The museum is free to enter and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Hike Monte Viso
Enjoy incredible panoramic views of the city as well as some funky monuments at the top of Monte Viso.
This is a great activity for families or nature lovers as there are many paths around Monte Viso to explore. On top of having breathtaking views, the hill is dotted with mythological-themed monuments that make the hike just that much better for those with kids. If you’re lucky, you might also come across the cave with a (somewhat creepy) monument inside.
Visit the USC: Museo de Historia Natural
This is a great museum to visit for families or those interested in geology, zoology, or botany.
The Museum of Natural History (Museo de Historia Natural) features tons of mounted animal species, including marine animals, birds, mammals, and more. There is also a section of the museum dedicated to fossils, meteorites, and minerals. Visitors can opt to go on a guided tour or explore the museum on their own. If you would like to do a guided tour, it’s requested you book your spot in advance. The museum also hosts many workshops every month, so make sure to check their events calendar to see upcoming workshops. Entrance to the museum is free on the first Wednesday of every month.
Watch the Pilgrims Arrive at Praza do Obradoiro
Praza do Obradoiro is the main square and main Santiago de Compostela attraction for those finishing the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is an 825-kilometer trail starting in Portugal, but there are also a few other routes one can take to arrive at Santiago de Compostela. To earn a pilgrimage certificate, one must walk a minimum of 100 kilometers. Pilgrims finish in the Praza do Obradoiro. On the ground in the square, you’ll notice a stone slab that reads Kilometer Zero, marking the end of the long journey for many tired pilgrims. Even if you didn’t walk the trail, you should still get a picture with the slab and/or people-watch as the pilgrims reach their final steps.
Enjoy the Nature in Parque do Lago
Parque do Lago is another beautifully maintained park in Santiago de Compostela. It features a beautiful lake that visitors can enjoy a picnic around and an old oak forest area that has been converted into a leisure space. The park also features many walking trails where visitors can immerse themselves in the local nature and enjoy a leisurely walk.
Explore Pazo do Faramello
One of the most popular mansions to visit in Galicia, Pazo do Faramello will not disappoint.
The estate is designed in a Baroque civilian Compostelean style with notable Italian inspiration and is just over 31 acres. In the early 1900s, the manor was the summer home of King Alfonso XIII and Prince Louis of Bavaria when they came to visit Santiago de Compostela. The home also served as one of the main settings in one of the most popular Spanish books of the early 20th century, La casa de la Troya by Alexandro Pérez Lugín.
Today, tourists came to take a guided tour of the grounds, including the French gardens, the chapel, and the cellar, where they will finish off the tour with a wine tasting. Two other notable spots you’ll see on the tour are the industrial paper mill, the first ever in Galicia, and the original Camino de Santiago path that runs alongside the estate. The tour lasts just over an hour and is free for children. You have to book your tour in advance by calling the reservations number on their website.
Now that you’ve learned about all the incredible tourist attractions in Santiago de Compostela and some lesser-known ones, what are you waiting for? It’s time to set out on your next adventure and enjoy all that Galicia has to offer!