Although Santander is not a particularly large city, it has a peculiar geography that has fascinated tourists for many years. The region's mountains directed the city's development to conform to an odd shape: running west-to-east and hugging the northern rim of the bay.
There are two distinct and equally-important parts of the city: the center and El Sardinero.
The center is where you will find most of the shops, businesses, and services, as well as the greater portion of monuments and tourist attractions. This is where the main streets San Fernando, Burgos, Jesús de Monasterio, Calvo Sotelo Avenue, and Paseo de Pereda all meet.
The city starts at Somorrostro Hill, where the
This district is characterized by its commercial infrastructure. Along the busy streets, some of which are pedestrianized and lined with shops on the ground floor, you can buy nearly anything or simply indulge in window-shopping.
A little further east, near Plaza de Cañadío, there is a group of streets where most of the nightlife is concentrated. Streets such as General Mola, Hernán Cortés, Daoíz, Velarde, Peña Herbosa, Santa Lucía, and Sol, are full of bars and cafés where you can stop for a drink or some tapas, as well as numerous nightclubs where you can dance through the night.
Between the center and El "Sardi" (as locals call it) there is a transitional area, marked by
El Sardinero is the summer holiday area par excellence, where there are endless accommodation options (apparent to those who notice the avenue named “Hoteles”). Magdalena Peninsula is at one end, with its
Welcome to Santander, a city where you can do almost anything - except get bored! Get the day off to a flying start with a good breakfast. Of the numerous cafés to be found, you might try one of these two; both with a different character, but very central. First, Picos de Europa is frequented by all sorts people and offers a varied menu; alternatively, there is Suizo has a refined and elegant atmosphere and fabulous views of the Bay from its terrace.
Once you've have breakfast, there are many options. You can visit the Prehistoria (Prehistory) and Marítimo (Maritime) Museums, and there is also the famous Biblioteca Menéndez Pelayo (library). If it's a nice day, which is not uncommon in Santander, you might want to relax on one of the many local beaches like Bikinis, Camello, Concha or the very well known Sardinero beaches (Primera and Segunda). They wave the prized blue flag, which is only given to the best beaches in the world. It's also pleasant to go for a walk along the beaches, which will practically take you from the city center to Cabo Mayor lighthouse, passing Península de la Magdalena on your way, former summer retreat of the Royal Family.
If you want to get a better view, it's worth considering taking either the bus for its panora (in summer, departure is from Plaza de las Farolas) or the boat tours around the bay which get under way from the boarding point at the Paseo Marítimo (Esplanade). From here you can also see exhibitions at the Palacete.
While you ponder which place you'd like to visit most, you might stop off for a bite to eat. The plentiful food options confirm northern Spain's reputation for eating well. Depending on where you are in the city, you might try Cañía, if you're near El Sardinero; Jamones, if you're in the Perines area; or Hijas de Florencio in Paseo de Pereda. If you prefer a restaurant lunch, Zacarías is great for its quality and its proxmity to Santander's main tourist attractions.
In the afternoon, any one of the places mentioned is well worth a visit. If you're looking for something else, take note of what follows: Santander has a cultural tradition that flourishes, year after year. So it's worth looking over the spectacular program of the Palacio de Festivales as well as au courant with the different events taking place elsewhere. The Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo celebrates the summer season by holding interesting lectures, talks and short courses covering a wide subject area. In summer too, the following events are held: Feria de las Naciones (Nations Festival), Feria Taurina de Santiago (Santiago's Bullfighting Festival), festival season at the auditorium of El Sardinero, the festivities at Baños de Ola at Primera beach in El Sardinero, Semana Grande (Big Week) of Santander and Arte-Deco.
If you prefer other sorts of shows, don't miss the Spanish music concerts which come to the city nor the live shows at Café Victoria.
Santander has a lot to offer, it also has a wide selection of films showing at its cinemas. Although without the latest technological advances, Los Ángeles Cinema is well known for its comfortable seats and quality is generally good at Cine Capitol. Both which are very near the city center.
If you're looking for somewhere to dine before or after your evening adventures, the central Casa Mariano is a good bet due to its proximity to nightlife hotspots like San Luis, Perines and Vargas, which have interesting venues. There is Bar Gas. If you prefer a few tapas, a very good place is Rana Verde near the areas of Cañadío and Santa Lucía, where you can also find Canela and Terminal Sur. Wherever you go, it's bound to be the right place. Have a great time!
Although we can be fairly sure that man has inhabited the coastal areas around the Bay of Santander since prehistoric times, there was no physical evidence of this until the Roman era. Archaeological remains unearthed in the Península de la Magdalena (Magdalena Peninsula), San Martín and in the Catedral (Cathedral) point to the existence of a Roman settlement, traditionally known as Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium, and cited in several classical sources.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages the settlement was concentrated in the area surrounding the Cathedral. The San Emeterio and San Celedonio Monastery and the Castillo de San Felipe (San Felipe Castle) were also in the vicinity. According to legend, the heads of the martyrs Emeterio and Celedonio were brought to Santander from Calahorra in the third century. Santander appears to have originated in the latinised form of Saint Emeterio, Sancti Emetherii, which passed through several versions before becoming the name we know today - Sant Emter / San Ender / Sant Ander. The settlement was a walled enclosure with seven gates providing access, and had various hermitages.
In 1187 King Alfonso VIII drew up a charter which made the Abbot of San Emeterio feudal lord of the hamlet. At that time the inhabitants lived clustered around the monastery and survived by fishing and cultivating cereals, vineyards and fruit trees. The houses were divided by a river into two parts, Puebla Vieja y Puebla Nueva (Old Town and New Town), linked by a stone bridge.
During the Reconquista (Reconquest) when Spain fought to recapture the country from the Moors, Santander was involved in numerous naval battles, together with San Vicente de la Barquera, Laredo and Castro Urdiales, the four towns making up the so called Cuatro Villas del Mar (Four Towns on the Sea). In 1248 during the reign of Fernando III el Santo (The Saint) Santander took part in the battle for Seville, fighting under the command of Admiral Boniface. In recognition of its contribution, the King granted Santander a coat of arms boasting a golden tower, a chain over the Guadalquivir river and a ship.
Later, Santander and Laredo became the principal ports of the Kings of Castille, especially important in the wool trade with Flanders. At the end of the XVI century, however, the town was decimated by the plague and entered a period of economic decline.
During the eighteeth century, trade with America revitalised Santander's fortunes. In 1754, the same year as the Camino de la Meseta (Route across the Plateau) opened up towards Reinosa, Pope Benedict XIV founded the bishopric of of Santander. What had until that time been a collegiate church became the Cathedral. In 1755 King Fernando VI conferred the title of city on Santander.
Throughout the nineteenth century, heavy trading with America brought about important changes in the city. The population grew, the port and shipyards expanded and the whole business infrastructure of the city developed.
Tragedy struck Santander at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1893 the freighter Cabo Machichaco exploded in the harbour, resulting in the loss of more than five hundred lives and severe structural damage.
Santander experienced a boom in architecture and expansion in the early twentieth century, after the city became the summer favorite of King Alfonso XIII. Elaborate buildings such as the del Palacio de la Magdalena (Magdalena Palace), the Gran Casino del Sardinero (Grand Casino in El Sardinero) and the Hotel Real (Royal Hotel) all date from this period.
Shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the city suffered another setback. In 1941 a terrible fire swept through Santander, whipped up by a prevailing south wind, and tragically destroyed much of the Old Quarter.
Nowadays, Santander is a well-restored, modern city, and one of the lovliest on the Spanish coast. Its cultural heritage, cosmopolitan air, and seaside elegance make it a highly popular destination for tourists.
Santander has been famous for its spas since the mid-1800s, when taking to the waters became popular and, as a result, suitable infrustructure was created in the El Sardinero area: hotels, holiday rental homes and beaches were all readied for the nascent tourism industry. In the early 20th century, Alfonso XIII and his court chose the Cantabrian coast as the location for their summer residence; this was the crowning glory, turning Santander into one of the most popular holiday destinations on the Iberian Peninsula.
These days, the city boasts a variety of lodgings which can please most pockets. Generally, the hotels found in the beach area are quite modern and offer well-equipped facilities, though their prices are higher. There are also, however, many more accessible alternatives throughout the metropolitan area and, thus, you can find a huge range of possibilities.
Santander is a very elongated city, shaped by the bay on which it lies; this layout forms two distinct and well-defined areas. On the west is the historical center as well as the shopping and business areas; on the east, around El Sardinero, are the beaches and a significant number of hotels. The only five-star hotel is the Real, located in a truly priveleged spot that affords great views of the bay and the city's nicest residential neighbourhood (around Avenida Reina Victoria, one of the most beautiful promenades in the whole of northern Spain). The hotel was recently remodelled and is ideal for those who want to enjoy all the luxury and comfort available, in the peaceful tranquility of a lovely historic building.
In El Sardinero you'll find a series of four-star hotels, many of which were recently built or recently renovated. The Hoyuela (which is next to the Gran Casino), the Palacio del Mar, which offers light and spacious suites, the Rhin (just a few meters from Primera Playa Beach), and the Santemar (which is the largest in all of Santander). Then, just by Segunda Playa Beach, there are two three-star hotels offering great views of the cove: Chiqui and María Isabel. In Plaza de Italia (just a stone's throw away from both Piquío and the Casino) is Sardinero, a Cantabrian classic. Also in this area are apartment-hotels: Don Carlos being one of them.
In the city center Hotel Bahía is certainly worth a visit. This four-star hotel is located next to the cathedral, and is marvellously equipped. Stop in at a hotel on Calle de Castelar next to Puerto Chico and the Palacio de Congresos (convention center), with its unique marine hot springs. You could also check into the Central, beside Plaza Pombo, or NH Ciudad de Santander. Close to the Barrio Pesquero (fishing quarter) you will find four cheaper hotels: Abba Santander Hotel, Piñamar, Alisas and San Glorio II.
For those looking for even more economical lodgings, Santander also has more than thirty pensiones (guest houses) and hostels, which are both one and two-star options, throughout the city center. And, of course, you could also go to a campsite. There is one in the Playa de Mataleñas area, northeast of the city Cabo Mayor), and another in San Román de la Llanilla (Virgen del Mar).
A final option that should not be discarded, albeit unfamiliar to many overseas tourists, is what the Spainish referred to as "rural tourism". In areas close to Santander you will find a series of establishments located in country houses which have been renovated in such a way as to respect the area's architecture and building style and materials. Here you can enjoy an unforgettable stay, combining rural pleasures, peace and quiet, and nearby beaches. Towards the east of the city, in the Ribamontán al Mar area, you will find Casona de las Cinco Calderas, Posada El Solar (both in Galizano) and Posada de Langre (Langre); the latter is close to a spectacular beach.