In the peninsula of Magdalena there is a palace that was built to house Alfonso XIII and his family when they visited the area.
It has a neoclassic French and English style. It currently houses the university (Universidad Internacional Palacio de la Magdalena Menéndez Pelayo), where they give important lectures every summer.
The gardens are perfect for getting lost.
I know of few cities that combine beach and city as well as Santander. You can sit on the sand of any beach in Santander and it seems like you're miles from the city just lounging around with other tourists and beach-goers who are just there to enjoy the sun and the waves of salty water that heal the body and ease the mind.
But as soon as you leave the sand, you discover large urban avenues lined by clean, white sidewalks and asphalt.
Take a few steps from the beach and your swimsuit and sarong become increasingly out of place. The north is elegant by nature and the streets of Santander are sober but with a touch of character. I understand why some people prefer Northern summers. This temperature and cultural refinement make it a really enchanting place.
Playa del Sardinero is a gorgeous urban beach a little ways outside of the city center. There’s a large parking lot and plenty of services like bars, restaurants, sun chairs, and lifeguards. There’s also a pleasant boardwalk that lines the entire beach. Even on cloudy days, the beach is full of people swimming, walking, and playing paddleball. It’s a must if you’re in Santander.
The Cabo Mayor Lighthouse is located in a large green area about 2km from the city centre and has a cafe with spectacular views of the Cantabrian Sea and city of Santander.
The rock formations surrounding this lighthouse are quite peculiar and it's a good place to take a walk and get away from the city.
Another one of Santander's beaches, located just to the left of the entrance to the Peninsula de la Magdalena, takes its name from the large shape that the central rock makes. It is a quiet beach where you can see lots of people playing spades, the quintessential beach game in Santander. The surf is not very good at this beach.
This monument consists of four bronze figures located close to the marina between Embarcadero Palace and the Santander Marina.
The sculptures are of 4 children, one standing looking out to sea, two sitting, and one jumping into the sea. They’re accompanied by a commemorative plaque on the ground. In Santander, these "Raqueros" ("wreckers") are typical folk characters, poor or homeless children mainly, who made their living gathering coins thrown by tourists into the sea.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the activities of the Raqueros became something of a spectacle and groups gathered around to watch them retrieve the coins. These days, it's normal for all visitors to snap a quick photo with the Raqueros.
We walked along the boardwalk in Santander early one morning, when the sun was not too hot and the city had not yet woken up. The walk is lovely and the Bay of Biscay was calm. On a sunny day, is impossible to miss a walk along here.
The public park on Magdalena Peninsula has a free mini-zoo with penguins, seals, sea lions, and ducks. The pools are fed with natural sea water so the animals have a nicer environment, though I must admit that being in the wild would be best, really.
Although I don't really approve of zoos, I had a good time with the seals and how they startled passersby with their cries. I also liked the penguins and the "spa treatments" that the sea lions did.
If comfort is what you seek, leave the car in the parking lot (across from post office and the cathedral) and you're in the centre of Santander, in the "Paseo Pereda". Anyway, the ride is nice but if you are lucky to catch the sun rising, the view is fantastic. Go along the promenade towards the Palace Margadalena and Sardinero Beach. Enjoy sailing ships, an ice cream of the flavour of your choice, have a photo with the "wreckers" and research their existence. You also have the option of taking a ferry and sailing for an hour by the bay of Santander in order to see the city from another perspective. If you need a rest stop there are coffee shops and ask for a creamy coffee (milk is unique, creamy and sweet). The park and the carousel is amazing! There is almost always some celebration: book fair, booths, music ...
Santander Marina is located next to the Club Maritimo social building. It is very large, with 1,350 berths, and has all the services you'd expect (restaurant, parking, boat repair service, fuel, etc). I like strolling around the area, looking at the various boats and yachts ... some of them are just amazing! In this port area you can also find other places of interest to visit, following the Paseo de Pereda: The Embarcadero Palace (temporary exhibition), the Grua de Piedra, and the Monument to the "Raqueros".
These gardens are found among Camel Beach and El Sardinero. They have palm trees and a small green area between beaches so you can enjoy the shade of the trees or have a clear view of both beaches. There are plenty of benches overlooking the sea. From here you get some of the best photos of Santander with the beach in the background.
The Cathedral of Santander is not your typical European cathedral.
It’s a complex of Gothic buildings built between the 12th and 18th centuries. It consists of two joined churches built on an incline on the hill of Somorrostro. The lower church is the oldest and recent excavations have uncovered baths and other artifacts from an ancient Roman settlement, all of which can be seen via a glass floor. One of the things that most struck my attention was the silver heads on one side of the cathedral. The real heads of the martyrs San Emeterio and Celedonio are said to be kept inside.
The upper church has been expanded several times and its ceilings are much higher and are supported by Gothic arches. It's all very austere in terms of decoration. It has two different bell towers and several chapels. You can also visit the cloister which, for me, was the most beautiful part.
The inside of the cathedral seemed somewhat unadorned, at least compared to those of my native land. It’s located opposite the Post Office building and is close to the Town Hall. It was declared to be a Monument of Cultural Interest in 1931.
Santander's casino is located on the promenade of El Sardinero, in the most luxurious part of the city, opposite the Hotel Sardinero. It is a neoclassical building built in 1916 as a theatre which staged major social events for the aristocracy of the time. It was closed however, during the Civil War. In 1978 it was restored and reopened as a casino. It now has a restaurant, banquet hall, cafe, nightclub, exhibition hall, and two games rooms, one with fruit machines and another to play blackjack, poker and roulette. The casino also organizes cultural events such as the International Festival of Santander, as well as exhibitions and press conferences.
The best bird's eye views of the centre of Santander can be found from the top of the Funicular del Rio de la Pila. You can see the Bay of Santander, and the most important buildings in the centre, like the headquarters of Santander Bank, the cathedral, the Bahia Hotel, and the dome of the Jesuit Church. It's free, but it's closed from 00:00 to 6:00 a.m. Highly recommended to enjoy some fabulous views of Santander.
One of the attractions you can visit on the Peninsula de la Magdalena in Santander is the museum dedicated to Man and the Sea. Here you can see the three ships donated by the sailor Vital Alsar Ramirez, ve imitated Columbus on his trip to America.
Among other things that can be seen are:
- La Balsa: a small boat made of wood logs which crossed the Pacific with 4 sailors.
- A rescue bubble where researchers travelled for 267 days.
A very alarmist name for what is possibly the calmest beach in Santander. The bay has fewer waves and a calmer sea than in El Sardinero or El Camello, which are linked to the open sea. As it is quiet, it does get busy in summer but still has a special charm this beach.
Located in the centre of Santander and overlooking the bay is the Palace of Congresses and Festivals of Cantabria. An a typical and modern building with a large terrace on its rooftop where you can drink cocktails and admire beautiful views over the Bay of Santander.
The heart of Santander is El Sardinero, and this district should be the first thing on your list of stuff to do in Santander. In this suburb you'll find the famous beaches of the city as well as some of its most notable buildings such as the Grand Casino Sardinero and the Magdalena Palace. Here you can also see the Piquio Gardens. In the centre stands the astronomical monument known as the Bola del Mundo, one of the most interesting attractions in Santander.
Around the area of the bay you'll find more places to visit in Santander. Learn more about the fishing culture of the city at the Maritime Museum, which is one of the most popular Santander activities.
The historic town of Santander was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1941, but as you take a walk along the Paseo de Pereda, you'll notice that many things to see in Santander have been preserved. Located next to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is Iglesia de la Anunciación. Do not miss the fortified square, a symbol of the reconstruction of the city after the devastating fire. A visit here is one of the most lively things to do in Santander.
Finally, if you're looking for what to do in Santander and are ready to venture beyond the city limits, there are plenty of small towns and interesting destinations nearby. Do not miss the Liencres Dunes Nature Reserve, medieval monuments, or the hot springs in Alceda, all of which are high on the list of Santander attractions!
Looking for more stuff to do in Santander? Check out Minube, where travelers have left their impressions and posted photos.