Are you thinking of something a little different away from the usual sun and sangria Spanish holiday? Then consider a stay in Santiago de Compostela.
Think green, not arid. Think historical medieval streets and squares. Think churches, convents, palaces and a breath-taking cathedral. Think Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture. Think shops, bars and cafes. Think lush green parks and restaurants serving mouth-watering regional cuisine.
Then think again about a stay in Santiago de Compostela – probably Spain’s oldest visitor destination.
Nestling in north-west Spain, and capital of the autonomous region of Galicia since 1982, the history of Santiago de Compostela dates back over 1,000 years, when it is said the burial site of James the apostle was found in 812 by a shepherd at Santiago de Compostela.
It was this find that triggered thousands of Catholic pilgrims to visit the site, and began the growth of Santiago into the city we know today.
Whether you want to join the thousands of pilgrims who walk the 500-mile trip along the Camino de Santiago (Road to Santiago) every year, or just want to explore the city, the following are seven of the best places to stay in Santiago de Compostela.
Where to stay in Santiago de Compostela: Best Areas
1. Old Town, where to stay in Santiago de Compostela for sightseeing
In 1985 the beautiful Old Town area of Santiago de Compostela and its magnificent cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed on the site of the existing Church of St James, work began on the cathedral in 1075 and took until 1211, when it was finally consecrated.
Although built primarily in Romanesque style, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque additions and extensions were added over the years. As the church grew in prominence with increasing numbers of Catholic pilgrims visiting the site, so to did the surrounding area.
Along with numerous squares and plazas, you can visit the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario, the Raxoi Palace, and the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, said to be the world’s oldest operating hotel.
You will also find the Plaza de Obradoiro, the Town Hall, the San Francisco convent and several museums, including the Pilgrimage Museum around the old town.
Although it seems all its narrow medieval roads flanked by old stone buildings lead to the impressive cathedral, the old town district of Santiago is not solely one of ancient religious history.
Galician cuisine is famous across Spain, and a stay in Santiago de Compostela old town will put you close to some of the best restaurants in the area.
Head for Calle Franco and Calle Raina, where you can enjoy excellent tapas, or visit one of the numerous seafood restaurants where you can dine on fresh squid, octopus, scallops or other seafood. All washed down with the best of local wines.
The area also has a healthy nightlife scene, with couples and groups of all ages enjoying the many clubs and bars found in the old town.
Accommodation in the area is plentiful at all levels, with a number of excellent boutique hotels built in recent years.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN OLD TOWN
- ($$$) Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Catolicos
- ($$) Hotel Virxe da Cerca by Pousadas de Compostela
- ($) Pombal Rooms Santiago
2. Ensanche, where to stay in Santiago de Compostela for shopping and nightlife
Sitting just south of the old town, from Rosalia de Castro Avenue, to the north of the rail line, the multicultural Ensanche area has mostly developed during the early 20th century, when an increasing population forced the expansion of the old town area of Santiago de Compostela.
It is an area ideal for visitors who are happy to mix it with others tourists during the daytime sightseeing, but prefer to spend their evenings away from the tourist throngs.
However, that doesn’t make it quiet – unless you want it to be. Ensanche has a high population density and is the major city area for business and commerce.
With a young, vibrant population, you will find plenty of buzzing bars and restaurants around the district, high-quality shopping areas, parks, and children’s play areas.
There is not a lot in the way of tourist attractions locally, and most of the architecture comes from the late 1800s through to the mid-20th century. However, if architecture is your thing, around Rua do Horreo, you will find protected examples of restrained modernism, rationalist and regionalist building.
A district somewhat overlooked by many tourist and booking agencies, Ensanche has a thriving cosmopolitan population reflected in its many shops, stores, markets and restaurants. Immigrants, university students, engineers and professionals all choose Ensanche to live.
Praza Roxa is the recognised centre of Santiago’s nightlife. You can enjoy bars and clubs and everything from fast food, takeaways and tapas bars, to Galician, Turkish, Japanese, Chinese and Italian cuisine.
For a little window shopping, República de El Salvador street, General Pardiñas street and Doctor Teixeiro street are the main areas for fashion shopping.
It is also an ideal place to stay in Santiago de Compostela for visitors wanting to tour other areas of Spain by public transport, with bus terminals and the railway station nearby.
Accommodation is reasonable across all areas, from student-type apartments to top-quality business hotels, and generally less expensive than city-centre establishments.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA IN ENSANCHE
- ($$$) Eurostars Araguaney
- ($$) Capitol Boutique Hotel
- ($) Hotel Herradura
3. San Pedro & Belvís, where to stay in Santiago de Compostela on a budget
The original city wall of Santiago was constructed back in the 10th century, although most of it was destroyed in the 19th century. San Pedro, and its popular suburb of Belvis, sit just outside what would be the old city walls.
It is another district that began life with pilgrims trekking the Road to Santiago, which starts some 500 miles away in France.
As the gates to the city were only open from dawn to dusk, the faithful would gather in the area known as San Pedro, eat, sleep and continue their journey to the cathedral through the Porta dos Franceses, now known as the Porta do Camiño.
This almost constant movement of people led to the construction of shelters, eateries and other infrastructure required to improve life.
Many of the buildings you see in San Pedro today were financed by different religious orders, and many still display plaques denoting who built them. For instance, the San Caetano religious order (SC), the Compostela Church (ST) or the order of San Martiño Pinario (SM).
However, it wasn’t long before the district began to increase in affluence, attracting tradespeople, artisans, merchants and the well-off, who realised there was money to be made from the constant stream of pilgrims passing through.
Around the area closest to the Old Town, you will find the Museum do Pobo, a former monastery, and the Pazo de Baladrón.
The whole of this delightful area is a mix of the old and the not-so, with properties dating back centuries and others to just the mid-20th century, although you’d never tell judging by appearances.
It is a popular residential, economic and cultural hub of Santiago, and with much of San Pedro being pedestrianised, it is an ideal district to explore on foot.
The area around the main market is full of artisan shops, charming café-bars, ice cream vendors and regional and international restaurants. For fine dining, head for Plaza do 8 de Marzo and the Pampin neighbourhood.
Although you will find numerous pleasant gardens around the district, add a visit to Belvis Park to your itinerary. It is a beautiful green space to enjoy a little quiet time, and provides some splendid views across the district.
Accommodation is reasonable across all areas, from the usual Airbnb and hostels to self-catering apartments and modern boutique hotels.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SAN PEDRO & BELVIS
4. Campus Universitario Sur, a popular place to stay with nature lovers
The origins of the prestigious University of Santiago date back to the 15th century.
However, it wasn’t until 1929 that work began to expand and upgrade the urbanised southern campus area of La Alameda Park: Providing additional high-quality student accommodation, parks, gardens, statues, monuments, fountains and waterways for students, lecturers, locals and visitors to enjoy.
One such statue is named ‘As Marias‘ and depicts two sisters, apparently suffering some form of psychological disorder, who used to run after the students around the campus to play with them.
So loved were they by both students and locals, that after their death, a statue was commissioned and placed in the park in their memory. It is said to be the third most photographed attraction in Santiago de Compostela.
The area encompasses Paseo da Alameda, Robledo de Santa Susana and Paseo da Ferradura. With an increasingly crowded city, it was also decided Campus Universitario Sur would become a new, green garden city on the edge of Santiago.
One of the big pluses of Alameda park/campus is not just its flora and fauna, but some of the stunning views of the cathedral and old town district available from the numerous viewpoints.
You can also enjoy the Sarela River Walk, which meanders through the surrounding countryside and over old stone bridges around the park area.
Accommodation on the campus is limited, although there is a student/visitor hotel available, and a number of student rooms.
If you’re interested in a cheap stay at Santiago de Compostela university campus, enquires need to be addressed to the University’s accommodation department.
Nonetheless, accommodation around the borders of the campus, although not that plentiful, is also well priced and often cheaper than the old town or city centre.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA IN CAMPUS SUR
- ($$$) Hotel Palacio del Carmen, Autograph Collection
- ($$) Eurostars Gran Hotel Santiago
- ($) Hotel Nest-Bnor
5. Campus Universitario Norte, where to stay in Santiago de Compostela in a pretty, tranquil area
Although Santiago University’s southern campus area dates back to the late 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that work started on upgrading the northern campus area.
Wide open spaces of beautifully laid out parks and walkways combine with modernist architecture, designed by top architects of their time.
It is becoming an increasingly popular place for tourists to stay in Santiago de Compostela when they realise the city’s old town area is just a few minutes walk away.
Some of the more avant-garde buildings around the campus include the Dolmen New Millennium; and the Galicia Auditorium, designed by Spanish architect Julio Cano Lasso and opened in 1988.
In the same area, you will also find the Parque de la Música, with its views of the cathedral towers, and the San Martin Pinario and San Francisco convents as you stroll the grounds.
In Vista Alegre Park is the Museum of Natural History, with its collection of skeletons, fossils and other exhibits of the natural world. While just a five-minute walk will find you at the Centre for Contemporary Art (Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea).
If however, you have a greater love of culture, nature and the countryside than you do for architecture, you must visit Monte de Deus. Known by the locals as ‘The mountain of God, ‘ it is one of the area’s highest viewpoints.
The views of rural Santiago are fantastic. Pick out villages, small farms, and labourers toiling in the fields. And look out for the lavadoiros, public laundry houses still maintained by the council, although most residents today have their washing machines and tumble dryers.
Around Campus Universitario Norte, you will find several excellent hostels, and budget, mid-range and 5-star hotels offering, in the main, excellent value for money.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN CAMPUS UNIVERSITARIO NORTE
- ($$$) NH Collection Santiago de Compostela
- ($$) Hotel Altaïr
- ($) PR Tambre
6. San Lazaro and Area Central, a quiet suburban area on the edge of town
San Lazaro is located on the eastern edge of the city on the French Way (Road to Santiago) route and is a pleasant area full of hotels, shops, cafes and eateries.
Another part of the city which grew with the increasing pilgrim traffic along the French Way, it is said the local church was the final stopping point for any travellers or pilgrims found to have leprosy and who were not allowed to enter the city.
Area Central is the newest area in San Lazaro, a large, modern shopping complex with stores, cafes and restaurants that opened in 1993. It is said to be the largest shopping mall in the north of Spain.
A couple of kilometres east of the shopping centre is the multipurpose, 14,000-seat stadium San Lazaro, home to the local SD Compostela football team.
Plenty of small independent shops and businesses mix with high street and international brand stores. While its many cafes, bars, eateries and restaurants cater for all tastes.
San Lazaro remains a popular stop-over area with those following the original French Way path, as well as with visitors flying into Santiago.
There is plenty of hostel and hotel accommodation in and around San Lazaro catering for all needs and tastes.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SAN LAZARO AND AREA CENTRAL
7. O Castiñeiriño and Cruceiro do Sar, where to stay in Santiago de Compostela close to the City of Culture
Nestling between the City of Culture of Galicia and the rail tracks lay the peaceful, urban areas of O Castiñeiriño and Cruceiro do Sar.
If absorbing local culture plays a big part in your holiday enjoyment, a few days spent in O Castiñeiriño and Cruceiro do Sar during your stay in Santiago de Compostela is worth considering.
In recent years, areas of O Castiñeiriño have improved with increased housing, shopping centres, modern offices, hotels and infrastructure.
By contrast, the Cruceiro do Sar district has retained its more traditional status, with life centring around the 13th-century Romanesque Church of San Maria do Sar.
Both areas have all the amenities required for a short stay, including shops, post offices, banks, pharmacies and friendly bars and restaurants.
One of the biggest visitor attractions to the area is the City of Culture of Galicia, which you can see above the skyline. Built on the top of Monte Gaiás, it is a complex of modern (some would say futuristic) buildings that would rival any in Europe.
Constructed in the Spanish boom years of the late 1990s to the early 21st century, the City of Culture of Galicia was designed to be a cultural/knowledge centre. The complex contains a number of buildings open to the public, including two museums, libraries, archives and an auditorium.
Accommodation around the area tends to be limited, with a few self-catering apartments, the odd farmhouse or cottage and a few boutique hotels.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA IN O CASTIÑEIRIÑO
- ($$) Hotel Santiago Plaza Affiliated by Meliá
- ($$) Apartamentos Triacastela
- ($) A Casa da Torre Branca
Whether you decide to get to Santiago de Compostela the hard pilgrim way, with a trek over the Pyrenees from St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France: Or the easy way, landing at Santiago–Rosalía de Castro Airport, I hope these 7 places to stay in Santiago de Compostela help meet your travel requirements.