The first thing to do is tour the old town’s streets and squares before entering the Cathedral. To help you out in this regard, in Santiago Tourism’s offices you can rent an audio-guide , or put your name down for one of the guided tours . We recommend waiting to enter the Cathedral until 12 noon to attend the pilgrim mass, when following a schedule of liturgical celebrations you can normally see the botafumeiro censer in action. Once inside the basilica, you should not miss the opportunity to visit the Cathedral rooftops .
On the first day you must try typical Galician portions: Galician-style octopus, pie, razor clams, mussels, cockles, or sardines and pilchards, if in season, or “zorza” (marinaded pork), ham foreleg, “carne ao caldeiro” (boiled meat) and, of course, Padrón peppers, also in season, always accompanied by Galician wine with “tarta de Santiago” (almond cake) for dessert. Where to eat
First thing after lunch, we head towards the City of Culture of Galicia, Cidade da Cultura de Galicia (CdC). This magnificent and unusual building, by New Yorker architect Peter Eisenman, is a must. Besides, the City of Culture of Galicia organizes interesting temporary exhibitions and cultural activities which will only add to the visit.
Back in the old town, we suggest a walk towards the two main parks and gardens that offer panoramic views of the monumental district: San Domingos de Bonaval and Alameda. Bonaval also features two interesting museums. That is the location of Galicia’s main ethnographic museum, Museo do Pobo Galego, housed in the rooms of the former convento of San Domingos de Bonaval , with a beautiful Gothic church and a fantastic baroque triple spiral staircase.
Also in Bonaval is the CGAC (Galician Contemporary Art Centre), which stands out due to its artworks as well as the building itself, designed by the internationally renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Both museums share San Domingos de Bonaval Park , which occupies the former convent grounds and provides unique views of historic Santiago.
Before dinner, let us head for the centrally located Alameda Park , the city’s most distinguished and popular park, and a privileged viewpoint overlooking the old town: from there we have the best snapshot of the Cathedral façade rising up in the background.
Cuisine d’auteur in any of the restaurants featuring exquisite new Galician gastronomy. Where to eat
For the first evening, undoubtedly a quiet drink in any of Compostela’s classic clubs. Going out at night
The photogenic “Mercado de Abastos” is the city’s main and most traditional food market, as well as the most visited site after the Cathedral: a highly authentic market that speaks of gastronomy (there are countless types of fresh fish and seafood, but also fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheese, etc) and regional customs, in a building that is a monument per se.
Except Sundays, it opens every day in the morning from approximately 8 am to 3 pm. The main days, with the greatest number of sellers and produce, and the most visitors, are Thursdays and Saturdays, which are also the days of the Gastronomy Tour , an entertaining guided tour centred on Galician gastronomy, which visits, of course, the “Mercado de Abastos” and includes a tasting.
Beside the Market is the Geography and History Faculty of the five-hundred-year-old University of Santiago, with a magnificent Library and Auditorium, which can be visited with Guided University Tours, along with its terrace, with a wonderful panoramic view of the old town from high up.
Inside the Market there are two establishments that should not be missed:
1. Punto Kente: In the café located in one of the sections, they cook, for a small percentage of the price of your shopping, the produce you yourself have bought: an unbeatable occasion to taste for yourself the quality and freshness of Galician produce;
2. Abastos 2.0: In the small chic restaurant located in the stalls outside the main building, they offer their famous “fridge-less cuisine”: each day they choose the Market’s best fresh produce, to prepare it directly for serving in the form of delicious mini-portions.
If you are still hungry, without leaving the Market area, you have several bars where you can order ham, cured beef and local cold meats (chorizo, “salchichón”) and Galician cheese (Cebreiro, Arzúa-Ulloa, Tetilla, San Simón), always accompanied by exquisite Galician bread. Where to eat
The tourist train offers a different view of the city, as well as being a very relaxing way of touring it that is suitable for all ages, including children. Afterwards, so that you can take a bit of Santiago and Galicia home with you, you should go shopping: 100% Galician craftwork, from gold and silver articles to artisanal textiles or delicatessen.
Santiago, which stands out due to the quality of the rehabilitation carried out in its old town, features a series of unique historic sites, which combine the solidity of the omnipresent granite with skilful doses of sophisticated new design. To become acquainted with them while enjoying plastic arts, it is worth visiting some art galleries and foundations present in the area (Granell, Torrente Ballester, Caixa Galicia).
To finish this tour, we should also visit the exhibition halls in monumental buildings and even in magnificent secularised churches, as is the case of Pazo de Fonseca or Igrexa da Universidade (University Church).
For the second evening, straight from the Galician coast, fresh fish cooked “en caldeirada” (casserole) or Galician style, i.e. with paprika and garlic sauce, or boiled or grilled seafood, or tender charcoal-grilled meat: T-bone steak of Galician beef or barbecued Celtic pork with chorizos. But we can also go for a more informal choice: a tapas route, to sample traditional free tapas (meat-and-chips appetiser, pork rinds, crisps), little sandwiches and bar snacks, such as new creations belonging to so-called miniature cuisine. Where to eat
Santiago de Compostela offers a surprising cultural programme: classical music, theatre, dance, pop, folk, intimate concerts, jam sessions, cabaret, magic, storytelling, etc. Cultural guide
Several entities organise sightseeing tours to explore Galicia comfortably from Santiago: Fisterra and Costa da Morte, Rías Baixas, A Coruña, or the Way of St. James...
You can also make short trips by car to the surroundings to visit “pazos” (country manors) with historic gardens, or monasteries nestled among green forests, and some small riverside localities that still reflect all the charm of traditional Galician villages.
With our palate now accustomed to Galician flavours, on the third day we can experiment with a complete seafood platter, made up of spider crabs, king crabs, goose barnacles, oysters, shrimps… or “exotic” delicacies such as lamprey (only in season). Where to eat
As a farewell, Spanish gastronomy with Galician ingredients. Spanish omelette with Galician potatoes and free-range eggs has a special taste here, as do very tasty Galician-style variations when filled with local produce (pork scratchings, chorizos, turnip tops, etc). Although Mediterranean, Galician-style rice dishes successfully feature, in both paellas and other presentations, the addition of profound Galician flavours. Where to eat
THE LAST NIGHT
We cannot leave Galicia without protecting ourselves against witches and evil spirits with a good “queimada” (flamed eau-de-vie), which we will find in many old town clubs. Naturally, we also must try some Galician eau-de-vie, including the famous coffee liqueur.
Before going to bed, a last nighttime stroll around the monumental squares, full of melancholy at this time. Obradoiro Square, with its balcony facing the sunset, the sound of footsteps under the Pazo de Xelmírez arch, Quintana Square with its pilgrim-shaped shadow, the Cathedral standing out in the darkness of the night from Alameda Park, the “thirteen” strokes of midnight… Welcome to Compostela! Going out at night