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15 Awesome Things to Do in Santander (+ Where to Stay)

15 Awesome Things to Do in Santander (+ Where to Stay)

Although this coastal city may not be as popular as Barcelona, Alicante, or Valencia, there are so many amazing things to do in Santander. With breathtaking beaches, authentic tapas restaurants, and a wealth of attractions, this place really does have everything.

Santander is a charming city located in Northern Spain. It’s the capital of the Cantabria region and is easy to reach, so there’s no excuse not to visit. Thanks to its location, there are ample day trip opportunities as well, including the city of Bilbao.

Santander also has more of an authentic vibe compared to other more touristy destinations in the country. This makes it a fantastic place to take in the local culture. Not to mention, it’s a great destination for those who simply want to relax on the beach.

This guide will take you through the top things to see in Santander, as well as some of the more unique Santander sites.

How to Get to Santander

There are several ways to reach Santander, with the easiest being by air.

Seve Ballesteros-Santander Airport (code: SDR) is the city’s airport and it’s located about 6 km (3.7 miles) from the city center. Although the airport is small, it’s well-connected to other destinations in Spain and cities in Europe. These include Manchester, London, Brussels, Dublin, Milan, Paris, and Vienna.

Santander also has a large bus station, offering both short and long-distance journeys across the country. You won’t have any problems getting here from the major hubs of Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia. Better yet, many of the services run overnight so you can sleep while you travel.

Santander has a train station too, with services connecting you all over Spain. As well as flying domestically, this is one of the best options if you’re traveling from Southern Spain.

Getting Around Santander

Santander is a fairly compact city making it ideal for exploring on foot. You can easily walk between the different Santander neighborhoods, especially as many paths take you right along the waterfront.

Exploring the city on foot means you’ll get a closer look at how the locals live. You can wander through residential areas, down narrow alleyways full of tapas bars, and along the beaches.

Visitors can also take advantage of Santander’s urban bus system. There are several routes throughout the city and the buses run pretty regularly. If you plan on using the buses a lot, it may be best to purchase a rechargeable card.

TusBis is another fantastic option for getting around the city. It’s a bicycle service, where you can hire a bike. All you need is a credit or debit card and to have the app on your phone. Download it for Apple here and Android here. There’s also TUeBICI which allows you to rent electric bicycles.

Of course, taxis and ride-hailing apps like Uber are available. You can also jump on a CitySightseeing tourist bus that will take you to many of the popular tourist spots.

If you plan to head out of Santander and take advantage of the many day trip opportunities, then hiring a car may be the best option. 

waterfront with beaches in the distance and a coastal walking trail just visiting to the right of the image where the photographer must be standing.

There are so many amazing things to do in Santander including tons of coastal walks and paths to get you out by the water.

Is Santander Worth Visiting?

Yes! Santander is absolutely worth visiting.

This is the place to come if you want stunning beaches with plenty of different beaches to choose from. If you want to surf, swim, ride a jet ski, or take part in other fun watersports, you can do all of those along the beaches in Santander.

If you are more of a history buff, there are fantastic museums to visit and historical sites to explore.

Interested in getting to know the culture of Cantabria? Santander has tons of amazing restaurants, art museums, and fantastic live theater and music events to enjoy. 

There really is something for everyone in this beautiful Spanish city.

Where to Stay in Santander

There are so many beautiful places to stay in Santander, ranging from boutique hotels to spacious apartments. Better yet, there’s something for every price point. Accommodation here also seems to be more affordable than other cities in Spain.

If you’re looking for a beach getaway, then the neighborhood of El Sardinero is an excellent choice. However, Puerto Chico offers a more central location, as you’ll be close to many of the city’s shops, restaurants, and bars.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Santander, here are my top picks:

  • Budget hotel: Sercotel El Balcón de la Bahía Suites is one of the more affordable properties in Santander. Located in Puerto Chico, this adults-only hotel boasts an outdoor pool, garden area, and charming rooms (some of which offer sea views). Private parking and free WiFi are also available.
  • Mid-range hotel: Le Petit Boutique Hotel is located in the neighborhood of El Sardinero and is just a short walk from the beach. The rooms here are decorated beautifully and each one is themed around a popular destination, such as Tokyo or Paris. There are some great tapas bars nearby too.
  • Luxury: Eurostars Hotel Real is a luxurious hotel located in the area of Canalejas. Offering striking views of Santander Bay, an elegant bar, a cocktail terrace, and an award-winning restaurant, this hotel is one of the best places to stay in Santander. You’ll also be in a great location for exploring the city.
golden sand beach at the base of a cliff area with noone on the beach and calm water ever so gently breaking along the shoreline.

Santander beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in Spain and you don’t want to miss out on exploring every single one of them.

The Top Things to Do in Santander, Spain

There are so many fun things to do in Santander. Whether you’ve just come for the Spanish summer sunshine or you’re interested in exploring the history and culture of the area, you’ll find plenty of things for everyone in the family to enjoy.

1. Relax on the Beach

If you’re looking for things to do in Santander, visiting the city’s beaches should be at the top of your list. There are over a dozen beaches to choose from, where you can enjoy fine golden sand, crystal-clear water, and striking coastal views.

The most popular beach in Santander (and one of my favorites) is El Sardinero Beach. It’s located in the El Sardinero neighborhood and is surrounded by ice cream stands, restaurants, and bars. As well as being a popular surfing spot, this beach is near some of the city’s most expensive real estate, including the Gran Casino del Sardinero.

Playa de la Magdalena is another popular spot near the Magdalena Peninsula. It’s a great place to relax and you’ll get striking mountain views. Playa de Los Molinucos and Playa de Mataleñas are located slightly out of the center of town but are worth the walk.

2. Explore the Magdalena Peninsula

The Magdalena Peninsula is one of the most beautiful areas of Santander. Until the 20th century, it was known for its strategic defensive location, but ancient remains confirm that a Roman settlement was once located here.

This impressive peninsula covers 25 hectares and has a lot to offer travelers. A highlight is the area’s natural beauty, with the peninsula boasting spectacular sea views, pristine beaches, and a wealth of trees if you require some shade, which we all do in Spain in August.

However, there are some fantastic attractions found here too. Along with a small marine zoo, this area of Santander is home to Palacio de la Magdalena, the Royal Stables, and the Paraninfo (assembly room). 

If you like an active vacation, consider taking a bike tour around the peninsula which includes stops at all of the major sights with a knowledgeable tour guide. Book that bike tour here.

Near the entrance to the peninsula, you’ll also find Muelle de las Carabelas, an open-air museum that is dedicated to a local sailor, Vital Alsar Ramírez. It has the three galleons that he took on his expeditions.

magdalena peninsula from a distance looking back over it from the ocean at the height of a drone with waves crashing to the cliff side edges of the peninsula. The peninsula has so many different things to do in santander on it.

The Magdalena Peninsula is one of the most beautiful areas to explore in Santander. It’s definitely one of the must-do things in Santander.

3. See Palacio de la Magdalena

There are plenty of things to see in Santander but Palacio de la Magdalena is certainly one of the most impressive. One of the main reasons to walk along the Magdalena Peninsula, this stunning palace dates back to the early 1900s.

Over the years, this building has been the site of an international university, a hospital, municipal property, and a royal residence. The palace became a royal residence when it was gifted to King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia by the local council. They used it as a summer residence for over 15 years, between 1913 and 1930.

Palacio de la Magdalena is found on the peninsula’s highest point so you’ll be treated to coastal views from here. When it comes to visiting, tickets are available throughout the year and you’ll get to enjoy a guided tour.

The palace is under a 30-minute walk from Playa del Sardinero and Puerto Chico is around a 40-minute walk away.

4. Go on a City Cruise around the Bay

If you’re wondering what to do in Santander, why not go on a cruise around the bay? These typically last for around an hour, so won’t take much time out of your day and you’ll get a unique view of the city.

The cruise begins and ends at the city’s pier, and will take you around the bay. From the boat, you’ll get fantastic views of popular Santander attractions including Palacio de la Magdalena, Playa del Sardinero, and Centro Botín.

You’ll also get epic vistas of Loredo and Somo; both are popular coastal destinations found nearby.

Along the way, you can listen to your live guide (in Spanish), as they discuss Santader’s history and local culture. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still appreciate the panoramic views.

large palace with different architectural styles made of stone, some painted red and with a large turret to the left.

Magdalena Palace is one of the most interesting things to do in Santander and should definitely be on your list to explore while you’re in town.

5. Admire the Architecture of Catedral de Santander

Catedral de Santander, also known as the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

The cathedral is made up of two Gothic churches, both of which date back to the 13th century. However, the upper church had to be rebuilt because of a devastating fire that occurred in 1941.

Not only is the cathedral’s exterior breathtaking, but the interior is just as impressive. With a charming courtyard, beautiful stained-glass windows, intricate stone columns, and incredible statues, you don’t want to miss out on this place.

The tomb of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo is also found within the cathedral. He was a Spanish scholar and historian, who passed away in 1912. The entrance fee includes a visit to the crypt as well as the churches.

Catedral de Santander is just a 15-minute walk from Puerto Chico and is located right near the city’s bus station.

6. Visit Centro Botín

There’s no shortage of things to do in Santander, Spain but Centro Botín is a must-visit. This popular arts center is located along the waterfront, just a 5-minute walk from Catedral de Santander.

Centro Botín is a cultural space, dedicated to contemporary art, theatre, music, literature, and film. Inside, you’ll find two galleries, workspaces, lecture rooms, and an auditorium, where events are held throughout the year.

Before your visit, you can check online to see what’s on as well as purchase your tickets in advance. Guided tours are available too. Just make sure you check exhibition opening times as this will differ depending on the time of year.

This building also boasts a cafe with sea views and a roof terrace that offers breathtaking views of Santander Bay and the city. From this terrace, you’ll get wonderful views of the Cantabrian Mountains, too.

cliffs along the coast with a small bay of turquoise water below and a lighthouse just visible in the distance.

There are so many bays and coastal cliffsides to be in awe of as you explore Santander.

7. Walk along the Coastal Path

Although there’s plenty to do in the city center, I’d recommend taking a walk along Santander’s coastal path. If it’s a clear day, you can enjoy coastal views without the crowds. 

There are two options for starting the walk; Av. del Faro or Av. Manuel Garcia Lago. On Google Maps, a green trail leads from both of them and this connects within Parque de Mataleñas. Here, you’ll see the beautiful and secluded Playa de Los Molinucos, a great sunbathing spot.

You’ll continue along the coastal path, which will take you past Playa de Mataleñas and Mataleñas Municipal Golf Course. Eventually, you’ll reach Cabo Mayor Lighthouse, which is now an art center.

The lighthouse offers incredible sea views, especially at sunset. There’s also a restaurant nearby called El Faro Café Bar.

8. Visit Santander’s Museums

There are a couple of museums in Santander but two stand out above the rest; Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico and the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria.

Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico is one of the most popular Santander attractions and it’s not hard to see why. At this maritime museum, you’ll learn all about the region’s seafaring history, with objects including navigation instruments and nautical maps.

There are four floors in total and the maritime history collection is a real highlight for history buffs. There are also fine ship models, and a whale skeleton weighing around 60 tonnes. For the best experience, allow at least two hours for your visit.

The Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria is another fantastic Santander attraction. In this museum, you’ll find over 1,000 objects on display, ranging from stone tools to cave paintings. Many of these objects date back between the Upper Palaeolithic and the Iron Age. Again, you’ll want to allow a couple of hours here.

long wide beach with no one on it and the water crashing to the shore from the left side.

The beaches in Santander are perfect for surfing almost year round, but you’ll definitely want a wetsuit in the cooler months (and perhaps also in summer!).

9. Go Surfing

Thanks to the variety of beaches in and around Santander, this city is a great place to surf.

Although it’s often full of tourists, Playa del Sardinero is considered one of the city’s best beaches for surfing. You can expect swells of up to 2 meters and consistent conditions. There are also plenty of facilities, including lifeguards, showers, changing rooms, and snack bars.

For those who don’t mind heading out of Santander, the nearby beaches of Playa De Somo, Playa Liencres, and Playa de Berria are also fantastic surfing spots. All of these are within a 40-minute drive from the city.

If you don’t have any experience, then why not take a surfing lesson in Santander? There are some great surf schools to choose from in the city.

Escuela Cantabra de Surf was one of the first surf schools in Spain and is consistently ranked as one of the best in Europe. They have instructors who speak several languages including Spanish, French, English, Italian, and German.

Alternatively, you can head to Somo and take a surfing lesson there. There are generally three lesson options (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), and you’ll have all equipment included, as well as liability insurance.

10. Shop at Mercado de la Esperanza

Mercado de la Esperanza is located in the city center, just a 5-minute walk from Catedral de Santander. It translates in English to the Market of Hope.

This is a great place to dive into the local culture, as you can embrace everything that Santander and the Cantabrian region has to offer.

Mercado de la Esperanza is set in a unique building made of iron and glass. Built in 1904, this bustling market consists of two floors and is home to around 80 stalls, where you can pick up delicious local produce.

Due to Santander’s location, you’ll find a large seafood influence here. However, you’ll also find various stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and baked goods among other produce. This is the perfect place to come to pick up bread, cheese, meat, and wine for a picnic on the beach.

The best time to visit Mercado de la Esperanza is in the morning. This is when there will be the most produce and the fewest tourists.

11. Enjoy some Water Sports

As Santander is a coastal city, home to over a dozen beaches, it’s no surprise to hear that there are plenty of watersports opportunities. Surfing is one of the most popular, but there are plenty of others to try as well.

Stand Up Santander is found along Av. de Severiano Ballesteros and is a fantastic kayak, surf, and SUP school. This place offers guided excursions with qualified instructors and rentals, so there’s something for every experience level.

As well as kayaking and surfing, the school offers stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, coasteering, and jet ski excursions, so there’s sure to be something new for you to try.

Motos de Agua Santander is located right by the airport, under a 15-minute drive from the city center. Here, you can try out a variety of activities including jet skiing and wakeboarding.

Of course, rentals, lessons, and guided excursions typically depend on the weather so just keep that in mind.

cliff with water crashing against the rocky sides and a white lighthouse on the edge of the cliff.

Walk along the coast and stop at the lighthouse in Cabo Mayor. There is a cafe here with a stunning view and decent fried calamari, too.

12. Indulge in Tapas

Although there are plenty of things to do in Santander, it’s just as important to relax. In my opinion, there’s no better way to kick back than by heading to one of the city’s authentic tapas restaurants.

Tapas bars are found throughout Santander, but you’ll get the best choice in and around Puerto Chico. Some of these are located right near the waterfront and offer outdoor seating too, so you can enjoy the views as you dine.

Casa Lita is one of the most popular tapas bars in Santander. This place is known for its tasty pintxos (Basque-style tapas usually served on a piece of bread), but there are around 300 different skewers to choose from. The tapas is prepared daily and consists of various cheeses, meats, and fish.

Bodega del Riojano and Bodega Fuente Dé are two other popular options, known for their regional dishes and tapas.

If you want to explore some of the best tapas restaurants in Santander with a guide, consider taking a tapas tour. This one includes a historical tour as well as a stop at a minimum of three tapas bars around town. Book that tour here.

13. Head to Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno

In addition to all of the best things to do in Santander city center, there are also plenty of day trip opportunities on offer. Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno is a great option for families. It is a natural park and zoo home to various wildlife species.

Here, you can spot grizzly bears, rhinos, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, lions, and tigers.

Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno is under a 20-minute drive from the city, so you can easily get here if you have a hire car. Alternatively, you can visit on a small-group tour or you can catch a bus, which will take you around 35 minutes.

Just keep in mind that having a car is the best way to get around. Your other option is to enjoy an aerial perspective from the park’s two cable cars. There’s also an eco-bus that stops at certain points throughout the park.

a plate with a tapa on it which is a slice of bread, a piece of fish and a sauce over the top of the fish. There is a glass of red wine to the side all to be enjoyed at tapas bars in Santander, Spain.

There are so many great places to enjoy tapas around Santander. The great thing about Tapas is that you can have one or two and then move on to a different bar and try some more so you sample tons of different restaurants around town.

14. Take a day trip to Bilbao

Thanks to Santander’s central location in Northern Spain, you can also head to the beautiful city of Bilbao for the day.

Bilbao is just over an hour’s drive away if you’re planning to hire a car. You can also catch a bus which takes around 1.5 hours, so there’s an option for those who don’t want to drive abroad. Just make sure you catch an early departure so you can spend all day exploring.

Bilbao is a mesmerizing city, known for its culture, art, architecture, and delicious local cuisine. One of the biggest draws to the city is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a museum of modern and contemporary art, housed in an architectural masterpiece.

Other popular places to visit include the Museo Bellas Artes, Cathedral de Bilbao, Plaza Nueva, Azkuna Zentroa, and Vizcaya Bridge. Check out our full guide of things to do in Bilbao so that you don’t miss all the action!

15. Explore the Caves of Las Monedas and El Castillo

Those interested in history won’t want to miss this half-day tour which includes stops at Las Monedas Cave and El Castillo Cave. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the Paleolithic cave paintings that can be viewed inside.

The tour of the caves is done in Spanish by the local cave guides, but if you don’t speak Spanish, there will be an additional guide who will be on the tour who will translate for you. The translations will only be from Spanish to English, there are no other languages currently available for the tours.

You will spend about 50 minutes in each cave and then you will head to the Paleolithic Interpretation Center where you will be able to learn even more about the cave paintings and their history. 

The interpretation center is located in the village of Puente Viesgo. You will be given a little bit of free time at the end of the tour to explore the village and walk along the river here. You can also buy some snacks or coffee while you are here before you head back to Santander. Book that tour here.