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Visit Santiago de Compostela

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Santiago is great. And makes you feel great too.

Visitors to Santiago should not miss going up to the cathedral rooftop. A visit to the top of the church was even recommended in the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus to appreciate the wondrous beauty. All we can add is that the roof offers views over much of the historical centre and new part of the city, as well as the surrounding area of Santiago, from Monte Pedroso to El Gozo, making for an exceptional vantage point.

The overview enables visitors to get a good idea of Santiago itself, while bringing it to life and showing its mythical nature. From above visitors can see the Cruz dos Farrapos cross, under which mediaeval pilgrims would burn their used pilgrimage clothing in a type of purifying ritual. It is also the ideal place to appreciate the different construction stages of the church and the many architectural styles used to achieve the final fabulous result.

A World Heritage Site since 1985, Santiago has been attracting visitors and pilgrims from around the world for centuries. It is the most cosmopolitan city in Galicia, although it handles its status with ease and, from the time you arrive, you feel right at home.

It has everything you could want.

The Cathedral and Pórtico de la Gloria in the historical centre. Emblematic squares such as El Obradoiro, La Quintana and O Toural. Dozens of churches, convents and palaces. Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture. As well as shops, bars, restaurants and a pretty Market brimming with fresh produce. The camellia-lined Alameda boulevard right in the heart of the city and the Paseo de la Herradura promenade offer a great view of the cathedral. And on the banks of the Sar River lies La Colexiata de Santa María church with its impossible leaning columns.

Discover Santiago in 1, 2 or 3 days.

Recommended Route

In Bonaval...

We start our route from the Park of San Domingos de Bonaval, an old property and cemetery of a Dominican Order convent. It offers surprising views over the western rooftops of the monumental district.

Next to the park lies the Panteón de Galegos Ilustres (Pantheon of Distinguished Galicians) housing the remains of Rosalía de Castro, Brañas, Asorey, Cabanillas, Fontán and Castelao, and the Pobo Galego Ethnography Museum that is home to an exceptional Baroque spiral staircase.

Nearby is the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza.

In the Old Quarter...

Continuing along Calle Valle Inclán Street to San Roque, we get to an old Baroque Hospital with a beautiful entrance and pretty cloister, located next to the old Porta da Pena gate that leads to the old quarter. We continue along Calle Algalia de Arriba Street (most of the student residences were located here and in nearby streets until well into the 20th century).

We take a pause at no.27, in front of a majestic four-storey Gothic tower ( 13th century) that has decorative elements in some of the windows. We then take a left onto Callejón de los Truques and head into Algalia de Abaixo - a lively area for evenings out (alongside the surrounding streets) - where at no.29 we come to the oldest house in the city, dating to the 11th or 12th century. It is a good example of mediaeval architecture with projections. Just opposite is the Baroque Amarante country house.

We now stroll around the most traditional area of Santiago: inside the city walls, Rúa da Oliveira and Praza dos Irmáns Gómez until we get to the door of the Church of San Agustín, which is missing one tower that was felled by a lightning bolt in the 15th century.

From the Fresh Market to Belvís...

The Market is next door and is a colourful traditional place for a visit, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays. Local farmers from areas surrounding the city sell their home-grown and homemade products there.

The market also offers very fresh fish and great meats and fruit. Next door is the Church of San Fiz de Solovio: it has a beautiful Romanesque entrance and the recluse who found the tomb of the apostle once lived here. The Universidade Literaria building (now the Geography and History faculty) is just opposite.

Heading around this building we enter the Plaza de Mazarelos, where the only gateway from the old city wall still stands, which brought wine into the city. Crossing through, we head along Patio de Madres and Castrón Douro to the traditional neighbourhood of Sar to visit the Colexiata de Santa María de Sar church, a Romanesque building with a cloister dating to the 13th century. The fully inclined walls and pillars inside are a surprise, holding up the naves and reinforced by strong buttresses on the outside.

Heading back along Camiño da Ameixaga and Andújar Streets, we get to enjoy wonderful panoramic views of the old town. We then reach the Baroque Convent of Belvís and park - a large open space next to the old town that even plays host to vegetable gardens.

Entering on Saint James' Way...

Taking Callejón de A Tafona, we get to Calle de la Virxe da Cerca Street, near the Porta do Camiño where pilgrims would enter after taking the Camiño Francés or French Way, which continued inside the city walls along Rúa das Casas Reais (the Street of the Royal Houses) which got its name when Joanna the Mad and Philip the Handsome spent the night in one of the homes there in 1512.

The Neoclassical Church of As Ánimas and the Palace of Fondevila ( 18th century) - the headquarters of the Caja Madrid Foundation - are highlights here. We then come to Plaza de Cervantes, where the Neoclassical Church of San Benito and two Baroque country houses (one of which housed the Town Hall) are highlights.

Taking Callejón de Jerusalén, we come to Plaza de San Martiño Pinario, where we can see the wonderful Renaissance façade of the convent with its exceptional double-entry Baroque staircase. Continuing along Rúa da Moeda Vella Street, we reach the Praza da Inmaculada square, where the main façade of the convent can be seen (it is the largest in Galicia) and the north façade of the Neoclassical cathedral.

From here we head to Praza da Quintana, where the Porta Santa is located. This is a very sober, albeit welcoming, space. The steps are the ideal spot to sit and relax, and watch the busy urban setting.

Around the Cathedral...

We enter the cathedral through the façade in the Praza das Praterías, where the Fonte dos Cabalos fountain and the 12th-century entrance stand out. Inside, we can marvel at the splendid Romanesque naves and ambulatory.

We can visit the crypt of the Apostle, embrace the saint in the central canopy and see the different chapels. Before leaving the church, stop and marvel at the majestic Pórtico da Gloria main gate to then head out towards Praza do Obradoiro. This is another spectacular architectural space with the Plateresque Royal Hospital (Hostal de los Reyes Católicos); the Neoclassical Pazo de Raxoi home with its Versailles-like flourishes and shared by the Town Hall of Santiago and the Xunta de Galicia regional government; the Pazo de San Xerome house, with its 15th century entrance and now the headquarters of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of the University, and the Baroque façade of the cathedral itself - a work by Fernando de Casas.

Leaving the square, we head along Fonseca and Rodrigo de Padrón streets to reach the Alameda, where we finish our tour. Here we can take the best photo of the cathedral and the old town from the Paseo dos Leóns, alongside a beautiful panoramic view of the university campus (designed in the 1930s) from the Paseo da Ferradura vantage point.

Irene recommends

The Rooftops of the Cathedral

Visitors to Santiago should not miss going up to the cathedral rooftop.

A visit to the top of the church was even recommended in the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus to appreciate the wondrous beauty.

All we can add is that the roof offers views over much of the historical centre and new part of the city, as well as the surrounding area of Santiago, from Monte Pedroso to El Gozo, making for an exceptional vantage point.

The overview enables visitors to get a good idea of Santiago itself, while bringing it to life and showing its mythical nature.

From above visitors can see the Cruz dos Farrapos cross, under which mediaeval pilgrims would burn their used pilgrimage clothing in a type of purifying ritual.

It is also the ideal place to appreciate the different construction stages of the church and the many architectural styles used to achieve the final fabulous result.

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