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The city

  • Seafaring and trading tradition linked to century-old vibrant tourism industry

    Santander is an elegant city which extends over a wide bay with views of the Cantabrian Sea. The city’s old town features a group of stunning buildings set against a natural backdrop of sea and mountains. The city’s seafaring and trading tradition is linked to its century-old vibrant tourism industry, drawing visitors to its famous El Sardinero beach, its seafront promenade and the La Magdalena peninsula.

    The cultural wealth of the Cantabrian capital is enriched by the stretch of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) that passes through the city as well as the neighbouring Altamira Caves, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    Santander is a city where the mix of the community’s seafaring, trading, and tourism traditions is still reflected. The original city, first founded by the Romans, was called Portus Victoriae. However, the capital’s urban development stalled until the eleventh century, when the town began to grow around the San Emeterio abbey. The name Santander is derived from the abbey’s name in Latin: Sancti Emeterii.

    The city became a key trading port for the shipping routes between Castile and the American colonies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Around the mid-nineteenth century Santander became one of the most exclusive summer tourist destinations on Spain’s northern coast.

    The Paseo de Pereda, with its gardens and typical houses with windowed balconies, is a lively boulevard which separates the coastal strip from Santander’s old town. The nearby Cathedral is one of the capital’s oldest buildings and dates from the eighth century. Inside visitors can see the tomb of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, a work by the sculptor Victorio Macho. Under the main chapel is the crypt of El Cristo, a sombre vaulted chamber where numerous relics from Roman times have been discovered.

    Opposite the cathedral is the Neo-herrerian style Plaza Porticada, lined by several public buildings and a major crossroads of lively shopping rúas (streets) like Calle del Arrabal or Calle Cubo.

    One of these streets leads to the Plaza del Generalísimo and Santander’s City Hall, located next to the popular modernist La Esperanza market. Must-see stops include the Fine Arts Museum and the Menéndez Pelayo House-Museum, a building which has been declared a Historic-Artistic Site.

    From the Pereda gardens visitors can see the Santander Bank and El Embarcadero mansion, a building that provides excellent views over the bay. The bay shelters the fishing port and the Puertochico neighbourhood, as well as the fish market, harbour, the Naval Command, etc.
    Here visitors get a chance to see one of Santander’s most typical scenes. Mansions and stately buildings overlooking the bay blend with other buildings of a more cultural nature, including the Festival Palace, designed by Francisco Javier Sáenz and venue for the prestigious Santander International Festival. The Prehistory and Archaeology Museum exhibits various prehistoric finds and features a Palaeolithic collection, once of the most valuable in Europe. Finally, the Cantabrian Maritime Museum, one of the most comprehensive museums dedicated to the sea in Spain, uncovers various aspects related to the Cantabrian Sea: marine biology, maritime history, fishing ethnography, etc.

    From the museum visitors can see Santander’s beautiful beaches: Los Peligros, La Magdalena and Los Biquinis, with calm waters and protected from winds by the bay.

    The Santander spot that draws in the most tourists is El Sardinero. You can enjoy one of Spain’s most beautiful seafront promenades along this beach; the walk is lined by spectacular buildings like the Grand Casino, which recall the architecture of the Belle Époque. The Plaza de Italia, with its elegant and lively summer terraces, and the Piquío Gardens, nestled on a rocky inlet that marks the separation between the two beaches of El Sardinero, complete the picture.

    The stretch of the peninsula between the old town and El Sardinero is where visitors can discover La Magdalena Park and royal palace, opened in 1913 as the summer residence of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The English-style home boasts excellent stables and is surrounded by extensive gardens and woods. This privileged recreational area becomes the centre for the famous Menéndez Pelayo International University courses given during the summer months; the university brings together both students and experts from a wide range of fields.

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    Santander, a city with a great deal to offer:

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