The renovated city in the beautiful bay

A member of the “Club of the most beautiful bays in the world“, Santander is a welcoming, modern, cosmopolitan city with an intense and diverse cultural life. A city that has overcome some terrible disasters that left their mark on its urbanism.

Plan your stay in Santander

Due to its disasters, there are not as many monuments to see in Santander as one would expect. The most important landmarks are the Magdalena Palace, the Botin Centre and the Church of La Compañía de Jesús. Walking along Santander’s magnificent beaches and promenades, capturing its atmosphere, is an ideal alternative. The town is divided into two areas, the area of El Sardinero and the bay rodeo from La Magdalena to the city centre, along the Avenida de la Reina Victoria.

In the surroundings of Santander you can visit the Natural Park of the Dunes of Liencres at about 20 minutes. Another option is to take the highway to Santillana del Mar. The rich gastronomy offered by the Cantabrian mountain and sea are a great asset to Santander. Therefore, do not hesitate to check the pages specialized in Eating and Sleeping in Santander.

Do you want to visit this place?

Before reviewing what to see in Santander, it is important to be aware of its history. It began in Roman times, when it was called Portus Victoriae. A legend tells of the arrival at the port of a boat carrying the heads of the martyrs San Emeterio and San Celedonio, who were beheaded in the third century in Calahorra. For this reason, these saints would be named as the patron saints of the town.

Becoming important

In 1187, King Alfonso VIII of Castile named the abbot of the monastery of San Emeterio as Lord of Santander, granting the town a fuero similar to that of Sahagún. Thus, trade was favoured and the town became part of the Brotherhood of the Cuatro Villas. The other members were San Vicente de la Barquera, Laredo and Castro Urdiales. During 1248, some ships from Santander participated in the reconquest of Seville. Their achievement was to cut the chains of the bridge that joined the banks of the Guadalquivir River to go up the river. That is why a galleon, the Guadalquivir and the Torre del Oro appear on the city’s coat of arms, along with the heads of San Emeterio and San Celedonio.

The authority exercised by the abbot did not prevent the ownership of the town from the Castilian king. Thus, in 1466 Henry IV considered himself entitled to cede it to the Marquis of Santillana. This caused the population to revolt and the decision was revoked the following year. Later, around 1497, the plague virus would decimate the population, which would not recover until three centuries later.


In 1748 the “Camino de las Lanas” was opened to compete with the free ports of Biscay and Guipúzcoa. In the last two there was massive smuggling. This initiative relaunched the activity of the Santander dock and increased its population. Six years later a bishop of Santander was appointed, transforming the collegiate church into a cathedral. Shortly afterwards, in 1755, the town received the title of city and in 1783 a consulate was set up to regulate maritime traffic. The province of Santander was established in 1833.

Foto Antigua de la Primera playa del Sardinero con el Casino y el Hotel Real en Santander
Primera playa del Sardinero con el Casino y el Hotel Real al fondo

Queen Isabella II, in 1861, would spend her summer holidays on the beach of El Sardinero, a tradition that was intensified by King Alfonso XIII and his wife Victoria Eugenia. Also in 1908, the city gave the monarch the land of the Magdalena peninsula. There was built the palace where the kings spent the summer until 1931. The Gran Casino and the Hotel Real were centres of the country’s elite. Finally, during the 1980s, port activity was moved from the city centre to the port of Raos.

A terrible explosion and fire

The city of Santander suffered two tremendous disasters. On the one hand, in 1893 the cargo ship Cabo Machicaco exploded, killing 2% of the population. On the other hand, in 1941 a great fire destroyed the old town, in the Somorrostro hill. For two days, 37 streets were burned. This is the reason why the old town of Santander city has such a modern aspect.

The city is arranged longitudinally from east to west. In turn, it consists of two areas: the city itself, towards its bay, and El Sardinero, facing the open sea. In fact, its steep streets, pindias for the people of Santander, always lead to the water. Be that as it may, the beaches are the first thing to see in Santander. There are many to choose from. If the wind blows from the northeast, the people of Santander come to Los Peligros and La Magdalena. If there is no wind, or it is going south, they go to the beaches facing the open sea: El Camello, La Concha and the beaches Primera and Segunda de El Sardinero.

Architectural heritage

Moving on to the architectural and artistic heritage to be seen in Santander, the visit starts in the area of El Sardinero, in the Gran Casino del Sardinero (1916). Another remarkable modern building, in Pérez Galdós promenade, is the sophisticated Hotel Real (1917), white and with five floors. Beyond this is the Palacio de la Magdalena (1909-1913), home to the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. Meanwhile, on the Magdalena peninsula is Bikini Beach. The name is not far-fetched: it is so named because it was the first beach where foreigners wore such clothes. In addition, the caravels of the Cantabrian sailor Vital Alsar are on display nearby, next to a small zoo with seals.

Once you have passed Mataleñas beach, you will reach Cabo Mayor and its Cabo Mayor Lighthouse Art Centre. Next to the lighthouse is the Monument to the Fallen in the Civil War, an impressive viewpoint over the cliffs. The modern Festival Palace, by the architect Sáenz de Oiza (1991), is the venue for the Santander International Festival. Next to it is the entertaining MMC Cantabrian Maritime Museum.

Puerto Chico

It is highly recommended to stop at “Puerto Chico”, an old fishing port now a marina, one of the great emblems to be seen in Santander. Next to it, the rationalist Siboney and the Real Club Marítimo buildings stand out, simulating a ship’s bridge. Next to the club is the sculpture Los Raqueros, a tribute to young people who used to jump into the water to collect coins from the bottom.

Continuing along the dock is the headquarters of the Banco de Santander, which follows the British Adams style. That is, it is joined by an arch to a second twin building at the back. Opposite, in the Pereda Gardens, are the Concha Espina Monument and the José María de Pereda Monument. Also interesting is the Palacete del Embarcadero which is an exhibition centre. Next to it is the Maritime Station, with a roof that imitates the waves of the Bay of Biscay. It calls for special attention to the main building to be seen in Santander today, the Botin Centre for contemporary art, designed by Renzo Piano.

Magdalena Palace in Santander

Oldest buildings

The oldest building in Santander is the Cripta del Cristo, from the beginning of the 13th century. Under the floor you can see the remains of the ancient temple of San Emeterio and San Celedonio that gave birth to the medieval town. In addition, above the crypt is the Cathedral, rebuilt after the fire of 1941. Inside, the tomb of Don Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, designed by Victorio Macho, stands out. Next to it is the Post Office Building, a regionalist work of Quintanilla and Zuazo.

Continuing with what we see in Santander, we pass, in Calvo Sotelo Street, the famous Plaza Porticada, an example of the neoherrerian architecture that was developed during the reconstruction of the city. In the vicinity is the Church of La Compañía de Jesús, in Renaissance style. Inside, the altarpiece of the high altar shines, with echoes of El Greco, work of the painter Maria Mazarrasa. In addition, very close by is the Mercado de La Esperanza (1904), a beautiful example of iron and glass architecture.

Discovering every corner

Going up Miguel Artigas Street is the Menéndez Pelayo Library, by the Cantabrian architect Leonardo Rucabado. The House-Museum can be visited on the other side of the small garden, with a sculpture by Mariano Benlliure. Its library houses a copy of the Chronicles of Alfonso X the Wise, from the end of the 14th century, or the Trojan Chronicle (13th and 14th centuries), with valuable polychrome illustrations.

In the old Municipal Library building there is another attraction to see in Santander: the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Santander and Cantabria (MAS), which brings together outstanding works by artists. Nearby are the buildings of the Botin Foundation and the Ateneo de Santander. These are cultural and scientific centres, next to which is the Church of Santa Lucía (1852). This church combines Paleo-Christian and Italian Renaissance models. The Casa de los Arcos de Botín (1838-1840), in Plaza del Pombo, has a façade with a large stone portico with semicircular arches.

The night in Santander is very lively and has several interesting places to spend the time. For example, the Rio de la Pila, with the Riojano restaurant, whose wine barrels form the so-called “Museo redondo”, and the Drink music pub. To see Santander from above, there is a Funicular that goes up to Calle Alta. In the Plaza de Cañadío, its cafés and bars attract many people. Finally, a third area of movement is the street of San Luis and the Plaza de las Cervezas.

Must see

Gran Casino of El Sardinero
El Sardinero Beach

Practical Data


43° 27′ 46″ N, 3° 48′ 18″ W


Bilbao 111 km, Burgos 159 km, Madrid 398 km


Free in El Sardinero, Paseo Reina Victoria and El Camello Beach. Free in the car parks of Puertochico (Castelar 13), Plazuela de Pombo and the Town Hall, among others.


15 m


177 123 (2013)

Virgen del Carmen (July 16th), Santiago Apóstol (July 25th), San Emeterio and San Celedonio (patron saints of the city, August 29th)

Recreation of Los Baños de ola (one week in July), Semana Grande (around Santiago, July).

Bodegas Francisco Casas, Bodegas Muñoz Martín, Bodegas Ricardo Benito, Bodegas Valle del Sol

About the author