After walking for two weeks from Oviedo to Santiago, I stayed in the city for a week with a friend who I had met on the Camino. The time spent in Santiago showed me that the city is not just for pilgrims (it may have helped that I was staying with a local!). Santiago is a city full of history, culture, a bustling city center, and an exciting night life.
If you are interested in the cities history and culture, you can easily find it. A good first stop is the Cathedral with Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architectural influences. As legend has it, Saint James’ tomb was abandoned in Galicia in the third century, but years later in the 800s was rediscovered. This is what began the pilgrimage to Santiago. Now, the Cathedral is open to the public on a daily basis. Also offered is confession, the viewing of the tomb of Saint James, and the ability to “embrace the saint” (hug the statue that sits behind the altar).
There is also the Cathedral museum and various tours of the Cathedral offered. I highly suggest the roof tour, which actually allows you to walk on the roof Cathedral where there are great views of the city and grand clock tower of the Cathedral.
Right around the corner from the Cathedral is the new Pilgrim’s Museum. Although it is a very low price, I was quite disappointed with the lack of information of the Camino, considering it is the “Pilgrim’s Museum.”
If you follow any road that lead away from the Cathedral, you will come across various cafes and bars. Traditionally, Galicia offers a variety of different tastes; you can find anything Galician from pulpo (octopus – the delicacy of the region), pepinos (peppers from the region – some spicy, some not), tarta de Santiago (the traditional cake of Santiago), pedras de Santiago (chocolate “rock” candy typical of Santiago), queso tetilla (literally “boob cheese,” a creamy cheese in the shape of a breast popular in the region) or Cafe Liquor (a strong coffee flavored liquor).
In addition to the history of the Cathedral, one of the oldest universities in Europe is also in Santiago, Universidad de Santiago Compostela. The university was established in 1495 and maintains its ranking as one of Spain’s top five universities.
In Santiago, a whole different city comes to life at night. Strolling through the city center at night you can find various bars and clubs. From three story bars to salsa dancing clubs to classic Spanish discoteccas there is something for everyone. Even if you just want to enjoy a quite evening, the Cathedral and the rest of the city is stunning during the evening when there are fewer people about.