Beaches can be interesting places. Not necessarily as vast, sandy areas in proximity to the sea, but as reflectors of society at a certain point in time. Santander’s Playa de los Bikinis, for example, reminds us that there was a time when this particular beachwear attracted considerable attention. Five decades have passed since bikinis managed to raise the eyebrows of Santander’s inhabitants, but the name lingers on.
The fact that you will find at least eight other beaches in close proximity to this city in Northern Spain might also say something about the weather. It certainly tells us that this is a destination that is popular among tourists who are eager to catch some sun.
It has been a popular destination for sunbathers for quite some time. Alfonso XIII of Spain used to spend his holidays at this cosmopolitan beach resort. One hundred years later, visitors from many parts of Spain (as well as the rest of Europe) follow his example as they stroll along the El Sardinero beach promenade. Situated about a mile/1.6 kilometers from the city center, the El Sardinero is the most popular of Santander’s beaches. Here, you will also find the Gran Casino de El Sardinero – situated a stone’s throw from the sea. Built in 1916, the casino is one of the symbols of the city.
Everything here does not revolve around the beaches, though. This is a city of close to 200,000 inhabitants, offering visitors a palette of various experiences. For the culturally interested, the Santander Cathedral from the 12th century is a must. The Cathedral was spared in the great fire that struck the city in 1941 – although it was gutted in the disaster. Many of the city’s other buildings were less fortunate. The fire raged for two days and destroyed large parts of this capital of the region of Cantabria, which traces its origins to Roman times.
The passenger terminal is situated in the heart of the city, with shopping districts within walking distance.
Los Raqueros is one of the most famous landmarks in Santander. This group of four sculptures is a reminder of the beachcombers who could be found by the sea. At the turn of the last century, these poor and homeless children would perform for tourists who threw money into the sea to watch them dive.
The history of the Santander Cathedral can be traced back to the 8th century, when construction started. Largely built in Gothic style, the Cathedral had to be extensively renovated following the great fire in 1941 (see above).
Situated about half an hour from Santander, the town of Santillana del Mar is considered the most outstanding example of Romanesque architecture in Cantabria. This medieval town comprises a series of historical monuments built between the 14th and 18th centuries. The abbey church dates from the middle of the 12th century.
Museo Maritimo is the city’s Maritime Museum, with loads of nautical exhibits. You will find everything from boat models to whale skeletons on display.
Situated in the city center, Museo de Bellas Artes (Santander’s museum for fine arts) features some 800 paintings, 300 sculptures, photographs and more. Among the paintings on display, you will find works by Goya and Zurbarán as well as lesser-known painters.
If there is one building that could be said to symbolise Santander, it could be the Cabo Mayor lighthouse. Constructed almost 200 years ago, the lighthouse is located in impressive surroundings where 165 feet/50 meter high cliffs are interspersed by beaches. The lighthouse reflects the importance of the port, which continues to be significant.
If you know your Spanish, the Menéndez Pelayo Library might be worth a visit. The impressive library contains 41,500 volumes that were donated by the man who also gave the library his name. A scholar, historian and literary critic, Pelayo was born in Santander.
Cuevas Del Monte Castillo is the name of the caves at Puente Viesgo, a town situated some 15 miles/24 kilometers from Santander. Included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the caves contain one of the most important Paleolithic sites in the region of Cantabria.
Take a stroll. You will find several promenades in Santander, each with its own character. Examples include Paseo de Pereda, overlooking the Bay of Santander, Paseo del General Dávila, and Paseo de Pérez Galdós.
A range of shore excursions in and around Santander can be available. Examples include:
The capital of Spain, Madrid is situated some 280 miles/450 kilometers from Santander.