Use This Itinerary If You’re Spending One Day in Santander

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by Neota Langley

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Brimming with coastal charm with deep historic roots, Santander is a lively port city in northern Spain. Spending one day in Santander is a delight, with plenty of beaches, museums and of course, local pintxos bars to discover. This itinerary is short and sweet, including the top highlights as well as some hidden gems all packed into one day. 

Whether you are visiting on a whistle stop tour before or after getting the ferry or, you are enjoying a road trip along the northern coast of Spain, make sure to spend one day in this city for an authentic experience you will never forget.

How Many Days in Santander?

Santander is a relatively small city, with the main attractions within walking distance of one another. If you are pressed for time, you can easily make your way around in one day.

Some visitors may prefer to take their time, spend two or even three days wandering around the city, discovering the very best of the local haunts.

For the purpose of this itinerary, we are going to focus on spending one day in the city but there is an added section towards the end for those who have a little longer and want to explore more of the city and the surrounding region of Cantabria. 

El Sardinero in Santander
El Sardinero in Santander

Getting To & Around Santander

Santander is a busy port city, with large passenger ferries departing towards Plymouth, Portsmouth and Rosslare in Ireland.

If you are travelling from the UK, especially if you want to bring your own car and experience a Spanish road trip, this is an excellent way to travel. You even have the option to bring your dog along with you in a pet friendly cabin.

The ferries take anywhere between 24-32 hours depending on where you are travelling from but if you book a cabin, the journey is fairly comfortable. 

If you don’t want to bring your own car or have limited time, you could opt to fly into a local airport. Santander has its own airport but destinations may be limited. If you are looking for a more major airport try Bilbao (100km to the east) or Asturias Airport (200km to the west). 

You can also reach the city by public transport. Renfe operates train services to Santander from major cities in Spain, including Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao. The train station is located in the city centre, making it convenient for travellers to arrive and explore.

If you are on a budget, you could opt to take the bus. Several bus companies provide long-distance bus services to Santander from different parts of Spain and neighbouring countries. You can view train and bus schedules here.

Once you have arrived in Santander, you will do most of your exploring on foot – from wandering the city streets to strolling the seaside Paseo de Pereda (the city’s promenade along the Bay of Santander).

There is no need to hire a car to make the most of this city but if you want to head to the coastline that surrounds it, a car is the most convenient way to get around.

Streets of Santander
Streets of Santander

1-Day Santander Itinerary

Often overlooked due to its busy ferry port, Santander may be a compact city but there is plenty here to see and do. The hustle and bustle of local markets, historic buildings and endless sandy beaches.  

Mercado de la Esperanza

Bustling with life from the early hours, Mercado de la Esperanza is located in the heart of the city. Housed within a magnificent iron structure dating back to the early 20th century, this market offers a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

From fresh seafood caught off the Cantabrian coast to locally sourced meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables, the market showcases the very best of local Cantabrian cuisine.

This is the perfect place to start your day, weave through the various stalls, sampling the goods on offer before stocking up for the day ahead.

If you are planning on curating the perfect picnic to enjoy later in the day, this is definitely the place to do it.

Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria

From the market, it is a short stroll to Plaza Velarde. Referred to by locals as Plaza Porticada, this square is distinguished by its elegant arcades and neoclassical facades.

Here, you will find the fascinating Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria, one of the best places to learn more about this region and its rich history.

The region of Cantabria is famous for its prehistoric caves and palaeolithic paintings which are dotted throughout the region. One of the best places to learn more about this region and its rich history is the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria.

This museum showcases an impressive collection of artefacts, including tools, pottery, and artwork, spanning thousands of years of human history.

Discover a multitude of exhibits including Cantabria’s prehistoric caves, such as Altamira, renowned for its stunning cave paintings, interactive displays and multimedia installations.

Santander Cathedral

Next, take a short stroll to Plaza Alfonso XIII, a charming square that acts as a focal point for both locals and visitors. The central water feature is surrounded by ornate buildings housing cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

You will find the Santander Cathedral tucked away down a side street just off the main plaza. This Gothic-style cathedral dates back to the 12th century but has undergone significant renovations over the centuries, resulting in a blend of architectural styles.

Intricate carvings and sculptures adorn the exterior but the real splendour comes when you step foot inside the building. Inside, the cathedral boasts impressive vaulted ceilings, ornate altars, and beautiful stained glass windows.

There is a small charge to enter and it is worth noting that there is a dress code that requests you wear ‘suitable’ clothing. This means no exposed shoulders or any shorts or skirts above knee length. 

Cloister of Santander Cathedral
Cloisters of Santander Cathedral

Centro Botín

Designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, this striking contemporary art centre is home to exhibitions, galleries, workshops and performances. Whilst the structure itself may not be to everyone’s taste, this modern building is a vibrant hub for the arts.

If you are not interested in discovering the artworks, the views across the Bay of Biscay are spectacular and it is worth visiting even if just to take the ‘singing’ lift to the top floor to take in the scenery. 

Local Beaches

Santander is a port city, perched along the Cantabrian coast so you would be correct to assume there are plenty of local beaches to explore.

There are a handful that can be visited on foot from the city centre so if you are visiting without access to a vehicle, you can still reach several beautiful Spanish beaches this stretch of coastline is known for. 

El Sardinero is the city’s main beach. Complete with a promenade, hotel, casino and plenty of cafes, this 1.5km stretch of golden sand gets very busy during the summer months. If you are looking for a beach with easy access to amenities, bars and restaurants, this is an excellent choice.

However, if you are hoping to find a quieter corner to relax and read a good book, El Sardinero may not be the beach for you. 

From Centro Botín, the first beach you come across beyond the port infrastructure is Playa Los Peligros, closely followed by Playa de la Magdalena and Playa de los Bikinis.

These beaches on the other side of the Magdalena Peninsula tend to be quieter than El Sardinero and Playa del Camello on the northern shores. 

Playa de la Magdalena
Playa de la Magdalena

Magdalena Peninsula

Jutting out into the Bay of Biscay, this small peninsula full of lush meadows and trees instantly transports you away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Here you will find the historic palace – Palacio de la Magdalena.

Built in the classic English period style, the turrets, towers, and sweeping terraces would not seem out of place in the British countryside. Built between 1909 and 1911, this historic palace originally served as a royal summer residence for the Spanish royal family.

Now, it serves as a cultural and educational centre, hosting conferences, events, and exhibitions. Take a stroll around the gardens before exploring the rest of the peninsula, mini zoo and the lighthouse. 

Magdalena Palace
Magdalena Palace

Río de la Pila Funicular Viewpoint

Saving the best view of the city until last, take the Río de la Pila funicular up above the city streets around sunset for the most spectacular evening vista.

The funicular railway is free to ride and takes around 3 minutes to reach the platform at the top. From here, you have a bird’s eye view across the city and beyond the Bay of Biscay to the mountains on the horizon.

If the funicular isn’t running for any reason, you can still reach the viewing platform but you will have to face the stairs.   

Local Cuisine

There are a key main reasons people visit Spain. The golden sun, incredible coastline, endless beaches and a rich cultural heritage.

There is one reason, however, that should not be forgotten. The cuisine.

Whilst you may be familiar with tapas, this style tends to feature more heavily on the southern coast of Spain. In the north, you will find a slightly different style, pintxos (pronounced PEEN-chos).

These are also small bites, consisting of the finest local ingredients but they tend to be a little smaller than tapas. The idea is that you hop from one pintxos bar to another, sampling each establishment’s speciality alongside a glass of wine or a small beer.  

Start at Plaza Cañadío, no earlier than 8pm (the Spanish tend to eat late) then head on to El Sol for jamon and croquetes at Bodega Fuente De, one of the oldest pintxos bars in Santander. For those who love fresh seafood, head to La Mar to try some local oysters.

For those of you who want to learn more about Santander’s cuisine, you can book a food tour as well.

Have More Time?

If you are lucky enough to have a full weekend in Santander and want to explore the surrounding region of Cantabria, we have included a handful of suggestions to help plan our extended stay.

Santillana del Mar

Santillana del Mar, often dubbed “The Town of Three Lies” for its supposed incongruity with its name (not on the sea, nor flat, nor dedicated to St. Juliana), is a charming mediaeval village just 25 minutes drive west from Santander.

Its winding cobblestone streets whisk you away to a mediaeval era, with plenty of historic buildings, quaint cafes and artisan boutiques to discover. Beyond its architectural treasures, Santillana del Mar serves as a gateway to the nearby Altamira Cave. You can book an organised tour here.

Church of the Colegiata in Santillana del Mar
Santillana del Mar

Prehistoric Caves

Cantabria is home to several prehistoric caves, complete with fascinating cave paintings drawn by our ancestors. The closest ones to the city of Santander are Altamira and El Castillo. You can book a tour to El Castillo here.

Castro Urdiales

Towards the Basque border, the seaside town of Castro Urdiales is well worth the 45 minute drive from Santander.

Colourful fisherman’s cottages line the seafront, with local cafes serving fresh seafood aplenty. This towns real highlight however is the imposing Santa Ana Castle. Perched atop a rocky promontory overlooking the Bay of Biscay, this mediaeval fortress dates back to the 12th century.

Originally built to defend against maritime threats, the castle has witnessed centuries of battles and conquests. Castro Urdiales is also home to the Gothic Church of Santa María de la Asunción, another mediaeval fortress esque building that makes you feel as if you’ve been transported onto a film set.

Castro Urdiales
Castro Urdiales


Another charming town, just 40 minutes away from Santander is Comillas. This coastal town is home to a quaint fishing port and a beach but the real attraction is the architecture.

Here you will find the neo-Gothic masterpiece, El Capricho, designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. This is one of the most strikingly beautiful buildings in the whole of Spain so if you are in the area, it is well worth visiting.

The town’s historic centre is also adorned with elegant mansions and palaces, reflecting its former glory as a summer retreat for Spanish nobility. You can book an organised tour.

Oyambre Natural Park

For those who dream of tranquillity, far away from the lively city streets, the Oyambre Natural Park is just a short drive away and will provide you with endless hiking trails, nature and rugged coast. The beaches here are also perfect for surfing, with great swell from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Those interested in nature may also enjoy visiting the Cabo Mayor area (which means Main Cape) a little bit closer to the city centre. Here, art lovers can visit the Centro de Arte Faro in the old Cabo Mayor lighthouse and enjoy beautiful walks along the beach and cliffs.

Oyambre Natural Park
Oyambre Natural Park

Where to Stay in Santander

Plaza Pombo B&B – This is a great option for those looking for a comfortable, mid-range place in he centre of Santander. They have several spacious rooms perfect for singles, couples and families along with a fab breakfast.

Le Petit Boutique Hotel – A good upmarket option, this boutique hotel is a great base for your trip to Santander. There are lots of spacious, modern rooms on offer, a great central location and a superb breakfast each morning.

Santander Central Hostel – A very highly-rated hostel, this is great for budget backpackers and solo travellers. There are lots of room types to choose from and excellent common areas to meet fellow visitors.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Santander hotels!

Santander may be known for its busy ferry port, but dig a little deeper and you will discover a captivating mediaeval city with something for everyone. From modern art to prehistoric history, rolling hills to golden sands. If you are passing through, spending one day in Santander is worth taking an extra day’s leave for, you won’t regret it.

Are you visiting Santander? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Neota Langley

Neota is a writer for The World Was Here First. Born and bred in Cornwall, she can usually be found with hiking boots on, ready to embark on an adventure. For the last 6 years, she has travelled throughout Europe in her self-built campervan with her trusty canine companion, Ivy. She loves exploring France, the Nordics and spending time in Alpine destinations.

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