Santiago de Compostela For Kids
As ever more families reach the city of the Apostle, James the Elder, we decided to create a post on discovering and enjoying the city in the company of children. Listed as a World Heritage site, Santiago de Compostela is small and picturesque, like a fairy-tale city. It is also quiet, safe and very pleasant to stroll through. Here are some recommendations for getting the most out of it.
Time Travel in the Inner City
The good thing about Santiago’s old town is that much of it is a pedestrian precinct. This is a boon for parents as they don’t need to have their surveillance system switched on all the time. The old quarter is quaint enough to spawn a thousand and one stories. It is criss-crossed by endless narrow backstreets, little houses and arcades and the large, old paving stones are great for playing a variety of hopscotch. The peaceful squares have loads of space to play in and there are numerous open-air café terraces. The Cathedral, the old street names and the gargoyles provide endless props to play around with.
Once immersed in the maze of streets, one useful strategy is to visit the Cathedral. This millennial building is adorned with a host of sculptures prompting as many stories, starting with that of James the Apostle, which dates back to the time of Christ’s death. That’s just one of many there! We recommend a guided tour of the stone roofing via the entrance at the Pazo de Xelmírez, Praza do Obradoiro. There you will discover stunning panoramic views of the city and its environs.
Now that gastro-contests are all the rage on television, you won’t have any trouble persuading the little ones to gain first-hand knowledge of the ingredients used in dishes throughout the Compostela area. The best way to approach this is to visit the Mercado de Abastos, open every morning except Sundays and public holidays. The market was built in 1941, although the city’s previous market had been operating for 300 years. The building is important in that it was the first time any of the various, widely scattered, markets in Compostela was roofed.
For Children, the Park is a Must
Parks are an essential resource when you’re visiting with children. It’s edifying for them get a feel for the world of culture in the form of visits to museums, cathedrals or other urban landmarks but, for them, travelling is basically entertainment and where better to have a good time than in the park? Santiago has quite a few to choose from where kids can play and enjoy nature without leaving the city. Many of them boast playgrounds with swings, sandboxes and sports areas. There is the Parque de la Alameda, the favourite among locals, which is very central. It is also ideal for relaxing while the children play. It has a pond with ducks accustomed to being admired, an interesting pigeon loft, an elegant bandstand and an unusual “sound bench” – a large, semicircular stone seat which conveys sound very clearly – among other things. The area adjoining the Campus Universitario Sur (Southern University Campus) is also a well equipped playground, while the campus itself is great for short bicycle or tricycle rides, skating or doing other sport. It has a meadow with a lot of shade and a variety of trees – white cedar, camellias, magnolias, pine, cedar, juniper, gingkos… Our favourite, however, is the Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval, on the grounds of the former Convent of San Domingos. This is a monumental, mysterious and highly alluring park offering an array of possibilities – an oak wood, a small garden, large lawns and even a desacralised cemetery. It is ideal for lying around, running about, picnicking and even taking panoramic photos, as it faces the historic town and the point where the sun sets.
Santiago de Compostela clearly offers everything a holidaying family could want. Come and discover it! Check out our flights here.
Text and images by Santiago de Compostela Turismomore info
See In the Summer at Santiago de Compostela
In a few days’ time we will usher in the summer solstice and the shortest night in the year, an auspicious moment marked by a number of rituals. A host of countries in Europe pay tribute to the change of season, not to mention the excitement associated with the long-awaited summer holidays. Fire is usually the main ingredient in most of these celebrations, whether in the guise of bonfires to burn the old spirits of the year we are leaving behind, or firework displays that light up and colour the sky as everyone waits for dawn on the longest day of the year.
Santiago de Compostela is one of a plethora of locations in Europe where the night of St John is celebrated. In keeping with the tradition that stretches across all Galicia, the city’s streets and public squares are lit up with bonfires in the course of what is undoubtedly the most magical night in the year. On this night alone, the bonfires are known here as cacharelas. The people of Santiago de Compostela leap over them, a deed believed to ward off witchcraft and the evil eye cast by meigas, the name by which evil spirits are known in Galicia. Be sure to join in this magic ritual to see in the summer on the right foot. The city’s historic centre has the most crowded bonfires, particularly in the Plaza de Irmán Gómez and the streets of Algalia de Abaixo and Valle Inclán, although you will also find bonfires blazing in the Pelamios quarter, San Juan Park in Vista Alegre and the district of San Lorenzo.
Alongside the bonfires, centre stage also features sardines, the streets of Santiago redolent with their aroma. The sardines are grilled over the bonfires and eaten together with the traditional Galician empanadas (a sandwich pie) and red wine – a great culinary combination for a night out that is bound to extend well into the morning.
Another purification ritual which Santiagans take very seriously is to leave overnight in water a sprig of magical plants and herbs, including rosemary, mint, camomile and rose, and wash themselves with that infusion the following morning. Anything goes when it comes to warding off the evil spirits, so don’t hesitate to get your spray of herbs at the Mercado de Abastos and join in the tradition.
And, There’s More
Coinciding with the festivity of St John and for the second year running, a festival organised by Turismo Santiago will be held from 22 to 24 June at which you can delve more deeply into Galician rituals and traditions associated with the arrival of summer. Among the scheduled activities are itineraries for picking the herbs for St John, a free train which runs from one bonfire to another, wickerwork exhibitions, traditional dance workshops, storytelling sessions of myths and legends about meigas and magic spells, music and the conjuro de la queimada (a ritual consisting of an incantation accompanied by mulling and drinking a pomace brandy called orujo). There will also be a market where you can taste locally sourced traditional products in season.
Text by Turismo Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela, living heritage
By Adela Nieto Cerrada from callejeandoporelplaneta.com
Santiago de Compostela is a city that enchants pilgrims and travellers alike since, on arriving after your journey, its streets and squares start to come alive, bustling with life. After travelling hundreds of kilometres, some joyful, some painful, we finally get to rest in Plaza del Obradoiro square, having fulfilled our duty by visiting the Apostle who was anxiously waiting to welcome us in the cathedral. This is when, exhausted and excited, we begin our discovery of what lies in the city of Santiago with its hostels, restaurants and shops hidden away on side streets. Now we can start to soak up and experience the city's mix of tourism, student life and pilgrim destination.
Santiago de Compostela is home to major cultural heritage and even more important hidden gems that make it a unique city:
Plaza del Obradoiro square
A social and institutional symbol, it is not only the final stop on Saint James' Way but also where the different state powers are represented through the marvellous architectural combination. The imposing cathedral was begun in the 11th century in a Romanesque style but was later extended with Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance features including the Gloria Portico and the cloister. The Archbishop's Palace is a must-see, right next to the cathedral, with its different rooms, courtyards and vaults. The Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, the former pilgrim's hospice which, like the rest of the city, gradually transformed over time is today a National Parador Hotel. San Xerome College, a precursor to today's university, was originally built by Bishop Fonseca to house poor students. The Neoclassical-style Town Hall, the last building to be constructed in the square and enclose the space definitively, is home to the President's Office of the Galician Regional Government.
Santiago de Compostela is inherently linked to pilgrims and students, both having transformed the city into an essential stop for any traveller. In turn, the history of the university is intimately linked to the city's history where, at the end of the 15th century, a small college was founded to provide language classes to children from poor backgrounds. The initiative was successful over the years and the facilities were extended until 1504 when Diego III de Muros won a papal bull to offer higher education courses. Since then, and for over 500 years, the USC has been a prestigious institution, renowned around the world. In addition to its undeniable academic excellence, it also populates the streets with students and 'Tuna' period music troupes.
The Old Town
The maze-like centre of Santiago overflows with life day and night: cobbled streets, historical buildings, aristocratic palaces, hidden monasteries, hostels for pilgrims, shops, restaurants, leisure spots, markets and bazaars all comprise the beating heart of a city that goes to bed in the early hours and rises with the first rays illuminating the Apostle. Aimlessly wandering the old town is akin to travelling back in time - close your eyes for a second and when you open them again, you soon realise that life continues as it has over the ages. Strolling the streets is a unique experience where we all end up finding our own special place and where a bustling routine has continued every day since mediaeval times.
The Vantage Points
Experiencing the real Santiago means wandering the streets although for one of the best views over the centre, you need to head beyond the walls of the old town towards one of the parks that surround the city. La Alameda Park is in the east end where the benches immortalise the best sunsets over the cathedral. Belvís Park is in the west, next to the Albergue del Seminario Menor hostel, and offers views over the old town in all its splendour. Mount Gaiás lies to the south and is home to the immense Galician City of Culture. One of the best vantage points in the centre is from the terrace at the Faculty of History and Geography, offering astounding panoramic views over the surrounding area of Santiago.
The city's old town is a World Heritage Site although its true value lies in its local people who, over the years, have spread the city's renown across the globe. Originally farm labourers and dedicated to country life, the city's people have changed over time, opening shops, setting up businesses but always remaining modest folk, ready to help others without asking for anything in return. Throughout the ages, Santiago de Compostela has been the birthplace of illustrious figures such as the great poetess Rosalía de Castro, Archbishop Fonseca, a precursor in establishing the university, or the surgeon Gómez Ulla, Chair of the Professional Medical Association; nonetheless, it is the unknown locals who continue to be the true heart of the city and its best heritage.
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Santiago de Compostela in 10 Takes
Do you dream of taking home the best photos of Santiago? Buying postcards and books might be the quickest solution, but, if you enjoy taking your own pictures, you shouldn’t hesitate to embark on this eminently photogenic route through Compostela. Here are 10 of its most emblematic subjects.
1. Praza do Obradoiro
We admit you’d be hard put to capture its entirety, as it covers 7,700 square metres. Surrounded by monumental buildings, snapping a whole picture of the Praza do Obradoiro is no mean feat. A wide-angle shot of the portico of the Colexio de San Xerome will yield an image of the Cathedral – cloister and towers included – as well as the Pazo de Xelmírez, the front of the Hostal dos Reis Católicos and the Paxo de Raxoi to the left.
2. Cathedral Facade
The centre of the square is a reasonable viewpoint, as are the arcades of the Pazo de Raxoi, to stand square in front of the Cathedral, if you have a fish-eye lens. But, if you’re looking to take full-length photos with a normal lens, the trick is to go down the stairs of the Rúa de Raxoi, where you get a complete view of the facade with the towers. Ideal for group photos.
3. Goal and Excitement
While its monumental beauty tends to hog everyone’s gaze, the Praza do Obradoiro and its surroundings are indeed the most intensely exciting spots in all Santiago de Compostela. The arrival of pilgrims and the display of satisfaction at having achieved their goal are commonplace scenes in this privileged setting.
4. Bird’s-Eye View
The ascent to the Cathedral Rooftops, 30 metres above the Praza do Obradoiro, affords some of the best views of the squares surrounding the Cathedral, as well as revealing its architectural features and the rooftops and chimney stacks in the old town. The tapestry gallery in the cloister, which can be visited using your museum ticket, provides another fine perspective of the Obradoiro, and of the cityscape south of the Cathedral.
5. The Photogenic Quintana
The stark bareness of the Plaza de la Quintana takes on special significance with the interplay of light on the stone. Noon yields snapshots of the granite in all its hardness. Late afternoon throws the shadows of the spires and lantern of the Cathedral on the wall of the Convento de Antealtares. Night lighting turns the surface into a quasi aquatic medium, like some silent fish tank. You can also get good shots from the Casa da Conga arcades.
6. A Tiny Playhouse
Secluded and motley, the Plaza de las Platerías and its stairs provide splendid group snapshots all day long, thanks to the south-facing portal. In a low-angle shot, the horses on the fountain will seem to graze the Torre del Reloj. To capture the whole square, you have to backpedal to the entrance to the Rúa do Vilar. If you have a wide-angle lens, use the towers to frame the shot. Night light endows the Casa del Cabildo and the stepped cloister tower with a special relief when seen from the church door.
7. Streets and Towers
The rúas (streets) in the monumental site are rich showcases of typical Galician architecture. The Torre de las Campanas or Belltower can be photographed from the middle and upper stretches of the Rúa do Franco. The Rúa do Vilar, flush with the Airas Nunes Café, provides a classic view of the arcades and main facades, with the Torre del Reloj or Clocktower in the background. The parallel street, Rúa Nova, affords a picture postcard view of the porticoed houses around the tower of the Church of Santa María Salomé.
8. The Bountiful Market
Getting back to the historic core, the Mercado de Abastos or market is abuzz with activity, particularly first thing in the morning, suggesting detailed portraits of myriad people and gastronomic delights. Between the green of peppers and turnip greens, the orange of the velvet crabs and the blue of the lobsters, your pictures will look almost aromatic.
9. A Park With a View
You get to Bonaval Park through the Porta do Camiño, between the CGAC and the Convento de Bonaval. There, Álvaro Siza and Isabel Aguirre designed a succession of platforms and terraces which are a delight for any photographer. They are highlighted by the shadows cast by trees, the ruins of old monastic dwellings, the spring, the old cemetery with its lone cypress tree… Late afternoon light is magical, revealing splendid views of the monumental precinct with back lighting. The best time is in autumn, when the landscape is carpeted with yellow, red and brown foliage and branches become denuded, revealing towers and sturdy chimneys in the distance. Extraordinary views of the city from its carballeira and the neighbouring Rúa de Bonaval, which in the afternoon reflects the sun’s rays like no other street.
10. Walkway To A Historic City
By proceeding down the Avenida de Xoán XXIII as far as the transport terminal you get a contrasting image between the contemporary layout of the long steel marquee and the back facade of the Convento de San Francisco. The pergola grows smaller as you approach the monumental area, creating the optical effect of having “entered” the historic city.
How long can you afford to put off enjoying such a beautiful setting, Come on – free up some space on your smartphone and start packing. Check out our flights here.
Text and images: Santiago de Compostela Turismomore info