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One Week Guide to Santander, Spain

From stunning beaches and architecture to rustic Mediterranean cuisine, I had no idea what the Cantabria region had to offer before visiting Santander. I visited in June, so the weather was quite breezy and chilly in mornings and evenings, but warm enough to catch a few rays at the beach in the afternoon.

After a fantastic trip to Santander, exploring its underrated city, beach-filled coastline, and nearby historical attractions, I’ve put together my top Santander recommendations for a long weekend getaway.

If you’re planning to visit Santander for a low-key beach escape, especially if you’re based in the UK or Europe, then this travel guide is for you!

Serene pastel sunset at the Santander Lighthouse viewpoint

Contents of this blog post:

  1. Enjoy the views at Magdalena Peninsula
  2. Visit the Neptune statue at Playa Del Camello
  3. Go beach hopping around Santander
  4. Witness a beautiful sunset at Faro de Cabo Mayor Lighthouse
  5. Take a historic day trip to medieval old town Santillana del Mar
  6. Savour a delicious morning coffee
  7. Get lost in the wild at Cabárceno National Park
  8. Try traditional or specialty tapas dishes such as rabas/Rebajllas
  9. Enjoy Sangria on El Sardinero Beach at sunset
  10. Go for a hike and discover the rugged coast

Where is Santander?

Have you heard of Santander before? Nestled along Spain’s north coast near Bilbao, and a little further from San Sebastián, Santander is the capital city of the Cantabria region. Best known for its rocky La Magdalena Peninsula, Santander is a brilliant beachside destination for a long weekend away.

Where to stay in Santander?

We stayed at an Airbnb near El Sardinero Beach owned by a lovely family, a studio with a private terrace and modern style. Nice and quiet, with free parking on the roads outside — a perfect base for exploring. Plus, gelato and restaurants just a five minute stroll away towards the beach!

If you prefer a hotel, here are some top-reviewed Santander hotels:

Laughing on the beach on an overcast day on Playa de Matalenas beach, Santander, Spain

Laughing on the beach on an overcast day on Playa de Matalenas beach, Santander, Spain

What’s the weather in Santander in June?

It’s pretty chilly, as mentioned. In the day time it was about 22 degrees celsius and often cloudy, which was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt. But I balanced my outfits with a heavy leather jacket that kept me warm (mine is from All Saints and is one of the best investments I’ve ever made) and thermal long-sleeve shirts (Amazon’s great for these, or local sporting shops like Mountain Warehouse). I’m sure Santander is roasting hot in July-August!

How did you get around Santander?

Santander is a very easy city to navigate, both on foot and on wheels. We rented a little Fiat Panda that got us from A to B perfectly. There’s plenty of parking with hardly any traffic. Driving in the city itself felt spacious and comfortable – the roads are very wide in parts, although once you start driving up hill and on the coast, it does get a little tighter! I’d recommend hiring a car if you plan to drive out of the city, just so you have more freedom to explore. But only if you feel comfortable driving on the left side of the car!

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Top 10 Things To Do in Santander

Santander seem like a sleepy town for retired folks, but there’s actually plenty of things to do and enjoy in Santander for every type of traveller! We had a blast. So let’s jump into this travel guide: my top 10 things to do in Santander.

Stunning views of the rocks and oceanscape from a peak at Magdalena Peninsula, Santander, Spain

Stunning views of the rocks and oceanscape from a peak at Magdalena Peninsula, Santander, Spain

1. Admire Magdalena Peninsula on foot or by boat

Full of greenery, surrounded by roaring ocean, this craggy peninsula is the perfect place to take in peaceful ocean views and get your blood pumping with a hike through nature – or with a charming sea cruise!

With an entrance that leads you through leafy gardens and up towards the historic Palacio de la Magdalena, the 69-acre Magdalena Peninsula is one of Santander’s most popular destinations. Known as a cultural heritage site, the peninsula is home to a small zoo, two beaches and a lighthouse.

Located near the entrance to Santander Bay, the peninsula is well worth climbing – or hiking – up! The hill itself isn’t too steep – you can take things at your own pace and choose to stick to the footpaths or go off-path into the trees. Admire the lovely palace and roaring waves. We sat on the grass and enjoyed the dreamy sea view.

 

Posing with the Neptune statue in the background at Playa del Camello

Posing with the Neptune statue in the background at Playa del Camello

2. Visit the quirky Neptune Statue at Playa Del Camello Beach

Nestled in the curve between Santander coast and the Magdalena Peninsula is Playa del Camello, a rugged sandy beach is alive with rock pools and formations.

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At the very top of the main slab of rock that gives the beach its unique charm sits a sculpture of Neptune (also known as Poseidon), the god of freshwater and the sea, marked out by his symbolic trident. It’s pretty cool!

Can you spot the Neptune statue in the images above? 🤟🏾

Horseshoe shape of Playa de Matalenas beach from above in Santander, Spain

Horseshoe shape of Playa de Matalenas beach from above in Santander, Spain

3. Explore Santander’s beautiful blue sandy beaches

Santander is coastal, so if you’re looking to lose yourself in beautiful beaches and glittering blue horizons (minus the crowds)… this is the right Cantabrian region for you.

As I mentioned before, the weather in June is still quite windy, but at midday the sun is warm enough to sunbathe on the beach and go for a refreshing dip in the water. The water is freezing, so maybe just dip your toes in the water unless you’re bold enough to go in for full submersion!

Admiring the rock pools at Playa de Camillo

Admiring the rock pools at Playa del Camello

We went to quite few different beaches – some of the ones I’d recommend are Playa de Matalenas and El Sardinero. Playa de Matalenas was my favourite beach as it’s beautifully sandy with crystal clear waters and surrounded by a rocky cliff that protects you from the wind! The walk down from the car park is fairly steep though, so take your time and bring water/snacks.

 

Enjoying the beautiful pastel sunset at Cabo de Mayor lighthouse viewpoint in Santander

Enjoying the beautiful pastel sunset at Cabo de Mayor lighthouse viewpoint in Santander

4. Witness a gorgeous sunset at the Faro de Cabo Mayor, an 1800s Lighthouse

Time to chase the sunset! After getting a mid-afternoon gelato and enjoying golden hour along El Sardinero beach, we noticed that the sky was turning a fiery shade of orange. The sun was going down. We hopped into our car and, rather than trying to drive to any particular destination, decided to follow the colours of the sunset.

This worked a treat! We were led down tree-lined roads and towards a gate, where a couple of people were walking uphill towards a lighthouse in Parque de Cabo Mayor.

Basking in the beautiful sunset pastel shades of Santander's coastline at the Lighthouse

Basking in the beautiful sunset pastel shades of Santander’s coastline at Faro de Cabo Mayor Lighthouse

The lighthouse itself was built in 1839 within a park, which is a popular spot in Santander for sunset views and walks along the cliffs and beaches. There was plenty of parking and lots of opportunities for a cheeky photo opp. Bring a picnic or bottle along and enjoy!

Standing under the beautiful stone arches and architecture at Santillana del Mar, an old medieval town near Santander

Standing under the beautiful stone arches and architecture at Santillana del Mar, an old medieval town near Santander

 

5. Wander Santillana del Mar, the Medieval Old Town

Only a 30 minute drive from Santander sits Santillana del Mar, a sun-soaked old town known for its medieval tower, Renaissance palaces and stunning historic buildings. There’s so much artistry in the cobblestoned alleyways and grand arches. I loved the simmering atmosphere in this medieval Spanish town — and for lunch we had an incredible seafood paella at a tapas bar, followed by a bacalao con tomato that had us in a food coma on the drive back to Santander. Further beyond the town walls there was also a field where beautiful white horses were grazing in the afternoon sun. Really recommend heading here, especially if you’ve rented a car!

 

Two coffee cappuccinos in a rustic bright cafe at Gallofa & Co in Santander

Two coffee cappuccinos in a rustic bright cafe at Gallofa & Co in Santander

 

6. Savour a Delicious Morning Coffee

Few things feel as “Spanish summer” as waking up early, strolling to your nearest café or bar, and asking for an espresso or latte. Sipping one of those whilst watching dawn break over the sea feels like the ultimate holiday wake-up. If you’re lactose intolerant like I am, most of the ‘newer’ or hipster cafés should have dairy-free milk alternatives like soya, oat and almond. Otherwise at the more traditional cafés you’d be better off getting a plain black coffee!

Pretending to be lost in the wild (but actually holding a map) at Cabarceño National Safari Park in Santander, Spain

Pretending to be lost in the wild (but actually holding a map) at Cabarceño National Safari Park in Santander, Spain

7. Get into nature and observe protected wildlife at Cabarceno National Safari Park

On our first day in Santander, we hopped into our rental Fiat Panda and rolled right into Cabárceno National Park, a natural 600-acre protected forestland reserve teeming with wildlife and animals. Because the weather was breezy with light rain, Cabarceno National Park was a great option for driving around and exploring via the park’s cable car network! While I liked the feeling of being on safari, the animals aren’t necessarily wild — they’re still in captivity.

I feel pretty strongly against the concept zoos and marine parks. Animals should definitively not be kept in tiny enclosures in cities for profit, though I understand the desire to educate. At least Cabárceno National Park is different, in that it has a vast expanse of protected land for larger animals to roam. For endangered wildlife, like elephants and grizzly bears, there are large portions of land and mountain dedicated to their wellbeing. Better yet, you can only really experience them from above in the cable car network high in the sky. This keeps people away from the animals and retains the safari feel, letting them do their natural thing down below.

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Overall, Cabárceno is beautiful in terms of the natural forestry and views. But animals in captivity, if it’s not a rehabilitation centre, makes me feel a little bit upset. I’ll admit that my heart broke a bit when we came across the gorillas and tigers in their pens. They’re highly intelligent and majestic creatures that can probably comprehend the idea that they’re on display for screaming kids and people to view. It’s the “whale in a bathtub” analogy. How do you feel about animals in captivity? Even in a National Park? Drop a comment below!

Eating some delicious paella in Santander… wait… isn’t paella from Valencia?! Still delicious!

8. Try specialty tapas dishes such as rabas

If there’s one reason I constantly pilgrimage all over Spain (apart from the fact family and close friends live there), it’s for the tapas. And if there’s one thing you should try in Santander, it’s their local style of cooking calamaris (squid): rabas. The Santander style of calamares is battered and cooked with lemon juice. And when did anyone ever go wrong with some classic seafood paella (originally from Valencia)?

Stirring a jug of red wine sangria at sunset by the beach

Stirring a jug of red wine sangria at sunset by the beach

 

9. Enjoy a sangria on El Sardinero Beach

Is there anything more satisfying than sipping on a big ol’ fruity glass of red sangria while watching a pink-and-orange sunset over the ocean? Thought not! At least twice during our trip, we decided to have dinner at a beachfront restaurant and decided to enjoy a jug of sangria. I’m not a big drinker, but boy, Spanish wine is something else. It’s beautifully made, balanced, rich, and delicious. Recommended.

Stunning cove of rocks and turquoise blue sea from a hiking viewpoint in Santander, Spain

Stunning cove of rocks and turquoise blue sea from a hiking viewpoint in Santander, Spain

 

10. Go hiking and discover the coast

I always find that putting down your map, or your phone, leads to discovering the most beautiful places. Santander is no different! We hopped in the car and drove along the coastline with no agenda, parking at different locations and venturing where the wind took us. We found such photogenic, scenic places (as above) — I don’t know the name of any of them because we decided to simply follow road signs and do some hiking on our own. There is so much to discover along Santander’s coastline, and nature’s restorative beauty is always worth seeking out. We sat enjoying the view for hours!

Are you visiting Santander for the first time?

Santander is truly beautiful — greenery, oceanscapes and mountain hikes leading to secret coves. I knew very little about Santander prior to visiting for the first time and this beautiful Spanish city has blown me away. I wholeheartedly recommend it – and I hope it blows you away too!

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Mel Legarda

Melissa Legarda is the founder of illumelation. She has worked as a travel blogger, creator and writer since 2015, and has collaborated with well-known brands worldwide. She has helped over 1,100+ students improve their travel photography skills since launching her creative courses. Her mission is to encourage and empower others to travel and create more. Find her on Instagram.

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