Forget Barcelona: Santander Is the New City On the Spanish Block

I absolutely love Barcelona – I go back to it regularly and never forget my first visit.  Like so many, I was b blown away by the seaside location, culture, architecture, food, shops and general buzz. So imagine my surprise when I visited another Spanish city that wowed me just as much, if not more! Was it Madrid? Seville? Valencia? No it was Santander and here’s why you need to plan a visit.


Switching Allegiance From Barcelona To Santander

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love Barcelona and have great memories of it, but when I read a recent article about how it might be suffering from over – tourism, it confirmed my feelings. Barcelona is becoming a victim of it’s own success and tourism is stifling the local community which is an important part of what made the city so special.

Documentary: Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Overtourism

This mini documentary about the benefits and problems of tourism in Barcelona, is a warning to us all. Barcelona knows that if it isn’t capable of making up for tourism growth, the quality of the infrastructure and capacity to understand its citizens, then it will fail as a city.

Santander, on the other hand, is much smaller and not so developed. It has a strong community and is almost what Barcelona used to be. I’d like to think that in years to come I will be able to say, Oh yes Santander, I knew it before it was famous.

What Makes Santander So Special

For me, the essence of Santander is the wonderful atmosphere. There’s a mix of old and new, where rustic meets luxury and in a friendly vibrant community whose love of life shines through.

  • Great location between rugged hills and the Atlantic Ocean
  • Stunning sandy beaches with great surfing opportunities
  • Excellent Food and Drink options
  • Lots of Cultural Interest and Museums
  • Easy to explore and get around


Santander is situated on the beautiful, yet rugged North coast of Spain and overlooks the Atlantic ocean. Although Santander is the capital of Cantabria, it is far from the usual tourist hot spots, which makes it even more attractive as an authentic Spanish city.

The city stretches across a wide bay dotted with stunning beaches, offering no surprises why it was the summer retreat of Spanish royalty in the Magdelana Palace.

Food and Drink

Pinchos (Pintxos)
These are little savoury delicacies displayed on the bars, which look irresistible and are a perfect accompaniment to the lovely local wines. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – it is impossible to just have one as they all look so lovely. I would suggest Candadio which also has a great restaurant at the back of the bar and seating outside in the square.

There are other bars who offer slightly larger tapas style food. Try Dias Desur for a more modern twist where they serve lovely spiced chorizo dishes or slow cooked stews, delightfully presented in small ceramic bowls.

Seafood plays an important part in this coastal city, as you would expect and there are plenty of great places to eat a wide variety of dishes celebrating all the local produce. El Serbal has a great name for a quality dining experience.

The Spanish love their gins and really know how to serve a great gin and tonic. There’s no scrimping on the gin, garnish or the time to make it. Patio Chico bar is a good place to start as they have a very good gin selection and you can sit outside.

Try Nordes Gin which is a Galacian Gin made a couple of hours down the road from Santander

Great wines
The Spanish are very proud of their wines, and whether you choose a crisp white or a full bodied red, you will savour every sip. Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation, the locals are a friendly bunch and will be happy to advise.

What to do

Walks on the promenades
Enjoy the beauty of this rugged coastline combined with the more gentle waters in the bay. Santander is very easy to navigate and find your bearings.

The atlantic has a wonderful reputation for great surfing water so why not take the plunge and have some introductory lessons.

Sandy beaches which stretch for miles are perfect for chilling out and sunset strolls.

Cultural places of interest
Santander has its fair share of interesting and informative places where you can learn more of their history and culture.

Museum of Prehistory

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Centro Botin
Just completed this year – a very impressive building and exhibition centre worthy of a visit.
There’s a great article here in the Guardian


Magdalena Palace 


Summer festivals with music and fireworks

The people of Santander certainly like to enjoy themselves and summer signifies the time for festivals with live music and some great firework displays. Stages pop up all over the city and as the sun goes down, the city comes alive with every style of music. If you don’t like one group then walk a 100 metres and you will find another music genre to enjoy.

Shop ’til you drop

Santander is a city so you will always see larger shops that you will recognise, but wander into the smaller streets and you will find lots of smaller individual shops selling unique items that will offer the perfect souvenir of the area.


How to Get to Santander

Ryanair fly from London Stansted and Edinburgh to Santander airport, a 10 minute taxi ride away from the city centre.

Brittany Ferries sail from Plymouth and Portsmouth into Santander

Great road links with France ( about 2 hours from the French border) and the rest of Spain.

Trains run from major cities into Santander

My first visit to Santander, I sailed in on a yacht and witnessed first hand the Magdelena peninsula, the bay and the city from the water.


Where to stay in Santander

For 5 star luxury overlooking the bay at Santander then choose Hotel Real 

Le Petit Boutique Hotel – stylish and thoughtfully decorated. A wonderful base for your Santander Trip

Suite Home Sardinero – another boutique style hotel with great reviews. Their website has a beaches section which shows off the many beaches in the area

Do it Differently – Stay Santander

Barcelona will always be a great city to visit but if you want to see a city with character where the Spanish work, rest and play, then you will be truly captivated by Santander.

These days it’s all too easy to be drawn to the bigger more popular places, but small can also be beautiful and exploring the lesser known places can be very exciting.

So next time you are looking for somewhere different to visit, then Stay Santander. You will leave feeling you have made a connection with this great city and lovely people.


Have you been to Santander?  Please let me know what you thought in the comments box below.  Or perhaps you have visited another lesser known Spanish city – then please share your secret.

Did you enjoy reading this blog post?  Maybe I can write for your Organisation?  Do get in touch.