Santiago de Compostela Travel Guide

Set amid lush hills in the greenest corner of Spain, the small city of Santiago de Compostela is Europe's most famous pilgrimage site. A thousand years' worth of Christians have come to gaze at its magnificent cathedral and walk its atmospheric stone streets, which retain the spirit of their solemn history. This mysterious place is easily among the highlights of Spain's Atlantic region and it's likely to leave an impression.

While Santiago de Compostela represents the culmination of many a spiritual journey, the town has a lot more to offer than just an end point for pilgrims. The spectacular and awe-inspiring Roman Catholic cathedral, and burial place of St James, in the centre of town is a showstopper. Other places of interest throughout the small Galician town include the Cathedral Museum, Pilgrimage Museum, Museum of Galician People, Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, the Praza do Obradoiro, the Rajoy Palace, and Praza de Quintana.

The cathedral's history is particularly interesting, having passed from Christian to Moorish and back to Christian occupation between 1060 and 1211. However, the grave of St James, beneath the cathedral, remained untouched throughout this period. The Cathedral Museum provides visitors with interesting stories about the cathedral and cloisters, and the Pilgrimage Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of the Way of St James as well as maps of the various routes available.

The easiest way to get around Santiago de Compostela is on foot. As thousands of pilgrims make their way to the central cathedral, thousands more walk through the city getting to know its streets and quaint alleyways lined with family-owned shops, boutiques, and delicatessens.

Some of the best areas to walk and shop in Santiago de Compostela are Zona Vella (the Old District) for exquisite ceramic souvenirs, Zona Nova (the New District) for clothes and other brand name items, and Area Central in Fontinas for more fashion shops and grocery stores. The city has a cheap and efficient bus service and taxis are also available, but they are expensive and not really necessary.

Santiago de Compostela is ideal for visitors to Spain who want to experience something different. It may not be off the beaten track, yet the town has retained an aura of spirituality and mystique that can only enrich a Spanish tourist experience.