Spain’s most unexplored city is a tourist-free, hidden gem to visit

Santander is a tourist magnet despite its prime location in the Bay of Biscay. It boasts some of Spain’s most popular surfing beaches, as well as a vibrant culinary scene.

The capital of autonomous Cantabria, on the north coast in Spain, is home to 200,000 people. However, many of its medieval buildings were destroyed by a huge fire in 1941.

On the other side of the beach is a beautiful bay that offers breathtaking views of rolling green hills, mountains and the ocean. The city center is smaller than the honeypots of Madrid or Barcelona. In the summer months, a cool breeze blows through the Bahia de Santander.

A balmy March visit with a friend saw me and a friend as the only tourists. We didn’t hear any other non-Spanish voices all week, and it was quite strange.


Tapas where to find

Santander is famous for its tapas, or pinchos as it’s known locally (sometimes spelled pintxo or pinchu) – meat, fish, goats cheese and other ingredients spiked onto a piece of crusty bread with a skewer or toothpick.about:blank

There are many bodegas and pincho bars scattered throughout the city. Casa Lita is a great place to stop for lunch. It overlooks the bay and has indoor booths as well as an outdoor terrace. You can enjoy a wide selection of bread-based snacks and raciones (sharing plates), as well as delicious house wines starting at EUR2.50 per glass.

Plaza Canadio can be a great place to start your evening. However, Spain’s nightlife doesn’t really get underway until 9 p.m. There are many bars and restaurants around the central square, including Canadio (a pincho restaurant in the area that has received consistently high reviews in tourist guides).

Tuna tataki starter was melty on the tongue, and Iberian pork with homemade chimichurri & roasted aubergine were as soft as marshmallows.


The meal was not very good. Even though the waiters tried their best to translate the menu, it was difficult to understand the monolingual menu. Our juicy gambas were actually tiny shrimps hidden in an omelette. We were slightly disappointed.

La Bodega Riojano is a better option for those who live out of town. It’s an atmospheric taverna that features flag-stone floors, white tablecloths, and mahogany wine barrels hanging on the walls.

You can choose from a wide range of meats, seafood and Cantabrian cheeses. A tuna tataki starter was melty on your tongue. Iberian pork with homemade chimichurri or roasted aubergine were as soft as marshmallows. Wines are EUR3 and mains at EUR14.

Which museums are worth visiting?

Renzo Piano, an Italian architect who won the award for Centro Botin design, opened Centro Botin to great fanfare on January 14, 2014. It is Santander’s premier cultural and arts hub.

The high-tech venue overlooks the bay and hosts concerts, screenings, and exhibitions throughout the year by artists from Spain as well as around the globe. The Museo Maritimo Del Cantabrico, also located on the shoreline is a wonderful place to spend a few hours.

The museum covers four floors and shows the region’s maritime history. It also contains detailed models of ships, reconstructions of cabins, and an aquarium that houses small sharks, stingrays, and moray eels. The star attraction is the skeleton of a 24-metre long, 60-tonne fin-whale suspended from the ceiling.

You can find a peaceful home far from your home.

You will find bars, restaurants, and shops right at your doorstep if you choose a hotel located in the center of town, rather than El Sardinero beach which is a 30-minute walk eastwards.

NH Cuidad in Menendez Pelayo offers modern, smart rooms (4th-floor rooms are equipped with balconies), and doubles starting at EUR60

The charming 19th-century family-run Jardin Secreto is hidden down Santander’s side streets. It has been remodeled as a boutique hotel. It also boasts a garden, as its name implies. Doubles starting at EUR70


The Gran Hotel Sardinero is the ideal spot for beachside bliss. It overlooks Primera Playa del Sardinero’s golden sands.

The Gran Hotel Sardinero, overlooking the golden sands at Primera Playa del Sardinero, is just a five-minute bus ride from the centre. The elegant exterior of the early 1900s palace is now complemented by a modern interior and neutrally decorated bedrooms.

Starting at EUR85 High season is when most hotels see significant increases in their prices.


Enjoy a day in the outdoors

Nature and animal aficionados will love the Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno.

Spain’s only park of its type, the 750-hectare government-run nature reserve is located 17km south from Santander in an abandoned open-air iron mine. It houses 100 species of animals and is considered to be the country’s only park of its kind.

There are many things to see, including rhinos, wallabies, and gorillas as well as endangered Cantabrian brown bears.


You can also enjoy a 6-km cable car ride, educational areas and landscaped gardens. There are also beautiful little picnic spots for you to relax.