When starting out our road trip of Northern Spain, we headed straight for Santiago de Compostela. Everyone I talked to in Spain recommended it, my friend had just watched “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, and it was just about as far west as you can go in Spain. Santiago de Compostela was fabulous with a breathtaking old town and cathedral, literal pilgrims (quirky and smelly), and great food. However, we soon learned it could be seen in a day rather than the three nights we had scheduled.
The Old Town of Santiago de Compostela
Upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela in the late afternoon, we dropped off our bags and headed straight to the Old Town. There is no need for a map as you can see the spires in the distance. Just follow them straight to the Praza do Obradoiro. Upon arriving , there is a massive square that features the breathtaking Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.
If you do not know much about the Camino de Santiago, all you really need to know is that it is a walking pilgrimage across Northern Spain with the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela as the last stop. The Cathedral was full of exhausted, smelly, and slightly delirious pilgrims. They were definitely a well-remembered site for me. Inside the nearly millennia-old Romanesque Cathedral, you will find beautiful altar pieces, the aforementioned delirious pilgrims, and a delightful incense that covers up the scent wafting from said pilgrims. I am not downing on the pilgrims. I could in no way walk for days, weeks, or even months like they did. Mad props.
After viewing the Cathedral, face out from the front entrance and head left for some of the best cobbled, winding, pedestrian-only-streets in Northern Spain. They were completely charming with little shops, bars, and restaurants featuring the days catch on ice in the windows for all to see. However, you can see everything you want to see, including having a wonderful meal, in a few hours.
Where to Eat in Santiago de Compostela
While heading down said cobbled streets, we stumbled upon Taberna o Boteca Restaurante and were in no way disappointed. We were still on US hours so we walked in at the disgraceful hour of 7:00 pm (Spaniards eat dinner primarily from 9:00pm on). Due to the hour, we didn’t have to worry about reservations but later on this place got packed so plan accordingly. This place was adorable with stone walls, archways, and giant glass square in the floor that showed the ruins beneath the restaurant.
And the food, the food was great. We had patatas bravas (fried chunky potatoes with garlic mayo and spicy red sauce), cockleshells, croquettas de jamon (ham, cheese, and potato deep fried), pulpo de gallego (grilled octopus, not pictured), and of course, wine. I had never had cockleshells but they were delicate, bites of the sea. My friend is not an adventurous eater and even she liked them.
Day Trips from Santiago de Compostela
Ourense, Spain (An Hour Southeast)
Ourense is a great place to take a break on your long-drive out to Santiago de Compostela. It has the typical old town, cobbled streets, and local restaurants. This is not a tourist spot but more a look into how the locals live.
Vigo, Spain (An Hour South)
As we accidentally managed to see almost all of Santiago de Compostela on out first day, we decided to head to Vigo the next day. Vigo had a picturesque old fort on top of the hill (pant, pant, must exercise more), some fabulous shopping at European chains (I love C&H), but my standout memory is eating goose barnacles (percebes in Spanish). We had heard about these but this was the first restaurant at which were able to order them (others were out). I describe them as looking like dragon toes and tasting lightly of the sea. I know the lady who delivered them must have had a good laugh. Our faces must have shown our shock because she took pity on us and showed us how to open and eat them. They are a treat not be missed but don’t order a ton as they can be expensive since they only grow where there are dangerous waves.
A Coruña, Spain (An Hour North)
On our way out of Santiago de Compostela, we headed north to A Coruña, Spain. If you have the time, stop for lunch and take and hour to tour but do not spend the night like we did. It has an old town, nice square, and a walkway around that’s on the ocean but, frankly, I barely remember it. Also, the AC Hotel there was no great, nothing like the below.
Where to Stay in Santiago de Compostela
We chose to stay at the AC Hotel Palacio del Carmen, Autograph Collection, as it was within easy walking distance of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, is part of the Marriott group, and was super cheap at 15,000 points a night (technically free). This hotel was once the Oblatas Convent and you can definitely tell from the intricate architecture inside and out. Also, as this is an Autograph Collection in addition to an AC Hotel, this means free breakfast for Gold and Platinum members. I’m talking jamon, cheese, fresh fruit, cafe con leches, fresh squeezed juice, yogurt, etc. Good stuff. (You can use my referral link to get a jump start on your own free nights with up to 10,000 points.)
See the Next Day at Travel Tips for Cathedrals Beach in Northern Spain.