Here are 15 of the best things to do in Santander, the capital city of the beautiful Cantabria region on the north coast of Spain.
1. Magdalena Peninsula
The Magdalena Peninsula is a 69-acre peninsula located near the entrance to the Bay in the city of Santander.
Now a public park, loved by locals and tourists, this area was once the summer residence for Spanish Royalty.
The magnificent Magdalena Palace, built between 1909 -1911, is just one of the many attractions this peninsula has to offer.
There are also collections of sea lions, seals, and penguins, a Sea Museum and a series of monuments. As well as two beautiful beaches and a historic lighthouse.
This beautiful peninsula has lots to offer along with stunning views out over the Cantabrian Sea.
Furthermore, there is a small tourist train that runs through the park telling its story. Great for seeing everything and learning the history of the peninsula at the same time.
2. El Sardinero Beach
Located not far from the centre of of Santander, El Sardinero is a popular, large sandy beach with moderate waves.
The beach is divided into two different areas by the gardens of Piquio, only becoming one beach at low tide.
These areas are called Primera Playa Del Sardinero (First Beach) and Segunda Playa Del Sardinero (Second Beach).
This beautiful beach area has been awarded a Blue Flag in recognition of its cleanliness and facilities. These included showers, toilets, sun-umbrellas, lifeguards and even a nursery for small children.
As well as a beautiful beach, there is also a very pretty, wide promenade. This runs the length of the beach with lots of bars and restaurants – ideal for a leisurely stroll.
Primera Playa Del Sardinero
Primera Playa del Sardinero is the smaller of the two beach areas. Stretching for approximately 350 metres it is particularly popular with families and water sport enthusiasts.
This First Beach is the most well known of the Santander beaches. This is due to it historically being frequented by the Spanish Royal Family.
Segunda Playa Del Sardinero
Segunda Playa del Sardinero is a much larger beach area at approximately 1000 metres wide. This is where the majority of visitors to El Sardinero head to enjoy a beach day.
This Second Beach, with all the facilities it offers is very popular with locals and tourists alike. It even has a special area set aside for volleyball and beach tennis.
3. Playa Del Matalenas
Set in a pretty cove, Playa del Matalenas is a stunning little beach with soft sand and pristine blue water.
Access to the beach is via a set of 120 steps. Although the steps are quite steep, they felt very safe and the beach was definitely worth the climb down. Just save some energy for the climb back up!
Surrounded by cliffs, this little bay feels quite secluded and private. It’s also much quieter that some of the other beaches in Santander, probably due to the may steps down to it!
There are no facilities on the beach. There are, however, toilets on the cliff top and also an ice-cream van.
If you like your beaches beautiful and not too busy, then this is definitely going to be one of the best things to do in Santander!
4. Faro Cabo Mayor Lighthouse
Located just north of Santander, Faro Cabo Mayor is a lighthouse that has looked out over the bay of Santander since 1839.
In 2001 the lighthouse became automated. This allowing for parts of the tower and surrounding buildings to be converted and used as an Arts Centre.
The art gallery houses a permanent collection by local artist Eduardo Sanz as well as work by other Spanish artists. All the art work has a lighthouse or sea theme.
There are also different temporary exhibits and a collection of lighthouse memorabilia.
Don’t miss the cafe located in one of the buildings next to the lighthouse. Here you can sit and enjoy some food whilst watching the spectacular sunsets if you time it righ!
With free admission, some great art work, interesting memorabilia and amazing views this has to one of the best things to in Santander.
5. Los Raqueros Statues
Los Raqueros are bronze, life-size sculptures of four young boys, situated on the Paseo de Pereda in Santander. They are a popular attraction with visitors as well as locals.
Made by local sculptor, Jose Cobo, the sculptures of the children are located exactly where they would have worked until the 1960s. This now upmarket area of the city once being a very busy dock.
The Raqueros were children who scraped a living from the docks by combing the water for anything of value. They were also paid for fetching items that fell into the water, including coins thrown by sailors and passengers from ships.
These beautiful sculptures are very thought provoking once you know their story. I would definitely recommend seeing them as one of the best things to do in Santander.
6. Walk The Promenade
The promenade in Santander, called the Paseo de Pereda, is an 800-metre waterfront walk that stretches between Puertochico and Santander Cathedral.
The walk is lined by beautiful, 19th-century apartment buildings. Here you will find bars and restaurants with terraces that are perfect to stop at and enjoy some refreshments.
The promenade is also famous for its gardens – Jardines de Pereda. This beautiful waterfront park has lots of greenery, statues and benches to relax on. As well as plenty of statues to view.
Within these gardens you will find the Centro Botin. This modern exhibition centre and art museum has a top floor that serves as a great viewing deck.
A walk along Santander promenade is a feast for the eyes with something interesting to view whichever way you look. Therefore it has to be on the list of best things to in Santander.
7. Centro Botin Arts Centre
Located in the Pereda Gardens, on the Santander waterfront, the Centro Botin is a cultural space dedicated to contemporary art, music, film, theatre, and literature.
The building, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, was opened to the public in 2017. Working with Spanish architect Juan Vidal, the building was designed to harmonise with its surroundings.
The centre is home to two galleries, lecture rooms, work spaces as well as a roof terrace. From here you can enjoy amazing views of Santander and its bay.
In addition, there is a 300 seater auditorium which also offers impressive views. The sea and the mountains forming its beautiful backdrop.
8. Costa Quebrada Geologic Park
The area known as Costa Quebrada stretches along 20 kilometres of coastline from Santander to Miengo.
This beautiful and diverse area is home to the Costa Quebrada Geopark. Along with the Dunas de Liencres -one of the great dune ranges of the Cantabrian coastline.
There are also beautiful sandy coves and beaches and a large maritime pine forest to explore.
The experience of walking through the vast landscape of the Costa Quebrada is an absolute must for the list of best things to do in Santander.
9. Cabarceno Natural Park
Located just 17 km (11 miles) south of Santander and very popular with tourists, Cabarceno is a large zoo and nature reserve.
If you prefer to get things booked in advance I would recommend Cabarceno Natural Park Half-Day Trip.
It is home to more than 100 different animal species, including many animals threatened with extinction like African elephants, Grevy’s zebras and white rhinoceros. All of these animals can be seen in quite a wild and natural environment.
With 20 km (12 miles) of roads, it’s possible to reach all the park’s large enclosures both on foot and by car. There is also a cable car ride that offers great views over this beautiful reserve.
In addition, there are recreational areas, picnic areas, viewing points, botanical routes, restaurants, a children’s play park and souvenir shops.
This is an amazing place to visit with absolutely loads to see and do. So, stick it on your list of best things to do in Santander and allow yourself time to enjoy everything it has to offer.
10. Visit Potes
Located approximately 105 km (65 miles) from Santander, Potes is a charming medieval town that oozes history.
Sitting where the four valleys in the Picos de Europa merge, the town is surrounded by hills and mountains.
Along with many historical buildings of interest, ranging from the 14th to the 18th century, there are also a number of pretty bridges criss-crossing the river Quiviesa that runs through the town.
The Old Town is fascinating with its maze of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways. As well as some historical wonderful architecture, including the church of St Vicente and Torre del Infantado.
With plenty of cafes and shops to visit, this pretty little town is well worth a visit. Especially if you have an interest in history and love beautiful surroundings.
For a tour that includes this and some of the other attractions I visited, Picos, Santo Toribio Monastery and Potes Day Tour is a good choice.
Don’t forget to try the local speciality grape brandy ‘Orujo’ along with the traditional chickpea stew ‘cocido labienagos’ while you are there!
11. Picos Du Europa
Forming part of the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain, Picos Du Europa are a mountain range stretching for about 20km (12m).
Most of the region is now protected as a single Picos de Europa National Park. Spreading across 11 villages, it’s Spain’s only inhabited nature reserve.
With meadows, lakes, mountains and forests this beautiful area is home to an impressive range of wildlife. Including brown bear, Iberian wolves, roe deer, chamois, grouse and Egyptian vultures to name just a few.
There are 3 visitor centres, 30 self-guided routes and 17 viewpoints spread across this large area. I took the cable car from one of the villages in the midst of Picos du Europa, Fuente De, which is surrounded by mountains.
Taking less than four minutes, the cable car takes you up the steepest ascent of the Picos de Europa. Giving some amazing views of the Liebana area as it takes you smoothly up to the El Cable viewpoint.
Once at the top, the vistas are breathtaking and I would recommend taking the Cable Car of Fuente De as one of the best things to do in Santander.
For a tour that includes this and some of the other attractions I visited, Picos, Santo Toribio Monastery and Potes Day Tour is a good choice.
12. Mirador De Santa Catalina
Located in Penarrubia, a Spanish municipality in the west of the Cantabria region, Mirador De Santa Catalina is a spectacular viewpoint high up in the mountains.
Overlooking the Hermida Gorge, Potes, and the Picos de Europa beyond, the drive up is definitely worth it for the absolutely breathtaking views.
This is also a great spot to see some of the local species of birds including the Griffon and Egyptian vultures. They soar up to your eye level and beyond making for some great photo opportunities.
This is an amazing spot and the sort of place, that on a nice day, you could take a picnic and sit and breathe in the mountain air, whilst enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
13. Santillana Del Mar
Santillana Del Mar is just 28km (17 miles) from Santander and is best known for its historical buildings of diverse architectural styles. In fact, the entire town is a registered National Monument!
Named after St Juliana whose remains reside in the town’s stunning church, Santillana del Mar has a remarkably rich history that is visible in every corner of this town.
You can visit the old quarter of Santillana Del Mar with its picturesque cobbled streets lined with medieval mansions.
Alternatively, just out of town, admire the grand Renaissance palaces such as the Velarde Palace. As well as Baroque mansions such as Valdivieso Villa.
In addition, there are plenty of gift shops offering souvenirs of pottery and local produce as well as cafes and restaurants to relax in. You won’t be disappointed if you visit this historical and picturesque little town.
If you prefer to have everything organised for you I would recommend booking Santillana del Mar & Altamira Museum Tour.
Enjoy a tour of the town and also visit the nearby museum and see magnificent prehistoric paintings.
14. Walk The River Nansa
Located 74 km (45 Miles) from Santander, this is probably the most popular hiking trail in the Cantabrian area. Well signposted and in stunning surroundings you can see why it is so well liked.
Created by local fishermen and known as the Fishermen Route, this old pass stretches between the villages of Munorrodero and Cades and covers 14km if you do a round trip.
This is a fairly easy and peaceful hike along the side of the Nansa River. Walking through the trees and beautiful scenery with the sound of flowing water certainly makes you feel at one with nature.
You will also see points of interest at every step including, narrow passages, stone chairs, fishermens cages, wooden footbridges and more.
Towards the end of the walk the trail becomes narrower. Here you will find ropes attached to the sides of the rocks to help you complete the final part.
I would highly recommend the River Nansa hike as one of the best things to do in Santander. Especially if you’re looking for a steady hike that feels good for mind and body!
15. El Soplao Cave
Located 64km (40 miles) from Santander El Soplao Cave is amazingly 27 km (17 miles) in length. Considered unique for the quality and quantity of its geological formations.
With only just under 10 km (6 miles) open to the public, there is still an impressive amount to see and is a popular tourist attraction.
With glistening stalagmites and stalactites to gravity defying helictites. Along with pools of water that reflect the unique surroundings and beautiful colours, El Soplao Cave is pretty stunning.
You can only visit this attraction by booking a tour and you will find that the tour guides will speak in Spanish. But honestly, the surroundings speak for themselves!
To book your tour I recommend booking the Soplao Cave Excursion.
Entry into the cave system is by narrow gauge railway before you get out and walk with a guided group. It can be a bit chilly once in the cave so wear some warm layers.
So, if you would like to see some awesome and unique natural wonders, this is one of the best things to do in Santander.
Where To Stay In Santander
This impressive palace-style building offers beautiful views over Santander Bay and El Sardinero Beach. It has a free gym and elegant, classic-style rooms with free Wi-Fi.
The bright, air-conditioned rooms at Hotel Real have satellite TV and some offer sea views. The large bathrooms come with a bathrobe and hairdryer.
Guests can admire views of the bay from the restaurant, elegant bar and the large cocktail terrace. Hotel Real’s award-winning El Puntal restaurant serves Cantabrian cuisine and offers a choice from over 180 wines.
Situated 150 yards from Santander’s Sardinero Beach and Casino, the Santemar features a Japanese garden and elegant rooms with air conditioning. It also offers a lounge with a flat-screen TV.
The restaurant serves typical Cantabrian dishes, made with local and regional products. The hotel also has a café-bar for light meals and drinks.
Rooms at Santemar include a large marble bathroom complete with a hairdryer. They also come with a minibar and safe.
Santemar’s 24-hour reception operates a tour desk and ticket service.
Offering free WiFi and heating, Hostal Lucy offers accommodation in Santander. Marga Park is a 5-minute walk from the property and the city centre is 20 minutes’ walk away.
All rooms have a TV, a desk, and come with a roof fan. The private bathroom includes free towels; bed linen are also provided.
Some rooms have a refrigerator.
Guests at Hostal Lucy can enjoy a shared lounge with TV, seating area with a sofa and sea views. Guests can also have access to a microwave.
You will find restaurants and supermarkets within 10 minutes’ walk of the property.
For more places to stay in Santander, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.