Introducing guest blogger Stuart from Just Travelling Through
It might not be the first place you think of while planning a trip to Spain, but the northern city of Santander shouldn’t be ignored when deciding on a holiday destination.
It’s very much a family friendly location and there’s plenty to do to keep everyone entertained. With great food, stunning beaches, picturesque views and plenty of places to explore nature, Santander and the surrounding region of Cantabria is a perfect place to visit.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals
Santander with Kids – Explore the city
Santander isn’t a big city and it’s easy to walk around, although it is hilly. Fortunately, the city has outdoor escalators on many of its streets, making those upward strolls that much more comfortable.
To get the best view of Santander, take the funicular from the top of Calle Río de la Pila (following the escalators) and gaze out across the bay towards the mountains in the distance. An alternate viewpoint can be found by heading to the roof of Centro Botín down by the waterfront. Both lookouts are free and the one atop Centro Botín comes with the option to ride in the ‘singing’ elevator.
While you’re out exploring the city make sure to admire some of the amazing street art found around Santander, starting with a piece by world renowned local artist Okuda on Calle Río de la Pila. Whilst Okuda has his own unique style, the city has many brightly coloured and moving displays from artists near and far.
Walk through the park
One thing Santander has a lot of is parks. The best are Jardines de Pereda, with its children’s playground and carousel, and Parque Las Llamas, one of the largest parks in the North of Spain complete with lagoons, trails, cafes and play area. Jardines de Pereda is located in the centre just in front of Centro Botín, while Parque Las Llamas is a little further out by to the beaches.
The Royal Palace
Near Sardinero Beach is Palacio Magdalena, the former summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Entry to Palacio Magdalena is possible on any of the daily tours for just €3 per person.
Located on a peninsula of the same name as the palace, the grounds offer a great place for a picnic with some spectacular views across the bay and open grassy spaces. There is also a large children’s play area that has been recently reopened after extensive renovations. Make sure to visit the rear of the palace and say hello to the penguins and seals before you go.
Sun, Sea and Sand in Santander
One of the most popular things to do in Santander is to head to the beach. Sardinero Beach is the largest and busiest (and for me the prettiest city beach in Spain), but there are many more to choose from.
Playa de los Peligros and Playa de los Bikinis are both close to Palacio Magdalena and are best reached on a relaxing coastal walk from the city centre. Despite the names (‘Peligro’ means danger in Spanish) both beaches are family-friendly and a good spot for everyone to enjoy together. As the beaches are sheltered by the bay the waves are smaller here, making it ideal for anyone who prefers a relaxing dip in the sea rather than jumping waves or surfing.
On the other side of Sardinero Beach, along the path to the lighthouse at Cabo Mayor, is Playa de Mataleñas. Another spot popular with young families, the small beach sits in a protected cove with steps leading down from the clifftop.
Meanwhile, across the bay from the city centre is the chilled-out surfer town of Somo, with its own long stretch of golden sand. Ferries run there regularly throughout the day, taking 30 minutes to cross with return tickets just €5 per person.
On many of Santander’s beaches you’ll see locals playing sports such as football, volleyball or surfing. The most popular sport on the beaches of Santander is palas, which is similar to tennis and played with bats and a small ball between two or more people. Somo has the best waves for surfers, although you can also watch them from Piquío Gardens in the middle of Sardinero Beach. For kids wanting to get in amongst the waves, the far end of Sardinero close to Hotel Chiqui is the most popular spot to go body boarding.
Any visit to the beach isn’t complete without an ice cream. You can get huge scoops from local company Regma for just €2.50 with many flavours to choose from. Their cheesecake ice cream is amazing!
Local sports in Santander
Football is one of the biggest cultural events in Spain and attending a match is something that shouldn’t be missed when visiting the country. Families often watch matches together in bars, such as Max Sports Café (who do amazing burgers!), but for a more authentic experience head to El Sardinero stadium to watch local team Racing Santander play.
Located close to the beach and Parque Las Llamas, the stadium has capacity for over 20,000 people. Santander is unfortunately no longer in the top league, but that does make it easier to get tickets for matches. The fans are no less passionate however and regularly turn up to support their local team.
Opposite the football stadium is Palacio de Deportes, an indoor arena where, among other events, the local basketball team play.
Get out of town
It’s not just Santander that has plenty to see. Elsewhere in the region of Cantabria you’ll find picturesque villages such as Comillas or Santillana del Mar.
Both are easily reached on a day trip from Santander. Comillas is located further along the coast, with the main highlight the Gaudi designed villa; El Capricho. Santillana is another nearby destination and regularly attracts a lot of tourists. The narrow cobblestone lanes are incredibly pretty and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.
Meanwhile, around 17km south of Santander is Cabárceno Natural Park. The park covers nearly 2,000 acres and is home to more than a hundred different animal species from five continents. All the animals at Cabárceno live in large enclosures with some given more free rein and allowed to wander the park. Entrance tickets are €17 to €32 for adults (depending on the time of year) and €9 to €18 for children (aged 4 to 12), with half-day tickets also available.
Further afield, why not try a side trip to San Sebastian, The “Jewel of the Basque coast” is full of fun family activities with its glorious beaches and funicular railway.
The best places to eat in Santander
You’ll find many restaurants in the streets around Mercado del Este. Typically a menu del dia (3-course meal) starts at €15 in the city centre and is a good option for lunch. Most restaurants will offer half-menus and children’s portions too.
If you’re out and about you’ll find many restaurants in Somo plus cafes at Palacio Magdalena and the lighthouse at Cabo Mayor. Comillas and Santillana del Mar also have plenty in the way of places to eat, although Santillana, in particular, can be more expensive due to it being a popular tourist destination.
If you want to avoid the restaurants and prefer to cook something for yourself, try Mercado de la Esperanza on Calle el Mercado. Built in the early 1900s this indoor market is a great place to purchase fresh fish, meat, fruits, vegetables and other items.
Paseo de Pereda is popular for families on an evening in Santander. Views from the restaurants overlook the bay for a spectacular sight as you enjoy your meal. Better yet, you’ll find many ice cream parlours along this section of the street.
A perfect place to stop once you’ve eaten before taking an early evening stroll through Jardines de Pereda park. Make sure to also try local desserts Sabao (a type of sponge cake) and Quesada (a cheese-based dessert) before you leave.
How to get to Santander
Santander airport has regular flights from many major European cities, including London and Edinburgh in the UK, as well as arrivals from several destinations elsewhere in Spain. The airport bus costs €2.90 per person and departs every 30 minutes (on the hour and half hour), reaching the centre in around 10-15 minutes.
Return buses leave the city at quarter past and quarter to each hour. A taxi from the airport is much more expensive at around €20. For a different way to reach Santander, ferries travel from the South Coast of England and Ireland a few times a week, although it’s a long journey as it takes 24 hours before arriving.
Alternatively, nearby Bilbao has more international destinations and is just an hour and a half away by bus with tickets costing less than €7 per person. Spain’s capital city Madrid is four hours away by train or six by bus with prices for both starting at around €30.
Where to stay in Santander
You have two options when it comes to looking for where to stay in Santander. Either in the city centre or in Sardinero close to the main beach.
If you prefer to stay in the centre then avoid staying anywhere too close to popular evening spots such as Plaza de Cañadío or Calle Río de la Pila. The locals make a lot of noise as they congregate outside bars and catch up with their friends. Children tend to stay up later in Spain than they might in other countries and you’ll often see young kids running around Plaza de Cañadío until late in the evening.
Also, try to avoid staying too far west of the bus station as you’ll find it a little far for travelling to the centre each day.
The best time to visit Santander
Being a popular beach destination Santander gets incredibly crowded in the summer. The price of accommodation also increases a great deal and it can be difficult to find a place to stay.
Shoulder seasons of spring and autumn still see good weather and plenty of warm days without the crowds. From August to September an International Food Festival is held in the car park of the football stadium with live music and stalls selling food from around the world.
Meanwhile a festival of supercars happens in the middle of May (although it’s been moved to October for 2020). Ferraris, Lamborghinis and others are on display in Parque Las Llamas for the public to come and gaze in awe at.
The weather gets much cooler in winter and November is usually a very wet month. However, December also sees the arrival of a temporary ice-skating rink in Plaza Porticada in the centre.
About the Blogger
I’m Stuart, originally from the North of England but I’ve lived in Santander for the past few years working as an English teacher.
When I’m not doing that I’m working on my travel blog at Just Travelling Through about places to see around the world.
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With thanks to Stuart for his contribution to our guest series. You may also like to read about One Day in Madrid with Kids, or pop over to our family-friendly guide to Barcelona.
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