Good to know
Each year, more and more travelers head to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, a small city of around 96,000 inhabitants. Why, exactly?
It is primarily because the capital city of Galicia in the far northwest of Spain is allegedly home to the grave of the apostle James, and it is for this reason that it represents the end destination of the Way of St. James. After Rome and Jerusalem, it is the most important Christian place of pilgrimage.
It might sound dusty and boring, but it’s becoming increasingly hip and trendy amongst teenagers and young adults!
Each year, more and more people (including some celebrities) take on the unusual adventure that is the Way of St. James, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a religious, spiritual, or completely different reason, they walk the whole or part of the way, a pilgrimage route that runs 800 kilometers from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in its classic form.
The Way of St. James
The annual number of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, as the Way of St. James is known in Spanish, increased from a few hundred in the 1980s to almost 280,000 in 2016. A quarter of these were under 30 years of age.
By the way, everyone can determine their own starting point along the Way of St. James. The Galicians say “El camino comienza en tu casa” or “The way begins at home.”
Those who want to stay in the cheap pilgrim’s hostels in Santiago de Compostela have to prove that they have walked at least the last 100 kilometers of the Way on foot with the requisite stamp in their pilgrim’s pass (or the last 200 kilometers on horseback or by bicycle). There’s also a pilgrim’s certificate, the Compostela.
But it’s not just the Way that’s the main attraction – Santiago de Compostela itself also has a lot to offer! Above all there is the splendid cathedral that was completed in 1120 and in which the alleged grave of the apostle James, the patron saint of Spain, can be found. If you have a one, two or five-cent coin in your wallet, you can take a look at the cathedral even before you get to Spain!
In the cathedral itself, there is a particularly exciting experience to enjoy: seeing the Botafumeiro swinging during a service. The huge incense burner, which is 1.60 meters in size and 54 kilograms in weight is one of the biggest of its kind. Eight men are required to swing the Botafumeiro on its 66-meter rope at a speed of 70 kilometers per hour through the transept – from just above the ground to high up under the ceiling – quite breathtaking!
From the cathedral, you look out over the Praza do Obradoiro, the most important square in the old town. The Hospital de los Reyes Católicos borders this square (English: Hospital of Catholic kings).
If you had come to Santiago as a pilgrim before 1958, you and your many blisters and wounds could have been accommodated in this finest of all pilgrim hostels. Unfortunately, the prices at the five-star hotel now housed in this wonderful building is beyond the budget of most pilgrims.
On the Praza do Obradoiro you’ll also find the residence of the Galician president and the Bishop’s Palace. But the rest of the old town, built over a thousand years ago, also invites you to discover historic alleyways, churches, squares, wells, and monuments. The San Martín Pinario monastery is definitely worth a visit.
And if you need a break from the historic monuments and numerous museums in Santiago, then the Mirador Parque da Alameda is the perfect place for you. This wonderful park is ideal for relaxing in and offers a gorgeous view of the old town.
If you’re hungry after a bit of relaxation, you can explore the most popular street in Santiago from the Praza do Obradoiro, the Rúa do Franco. Here you can find numerous restaurants serving Galician specialties alongside souvenir shops. Primarily fish and seafood of all kinds are on the menu here. You should definitely try the Pulpo (octopus) and Vieiras (scallops)!
Particularly recommended for dessert is the Tarta de Santiago, the almond tart that originates from Santiago de Compostela – an absolute delight!
Around the Rúa do Franco and also, for example, the Rúa do Vilar, numerous shops, jewelers, souvenir sellers, craft shops and workshops invite you to wander around. There are small street markets, big warehouses and everything from a traditional shop to modern brand boutiques, from typical regional products to the latest design and fashion trends. When shopping, you really do notice that Santiago has a long tradition of trading, and you’re bound to come away happy!