The 3 Reasons I Fell in Love with Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I think it says a lot about the city of Santiago de Compostela—up here in Spain’s green northwest corner—that I stuck around for another year here despite it raining every single day for two months straight last winter. For some people, that might be a deal-breaker, but I held out hope that the following year wouldn’t be so bad…and I’m only just now breaking out my umbrella and rain boots for the first time in nearly two months.

3 reasons to love Santiago de Compostela
The cathedral’s west façade…before the scaffolding went up

So what is it about this enchanting city that made me renew my apartment lease for one more school year? Read on to learn about what I love so much about the Galician capital.

1) The granite old town

3 reasons to love Santiago de Compostela
Rúa do Vilar in the old town

I love old towns just as much as the next guy, but there’s something magical about Santiago’s that makes it irresistible. Declared a World Heritage Site alongside the cathedral, this historic center once circled by medieval walls deserves as much attention as the 800-year-old church it grew up around. Its centuries-old houses are built from local granite, sometimes whitewashed save for the windows, sometimes letting the natural stone show, and often capped with glassed-in balconies called galerías.

Two of the major streets in the southern half of the old town—Rúa do Vilar and Rúa Nova—are bounded on either side by soportales or arched, covered walkways that spring out from these homes and provide shelter from the rain. It’s fun to dash back and forth across the street from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to stay dry when it’s pouring rain.

When the rain does inevitably let up in the evening, the granite streets glisten in the lamplight. Some of the sett stones used for paving the many rúas in Santiago are earthy and brown, others cold and gray. But wander around at night when the old town is reflected in this mirror, listen to the baritone of the cathedral’s bells calling out the hour, carefully avoid the puddles that hide in the middle of the road as you hop from tapa to tapa—and you’ll catch Santiago at its most dazzling.

2) The generous free tapas

The Spanish custom of getting a small plate of noms with your drink at a café/bar/restaurant dates back centuries, when you would receive a tapa or “lid” of bread, cheese, meat, etc. to place on top of your glass to keep flies away, which also prevented you from imbibing on an empty stomach. Many regions of Spain no longer give you a free tapa with your drink order (Catalunya, western Andalucía, and the Basque Country make you pay extra) but much of the country still holds to this historic tradition, Galicia being one of them.

Santiago is no different, and no matter what you order—from a sweet glass of Albariño to a cup of Coca-Cola—you can expect to get a little something to munch on while you drink your beverage. It can be as simple as in-house marinated olives with peanuts and Iberian cured ham to the amazing spread pictured above of green peas and ham, a cube of potato omelet, a slice of tuna meat pie, and a dollop of “Russian” potato salad.

3) The surrounding green spaces

3 reasons to love Santiago de Compostela
An abuelo goes on paseo

Santiago may be Galicia’s fifth-largest city, but that hardly means it’s one apartment block after the other. The old town is bounded to the west by the turn-of-the-century Alameda Park, a great place to go running or for an afternoon stroll, and to the east by the former gardens that make up Belvís Park, the perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day. Start walking along the pilgrimage that goes west to Fisterra on the coast and in fifteen minutes you’ll be deep in the countryside. The Sar and Sarela Rivers both offer pleasant riverside trails. Old forests, monastic gardens, and family farms mean you’re never too far from a breath of fresh air—and nearby eucalyptus orchards perfume said air with a mint-infused fruitiness.

What are three things you love about your favorite city? Tell me your list below in the discussion thread!

Full disclosure: I wrote this as part of Accor Hotel’s A Tale of Three Cities promotion in which bloggers create a post or video around the theme “three things I love about my favorite city” and compete to win a nine-day vacation split between London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Seeing as fellow travel blogger Jessica Wray of Curiosity Travels is currently living it up in Brazil because of a contest she won, I’m not going to pass up such an enticing opportunity. (And like I needed an excuse to keep talking about Santiago!)

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