Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

Plaza Mayor, Torre de Don Borja, and Ayuntamiento, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

Plaza Mayor in Santillana del Mar with 14thC Torre de Don Borja on the right and the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) on the left.

Visit Santillana del Mar

Santillana del Mar street with dog, Cantabria, Spain

Calle Canton, the Santanilla’s main old town street, approaching Santa Juliana church.

Santillana del Mar is a very picturesque medieval town in central Cantabria, packed with grand mansions and half-timbered houses on cobbled streets dating from 15th to 18th centuries, paid for with wealth earned from the local production of wool and linen though possibly helped by fortunes brought back from the Americas. The influential Santa Justa church also attracted aristocratic elements.
These days Santillana del Mar is no longer home to the Spanish aristocracy, just hoteliers, restauranters and shopkeepers making a buck from legions of tourists.

Sadly Santillana del Mar lacks the real-life feel of neighbouring Comillas. Still, it is a remarkable living museum, the Kathmandu of North Spain you might say.

Don’t try to visit Comillas and Santillana del Mar in the same day even though they’re close by, they’re too similar and both need relaxed time to wander and enjoy.
Santillana del Mar is 30 minutes west from Santander on the excellent A8/S20 Autopista (or whatever your map says it’s called, there’s only one Autopista! ), or 90 minutes from Bilbao. There are clear signs to Santillana off the Autopista.
You will have to park outside the old quarter. Follow signs to the large pay car park just 2 minutes walk away. Driving in Cantabria

A typically complex and boastful coat-of-arms seen throughout the town, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

A typically complex and boastful coat-of-arms seen throughout the town.


Alternatively and even better, you could stay in the old town (example) or nearby for a night or two in one of many equally ancient (but renovated) posadas, pensiones or hotels.
Santillana del Mar is well located for exploring the best of central Cantabria including Comillas of course, but also the Picos de Europa and some magnificent Cantabria beaches, though sadly, in spite of its name, Santilla del Mar is not by the sea. Suances is the nearest beach about 15 minutes drive but parking there after 10. 30 am in the summer will be impossible. We tried and failed, but other better beaches are available a short drive away, with parking.

A typical medieval bar and icecream shop overlooked by an extravagant coat-of-arms in Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

A medieval bar and icecream shop overlooked by an extravagant coat-of-arms, a common feature of Santilla.

We knew that other tourists (mainly Spanish) would infest the streets of Santillana in the summer months so we decided to get a relatively early start from Santander – which in Spain isn’t too difficult as they eat late, sleep late and start late in the morning.

Unfortunately our cunning plan didn’t take into account delivery van overload, so we had the gorgeous old calles and casas to ourselves at about 9 am – apart from a dozen white vans parked here and there doing their delivery thing but not helping to deliver atmospheric photos. By 10 am, however, the vans had gone, to be replaced by not too many sightseers. They would come later. . .

Colegiata de Santa Juliana, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

Colegiata de Santa Juliana.

This beautiful 12th century Romanesque abbey was once one of the most important monasteries in Spain, the burial place of Saint Juliana since the 6thC and may have been the original attraction for the many rich and infuential nobles who set up home in Santanilla del Mar.
Santa Juliana is said to have captured the devil, as depicted on the interior walls of the church, so it’s well-established on the pilgrim trail, but is closed on Sundays and Mondays. It opens Tueday – Saturday 10 am to 1. 30 pm, 4 to 7. 30 pm.

Santa Juliana cloister carvings close-up, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

The Santa Juliana cloisters feature intricately carved figures that are mainly biblical, mythical or both; this one appears to show a soldier in chainmail killing a tiger with his sword, which I don’t recall hearing about in either the Old or New Testament.

Two 16th century houses, Casa del Águila and La Parra, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

Two 16th century houses, Casa del Águila and La Parra, that now house collections of Cantabria art.

Map of Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain