Santander Attractions, Spain

El Sardinero Segunda beach, Santander city beaches, Cantabria, Spain

Main Santander attractions are half a dozen magnificent city beaches. This one is El Sardinero Segunda.

Holidays in Santander

Santander, Cantabria’s capital city – as well as the region around it – is an easy destination for Spanish and French visitors via excellent autoroutes/autopistas while British visitors can travel there by via car ferries (plenty of motorcycles on them too) from Plymouth and Portsmouth.

Visitors come not only to hang on Santander city beaches, but also to day trip to around 50 great beaches on the Cantabrian coast between 15 minutes and an hour’s drive away on fine roads, with varied features and facilities.

But first, Santander city sights…

Paseo de Pereda seafront, Santander city, Cantabria, North Spain

Paseo de Pereda, one of the city’s main streets, lined with cafés and ice-cream parlours and backed by a hilly ridge loaded with apartment blocks.

Santander city sights away from the sand

Plaza de Cañado, Santander city, Cantabria, North Spain

Some nicely typical, bulging-balcony, northern Spanish architecture (there’s probably a technical term for it! ) in Plaza de Cañado.

Santander is not a place packed with must-sees, basically it’s a beach resort with a few things to do if pushed, such as:

• Take a free walk around the Magdalena Peninsula, past the beaches, around the Palacio Real de La Magdalena (not inside), see four ancient ships of exploration at rest (with information) on the coast down the hill, maybe check the sea lions and penguins in their sea pens nearby. Peninsula de la Magdalena Photos

• Tour the Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno, a zoo, but well organised with lots of space for the animals such as bears, gorillas and a highly recommended ‘Birds of Prey’ show. You can self-drive around the park or take a bus.

• Drive/cycle up to the Parque de Cabo Mayor on the Cabo Menor Peninsular. This is basically a lighthouse with a small art gallery attached hosting two permanent exhibitions, one of bizarre lighthouse memorabilia and the other of interesting seascapes. The gallery is free.
There is also a pleasant walk onto the tip of the Cabo Mayor where the views of Santander are panoramic.

• Visit MUPAC, Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología  under the Mercado del Este (Calle Hernán Cortés, 4) and near Paseo de Pereda sea front.  It covers the history of Cantabria from the first humans to the present day with interactive displays in both English and French.  Some of the archaeological treasures on display were found in Cantabria’s prehistoric caves.  Visits are self guided.
Opening 10am-2pm & 5pm-8pm.

Weather

The best time to visit Santander are the three driest, sunniest months of June, July and August, when a little rain can still be expected, high temperatures will hover between 23C – 26C and lows around 14C.
Santander has a breezy and often humid climate with neither too much heat in the summer nor too much cold in the winter. Don’t expect to see much of the sun in winter but even so low temperatures won’t go much below 6C with highs around 14C.

Transport

Buses are reasonably cheap (1. 30 euros any distance) and frequent, including night buses, but a car is useful here to permit easy exploration of the region’s magnificent attractions on superb roads, ranging from extraordinary towns, caves and Los Picos de Europa mountain group to some exquisite beaches if Santander doesn’t supply enough sand or space to meet your needs.

Santander city views

Looking west from Peninsula de la Magdalena across Santander's main bay, Cantabria, Spain

Looking west from Peninsula de la Magdalena across Santander’s main bay, Mar Cantabrico, and four El Sardinero beaches to Faro de Cabo Menor (lighthouse). On the other side of this peninsula, to the east, is Bahia de Santander and several more fine beaches including. . .

Playa de los Peligros, Santander city, Cantabria, North Spain

. . . Playa de los Peligros, looking across Santander harbour (aka Bahia de Santander) to Somos town and its wild peninsula.

Peligros beach is a popular stretch of soft sand with a full range of facilities including showers, toilets, cafés, kid’s playground and lifeguards, easy parking nearby (but get there before 10am to be sure), a dedicated bus stop or a reasonable walk from the cheaper parts of town.
Peligros is, however, washed by significantly colder waters than El Sardinero’s beaches around the corner, probably due to the water flow and depth in the harbor.

Peligros means hazards in Spanish, the hazards being occasional strong currents which is presumably why there are a series of floating barriers to contain excitable kids. Another hazard may be. . .

Santander’s harbour entrance is to the left and the port is to the right so large ships including ferries and cruise ships pass through the gap between Peligros beach and the peninsula; but the gap is actually larger than it looks and large ships infrequent.

Siesta Time

Don’t forget that the traditional Spanish day, that is observed here, runs roughly 9. 30am – 1. 30pm/2. 30pm, followed by lunch+siesta (shops close apart from supermarkets) then 4. 30pm/5. 30pm – 8pm. This does take a little adjustment as cooked food is unlikely to be prepared before 1pm (so it’s boccadillos/sandwiches for lunch then! ) or 8pm+ for dinner. Many locals start dinner after 10pm.

Tapas

We were sadly disappointed by tapas offerings in Cantabria, most of which involved modest amounts of protein served on hunks of bread with a distinct shortage of wow factor, though ordering off the menu (after 8pm! ) as opposed to what’s on the counter can yield better results.

Attractions near Santander: beaches, mountains and towns

Unusual beaches

Playa Arnia on Spain's Atlantic Coast, Costa Cantabria

Playa de la Arnia

Check out some of the many stretches of unusual Cantabrian sand if you’re bored by Santander’s city beaches.

This gorgeous example is Playa de la Arnia, just 15 minutes drive from Santander. It offers plenty of clifftop parking if you’re ready to cough up 1 euro, but no facilities on or near the sand at all, so pack your picnic bag and prepare to pee in the sea.

Picos de Europa mountains

Mirador de Cable view over los Picos de Europa, Spain

Take a stroll on and around the Picos de Europa, 90 minutes drive west of Santander.

The Picos encompass absolutely stunning scenery and grand walks which make a perfect break from lying on a beach lounger. Here’s our beginner’s guide to getting to and onto the Picos de Europa from Santander/Bilbao in one easy day

Visit the Basque Country cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian

El Arenal Parque and the old town Casco Viejo, Teatro Arriaga and Puente de Arenal, Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao riverside.

Wander the fascinating Basque town of Bilbao, one hour’s drive east. There’s a lot more there than the extraordinary Guggenheim, which looks amazing but is apparently quite a waste of space inside! Old town, riverside walks, fine museums, but no city beaches.