Travel Tips on Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Travel tips for Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is a city that draws over 100,000 pilgrims each year to the 1,000 year old shrine of St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. But you do not have to be a devout Catholic to visit this city and appreciate the architecture and the Cathedral. The old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I went to Santiago in the winter when morning and evening fog settles on the city and creates an eerie atmosphere. The winters are very cold and damp so if you visit Santiago in the winter bundle up!

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So of course the main thing to see is the Cathedral which is an impressive structure of stone and towers over the old city and creates the unique skyline of Santiago de Compostela. The history of the Cathedral is interesting – find a reader’s digest version at the end of this post. So make sure to see the Cathedral from right in front, inside too (and of course you must see the burial place of Saint James) and afterwards make the trek over to the park Caballeira de Santa Susana just before sunset to see the Cathedral and the old city skyline!

The University of Santiago de Compostela is another impressive site and you can see main campus buildings within the old city – one building in particular that is nice to visit is the Fonseca College building.

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After seeing these main sites I suggest wandering around the streets and seeing more of the city – I think one should always wander in a city to see unplanned sites! You might even see a pilgrim who has trekked the entire camino de Santiago! I did and the man I saw looked as if he spent his entire life getting there.

Oh and as a side note, try eating at the Parador in Santiago for an amazing meal served in a dining room that looks like a set for the Tudors or if nothing else at least go into the lobby and you will feel like you entered into medieval times. The Parador is on the same plaza as the Cathedral. Can’t be missed.

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Short History of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral:

The legend goes that the Apostle James’ body was carried on a stone ship from Jerusalem and brought to Spain to be buried in Galicia. When the tomb was discovered and reported to King Alfonso II around 814AD he ordered the construction of a chapel. The original church was destroyed and the construction of the present Cathedral began in 1075 and finished in 1122 (additions were made in the 16th and 18th centuries). The Cathedral is based on the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, France.

The Cathedral is 97 meters long (about 318 feet) and 22 meters high (about 72 feet) and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain and one of the largest in Europe (the façade is not Romanesque and was added later).

The Cathedral draws thousands of pilgrims every year. The pilgrims travel along the “Way of St. James” or the “Camino de Santiago” which stretches as far as France, Switzerland, Italy and England! The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage for many reasons, one of which says that the grooves on the shell come together at a point as do all the routes of the pilgrim.

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Useful Links and information about Santiago de Compostela:

1. For more history about the Cathedral of Sanitago de Compostela click here.

2. For more information and a history about the pilgrimage routes to Santiago click here.

3 –For information about the Paradores in Spain click here.

What to see in Madrid, Spain – Part One

Madrid, Spain

Travel tips for Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain is a city that truly never sleeps. You can stroll along the Castellana to the Museo del Prado and the monumental Palacio de Comunicaciones. Walking through the downtown you stumble upon hidden streets with cafes and small plazas. From the Royal Palace one can see panoramic views of the city and mountains in the distance. There is so much to explore in Madrid!

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First I will start off with the main sights to see in Madrid.

A great place to start is downtown with Plaza de Oriente and the Royal Palace. The Plaza de Oriente is a gorgeous plaza with the Opera House at one end and the Royal Palace at the other. I recommend getting a coffee at one of the restaurants and simply admiring the scenery. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Spain, however the Royal Family actually lives in a palace outside of the city. Portions of the Palace are open to the public and should not be missed! (If you are visiting Madrid around the holidays you will see many Nativities called Belens in Spanish, and you can see one at the Royal Palace that is very elaborate, just be prepared to wait in line).

Next to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The construction of the Catedral de la Almudena has been an extremely long process. The exterior of the Cathedral matches the white exterior of the Royal Palace, however the interior of the Cathedral is modern.

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From the Cathedral you can make your way through the old town streets and over to Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid is a major point of interest and a good reference point too. The Plaza was constructed in the early 17th century and has been used for bullfights, markets, soccer games, and concerts.

From the Plaza Mayor I recommend walking down towards the Castellana. You can stop in the Puerta del Sol which is another main plaza. However this plaza is more crowded and not my favorite place but it has become more pedestrian now with many pedestrian only streets leading off of the plaza. This is also the site of the bear statue – a bear eating a madrone tree – the symbol of Madrid. And the marking of kilometer zero which symbolizes the center of Spain, the start/ end of the Spanish road system, and the site of protests.

You can reach the Gran Via from Sol and if you like a busy main street with lots of shopping, Gran Via is the street for you to walk down.

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Personally I recommend going from Plaza Mayor down either Calle de Atocha or wandering through the streets to get to Paseo del Prado. Visiting the Prado is a must! The museum is huge so you do need a good amount of time, most of the afternoon! The newest portion of the Prado is an incredible exhibition space and the classical building has the must see painting: Las Meninas by Velazquez.

Also on the Paseo del Prado is theThyssen-Bornemisza Museum which is one of my favorite museums in Madrid. The building itself is beautiful and they have an amazing permanent collection and excellent visiting collections. My advice is to also allow a good full afternoon for this museum as well. Also for any special exhibitions, it is wise to buy tickets in advance (you can buy them days and weeks in advance) because there can be very long lines for these. Don’t miss this museum if you are an art lover!

Then just walk down the Castellana (main street) and you will pass significant buildings such as the Palacio de Communicaciones, the National Library, and Plaza Colon.

Another main site is the Jardines del Buen Retiro, usually just referred to as El Retiro. The park has main statue lined paths, a popular fountain/pond with a Monument to Alfonso XII, and there a crystal palace! After walking through the park you can explore the neighborhood near by and walk down the Calle de Serrano for a look at ritzy stores, restaurants, and apartment buildings.

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These are some of the main sights to see in Madrid, Spain. In part two about Madrid I will list one of my favorite locations in the city along with information about a couple of festivities.

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Helpful Links for Information about Madrid:

1 – For the Royal Palace hours and admissions prices click here.

2 – To read more about the Prado Museum’s history click here.

3 – For the official Prado website click here.

4 – For the hours and admission prices for the Prado click here.