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Relaxing Travel to Spain’s West Coast for a Long Weekend

Updated on March 24, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis lives in England. She enjoys travel in the UK and in Western Europe with occasional trips further afield.

Musicians at a Medieval Festival in Santillana Del Mar

Medieval Festival at Santillano del Mar
Medieval Festival at Santillano del Mar | Source

Santander - gateway to Santillana del Mar, the Altamira Cave and the Picos de Europa

Santander, on the west coast of Spain, is a great place for a short break. Less crowded and cooler than the Costas of the Southern Spain, it's a place where Spanish people like to enjoy a holiday. It was once the preferred holiday residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Some of the best stretches of sandy beaches in Spain are along this coast. It's also an ideal base from which to explore further inland, perhaps driving to the spectacular landscape of the Picos de Europa, or visiting Santillana del Mar, a medieval town on the pilgrimage trail, from where it's an easy walk to the famous stone age painting in the Altamira cave. A leisurely and stress-free way to get to Santander from England is on a cruise ferry from the south coast. Around twenty-four hours onboard with opportunities for gourmet dining and top-class entertainment. Take the car or travel as a foot passenger, as we did. Alternatively, Santander airport is 8 km from the centre of the town and has both domestic and international flights.

The Magdalena Peninsular and Former Summer Holiday Home of Spanish Royalty

The Magdalena Peninsula
The Magdalena Peninsula | Source

The Magdalena Palace in Santander

Palacio De La Magdalena in Santander. Once the summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family
Palacio De La Magdalena in Santander. Once the summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family | Source

The Royal Palace in Santander

  • The palace was completed in 1911, paid for by public subscription,to provide a holiday home for King Alfonso XIII and his wife Victoria Eugenie, daughter of Englands' Queen Victoria
  • Situated at the highest point on the Magdelena peninsula, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean
  • From 1913 to 1930 the Royal Family spent their summers in the Palace
  • In 1931 the Second Spanish Republic was declared and King Alfonso XIII was forced into exile
  • From that date onward the building had a variety of uses - headquarters of the International Summer University, hospital. It provided temporary homes for the many families affected by the devastating fire that swept through the city in 1941, burning everything in its path for 2 days
  • In 1941 ownership of the Palace and of the peninsula was assumed by the Royal Family in the person of the son of King Alfonso XIII
  • 1977 the Town Council purchased the property
  • Restoration of the buildings was completed in 1995. Nowadays it is a venue for conferences, weddings, and university summer schools

Information About Entry to the Magdalena Palace

  • From June to September visits are allowed only at the weekends
  • Times - 10.00 a.m.,11.00 a.m., 12.00 noon
  • Price €3.00 (price checked August 2017)

There are more frequent daily tours during the remaining months of the year. Only 50 people are admitted for each tour, which is conducted in the Spanish language. Tours last for 45 minutes.

Enhance a Holiday by Learning a Little of the Local Language

Local people appreciate the effort if you know a few phrases of their language. It enhances the holiday experience. I acquired a basic grasp of the Spanish Language through practising theMichel Thomas method on the long drive to and from my workplace. The tried and tested method speaks for itself - polyglot M. Thomas taught numerous well-known people and celebrities during his lifetime, including Bill Clinton and the actress Emma Thompson.

A little revision before each trip and I have a degree of reassurance that I will be able to cope with most everyday situations.

Visitor Attractions on the Magdalena Peninsula, Santander

Cycle to the Magdalena Palace, situated on the 69-acre peninsula, and rode around the paths through the park. In places a slightly difficult uphill ride for two pensioners with dodgy knees, but most people should be able to manage it comfortably! It's within easy walking distance of the promenade but catching a bus is an alternative option.Hop on at the Jardines de Pereda or Puerto Chico.

There are a number of interesting attractions on the peninsula, which is designated a cultural heritage site -

  • Three vessels of the Cantabrian mariner Vital Alsar Ramirez
  • A small zoo
  • A lighthouse
  • A beach

Replica of one of Three Rafts on which Ramirez made his Record Breaking Journey from Ecuador to Australia


The Voyages of Vital Alsar Ramirez

In the late twentieth century, Ramirez led three expeditions by raft across the Pacific Ocean, from Ecuador and Australia. The first expedition was a failure, but the second and third succeeded, setting the record for the longest known raft voyages in history - 8,600 miles (13,800 km) and 9,000 miles (14,000 km)

Sardinero Beach in Santander

The beach at Sardinero, 2km from the centre of Santander, is a long stretch of clean golden sands. It's much less crowded than the beaches on the Spanish Costas, especially so out of high season. Santander is a cycle-friendly city - we borrowed bicycles from our hotel and travelled to it along the cycle route on the Paseo de Pereda seafront promenade.

Overlooking the beach at Sardinero
Overlooking the beach at Sardinero | Source
Los Peligros Beach, Santander
Los Peligros Beach, Santander | Source

The Climate in Santander

Santander has a much more moderate climate than the Costas of southern Spain, with some rainfall in every month of the year. If you plan to travel inland pack a warm sweater - there can still be cold days in the hills and mountains in the summer months, as was the case when I was there in June.

What to Bear in Mind When Reading Weather Charts

  • Weather charts show average temperatures, sometimes calculated over a period of years.
  • The weather in most places is less predictable than it once was, due to climate change.
  • The temperature in Santander on the 7th September 2016 was 29° centigrade, whereas the chart above shows an average temperature of 22° centigrade.

Medieval Town of Santillana Del Mar

Santillana del Mar
Santillana del Mar | Source

A Day Trip to Santillana del Mar

We hopped on a bus at the coach station for the 30 km journey to the preserved medieval town Santillana del Mar, up in the Cantabrian hills. The bus terminates at the edge of the town,from where there is a short walk into the main street. On the day of our visit a Medieval Market was being held in the streets of the town, with stall holders, musicians and entertainers in authentic costume, and traditional crafts and local produce on sale. After following in the footsteps of Middle Age pilgrims who climbed the cobbled streets on their journey towards Santiago de Compostella, we explored the lanes; purchased some local delicacies; and discovered a gallery with an interesting exhibition of modern sculpture.

(It was very cold up in the hills - in June. Next time I will take a warm jacket).

show route and directions
A markerSantander -
Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

B markerSantillana del Mar -
Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

Santillana del Mar

C markerAltamira Cantabria -
Altamira, 39300 Torres, Cantabria, Spain
get directions


Musicians at a Medieval Festival in Santillana del Mar

Santillano del Mar
Santillano del Mar | Source

Cobbled Street in Santillana del Mar

The pilgrims trod these cobbles
The pilgrims trod these cobbles | Source

The Altamira Cave in Cantabria, Spain

The world-famous cave with its 15,000-year-old Stone Age rock paintings is approximately 35 km from Santander and 2 km from Santillana del Mar.

In the interests of preservation, visits to the cave are no longer available to the general public. However, the museum is a very popular visitor destination. The Neocave is an accurate three dimensional representation of life at Altamira 22,000 - 13,000 years ago. Queues can be long so it's advisable to purchase tickets in advance.

Stone-Age Rock Painting in the Altamira Cave

Altamira Bison
Altamira Bison | Source

The Walk from Santillana Del Mar to the Altamira Cave

show route and directions
A markerSantillana del Mar -
Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

B markerAltamira Cave Museum -
Avenida Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, s/n, 39330 Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

UNESCO Video Tour of the Altamira Cave Museum

Tapas Time in Santander

  • Santander is a working commercial centre and when the offices close for the day the workers head for one of the many tapas bars
  • A tapa is a snack-size portion of food.
  • The plural is tapas.
  • Tapas are served with drinks.
  • Tapas can be comprised of almost anything and are generally delicious tasty tidbits (though I can't recommend squid served in its own ink).
  • In Spain, tapas are a component of a social culture that involves barhopping and eating an early evening snack, often whilst standing up. I equate them to cocktail canapés, albeit they are sometimes a little more substantial.
  • Some bars serve a free tapa with each drink that is ordered.
  • But if you want something a little more substantial there is likely to be a charge.
  • Dinner is eaten late evening in Spain. However, my experience is that by visiting several bars and consuming several tapas I don't want or need dinner.

A Selection of Tapas

A selection of tapas
A selection of tapas | Source
Eating tapas at Il Diluvio, Calle Atualfo Argenta 14
Eating tapas at Il Diluvio, Calle Atualfo Argenta 14 | Source

Hotel Real in Santander

The Hotel was built in 1917 to accommodate members of the King of Spain's Court. It stands in a landmark position on the highest point in Santander, with the best views, and is nowadays a luxury hotel. A friend got a fantastic short break bargain from Brittany Ferries and stayed here on a bed and breakfast basis. The hotel is in a bracket that would otherwise be beyond my budget.

The first thing that I noticed when entering the lobby was a large board bearing the autographs of well-known previous guests - including the internationally acclaimed tenor Jose Carreras. The hotel serves wonderful breakfasts in a light and airy room overlooking the gardens.The service is first-class and unobtrusive. Each day the chambermaid left a card with a motto and a hand-made chocolate on my bed, where she had arranged my nightdress in a perfectly pleated fan.

The road up to the hotel is quite steep and an unsuitable climb for the elderly, unfit, or those with physical disabilities. These people would need vehicular transport. We borrowed bicycles from the hotel but had to dismount for the road back up from the seafront.

Hotel Real in Santander

We had rooms on the top floor, which are a lot cheaper that suites but nevertheless wonderful. Chocolates on the pillow and nightdress spread in a fan on the coverlet every evening by the chambermaid.
We had rooms on the top floor, which are a lot cheaper that suites but nevertheless wonderful. Chocolates on the pillow and nightdress spread in a fan on the coverlet every evening by the chambermaid. | Source

Budget Price Accomodation in Santander

A twin room at the Hosteria Santander costs approximately £68 per night.

The Casino at Santander
The Casino at Santander | Source
Gran Casino Santander
Gran Casino Santander
show route and directions
A markerPalacio del Magdalena Santander -
Palacio de la Magdalena, 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

B markerHotel Real Santander -
Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

Luxury hotel, unmissably located on a high point in the town.

C markerBus Station Santander Spain -
Bilman Bus S.L., 39002 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

There is an ample number of lockers here for storing luggage. We left our here whilst we explored whilst waiting to board the car ferry to England

D markerThe Indoor Market -
Calle el Mercado, 39002 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

E markerLos Peligros Beach Santander -
Playa de los Peligros, Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

A pleasant family-friendly beach with good nearby restaurants

F markerPlaza de Italia Santander -
Plaza Italia, 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

Gran Casino

G marker1B, Paseo de Pereda, 15, 39004 Santander, Cantabria, Spain -
Paseo de Pereda, 1A, 39004 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

Budget Price Hostel Santander

H markerHosteria Santander -
Calle Joaquín Costa, 43, 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain
get directions

Did You Know?

The international golfer Seve Ballesteros came from Santander and that the airport is named in honour of him.

What Are Your Impressions of this Part of Spain

See results

How To Travel To Santander

  • We took the overnight ferry from Plymouth to Santander. It's a relaxing way to travel and is an enjoyable part of the holiday - great French cuisine or self-service food, a piano bar, large cabaret bar, cinema, duty- free shopping and a bunk with en-suite shower for the night.
  • Brittany Ferries has regular sailings from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander. The Company also offers good value short stay package holidays to Santander. Choose from a variety of hotels.Travel as a foot passenger or take the car with you.This Is a French shipping line - the food is excellent. There are several options - we ate the self-serve buffet. It’s worth paying a little extra for a cabin, rather than sleeping in a chair.
  • Ryanair flies from London-Stanstead to Santander and also offers seasonal flights from Edinburgh
  • Sevi Ballesteros is an international airport and the only airport in Cantabria

Airport Shuttle Bus

There are shuttle buses to and from the airport every 30 minutes. The ride takes approximately 15 minutes. A single ticket to the centre of Santander costs €2.50 (2016 price).

© 2016 GlenR


Submit a Comment

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 19 months ago from UK

    Hi billybuc! Thanks for the visit. I love your writing style so will be hooking up with you again soon. In the meantime - wishing you health, wealth and happiness :)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

    Well greetings, and thank you for following me. I see you are one of those writers who write articles that should do quite well on HP, unlike those of us who meander through the creative marshes looking for a crumb. LOL Seriously, I love travel articles like this one. Since I most likely will never see Europe in this lifetime, I enjoy reading about it from people I know...and now I know you. :)

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 19 months ago from UK

    MsDora - thanks for your positive comments. I would love to visit the Caribbean - perhaps you will post a hub on day?

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 19 months ago from UK

    Jodah, many thanks for your positive feedback :)

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 19 months ago from The Caribbean

    Voted "I would love to visit." Thanks for this comprehensive tour of Santander. Happy that palace is put to such good use. Your pictures are so inviting!

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 19 months ago from Queensland Australia

    This was great, Glenis. Very informative and I loved the pics. Now I know what tapas is/are. I had heard the term and knew it was some type of food but not that it was small portions of various dishes.

    That raft od Alsar Ramirez looks amazing. Well done.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 19 months ago from UK

    Yes the Guggenheim is perhaps too close to miss. I wasn't in Santander for long enough to visit - but I was at the Peggy Guggenheim gallery in Venice recently.

  • Iammattdoran profile image

    Matt Doran 19 months ago from Manchester, UK

    Santander is not somewhere I've ever considered visiting but I love getting inspiration for new places from articles such as this. I'd probably include a trip to Bilboa for the Guggenheim if I went. Thanks