Culture on the Camino: Santiago de Compostela, the city of the pilgrim (2nd part)

A few days ago we inaugurated in our blog a series of articles dedicated to Santiago de Compostela. We talked about the foundation of the city, its history and its relevance as a cultural and spiritual center in Europe. Today we will continue our journey but to make a sketch of Compostela today: its climate, its people, its neighborhoods, its festivals and its gastronomy. In short, we will try to describe as faithfully as possible what the city is like today for pilgrims and tourists who have the opportunity to visit it.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Santiago de Compostela is a city that keeps its past alive but knows how to project itself into the future and contemplates the birth of new cultural manifestations. Religious ceremonies coexist in harmony with avant-garde art, music and new generation theater.

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2) Santiago today

From the peaks of O Pedrouzo we can contemplate the end of our long-awaited goal: the dreamed city, Santiago de Compostela is already at our fingertips.

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After experiencing the joy and excitement of having achieved our challenge, we let ourselves be immersed in the spirit and beauty of our destination city.

The first impression is felt in the atmosphere. Compostela has pleasant average temperatures throughout the year, making summer not too hot and winters not too cold. In spring it is common to find a fine rain that wets but does not soak (in Galicia it is known by the name of orballo).

Upon our arrival we observed that the city is divided into two zones: the monumental zone and the new zone or the Ensanche. The boundary between the two was formerly occupied by the wall that surrounded the historic center.

After our obligatory visit to the Cathedral, we can explore the historical part of Santiago: the stores of the rúa do Vilar and the rúa Nova, the pastry shops, jewelers and antique stores where we can spend a pleasant time or get a typical souvenir for our family or friends.

Near the monastery of San Paio are also the pubs of the old town, some of them considered among the best in Spain.

The towers of the Cathedral are visible from almost every point of the city, accompanying us on our tour and serving as a guide to move around the monumental area.

2.1) Its people, its neighborhoods, its festivities…

The current population of Santiago de Compostela is around 116,000 inhabitants, of which about 33,000 are students.

The largest economic activity is concentrated in the service sector, which accounts for 70%, followed by the industrial sector with only 16.6%. This is due to the fact that for many years Santiago de Compostela depended economically on the Church and the University, two institutions that marked the economic development of Compostela’s life. After a few decades of stagnation, the city realized that it had to improve. It began to invest in cutting-edge technology and the Tambre industrial estate was created, where most of the local companies are located today. In any case, tourism and the Camino de Santiago are one of the main sources of income in the city. According to “La Voz de Galicia”, Santiago de Compostela beat a new record of pilgrims in 2014, no more and no less than 237,810 compared to 215,880 in 2013.

Outside of the pilgrimages and religious sentiment, tourists enjoy throughout the year the famous festivals, fairs and pilgrimages that the city and nearby parishes host from January to December. It is not unusual to witness long processions through the streets, fireworks at night and displays of popular folklore during these festivities.

The two most famous festivals in Santiago are the Ascension (from May to June) and the Apostle’s Day, which is celebrated on July 24 and is one of the most important in Galicia. Many tourists and onlookers gather tonight in front of the Obradoiro square to see how the Mudejar facade that is installed in front of the Cathedral burns and enjoy the spectacle of light, sound and colors caused by the beautiful fireworks that illuminate the sky.

Other very traditional festivities are the San Juan, the carnivals or the Mayos. All these events are usually enlivened by popular orchestras, fairground attractions, floats and comparsas.

Finally, to end this section, we will make a special mention to the neighborhoods, each one of them with its own identity, religious cults and festivities. Conxo, San Pedro (where pilgrims enter the city), Os Basquiños, As Galeras, Sar (near the church of Santa María la Real), As Fontiñas (full of shopping centers and green areas), San Lázaro (where the local stadium and the new Conference and Exhibition Center are located), Guadalupe and Vite (mostly social buildings), Vista Alegre (residential area) or Vidán (place where the Sar and Sarela rivers meet)… Anyway, we will not stop to list and describe profusely each one of them because we think it is better that you know them by yourself during our tour to Santiago de Compostela. What we will do is a small practical guide to manage in the city and know some must-see places, where to eat or have fun in our free time.

2.2) Shopping in Santiago

There are two important commercial areas in the city: the historical center and the Ensanche.

If we want to get some typical souvenirs or visit centenary stores, it is worth visiting the old town and get lost in its streets: the rúa Nova and Vilar, the Caldeirería, the Preguntoiro, and the squares Toral and Cervantes. All these establishments are part of the Centro Comercial Aberto Compostela Monumental. Pastry shops, bookstores, fashion stores, souvenir stores or silver and jet handicraft stores where we can buy or order the jewel of our dreams. If you like sweets, you can not leave without trying the typical Santiago cake made with almonds.

On the other hand, in the new or Ensanche area we can spend a few hours looking at modern design stores, furniture, clothes, accessories, etc. These shops are part of the Open Shopping Center Santiago Centro.

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Apart from these large surfaces, we have the Compostela Shopping Center located in the neighborhood of Castiñeiriño. Here we can find the Hipercor Hypermarket (with food, bazaar and textile) and El Corte Inglés Stores (fashion and accessories, leisure, computers, image and sound, sports and all home equipment).

2.3) Gastronomy

As we told you some time ago, one of the best tourist attractions of Santiago and Galicia in general, is the great gastronomic variety it treasures: seafood and fish from the estuaries, beef, pork or poultry, corn or wheat pies (with many variants, including scallops, bonito, loin, cockles …), vegetables, sweet wines and liquors, etc.

Within this wide range, each season of the year has a traditional dish. For example, in the cold months we can savor the magnificent Galician broth and stew, the “lacón con grelos” (pork shoulder with turnip tops) or the Galician tripe.

The octopus á feira with cachelos is welcome at any time of the year. The same could be said of baked scallops, Galician hake, sardines, clams or the delicious turbot. Galician fish and seafood are considered the best in the north of the peninsula. A typical way to prepare them is the caldeirada where different types of fish are cooked in clay pots.

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Each area of Galicia is rich in a type of seafood; for example, A Costa da Morte is known for its barnacles, the Rías Baixas for its mussels and cockles, Arcade for its oysters… Other varieties of seafood are spider crabs, crayfish, crayfish, lobsters or santiaguiños (typical of Santiago de Compostela). Each of them is prepared in a different way and varies in price and presentation at the table.

As for meats, it is worth savoring the sirloin steak, free-range chicken, pork loin, roast kid, larded veal or churrasco.

To accompany these meals, we have a wide range of wines, both red and white. The latter are drunk chilled and mainly with fish and seafood, while the former are ideal to accompany meats. Ribeiro, Rosal, Albariño or Barrantes are some of the most renowned.

The desserts are assorted and also depend on the season. You can not miss the filloas filled with chocolate or honey, the cream canes, the cheese of the country with quince and, above all, the famous Santiago cake, made with almonds and considered by all as the typical sweet of the city.

To close our meals with a flourish, we will enjoy a good coffee or a glass of Galician brandy, in any of its traditional varieties such as cherry or coffee liqueur.

Apart from the typical cuisine of the country, there are also many restaurants in the city with a wide range of fast food and mixed dishes. In the streets of Franco and Raíña you will find many traditional taverns where you can enjoy tapas or have lunch and dinner for a reasonable price.

2.4) Leisure and free time

Santiago de Compostela is considered the cultural capital of Galicia. Classical and modern music concerts, cinema or theater cycles, photography and painting exhibitions, book presentations… are some of the activities that are usually attended in Santiago.

When touring the city and organizing our free time, we should not miss a visit to the different monuments and museums of Compostela. We have already talked about the first ones in detail in the first part of our article. As for the museums, special attention should be paid to the Museum of the Galician People in the Convent of Santo Domingo de Bonaval, which covers different aspects of the traditional crafts of Galicia; and the Galician Center of Contemporary Art, designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza and which houses exhibitions of international artists.

Music lovers can enjoy a wide range of musical shows at the Auditorio de Galicia: opera, zarzuela or contemporary artists.

The best pubs and discos can be found both in the historic area and in the Ensanche. We cannot forget that the presence of a large number of university students makes Santiago a young city with a great nightlife.

Although if you prefer walks and tranquility, you can relax in the public parks of the Alameda or walk up to Mount Pedroso where you can admire a complete panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

We would like to spend more time describing the magic and grandeur of Santiago de Compostela today, but we think it is better that you live the experience for yourself. So if you have already decided to embark on your tour, we encourage you to contact us for no obligation information on how we will organize your trip and available dates.

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