GUIDE Santiago’s 7 best kept secrets
Santiago de Compostela is not only an end destination for pilgrims, it is also a wonderful city with many great experiences
We always spend an extra day in Santiago de Compostela when we finish a camino. Here you can read about some of my best experiences in Santiago.
If you are looking for the best places to sleep in Santiago, click here
Costa Vella and the little peregrina
I write my last memoirs of each camino in the same place: the magical yard of Costa Vella – a teeny tiny green oasis in the middle of the city.
While the coffee brews I say a little thank you to the pilgrim’s statuette La Peregrina that resides in the yard. I have once dreamt of buying her and taking her home with me. But now I am content with the fact that she lives here amidst my beloved Santiago. I enjoy visiting with her here. Hotel Costa Vella is located on Rúa da Porta da Pena 17.
If you think the little statue looks familiar, then you may have walked the Camino Francés. Miguel Cuoto, the Gallician artist, stands behind both the “big sister” – the statue that sits and looks over the fields by O Cebreio, and the “little sister” – sitting in Costa Vella’s yard.
Food market Abastos
You won’t be bumping into Santiago’s fine food market, if you don’t know where to look. Abastos lies very central, but still on the outskirts of the pilgrim’s circle. However, the food market is worth every step, even if you have very tired legs.
You will meet an authentic Santiago ambiance with old women with rough hands selling everything your heart may desire of food. Located in 300 year old halls adds to the quite exquisite atmosphere. The market is open Monday-Sunday from 9AM-3PM and is closed on Sundays. Abastos market is located on Rúa das Ameas 5-8.
The tapas joint
On my first camino I met a gourmet loving Swiss, who spent hours finding unique food experiences for our camino family. When looking for a tapas place, he found Jefatura.
I will never forget this place. And I return after every walked camino. La Jefatura is still a well-kept secret, and I love how the waiter now says “You again!?” when I walk in year after year, camino upon camino.
The restaurant La Jefatura is located on Av. De Figueroa 1 (close to Park Alameda) but remember, they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Scallop shells for your backpack
I just have to close my eyes to see dishes like the clams with serrano ham (zamburiños con jamon), croquetas caseras, etc etc… and as the cherry on top of these meals – you can take your clam shells with you and put them on your backpack.
So now you know where all my shells come from.
The shadow of the invisible pilgrim
When night falls and the street lights are turned on, the mystical pilgrim shadow rises by the cathedral. Take a quiet walk during the evening – and keep your eyes open – I am certain you will find it!
PS in October 2018 a dark fate has temporarily laid itself upon the shadow, so it may be difficult to find the invisible pilgrim for a while.
The city’s largest scallop shell
One single scallop shell in Santiago’s streets is the largest of all! It is huge but at the same time well hidden, so much so that I wasn’t able to find it before a very late evening after a camino dinner and red wine.
You can find it by the corner of the entrance to the cathedral. Take a look by the corner of the entrance, suddenly you will see it clearly.
Did you miss the invisible pilgrim’s shadow? Maybe instead you can look for the “Preacher’s shadow”…
Free meals for pilgrims
In the old parador on Praza do Obradoiro they keep an honorable ancient tradition alive: they give the day’s first 10 pilgrims a free meal. We aren’t talking about any old meal – this is a three course super delicious meal at the Enxebres restaurant in its atmospheric, vaulted, stone cellar beneath the parador.
We were offered this historical and free meal, as we were among the first 10 pilgrims to receive the compostela at the pilgrim’s office that day. However, it was actually a blessing in disguise how this came about. We were staying in a horrible apartment just above a club, and at 7AM we stopped trying to get some sleep and instead got up and headed toward the pilgrim’s office. There we sat down in the dark with our morning coffee and our warm croissants half an hour before the office opened.
See our tips for the best places to sleep in Santiago – and find out which apartment you should NOT book.
Sunset from the cathedral’s roof
Some experiences are so grand that they are worth planning for, even for impulsive pilgrims. Every day a handful of pilgrims get the chance to walk up to the roof of the cathedral. From here you can enjoy the view over the city, the swarm of happy pilgrims below and the evening sun setting in the horizon.
It is difficult to get a ticket for the same day, so book ahead when you know which day you will be arriving. Tickets are usually released a couple of months in advance. The guided tour at 7PM gives you the best chance of seeing the sun set.
But if you can’t get that slot, then take another. I promise you, you won’t regret it! And if the tour’s language is not one you know, rest assured it doesn’t really matter. The experience itself is worthwhile!