It’s 7.30 am on a chilly morning. The sun has yet to rise and the usually busy square in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is dead quiet. It would be an eerie feeling if not for the sense of calm and joy that comes from standing in front of such a magnificent cultural monument. Recently renovated, this imposing cathedral marks the end of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and is also, along with the city’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During my stopover in the city, I quickly experienced the magic of Santiago de Compostela as I explored every inch of the cathedral and strolled down each street and narrow alley in the old town, repeating the process multiple times and at varying hours. I wanted to soak it all in, from the people and the food to the glimmers of light in the morning and the reflections in puddles after a short spell of rain.
Praza do Obradoiro in front of the cathedral was particularly fascinating to experience at different times of the day. I hadn’t come to Santiago as a pilgrim this time, but it was still impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere. I sat in the square happily people watching and serving as photographer for a few groups of friends and solo pilgrims wanting to get their picture taken in front of the iconic cathedral. Some pilgrims even had enough energy left after their long journey to hoist their bikes high over their heads. While they may have been tired and sweaty, each and every one of these pilgrims had huge smiles on their faces.
Santiago is the perfect spot for a few days, with a myriad of cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from, along with a generally positive atmosphere all around. If you have a few days to spend in the city, make sure to visit Alameda Park and Mercado de Abastos (definitely one for food lovers). Sampling Galicia’s famed Pulpo a Feira (octopus) with a glass or two of vino is an absolute must!
It’s no surprise that the cathedral is the focal point of the city and I would highly recommend a visit to the church’s towers. The panoramic views from the rooftops of the cathedral are spectacular and the ticket also includes access to the museum, which is decent.
It’s also worth considering taking a day trip to Cape Finisterre or, if you fancy, prolonging your stay by a few days. You can actually cycle from Santiago to Finisterre in 3 days (or walk it in 5), which is ideal if you don’t have the time to do a longer stretch of the Camino.
Cape Finisterre has been the final destination for Camino pilgrims for many centuries. Its name means ‘Land’s End’ and it was once believed to be the most westerly point of Europe and the end of the world. Even though we now know this isn’t the case, it still boasts an enviable sunset over the Atlantic.
With the past two years of fear and uncertainty starting to fade a little bit more into the background, there’s growing excitement in the air. With Holy Year 2022, the return of travel and a renewed sense of hope, it may even be difficult to find a quiet moment in the city of Santiago, even in the pre-dawn hours!
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If you’re making a booking on any of the routes with CaminoWays, avail of The Munster Express reader discount. Simply quote: munsterexcamino
Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Santiago four times a week from March 27th.