After the Camino: What to do in Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is a fantastic destination for any tourist, but on the days after finishing a Camino, it's a perfect place to absorb the rich stew of the Way's history and current reality. The city is full of places to explore, but here are some of the highlights, and the things you don't want to miss while you're resting your feet and celebrating your achievement.
What to do in Santiago after finishing your Camino
Regardless of why you’ve walked the Camino, Santiago de Compostela is a lovely place to finish. It’s full of history and myth and spirituality - centered on the Cathedral experience, and splaying out into various other churches and chapels throughout the city. There is more than enough culture, food and fun if you just want to celebrate and wind down. Santiago is a stunning city and a great place to wander - as if you haven’t had enough walking. It’s no simple finish line but a whole culture built up across the centuries by the Camino.
Here are some of the best things to do while you’re in town. Pick your priorities, but if you're intrepid you could do everything on this list in 2 - 3 days.
First things first, make sure you pick up your compostela confirming that you’ve finished the Camino. The Pilgrim’s Reception Office is just around the corner from the Cathedral, on Rúa das Carretas. Stop in as early in the day as you can - they implemented a sophisticated ticketing system a few years back to deal with long wait times (the future is now on the Camino) but the advice is still to get in early to make sure you get your certificate before the office closes. Normal hours are 9 AM - 7 PM.
The Cathedral was constructed across the 12th and 13th centuries and is one of the most important in the world by any measure. Pass through the complex, stunning Pórtico de la Gloria to formally complete your pilgrimage. Take the guided rooftop tour for a spectacular view of the city. Wait in line to visit the crypt, commune with the dead saint’s bones, and hug the statue. Attend one of the daily pilgrim’s masses. Visit the attached museum to see preserved bits of Cathedral history from centuries past. You’ve come this far. Don’t miss out!
Wander the Cathedral square - the Plaza del Obradoiro - and the Old Town (Casco Antiguo) for atmosphere and celebration. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and a center of the process of winding down after the pilgrimage. This is where you’ll find endless options for food and drinks catering to locals and travelers, and where you’re bound to run in to people you met along the way.
Visit the Museum of Pilgrimages and Santiago in the square facing the Cathedral, the Plaza de Platerías. Santiago is full of of museums and historic buildings, but this is a great one to finish out a pilgrimage. It’s full of interesting history and insight into what you’ve just done, displays are in English and Spanish, and entry is cheap!
Late at night, across the Praza do Obradoiro from the Cathedral, a charming Camino tradition takes place. Musicians gather under the cover of the Neoclassical Pazo de Raxoi to play traditional Spanish music for donations most nights. It’s an informal celebration with pilgrims completing their journey, and it’s a perfect way to close out a long walk. Santiago is a city full of music, so even if you don’t find the musicians here, it’s likely that you’ll find someone playing in a park or a bar if you spend a bit of time looking.
There are plenty of accommodation options of all types, but a few are notable. If you want a serious splurge, stay at the Santiago Parador: The Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. It used to be a pilgrim hostel. Now it’s a pricey five star hotel. It’s the place where Spanish royalty stay when they visit, so you can set your expectations high. For a different vibe stay in one of the many albergues. The Albergue Seminario Menor close to the old town is huge but beautiful - one of the nicest albergues on the Camino, situated on the well-manicured grounds of a renovated seminary. If you prefer a private room after all of those nights in bunks, they have them available. You’ll likely need to book well ahead, but the Hospederia San Martin Pinario is a fantastic middle ground option that’s well worth planning for - affordable and pilgrim focused private accommodation in an old monastery in the Cathedral square with private rooms and options for fancy if you want it.
Even if you didn’t book in early enough to stay there, vIsit the Monastery of San Martin Pinario. The current impressive Baroque structure is from the 15th century, but the monks established here in the 9th century, shortly after James’ bones were discovered. You won’t find a closer connection to Camino history outside of the Cathedral itself.
Stop in a cafe to eat some Tarta de Santiago. Almond cake with lemon and brandy, decorated with the Cross of St. James. Maybe you’ve had it already by this point but why not commune with the Saint a bit more in his hometown?
Wander to the Mercado de Abastos - one of the more beautiful markets in Europe. It’s a nice spot to gorge on local delicacies, especially if you’re on a budget.
Wander through the Parque de la Alameda - a grand 16th century park near the Old Town with fantastic Cathedral views.
If you haven’t had enough of old churches, you’ll find endless options, but the Colegiata de Santa María del Sar is one of the oldest and most picturesque. It’s a 12 century structure a bit out of the center on the Sar River. It’s worth the walk out if you have the time. Similarly, the Convento de San Francisco is worth a viewing. It’s said to have been founded by St. Francis himself on his pilgrimage to Santiago in the 13th century. The current church is primarily 17th and 18th century but remains of the original structure are present on site.
Santiago is a big, modern city with much more on offer than this. You’ll find great food variety, craft beer, good wine, museums and endless shops. If you can, plan to spend at least a few days. It’s a great place to finish a pilgrimage, ancient and modern.