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Guide to Cantabria

All the knowledge to help you live like a local

Experience Spain’s much-loved Cantabria region with an added dose of our insider knowledge

Situated by Spain’s northern coast, the region of Cantabria is one of Spain’s most richly diverse destinations. You’ve got the authentic port feel of Santander, the region’s capital, combined with the ruggedness of the Picos de Europa National Park and the quaint charms of towns like Santona. Learn about the must-dos and travel essentials with our Cantabria guide, then you’ll be poised for the holiday of a lifetime from the moment you arrive.

Craft your own unbeatable Spanish break with our insider tips and include Cantabria’s top attractions, so you can experience the real Spain – small towns with lots of culture to take in.

Our expert recommendations

When abroad, it helps to have an insider perspective so you can live like a local. Find out where does the tastiest anchovies, which of Santander’s museums are most suited to you, and which are the best beaches for when all you really want to do is gaze over the great Atlantic Ocean.

Reap the destination tips and recommendations to help you to create your own itinerary which caters for everyone from culture vultures – with visits to the ancient Caves of the Castle – to foodies, with tours of lobster farms and tidal mills. Immerse yourself within contemporary Cantabrian living and really experience this beloved Spanish region.

Bilbao railway station

How to explore Cantabria

Santander’s Magdalena Palace

Things to see and do

Sobaos pasiegos, a typical sweet of Santander, Spain

The best food and drink

The enticing coastline of Santander on a sunny day

Weather and climate

Fireworks light up the sky over the bay in Santander

Events in Cantabria

Holidays in Cantabria

Holidays in Cantabria

Here’s how to get around using Cantabrian buses, taxis and various other transport utilities.

Travelling by bus

When staying at the Hotel Juan de la Cosa, you’re entitled to free bus tickets into Santona. It’s a 2-kilometre trip, taking you into the town in five minutes. The bus stop itself is around 100 metres from the hotel, so you don’t have far to walk. You can also get on a bus to Santander from the stop, which costs €4.50 each way for an hour-long journey.

Travelling by bus from Santona

You can get buses from Santona to towns and municipalities like Laredo and Noja for €4.50 and €9 respectively. Journey times last between 30 minutes and an hour, although services aren’t that regular. They run every four hours or so, although this is subject to change on Sundays and public holidays. Check with a member of staff at your hotel before travelling anywhere – that way you won’t end up waiting around for public transport.

Travelling by bus from Santander

From Santona you can get the bus to other destinations in Cantabria, like Santander. Services run throughout the day, with tickets costing roughly €6.30 each way and journey times of about an hour, depending on traffic. When you arrive in Santander, soak up the local sights and culture with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. These cost €8 and take you around the city in an hour or so.

It’s possible to get to western Cantabrian destinations from Santander, although you should be prepared for bus services to be irregular. Services run from the city to coastal towns, such as Somo, every four hours, with half-hour journeys costing a little over €3.

Travelling by taxi

You can book taxis directly from your hotel’s reception area. It’ll cost you €8 each way, with fares elsewhere varying depending on your destination.

Travelling by boat

Between March and November, shuttle ferries run from Santona to Laredo beach, with return tickets costing €3.50. Between June and September, you can get a ferry to central Laredo. Services depart several times in the day and return tickets cost €10.

Travelling by train

Getting around Cantabria by train isn’t always convenient – few services are available, and buses are far more frequent. If you want to go outside of Cantabria, trains can take you from Santander to Bilbao in just short of three hours.

Car hire in Cantabria

Cantabria is near other desirable Spanish holiday destinations, like Vigo and Bilbao. Explore them at your whim and hire a car to uncover Spain’s northern charms – simply bring the relevant documentation and you’ll be cruising through scenic Cantabria before you know it.

If you would like to organise car hire yourself, take advantage of Saga’s partner discounts to get 10% off with an additional driver. Just go to our Hertz page to book in advance, using the Find a car button. Or you can call Hertz on 0870 241 3657 and quote CDP number 740421. We recommend booking at least 72 hours before your departure. You can arrange insurance during the rental process.

Bike rental in Cantabria

You’ve also got the option of exploring the region via bicycle. Velomesto, an interactive bike-friendly map for cyclists, allows you to locate hire services in both Santona and Santander.

Useful transport links

Take a look at these links for the latest information from Cantabria transport providers. Some websites are written in Spanish, but your browser may translate these for you.

Buses: Autobuses Palomera S.A.

Ferries: Excursiones Maritimas

Trains: Renfe

Please note that all prices are accurate at time of publishing.

Thanks to Cantabria’s natural grace and significance – the region has a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – there’s no shortage of things to do here. From long-established culinary credentials to both Asturian and Romanesque cultural influences, you’ll find no end of exploration angles.

Santona – cultural sites and natural beauty

For a chance to stretch your legs – and see one of Santona’s most renowned buildings – walk along the path to the El Caballo Lighthouse. It’s a 10.8-kilometre path which takes you alongside near-vertical cliffs and up staircases which culminate at the town’s lighthouse. You’ll be rewarded with stunning ocean vistas and countless amounts of photo opportunities, but bear in mind that the walk itself is a bit of a challenge – bring plenty of water so you stay hydrated!

As well as the local surf school for the thrill seekers among you, the nearby Playa de Berria beach is also within easy walking distance of the Hotel Juan de la Cosa and boasts stretching views of the Atlantic. Sands here are widespread, with plenty of room to relax and catch rays whenever the sun is shining. It’s also ripe with rocky coves and inlets if you fancy exploring further.

Cantabria – natural parks

Located around 17 kilometres from Santander, the Cabarceno Natural Park showcases Cantabria’s scenery alongside acting as a conservation area for endangered species. It’s home to around a hundred different animal species from five continents, all of whom coexist in spacious enclosures. Visit to see reptiles such as rattlesnakes, turtles and lizards as well as mammals like boars and bears.

You can drive to the Picos de Europa National Park, where you’ll be able to experience Cantabria’s wilder side, from both Santander and Santona. As well as being part of Cantabria, it’s within the boundaries of other regions, namely Asturias, Castile and Leon. The park was awarded UNESCO approved Biosphere Reserve status in 2003, while the rocky peaks which make up its alpine sectors are nothing short of spectacular. It’s worth dedicating the best part of a day to exploring to appreciate the sheer mass of this park.

Santander – palaces

Santander’s 20th century Palace de la Magdalena is a regular summer haunt for Spain’s royal family. Train tours take visitors around the grounds for a couple of euros per ticket, while the gardens offer panoramic views over Santander and the neighbouring regions.

Santander – cathedrals

Dating back to the 12th century, the Santander Abbey has gothic influences alongside later traits which appeared following later renovations and expansions. The abbey managed to survive the Spanish Civil War, although it was damaged during the Santander Fire of 1941. Since then, it has been restored close to its previous stature and remains among the city’s main attractions.

Santander – museums

The Maritime Museum of the Cantabrian Sea is, aptly, on Santander’s seafront. Go here for an insight into the region’s nautical past and marvel over old boats, exhibitions and even some fauna in the aquarium. Fishing used to be one of Santander’s key industries and the museum stands as a fitting testament to this history. After a few educational hours, tuck into some delicious fish and chips at the restaurant.

For landlubbers, there’s the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology. It’s in central Santander and is complete with research spaces and exhibitions showcasing Cantabria’s archaeological artefacts. Visit here to see the fossils and artwork which account for much of the region’s past.

Comillas – historic buildings

When most people think of Antoni Gaudi’s works, they think of Barcelona’s colourful, abstract buildings. Perhaps one of the Spanish architect’s lesser known designs is in Comillas, a small town west of Santander. Unbeknown to most, Gaudi designed the colour-rich El Capricho building, which served as a summer villa for his friend Maximo Diaz de Quijano in the late 19th century.

Puente Viesgo – natural beauty

The famed Cave of the Castle is an archaeological site deep within the Caves of Monte Castillo, which is arguably the region’s most significant Palaeolithic site. This particular cave is home to some of Europe’s – and potentially the world’s – oldest cave artwork, with paintings depicting various animals. Head here for a few hours and lose yourself to a piece of Cantabrian history in a truly remarkable setting.

Bilbao – history and art

Head beyond the borders of Cantabria and you’ll find another northern Spain’s great treasures, Bilbao. The capital of the Basque Country contains an atmospheric Old Town (Casco Viejo) with lively bars, beautiful churches and quirky little shops.

Culture-wise, you’re in for a treat. Explore the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Museo de Bellas Artes for art, or dip into the Basque Museum and Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum for some historical perspective. A day trip here is a day well spent.

San Sebastian – culture and beauty

A little further afield is San Sebastian, one of Spain’s most beautiful cities. This is an excellent destination for anyone who wants a taste of Spain laced with wonderful cultural events, historic grandeur and art galleries.

Food

Cuisine in Cantabria is heavily connected with the ocean with the region’s seafood tapas not to be missed. Cuttlefish and fried squid (also known as rabas) are cooked in their own ink, served with onions, a green salad and Greek yoghurt for dipping.

Locally sourced anchovies are commonplace, served either in salads, with tapas or on their own. There’s a factory in Santona where anchovies are preserved, so anchovies from here are usually the freshest. If you’re not into seafood, then popular meat dishes include concido montanes, a hearty stew comprising beans, red meat and cabbage.

If you have a sweet tooth, you must try chocolate con picatostes in Limpias. This treat involves taking slices of fried bread, dusted with sugar, and dipping them into chocolate. And finally, try the Cantabrian speciality, sobao pasiego. It’s a crumbly cake made with lemon zest and anise liquor, traditionally served at weddings. We recommend that you try the sobao made in Selaya to truly savour this delicacy.

Wine

Compared to the rest of Spain, relatively few wines are made in Cantabria. Those that are tend to be low-alcohol volume white wines, tasting similar to that produced by the neighbouring Basque country. That said, the Bodegas Vidular vineyards produce an award-winning blend from a serene location in Barcena de Cicero. Otherwise, you’ll find many fruity Cantabrian roses on sale at restaurants, along with blends from elsewhere in Spain and Central Europe.

Beer, spirits and cider

Darker beers are becoming increasingly more common in northern Spain, particularly brands like Amstel Oro, mahout Negra and San Miguel Nostrum. Otherwise, opt for lagers like Estrella Galicia, which you’ll often find on tap in bars. Sidra is a form of apple cider which is popular throughout Cantabria, although unlike other ciders, it’s rarely stronger than 4.5%. In terms of spirits, orujo brandy is renowned across Cantabria, especially in the valley of Liebana. It’s strong – often recording over 50% alcohol volume – and therefore not for queasy stomachs.

Cantabria’s Atlantic coastline means that its often exposed to harsher conditions than southern Spain, but you’ll still get more than your fair share of warm, sun-kissed summer days…

Visiting Cantabria in the summer

Temperatures average at 20 degrees Celsius in July in Cantabria. It’s largely dry, although it makes sense to prepare for a little rainfall. Bring light clothes you’d feel comfortable going to a beach in, a warmer waterproof jacket and some trousers to wear when the evening cool draws in.

Visiting Cantabria in the spring and autumn

Inland winds from the mountains can cause spring and autumnal temperatures to increase to around 20 degrees Celsius, but on the whole, temperatures at this time remain around 15 degrees, despite occasional fluctuations. November gets the most rainfall – if you plan on visiting around then, make sure you bring a waterproof and jumpers which’ll keep you cosy if the temperature dips.

Visiting Cantabria in the winter

Winters in Cantabria can be fairly mild, although alpine areas are prone to snowfall between October and March. January temperatures average at around 11 degrees Celsius in Santander, reaching lows of 8 degrees and highs of 13. Aim to pack your suitcase with warmer garments, not too dissimilar to what you’d wear in the UK around this time of year.

Cantabria’s event calendar centralises around summer and early autumn. If you’re here between July and September, expect everything from religious ceremonies to multi-coloured floral displays…

Santiago’s Day – Santander (July)

Every year on the 25th of July, Santander celebrates Santiago’s Day. Food stalls open up what is known as ‘festival tapas’, giving revellers the chance to sample the different dishes eateries have to offer. Come sundown, there’s a fireworks display. Make your way to the El Sardinero Beach and watch the city’s skyline illuminated in shades of red, green, blue and white, amidst other colours.

Battle of Flowers – Laredo (August)

The Battle of Flowers is an annual festival in Laredo. It sees a collection floats parade around the town with fresh flowers, while the streets are awash with markets and musical performances. A designated jury decides on the best floral float, until eventually the festival is closed out with a sensational fireworks display.

Festival Internacional de Santander (August)

Visit Festival Internacional de Santander for a jaw-dropping programme of opera, ballet, dance and theatre throughout the month of August. Browse the official website for details.

Fiestas de Santona – Santona (September)

Taking place in Santona, this Christian festival involves everything from bullfights and maritime processions to regatta races and floats driving along the streets. Following Sunday mass, free portions of la gran marmitada, a dish made up of bonito fish and potatoes, and often served with wine and bread, are given out on the streets.