Getting from Bilbao to Santander
Traveling from Bilbao to Santander takes a little over an hour by car. Allow an hour and a half by bus. We chose to travel on Alsa bus which offers regular service between Santander and Bilbao. You'll discover that there are two classes of bus service available: normal and premium. With normal service, you get what you would normally expect on a bus: a seat. With Alsa's premium service, you get a nicer seat and entertainment. Alsa premium service provides an attendant onboard to serve water, drinks and snacks. You can also fly direct to Santander from other locations in Europe on Ryanair including our home town of Dublin.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Santander is an ideal day trip from Bilbao. Planning a winter trip? Find out why I think Bilbao is the best place in Spain for Christmas.
Tapas for Lunch at El Diluvio
We arrived in Santander from Bilbao right around lunchtime and were looking forward to some traditional Spanish food. We stopped into El Diluvio for tapas. Note that in Santander, the small plates served in bars are called tapas and not pintxos. When you visit Santander, you are no longer in Basque Country but rather in the Cantabria region. We opted for a juicy mini-mushroom hamburger washed down with a glass of Rioja to give us the energy to fuel our exploration of Santander's points of interest.
Shop Mercado de la Esperanza
Santander offers some great shopping opportunities. Wander the winding streets to window shop for fashion. Pop inside the brightly lit stores when you see something that catches your fancy. One shopping spot in Santander that is not to be missed in Mercado de la Esperanza. This Santander food hall sells local pastries and treats, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus clothing and souvenirs. When we visited, the stalls had spilled outside of the covered mercado and were surrounding the building. Mercado de la Esperanza is a great place to do a little Christmas shopping if you visit Santander in winter.
Check out Santander's Quaint Churches
Another thing that impressed us about Santander was the city's quaint churches. As you walk around, turning whenever it catches your fancy, keep an eye out for iglesias both small and large. I'm not religious but I find visiting churches to be an architectural treat. Iglesia parroquial de Santa Lucía and Parroquia San Francisco de Asís are high on our list of things to see in Santander in winter (when you can use the churches as a place to warm up a bit).
Experience Santander's Genteel Neighborhoods
Santander is definitely a city that is best experienced by walking. We clocked over 20,000 steps in one day in Santander including an uphill walk into a posh neighborhood on the hillside. Explore Santander's genteel neighborhoods on the hill. Discover cool street art adorning the side walls of apartment buildings. Take time to admire the ornate architecture that almost seems to glow in the sun.
Take an Epic Coastal Walk in Santander
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Málaga is another fantastic winter destination in Spain featuring sun-drenched seaside walks. Read about ringing in the new year in Málaga here.
Take a Peninsular Walk and Visit Palacio de La Magdalena
Continue on to Peninsula de la Magdalena, home to Palacio de La Magdalena. The peninsula itself is very picturesque and even features sea lions and penguins in a kind of marine zoo. Walk among the historic ships on display. You might even spot a mermaid or two.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that nearby San Sebastian was also a favorite of the Spanish royal family? They were frequent visitors to Miramar Palace. Read about this and more in this post about spending one day in San Sebastian.
Walk the Bay of Santander
Continuing around the Peninsula de la Magdalena, you'll emerge along the Bay of Santander and a series of beaches. A wooden walking path partially submerged in windblown sand will help to guide the way. As you get closer to the city, stop to admire the sturdy modern architecture and grand staircase of the Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria. Ornate lampposts line the thoroughfare leading back to the center of Santander.
Explore the Museum of Prehistory and Archeology of Cantabria
The Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria is fascinating to explore and very educational. Be transported back in time over 80,000 years during your day in Santander. The museum is a fantastic point of interest when visiting Santander in winter. The entrance can be slightly tricky to find since the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria is hidden beneath Mercado Municipal del Este. Walk around the perimeter of Mercado Municipal del Este and you'll find it.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Granada is also a great place to visit in winter to experience Spanish history? Home to the Alhambra, Granada is another fantastic place to spend Christmas in Spain.
Tapas Time in Santander
We love tapas and couldn't resist squeezing in two more rounds of tapas in Santander before catching the bus back to Bilbao. Our first stop was La Casa del Indiano in Mercado Municipal del Este and then Ramonoteca. Just like in Bilbao, take a look at the attractive small bites on the counter, pick your favorite, and then pair it up with a glass of Spanish red wine. Better to see what different tapas bars in Santander have to offer than spending the entire afternoon or evening in one place.
Watch the Sunset Over Santander
The advantage of visiting Santander in winter is that you don't have to wait until late to catch the sunset. We caught the tail end of the sunset on the terrace of Centro Botín. The Centro Botín arts centre is a popular thing to do in Santander but we arrived too late after they had closed for the day. You can still see some of the modern art exhibits through the glass and the terrace overlooking the Bay of Santander is open even when Centro Botín is closed.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Have you considered traveling to Portugal and visiting the Algarve in winter? Featuring a temperate climate and seaside views, the Algarve and Santander have a lot in common.
Visit the Catedral de Santander
Make one final stop at the Cathedral of Santander which features a lovely cloister that feels a little mysterious after dark. Walk among the covered arches and reflect in silence on your delightful winter day in Santander before heading back to the bus station for the return trip from Santander to Bilbao.