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Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the old town with the cathedral –

Santiago de Compostela is the destination of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. Many different paths lead here. We explore the old town with the famous Cathedral of St. James comfortably on a trip that takes us from the port city of La Coruna to Santiago.

I’m off then – the Way of St. James

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Did the huge boom to hike the Camino de Santiago start with Hape Kerkeling’s book? Hape started his hike over the Camino Francés after a hearing loss and surgery. In his book “Ich bin dann mal weg: Meine Reise auf dem Jakobsweg” he reported on his experiences.

I do not know. The book stood in the year 2006 over 100 weeks on place 1 of the mirror best-seller list! After all, the number of German-speaking pilgrims increased by 71 percent in the following year. Added to that in 2015 was the film.

Start in La Coruna, A Coruna

Our journey began in La Coruna, a port city in northwestern Spain. It is known for its glazed wooden balconies, called galerias, which has also earned it the nickname City of Glass. Today we don’t have time for the old town and the Tower of Hercules. Our bus is waiting.

La Corunia in Galicia, Spain

La Coruña is the Spanish, A Coruña the Galician name of the city.

By bus to Santiago de Compostela

We have booked an excursion that will take us by bus to Santiago. The coach takes about an hour to cover the approximately 75 kilometers on the trunk road. If you are on your own, you can use one of the long-distance buses that run regularly. An alternative is to take the train from San Christovo station in A Coruna to Santiago de Compostela.

Drive through Galicia

Our witty Spanish guide José greets us with “my dear little pilgrims.” He is a chattering source of joy. On the varied drive, we learn that although the Celts and Romans were here, Galicia was never occupied by the Moors. The name of the region goes back to the Gauls, who probably mixed with the invading Celts.

Whether or not the Galicians are considered the Swabians of Spain may be debated. Our guide claims that there is a great tendency to diminutive in the language. The Galician language is different from Spanish. It is related to Portuguese. According to our guide, Galicians are quieter, melancholic but sweet! So sweet the man really is!

The landscape in Galicia

Galicia is a popular destination for Spaniards because the summers are not so hot in the north. Since a few years the Way of St. James brings additional foreign guests to the country. Hopefully they also bring more jobs to the inhabitants, in former times many had to emigrate, e.g. as guest workers. Some jobs are provided by the paper industry that exists around Coruna. It was the reason why many eucalyptus trees were planted in Galicia. The recurring forest fires can be traced back to these plantations, among other things.

The beginning of Santiago de Compostela as a place of pilgrimage

It is said that the mortal remains of St. James were found in this place in a Roman cemetery after the hermit Pelayo saw a light above the tomb. Santiago means Saint James, while Compostela entweder is said to come from the Latin word compostum for cemetery or campus stellae for light appearance. It is not proven, after all James the Elder spent some time in Spain to proselytize before he was beheaded in Judea. Different legends explain how the relics came to Spain.

After the discovery of the tomb between 818 and 834, a church was built and Santiago de Compostela developed into a place of pilgrimage. Along with Rome and Jerusalem, the city is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians. Already Francis of Assisi made a pilgrimage to Santiago.

The old town of Santiago de Compostela

Since 1085, the historic old town of Santiago de Compostela, together with the cathedral, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The maze of old town alleys is best explored on foot. The sights are not far apart.

The Convento de San Francisco

From a large parking lot, our path leads along Rua dos Castilneiras to a monastery and church, the Convento de San Francisco. A 4-star hotel has since moved into the historic building. The San Francisco Hotel Monumento (*advertising link offers 82 rooms, garden and terrace and even a swimming pool and that only four minutes walk from the cathedral. I wonder if we’d meet any pilgrims there?

Convento de San Francisco in Santiago de Compostela

Via Rua Campino we continue towards the cathedral.

The Cathedral

The first cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was built by King Alfonso II after the discovery of the relics. In 834 it became the episcopal see, Benedictine monks protecting the church. Over time, more and more people settled and the city of Santiago de Compostela was born.

West facade of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain

The present cathedral was consecrated in 1211. Over time, the formerly Romanesque architectural style received Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque influences. The enormous complex is said to cover about 10,000 square meters. The entrance via the west facade is closed.

The Praza do Obradorio – Arrival of the St. James pilgrims

St. James pilgrims from all over the world are greeted with a big hello on the Praza do Obradorio when they finally arrive at their destination after their long walk. Large and small groups stand together and rejoice together. On this day at the end of October in the middle of Corona, pilgrims are also on their way, although perhaps not as many as usual.

The Praza da Quintana de Vivos

We circle the cathedral and reach the Praza da Quintana de Vivos, framed by magnificent buildings. The 9th century monastery of San Paio de Antealtares is one of the first buildings in the city. During the Holy Year, the entrance to the Cathedral is through the Puerta Santa.

Praza da Quintana de Vivos

View of the pilgrims

Through a small alley we reach the Praza das Praterias. How must it have felt after a pilgrimage full of hardships to see the cathedral from here for the first time?

A few steps lead down. Cafés near the cathedral invite you to linger. Through the gate on Praza das Praterias we can enter the cathedral. The entrance is free.

Tip: If you want to learn more about the splendidly furnished

e cathedral wants to know, should join a guided tour.

Entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at the Praza Platerias

The large incense burner

The Botafumeiro, the huge incense burner of the cathedral, is only used on fixed dates such as Catholic holidays. The good piece weighs around 53 kilograms! Eight men are needed to set the incense burner in motion. Then it flies above the heads of the faithful through the transept of the cathedral.

Incense waving of

Santiago de Compostela

Since the Middle Ages, it spiritually and truly purified the air when the many sweaty pilgrims of St. James stood close together during Mass.
After visiting the cathedral we sit down in a street café and enjoy the view with a cup of coffee, before we continue again with impressions.

The scallop


The scallop shell is the symbol of the Way of St. James. Until the 13th century, pilgrims did not acquire the shell until they arrived at the site. It was considered proof that the pilgrims of St. James had reached their destination. The shell gave the pilgrims protection and strength. It acted as a special sign for the road. After all, they had to walk all the way home again! Pilgrims were gladly given shelter. Because it is considered Christian to help. Outside of Santiago de Compostela, the sale of the shell was forbidden at that time.

Scallop shell

at the cathedral of Santiago de Comp


Meanwhile, the pilgrims of St. James get a certificate if they can prove all the stamps from the road. The scallop shell is still a sign of recognition that adorns the backpack, clothing or signposts.
Tip: You can read more about the scallop shell here.

The Hospital Reis Católicos

The Hospital of the Spanish Kings turns out to be a luxury hotel. It is considered one of the oldest hotels in the world. The aim of its foundation in 1499 was to accommodate the pilgrims of Santiago. The Hotel Parador de Santiago (*advertising link at the Plaza do Obradoiro looks like a stylish museum. I would have loved to see the luxurious rooms and four cloisters with their gardens from the inside!

Entrance to the Hotel Hospital de los reyes catholicos Santiaog de Compostela

Also this hotel is for me far away from the simple pilgrim hostels on the way. Perhaps some will reward themselves here for reaching their destination?

Address: Hospital de los Reyes Católicos, Praza do Obradoiro, 1 15705 Santiago de Compostela A Coruña

Restaurants and pubs in the old town

Galicia is a paradise for lovers of fish and seafood. For example, the symbol of the Way of St. James, the scallop shell, is fished on the coast of Galicia. In the restaurants in the old town you will find many kinds of fish, shellfish, sea squid and crabs. But also meats and sausages like chorizos are offered.

Fresh scallops from Galicia

Very curious was the display on a plate that looked like little feet. I wonder what they were? I learned that they were barnacles, although the somewhat unappetizing looking something had nothing to do with either ducks or mussels. The harvesting of the percebes is dangerous, they are loosened from steep rocks in the surf of the Atlantic. Would you like to try the barnacles?

Kitchen Galiciens barnacles

After visiting the cathedral, we walked through the small streets of the old town, such as Rúa do Franco and Rúa da Raina. Here the restaurants and pubs are densely packed.

Studying in Santiago

According to José, the students celebrate the academic year with a special rally Paris – Dakar. The two cities are represented here only by two inns of the same name, located at the beginning and end of the street. The pubs in between offer 22 different wines. Whoever can still stand after that wins a cup. Lie or truth, what do you think?

Dakar Restaurant

The distance between Paris and Dakar here is a tiny 180 meters.
Santiago is a university city with about 45,ooo students and 19 faculties.

Cheap Hotels in Santiago de Compostela

Many Way of St. James lead to the destination

You may have wondered where the Way of St. James goes? There are many Jakobswege. Even in my home town of Boppard, hiking trails pass by that adorn the scallop shell, known as the Left Rhine Way of St. James. We also have in Boppard a Jakobsberg with St. James Chapel. When there were no planes and trains, people started walking from their homes. Therefore there is not the one way! The Way of St. James starts at your doorstep.

My sister Brigitte has hiked the Caminho Portugues twice, which starts at Porto Cathedral. It leads over 250 kilometers through Portugal and Spain. Hape Kerkeling hiked the Camino Frances, which leads 783 kilometers from France to Santiago.

As luck would have it, in the middle of the Praza do Obradorio in front of the cathedral, I met Iris, a former classmate of mine. She had just walked the Camino de Santiago from Cadiz. The Via de la Plata is 967 kilometers and at least six to seven weeks. A mature achievement!

Conclusion: we liked the city very much, we would like to come back.

More travel reports

Our tours in Spain also led us to the Canary Islands e.g. to the worth seeing city La

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