The low down:
It is best to arrive in Santiago de Compostela at night. After the sun sets, the winding streets suddenly swell with students from the Universidad de Santiago, as well as with older couples and families enjoying the evening air. You might be tempted to go straight to your hostel, but your fatigue is nothing compared to that of the hundreds of thousands of people who end their gruelling “Way of St. James” pilgrimage here. Considered the third holiest Catholic city (after Rome and Jerusalem), as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has everything great about Spain – tapas, cathedrals, and rich history – combined with the palpable passion of people who come from all over the world with a purpose beyond tourism.
Santiago is linked to the main Spanish cities by train but Easyjet flights directly to the city cost £40.
Where to stay:
Meiga Backpackers is a well-rated hostel located right in the center of Old Town, close to the Cathedral and the nightlife. Beds start from £11. The city caters to the pilgrims, so there is plenty of very cheap housing, perhaps more than in most other European cities.
Three of the best:
>> At night, the pale green moss that covers the Cathedral (pictured) glows in the dark, and makes the cathedral look even more beautiful than in the daytime. If enjoying it in the daylight, sit in the plaza and take it in instead of paying to go inside, as it’s not worth the entrance fee.
>> In the afternoon, take a tour around the city (they usually leave from the fountain at the main square behind the cathedral). They shouldn’t cost more than £10, and give you a great overview of the history of the city and the origins of the pilgrimage. Since the city centre is quite small, they are not too tiring either.
>> Don’t miss the performances of traditional music at the main theatre: they’re cheap at only £7 and unforgettable.