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Santander's elegant seafront dates back to its days as the summer destination for Spanish royalty. The beaches are south-facing, so the water is calmer than the surf found elsewhere in the Cantabria region, and the bustling cafés on the promenade provide ample opportunity for a laid-back afternoon sipping milky coffees. Food is central to social life in this city, so join the locals for a night of tapas, or pinchos as they're known in northern Spain.
Most hostels in Santander are centrally located. Stay in the lusciously decorated rooms of a seafront mansion or pick a surf lodge with exposed stone walls. In the city centre you can find a townhouse overlooking the water and capsule dorms in a modern hostel. Look out for a Santander hostel with a communal kitchen and a garden where you can unwind. Free Wi-Fi is standard, and lots of Santander hostels have free city maps to save your data.
The old town of Santander is the area most visitors start with. Pass under the grand arch of the Banco Santander building to find yourself in the ornately decorated streets around Plaza Porticada, full of shops and cafés. Take a stroll down Paseo de Pereda, the seafront promenade, or head east to El Sardinero for beaches backed by luxurious early 20th-century homes. The Magdalena Peninsula on the eastern tip of the city is an oasis of parks and gardens crowned by the Palacio de la Magdalena, the summer residence of the Spanish royal family until 1930.
The number one sight in Santander is Centro Botín, a futuristic gallery made of glass housing impressive artworks. Its rooftop terrace has fantastic views of the city. On Sunday afternoons the city's museums are free, so stop by Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico (Maritime Museum) to discover Cantabria's seafaring past. Foodies can visit the restaurants of Plaza Cañadío, the city's centre for nightlife, or the tapas bars of Río de la Pila. You could also catch the 30-minute ferry to Playa de Somo for surfing and seafood.
Seve Ballesteros-Santander Airport is a 10-minute bus ride from the city centre. If you're travelling from within Spain, trains arrive into one of the two railway stations next door to each other on Calle de Rodríguez. They're a 10-minute stroll from the seafront. You can explore central Santander on foot, but there are public buses for longer journeys. To reach Somo and the other side of the bay, ferries leave from Estación Marítima Los Reginas.