Santillana del Mar – the lying gem in northern Spain

Last updated Feb 11, 2022
Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies

Santillana del Mar is the name of a Municipality in Cantabria. It is also the name of the main city in the region. Nestled inside Northern Spain this town is beautiful and makes for a great day trip. Apparently, Jean-Paul Sartre described it as the most beautiful village in Spain. And it’s easy to agree with him. Santillana del Mar is truly a gem that needs to be explored.

Santillana del Mar – the city of three lies

Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies
Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies

It might not sound like a nice town when it is known to have three lies. However, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The lies stem from the name of the town. Santillana del Mar means the following three words… Sant means holy, llana means flat and del Mar means by the sea. This town is not holy, not flat, and not located by the sea. But, maybe that’s part of the charm.

This is a small city with a population of just over 4 500 people. This is a town where you want to get lost among the narrow and cobbled streets. There are surprisingly many museums that you can visit during your stay. One example is the Museum of Torture. It’s a fitting museum since this town has the whole medieval vibe. And that might be because it is a medieval village that has the same vibes to this day.

Get lost in the cobbled streets

Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies

For people walking the pilgrimage El Camino to Santiago de Compostela, the hike passes through this town. You can see it on the cute shells that are marking the route out. And Santillana del Mar is a village where you have to see it in the small details. Everywhere you look, the details pop right up at you. Make sure to look everywhere while you get lost among the cobbled streets.

It’s like this city knows its beauty and how special it is. Our best tip is that you park your car (or motorhome) and then just stroll around and enjoy yourself. Santillana del Mar is a town of details and it’s hidden everywhere, in each nook and cranny. Old houses made out of stone mixed with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the famous cheesecake. Walk around and enjoy!

Visit the Cave of Altamira


Yes, the best advice we can give you is to just stroll around. However, there is one exception. You can’t be in Santillana del Mar without visiting the cave paintings right outside of the city. The Cave of Altamira is s UNESCO world heritage site and you need to come here and see the replicas of the cave paintings that are super impressive. Unfortunately, you can’t see the actual paintings.

In the 90s and the beginning of the year 2000, the cave was opened to tourism. It ended up destroying the paintings so in 2002 they closed the Altamira cave for the public. But, they have built a really nice replica of the cave so it is well worth a visit to see both the cave with its paintings and the museum.

Other things to do in Santillana del Mar

Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies
Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies
Santillana del Mar - the city of three lies

Stroll around, grab something to eat, and continue to explore the town. Here are some things that you might want to check out while visiting the city.

  • Plaza Mayor de Ramon y Pelayo – The main square of the city. A really quaint place that you want to see.
  • Colegiata de Santillana del Mar – A beautiful Roman church in the city center.
  • Museo de la Tortura – It’s actually fitting to have a museum of torture in a medieval city like this.
  • Museo Diocesano Regina Coeli – A museum with art and statues that makes a nice break during your walk.
  • Torre de Don Borja – This is a a stone tower from the 15th century.
  • Museo y Fundación de Jesus Otero – A museum dedicated to a famous sculptor from the city.
  • Torre del Merino – A tower that has some exhibitions. However, it’s the building itself that is impressive.

Eat Quesada and have a glass of milk

Eat Quesada and have a glass of milk

The Cantabria region is famous for its cheeses. And you can buy cheese in abundance while visiting Santillana del Mar. One thing that you need to try is their Quesada. It’s a sort of cheesecake that is supposed to be eaten with a glass of milk. Since we don’t drink milk, we just tried the cake and it was tasty. It’s hard to explain the exact taste but imagine something like a regular cheesecake but more compact.

We think that you can eat it both cold and warm and it will be just as good. We have just tried it cold and it was good. If you want, you can go inside whatever store in Santillana del Mar because they are all selling Quesada in different shapes and sizes!


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