10 great reasons to visit Santona, Cantabria, Spain

Nestled approximately midway between Santander and Bilbao in the province of Cantabria, the town of Santoña is a fishing port that has an interesting history but is perhaps best known today as a holiday destination in the Summer months and for its year-round fishing trade. Here are 10 great reasons why you should visit.

Statue in Santona

1. It’s Spanish

I know it sounds stupid… of course, it’s Spanish! But what I mean by this is that it’s a town and resort geared largely towards Spanish tourists, rather than international visitors. This means that you get a true Spanish experience, and you don’t face inflated prices. Even with the weak pound following the Brexit vote, we still found meals out, drinks, etc. to be very affordable and, if anything, significantly cheaper than back in the UK.

The bullring in Santona

2. The anchovies

Take a stroll through Santoña and there’s one thing that permeates the air: the smell of anchovies. Love them or hate them, the people of Santoña are experts in their conservation. After being aged, cured and dried in sea salt, they are canned and matured for several months, maybe even a year, before being rinsed and individually opened, de-boned, cleaned and filleted, before being laid in tins to be pressed and submerged in oil. The process is followed meticulously, and all done by hand, resulting in premium anchovies.

Anchovies statue in Santona

3. The food

Although Santoña is devoid of any mentions in the Michelin Guide, there is still good food (beyond high quality anchovies) to be found here, and informal restaurants, cafés and pinchos bars abound.

Seafood salad

Our favourite was Café Juncal in one corner of the main square.

Chicken salad with a Mexican twist

4. The beaches

Cantabria is home to more than 60 beaches and some of the best can be found near Santoña. There’s a long stretch of beach right next to the town (although this is largely covered at high tide) as well as Playa de Berria, which is popular with surfers, on the outskirts.

Beach in Santona

5. The seafront

Santoña has a lovely seafront in the form of Paseo Paredo which allows you to wander from the bull ring all the way to the Virgen del Puerto statue.

Virgen del Puerto in Santona

It’s a pleasant walk punctuated by seaside bars and cafés, and from here you can also take the ferry across to Laredo.

View of the seafront in Santona

6. The sailing

Born in the mid-fifteenth century, Juan de la Cosa is Santoña’s most famous son. He was a Spanish navigator and cartographer, responsible for the earliest European world map that incorporated the territories of the Americas, and who sailed with Christopher Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World, so you could say that the traditions of sailing are firmly-rooted in the town.

The reason for our own visit was to attend the RS Tera Worlds, a world championship sailing event that was this year held in Santoña, which ours sons were competing in.

Getting ready for the RS Tera Worlds

There were some great sailing conditions and the town put on a fantastic event.

Sailing in Santona

We arrived a few days before the event began and were warmly welcomed by the local sailing club – Club de Vela Santoña – and our boys were invited to train with the Spanish children which was a great experience for them also.

7. The atmosphere

They know how to enjoy life in Spain! The Spanish don’t tend to go out for the evening until quite late, often with young children in tow, which makes for a fun, family-friendly environment even well into the night.

They also know how to celebrate. Santoña put on excellent opening and closing ceremonies for the sailing event we were attending.

RS Tera Worlds

RS Tera Worlds closing ceremony

Visit in February for Carnaval de Santoña and you can enjoy a very colourful three day fiesta and blessing of the fishing boats.

8. The history

Santoña is full of historical interest, from Romanesque churches to medieval forts, and a lot more besides. Strategically important by virtue of the mountain of Buciero, it once served as one of the headquarters for Napoleon’s troops.

Church in Santona

Close your eyes and you can imagine the galleons passing by…

View from the fort in Santona

9. The nature

There is lots of natural beauty around Santoña including the Reserva Natural de las Marismas de Santoña y Noja, a delicate network of marshes and one of the most important wetlands on the Iberian Peninsula as it serves as a stopover for birds migrating between northern Europe, southern Spain and North Africa.

10. Street art

If you like street art, you’ll find a few examples scattered around the streets of Santoña. As well the usual ugly scrawls you find in most towns and cities, there are some impressive large murals if you take the time to wander up and down the streets.

Mural in Santona

Many make reference to the town’s fishing traditions.

Street art in Santona

Disclosure: Our stay was kindly assisted by CanTur and formed part of a trip sponsored by Brittany Ferries.

Comments (10)

  1. Richard Eldred Hawes says:

    I often think when visiting a Country that it is better to avoid the obvious tourist spots and hope that they never catch on to the benefits of immersing oneself in the local happenings

  2. Maya Russell says:

    I would love to visit Santona especially as it is non-touristy. I would have to speak more Spanish. Would like to watch the fishermen going about their trade.

  3. Peter M. says:

    Really nice review. I bought Anchovies, they are so delicious. I tasted different brands and the best ones are the ones from Conservas Juanjo. Good point of salt and perfect presentation. They clean every single anchovy one by one in the traditional way and they recently won a great taste award.

  4. Fellaini says:

    I would love to visit Santona, it seems to be a amazing city! Spain is Europe’s second most mountainous country, after Switzerland. though, you can’t have a cocktail by the sea in switzerland ;)

  5. Suman says:

    Beautiful place..i think there have everything to attract tourist; beach,Sailing,food,art street,history etc..

  6. Ken Baldwin says:

    Just came across this lovely post on Santona – one of the many gems along the Northern Spanish coastline. Great to see you and your family really enjoyed your time here. Sharing it on our social media channels now…

  7. Paul Johnson says:

    Thank you, Ken… yes, we had a lovely time there. Really, relaxed atmosphere and everything you’d expect from a traditional Spanish town :-)


    Thank you for the recommendation. We are defnitely going to spend a day in Santoña thanks to this wonderful article.

  9. Al Chandler says:

    A wonderful visit, early walk on the beach, long lunch, afternoon siesta, evening cocktail or two and dinner at 9:00. Most importantly, don’t hurry anything!

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