Santiago de Compostela Cathedral of St James

The welcoming sight for many exhausted pilgrims is St James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

by Paul Jackson

One of the nice things about Spain is that it’s different tourist accommodation possibilities from other countries because they have their unique Spanish paradors. These are state-owned accommodations that are typically historical converted residences and places of cultural interest that have been turned into the equivalent of a hostel, guesthouse or hotel. Often they are quite luxuriously appointed into the bargain.

Paradors are little known outside of Spain itself, but they do have much to offer visitors as an alternative to the more usual hotel experience offered by companies such as They are often considerably less expensive than hotels, so there is a cost benefit too. There currently 94 paradors in a network that spans the country.


Galicia is the northern most point of Spain which is quite separate from the Costa’s in the south that can get too hot in the summer-time. This province has some rich history including past Roman exploration. The countryside is also very different and far more green than the usual mental image of Spain.

Santiago de Compostela

Galicia Parador Completed credential (credencial) Card

A credential (credencial) card packed with stamps gathered during walker’s pilgrimage.

The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela. This is the extremely popular destination for Christians who wish to walk the Way of St James which ends here. Distance markers line the streets heading towards the city so visitors can choose to take the same walk, as little or as much as they like.

There are several pilgrimage routes in all which each arrive at the cathedral in the city. With its facade from the 18th century, loud bells, terracotta roof, and the pilgrims who gather below, the cathedral makes its presence known in this city.

Up on the Roof

Galicia Parador Santiago Compostela Botafumeiro

The swinging of the giant botafumeiro is a highlight for many exhausted pilgrims having completed their Way of St James.

A tour of the roof of the cathedral is possible and well worth doing to enjoy the view of this city. Alternatively, visit inside to see the Botafumeiro. This is an enormous holder of aromatic incense which weights over 50 kilos and swings from side to side at speeds of up to 45 mph over the pilgrims (and other visitors) below.

The Botafumeiro came into being because the Christian pilgrims walked many miles to reach the cathedral. At this point they were exhausted, but frankly, also didn’t smell too good. Hundreds of pilgrims packed into the cathedral needed some adjustments to handle the situation and the solution was 40 kilos of incense gradually releasing above them to improve the air quality.

Parador Hostal dos Reis Catolicos

Galicia Parador dos Reis Catolicos

Parador dos Reis Catolicos sits below the magnificent Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela.

The Parador Hostal dos Reis Catolicos is conveniently located on the Plaza do Obradoiro very close by which means you can visit the busy cathedral whenever you wish. This parador, which was originally a hostel for sick pilgrims who needed care following their long walk, it is now the pride of the parador network.

Notable people have stayed here over the years including the Japanese emperor and the King and Queen of Spain. The interior has granite walls and lots of dark wood. Many oil paintings line these walls, with flagstones lining numerous passages. There are open courtyards to enjoy a bit of solitude too. However, if you like things busy then a room at the front with a balcony gives a prize view of the cathedral and the plaza below.

This is one of the best places to stay in Santiago, if not the best. It is also very well known by now, so make sure that you have a booking before you visit as even in low season they are likely to stay very busy.

Out of Town

Galicia Parador Baiona

Parador de Biaona is ideally positioned overlooking the waters and medieval ramparts of the town.

Heading out to the south west for 90 minutes, you’ll get near to the Portuguese border. Baiona is the destination here, with its delightful beaches.

Baiona has a medieval centre full of interesting history. The Prince’s Tower is here which was a prison that housed the Habsburg scion who was hidden behind an iron mask. This was later put into fiction by Alexander Dumas and subsequently became a motion picture.

The small bay is interesting and the view from the Parador de Baiona provides a plum spot to take it all in. Take a walk around the ramparts that surround the pool and spot the island of Ceis in the distance. There is a short boat ride over to the beaches on Ceis.

Photo Credits: cathedral, credencial, botafumeiro, reis catolicos, baiona parador



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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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