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Santander is an upmarket beach resort where kings have rubbed shoulders with fishermen, and where university students in flip-flops kick back with well-heeled holidaymakers. The most popular of its beaches is El Sardinero, which, with its fine white sand and elegant architecture, lies a couple of kilometres from the town centre. Playa de la Magdalena, on the southern side of the headland, has a water sports centre while Playa del Bikini is good for snorkelling. If they are all too crowded, visitors can take a boat over to the long stretches of sand at Somo. Away from the seafront, the city centre is lively, especially after dark. Many of the older buildings were lost in a huge fire in 1941, but there is still some beautiful architecture from bygone times. The elegant cathedral has been restored, and there are some interesting museums.
Santander is a city favoured by Spanish holidaymakers - the abundance of beautiful sandy beaches, natural parks, and dramatic cliffs in the vicinity are its undeniable draws, and so is the relatively lively nightlife and curious museums (one that certainly deserves attention is the Cantabrian Prehistory and Archaeology museum). For a day-trip out of town, head to the scenic village of Santanilla del Mar or the prehistoric caves at Puente Viesgo.
Cantabrian cuisine is as varied as its landscapes - fish and seafood turn up alongside game, veal and beef on local restaurant's menus. Some specialties typical of the region include rice cooked Santander-style (with milk and salmon), hake fish in green sauce, fried calamari rings (rabas), tuna pot (sorropotun), anchovies, sardines, and hearty stews (try the venison stew or the so-called "mountain-stew" - cocido montanes - with beans, chorizo sausage bits, greens, and black pudding).
The selection of cafes in Santander is very decent, ranging from the ubiquitous tapas-bars to bakeries and even ice cream parlours serving high-quality home made gelato. Many cafes double as bars in the evening, when beer and wine come to replace the daytime "lungo" and "cortado". Santander is also famous for its pastries and delicious cheesecakes (quesadas pasiegas).
Santander is a university town and, as such, boasts quite a busy nightlife. The Plaza de Cañadío, Calle de Santa Lucίa, Calle Río de la Pila (and surrounding streets) all teem with bars that remain crowded well into the morning hours. As with everywhere else in Spain, plan on going out after 11 o’clock or so, otherwise you run the risk of finding yourself drinking alone. On weekend nights, the Spanish like to party late. If you are going out to a club after some evening drinks only do so at around 2 or 3 am, and prepare to stay up till dawn.
Santander’s shopping district is in its bustling centre. The streets around the Ayuntamiento – Artigas, Juan Herrera, Burgos and Cubo, for example, are good for everything from clothing to shoes to sportswear, as are Vargas and San Fernando. For boutiques and upmarket clothing, take a stroll along the Avenida de Calvo Sotelo. There are two large commercial centers in Santander, both located a short drive out of town - Valle Real and the well-known Spanish department store chain installment El Corte Ingles.
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