18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to do in Cantabria 2023
This list of the best places to see in Cantabria is perfect for organizing a trip to this region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, full of charming towns and fantastic natural landscapes.
Bathed by the strong waves of the Cantabrian Sea, which outline a coastline with cliffs, Cantabria is a perfect destination for a 7 to 10-day road trip that will allow you to enjoy its medieval towns, stately cities, rock caves, beaches, wild and beautiful landscapes of green meadows and towering mountains.
The best time to travel to Cantabria is between April and October when there is less chance of rain and the weather is more pleasant. However, we recommend avoiding July and August if you want more affordable accommodation prices.
Based on the experience of our time in this autonomous community during our route through Cantabria by car, from which we wrote this guide to Cantabria, we have made a list of the 18 essential places to visit in Cantabria. Let’s start!
1. Castro Urdiales
If you come from the Basque Country, one of the best things to do in Cantabria is to start the route with a visit to Castro Urdiales, one of the most crucial fishing cities on the Cantabrian coast.
This tourist town with more than 2,000 years of history, still preserves its fishing past in its picturesque port and its medieval architecture in the complex that forms the Castle-Lighthouse, the Hermitage of Santa Ana and the fantastic Church of Santa María de la Asunción, located on a rocky promontory, at the end of the bay.
Other wonders to see in Castro Urdialesare the beaches of Ostende and Brazomar, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the Amestoy Park, the villas and palaces of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Paseo Marítimo, the narrow streets of the Puebla Vieja area and the Cueva de la Peña del Cuco, which presents rock carvings from the Upper Paleolithic.
In addition, this city is known for its gastronomy with specialities such as sea bream and snails, accompanied by a starter that includes the famous Cantabrian anchovies, which you can try in any of the best restaurants to eat in Castro Urdiales.
2. Horse Lighthouse, one of the places to see in Cantabria
Near Santoña and its well-known anchovies is the Faro del Caballo, one of the most amazing landscapes to see in Cantabria, where the most crystalline waters of the Cantabrian Sea are combined with high cliffs.
To get to the small Faro del Caballo, built in 1863, inside Monte Buciero, you must complete a demanding hiking route through a beautiful holm oak forest and go down 685 steps to save a cliff over 150 meters high and then climb them. Back again.
During the route, which can take about 4 hours, you will pass through different points of interest, such as the Peña del Fraile Viewpoint and the Fisherman’s Lighthouse, and you will have spectacular views of Berria Beach.
3. Source of the Asón river
Suppose you make the trip in spring, when the thaw begins, or in autumn when the forest landscapes reach colours that are difficult to imagine. In that case, you cannot miss a route to the source of the Asón river to see its spectacular waterfall of more than 70 meters, the most spectacular to visit in Cantabria.
This itinerary, about 7 kilometres in total and about 3 hours long, begins in the town of Asón and crosses leafy forests of ferns, holm oaks, beech and chestnut trees in the beautiful Soba Valley.
Other points of interest in this area are the Aja Viewpoint, with views of the spectacular Soba Valley and the viewpoint of the Gándara River waterfalls.
The next stop will be in Liérganes, one of the most beautiful towns in Cantabria, famous for its beautiful bridge linked to the legend of the Fish-Man.
In addition to taking several photos of its photogenic bridge, it is worth spending an hour walking through its cobbled streets surrounded by large houses with balconies full of flowers from the 17th and 17th centuries until completing this list of essential places to see in Liérganes.
5. Valleys Pasiegos
From Liérganes, you can start a journey by car and on foot through the Valles Pasiegos, between the valleys of the Pas River and its tributaries, the Pisueña and the Magdalena, as well as the headwaters of the Miera River valley.
This area is perfect for disconnecting and enjoying rural tourism doing hiking itineraries through its fantastic natural landscapes, visiting stone villages such as San Roque de Riomiera, San Pedro del Romeral and La Vega de Pas, finding the typical Pasiega cabins and trying their famous sobaos and quesadillas passes, until reaching the caves of Monte Castillo, a World Heritage Site and which hides Paleolithic rock art.
Santander, the capital of the autonomous community and located in a beautiful bay, is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.
In this elegant and stately city, you can enjoy long walks along the shores of its beautiful beaches, such as El Sardinero and Los Peligros, a historical centre.
Rebuilt after a great fire in the Plaza de la Porticada, the Plaza de Pombo and the Cathedral its excellent references, with an extensive cultural offer thanks to its numerous museums and a fun nightlife concentrated on the terraces of Plaza de Cañadío and its adjacent streets.
A little further from the centre, you have the Magdalena Peninsula, the beautiful Mataleñas Beach and the landscapes of Cabo Mayor, and three other jewels to see in Cantabria.
In addition, you cannot leave the city without trying some of the Cantabrian specialities, such as its delicious anchovies, sobaos pasiegos, squid rings or fish and shellfish, in some of the most recommended restaurants to eat in Santander, such as Casa Lita, La Prensa, Cadelo and the Fuente De Winery.
To make sure you get everything meaningful about the city and learn about its history, you can complete this list of places to see in Santander in one day and book this free tour, considered one of the best free tours in Santander.
7. Broken Coast
Although before you will have passed through beautiful beaches such as Langre, Somo and Berria, the best beaches in Cantabria are found on the Costa Quebrada, a slight stretch of coastline that is about 20 kilometres long and runs from the Bay of Santander to Puerto Calderón ( Santillana del Mar).
Bathing in one of the paradisiacal beaches such as Arnía, Covachos, Somocuevas and Portío, located between cliffs and bathed by the cold waters of an always enraged Cantabrian Sea, is another of the best things to do in Cantabria.
In addition to enjoying these beaches, take advantage of the Liencres Dunes and the Abra del Pas Viewpoint.
8. Santillana del Mar
Skirting the coast, you will arrive in a short time at Playa de Santa Justa, which houses a beautiful hermitage and is very close to Santillana del Mar, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, another of the important places to see in Cantabria.
Known as the town of the three lies since it is neither holy, flat, nor has a sea, Santillana del Mar will transport you to medieval times while you walk through its cobbled streets and enjoy its well-preserved historical-artistic heritage in which it stands out. The fantastic Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana and the Plaza Mayor.
To catch everything necessary, we recommend you follow this list of places to see in Santillana del Mar and book this free tour, allowing you to understand this town’s exciting history better.
9. Cueva de Altamira, one of the places to see in Cantabria
After spending a morning walking through the narrow streets of Santillana del Mar, we recommend you spend the afternoon visiting the Altamira Cave, located just two kilometres away.
In this cave, known as the Sistine Chapel of rock art and declared a World Heritage Site, you can see paintings made by Homo Sapiens, corresponding to the Upper Paleolithic.
The only drawback is that the only way to enter the original cave is to win one of the five tickets raffled on Fridays among all visitors who enter between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. But don’t worry, and if luck has not been with you, you can visit the Neocave, which houses an exact copy and is also highly recommended if you are not lucky enough to enter the original.
10. Cabezón Redwood Forest
Not far from the Altamira Cave is the spectacular Cabezón Sequoia Forest, located in Cabezón de la Sal, where you can walk for one or two hours among giant sequoias over 40 meters high, which have a history of more curious.
In 1940, during the Franco regime, over 800 redwoods were planted on this mountain to provide a large quantity of wood for the industry in this area. However, they were no longer necessary when the time came for felling. They were abandoned until the forest was declared a Natural Monument in 2003, making it another tourist attraction in Cantabria.
11. Barcena Mayor
Bárcena Mayor, located in the heart of the Saja Besayaen Natural Park in the Argoza river valley, is one of the oldest towns in Spain and another of the places to see in Cantabria.
In addition to the natural environment surrounding it, this town of fewer than 100 inhabitants stands out for its typical mountain architecture, in which stone houses with wooden balconies full of flowers predominate.
In our experience, Bárcena Mayor is the perfect place to disconnect from the world, enjoy reading a good book with the only sound of the river water, do one of its hiking routes or try a typical mountain stew, the most famous dish.
Bárcena Mayor, one of the places to see in Cantabria
12. El Soplao Cave
Another of the best things to do in Cantabria is to enter the El Soplao Cave, located at the top of the Sierra de Arnero and considered a unique cavity in the world due to the quality of its geological formations such as its stalactites, stalagmites and draperies, which They have been growing for more than 200 million years.
This cave of more than 20 kilometres in total length, of which only four are open to the public, was discovered by chance by some miners at the beginning of the 20th century, and its name comes from the strong air currents that were generated when the miners mined. They cut karstic cavities.
To make a one-hour route through its most outstanding galleries, you can book this guided tour with an expert in speleology who will show you the most curious formations, such as the Hall of Ghosts, the Lacuerre viewpoint and the Paseo de los Sentinels.
Remember that you cannot take photos or videos inside and that it is advisable to bring something warm since the temperatures in the cave are usually around 12-15 degrees.
You can consult this guide to visit El Soplao Cave for more information.
In addition, at the exit or entrance to the cave, we recommend you go to the viewpoint next to the car park to obtain an excellent view of the entire environment. Another incredible viewpoint, located a few kilometres from this area, is the Collada de Carmona, which offers a postcard photo of a green valley with the town of Carmona in the middle.
Once the photos are taken, you can go down to this beautiful town to walk among its stone houses and visit its hermitages and buy a wooden spoon as a souvenir.
13. Visit Comillas, one of the things to do in Cantabria.
Bathed by the waters of the Cantabrian Sea and surrounded by an incomparable natural environment, Comillas falls in love with its architectural heritage that, makes it another of the most beautiful places to see in Cantabria and one of the essential towns to see in the North of Spain.
In this town, you will find magnificent medieval and baroque buildings and mountain mansions, as well as one of the few places outside of Catalonia where the leading architects and artists of Catalan Modernism took part, creating wonders such as Gaudí’s El Capricho.
The architectural transformation of this medieval town made it one of the favourite summer destinations for the nobles and aristocrats of the time, and today, it continues to be one of the tourist reference points in Cantabria.
In addition to Gaudí’s Capricho, don’t miss the Sobrellano Palace, the Pontifical University, the cemetery and above all, take a route through the old town passing charming corners such as the Tres Caños Fountain, ending with the views from the Monument to the Marqués de Comillas or taking a refreshing swim on its beach.
You can complete this list of essential places to see in Comillas and restaurants to eat in Comillas.
14. San Vicente de la Barquera
Skirting the coast from Comillas, you will pass in front of Playa de Oyambre, perfect for surfing, until you reach San Vicente de la Barquera, one of the most famous fishing villages in the north of the country.
Located in the heart of the Oyambre Natural Park, at the mouth of the Ría de San Vicente de la Barquera, this historic town is surrounded by a beautiful natural environment of beaches with crystal clear waters, green waters meadows, sandbanks, and marshes have enough tourist attractions to spend half a day.
We recommend you complete this list of places to see in San Vicente de la Barquera and enjoy the local gastronomy with dishes such as the barquereña marmite in one of the best restaurants to eat in San Vicente de la Barquera.
15. Pechón Peninsula
After passing through Berellín Beach and observing its curious rock formations, you will arrive at the Pechón Peninsula, located near the border with Asturias, between the mouths of the Tina Mayor and Tina Menor estuaries.
In this incredible landscape are hidden fantastic beaches in long strips of sand, surrounded by high cliffs that you can see from different viewpoints, such as the Ría de Tina Menor.
16. Other towns to visit in Cantabria
In addition to those mentioned in previous points, there are other towns to visit in Cantabria that we love and we believe are essential on any route, such as:
- Mogrovejo: this small village preserves an essential set of famous Lebanese houses and other older buildings, such as the 13th-century medieval tower.
- Bejes: this mountain town nestled in the Picos de Europa National Park is known for making the famous Bejes-Tresviso picón cheese, one of the most valued cheeses in the country and trying it is another of the best things to do in Cantabria.
- Cartes: this town, declared an asset of cultural interest, has its main tourist attractions on Camino Real street and its eight mills.
17. Potes is another of the places to see in Cantabria.
Driving through the vertiginous and impressive La Hermida Gorge, the largest in Spain, you will arrive at the town of Potes, located in the heart of the Liébana Valley and another of the most beautiful places to see in Cantabria.
Surrounded by mountain ranges such as the Peña Sagra and Peña Labra mountain ranges and the famous Picos de Europa, Potes enchants you at first sight with its cobbled streets and traditional mansions in the historic centre, as well as its stone bridges such as San Cayetano and the Prison that you can observe closely by taking a quiet walk along the banks of the Deva River.
Nor can you leave Potes without seeing the Torre del Infantado, a medieval fortification that has become the town’s emblem, and without trying the cocido leaning and its delicious cheeses.
A little more than 2 kilometres from the town is another of the important places to see in Cantabria, such as the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, which houses the most significant preserved relic of the cross of Christ and a key point on the Camino Lebaniego, a branch of the Camino de Santiago de la Costa.
After seeing the church’s interior, you can go by car or on foot to the Mirador de San Miguel to enjoy fantastic views of the town and all its natural surroundings.
To catch everything in the town, you can consult this list of important places to see in Potes.
18. Peaks of Europe
After visiting Potes, we advise you to drive to Fuente Dé and take a hiking route through the Picos de Europa, another of the best things to do in Cantabria.
To overcome a drop of more than 1,000 meters and reach the top of the massif, you can take a scenic cable car that will take you up to 1,823 meters high. It is advisable to reserve your ticket here in advance to avoid running out of seats, especially in summer, and also not to queue, since during the most touristy months, they usually last 2-3 hours.
Once at the top and after enjoying the views from different viewpoints, you can start one of the most popular hiking routes such as the Horcados Rojos route, which will take you to a summit of more than 2,500 meters in about 5 hours, or an easier one. , known as the Ports of Avila, with which you will cover the descent path in about 4 hours to the parking lot where the cable car route begins.
What is Cantabria Spain known for?
Cantabria is famous for its abundance of caves with prehistoric drawings. One of the most renowned places to view prehistoric art is Museo de Altamira. Considered the Sistine Chapel of paleolithic art, Altamira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What are some important cities in Cantabria Spain?
Principal towns in Cantabria include Santander, the provincial capital; Torrelavega, an industrial and mining (iron, zinc, and lead) centre; Reinosa, a steel-manufacturing centre; and the fishing ports of Santoña, Laredo, and Castro-Urdiales. Area 2,054 square miles (5,321 square km).
What region of Spain is Santander in?
Santander, port city, capital of Cantabria provincia (province) and comunidad autónoma (autonomous community), northern Spain.
What is Santander famous for?
Santander is an ideal holiday destination. The city is rich in cultural and historical heritage that await tourists to discover. The palaces in this city were among the favorites of the Spanish royalty back in the late 19th century. Today, they remain one of the most-visited attractions in Santander.