Situated in Castilla y Leon just a couple of hours away from Madrid, Salamanca is a magical city bursting with character, both modern and historic. It’s a joy to wander the cobbled streets and take in the sandstone buildings, often with intricate carvings. With an area of less than fifteen square miles, it’s a cosy city and very easy to explore. I have been lucky to spend two separate weeks there, both times staying with a friend at a lovely host’s house and attending lessons at the ISLA language school, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Getting there + getting around
The nearest airport is Madrid, about 130 miles away, but you can get to the city via taxi, train or bus, all from the airport. Avanzabus run coaches direct from Madrid airport to various cities, including Salamanca which you can book ahead. Other companies to check are ALSA and Renfe.
Once in the city, most people will find it easy to explore on foot, especially in the old quarter. Even so, you can also catch a bus from the station of a taxi from the taxi rank.
La Plaza Mayor
To start with, be sure to familiarise yourself with the Plaza Mayor, the heart of the old quarter of the city. It’s surrounded on all sides by shops and restaurants and is the perfect place to sit with a drink and watch the world go by. The real beauty of the plaza becomes apparent as darkness falls and the lights come on, so be sure to hang around for that!
La Casa de las Conchas
The House of Shells is so-called because of the 300 scallop shells carved into the exterior of the building, visible from the street. It was once owned privately, but now houses the public library.
Salamanca is home to not one, but two cathedrals
Once settled, you can spend the day visiting the cathedrals. There are two in Salamanca – la Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria (the old cathedral), founded in the 12th century and finished in a roman gothic style the 14th. Joined to it is la Catedral Nueva (the new cathedral), constructed in the gothic and baroque styles between the 16th and 18th centuries. If you can climb the towers you’ll be treated to the juxtaposition of being up close and personal to the architecture, whilst taking in panoramic views of the city.
You can wrap up what has surely been a tiring day with a meal in out in a restaurant of your choice.
Start with a lazy breakfast of chocolate con churros in la Chocolateria Valor and then enjoy the numerous shops on offer around the city, from tourist gift shops, to international franchises, to local handmade artists. On your wanders you can also visit the University of Salamanca, the oldest university in spain and third oldest in the world. Be sure to search for the lucky frog carved into the wall at the university entrance. If you’re interested in the country’s history, the Civil War archives are open to the public free of charge and are a fascinating and poignant insight into life during those years.
One of the prettiest sights in the whole city is the Cielo, simply meaning sky, which is a gorgeously painted blue ceiling complete with breathtaking illustrations of the constellations and the gods. Unfortunately photography is not permitted but whilst you’re in the grounds of the university you simply can’t leave without taking a look!
Of course, we all like a good tapas meal when in Spain. There are tons of tapas bars in Salamanca, and restaurants also serving tapas. You can buy several dishes and share around, or buy a dish and a drink like the locals and go to several bars – a “tapas crawl” if you like.
The one thing I’ve never done is visit Casa Lis, the Art Nouveau museum. I’ve seen it from the outside and it’s a truly beautiful building. It would be ideal to spend a morning there, then relax in one of the many public parks and gardens. If you just can’t get enough of the city views and history, then a quick visit to the cave of Salamanca might be right for you. You can read up on the legend surrounding the cave and then climb the remains of an old defensive tower nearby and look over the neighbourhood.
For your last night in this gorgeous place, definitely sit in the Plaza Mayor for a drink and soak up the relaxed atmosphere as late into the night as you want. There are numerous bars serving cold and sometimes hot drinks and light snack until gone midnight – this is Spain, after all. Alternatively, if you’re after something a little more energetic, there are plenty of bars and clubs, such as Camelot and Club Barvel, a Marvel themed club (these are by no means the best places, just the ones I’ve been to).
If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with the laid back vibes of Salamanca, and the mix of tourists and locals. Have you ever been or do you have plans to? Let me know an thanks for reading!