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The elegant city of Santander has fine historic buildings, wonderful shops, finely manicured parkland and beautiful beaches, in the cove area called El Sardinero (as seen in the picture above).

Santander Gran Casino

So it is a thriving tourism resort as well, especially popular with Spanish people and foreigners arriving by ferry or flying into the  city's airport.

The large Spanish district surrounding the city also takes its name from Santander and is itself part of the large province of Cantabria, running up to the foothills and steeper slopes of the beautiful Cantabrian Mountains inland and to the south. 

Santander is, in fact, the capital city and administrative centre of the province of Cantabria, and a large percentage of Cantabrians reside there.

The city has a population of 184,000, so it is not too big. It is very important as a fishing port on the Bay of Biscay and even more important as a ferry terminal.

Britanny Ferries run services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander on their large well-appointed ship, mv Pont-Aven. 

To the west of Santander, Spain, are the larger provinces of Asturias and Galicia.

The latter, on the extreme north-western corner of Spain, is  the old Celtic province of Spain, where a language closely akin to Welsh and Gaelic was spoken.

The Celtic people, with their dark hair, are thought to have originally travelled from these northern shores of Spain and settled in Britain, especially Wales, where there are many indigenous people with dark hair.

Latterly, Santander has become very well known because it lends its name to Banco Santander, or Bank Santander, one of the largest and most trustworthy banks in Europe. 

Banco Santander has become well known in the UK, because it has recently acquired famous British financial institutions, such as Bradford and Bingley Building Society, Alliance and Leicester Building Society and the Abbey Building Society.

So the name "Santander" can now be seen emblazoned all over the High Streets of the United Kingdom, since Banco Santander has now dropped the word "banco" from its title and merely calls itself "Santander". This  can, no doubt, be more than a little confusing for the citizens of  the city of Santander in Spain or tourists Googling the city's name. 

Having said that, due to the extra publicity, Santander in Spain is bound to see an increase in tourist numbers from the UK.

Possibly even more confusing internationally, is the fact that Santander is the name of a department/province in the northern Andes of Colombia in South America, very close to the cocaine capital of the world, Medellin, which is virtually ruled by criminal drug barons. 

Much of the highly illegal and socially damaging cocaine that finds its way to drug dealers and abusers in the USA and Europe  is therefore grown in the remote Andean mountains of the department of Santander in Colombia.

We feel sure that the owners of  one of Europe's most respected banks would not wish to have their name confusingly  shared with South America's main cocaine growing area. However, the drug barons of Santander, Colombia, are no doubt delighted to share their place-name with a major world-famous bank.

The name  Santander in Spain, derives from a 3rd Century martyr called Saint Emeterio, the Latinised form of which was Sancti Emetherii. 

His name was written in several different forms over the centuries ... including Sant Em'ter, Sant Enter, San Ender and finally  Sant Ander, which gives the present-day name of the city.....Santander.

Although Santander is not a particularly large city, it is peculiarly elongated in shape.

The region's mountains forced the city's development to conform to a slightly odd shape, running west-east and hugging the northern rim of the Bay of Santander. 

Besides the outlying areas that have sprung up around the city (urban expansion has even affected areas like Camargo and the dockyard), there are two well-differentiated areas in Santander; the City Centre and El Sardinero.

The centre is where you will find most of the shops, businesses and services, as well as the greater portion of  tourist attractions, monuments and statues.

This is where the streets Burgos, San Fernando, Jesús de Monasterio, Sotelo Avenue, Calvo and Paseo de Pereda all meet. Of course, there are many other adjacent streets all forming part of the  city centre as well.

The city of Santander starts at Somorrostro Hill, where the cathedral stands and where the old walled city with its castle once was. Here you will find some of Santander's most famous buildings, such as  Banco Santander, Banco de España, Correos (the post office building), Plaza Porticada, Iglesia de la Anunciación (Church of the Annunciation) and the Ayuntamiento (the city hall). Also nearby are the famous Jardines de Pereda or Pereda Gardens, with a sculpture of the Cantabrian novelist who lends it his name.

The lovely area around Paseo de Pereda, Calle Castelar, and the Paseo Marítimo (the maritime promenade) which runs parallel to the sea is something no visitor to Santander should miss.

This district is also characterized by its commercial infrastructure. All along are a series of streets, some of which are pedestrianized and lined with shops on the ground floor, where the visitor can buy anything or simply indulge in window-shopping.

The streets already mentioned, along with some other parallel and perpendicular ones, like Rualasal, Juan de Herrera, Cadiz, San Francisco and Isabel II o Lealtad are jam-packed with people during the daytime.

A little further east, near Plaza de Cañadío, there is a group of streets where most of the Santander nightlife is concentrated during the summer months.

The El Sardinero district also has lots of nightlife.

Streets such as General Mola, Hernán Cortés, Daoíz, Velarde, Peña Herbosa, Sol and Santa Lucía, as well as the surrounding ones, are full of bars and cafés where you can stop for a drink or some tapas, as well as numerous options if you want  enjoy yourself late into the night.

Between the city centre and El "Sardi" (as the locals call it) there is a transitional area, marked by Avenida Reina Victoria. This classy residential area is sprinkled with luxurious buildings like Casa Pardo and Hotel Real.

El Sardinero is the summer holiday area par excellence of Santander, where there are dozens of  accommodation options. One avenue famous for its hotels is aptly named "Hoteles". 

The elite Magdalena Peninsula is at one end of  El Sardinero, with its park and Palacio Real (Royal Palace), and Cabo Menor forms the northern border, with Mataleñas Park at the top of the cape.

Between the two is El Sardinero cove, with its four lovely, sandy beaches called, from south to north, Camello, Concha, Primera and Segunda. These  are superb beaches for sunbathing, swimming in the Cantabrian Sea and enjoying the beautiful and unbeatable views of the coast.

Other  lovely places  to visit are Jardines de Piquío (Piquío Gardens) and Mesones Park. The casino is also worth a visit if you fancy a little night-time flutter at the roulette wheel.

Santander is a wonderful city to visit for a few days, and a great centre for exploring further afield along the surrounding ruggedly beautiful north coast of Spain from the Basque Country to Galicia. 

Brittany Ferries

Portsmouth & Plymouth to Santander

Cruise ferry services to Spain

Overnight to Spain with your car

In addition to the Plymouth to Santander ferry service, you can now sail from Portsmouth. The new weekly service makes Spain with your car more accessible than ever.

Both services are operated by our luxurious flagship, mv Pont-Aven, offering the fastest, most luxurious ferry service from the UK to Spain.
The fastest ferry service to Northern Spain from Portsmouth

Taking just 24 hours, the Portsmouth to Santander route is the fastest direct ferry service to Northern Spain from Portsmouth.

On board you can enjoy award-winning service and top-class facilities, including gourmet restaurants, stylish lounges and comfortable cabins.

You'll arrive completely relaxed, and ready to begin your holiday in Spain.