Salamanca is astonishingly beautiful. I was captivated by the city’s old-world charm the moment I arrived. Known as ‘the golden city’ for its ochre-coloured buildings, Salamanca boasts an endless wealth of architectural marvels and historic treasures. The city exudes an aura of grandeur and prestige, made palpable by the ornate sandstone buildings lining the quiet streets. If you want to experience the soul of Salamanca, you must approach the city with a willingness to listen to its stories.
Salamanca is a small city, so you don’t need more than two days to see the main sites. To help you a plan a short trip to this marvellous city, I’ve put together a brief guide which includes recommendations for accommodation, eating out and things to do in Salamanca.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to get to Salamanca from Madrid is by train. Renfe, Spain’s national rail operator, runs a regular service from Madrid Chamartin station to Salamanca. The journey takes around 2 hours and ticket prices vary depending on the day and time. I highly recommend booking your ticket online at least 1 week in advance. You can book your Renfe tickets via GoEuro
, which also lets you compare prices on different days.
From Salamanca’s train station, you’ll need to walk for about 15 – 20 minutes to get to the centre. As you come out of the station, just walk down the left side of the road until you reach a garden in a junction. If you’re not sure where to go from there, just ask for directions. Spaniards are very helpful (they might even offer to walk with you!), although knowing some basic Spanish will come in handy.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Hostal Concejo
in the beautiful Plaza de la Libertad, just a corner away from Plaza Mayor. Rooms come with a private bathroom, TV (perfect for brushing up on your Spanish) and free WIFI. We had a lovely, bright room overlooking the square, which cost us €29 per night. The reception desk opens at 7.45am and closes at 11.00pm, but if you let them know that you’ll be arriving late (or very early) they’ll send you a password for the front door.
WHERE TO EAT
There are plenty of tapas bars and restaurants in Salamanca, but, like any other historic places, the central ones are quite pricey. Our receptionist recommended Bambu
for cheap pinchos. We went there at around 7pm and the place was packed to the gills (that’s always a good sign!). All tables were full, so we had our pinchos by the bar. However, it was a bit too loud and stuffy, so we just had a couple of pinchos and left. It was a shame though, as the food was quite nice.
We had dinner at Cafe La Platea
, a cheap and cheerful place next to Plaza Mayor and a few doors down from Bambu. They serve pinchos, tapas and typical Castilian dishes. I went for gambas al ajillo, a plate of sizzling shrimps in garlic, and washed it down with a glass of local wine.
THINGS TO DO
Have coffee and people-watch in Plaza Mayor
One of Salamanca’s most beautiful landmarks, Plaza Mayor is a popular meeting place for locals. There are many cafes and tapas bars located under the arcades, with tables spilling out into the square. Just take a walk around the square, have a coffee at one of the bars (drink it by the counter, the Spanish way!) and sit outside for a few minutes to watch the world go by. At night, Plaza Mayor’s Baroque facade is beautifully lit up, and the square becomes a hub of activity.
Go inside the old and new cathedrals
Salamanca has two conjoined cathedrals, and the entire building is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever visited. Construction of the old cathedral began in the 12th century, while the new cathedral was built in the 16th century. The latter’s vaulted stone ceiling is just impressive. During restoration work on the New Cathedral in 1992, a few unusual figures were added to the ornate carvings on the facade, including an astronaut and a faun eating an ice-cream.
You need at least an hour to see the cathedrals, and the entrance fee is just €4.75.
Pop into Huerto de Calixto y Melibea
This small, beautiful garden offers stunning views of the Tormes River, the convent of San Esteban and the cathedrals. Located on the medieval and Roman walls of Salamanca, the garden is named after the lovers Calixto and Melibea from Fernando Rojas’ novel La Celestina. It’s a lovely place to go to for some shade and fresh air on a hot day, or if you want to sit down in a quiet place for a few minutes.
Go for a stroll along the Tormes River
If you’ve seen the main historic sites in Salamanca and fancy a pleasant stroll, head down to the river. There is a path running along the banks of the Tormes, with plenty of picnic spots along the way. You can even rent a pedal boat and enjoy stunning views of Salamanca from the south shore.
Walk over the Roman bridge
Also known as Puente Mayor del Tormes, this Roman bridge offers magnificent vistas of the old city. Walk all the way to the other side of the bridge and walk down to the river banks, where you get a slightly different, but equally breathtaking view of Salamanca and the historic bridge.
PLACES TO SEE
The House of Shells (Casa de las Conchas)
Constructed during the 15th century, this historic building features a blend of Gothic, Moorish and Italian architecture. Its facade is decorated with around 400 scallop shells, making it one of the most popular buildings in Salamanca. Today, the House of Shells serves as a public library.
This gorgeous building located on the ancient wall of the city is a museum of Art Nouvaeu, housing collections that date from the 19th century up until World War II. Its beautiful stained glass windows can be seen from outside the city walls, as you’re heading towards the Roman bridge. Entrance fee is €4.
The University of Salamanca
Salamanca boasts the oldest university in Spain, dating back to 1218. It is also the third oldest university in Europe and the fourth oldest in the world. Its facade is an excellent example of Plateresque architecture. In the 16th century, the university was one of the most important cultural and educational centres in Europe. Today, the University of Salamanca enjoys international prestige.
The impressive frescoes in the Chapel of St. Martin
If you’re visiting the Old Cathedral, make sure not to miss the Chapel of St. Martin, located on the right-hand side of the entrance to the cathedral. This 13th century chapel is decorated with colourful frescoes depicting St. Martin sharing his cloak with a poor man, as well as images of hell and paradise, among other Biblical scenes.
San Esteban Church and Monastery
Situated in the Plaza del Concilio de Trento, this 16th century church is an excellent example of the Plateresque style. The facade is adorned with intricate carvings, while the interior is characterised by Gothic and Baroque features. Works on the church took almost 100 years to complete, hence the mix of architectural styles. Entrance fee is €4.
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