Will be spending several weeks in Santander in mid January. Looking for insight on the weather, local food, transportation within the city and to areas of interest. Is car rental and driving a challenge in the area? thank you all for your help.
Weather: it´ll be cold (but not freezing cold, normally) and rainy, but weather in this area is very unpredictable. In any case, it´s normally a rainy area. City is small and you can walk almost anywhere, but there´s a very good public bus transport system. The food market is a great visit, as well as crossing on the boat to Somo. Palacio de La Magdalena, the open air zoo there, the mansion, the Sardinero area...are the logical musts. Fantastic seafood in many of its restaurants. I like Cañadio in Plaza Cañadio, a good wine and tapas area in the center of town. Posh city, by the way. Great prehistoric cave paintings in nearby Las Monedas and El Castillo caves, for example. Comillas and Santillana are also logical places to visit. I also like San Vicente de la Barquera, Suances...and the inland valleys. Roads are very good and well signed.
How shall I put this? Santander suffered a disastrous fire in the 1940s, so it doesn't have the wealth of historic architecture you'll find in many other Spanish cities. Given the opportunity, I'd plan to spend my weekends elsewhere.
Possible side-trips (many beyond day-trip range):
Comillas (about 35 miles west, beyond Santillana del Mar): some modernista architecture.
Potes (about 65 miles SW, near Picos de Europa National Park): gorgeous old stone town, but I don't know what the driving conditions are like in December.
Picos de Europa: There's skiing, I think. Public transportation is extremely limited in May/June; I don't know what happens during the cold months.
Bilbao (60 miles east): Lively city with significant art museums and a large medieval district.
Vitoria-Gasteiz (about 100 miles southeast): Capital of the interior Basque province. Few tourists. Large hilltop medieval district. The La Rioja wine area is south of Vitoria-Gasteiz, around the town of Haro. The hill town of Laguardia is extremely picturesque.
Gijon (105 miles west): Lively coastal town with smallish medieval area and some attractive early-20th-century architecture.
Oviedo (120 miles west): Gijon's quieter, more historic, brother. Known for its extremely old churches.
San Sebastian (120 miles east): Tourist-central in the Basque Country. Foodie haven. Gorgeous beach (but Santander has one of those, too).
Burgos (130 miles south): City on the pilgrimage route with major cathedral, pretty historic area and two interesting monasteries/convents. Warning: Known for being very windy.
Santander is a great city. I've spent a couple of summers there as well as a month-long intensive language course at the UIMP. I'm heading back this summer for another couple of weeks. I like it because it is so small and easy to get around and just laid back. The beaches are a big draw, but not in January! It will be rainy and cold. I'm a southern Californian, so cold to me might not be cold to someone from the East Coast, though. It can get really windy off the coast, which is normal. The food is of course amazing. I don't eat out a lot when I'm in Spain because I love to cook with fresh local ingredients. The vegetables just taste better and buying fresh bread every day is really the only civilized way to live :) Food is more expensive than in the US, but not unreasonably so given the high quality you can buy just about anywhere. And if you like hard cider, make sure to buy Basque sidra. Transport is really easy with buses running along the main roads and it is so small that you can easily walk almost any place you want to go. Driving is super easy in the city and getting out is a breeze. I like to rent a car with Sixt at the airport now that they are there. They have nicer cars for not much more money than other outlets. Parking is not easy, but there are several car parks that you can buy a place at by the week that are a good option.
The downtown area is by the port, then there are residential areas going up the hill, then more residential going down to the Parque de las llamas. It's kind of a river estuary that's been made into a cool park. On the other side of the park is a main road going out of town, the s-20. You will want to take that to the cave El Soplao- the most impressive eccentric cave formations I've ever seen; it's truly spectacular. Also to the Altamira cave and Santillana del Mar. I visit those three every time I go. The driving is easy because there is not a lot of traffic outside the city and the roads are modern.
thank you all for your responses. We will be staying more to the downtown area now.
Any favorite restaurants or food please let us know. We enjoy local cuisine where we go and love the places the locals favor.