1) Why visit Salamanca?
Why visit Salamanca?
Salamanca is, for many, a dream destination. Whether enjoying the floodlit delights of Plaza Mayor, the beautiful otherworldly cathedrals or the earthier student bars, Salamanca seems to strike a perfect balance between stunning monuments and good times. The contrast of which is best symbolised by the city’s awe-inspiringly refined plasteresque university, which draws a huge Spanish and international student populace, helping to ensure a young and vibrant atmosphere. The architectural splendor is not confined to the golden washed sandstone, however, as varying architectural styles compete to spell binding effect. Put simply Salamanca is one of Spain’s most dynamic and striking cities.
Salamanca: the facts
Salamanca, with a population of nearly 200,000 is the capital of Salamanca province within the larger autonomous community of Castile and León. It is home to the oldest university in Spain and has a modern day student population of 30,000 ensuring a young and vibrant atmosphere.
First inhabited by Celtic tribes, the city really took off in significance as an important Roman hub straddling the Vía de la Plata trade road. Between 712 – 939AD the city was incorporated into the Moorish kingdoms and suffered a sustained period of decline, which was not arrested until the reimposition of Christian rule. In 1218, a royal charter was granted to the University of Salamanca, and quickly it became a significant and prestigious centre for academic study, becoming renowned across Europe.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Salamanca was a significant defeat for the French occupation forces, however, the city was also badly damaged with the western quarter devastated by the fighting. In the 20th century the Spanish Civil War, Salamanca quickly joined the Nationalist side and was temporarily the capital until it was moved to the more strategically located Burgos.
Today the city’s economy is based upon the twin pillars of tourism and life surrounding the city’s university with over 80% of the working population employed in the service sector. The climate is Continental Mediterranean typified by hot summers (34 – 39o C) and cold winters (0 – 4o C) with very little rainfall.
Named European Capital of Culture in 2002, Salamanca continues to play host to a myriad of cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Ranging from whole week drinking revelry to religious piety to smooth jazz. There is something for everyone and more besides.
La Feria de Salamanca is held between 8th – 21st of September with events taking place across the city. Starting out as a market for people to buy and sell goods, the tone of the festival has changed over the years and is now a curious mix of religious celebration and all night drinking. During the day there are numerous parades, in the afternoon bullfighting and in the evenings fireworks and alcohol.
Muestra Nacional de Jazz runs across February and March and showcases some of the best Jazz in the land. It is organised by Asociación de Músicos y Amigos del Jazz de Salamanca (Amajazz) (Jazz Musicians and Friends Association) and consisting of numerous concerts and lectures in a plethora of bars across the city. If that isn’t enough jazz for you, then Jazz en la Calle (Jazz in the street) takes place on the weekends in July and August and brings free open air jazz concerts to the historic areas of the city.
And for those who like their music a little more bassy, Salamanca Solotech: Música Electrónica is an electronic music festival which takes place in October at the Edificio Multiusos Sánchez Paraíso.
Salamanca’s old town, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage city in 1988, is relatively compact and can be visited on foot. Framed by Paseo San Vicente to the west, Av Mirat to the north, Paseo Canalejas to the east and the Tormes River to the south, most of the city’s monuments and attractions are contained within. The centre of the old town is the breathtaking Plaza Mayor, to the west is the Campo San Francisco the city’s first public gardens and to the south the world famous university and cathedrals. Estación de Salamanca the city’s train station is located north east of the old town along Paseo Estación and the bus station, Estación de autobuses de Salamanca, is north west of the old town on Av Filiberto Villalobos. Most of the Salamanca’s suburbs are north of the old town and there is a large city park, Parque de los Jesuitas, to the east.
We start our walking tour in the spiritual heart of Salamanca, Plaza Mayor. Built in the 18th century, this breathtaking Baroque square is famed as one of the most beautiful in Spain and it isn’t hard to see why. It is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to gather and now is lined with a variety of bars, restaurants, ice cream parlours and tourist shops. Within one of its 88 arches is the Tourist Information Centre (E-mail: información@turismodesalamanca.com, Mon – Fri: 09:00-14:00 / 16:00-18:30, Sat: 10:00-18:30, Sun: 10:00-14:00)
Leaving the square via Calle Prior we arrive at Palacio de Monterrey, a definitive example of the plateresque style and much imitated in the 19th century. Continuing along Calle Ramón y Cajal and left onto Calle Fonseca and we have arrived at Colegio Mayor de Santiago el Zebedeo (Everyday: 10:00-13.30 / 16:00-19:00, Entrance Fee: 2€/ 1€: Pensioners, Students, Groups +20. Monday Entrance Free). The college was founded in 1519 by the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela and is also known as the ‘Irish College’ due to the amount of Catholic emigrates from the country that were educated there.
Along Calle Fuentecilla de San Blas and we are heading back towards the centre, taking a left through an alley and a right onto Calle Compañía. After passing the imposing Baroque Iglesia del Espíritu Santo La Clerecía we arrive at our next stop, the unmistakable Casa de las Conchas (Mon – Fri: 9:00-21:00, Sat: 9:00-14:00/ 16:00-19:00, Sun: 10:00-14:00/ 16:00-19:00: Entrance Free). This Gothic palace was built in the late 15th century and its façade is covered in shells, symbolising the owner’s position as a Knight of the Order of Saint James.
We now continue our trip towards what are arguably the city’s jewels in an already resplendent crown. A short trip along Calle Rúa Mayor and onto Plaza de Anaya where we are surrounded by some of the city’s finest architecture. The Palacio de Anaya was once used as a hall of residence but is now the Faculty of Languages and is one of the few buildings in Salamanca built in the neoclassical style. Construction of the building began in 1760, replacing an earlier structure damaged during the Lisbon earthquake.
Across the square, silhouetted against the Salamanca sky, are the city’s two cathedrals. The New Cathedral (Mon-Sat: 9:00-13.00 / 16:00-18:00, Sun: 9:00-13:00: Entrance Free), on which construction began in the late 15th century and continued for two centuries, is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The Old Cathedral (Mon – Sat: 10:00-12:30/ 16:00-17:30, Sun: 10:00-12:30: Entrance Fee 4,75 euros), which must be accessed through the New Cathedral, was completed in the 14th century in the Romanesque style. The dome of the Old Cathedral is commonly referred to “Torre del Gallo” (Cockerel Tower) due to the prominent weather vane on top. Make sure you don’t miss the chance to climb the cathedral’s medieval towers. The IERONIMUS exhibition (Everyday: 10:00-19:15 (last entrance) Entrance Fee: 3,75 Euros, Free Entry: Tues: 10:00-12:00) gives you the opportunity to walk around the battlements and upper balconies of the New Cathedral as well as offering gorgeous views across the city. Entrance is obtained via the Tower Gate on Plaza. Juan XXIII
A very short walk from the Cathedral, taking Calle Calderón de la Barca from the New Cathedral’s western wall, leads us to the iconic plateresque façade of the University of Salamanca (Mon-Fri: 9:30-13:.30/ 16:00-19:00, Sat: 9:30-13:.30/ 16:00-18:30, Sun: 10.00-13.30, Entrance Fee: 4 Euros / 2 Euros pensioners, students, groups +20, Free Entry: Monday morning and under 12s) on Patio de Escuelas Menores. Founded as a place of study in 1218, the university is one of the oldest centres of learning in Europe, reaching a zenith in the golden ages of the 15th and 16th centuries. Tradition dictates that students wishing to pass exams must find the frog carved into the relief but it isn’t so easy to spot, so be prepared to spend some time looking and remember, be patient!
Walk back to the Cathedral and turn right, heading towards its southern walls. Take Calle Tentenecio and then turn left onto Calle de El Expolio. Here we pass two of the city’s most interesting buildings. Firstly, the General Archive of the Spanish Civil War (Mon-Thurs: 8:00-20:30, Fri: 8:00-19:45), which is housed in the former Colegio de San Ambrosio, and contains many important and interesting documents about the conflict. A little further along the road is Casa Lis (Tues-Fri 11:00-14:00 / 16:00-19:00, Sat & Sun: 11:00-20:00, Entrance Fee: 4,00 Euros/ 2,00euros: pensioners, students, groups +10, Free Entry: Tues: 11:00-14:00), home to The Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Déco. Inaugurated in 1995, the museum is one of the most popular in the city and the northern façade is one of the few examples of modernist architecture in Salamanca.
Continue circling the cathedral until you reach its eastern wall, following Calle San Vicente Ferrer and then Cuesta Carvajal away from the Cathedrals. Cross Calle San Pablo and proceed along Calle San Buenaventura until we reach the last stop on our tour, the Convento de San Esteban (Everyday: 10:00-13:30 (last entrance) / 16:00-19:15 (last entrance), Entrance Fee: 3 Euros / 2 Euros pensioners). Construction began on the convent in the late 16th century and particularly noteworthy features are plateresque carved façade as well as the sumptuously decorated altarpiece, cloister and Soto stairwell. The convent was also the place where Columbus secured the backing of the influential Dominicans in his attempt to find a new way to India.
8 Things to do for free in Salamanca
Seeing the sights of Salamanca need not break the bank and with a little bit of planning, and some useful advice from your friends here at hitchhikershandbook you can leave the city having seen lots of sights and still with some money in your pocket.
Casa de las Conchas (House of the Shells) (Calle Compañía, 2) is well worth the effort to visit and is Free.
The University (Patio de Escuelas Menores, 1) including its impressive collection of “vítores” wall paintings, which were originally painted in bull’s blood and symbolise the graduated students’ victory over the books, is free on Monday mornings.
To get your fill of religious monuments, the New Cathedral (Calle del Cardenal Pla y Daniel) is Free, the Old Cathedral is free for Spanish citizens on Tuesday mornings and the IERONIMUS exhibition (entrance – Plaza Juan XXIII) is free for all on Tuesdays between 10am – 12 midday.
The charming Colegio Mayor de Santiago el Zebedeo (Plaza de Fonseca, nº4) is free on Monday mornings.
The Museo de Salamanca (Salamanca Museum) (Calle del Patio de las Escuelas Menores, 2) contains many works of art dating back to the 15th century and is free on Saturdays and Sundays.
Cueva de Salamanca (Salamanca Caves) (Plaza de Carvajal, 1-19) where, according to legend, the devil imparted classes, offers splendid views of the city and is free.
The Museo de Art Nouveau y Art Déco (Museum of Modern Art and Art Deco) in Casa Lis (C/ Gibraltar, 14), is free on Tuesdays from 11.00am – 2.00pm.
The mesmerising Palacio de La Salina (C/ San Pablo, 24) was constructed in 16th century and is graced with beautiful façades and arched courtyards and is Free, but at present is temporary closed for maintenance.
Finding accommodation in Salamanca is easy with a wide range of choice and prices to suit all needs. Below we list some of the cheapest options, with budget travellers in mind.
Alda Centro Salamanca is centrally located, only 350m for Plaza Mayor, and offers Free Wi-Fi and 24 hour access. A 4 bed mixed dorm costs €9.50 / €14 (weekday / weekend) and a basic twin private €10 / €16 (weekday / weekend)
Pension Salamanca is well regarded and is ideally located in the centre of all the major tourist attractions. Breakfast is included and there is Wi-Fi throughout the building. There are a wide range of options available, the cheapest being a 5 bed private which costs €12 and private single rooms from €14. Refreshingly it seems that the prices are flat rate and do not go up at the weekends.
Salamanca Youth Hostel is normally the first stop for cash strapped travellers. There is only 1 option, a 20 bed dorm, which costs €12. There is no kitchen however, the youth hostel is well located and the staff are by all accounts very friendly and helpful.
Going out in Salamanca can roughly be divided in to two periods. During the school year, bars and clubs are busy all the time but especially Thursday – Sunday. Look out for special offers on Thursdays and Fridays as bars attempt to attract the student crowd with 2 for 1 offers and the like. During the summer there are fewer people, with a higher percentage of tourists, who tend to fill the bars every night. Like all Spanish cities, don’t expect bars to fill up until midnight and clubs even later.
The majority of the city’s night-life is based in the centre but can be broadly divided into different areas that cater to different tastes.
The streets around Plaza Mayor and the square itself are packed with terraces which are very popular, particularly in the summer, as a place to start a night out.
The area around Calle de los Bordadores has many themed bars and cafés and is the home of live music in the city.
Plaza de San Juan Bautista is renowned for its cheap drinks and thus is very popular with students. Look out for the buckets of mixed drinks, costing around €5, that are guaranteed to give you a headache in the morning.
The areas surrounding Gran Vía are very popular with foreign students and tourists and is home to a variety of alternative bars and clubs. Check out the bars in and around Plaza de San Justo for a thrilling mixture, ranging from Punk bars to Techno clubs.
Two bars tend to be talked about again and again, as must see when visiting Salamanca.
La Chupiteria, roughly translated as ‘Shot Bar’ offers a wide range of shots for €1. Unsurprisingly this place is very popular with students. Location: Plaza de Monterrey.
Jacko’s Litro Bar is a Salamanca institution. Forget the Michael Jackson themed interior and focus instead upon the buckets of Cuba Libre (Rum & Coke) that only cost €5. Location: Calle Iscar Peyra
Things to try and buy
The gastronomy of Salamanca is typical of central Spain, that is to say meat, meat and more meat. Hornazo is an oven-baked pastry stuffed with ham, sausage, bacon, egg, and even occasionally chicken. Cochinillo al fuego (roasted suckling pig) is a popular specialty throughout Castile y León and finally and not for the faint-hearted Chanfaina salmantina, a spicy rice dish made with liver and/or blood and varies cuts of pork. Salamanca is also within the jamón iberia (Iberian ham) heartland. It is expensive yet delicious and the locals swear by it.
Some of the popular confectionery local to the city are amarguillos (almond cookies), bollo maimón (similar to sponge cake), and chochos (made with anisette). There are two wine growing regions close to the city, the Ribera del Duero and the Sierra de Salamanca producing wine famed for its savory quality.
There are a number of bars and cafés in the city centre which have wi-fi connections, especially on Plaza Mayor and the south leading Calle Meléndez and Calle Compañía.
Cafetería Las Torres on Plaza Mayor, has belonged to the same family for over 70 years and is connected and so is the Erasmus cafe at Calle de Meléndez 7, which has both inside and outside areas and is popular with a student crowd.
Salamanca airport is located 15km to the east of the city and offers frequent services to Barcelona, Paris and charter flights to Palma de Mallorca and the Canary Islands. In the summer additional services to destinations such as Gran Canaria, Málaga and Ibiza are offered.
Salamanca’s Estación de Salamanca (train station) (Paseo de La Estación) is run by RENFE and offers frequent services to Madrid, via Ávila, and to Valladolid. There are also daily trains to Barcelona, Zaragoza and even international routes to Paris.
The bus station, Estación de Autobuses de Salamanca, (Av de Filiberto Villalobo) offers hourly buses to Madrid and regular services to Ávila and Segovia. There are less frequently run routes to national destinations such as Bilbao and Cádiz. International buses can also be taken from the bus station with destinations in France, Germany and Portugal.
The local bus system is run by S.A. and offers 12 bus lines and 1 night-bus that span the whole city. A standard single ticket costs €1.05 and many of the routes travel along Av Mirat just north of Plaza Mayor. Check out this useful map with the lines and stops clearly marked.
Salamanca is at the cross roads of three important Spanish motorways. The A-50 Autovía de la Cultura runs south-east directly from Salamanca to Ávila. The A-62 Autovía de Castilla heads to Burgos in the north-east and Portugal to the west. The north-south lying A-66 Autovía Ruta de la Plata passes around Salamanca and connects to Gijón in the north and Sevilla in the south. There are also a couple of national roads leading from Salamanca, the N-501 heads south-east and the N-620 west to Portugal.
West towards Portugal & South towards Cáceres
The key to this hitch-hike is to get to the edge of town. From Plaza España take Linea 11 – Buenos Aires. This bus will take you to the eastern most extremities of the city from which you will be able to hitch a ride along the A-62 west and the A-66 south. Get out of the bus and the last stop and turn left at the roundabout for the A-66 or for the A-62, cross the roundabout head under the bridge and try to find a safe place to stand. We waited for 20 minutes before a truck stopped to take us to Portugal.
North-East towards Valladolid & Burgos
On Gran Vía near to the Correos (post office) are a number of bus signs one of them stating Polígono Los Villares de la Reina – línea 25. This red bus will travel though an industrial zone with lots of warehouse, eventually leading you to a large roundabout with a large statue of a metal loop with a curved rod running through it. This is your stop and ahead of you is the beginning of the A-62 to Valladolid. You can hitch-hike from anywhere on the dirt hard-shoulder.
written by: Jon
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