The ancient city of Salamanca, Spain
Salamanca is one of the most fascinating cities we’ve visited in Europe. Known for its ornate sandstone architecture and the historical University of Salamanca, this ancient city is one of Spain’s most beautiful. If you plan to visit the Iberian Peninsula, you must add Salamanca to your travel plans.
Located in Northwestern Spain, about two hours west of Madrid and two hours east of the Portugal border, this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage City dates back to the pre-Ancient Rome period, making it over two thousand years old.
We visited Salamanca while on a Portugal river cruise with Viking River Cruises. The ship docked in the town of Barca d’Alva (Portugal) for two nights, giving us one full day to explore Salamanca.
We disembarked the ship and took a private coach directly to the Old City of Salamanca, with a brief stop for coffee and tapas in a small town in the Spanish countryside.
As the coach approached Salamanca, we were mesmerized by its towering cathedral and walled city. The drive through the Spanish countryside is mostly flat, so the city appears to rise above the horizon. It’s an impressive skyline that instantly transports you back in time.
Above – the New Cathedral of Salamanca towers over the old walled city.
Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
Known as the ‘living room’ of Salamanca, Plaza Mayor is one of the largest public squares in Spain. It’s located in the heart of the city and, along with the Cathedral, is the top tourist attraction in Salamanca.
Built in 1755, Plaza Mayor has some of the most impressive baroque-style architecture in Spain. We think it’s the most beautiful square in Western Europe, but that’s a subjective statement worthy of debate.
What do you think? Leave us a comment below with your choice.
The square is lined with restaurants, cafes and tourist shops. It was a nice sunny day during our visit, so we enjoyed a bottle of red wine and a selection of tapas while sitting under the shade of a table umbrella.
Like most restaurants in popular tourist spots, we overpaid for our food and drinks, but we didn’t mind. Plaza Mayor has a fun atmosphere and it’s a great place to people watch.
Endless rows of outdoor seating in Plaza Mayor.
Tapas and wine enjoyed at an outdoor restaurant in Plaza Mayor.
Salamanca Central Market
The Central Market is another good option for food. It’s located near Plaza Mayor inside a historic 19th century building. You can pick up fresh seafood, produce and meats, or sample a variety of cured meats, fresh cheese, olives and wine.
It’s a nice alternative if you’re not interested in dining at a restaurant in Plaza Mayor.
Fresh seafood on display at the Salamanca Central Market.
Above – sampling a variety of cured meats, cheeses and olives inside the Central Market.
New Cathedral of Salamanca
The New Cathedral of Salamanca is one of the most impressive cathedrals we’ve visited. It’s incredible. It was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries in both late Gothic and Baroque architecture styles. This style of architecture is called Plateresque, which was developed in Spain and its territories.
When we first stepped inside this massive cathedral we were left speechless. It’s absolutely stunning.
General entry to the cathedral is about 5 Euros. You can explore on your own or use an audio tour to learn about the cathedral’s history and religious artifacts.
Above – looking up at the giant dome, said to be 80 meters in height.
The giant columns rise over 40 meters in height. The detailed stonework is remarkable.
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The Salamanca Cathedral is home to hundreds of religious paintings, statues and artifacts.
Above – the ornate facade of the Plateresque style cathedral and tower.
Exterior view of Salamanca Cathedral. It’s really big, making it difficult to capture in one frame.
The Old Cathedral of Salamanca
The Old Cathedral is actually attached to the New Cathedral. Building the cathedral began in the 12th century and completed in the 14th century. It is dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede.
The old cathedral is accessible from the new cathedral. It’s not as big as the new cathedral but it is certainly worth visiting. The artwork on the walls is quite fascinating.
Above – the Apse inside the Old Cathedral of Salamanca.
The artwork on the walls in the old cathedral is hundreds of years old.
Casa de las Conchas
Built from 1493 to 1517, Casa de las Conches is another top tourist attraction in Salamanca. The unique facade, which blends late Gothic and Plateresque architecture style, has over 300 carved stone shells. These shells are meant to symbolize the order of Santiago and the pilgrims who walk the celebrated Camino de Santiago.
Above – the Façade of Casa de las Conchas.
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, is the oldest and most prestigious university in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful universities in the world.
We did not enter the university during our visit because we had limited time, but we’re told it’s worth seeing. The plateresque façade inside the University of Salamanca is the star attraction.
As you wander the streets of Salamanca, it’s clear that this is a university town. We witnessed several bachelor and bachelorette parties. We also visited during graduation season, so the streets with alive with celebration. It felt like a really fun place to go school.
How cool is this big purple door?
Can you spot the people in the tower above?
If you have the time, consider climbing to the top of Tower Clerecia (pictured above). The views from this vantage point are amazing. Sadly, we didn’t realize visitors were able to climb this tower until just before we had to depart Salamanca. We recommend you include this on your sightseeing itinerary.
Photos of Salamanca, Spain
We spent most of our time wandering the old streets of Salamanca. We must have taken 250+ photos during our brief visit. It’s such an interesting city.
Below are a few more photos that prove Salamanca should be included on your travel wist list.
Related: 30 Photos of Porto, Portugal
Big red door. I believe this door leads to the Salamanca Cathedral.
The streets of Salamanca are filled with outdoor restaurants and cafes.
You will spend hours looking up at Salamanca’s stunning architecture.
A rare couples selfie in Plaza Mayor.
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The architecture in Salamanca is unlike anywhere else.
There was lots of student celebrations happening during our visit.
Casa Lis, also known as the Museo Art Nouveau and Art Déco.
Every turn leads to more incredible architecture and statues.
Above – Convento de San Esteban, a Dominican monastery in Plaza del Concilio de Trento.
More posts from our trip to Portugal and Spain:
- Thinking about a European River Cruise? Here’s what you need to know.
- 30 Photos of Porto that prove it should be on your travel list
- Lisbon totally exceeded our expectations! Find out why.
- Here’s what we did on our Portugal River Cruise with Viking
- 15 Reasons you should visit Portugal’s River of Gold
Did we convince you to travel to Salamanca?
Have you visited Salamanca? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section.