When you live in Santiago or even if you are spending just a few days here an important part of your social life, from business meetings to evenings with friends, happens in front of a cup of coffee and, as the weather during at least half of the year may be wet and cold, you soon realize that cafés are a fundamental ingredient of the local way of life and that you need to work on your list of favourites.
If you walk around the old quarter you will quickly see that it can be difficult to choose a good café. As in most cities, more touristic areas are packed of tourist-focused bars offering the typical Spanish or Galician experience. Some of them are not that bad (while some others… ok, nothing new in tourist areas anywhere) but they are not, in any case, local favourites. And there are certainly some authentic places in those areas. The problem is that you normally don’t know how to tell them from less interesting places.
So, as a rough guide to Santiago de Compostela cafes, this is our list of clues to identify an authentic café and our favourite places in town:
- If they have boards offering paella or sangria in their windows or beside the door, they are probably not the most authentic café in town (there are some exceptions, though)
- If there is a waiter at the door trying to show you a menu in English even when you are just walking down the street, that is not probably the best place for an authentic experience
- If half the customers (or more) look like tourists probably it is a tourist-oriented bar
- If the waiter brings your order to your table and stands there, waiting for you to pay, as if he suspects you could run away, it is definetely not a place we might enjoy. There is some kind of unspoken café etiquette, and making your customers feel under suspicion is not always well considered by locals. We wonder if that makes anybody feel at home and welcome.
- Prices are the ultimate clue: café in Santiago is not expensive. A café solo (espresso) will cost from 1 to 1,20€. A café con leche, around 1-1,40€. A normal cappuccino (not very usual, though) would cost around 2€. Anything involving alcohol, such as Irish Coffee, would be slightly more expensive, but never over 3,5€.
And this is our selection of cafés in town:
- Costa Vella (Porta da Pena, 17): See our file about this café.
- La Flor (Casas Reais, 25): a favourite amongst young locals, perfectly placed in Casas Reais, in the last section of the Camino de Santiago. Its shady terrace is really sought-after during summer and its eclectic interior, full of carnival masks, old pottery, books and almost anything you could imagine has a unique atmosphere. The table near the window is a treasure in a rainy day.
- Café Venecia (Horreo, 27): in the new part of town, near the Regional Parliament and perfectly located on the route from the city centre to the train station, Café Venecia is the perfect example of a simple café for locals. It is not the most charming place around, but still it is always packed of regular customers due to its excellent coffee (and free tapas if you order a beer or a soft drink). Oscar, its barista, is an authentic coffee enthusiat, owner of several awards. Its espresso is really nice, but you can order also a Chemex-infused coffee, artisan roasted coffee of different origins, etc. Free broadband Wi.Fi.
- Café Paradiso (Rúa do Vilar, 29): it may seem a little touristy from outside, with the paella boards at the door, but once you walk the narrow corridor you enter an old times café which has looked exactly the same for decades. Due to its location, in the heart of the old town, they offer a pilgrims menu and all the touristy stuff, but its customers are mostly locals. For 1€ (more or less) they offer good strong coffee, a quiet atmosphere and a free trip to 40 years ago to experience how cafes where in Santiago in that time.
- Galeras quarter: just 300 metres west of the Cathedral there is a quiet neighbourhood, not as nice as the old town but with a charming park, some interesting buildings (both historical or contemporary) and two nice cafés. Tertulia (Pombal, 2) and El Romero (Galeras, 22). Tertulia has a lively terrace on the street and El Romero has a small balcony with a couple of tables overlooking the hidden gardens on this street.
- Old quarter: There are several nice options for a coffee in the old town. Literarios (Quintana de Vivos, 1), for example, has amazing views over A Quintana square and the cathedral and, although its terrace may be a litlle touristy (but still enjoyable) the tables beside the windows are really sought after when the weather gets colder. Café Iacobus (Caldeirería, 42) is favourited by students of the nearby faculty of History and it is known for its range of coffees and coffee specialities. A Gramola (Praza de Cervantes, 10) is an average cafe, but its small terrace in Cervantes square, in the very last section of the Camino, is really nice. Recantos (San Miguel dos Agros, 2) may look narrow from the street, but at the end of the bar there is a second spacious room with Wi-Fi, perfect for a calm coffee.