Santander is a beautiful tourist destination in Spain, with gorgeous beaches, a lively city centre, and plenty of cultural attractions. Hop onto the ferry at Portsmouth or Plymouth, and Santander could  be the starting point of a Spanish driving holiday.

If it’s beaches you holiday for, Santander has plenty to choose from. Most of them are in the city itself, or can easily be reached on local public transport, or are a short drive away. One of the prettiest and smallest beaches here is Peligros, which has very still waters ideal for swimming in. For something a bit busier, visit Sardinero, which has four beaches. The furthest beach is Molinucos, but it’s worth the journey for the spectacular cliff faces. The waters here are great if you’re a keen fisherman.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Santander is the local cathedral, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Located right in the centre of town, parts of this building date back as far at the thirteenth century. However, due to a great fire in 1941, most of it had to be rebuilt and restored. The crypt and the cloister are must sees while you’re there.

Come out of the cathedral and spend some time exploring one of the busiest squares in the city, the Plaza Porticada. There are great shopping opportunities on the roads leading off the plaza, and there are some lovely cafes and restaurants where you can spend an afternoon people watching.  Santander is famous for its excellent cuisine, which includes delights such as fresh fish, fried squid, cocido montañés (meat and bean stew), as well as cheesecake and other local cakes.

Another short walk from here is the Plaza del Generalísimo. Here you’ll find some of the most interesting architecture in all of Santander in the form of la Esperanza market. It’s a fabulous modernist structure that’s not to be missed. You’ll also find the Town Hall here.

As it’s a port town, the harbour is a lovely place to spend an afternoon exploring. There are many different kinds of boats floating on the blue waters, as well as a number of maritime buildings.

In the peninsula of La Magdalena, you’ll find Santander’s famous Palace of Magdalena, which is now a cultural heritage site. It’s a stunning place to visit for a bit of natural beauty. The palace itself was once home to kings and queens who used to holiday in Santander, and is heavily influenced by French and British architecture. The park in the grounds is a great place to go if you’ve got a family, as there’s a small zoo which is home to seals and penguins.

The Pereda Gardens are also popular with tourists. They were built to honour Jose Maria de Pereda, a local writer, and the gardens stand on the old port. Spend an hour enjoying the peace and quiet Santander can offer.

If you’re driving onwards from Santander, Madrid is only 210 miles away, or wind your way up through France to Calais, which is 528 miles away.