Looking for street art is a popular activity when exploring a new city. There are many incredible examples throughout the world, including the famous Batman Alley in Sao Paulo’s trendy Vila Madalena neighbourhood, the Berlin Wall or any of UK street artist Banksy’s world-renowned works. However, one place that may not be as well-known for its street art is Santander.
The northern Spanish city is usually visited for its beautiful beaches or exploring the nearby Picos de Europa mountain range. Throughout the city you’ll find many examples of amazing street art, the most famous of which is by local artist Okuda San Miguel. Okuda has a very unique style, using colourful geometric patterns. Now based in Madrid, examples of his work can be found the world over. Not least within the community of Cantabria and the surrounding area. In Llanes, Asturias, there is a spectacular skate park covered with Okuda’s designs. What makes the park even cooler is that it’s located within a 100-year-old church. The church of Santa Barbara was abandoned for many years and in a state of neglect. Thanks to some fundraising the church was saved and turned into the incredible attraction it is today.
If you want to see more of this type of art then exploring Santander is ideal. For the most effective way to experience the best the city has to offer, keep reading and follow the guided tour below.
You’ll find a typical example of Ukuda’s work in Santander itself (see the image at the top of the page). Located at the end of Calle Río de la Pila, just a fifteen-minute walk from the bus and train stations and less than 10 minutes from the bay of Santander. The street is more typically known as a place to go on an evening. However, where Río de la Pila meets Calle Santa Lucía is a building featuring a large piece of Okuda’s work. The bright colours and styling are typical of his work and allow it to noticeably stand out amongst the surroundings.
To see more street art in the city you only have to walk further up Río de la Pila, which fortunately involves using the outdoor escalators (one of the best features of the hilly northern Spanish city). At the top you’ll find a funicular leading to some spectacular views over the city and across the bay. However, before taking the funicular, turn back and admire another fine example of Santander’s street art. This piece, by an Italian artist known as Zed1, is called “Alejar a la muerte” and features a grim reaper as well as other characters. You’ll see more art to the right of the funicular leading along the side of the road.
After riding the funicular to the top and enjoying the incredible views (assuming it’s not the typical Cantabrian weather) you’ll find yourself above Santander on Paseo del General Dávila. This long street runs most of the length of the city centre and turning right here will lead to your next stop on this street art tour.
There are plenty of cafes if you’re in need of a break or refreshments along General Dávila, but in less than 10 minutes you’ll be at your next stop. Arriving at a roundabout with a Carrefour Express ahead of you, turn left and a little down the hill will be the spectacular piece of artwork you see below.
The shell in the middle of the city represents Santander, the city being famous for its beaches and coastal location. After admiring the latest piece of street art, it’s time to return to the city centre. With the shell piece behind you, head down the hill until you find some steps leading down to your left. At the top is another opportunity to enjoy the views across the bay of Santander and at the bottom is yet another detailed piece of artwork.
This represents the families who travelled across to the colonies in Latin America and made a lot of money. Known as Los Indianos, the families have large houses, examples of which can be seen on the street ahead of you; Paseo Menéndez Pelayo. In the gardens of large houses such as these you’ll often find a palm tree. Not usually native to Santander, the palm tree symbolizes the Latin Countries where the family made their wealth.
Crossing Menéndez Pelayo will immediately bring you to a short set of steps which pass over the entrance to a long road tunnel. Above the tunnel is a striking piece of graffiti, while across the road is yet more street art. The predominantly blue wall on the side of the Culture Centre (Centro Cultural Doctor Madrazo) features some unusual characters on three separate panels.
From the cultural centre it’s around five minutes’ walk to my personal favourite piece of street art in Santander. With your back to the cultural centre, Calle Santa Lucía should be ahead of you. Take this street followed by the first right. Shortly after, Calle Valliciergo will be on your left. It’s on this short section that you’ll find the artwork, hidden away next to the entrance to an apartment block. A moving piece with sharp colours depicting a person hugging their beloved dog.
For a final stop on this street art tour of Santander it’s time to head to the local government offices and Santander’s coat of arms. Go back the way you came towards Calle Santa Lucía. Head towards the Culture Centre but take the first right onto Calle Gándara. A few minutes later you’ll find Calle Peña Herbosa crossing in front of you. Turning left on here will bring you to the government building, to the side of which you’ll see a large wall filled with the coat of arms of the city.
There are many more examples of street art throughout Santander and Cantabria (including more at the entrance to the tunnel by the train and bus stations), but, for me, these are the best and easiest to find. Exploring a city and coming across these brightly coloured, moving, interesting or curious artworks adds a little something to the place. It makes you want to find out more about the history and the reasons behind each piece.