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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Salamanca

City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Salamanca

The ancient city of Salamanca is recognised around the world for its famous university and historic UNESCO World Heritage Site Old City.

The ancient city of Salamanca is recognised around the world for its famous university and historic UNESCO World Heritage Site Old City. Retaining a wonderful village vibe thanks to the relaxed pace of the locals and the careful infrastructure; Salamanca is growing increasingly popular with Spanish and overseas visitors looking to experience the city’s unique way of life.

Known as La Dorada (the golden city), the sandstone buildings of Salamanca seem to glow in the sunlight, creating a welcoming and mesmerising spectacle.

Modern Salamanca is a medium-sized city whose significance and influence is far greater than its city limits, and the beautiful, ancient architecture creates a picture-perfect setting. In a country of outstanding cities, Salamanca is still regarded as one of the most beautiful in all of Spain; thanks to the largely-unspoiled charm of its old palaces, churches, alleys and squares. Skilled stonemasons have shaped almost every inch of Salamanca, creating a wonderfully old-world feel about the city.

Salamanca can trace its history back more than 2,300 years when it was first settled by a Celtic tribe. But it wasn’t until the Romans took control of Helmantica (as Salamanca was then known), that the city began to grow in importance and influence. Thanks to its favourable position, Salamanca was visited by an important Roman road, helping to spread import and export opportunities for the city. The Roman bridge of the city, built in the 1st century, still stands to this day and was a part of this important Roman road. 

salamanca douro

Perhaps the most significant moment in Salamanca’s history occurred in 1218, when the University of Salamanca was handed a royal charter, making it one of the most prestigious academic centres in Europe. To this day, the university remains an integral part of life in Salamanca, and an important part of the city’s identity.

The academics of the city can be found enjoying Salamanca’s vibrant café and bar culture, enjoying a drink or two over sparkling conversation and heated debate.

Positioned just an hour away from the Portuguese border and close to the River Douro, Salamanca is a popular destination during a river cruise on the beautiful waterway. Significantly different to the villages and settlements which line the Douro, Salamanca is a unique experience for those cruising on the river.  

With a rich history and a welcoming presence, Salamanca is a spectacular stop on a river cruise atop the Douro.

Must-See Sights

Explore Salamanca’s 2,000 plus years of history by taking in the city’s must-see sights. We have picked our top five places no Salamanca visitor should miss.

Old Cathedral – Whilst the city’s New Cathedral may be significantly larger, the beautiful charm of the Old Cathedral means we’d suggest a visit to the elder of the two. Built in the 12th century and possessing a Romanesque charm, the cathedral is a site of extreme beauty, inside and out. Detailed, centuries-old murals bless the interior of the cathedral.

salamanca cathedral

And if you do fancy having a look around the New Cathedral (roughly 500 years old), the two are actually joined, so it’s easy to visit both together.

La Plaza Mayor – The beautiful old public square, La Plaza Mayor, is still the centre and heart of the city. Surrounded by the beautiful Spanish baroque town hall and a series of charming restaurants, ice cream parlours and jewellery stores; locals and visitors love to congregate in this laid-back square. Completed in the middle of the 18th century, La Plaza Mayor has witnessed much of the city’s history and is part of the Old City’s World Heritage Site.

The University – With such a high percentage of the city’s population engaged in academia, the university is central to the spirit and personality of Salamanca. A visit to the beautiful university buildings surrounding the Patio de Escuelas square will leave you spellbound and envious of the local scholars. The delightful old academic buildings boast wonderfully traditional Spanish-style architecture which would impress even Oxbridge alumni.

Casa de las Conchas – With a name translating to House of the Shells, you shouldn’t be surprised to find the façade of this late Gothic, 16th-century building covered in more than 300 shells. Now home to a public library, the welcoming entrance to Casa de las Conchas is complete with statues of dolphins, the Renaissance symbol of love.

Casa Lis – Proving that Salamanca is not stuck entirely in the past, Casa Lis is the city’s museum dedicated to Art Nouveau and Art Deco. A huge selection of exhibits featuring sculptures, jewellery and glasswork are dotted throughout this delightful, small museum. A short walk around the museum should be completed with a visit to the café, which pairs a charming food and drink selection with exquisite views over Salamanca’s 1st-century Roman bridge.

salamanca casa lis

Fast Facts

Salamanca provides interest and intrigue around every corner; here are just a few of our favourite facts about this unique city.

  • The people of Salamanca are called Salmantinos
  • Salamanca’s 16th-century cathedral features a stone cosmonaut amongst its gargoyles
  • 20% of the city’s population either study or work at the university
  • The university is the third oldest in Europe
  • Salamanca was the 2002 European Capital of Culture
  • The frog is a symbol of Salamanca and is said to bring good luck
  • Salamanca is one of Spain’s major centres for the teaching of the Spanish language

If you’re interested in experiencing the historic splendour of Salamanca as part of an Emerald Waterways river cruise, take a look at our Secrets of the Douro itinerary or call our friendly sales team on 0808 301 4705.   

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