As both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important university centres in Spain, Salamanca is a fascinating, lively city that's often seen as an off-the-beaten-track destination. With its stone-paved pedestrianised streets, two cathedrals, breathtaking university, and beautiful square, Salamanca's old city really is picture-perfect round every corner, and one of the best examples of this region's history.
The historic University of Salamanca is one of the central hubs of the city. Not only do the ornate faculties celebrate the history of the city, but the University also draws a huge national and international student population to Salamanca, adding a lively, contemporary flair to its streets.
With so much to see and do in such a small city, Salamanca is an exciting, alternative Spanish destination that we think deserves to be firmly featured on every Spain itinerary. After all, it only takes around two hours to drive there from Madrid, so even if you don't stay it makes a great day trip or road trip stop-off.
There are a number of key sights to see in Salamanca to get to grips with the historic side of the city. While strolling around, it's easy to pinpoint when you've reached the old city; the roads become closed to cars, the buildings have golden sandstone facades, and the cathedral spire becomes visible over the rooftops.
Plaza Mayor: The first stop you're likely to come across is Plaza Mayor, a vast square surrounded on all sides by, you guessed it, sandstone buildings and arched walkways. Today, the square is a popular spot to relax in the sun with a drink or an ice cream; a true reflection of laid-back life in Spain.
The cathedrals: Salamanca actually has two cathedrals, the Catedral Vieja (old) and Catedral Nueva (new), which are joined together. Okay, so the New Cathedral isn't exactly new, it dates back to the 16th century, but it was built comparably more recently than the 12th to 13th century Old Cathedral.
Be sure to wander slowly around both to see everything, but don't miss the impressive altarpiece in the Old Cathedral (thought to be one of the best outside of Italy), and the elaborate choir stalls and ceilings of the New Cathedral.
University of Salamanca: One of the main attractions associated with the university is actually found on the outside of the main building - a small, stone carving of a frog. The frog has become a symbol synonymous with Salamanca, and it's thought that if new students arriving at the university find the frog they'll be granted great academic success in their studies. It's fun to try and spot it even if you're not a student, but be warned, it's really difficult to find!
Thanks to the student population in Salamanca, there's a vibrant entertainment, food and drink scene nestled amongst the historic sights.
Graffiti in the Barrio del Oeste: If the old city represents the historic side to Salamanca, then the Barrio del Oeste (the western neighbourhood) represents the modern. Following a street art competition in 2013 to try and spruce up the area, the neighbourhood is covered in quirky, colourful artwork breathing life into the otherwise uninspiring suburbs. Tours aren't necessary here; the best way to enjoy the neighbourhood is to discover it in your own time.
Food and drink: In Spain, socialising revolves around eating and drinking, so when the sun has set head out to the many bars and restaurants in Salamanca. The main street leading from Plaza Mayor to the cathedrals, Rua Mayor, is one of the best spots for this. Basically the entire street is dedicated to tapas bars and restaurants offering un-fussy, good value food and drinks, but places won't get lively until around 10pm, so wait until then for the best atmosphere.
Later on in the evening you'll also find many more bars and clubs opening their doors to the floods of students and young locals, with the streets staying awake until the early hours of the morning.
The best way to get to Salamanca is via Madrid. If you're flying in from abroad, there's a bus (Avanza Bus) which goes from terminal one of Madrid-Barajas airport direct to Salamanca in around two and a half hours. Alternatively, hop on the metro from the airport to Madrid Chamartin Station and get the train (this is just as easy and often a touch cheaper if booked in advance). The bus costs around €25 and the train around €16.
Salamanca is also connected to Lisbon via a night train (RENFE Trenhotel) which runs once a day between the two cities. It takes around seven hours in total but is way easier than travelling via Madrid airport. A one way ticket costs around €40 if booked in advance.