Salamanca Guide Spain | Portugal Visitor

Salamanca Guide Spain | Portugal Visitor


Salamanca Guide

Salamanca (Castile and León, Spain)

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

Salamanca is one of Spain’s most beautiful and historic cities. The capital of the Province of Salamanca, the old quarter of the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily reached from the capital Madrid. A visit to Salamanca can be combined with a holiday in Portugal as it lies on the bus route from Porto via Aveiro, Viseu and Guarda.

Located in Castile and León, northwestern Spain, directly south of Zamora, the city has a population of over 140,000 inhabitants.

Salamanca is best known for its university, the fourth oldest in Europe after the University of Bologna in Italy, and Oxford and Cambridge in England, the amazing Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful public squares in Spain or indeed Europe, its two cathedrals, along with numerous churches and museums.

The New Cathedral and the River Tormes.
The New Cathedral and the River Tormes
The University of Salamanca, Spain.
The University of Salamanca (Universidad de Salamanca) is the fourth oldest in western Europe and the oldest university in the Hispanic world


The city on the Tormes River dates back until at least Celtic times and probably before. The Romans called the city Helmantica. It was on the Roman road (Vía de la Plata) from Emerita (present-day Mérida) to Asturica Augusta (Astorga) via Zamora.

During the history of Islamic control of the Iberian Peninsula, the River Tormes was often a contested frontier between the Christian north and Islamic south.

1218 is an important date in Salamanca’s history as it was then that Alfonso IX of León gave a royal charter to the University of Salamanca. The university was at its height during the 16th century and home to various schools of thought important to the growth of the rights of the individual in Europe. Coimbra with Portugal’s oldest university is a sister city.

The 18th century saw the construction of the new Baroque cathedral and the superb main square (Plaza Mayor).

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Franco was proclaimed Generalissimo in the city. Thereafter Salamanca became an important administrative center for the Francoists and was staunchly Nationalist.

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain.
Plaza Mayor is flanked by many bars, cafes and restaurants; the tourist information center is also here
Convento de San Esteban.
The Convento de San Esteban and statue of Francisco de Vitoria, Salamanca


Besides the university, the main attractions in Salamanca are its two cathedrals (Catedral Nueva and Catedral Vieja de Santa María) and the incredible Plaza Mayor, now lined with lively bars, cafes and eateries.

Salamanca’s many churches, palaces, historic Roman bridge and several excellent museums are also popular attractions for the thousands of visitors that come from all over the world each year.

The old cathedral (Catedral Vieja de Salamanca) dates from the 12th century and is a mix of different styles of architecture. Though damaged in the 1755 earthquake that shook much of Iberia, the church retains one of Europe’s oldest organs and an exquisite alabaster sepulchre.

The Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral) and its dome are a symbol of the city. The sandstone building is indeed lovely from the outside. Within are more delights: the superb ceiling, choir stalls and main chapel.

The outstanding Plaza Mayor is one of Europe’s great public spaces. Built between 1729 and 1755, it is particularly beautiful when illuminated in the evening (until midnight). Bullfights were once performed here.

The tour of the University of Salamanca (Universidad Civil) takes in the university library, the oldest university library in Europe on the first floor and the Aula de Fray Luis de León on the ground floor named after the 16th century writer and theologian (1527-1591). The staircase between the two floors has a beautifully carved balustrade – the Escalera de la Universidad. Outside see if you can spot the frog carved into the facade, if you can see it it is supposed to bring you luck.

The crossing tower of the Old Cathedral.
The crossing tower of the Old Cathedral
Salamanca, Spain.
The classic view of the old town from across the river

There are many other beautiful churches, convents and monasteries to see in Salamanca.

The Convento de las Dueñas is home to a wonderful cloister, possibly the best in the city. The Dominican convent was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and still retains some of the original mudejar gates of the palace of Juana Rodriguez Maldonado who founded the convent on its grounds in 1419.

The Romanesque Iglesia de San Marcos dates from the late 11th or early 12th century. This little-visited small, round structure has some beautiful frescoes and paintings inside.

The Convento de San Esteban is a beautiful 16th century Dominican monastery where Christopher Columbus reputedly stayed while he pleaded his case to sail to the Indies to the geographers at the University of Salamanca. The large complex contains a church, cloisters and accommodation for the clergy. The incredible facade is carved in Plateresque-style and depicts biblical scenes and the stoning of San Esteban.

The Franciscan Convent of Santa Clara was founded way back in the 13th century but what we see today is largely from the 16th century. The building has been converted into a museum dedicated to medieval painting.

The beautiful architecture of the two Salamanca cathedrals.
The beautiful architecture of Salamanca’s conjoined cathedrals
Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business.
Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business
La Clerecía.
La Clerecía and the Casa de las Conchas with a statue of Francisco de Salinas (1513-1590), the noted 16th century music theorist and organist

The Convento de la Anunciación (Las Úrsulas) was founded by Sancha Maldonado between 1460 and 1470. It no longer retains a religious order and has been converted into a small museum. Outside is the Monument to Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), a statue dedicated to the writer, poet and former rector of the University of Salamanca. Also nearby is the interesting Casa de las Muertes. This mansion gets its name (“The House of Deaths”) from the skulls depicted on the facade and a series of grisly murders that occurred within the house.

Casa de las Conchas (House of the Shells) is so called due to the scallop shells clinging to its walls, a symbol of the Order of Santiago. It is one of the most distinctive buildings in the city. The city’s public library is now within.

Adjacent is the fabulous La Clerecía, a huge 17th century Baroque church once run by the Jesuits. It is now home to the Salamanca Pontificia University (Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca) a private Roman Catholic university.

The Roman Bridge has 26 arches.
The Roman Bridge (Puente Mayor del Tormes) in Salamanca has 26 arches across the River Tormes, only the first 15 date from Roman times

The Roman bridge across the River Tormes, the Puente Mayor del Tormes, has 26 arches and links the old city on the northern bank with the more modern suburbs on the southern side of the water.

The Casa Lis (Museo Art Nouveau and Art Déco) is housed in a 19th-century mansion built for the local businessman Miguel de Lis (1855-1909). It was saved from ruin and converted into a museum. The permanent collection has many outstanding exhibits of bronzes, porcelain dolls, furniture, glass, paintings and sculptures from the period. The museum also puts on various temporary exhibitions.

The Museo de Salamanca located in a 15th century palace has sections devoted to archeology including Roman stelae and fine arts, mainly religious paintings.

The Museo Taurino de Salamanca has exhibits on the history and culture of bullfighting, including art, costumes and famous bullfighters who have appeared in Salamanca.

The Museo de la Historia de Automocion has over 100 historic vehicles on display. It opened in 2002 and was the first such museum in Spain.

El Museo del Comercio y la Industria (Museum of Commerce & Industry) is dedicated to the economy, commerce and industry of the city and wider province. It has a diverse permanent collection and also hosts temporary exhibitions.

Domus Artium 2002.
© Domus Artium 2002

The DA2 Domus Artium 2002 is a contemporary art center inaugurated in 2002 on the occasion of city becoming the European Cultural Capital for that year. It is built on what was once the old provincial jail, preserving original features such as the original cell doors and its iron fence.

Hotel Catalonia Plaza Mayor Salamanca.
Hotel Catalonia Plaza Mayor Salamanca


The city has well over 200 hotels and other accommodations that offer a range of lodgings to suit every budget from 5-star luxury hotels to more homely guest houses and pensions.

The 4-star Hotel Catalonia Plaza Mayor Salamanca is close to Plaza Mayor with conference rooms and a recommended restaurant.

South of the river, the Parador de Salamanca is a popular hotel set in a modern property with great views over the city. Facilities include a pool, bar and restaurant.

The Gran Hotel Corona Sol is a 10-minute walk from the city’s Plaza Mayor and offers good rooms close to many of the city’s bars and restaurants.

Other places include Hotel Condal on Plaza Santa Eulalia, offering pleasant, more than adequate 2-star lodgings.

Hotel Castellano Centro is another budget option not far from Salamanca Station.

See a listing of hotels in Salamanca

Parador de Salamanca.
Parador de Salamanca


Salamanca is very well-connected to other parts of Spain. There are rail connections to Avila, Madrid-Chamartin, and Valladolid-Campo Grande.

Buses operated either by Alsa or Avanza run to Avila, Cáceres, Ciudad Rodrigo, Leon, Madrid, Segovia, Valladolid and Zamora.

Buses to Porto in Portugal are operated by ALSA/Internorte and take 6 hours and 15 minutes from Salamanca and 9 hours, 15 minutes from Madrid. The bus station in Porto where these international buses depart back to Spain is at Casa da Musica on the Porto metro.

Presently the bus leaves Salamanca bus station at 12.45 pm and arrives in Porto at 6 pm. Returning to Spain from Porto the bus leaves Casa da Musica at 10.15 am and should arrive in Salamanca at 5.30 pm. There is a pit stop on the border.

By car it is a straight 65 km drive north on the A-66, the old Roman road, from Salamanca to Zamora.

View of the Enrique Estevan Bridge.
Enrique Estevan Bridge



Salamanca Bullring.
Salamanca Bullring

View of the dome of Salamanca University.
The dome of Salamanca University

Enrique Estevan Bridge.
Enrique Estevan Bridge (aka Puente Nuevo) opened in 1913

View of Salamanca rooftops on the University tour.
View of Salamanca rooftops on the university tour

View of Salamanca rooftops on the University tour.
View on the university tour

Casa de las Muertes, Salamanca.
Casa de las Muertes

Iglesia de San Marcos, Salamanca.
Iglesia de San Marcos

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca.
Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca.
Casa de las Conchas (House of the Shells)


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