Visit the 800-year-old cathedral, Colegiata de Santa Juliana, Calle Santo Domingo (tel. 94-281-80-04), which shelters the tomb of the village's patron saint, Juliana, and walk through its ivy-covered cloister. Among the treasures displayed are 1,000-year-old documents and a 17th-century Mexican silver altarpiece. It's open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 1:30pm and 4 to 7:30pm. In winter, it closes at 6:30pm. The 3€ admission includes the Convent of the Poor Clares.

At the other end of the main street, the 400-year-old Convento de Regina Coelí, also called the Convent of the Poor Clares (Museo Diocesano; tel. 94-281-80-04), houses a rich art collection inspired by a Madrid art professor who encouraged the nuns to collect and restore religious paintings and statues damaged or abandoned during the Spanish Civil War. The collection is constantly expanding. The convent is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 1:30pm and 4 to 8pm (until 6:30pm in winter).

The Altamira Caves

About 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) from Santillana del Mar are the Cuevas de Altamira (tel. 94-281-80-05), famous for prehistoric paintings dating from the end of the Ice Age, paintings that have caused these caves to be called the "Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art." The cave paintings at Altamira are ranked among the finest prehistoric paintings ever discovered. These ancient depictions of bison and horses, painted vividly in reds and blacks on the caves' ceilings, were not discovered until the late 19th century. Once their authenticity was established, scholars and laypersons alike flocked to see these works of art, which provide a fragile link to our remote ancestors.

Severe damage was caused by the bacteria brought in by so many visitors, so now the Research Center and Museum of Altamira no longer allows visitors.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía officially opened the Museo de Altamira (tel. 94-281-80-05), located a few hundred feet from the original caves. On exhibit is a perfect replica of the cave, complete with precisely realistic copies of the original murals. The replica was created by computerized digital-transfer technology; the so-called "neocave" contains every crack and indentation of the original. The highlight is the array of 21 red bison in the Polychrome Chamber.

If you don't have a car, you have to walk from Santillana del Mar, as there is no bus service. From May to October, hours are Tuesday to Saturday 9:30am to 8pm, and Sunday 9:30am to 3pm. November to April, hours are Tuesday to Saturday 9:30am to 6pm, and Sunday 9:30am to 3pm. Admission is 2.40€ for adults, 1.20€ for students, and free for those 18 and under and seniors 65 and over. Admission is free to all on Saturday and Sunday after 2:30pm. The center is closed January 1 and 6, May 5, and December 24, 25, and 31.

Cave Painters from 15,000 Years Ago -- Altamira is not the only ancient cave in the region. At Puente Viesgo you can visit El Castillo, found at Carretera N623 Km 28 from Santander (tel. 94-259-84-25). Lying in a medieval hamlet in the Pas Valley, this cave was excavated under the 350m (1,150-ft.) peak of the mountain, Monte del Castillo. Decorated by artists 15,000 years ago, the cave has several different sections. The caves are open May to September daily 10am to 2pm and 4 to 6:30pm; October to April, hours are Wednesday to Sunday 9:30am to 2pm. Admission is 4€ for adults, 2€ for kids 4 to 12.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.