Laredo

Port Town of Royalty on the Emerald Coast

Amidst the spectacular landscape formed by the Treto Estuary and Santoña Bay, you’ll find the town of Laredo with its Old City, the vast beach of La Salvé, and the largest marina on the Cantabrian Sea.

Planning Your Trip to Laredo

This beautiful town is found in an exceptional natural environment along the Cantabrian coast. Laredo is made up of three different areas: the Old City (Puebla Vieja), where folk-style buildings coexist in perfect harmony alongside buildings like the Church of Santa María la Asunción; Arrabal, where you can see the Zaráuz Mansion and Los Puntales House; and finally, the suburbs (ensanche), where you can visit the House of the Four Ember Days and the Supply Market. When the weather is good, it’s impossible to resist a swim at the beach, which is the longest beach on the entire Cantabrian. If you’re not in the mood for a swim, you can enjoy an unforgettable walk along La Salvé Beach. Visiting Laredo will take at least one day, but if you have more time, you can extend your trip by visiting the nearby towns of Santoña (on the coast) and Ampuero (inland). For tips about which local dishes you should try and where you should stay, we suggest visiting our pages about sleeping and eating in Laredo.

Want to Get to Know This Place?

The coastal town of Laredo has likely been inhabited since the prehistoric or Roman era, although there is little proof of this since its history was not documented until the 11th century.In 1068, the fishermen of Laredo made a donation to the church, demonstrating the townspeople’s ties to the sea. In fact, Laredo’s Fishermen’s Guild, also formed in the 11th century, is considered the oldest fishermen’s association in Spain.

In the early 13th century, Laredo was granted a fuero by King Alfonso VIII which stimulated the town’s fishing and trading industries. At that time the town belonged to the Corregimiento of the Four Seaside Towns along with Castro Urdiales, Santander, and San Vicente de la Barquera, and it was home to the corregidor of Cantabria until the end of the 15th century. During this era, when it was at the peak of its glory, it was known as Bastón de Laredo (“Baton of Laredo”), alluding to this symbol of the corregidor’s power.

The port of Laredo was the port most often used by the Castilian royal family in their journeys to Flanders. The ship that brought Princess Juana of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, to marry Philip I the Handsome set sail from Laredo. Years later, in 1556, her son, Emperor Charles V, also docked in the port on his way to Yuste. This event is commemorated with a festival and reenactment lasting four days every September.

Los Puntales House, home of the Pelegrín family
Los Puntales House, home of the Pelegrín family

In the late 16th century, some of the Spanish Armada’s ships docked in Laredo’s port after being defeated by the English. Continuing the streak of bad luck, the crew members spread the plague to the town. Worn down by several naval attacks, the town gradually declined in power, with Santander taking its place.

In 1863, Laredo’s first canned fish factory was opened, which stimulated the construction of a new port.

In the 1930s, the Los Terreros region (the nearest beach area to Laredo) became a tourist destination and single-family houses were built. Foreign tourists, especially from France, chose to vacation in the capital of the “Emerald Coast,” a nickname given to the town by Enrique Mowinckel, a Norwegian born in Santander.

In the 1960s, real estate speculation gave rise to a second large suburb of Laredo, characterized by the line of buildings, homes, and hotels built on the boardwalk of La Salvé Beach.

Laredo was also the stage for Sergio Leone’s film The Colossus of Rhodes, in which several local people appeared as extras.

Present-day Laredo is made up of three clearly-defined sections: the Old City, El Arrabal (the original suburb), and the continuation of the suburb up to El Puntal. We recommend starting your tour in the Old City, which was founded in the Middle Ages, and then continuing on to El Arrabal.

The Old City has six main streets (Rúa Mayor, San Marcial, Santa María, San Martín, de Enmedio, and Ruayusera) organized in a grid pattern, which are full of folk-style buildings as well as other more formal ones, governmental as well as religious in function. The Church of Santa María de la Asunción, built in several stages between the 13th and 18th centuries, is one of the most outstanding examples of the Gothic style in Cantabria and was declared a National Historical-Artistic Monument in 1931. It stands on the site of an earlier church dedicated to the Virgin of Belén. The church houses a noteworthy altarpiece of the Virgin of Belén, which is polychrome in the Flemish style, where local officials used to be sworn in. Also worth visiting are the Escalante Chapel, built in 1537, and the sacristy, which shelters a museum with an interesting collection of art and liturgical objects.

Nearby there are remains of the old defensive wall and some of its entrances, including San Marcial Gate, Santa María la Blanca Gate, San Lorenzo Gate, and Bilbao Gate, which today houses the Charles V Thematic Center.

In the Old City and El Arrabal (the product of 14th-century suburban expansion),interesting medieval buildings from the early modern period have been preserved. The Zaráuz Mansion (18th century), with its façade emblazoned with the family crest, a portico with four arches, and a balcony; Los Puntales House (the home of the Pelegrín family), where pirates are said to have lived; San Francisco Convent, today the residence of Trinitarian nuns, with a beautiful Herrerian-style patio. Inside the church there is a 17th-century polychrome altarpiece in the Baroque style dedicated to San Francisco.

Laredo has many other houses worth mentioning, including the Gutiérrez de Prada House, the Marchioness of Arcentales’ mansion, and the Constable of Castile’s house, where several members of the royal family stayed after landing in Laredo’s port on their way to the Yuste Monastery, including Queen Isabella, her children, and King Charles V. Today the building houses the Historical Archives of the Province of Cantabria. The Alvarado Mansion (15th century) was the birthplace of Hernando de Alvarado, the righthand man of Francisco Pizarro, who conquered Peru.

A branch of the Camino de Santiago passed through Laredo, so the town has an Old Hospital, built in the 15th century, which once accommodated pilgrims and is still maintained today.

In Plaza de la Constitución you can find the town hall, built in 1562. The building’s tower is crowned by a unique weathervane which features motifs alluding to the conquest of Seville, in which ships from Laredo participated alongside those of other Cantabrian towns. Across from the town hall is the Mar family home, with a large coat of arms and a balcony.

El Ensanche is the area located between the Old City and the fishing port, the product of urban expansion that lasted from the late 19th century until 1936. This part of the city is home to sites like the House of the Four Ember Days (mid-19th century), which got its name from the allegorical sculptures of the four seasons that adorn it; the Slaughterhouse; and the Supply Market (1900), in the modernist style with eclectic elements. The building was designed by the architect Emilio de la Torriente, and the varnished ceramic on the façade is the work of Daniel Zuloaga.

La Selvé Beach
La Selvé Beach

The Doctor Velasco Schools, now the Doctor Velasco Cultural Centerwhich hosts most of the town’s cultural events, are an example of the indiano style of architecture. This refers to the style of Spaniards who migrated to America, became wealthy, and upon returning to Spain built mansions for themselves and donated public buildings to the city.

At its end, 4,250-meter-long La Salvé Beach meets Regatón Beach, which is 2,900 meters long and runs parallel to the Treto River Estuary. Together, the two beaches constitute the largest beach in Cantabria. All kinds of water sports are done in the bay, including sailing competitions organized by the Royal Nautical Club. On Regatón Beach there is a stable which offers horseback rides.

For a nice stroll (2 kilometers both ways), you can walk from the end of Calle Menéndez Pelayo (also known as Calle del Paseo) to the Watchtower where you’ll find Rastrillar Fort, which protected the bay against potential attacks from enemy ships, and the scenic overlooks of La Caracola and La Rosa de los Vientos.

On August 16, the town celebrates the holiday dedicated to its patron saint, San Roque, with a marmite contest. The teams set up shop for the day on Alameda Manuel Llano. For a small contribution, visitors can taste the marmite made by the town hall team.

Laredo has a large number of vocal groups, bands, and music ensembles, so it’s never difficult to find a concert to go to. Concerts are often held at the Church of Santa María de la Asunción and San Francisco Church-Convent.

The town also offers plenty of options for nightlife, especially on Calle de los Vinos, in the Old City, and in El Ensanche.

Essentials

Dónde dormir en Laredo
Dónde dormir en Laredo

Practical Information

Coordinates

43° 24′ 52″ N, 3° 24′ 36″ W

Distances

Santander 47 km, Bilbao 62, Madrid 441 km

Parking

Along the boardwalk, near La Salvé Beach

Altitude

5 m

Population

11 934 (2013)

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Sea Parade (July 16); Our Lady of the Assumption, patron saint of the town (August 15); San Roque (August 16), when the marmite contest takes place

Battle of Flowers (last Friday in August), commemoration of the docking of Emperor Charles V (third weekend in September)

Ampuero, Castro Urdiales, Santoña

Nearby Destinations

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