Santander is as charming as it is handsome, but there's much more to see if you venture away from the city...
Getting to other areas of interest is easily done in fewer than two hours if you hire a car, and trips to the best beaches can take under 20 minutes. The area surrounding Santander is filled with national parkland, namely Fuentes Carrionas and Picos de Europa, which are wonderful to explore.
Old Spanish villages such as Carrejo, the coastal town of Castro-Urdiales, and cities such as the ancient Vitoria-Gasteiz make exploring a must. Vitoria-Gasteiz is an historical city retaining much of its medieval heritage and is an excellent place to spend the day surrounded by charismatic Spanish architecture.
Take your hire car east to the stunning natural landscape of Picos de Europa National Park. You'll see towering snow-capped mountains, brilliant blue waters and lush green woodland while visiting this beautiful Spanish treasure. Be sure to pick up a map or rent a sat nav with your hire car before heading out, though, as most signs are in Spanish and you're unlikely to come across many English-speakers.
If you want to experience the true essence of northern Spain, drive about 40 minutes west where you'll come across the town of San Vicente de la Barquera. This hidden gem of Cantabria is marooned on all sides by water and only accessible by a causeway over the Rio Escudo. It may not seem like the prettiest port in the world, but this is the home of what are regarded as some of the best fish restaurants in the whole of Spain.