Known for being one of the most stunning Renaissance cities throughout Europe, Salamanca was first founded in the pre-Ancient Rome era in roughly the 2nd or 3rd century BC.

Golden sandstone buildings which seem to glow gold, orange and pink as the sun sets earned this city the nickname La Dorada, or the Golden City. Rich in culture and history, Salamanca’s gorgeously preserved Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At the heart of the Golden City is one of Spain’s most beautiful and celebrated plazas: the Plaza Mayor. Originally built between 1729-1755 as a bullfighting ring, the plaza is now a bustling center of activity and popular gathering area for locals and tourists alike. Admire its traditional Spanish Baroque style, elegant balustrades, arches and richly decorated façades and medallions -- along with its dizzying array of cafés, restaurants, jewelry stores, specialty boutiques and even ice cream parlors. Many of the medallions represent historical and religious figures, including former Spanish rulers, writers and saints: Cervantes, Charles I, Alfonso XI, Ferdinand VI, Cervantes and St. Theresa. The Town Hall is located here as well.

Shops and boutiques not only line the interior of the Plaza Mayor but spill out onto nearby streets such as the Calle de Toro. Restaurants and cafés are kept busy here too, particularly during lunchtime as this is the biggest meal of the day for Salamancans and when most shops and businesses close for a break time. One of the local specialties is Iberian ham -- a cured pork leg which is a bit richer than those consumed elsewhere.

The University of Salamanca was founded in 1218. Less than forty years later, in 1254, Pope Alexander IV called it “one of the four leading lights of the world.” It continues to draw students and scholars to this day – along with architecture and art lovers who admire the brilliant Plateresque façade. The University has long taken center stage in some of the most fascinating moments in history: it is here where Columbus pled his case to a council of geographers when seeing approval from the King and Queen to find his western route to the Indies. It is here too where mathematicians proposed changes to what would become known as the Gregorian calendar, the most widely used international calendar that we use to this day.

The New Cathedral of Salamanca overshadows the nearby Old Cathedral. Construction began in the 16th century and continued until the 1700s and is a blend of the popular-at-the-time Plateresque style merging with the previous church’s Gothic style. Intricate designs include modern additions added during playful renovations from the 1990s, including an astronaut and a faun holding ice cream.

Another popular destination is the uniquely decorated 15th century La Casa de las Conchas – which translates to ‘House of Shells.’ Between 350-400 shells – all of which have been carved out of sandstone – decorate the exterior façade of what was originally the palace of Rodrigo Maldonado, a knight of the Santiago Order (but is now a library). Maldonado’s coat of arms is etched onto the walks and around the windows. Some dispute the reason for the scalloped shells – but the building was likely enhanced in this fashion either because they are a symbol of the Santiago Order (also known as the Order of St. James) or an offering to Maldonado’s beloved.