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Spend spring break exploring two of Spain’s northern cities that offer fun in the sun, museums and more.

The port city of Santander offers the Maritime Museum of Cantabria, which houses an aquarium, a vast whale skeleton, and various exhibits on shipbuilding, sea voyages and cartography. After exploring the museum, step out onto one of the city’s 11 beaches. The beaches offer an array of water sports, from snorkeling to sailing.

Santander’s Municipal Museum of Fine Arts features works by Flemish, Spanish and Italian artists. In the same building is the Biblioteca y Casa-Museo de Menendez Pelayo, a 50,000-volume library amassed by Spanish scholar and literary critic Marcelino Menendez Pelayo.

The cathedral was restored to its original 12th-century style after a damaging fire in 1941, according to the www.infohub.com Web site. Under the cathedral is the Church of Santìsimo Cristo, the oldest preserved building in Santander. Archaeological excavations show evidence of Roman occupation and of an early abbey. Glass flooring enables visitors to see through to the older structures underneath.

The municipal park, Parque de Matalenas, has woodland and meadow areas for walks, a public golf course and a zoo complete with kangaroos, deer and a sparkling lake.

Another port city, Bilbao, boasts the titanium sheet-covered Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, which opened in 1997. In addition to its private collection, it shares with New York and Venice, Italy, part of the world’s largest private collection of modern and contemporary art, according to the museum’s Web site. Visitors can explore the museum on their own or take one of the guided tours offered four times a day.

Art lovers also will enjoy the Museum of Fine Arts, with a great gallery that holds more than 6,000 works, including sculptures, paintings, drawings and engravings, the museum’s Web site says. The art-through-the-centuries collection is presented in chronological order, starting from the 12th century.

The Estuary of Bilbao Maritime Museum features exhibits on Bilbao shipping company boats, models of locally built vessels and a collection of watercolor paintings.

Located in Bilbao’s old quarter is the Museum of Basque Archaeology, Ethnography and History. Visitors can learn about the sea, fishing, the weapons industry and local traditional crafts and trades.

While in the old quarter, go to one of the many bars and taverns to enjoy a glass of wine and some pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. For dinner, try a cod dish that is the local specialty.

A must-see in the city is the Gothic Santiago Cathedral, the oldest building in Bilbao dating to the 14th century. Visitors can walk around the cathedral’s three naves, covered with ribbed vaults, and discover the ornately styled Gothic choir stalls and cloister. The Basque Country travel guide singles out the cathedral’s stained-glass windows and Renaissance and Neoclassical doorways.

— Heather Klinglesmith,compiled from travel Web sites

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