León, Spain

León, home to over 300,000 people, is the capital and largest city of the León province. Founded as a Roman military encampment, the city has been occupied for over two thousand years and is one of the jewels of Castilla, mixing a heady blend of romanesque architecture, medieval streets and a large, student driven, café culture.

We arrived in León after being driven by a very kind man who helped us after we had been waiting for two torturous hours at a motorway turnoff two hours away from León. After approaching the old town from the river we were greeted by Plaza de San Marcelo which contained the tourist information office. The square was surrounded by the neo-gothic Casa de Botines, designed by Antonio Gaudí and the sumptuous Palacio de los Guzmanes, a renaissance building which houses the Provincial government of León. Calle Ancha, the old town’s principal street, shot off the square, dissecting the old town on its way towards the cathedral.

León, a UNESCO listed city, is a popular stop on the Camino de Santiago and is especially famed for its Easter processions which attract tourists from far and wide. The city was one of the most important in medieval Spain and hosted the first Parliament in European history in 1188. The decline of León during the early middle ages, after the union of León with the Castillian crown, was arrested in the 19th century, when León became an important communications hub for the transportation of coal.

The walk up calle Ancha, with its shops and cafés is pleasant enough, but the cathedral at the end of the road takes the breath away. León Cathedral is a masterpiece of the gothic style and took over three centuries to complete. The cathedral is a playground of light and its stain glass windows are among the most impressive in the world, pouring colour around the vast space. The price of admission (€5) also includes an informative and interesting audio guide, helping the untrained eye to unlock the secrets of this wonderful place.

A short stroll down calle de Mariano Domingo Berrueta, past Barrio Húmedo, the district that contains a multitude of bars and restaurants which come alive during the night, leads you to Plaza Mayor, a beautiful square that when illuminated is truly stunning.

Within the old town, the Romanesque Basilica of San Isidoro is also well worth the visit. Containing the bodies of 11 kings of the ancient kingdom of León, it was constructed by some of the most skilled sculptors, stonemasons and artists of the day.

One of the best things about León is the food. Here, in contrast to the rest of Spain, tapas is always served with a drink at no extra cost and it is common practise to jump from bar to bar, eating the equivalent of a full size dinner. Specialities include morcilla (a type of black pudding made from pig’s blood and onion), and an array of fish and meat treats to fill up on. Delicious!

Transport Links

León airport is situated 6km outside the city and does offer some international flights (to Paris) but mostly services the domestic market.

There are two train stations in León one on the RENFE line and the other FEVE.

Buses connect León to Madrid, Burgos, Ponferrada and Valladoid and run numerous daily services.

The nearest motorway is the A-6 which runs from Galicia in the north-west to Madrid. There are national roads that also connect León to the rest of Spain – the N-630 (north) N-601 (south-east).

Hitching Out

South (Segovia & Madrid)

Hitching out of León is not easy, walking from the centre to a good spot from which to hitchhike took us about an hour. We managed to snag a ride on the N-630 heading south. After several rides we were finally able to get on the A-66 to Benavente and from there the A-6 to Madrid.

To get to the N-630 you need to cross the river, preferable on Av. De Fernández Ladreda, the more southern bridge. After passing the football stadium and walking over the fly over, turn left onto Av. de los Antibioticos, which is the N-630. Then walk, and walk, and walk until you are free of the city and you can start to hitch.

Accommodation

Our accommodation tip for León is a real gem. Overlooking Plaza Mayor, Pensión Puerta Sol is difficult to find but once tracked down you will be glad you have. The address is Calle Puerta Sol Número 1, Piso 2º Tel: 987211966, a street that runs behind Plaza Mayor, and you must check the buzzers very carefully to find the right one. Double rooms cost €28 and single rooms €20 but for the price you have a stunning view over the square with a private balconies on which to relax. More information can be found at www.pensionpuertasol.com

written by: Jon

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Your Thoughts

  1. Bardzo zachęcający opis! Urokliwe miasto. Wygląda bardzo romantycznie. Chętnie pospacerowałabym tymi uliczkami.

    • Thanks a lot, Captain’s Daughter :) We are actually quite close to Gibraltar at the moment but the lack of time means we had to miss out on it. Another time, perhaps… And yes, Spain is definitely one of the most beautiful places in terms of architecture and nature, so make sure you do!

  2. Oh! Thanks for sharing this. I’m planning to travel the pilgrim’s route next summer from France through Spain. Thanks for the tourist information. (I’m hiking though so no hitchhiking for me!) Glorious pictures too. Thank you.

  3. I´ve always meant to go to León, I hear the cathedral is stunning, but while I´ve been to Salamanca and Segovia and Galicia and a lot of the places on either side, for some reason I´ve never made it up there..The building at the top is one of Gaudi´s isn´t it? I think I recognise it from a Gaudi poster I bought in Barcelona once……

  4. León no es la capital de Castilla y León. La capital es Valladolid. Seguro que todo extranjero que vea otra España que no sea Andalucía se lleva una sorpresa. Es diferente a lo esperado.

  5. Congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed!” Spain is a really beautiful country (Barcelona is one of my favorite cities), and your pictures are amazing. I’m currently in Ghana studying for a few months, so you can check out some of my pictures if you want! Maybe you’ll end up here sometime =)

    • Being on “Freshly Pressed” really surprised us, as so many people came to visit our blog. It happened to us for the first time and it was amazing! :)
      Ghana sounds really interesting, we would love to go to Africa one day.
      If you’d like to show your pictures to a larger audience, you can send them via our Facebook page, as we organise weekly travel photography competitions.
      Cheers!

    • Before coming to Spain I had always thought that it was a country for beach lovers. I couldn’t have been more mistaken! Spain is not just beaches, there is so much wonderful culture and architecture as well! Simply breathtaking! We are so lucky to be able to live here now!

  6. hey, I’ve just been to Leon in May and I’m glad to see you’ve liked it as much as I did:) Love the fabulous photos, if you happen to drop by my blog, check out my Leon posts too!:) Have a nice day and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  7. Here on the south coast of Andalucía, tapas are usually served free with a drink, too. Many cities, including Granada are renowned for their “free food”. It´s probably more common than you think, especially in the south of the country.

      • Of course, what you say might be true – quality and quantity is a subjective thing.

        What I was saying was that contrary to the statement in your post where you say “Here, in contrast to the rest of Spain, tapas is always served with a drink at no extra cost”, there are many bars throughout Spain where tapas are served free. I think you are painting the unfair picture that Leon is the only place where this happens.

        • Of course, free tapas are served in other Spanish cities as well and we are not denying it, but in Leon the tapas are extraordinary and served in every bar with ANY kind of drink, even with ‘cafe solo’ which doesn’t often happen in other parts. But of course, we might be wrong, love is blind and we truly fell head over heels with this great city!