Why visit Leon?
León is one of the hidden gems of Spain. It has possibly the best cathedral in the whole of the country, it has a bucket-load of monuments, a large student population and to top it all off a free tapa with every drink you order. By day, it is a curious mixture of catholic reverence, given its status as an important stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, and monumental architecture. By night, students take over the wonderfully vibrant Barrio Húmedo and party long into the night. It is a breathtaking mix.
León: the facts
León, the capital and largest city of the León province, was founded as a Roman military encampment, and has been occupied by humans for over two thousand years. Following the fall of Rome, the newly founded Kingdom of León managed to fight off Visigoth raiders until capitulating in 586 A.D. Soon after the city was enveloped in the Muslim invasions of the Peninsula, swapping hands between Muslim and Christian rulers until the latter’s eventual victory.
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. During the Spanish Civil War the city fell almost immediately to the nationalist coup and remained in its hand for the duration of the conflict.
León has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, in which summers are very hot and dry, with temperatures between 21°C – 35°C. However, temperatures are known to reach over 35°C in the city. In winter, temperatures can range −1°C – 13°C. Snow is not uncommon (16 days a year) but it is rarely heavy snow. During spring, temperatures average between 10°C – 25°C . The city enjoys considerable amount of sunshine throughout the year..
Weather in Leon now
At present, León is undergoing a industrial sector revival, boasted by the new built León airport, although the longer term ‘brain drain’ has greatly affected the city as its youngest and brightest leave in search of employment. Tourism is a major factor in the city’s economy as an estimated 600,000 people visit the city every year.
The Leonese love to party as is demonstrated in Barrio Humedo, the bar district. which is full every day of the week. However, León is also famed for its Easter processions that take place during the week preceding the Christian festival (Semana Santa). At the end of June, the city becomes a riot of noise fuelled by alcohol for the Festivities of San Juan and San Pedro in which parades, music and events are held and the streets are packed with street hawkers.
The city of León is located on a river terrace at the confluence of the Bernesga and Thorium rivers, although urban growth has now meant the city has crossed the river to the west. Barrio Húmedo (Old Town) is largely contained within the old Roman Walls and as are the majority of the most important monuments including: León Cathedral, Plaza Nueva and the majority of the city’s churches. The Convent San Marcos, which is now one the finest Parador hotels in Spain, and the Castile-Leon Museum of Contemporary Art are located to the north-west a short walk from the Old Town. To the north, lies the neighbourhood of Barrio de San Memes and the University, and to the south Barrio de Jesús Divino Obrero.
Leon Free Walking Tour
Monument & Sights Guide
Murallas Romanas de León
Georgia, ‘Bitstream Charter’;”>What is it? Georgia, ‘Bitstream Charter’;”>Remains of the old Roman wall which once surrounded León
Where is it? The best place to see the walls is on Calle las Cercas
Information: Built in the 3rd century by the Romans in a square shape to protect the city, the walls were restored during the reigns of King Alfonso V and Alfonso IX towards the end of the 14th century. Today the remains include the Ponces’ tower, the Castle Gate, and San Isidro’s Tower. Previously there were several gates, but only one survives today in the northern part of the city, Castle Gate.
Plaza de Santa María del Camino
(Santa Maria of the Pilgrimage Square)
What is it? Medieval public square
Where is it? To the south of Barrio Húmedo next to Iglesia de Santa María del Mercado
Information: Popularly known as the Plaza del Grano (Grain square) due to the grain markets that were held on the square, Santa Maria of the Pilgrimage Square has been altered drastically over the years but still remains one of the quaintest public areas in Leon. In the centre of the square, a fountain is topped with two children symbolising the confluence in the city of the River Bernesga and Thorium.
What is it? The old town of Leon
Where is it? Largely contained within the old Roman walls
Information: Nicknamed Barrio Húmedo (The Wet District) both for the historical flooding in the area and the sheer amount of alcohol consumed in its many bars, the district is the centre of life in León. Revolving around Plaza de San Martín and the intricate network of alleys that dance around it, there are an estimated 100 bars packed into the narrow winding streets with most offering free tapas with your drink.
What is it? 17th century public square surrounded on three sides by porticoes
Where is it? Located north-eastern end of the old town
Information: Plaza Mayor is one the most beautiful and interesting squares in the whole of Spain. Constructed in the 17th century, the square was the scene of dramatic fighting with the French invaders during the War of Independence and has been put to many uses over the years, including as a bullring. On the west side of the square is the wonderful baroque old town hall and every Wednesday and Saturday it is home to a bustling fruit and vegetable market.
Catedral de León
Monument Type: Cathedral
Address: Plaza Regla, s/n
Opening Times: Santa María de León Cathedral: Oct – Apr: Mon – Sat: 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.Sun: 9.30 a.m. – 2 p.m.May – Sept: Mon – Fri: 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sat: 9.30 a.m. – 12 a.m., 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Sun: 9.30 a.m. – 11 a.m., 2 p.m. – 8 p.m.Museum & Cloister: Oct – Apr: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 1.30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. May – Sept: Mon – Fri: 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sat: 9.30 a.m. – 12 a.m., 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., Sun: 10 a.m. – 11 a.m., 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Price: Santa María de León Cathedral: Standard Ticket: 5 €,Pensioners, Students, Groups: 4 €, Under 12’s: free Museum & Cloister: Standard Ticket: 5 €, Groups: 3.50 €Museum Only: 3 €, Clositer Only: 2 €, Under 12’s: free
Information: Santa María de 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.
Probably the finest example of Gothic architecture in all of Spain, it was modelled on the Gothic cathedrals of France especially Rheims Cathedral and St-Denis Basilica. The western façade is particularly striking and is flanked by two towers and contains some beautifully made Gothic portals and a large Catherine window. Within the Cathedral itself, 125 medieval stained glass windows illuminate a French Gothic interior with three aisles, a short transept, and a five-bay choir. The stunning effect of the rays of sunlight crashing through the stained glass windows onto the lightly coloured stone has earned the temple the nickname “House of Light.”.
The north transept adjoins to the 13th and 14th century cloister, with notable features being the Romanesque and Gothic tombs, and the, now faded, but finely detailed frescoes. The Cathedral Museum (Museo Catedralicio Diocesano de León) houses nearly 1,500 works of art from prehistoric times to the 18th century with a special focus on religious art including over 50 sculptures of the Virgin Mary.
Basílica de San Isidoro de León & Panteón Real
(Basilica of San Isidoro & Royal Pantheon)
Monument Type: Basilica
Address: Plaza San Isidoro, 4
Opening Times: Basilica: 7.30a.m. – 11 p.m. Museum & Pantheon:Sept – Jun: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 1.15 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.,Sun: 10 a.m. – 1.15 p.m.Jul & Aug: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sun: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Price: Basilica: Free Museum & Pantheon: Standard Ticket: 5 €, Thur: 4 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.: Free
Information: Built in the Romanesque style but with later Gothic additions the Basilica has been the site of Christian worship since the 10th century. Notable features include the carved tympanum of the Puerta del Cordero which depicts the sacrifice of Abraham. The Royal Pantheon is the funeral chapel of the kings of León and is noteworthy for 12th century painted murals which remain in an exceptional state of preservation. The museum holds 300 works from the Medieval period, numerous manuscripts as well as a mozarabic bible dating back to 960 and a Latin version transcribed in the 7th Century.
Museo de León
Monument Type: Museum
Address: Plaza de San Marcos, 8 & Plaza de Santo Domingo, 8
Opening Times:Oct – Jun: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Sun: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.Jul – Sep: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.Sun:10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Price: Standard Ticket: 1,20 €,Groups: 0.6 €,Pensioners, Students, Children: Free Sat & Sun: Free
Information: The museum of León, is housed in two separate buildings: one in the Convent of St. Marcus and the other in the Edificio Pallarés. It offers a collection covering all historic periods of human activity in León, from the Palaeolithic right through to modern times. Highlights include exhibits on the Romanisation of the area and the Middle Ages, as well as its archive of coins and inscriptions.
Palacio de los Guzmanes
Address: Plaza San Marcelo, 6
Opening Times: Oct 1st – Jun 30th: Mon – Fri: 9 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. & 4.30 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.,Jul 1st – Sep 30th: Mon – Sun: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Information: Built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style for the Guzman family, it is a three-storey high building with square towers at the four corners and is arranged around a two-level courtyard. Notable features include the façade and its round arches gallery on the top floor. Today the building is the seat of the Provincial Government of León.
Casa de los Botines
Monument Type:Residential / Commercial building
Address:Plaza San Marcelo, 5
Opening Times: –
Information: Casa de los Botines, built in 1892-1893, is a Modernist building designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and is one of only 3 buildings by the revered father of modernism outside of Catalonia. Originally constructed for his rich patron Carlos Güell, Gaudí wanted to pay tribute to León’s emblematic buildings and so he designed a building with a medieval feel but with numerous neo-Gothic characteristics. Today the building is the headquarters of Caja España, a savings bank, and the building can’t be visited in its interior.
Iglesia de San Marcelo
(Church of San Marcelo)
Address: c/ Legión VII 7
Opening Times: Mon – Fri: 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m. & 6.30 p.m. – 9 p.m.,Sun: 10.30 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 6.30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Information: Constructed between 1588 and 1625 on the site of a 10th century church, the Church of San Marcelo is devoted to the patron saint of the town, a legionnaire called Marcellus, who was beheaded in 298 for becoming a Christian. Notable features include the magnificent altarpiece and several secondary retables with wonderful sculptures in the Baroque style by Gregorio Fernandez.
Convento de San Marcos
(Convent of San Marcos)
Monument Type:Parador Hotel
Address: Plaza de San Marcos, 7
Opening Times: –
Information: Constructed as a hospital for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. The Convent of San Marcos is now a luxury hotel, contains a consecrated church and museum, and is one of the most important Renaissance buildings in the city. The most stunning feature of the former convent is its magnificent Baroque façade which is a refined expression of the Plateresque style.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León
(Castile-Leon Museum of Contemporary Art)
Monument Type: Modern Art Gallery
Address: Av Reyes Leoneses, 24
Opening Times:Mon – Fri: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.Sat & Sun: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. & 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Price: Standard Ticket: 5 €, Pensioners, Students, Groups: 2 €,Under 8’s: Free, Sun: 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.:Free
Information: Opened in 2005 and designed by Emilio Muñon and Luis Moreno, the contemporary art museum has 5 exhibition halls and contains more than 1650 pieces over an area of more than 21,000 m2. The multicoloured main façade is a curiously modern representation of the stained-glass windows of the Cathedral of León.
9 Things to do for free in Leon
Leon is comparatively inexpensive when measured against the rest of Spain but is still probably quite pricey for most. However, with a little help from your friends here at hitchhikershandbook there are some great things to do in the city without even spending a penny.
1. Perhaps the greatest thing about León is the free tapas you are given when you order any drink. Some of the tapa are like small meals in themselves and can save the budget travel the need to go to a restaurant.
2. The impressive Romanesque Basílica de San Isidoro de León (Basilica of San Isidoro) is Free to visit. The adjoining Panteón Real (Royal Pantheon) is the funeral chapel of the kings of León and is Free on Thursday: 4 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.
3. Two of León’s most impressive architectural wonders, Casa de los Botines and the Convento de San Marcos can only be seen from the outside but are definitely worth it.
4. The innovatively designed Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (Castile-Leon Museum of Contemporary Art) is Free on Sunday: 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
5. The two wonder squares of Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Santa María del Camino are both picture-perfect and portray such different faces of the city.
6. The charming Iglesia de San Marcelo (Church of St. Marcelo), which was constructed between 1588 and 1625 on the site of a 10th century church is Free to visit: Monday – Friday: 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m. & 6.30 p.m. – 9 p.m. and on Sunday: 10.30 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 6.30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
7. Walking around León’s Casco Viejo (Old Town) and getting lost in its winding streets is a treat in itself and is of course free to enjoy.
8. The Museo de León (Leon Museum) offers a collection covering all historic periods of human activity in León, from the Palaeolithic right through to modern times. For pensioners, students and children it is always Free. For everybody else it is Free on Saturday & Sunday.
9. Palacio de los Guzmanes (Guzmans’ Palace) is 16th century Renaissance style palace which is now home to Provincial Government of León is is Free to visit from October 1st – June 30th: Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. & 4.30 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. and from July 1st – September 30th: Monday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Budget accommodation options in León are limited but thankfully HitchHikersHandbook is here to help. Below we list a selection of the cheapest budget options for your convenience but be warned that you may need to book in advance.
Search for Leon’s cheapest accommodation (hostels, airbnb, home-stays etc.).
Alda Centro Leon Hostel (Calle de la Torre, 3) is located in the heart of the old town a mere 250 m from the Cathedral. There are mixed dorms (14€-18€), private rooms (14€-28€) and the hostel offers free WiFi, kitchen facilities, lockers and maps.
Hotel Alda Casco Antiguo (C/ Cardenal Landázuri, 11) is run by the same Alda hostel chain and is ideally placed in the city centre. It offers 4 bed mixed dorms (16€) and privates (15.50€-24.50€) and facilities include 24hr reception, lockers and free WiFi throughout.
Apartahotel Exe Campus San Mamés (Calle Vegamián, 13) situated a short walk outside the centre, there are a variety of rooms including 3/4 bed mixed dorms (20.50€-26.50€) and privates (27€-48€). Amongst the many services on offer there is 24hr reception, WiFi, parking and air conditioning.
Pensión Puerta Sol (Calle Puerta Sol Número 1, Piso 2º) is a small family run hostel, fantastically positioned with balconies overlooking the main square. Single rooms cost (20€) and double rooms (28 €). We stayed there and would definitely recommend it. It’s a little tricky to find as there are no boards or adverts ourside. Simply find the building and ring the buzzer #2.
The nightlife in León is very centralised with the majority of bars and restaurants packed into ‘Barrio Humedo‘, the city’s old town. Plaza Mayor (Main square) contains slightly more expensive bars and cafés so be sure to check out Plaza de San Martin where you can find some wonderful tapas at extremely affordable prices. To the north of the Cathedral, in “Barrio Romántico” there are a number of restaurants to choose from for a more fixed meal. There our a few nightclubs outside the city centre, most notably ‘Oh León!’, located to the south near the large Carrefour supermarket. Remember that bars in Spain don’t really start filling up until 11 p.m.!
Things to try & buy
León has a number of local specialities to keep all gastronomy fans happy. Make sure to try some of the following: cecina (cured, smoked beef), morcilla (blood sausage), botillo (meat-stuffed pork intestine), and the heavy el cocido leonés (different meats with vegetables and chickpeas, served after a vegetable-vermicelli soup) and mantecadas (a local pastry sweet) are all unique to León. Wine is extremely popular here especially the Tierra de León selection which includes Pardevalles, Tampesta, Barcillo and Los Palomares.
There are a number of places that offer WiFi, as shown by this extensive map:
León Airport is located 6 km outside the city centre in the neighbouring town of La Virgen Del Camino. It offers mainly domestic services with regular flights to Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga and Palma de Mallora; furthermore, there is an international connection with Paris.
There are two train stations in León one on the RENFE line and the other FEVE. The RENFE station (Calle Astorga) is located across the river in the Crucero district and provides medium and long distance trains to destinations such as Madrid, Barcelona, Gijón, La Coruña and Alicante. The FEVE train station (Avenida Padre Isla 48) is right in the city centre and is the port of call for suburban services and trains to Bilbao.
The Estación de autobuses de León (León Bus Station) (Avenida Ingeniero Sáenz de Miera 4) is served by the ALSA group and offers multiple national services to La Coruña, Alicante, Barcelona, Bilbao, Gijón, Madrid, Valladolid, Málaga and Seville amongst others.
Local buses are run by ALESA. There are 14 lines in total and single tickets costs 1,20€. Check out this useful map with all the lines and stops clearly indicated. Additionally, there is a tram line that runs through the city connected the Puente Castro (Castro Bridge) and Area 17.
East towards Burgos
Go to Ctra. Leon-Valladolid (you can take the No 6 from the centre) – there is good spot just right after big rondo (roundabout). You can stand in the shadow of the trees. Traffic is average.
From the centre take the No 1 or No 8 from the centre, exiting the bus on the last stop on Av. de los Antibioticos, then walk, and walk, and walk until you are free of the city and you can start to hitch.
Take the No 10 from the centre alighting on Av. de Asturias, before Hospital Monte San Isidro, at the Alto Leon petrol station. You can try from its exit.
West towards Astorga
Take the No 5, exiting on Av. Portugal. From here it is a little bit of a walk to Repsol garage on Av. Párroco Pablo Diez from where you can try.