Travel Guides Spain | Guide to León

Guide to León

What to do and see in León?

León León is the most northern province of of the region Castilla y León and geographically is one of the most diverse provinces in the whole of Spain with high mountains - covered in snow in Winter - steep cliffs and valleys sheltering lakes and gorges on the one hand, and flat plains watered by León's many rivers and streams providing herds with pastures and farmers with land to plant cereal crops on the other. Towards the north-east nearing the border with Galicia, the province of León is characterized by rolling countryside, round mountains covered in forests and picturesque villages.


The climate

León has a Mediterranean climate with continental influences in some areas and atlantic in others. Winters are usually very cold and snowfall common, especially in the mountains where there are some ski slopes, although no resorts. Summers are mild and relatively short.






Fiestas in León

The capital city León celebrates the Fiestas of San Juan in June (21st - 30th) with processions and bullfights organised during the day and open-air music concerts, bonfires, fireworks and partying at night. The Easter Week processions in León are famous, especially the Good Friday march through the historical center of the city.


Sites to visit in the City of León

  • Hostal San Marcos - Parador de León: One of the jewels of the city of Leon. This magnificent building was originally a hostal built to shelter the pilgrims on the Santiago Way. In the 15th century it was converted into a monastery, in the 17th century it was used as a prison and during the Spanish Civil War served as an army barracks. Today it is one of Spain's most impressive hotels. Part of the building is the Archeological Museum of Leon, well worth a visit.

  • León Cathedral: In the Plaza Regla. Spectacular gothic cathedral built in the 12th century with two tall towers covered with beautiful sculptures. Wonderful tall stained glass windows the cathedral is as impressive at night when it is illuminated, as by day. The musuem inside the cathedral has an interesting collection of paintings and sculptures.

  • Casa de Botines: Designed in the 19th Century by the famous Gaudí, the corner towers make this building look like a fairy story castle.

  • Basílica de San Isidoro: Romanic church in San Isidoro Plaza witha beautiful façade and an 11th-century baptism font. It has an interesting museum and pantheon of St. Isidoro with sculptures, works of art, medieval textiles and the magnificent Royal Pantheon where a total of 23 kings and queens of Leon, 12 princes and princesses and nine counts were buried and whose tall arches are covered in beautiful paintings.

  • MUSAC: Impressive modern art gallery with exhibitions of well-known Spanish and international artists. Eachyear the museum hosts FIMA, an international music festival.

  • Fundación Vela Zanetti: This 12th century mansion houses the collection of works of the internationally renowned artist Vela Zanetti who, although he was born in Burgos, lived for most of his life in León.

  • Palacio de los Guzmanes: Luxurious 16th century building with beautiful indoor patio, this building serves as headquarters to the provincial parliament.

Where to stay in León

Visitors to León who can afford to give themselves a treat should definitely stay at the Parador in León, Hostal San Marcos.

A wonderful hotel and one of the best paradores in Spain. Look out for special offers and treat yourself to an unforgettable break in what is more like a museum than a hotel.

For other possibilities, see Hotels in León or search in the box on the right.

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Places of interest to visit in the Province of León

  • Astorga: Just 48km. from León, this is the second largest town in the province with a great historical and monumental heritage. Astorga rose to great importance durante Roman occupation, and conserved its influence during the Middle Ages thanks to the fact that the Camino Francés - the French route of the Santiago Way - and the Route of Silver (Vía de la Plata) converged in Astorga. Today the town is considered to be the capital of the Maragatos area of León, and is particularly famous for its Cocido de Maragato - a very rich meat and vegetable stew - and the pastries and cakes produced by its bakeries. Astorga's local fiestas are held during the last week of August and are lively events. Every three years the town organises Expoastorga in June and local companies, services and cultural groups tak part.

    Visitors to Astorga should make time to visit the following historical sights:

      • Town Hall: in the Plaza de España. Barroque 17th century building
      • City wall: even though only half the wall still exists, the remains illustrate the grandeur of Astorga. Originally built during the Roman occupation and restored in the 13th century
      • Santa Maria Cathedral: Building began on this impressive cathedral in the 15th century and finished in 18th century, so it has a mixture of gothic, barroque and renaissance styles.
      • Iglesia de San Bartolomé: Impressive church with various styles due to the fact that it has been rebuilt and reformed several times. Gothic entrance. Set in the Plaza San Bartolomé, there is an interesting Roman Museum in the same square which is also worth a visit
      • Ruta Romana: guided tours around the main roman remains, including 8 archeological excavation sites
      • Seminario Diocesano: Built in the 18th century, it contains a cloister designed by Gaudí.

    • Restaurants in Astorga: Casa Maragata I and II, excellent choice for visitors brave enough (and hungry enough) to try the famous cocido maragato; La Peseta, popular restaurant serving very good quality traditional dishes and excellent deserts; Serrano, considered by many to be the best restaurant in Astorga as it offers a mixture of traditional and modern cuisine.

  • León Villafranca del Bierzo: This is one of our favourite places in the whole of Spain. A wonderful sleepy village on the Santiago Way surrounded by spectacular countryside on the border between the provinces of León and A Coruña. It has a parador (see Villafranca del Bierzo parador) and is an ideal place to stop off during a long drive up to northwest Spain. The village organises a popular Trade and Folklore Fair from 13th - 15th August. Despite its small size - under 4000 inhabitants -Villafranca del Bierzo has several churches and monuments worth visiting during a stroll around the village, including the Villafranca Castle-Palace (see photo above), the 16th century Colegiata de Santa María, the convents de la Anunciada (1606) and de San Francisco (13th century) and the Romanic Santiago Church (also 13th century).

  • Cacabelos: León This small village with under 5000 inhabitants was founded by the Romans who called itBergidum Flavium, and rebuilt by Archbishop Diego Gelmírez en the 12th century. Set in beautiful surroundings next to the River Cúa, like many other small villages in this region, it has received many visitors and pilgrims during the centuries thanks to its location on the Way to Santiago. Of special interest, the Roman Remains of Castro Ventosa in nearby Pieros just 2 km. away. The Carracedo Monastry is also worth a visit as is Prada a Tope, an interesting restaurant/farm shopselling homemade wines, liquors and famous for its bottled red peppers.

  • León Castrillo de los Polzávares: Beautiful tiny village with just 80 inhabitants, pebbled streets and the traditional houses of centuries gone by. Many say this is the best place to try a cocido maragato and we have some friends who travel each year from Alicante to Asturias and always break their journey at a lovely rural hotel in Castrillo called Hostería Cuca la Vaína ( which they say offers outstanding value for money.

  • Mansilla de las Mulas: Founded in 70 A.D. this attractive village lived its hey-day during the Middle Ages and isyet another example of how the Santiago Way bought wealth and splendour to places lining the route. Remains of the 12th century wall which surrounded Mansilla are still standing today, and guided tours around the village are free during the Summer months. The village has some interesting churches and the monastries of Gradefes and Villaverde Sandoval are nearby. The village also has an excellent restaurant called El Hórreo with traditional dishes using excellent local fresh produce.

  • Ponferrada: This medium-sized town (65,000 inhabitants) is the capital of the Bierzo region of Leon. Called Ponferrada because of the bridge build in the 11th century under the orders of the Bishop of Astorga to facilitate the route for Santiago Way pilgrims. The rivers Sil and Boeza meet here, and the town provides its local agricultural and mining sectors with a bustling trading centre. Monuments and sights worth seeing in Ponferrada include:

      • Ayuntamiento: The townhall is a magnificent example of barroque design
      • Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Encina: 16th century church with gothic and renaissance influences
      • Iglesia de Nuestra Sra. de Vizbayo: 11th century church
      • Castillo de los Templarios: Castle-palace originally built by the Romans and then rebuilt by the Templarians, a religious order
      • Compludo: Interesting place 21km from Ponferrada with an impressive monastary built by San Fructuoso in the 17th century and a blacksmith which was built in the middle ages and still functions today
      • Las Médulas: These mines were built during Roman occupation of Spain and have been declared UNESCO World Heritage site. 24km. from Ponferrada.
      • Peñalba de Santiago: Mozarab style monastary built in the 10th century with a wonderful entrance. 20km. from Ponferrada.

  • Sahagún: León This small town is located on the banks of the River Cea and is linked to the Monastary of San Benito and is a landmark on the last part of the Codex Calistinus route of the Santiago Way. As most other villages and towns on the route of the Santiago pilgrimage, the town has plenty of churches and monasteries.

  • Sena de Luna: Beautiful small village located in the Luna area of Leon, surrounded by enormous lime rocks and lots of streams. Perfect for a weekend break if you enjoy hiking, with lots of routes and paths leading to wonderfully unspoilt rural spots. There is a spa hotel just 18 km. away offering specialised treatments at reasonable prices.

Travelling to León? The following links may also be useful
Guides provinces bordering with León and beautiful places in Spain nearby

Travel guides to Spain Travel guides to Spain
Guide to Alicante Guide to Almeria
Guide to Avila Guide to Barcelona
Guide to Caceres Guide to Castellon
Guide to Cuenca Guide to Girona
Guide to Guipuzcoa Guide to Lerida
Guide to Murcia Guide to Tarragona
Guide to Valencia Guide to Zamora
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