An elderly gentleman is standing next to the waist-high bronze town sign for León in Northern Spain.

León, a northern Spanish discovery

In En-Route, Europe, Our Journeys, Spain, Trip-Types, World Travel by Janis8 Comments

Our visit to the historic city of León, Spain

León in northern Spain is a perfect city break for an instantaneous embrace of Spanish culture, food and beautiful architecture.

I felt like we had discovered a true gem when we visited Leon.

An elderly gentleman is standing next to the waist-high bronze town sign for León in Northern Spain.

You're in León

We’ve come to fall in love with Spain over the last few years, during our road trips from north to south. The northern region of Spain where Leon is located is beautiful.
With our passion for history, we couldn’t wait to unearth the ancient city of Leon in north-western Spain.

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León Market Day

Our hotel overlooked the Plaza Mayor and when we awoke in the morning León’s colourful local market was coming alive below. Stallholders selling fresh fruit, vegetables and vibrant aromatic flowers.
The view of the fresh food market from our hotel room, León, Spain

The view of the market from our hotel room

Vibrant oranges, and red peppers in a market in plaza mayor in Leon, Spain

Fresh on the market

A row of produce in plastic baskets in the fruit & vegetable market in plaza mayor in Leon, Spain

Fresh vegatables

León’s Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor in León as you can imagine plays a central role within the historic city, especially on market days. However, when the stalls are all cleared away and the traders have all packed up it became very sedate.

Overlooking a quiet plaza mayor towards the 17th-Century Antiguo Consistorio de León

The view from our room over Plaza Mayor

León’s central square is delightful, it’s framed on one side by the attractive Baroque old city hall. Around the other three sides are charming colonnades, with wrought iron balconies teetering above. Cafés and bars are nestled in between and such pleasant location to enjoy a coffee and watch the world slowly pass by.

Heavy stone arches of the collonades that surround plaza mayor in León, Spain

The corner of Plaza Mayor

A helpful guide

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used this version of the book to plan the northern part of our Spanish road trips.

León’s Striking Architecture

As you stroll around León, you’ll notice the varied styles of architecture throughout the city.
One in particular that stands out is striking ‘castle-like’ Casa de los Botines, designed by Antoni Gaudi and one of only a few of his designs built outside Catalonia.

The heavy stone facade to the Casa de los Botines, flanked on either side by two turrets

The Casa de los Botines

A lovely bronze statue of Gaudi sits outside Casa de los Botines, with him deep in thought on a bench, you can even share a seat with him.
A bronze statue of Antonio Gaudi, seated on a bench, in front of a building he designed, in Leon, Spain.

A monument to Antoni Gaudi on a bench

There’s such a choice of beautiful buildings in León, here are a couple of others that caught our eye.
The decoartive Casa de los Botines, nestled against the Palacio de los Guzmanes in León, Spain
The Palacio de los Guzmanes
The Plaza Mayor in León as you can imagine plays a central role within the historic city, especially on market days. However, when the stalls are all cleared away and the traders have all packed up it became very sedate.
An ornate fountain in the centre of the Plaza de Santo Domingo, surrounded by elegant 19th-century buildings.
Wonderful architecture
Leon Obispado facade in Plaza Regla square beside Cathedral at Castilla Spain.

Leon Obispado

Getting to León

Start creating your own León adventure and discover the ancient history amongst the charming city streets.
Search for your flights in one easy place with Over 400 airlines are scanned for your favoured routes and chosen dates.
Why not make your visit into road trip by flying directly into Madrid. León is around 211 miles (339km) drive away. Take a look at the latest deals on Rental Cars.

Convent de San Marcos

Along the banks of the Bernesga river is the Spanish Renaissance Convent of San Marcos. This is a beautiful building that overlooks the Plaza de San Marcos.

The light stone gothic facade to the Convent of San Marcos in León, Spain
Convent of San Marcos
The origins date to the 12th century and would have been a hospital-temple for pilgrims travelling the Camino de Santiago.
A clock & barometer attached to an iron post in front of the Convent of San Marcos in León, Spain
Time in front of the Convent of San Marcos

Now the convent is home to a hotel and under restoration, so, unfortunately, we were unable to see its intricate plateresque façade.
However, the stroll to the plaza was worth it just to see the pilgrim statue in front of the convent. A lone pilgrim with his sandals by his side staring up.

A stone cross statue with a brass seated figure of a pilgrim in front of the paradour in León.

Resting against the cross

A brass, seated, figure of a weary pilgrim looking skyward in León.
The resting pilgrim

Have you?

Visited Spain and discovered any towns or cities that you really want to share with us, as we’d love to add them to our next road trip?

Pulchra Leonina

The Gothic Cathedral that stands in León was built during the 13th century, although this is extremely old, this was the 3rd cathedral to be built on this site.

A side profile of the gothic sandstone Leon Cathedral
The Cathedral at León

The original León cathedral was constructed on the site of ancient Roman Baths during the 2nd century. It’s incredible the size of such a cathedral considering what the population of the city would have been at the time.

Stained glass windows above the painted wooden panels in the apse of Leon Cathedral

Detail inside the Cathedral

A stained glass windows above the tomb in Leon Cathedral

Stained glass window inside the Cathedral

The cathedral is also known as Pulchra Leonina or The House of Light due to the astonishing amount of stained glass windows throughout there are 1,800 square metres.

An ordnate decorated gothic entrance to the nave of Leon Cathedral

The Interior of the Cathedral

Did you know?

Leon cathedral is one of the three most important cathedrals, along The Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago), along with that of Burgos and Santiago de Compostela.

León Basilica

Not content with an impressive cathedral, León also has a lovely ochre Romanesque Basilica, named Basílica de San Isidoro de León. The basilica was built in 10th century on the grounds of a Roman Temple.

The stone facade to the Basilica of San Isidoro, León, Spain

Basilica of San Isidoro

Within its vaults of the ‘Royal Pantheon’ is the resting place of the medieval kings & queens of León.

The Romans

The ancient walls that surround part of the city were built in the 1st Century BC & then further enlarged during 3rd & 4th century AD.

A wide stone arch in the ancient walls of León, Spain

The Arco de la Cárcel

The rough, thick, stone city walls of León, Spain

The City Walls

There is only one remaining gate to the city is ‘Arco de la Cárcel’, although it has since been rebuilt it still retains of its Medieval structure.

Discover more

If you’re touring Spain on a road trip, take a look at our post on the UNESCO sites in Spain part one and part two. All of them are incredible, I really don’t think I could choose a favourite.

Birdseye view

During our road trip, we had seen storks nesting in some unusual places, but this one was undoubtedly comfortable where it had made its home.

A stork nesting on the top of a single corinthian stone column in León, Spain.

The stork with the classy home with a view

Passing through

As we wander around the city, we come across so many pilgrims young and old on the route to Santiago de Compostela. León is along the ‘French Way’ of the Camino de Santiago, a very well-trodden path.

A close-up of a brass clamshell, set in the street in León, Spain.

The brass marker

A yellow painted arrow on grey stonework in León, Spain.
Improvised marker
A brass insert of a footprint in the pavement in León, Spain.
Brass footprint leads the way
A sign indicating you are on the Santiago de Compostela and you have 441 km to go via Oviedo.

Follow the way

Where we ate in León

One of our lasting memories of León is standing in the tapas bars enjoying the local chatter around us, sipping Spanish red wine and savouring the complimentary tapas. (In some places, we paid €2.80 for 2 wines & tapas)

A sliver dish containing 3 tapas croquettes, each with the end bitten off revealing their different fillings

Complimentary Tapas

We love the Spanish culture of try a little and move on.
Gary enjoys the local morcilla (blood sausage) not to everyone’s taste, but ‘when in Rome’.

Where we stayed in León

Our accommodation for the two nights we were in León, was at the Hotel NH Collection León Plaza Mayor. This hotel was in a fantastic location, as you stepped out of the door you were straight into Plaza Mayor, within the heart of the old town.

The plaza de mayor facing side of the Hotel NH Collection León Plaza Mayor
The Hotel NH Collection León Plaza Mayor

The hotel also had allocated parking in the car park underground.

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  1. We love Spain, and always talk about when we were there and when we will go again! I’ve visited San Sebastian and Bilbao in the North, but haven’t been to Leon. I’ll put it on my list! #farawayfiles

  2. Leon is really a lovely city, very traditional. Other places in the north we’ve visited are Oviedo, Burgos, Logrono & Santander. Like you we also enjoyed Bilbao, fantastic tapas or pintxo as they call it there.We have only started to visit Spain in last five or six years and found some fascinating places, all over the country, (I’m always talking about Seville).

  3. Well you’ve certainly inspired me to visit Leon. I hadn’t heard much about it until now and it looks more than worth a visit, and what a great location you chose for your hotel! That must have really added to your experience. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. We really enjoy visiting these types of Spanish cities and towns, ones that slightly off the radar. Salamanca was another city we really loved.

      It was great staying in the heart of the city, however, it’s not always possible when you want somewhere with secure car parking.

  4. Gah, I love lesser known Spanish cities! I studied in Salamanca and visited so many unexplored places in Spain, I loved it. Never quite made it to Leon, unfortunately, as it looks lovely! It reminds me a little of Estrella, in the north, which is also on the Camino.

  5. We really enjoyed Salamanca as well, love the tapas culture of eat a little then move on to the next bar. I’ll keep an eye for Estrella, if you have any other recommendations we’d love to hear them?

    1. Oh there’s loads!! Burgos is also worth a visit, I think. And even though San Sebastian and Bilbao are a bit more wellknown, they’re well worth the visit. I have my eye on Tarragona and Zaragoza for next spring!

      1. Thanks for the tips. We briefly visited Burgos but certainly need to return & really loved Bilbao. Never been to Tarragona and Zaragoza, so I’ll keep a look out for your posts next year.

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