Leon city guide Leon city guide

Leon City Guide



The best travel guide to Leon: top things to do, hotel recommendations, best restaurants and tips by local experts

León is the second-largest city and capital of the región of Castilla y León, León is located in the north of Spain and is one of the main stops on the Camino de Santiago . Discover the best things to enjoy in Leon, best time to visit, and much more in this Leon city guide.

Parador de Turismo- Our favorite hotel in Leon

Welcome to the Parador de Turismo de León! This is without doubt our preferred hotel in Leon. This parador was recently renovated. It boasts antique furnishings and tapestries, all set within the impressive 16th-century San Marcos Monastery (an important stop in El Camino de Santiago) . Today you will enjoy at the Parador the comfort of its carefully decorated rooms. Indulge in traditional local cuisine with a range of regional wines from Bierzo and other wine regions in Leon. The hotel is located just a 10 minute walk from the centre of León where you will be able to visit the cathedral

Leon travel guide - Contents

5 Top Reasons To Visit Leon

Leon is one of Spain’s lesser-known cities, but it has a fantastic collection of things to do and see for tourists. In León, you will find a large number of amazing, historic buildings with great architectural value, a city filled with a deep and rich history, and tons of delicious local delicacies. Let’s go over the top things to see and do in León: 

The Basílica de San Isidoro

The Basílica de San Isidoro was built in 1063 and was chosen to be the resting place for the old monarchs of the kingdom of Castilla León. It is both a church and college located at the edge of the Old Town. 

The basilica houses the Royal Pantheon, covered in stunning colourful frescoes and the Oriental and Biblical Museum, and a collegiate library. Definitely, a must if you are visiting the city. 

Gaudí’s Casa Botines

Yes, that Gaudí. Antoni Gaudí is known around the world his unique style and for the amazing buildings he designed in Barcelona: the Sagrada FamiliaCasa BatllóCasa Mila and the Güell Park. Casa Botines is one of the buildings he was commissioned to design in northern Spain. This amazing fortress-like building was built in 1892 for the Hispano-Colonial Bank of Barcelona. In 2017, Casa Botines opened its doors to the public and can now be explored on the inside. 


Cathedral and Museum

The Cathedral of León or the Catedral de Santa María de Regla de Leon, was designed in the fashion of French gothic cathedrals. It was ordered to be built where the palace of King Ordoño II once stood. 

The building was constructed as thanks to God for assisting in the defeat and expulsion of the Moors from Spain after the reconquest. 

The cathedral features an amazing facade, decorated with a huge rose window and stained glass. Visitors can tour the inside of the cathedral and enjoy some of the exquisite objects on display at the museum.


The Museo de León

The Museum of León is a history museum, that chronicles the history of the region of Castilla y León. it is one of the largest and oldest such museums in the region and features artifacts that date as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages. One of the more unique collections featured in the museum is the collection of ancient artifacts found in las Las Médulas, an old Roman gold-mining site.


Convent of San Marcos

The convent of San Marcos is one of León’s most famous attractions. The complex is much more than just a spectacular medieval Monastery. It’s made up of the convent itself, now a luxury hotel, a 16th-century church, and a fascinating archaeological museum. The original building was gifted to the city of León by king Fernando the Catholic (husband of Isabel).

It is widely regarded as one of the most important Spanish Renaissance buildings in the country.

Best Time To Visit Leon

For better or for worse, León is one of Spain’s lesser-known touristic destinations so, if you are looking to avoid crowds, this shouldn’t be an issue. 

As for the weather, León is located, as we have mentioned in northern Spain, so winters can get cold and dreary. Aim for May, June, or July for warm and pleasant weather. 

Leon Cathedral in-depth. Spain´s best stained glass nave

stain glass at Leon´s cathedral in Spain

The Cathedral is Leon´s spiritual heart. This is one of Spain´s gothic top masterpieces and we would recommend you enjoy it both from the outside (either during the day when bathed by the northern sunshine) or during the night when it gets illuminated. But the best of Leon Cathedral awaits the visitor inside. The vidrieras (stained glass) of the cathedral is what leoneses are especially proud of and you will understand why once you enjoy your visit! We find these vidrieras simply amazing and despite Leon is not in the radar for most visitors to Spain, we believe this cathedral deserves to be included in our Spain´s top sights list.

Let´s remember that Leon is an important stop in El Camino and a great feeling for any of the pilgrims who manage to combine a visit to the Cathedral and tapas at El Humedo district near the cathedral and which is also a must for any visitor to Leon.

History of the Cathedral of Leon

In 1205 the bishop Manrique of Lara commissioned the building of the “Pulchra Leonina” or jewel of Leon. This name reflects well what awaits you when you visit this impressive Cathedral, one of Spain´s top masterpieces and probably the best example of stained-glass windows in Spain.

Works did not begin fast but were well underway by until the beginning of the 14th Century. The Cathedral ground plan is based on the cathedral of Rheims in France and the exterior may remind the cathedral of Amiens.

How big is the Cathedral of Leon

The Cathedral of Leon it is built in purest Gothic style (amongst the purest examples of Gothic amongst the many cathedrals in Spain) in yellow sandstone and appears as a symphony of stone and light. It has a Latin cross groundplan, a nave and two aisles and a tripartite transept. It is 295 ft. long, 131and wide and 128 ft. high over the nave.

Cathedral of Leon from outside

The Western façade, which is grand and impressive is flanked by two huge towers, the Torre de las Campanas (213 ft. high) and the Torre del Reloj (a late Gothic clock tower, 223 ft. high). It has a massive rose window above the portico, which has three portals. The central column of the huge middle portal bears Nuestra Señora la Blanca, a splendid Madonna. The crowned Queen of Heaven is flanked by paints on each side of the doorway. The tympanum depicts Christ Pantocrator with angels and instruments of torture.

The frieze below shows an angel with the scales of justice, with the damned on the left and the elect on the right. This theme is further elaborated in the archivolts. The left
portal shows the Childhood of Jesus, and the right portal, which is named after St.
Francis, has two fine sculptures of prophets. The decorations on all three
doorways date from the second half of the 13 century.

Southern portal: This also has a tripartite portico with a huge rose-window above it. The ornate decoration of figures is reminiscent in places of the cathedral at Burgos.

The Northern portal, the Puerta del Dado, is at the opposite end of the transeptr where it opens into the cloisters. It is the oldest portal in the church and has some splendidly preserved paintwork and sculpture. There is a Virgin Mary on the central pillar under the tympanum.

Stained glass windows

Upon entering the Cathedral of Leon, the visitor is immediately struck by the light from the stained-glass windows. There are some 19,400 sq. ft. of coloured glass (some of which is 39 ft. high) with 57 openings as well as rose-windows such as the three huge ones above the portals. They date from the 13C to the 20C; the oldest are in the North transept, the Capilla Mayor.
The windows of the Santiago Chapel are Renaissance-influenced. The motifs depicted in this world of coloured glass include the trivium and the quadrivium, the Vices and Virtues, saints, earthly rulers, the mitre and staff, the sceptre and crown and plant decoration.

Leon´s cathedral plan

Leon cathedral plan

Trascoro of the leon Cathedral

The gilded alabaster trascoro with its rich array of figures is a Renaissance piece dating from 1576, It was designed by Baltasar Gutiérrez and executed by Esteban Jordán. The central arch is framed by four reliefs and offers a viewinto the nave. Above the arch is a crucifix by Bautista Vázquez. The coro is one of Spain’s oldest dating from the second half of the 15 Century and constructed under the supervision of Flamen Jusquin; the choir stalls were completed between 1467-81 by Flemish carvers under the direction of Juan de Malina: his colleagues included Fadrique Alemán, Jorge Fernández and Diego Copin de Holanda, who also worked on parts of the high altar in the cathedral of Toledo. There is a fine Plateresque grille in front of the Capilla Mayor.

Chapels in Leon´s cathedral

The contents of the individual chapels (see ground plan) is also interesting: the most impressive items are the early-14 Century tomb of King Ordoño II (d. 924), which stands against the back wall of the Capilla Mayor, the tomb of Bishop Rodrigo (d. 1532), the Renaissance tomb of St. Pelayo and the tomb of Bishop Manrique de Lara (d. 1232), the church’s founder.

The most impressive of the chapels are the Capilla de Santiago, or de la Virgen del Camino, which has splendid stained-glass windows and carved ornament, and the Capilla de San Andrés with its 13C Gothic portal.

Leon´s cathedral museum

The cathedral museum, which is housed in a section of the cloisters, contains over 1,500 pieces! Paintings, sculptures and manuscripts. There is a 10C Mozarabic antiphonal, a 6C palimpsest, an 11C Lex Romana Visigothorum, a 10C Visigoth Bible, a crucifix by Juan de Juni, a 13C Archangel Gabriel from the S. portal, apolychrome statue of King Ordoño II, Romanesque sculptures, a 16C Madonna and Child, an Adoration of the Magi, some 16C paintings by Pedro de Campaña, Gothic and Mudéjar caskets etc.

Brief History of Leon

León started off as a military campsite in the year 29 AC and would become a settlement in the year 74. After centuries of growth, León became in the year 910 the capital of the Kingdom of León, and was one of the main forces behind the reconquering of the peninsula from the Moors.

León was also the site of the first-ever European court in 1188 under the rule of King  Alfonso IX. Because of this fact, the city was declared in 2011 as the birthplace of parliamentary government. 

Las Medulas. The best day tour from Leon

Las medulas landscape in Leon Spain

Las Médulas, located in the province of León (near the city of León as well), in northern Spain is a unique landscape, carved out by time, erosion, and history that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site

Las Médulas was once the largest open-air gold mine in the Roman Empire. The engineering work carried out to extract the precious metal altered the environment but resulted in a landscape of reddish sand, currently partially covered with vegetation of chestnut and oak. It is considered a “cultural landscape” and has the name of “Cultural Park”. 

What are Las Médulas?

As we mentioned, Las Médulas was an ancient gold mine that was exploited by the Roman Empire for more than 2,000 years. At that time, after their war on the local Asturians tribes, the Romans discovered that there was gold in the area, which was being extracted and used by the conquered tribes.

During the period of the Roman occupation, the Asturians did not work as slaves, but as miners in the exploitation of gold.

How were the Las Médulas formed?

To extract the gold that was in the interior of the mountains, the Romans decided to use the method known as Ruin Montium, which literally involved blowing up entire mountains to facilitate the final collection of the gold dust.

This method involved required a network of channels of over 100 kilometers, largely excavated in the rocks, which allowed water to be brought from higher mountains and then stored on top of the mountains that were going to be obliterated.

Dead-end galleries were created and, finally, the water was introduced in a rush, so that the compression of the trapped air made the mountain explode. Mind-bending. 

The mass of clay and water that resulted after the explosion was then transported along wooden channels, and filtered with branches of heather that would trap the gold particles in the water. 

Similarly, the boulders called “murias” got separated. You can still see piles of these boulders during your walk through the Las Médulas.

This method of extracting gold was used for 200 years, and during this period around 5,000 kilos of gold were extracted. Wow! With an estimated volume of earth removed of more than one hundred million cubic meters.

The volume of materials removed was so great that their accumulation at the end of the valley clogged the natural water outlets and led to the formation of the current Carucedo Lake, an area that you can also visit.

It’s crazy to think that only 2,000 years ago the clay rock formations that you see today were imposing mountains back then. 

How to visit Las Médulas in León

The visit to Las Médulas has two different aspects: on the one hand, the walk along the trails that in a circular route will take you through the heart of these spectacular places.

This route begins at the Visitor Reception Center located in the town of Las Médulas, where to access you must have left your car parked in the parking lot at the entrance to it.

You have the option of doing the complete circular route of just over three kilometers along the so-called Senda de las Valiñas, which will take you about two hours, or only part of it, with a kilometer and a half that you must travel in a roundtrip.

During the tour, you will pass through the most interesting points of Las Médulas, such as the La Cuovona and La Cueva Encantada exploitation galleries.

It is advisable to do explore las Médulas with the assistance of a tour guide, so you don’t miss anything. 

Orellán viewpoint in Las Médulas

One way to start your visit, and perhaps the best, might be to see the panoramic views of Las Médulas from the Orellán viewpoint, or you can save it for the end, after having done the circular route, but you cannot leave Las Médulas without going up to Orellán.

You can either walk up to the viewpoint from the town of Las Médulas, on a detour from the circular route, or getting there by car.

Centennial chestnut trees in Las Médulas

Another surprising feature of Las Médulas is the spectacular and twisted, centenary-old chestnut trees that extend through this ancient Roman gold mine. The Roman’s not only substantially modified the natural environment but also generated a whole new ecosystem.

these trees were planted here in order to provide food for the Asturian workers and the Romans themselves, and the wood has been used as well for centuries in construction by the inhabitants of this region of León. Some of the specimens that you will see are more than 600 years old.

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