The Complete Guide to Visiting Leon

December 10, 2018
cathedral leon spain
It was high time I wrote a post about the place I've called my hometown since I was 10. Leon is a city in the North-West of Spain and belongs to the region of Castilla y Leon. It is a magical city that draws visitors from across the world because of its combination of stunning historical architecture and delicious food. The main attraction is the cathedral which is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain, but there's much more to do and see.

Welcome to The Complete Guide to Visiting Leon. Today I'm taking you around my hometown showing you what to do, where to eat and stay.
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cathedral leon spain
Leon was founded in the 1st century BC by the Roman legion Legio VI Victrix. In the year 74 AD, the Legio VII Gemina settled in a permanent military camp that was the origin of the city. Its modern name, León, is derived from the city's Latin name Legio. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Leon changed from Muslim to Catholic hands a few times. In 910, the Kingdom of Leon was born. Nowadays it has a population of 126.000. Being a small city, you can walk pretty much everywhere so you don't have to worry about transport.

If you visit Leon in summer you will find lots of pilgrims with scallop shells dangling from their backpacks on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Leon is a very important stop in Camino de Santiago.

WHAT TO DO
In Leon you can find a plethora of grand monuments and Catholic heritage. The 13th-century Cathedral takes your breath-away with its soaring towers and margnificent stained-glass windows (vidrieras) which are considered the most beautiful and best preserved in Spain. Other treasures include a silver urn containing the remains of San Froilan, Leon's patron saint, and the magnificent choir stalls. You must also visit the cloister and museum around the corner.

Running from the Cathedral to Santo Domingo Square, you can find the city’s main pedestrian street which is constantly bustling with people: Calle Ancha. It's full or vibrant restaurants, cafés, gourmet shops and a fun nightlife.
stained-glass windows vidrieras cathedral leon spain
cloister museum cathedral leon spain
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Palacio de los Guzmanes and its patio are examples of Renaissance architecture. Nowadays it's the seat of the provincial government of Leon but it admits visitors.
palacio guzmanes patio leon spain
Hostal de San Marcos (a.k.a. Parador de San Marcos) is a former monastery turned hotel thanks to Paradores, a hotel chain run by the Estate that preserves heritage by turning monuments into lodgings. The plateresque exterior is superb decorated with medallions and statues from the 16th century. It's even more beautiful when they light the facade at night. Unfortunately the place is currently closed for renovations, it's expected to open again in March 2020.
parador san marcos leon spain iluminado night
parador san marcos leon spain
Real Basilica de San Isidoro is older than the cathedral. This Romanesque church was founded in 1063 to house the remains of the saint, as well as the remains of other monarchs. Sadly, Napoleon's troops sacked San Isidoro in the early 19th century. Attached to the basilica, the stunning Panteon Real houses royal sarcophagi, beneath a ceiling with some of the finest Romanesque frescos in Spain. They are so spectacular that the place is called the Sixtine Chapel of the Romanesque.
Basilica San Isidoro Leon spain
basilica san isidoro leon spain
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colegiata san isidoro leon spain
Gaudi designed a few buildings outside Catalonia and Leon is lucky to have two of them. One in Astorga and one in Leon itself. Casa Botines is a neo-Gothic, castle-like building that houses a museum and a recently opened champagne bar called El Modernista. A statue of Gaudí sits on a bench outside admiring his own masterpiece.
casa botines leon spain
casa botines gaudi leon spain night iluminada
Plaza del Grano is a beautiful cobblestone square in the heart of the city that used to be a market. It's a great place to sit outside and have a glass of wine with tapas in summer.
plaza grano leon spain
MUSAC (Museum of Contemporary Art of Castilla y León). The museum of comtemporary art stands out because of its colorful facade. The coloured glass was inspired by the pixelisation of a fragment of one of the stained-glass windows in León's cathedral.

Another museum worth visiting is Fundacion Vela Zanetti. His art is unmistakable, featuring strong lines and bold colors. He usually depicted open fields and people working the land.
musac museo arte contemporaneo modern art museum leon spain
Discover the origin of Corona beer at Museo de la Emigracion Leonesa. Did you know that one of the most popular beers around the world was originated in Leon? I recommend a visit to the museum to find more about this amazing story.

WHERE & WHAT TO EAT
Leon has been named Gastronomic Capital of Spain this year for a reason. Leon has a great variety of local dishes like cecina (dry meat), Valdeon cheese or Botillo. The city’s slogan for the competition is ‘Manjar de Reyes’, which means ‘Food of Kings’, giving a nod to the city’s royal history.

Leon is one of the few cities in Spain where tapas are free. You can go out for drinks with friends and end up having dinner for free without even realizing. Bars are pretty competitive about offering the best tapas because they know that if tapas are bad or they don't offer them, people won't go there.

BARRIO HÚMEDO & EL CID
These two quartiers are full of bars and restaurants and are packed on weekends. Traditionally, Barrio Humedo (which literally means "Wet Quartier") has been the most popular one but in recent years. El Cid has stepped up the game and become pretty popular too. By night these narrow streets are full of people, it's the most bustling area in town.

Here's a list of my favorite restaurants in Leon.

LAV
In my opinion this is the coolest and most modern restaurant in Leon. The name is an acronym for Laboratorio Alfonso V, and if you pronounce it in Spanish it sounds like "lab", short for laboratory. Read all about it here.
Address: Avenida del Padre Isla 1, Leon
Phone: +34 987 79 81 90
TripAdvisor
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lav restaurant leon spain
lav restaurant leon spain
EL PATIO
A fairly new addition to El Cid quartier. A cozy little restaurant where the dining area is a library. Food and books, two of my favorite things. More pics and info here.
Address: Plaza Torres de Omana 2, Leon
Phone: +34 987 03 33 55
patio restaurant leon spain
EL PARADOR DE SAN MARCOS
The place is currently closed for renovations, but I still recommend you read this post about it, you get an idea of what you can find in Paradores all around Spain.restaurant parador san marcos leon spain
restaurante parador san marcos leon spain
NIMÚ AZOTEA
This is the restaurant we chose to celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago. Read all about it here.
Address: Calle General Lafuente s/n, Leon
Phone: +34 987 79 81 92
TripAdvisor
nimu azotea restaurant leon spain
nimu azotea restaurant leon spain
nimu azotea restaurant leon spain
LA MARY RESTAURANT
Combines traditional food with modern touches. I love the white walls, great light and china that decorate the restaurant.
Address: Plaza Don Gutierre 5, Leon
Phone: +34 987 04 34 47
TripAdvisor
La Mary restaurant Leon Spain
La Mary restaurant Leon Spain buñuelos bacalao
La Mary restaurant Leon Spain

WHERE TO STAY
One of the most amazing things about Leon is that you can stay in some of its monuments. I don't think there's a better way to take a stroll through the history of a place.

Parador de San Marcos is the only 5* hotel in Leon. It will open its doors again in 2020.

Attached to Basilica de San Isidoro you can find Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro.

Alfonso V and Conde Luna are 4* hotels that belong to the same group. They are very close to the Old Town. In Hotel Alfonso V you can eat at LAV and in the rooftop of Conde Luna you can find Nimu Azotea.

NH Plaza Mayor Hotel. It's located in Plaza Mayor, Leon's main square, which was constructed in the 16th century. Every other Saturday there's a Farmer's Market. It's only a few steps from the Cathedral and Barrio Humedo.

WHAT TO WEAR
Forget all you've heard about Spanish weather if you go to Leon. It's one of the coldest cities in Spain. Winters are cold and summers mild. Leoneses are famous for having to carry jackets around even in August.

For such a small city, Leon has no shortage of things to offer. Coming soon to the blog: Leon: Nearby Places You Must Visit.

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leon spain travel guide cathedral catholic heritage

25 comments

  1. What a beautiful place, and what a wonderful post with lots of details! Adding it to my list of places to visit one day!

    Angela | www.lenorth.com

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  2. What a very nice place. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. Leon has been on my list for a while now. Hopefully I'll make it there next year. I believe that Leon deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting. Everyone is going to Barcelona or Madrid.
    #MondayEscapes

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  4. Leon is such an incredible place! I love to visit this place one day..I have been traveling around Spain for 12 days and that's far from enough :). Cheers from Jakarta

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  5. Such an in-depth guide! I knew nothing about Leon beforehand, now I want to go! #MondayEscapes

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  6. What a beautiful and informative post about your home town. Perhaps one day I will get a chance to travel there. I'd love to stay at one of the monuments. The photos are the church are fantastic.

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  7. Harmony at Momma To GoDecember 12, 2018 at 3:49 AM

    Ive never been to spain but I pinned this! Happy #TravelTuesday

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  8. It sounds like an amazing place to visit! The architecture is beautiful and all of the food looks so good!

    Jill - Doused in Pink

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  9. http://ladyfi.wordpress.comDecember 12, 2018 at 5:46 AM

    The cathedral is lovely!

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  10. I’d never heard of Leon before but it sounds amazing and looks absolutely beautiful from your photos! #MondayEscapes

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  11. Oh wow what an informative post. I loved learning the history behind the city. Would love to travel there one day. I travel to Paris in the fall for FW and my step family live there I would love to stay there longer or long term and travel to different parts of Europe.

    Allie of
    www.allienyc.com

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  12. Wow this is just gorgeous! I love cathedrals so much. The architecture is stunning and I always like to see the intricate paintings in them. Thanks for sharing your tips!
    http://www.mylittlenest.org

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  13. It looks like a wonderful place to visit. I am so envious of the warm evenings you have there with the squares full and wandering around the town is so easy! That, the food and history are the best things about travelling to Southern Europe! xx Maria

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  14. Leon looks wonderful! I love visiting cathedrals and that Fundacion Vela Zanetti museum sounds wonderful! I love art with bold colors and the building is screaming my name. Thanks for sharing!!

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  15. Thanks for sharing your insight and looks

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  16. What a beautiful guide, there's just so many wonderful things to see in Spain. Also, I love the blazers dear, elegant classics.

    Jessica | notjessfashion.com

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  17. I hadn't heard of Leon before but it looks lovely. It's so nice to learn about the city from a local. The Cathedral looks beautiful and your list of restaurants looks amazing. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  18. Not really relevant but those sparkly shoes are just gorgeous! And those potatoes look great! The Spanish really win in the potato dept! #Weeklypostcard

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  19. Your photos are always phenomenal! Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2018/12/cranberry-orange-rolls.html

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  20. Looks like there is plenty of beautiful architecture to explore in Leon, both modern and historic. I didn't know Gaudi had designed in Leon. After visiting Barcelona, he's one of my favorite architects! Thanks for bringing it to my attention! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    https://passportcouture.com

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  21. I love gorgeous architexture and the churches, wow, so intricate a design. I love your food pictures too! I said to my hubby if we ever visit Spain, I will have to refer to your blog! Love the scarf and skirt pairing, gorgeous!
    fhanks for linking!
    jess xx
    www.elegantlydressedandstylish.com

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  22. Leon looks like a fantastic city, so much to do and see. I would love to go one day.Thank you for sharing this guide and your fabulous outfits over at the Style With a Smile link up!

    Emma xxx
    www.style-splash.com

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  23. I have to admit that I had not heard of the town of Leon but it looks wonderful, with so much to see and do. As always, your pictures are brilliant and you look so glam 😊 Thanks so much for linking up to #MondayEscapes

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  24. Thanks for your kind words! I'm glad you learnt about a new city :)

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  25. What a beautiful place! I have pinned this for travel inspiration. Thanks for linking up to Monday Escapes

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