León: An Insider’s Guide
While walking or cycling on the Camino de Santiago to Santiago de Compostela, one should consider a welcome rest in Leon and try to allow themselves some time to visit and absorb the magnificence that is Leon. Much of the surrounding region has escaped the tourist boom and remains wooded or mountainous.
Leon is one of the most historic regions of Old Castile. It is a large province, bordering Galicia and Asturias, Palencia and Zamora. Very few Celtic remains have been found here but there is evidence of Roman occupation. Other peoples have settled here including the Moors but it was the Knights Templar who built castles and fortifications here in the Middle Ages.
The city of Leon has been very cosmopolitan, even since Roman times when it was known as Legio Septima due to the fact that the seventh legion was stationed here. The Moors moved in briefly but were driven out by the kings of Asturias who chose it as their new capital in AD913.
You can also walk or cycle the last 300km of the Camino from Leon, by going to the Camino Frances full Route, and customising the starting point of the route.
Explore León by Moñi Jorgey
Enjoy Moñi’s account of her hometown with some tips for anyone travelling through this wonderful town on their Camino journey.
León is a quiet and not very big city located in the North West of Castilla y León. You can arrive in León, by plane, bus and train. The airport is connected to the centre of the city by bus, and the bus and train stations are very close to the city centre. It is only a five to ten-minute walk to reach the main places to visit in the city.
History of Leon
León was built it the first century due to a Roman settlement. All around the old town, you can find roman and medieval vestiges. León is also a transit place in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The traveller will feel the Leonese hospitality from the very first moment. People from León know how to host their guests with wisdom and simplicity.
What to see in Leon
One of Leon’s glories is, without doubt, the Cathedral, one of the finest in Europe. Construction started in the 13th century and continued for a period of 200 years before it was completed. Among its unusual features are its towers and steeples where no attempt was made to make them match. It has more than 250 remarkable stained glass windows including a large rose window. In total there is over 1800 square metres of glass. The cathedral museum is also worthy of a visit and has wide array of exhibits.
Hostal San Marcos – Parador de León, 12th century
Also known as the Convento de San Marcos, is the former house of the Knights of Santiago. This magnificent building was originally a Hostal built to shelter the pilgrims on the Santiago. In the 15th century it was converted into a monastery, in the 17th century it was a prison and during the Spanish Civil War, it served as an army barracks. Today it is one of Spain’s most impressive hotels. Part of the building is the Archeological Museum of León, well worth a visit.
Casa de Botines
Designed in the 19th Century by the famous Gaudí, the corner towers make this building look like a fairytale castle.
The Palacio de Los Guzmanes
Is a magnificent 16th-century building with an impressive courtyard. It was once the home of the Guzman family, one of the wealthiest families in León. The building has four towers.
The Collegiate Church of San Isidoro
San Isidro houses an impressive collection of early manuscripts. It is an early example of Romanesque construction. This is a truly romantic church in San Isidoro Plaza with a beautiful façade and an 11th-century baptism fountain. It has an interesting museum and pantheon of St. Isidoro with sculptures, works of art, medieval textiles and the magnificent Royal Pantheon. If you are interested in painted murals then this is the place to be. Today it is a fantastic hotel whose interior has the appearance of a museum.
The streets of Leon
Calle Ancha, Burgo Nuevo, Pícara Justina, the square Plaza de San Marcos or the Catedral’s surroundings are some of the zones that have been turned into pedestrian streets, thinking about comfort for pedestrians. The construction of some underground car-parks, the traffic diversions and widening the pavements helps to create better access and protect León’s valuable heritage.
What to eat in Leon
Nowadays, the Barrio Húmedo, in the old town, has a wide range of delicious places to eat. Here the custom is the “tapa”, served free with your choice of drink. It is one of the areas where the traveller can mix with the Leonese and taste the delicious Leonese cuisine.
Pork is the main meat in León food, used for black pudding, spicy dry sausage, ham and loin. This is handmade cold meat which is most often smoked, keeping the traditional old taste alive. Don’t forget the star from all the cold meat: cecina (salt-dried meat). You must try this when you are in town.
Night Live and Entertainment
Visit any of the bars in the old town of Leon to enjoy the nightlife in León. There are lots of inns and pubs where you can have fun and dance.
Accommodation in Leon
León is a cosy city, with great hotel services, good restaurants and inns, and vibrant culture.
We would like to sincerely thank Moñi who gave us this lovely account of her home town and we hope that anyone who visits will take some tips from her.
Want to start the Camino from Leon? Just go to Camino Frances full Route and customising the starting point of the route.
For more information about the sections of the Camino that pass through León please get in touch