City Guide: León, Castilla y León

It’s only fair to write my first blog about the city where it all began; my Erasmus year in a city that is well off the beaten track for most Brits. I chose to study in León following a conversation I had with my senior lecturer at Uni, and he didn’t take much convincing when he showed me just a taste about what was in store for me. I arrived there in September of 2012 and left in July the following year, but in reality, you don’t need more than 2 days to see the city.

León is a bit of a mission to get to as the nearest international airport is some 160km away in Asturias, which was how I got there. To the north, the city is flanked by the Cantabrian mountains and almost everywhere else, the vast plains of the Meseta Central. Since I moved away from there, the city has been connected to Madrid and Valladolid by AVE and you are 2 hours or so by bus from the coastal city of Gijón. Nevertheless, give yourself plenty of time to travel.

The main sight of León has to be its impressive cathedral set in the centre of town. Voted as one of the most beautiful in Spain, the cathedral has drawn visitors from all over the country, and has unique features, such as the twin towers being a different height to each other (unintentionally), and that a lot of the design and layout is based on Notre Dame in Paris. As impressive as it is inside, it’s outside where its’ charms lie.

Other sights worth visiting are also the Basilica of San Isidro where it’s one the disputed places where the Holy Grail is located, and it’s usually free to enter. León is also one of the few cities in Spain where the architect of the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi, left his mark, with the Casa de Los Botines. However, you can’t enter it under normal circumstances. The old quarter of this city is well worth exploring and getting yourself lost, and you know when you reach its limits; when you see the old roman wall of which much of it is still preserved. The most beautiful plaza in the city isn’t the Plaza Mayor in my opinion, but the Plaza del Grano, you’ll understand why.

This Plaza is also home to a monastery which is used by pilgrims for a famous route known as the Camino de Santiago, you may have heard of it. León is a key stop on the main route to get to Santiago and for many (myself included), it’s a starting point. The iconic yellow arrows carve through the old quarter and cross the River Bernesga over a Roman bridge via a monastery called San Marcos, one of the few attractions from outside the centre of town really worth seeing. Pilgrims of the Camino, often choose to sleep here and for them it costs just 5€ a night.

For anyone looking for a normal place for the night, you certainly won’t be ripped off, if anything, its a bargain. A private double room may only set you back 20€, while a bed in a shared bedroom would be only a tenner. The cost of journey to León is paying you back with cheap accommodation for which there are loads of places to choose from, and don’t even get me started on the food.

Eating out in León was definitely one of the major highlights of my time there. Tapas is free with every drink you buy, and more often than not, you get more than your money’s worth. It’s typical to order a corto, a very small beer, like a quarter pint and have a tapa included. Most people do this, especially at dinner time and you would spend around 1€ for a beer at most places, no more than 1.30€ or you’ve spent too much. Barrio Humedo is a well-known area for tapas, and it’s well worth checking out the local dishes, such as: cecina, sopa de trucha, sopa de ajo, morcilla, queso de Valdeón, and botillo just to name a few.

However, there are a couple of areas I think are better value for money than there, such as the shopping district, bar Odin, Seaki and Las Tapas (original name right?) to name a few, and the area near Plaza Cid. You get about 3 or 4 if not more things served for the price of a beer. I guarantee once you’ve visited 3 or 4 bars you will be full and will have only paid a fiver for it. During the day however, you are more likely to have a sit down meal, and again, a good set menu will cost about 8-11€.

The weather in León is quite extreme between day and night. It’s not uncommon even during the summer to have a jacket for the night, even if it was a hot day, as temperature can go below 10 degrees even in July. In winter, if you don’t have a jacket, you’re a maniac as it can snow as late as April there. Also the sun can be very strong there, just a word of warning.

Spanish is the main Language here and even though there exists a leones language, nobody speaks it and this particular dialect is one of the clearest in the whole of Spain, so if you speak a little, you should be ok. English is not very well known there however, and people are hit and miss to you depending on how well you can communicate with them.

To Sum up, León is a fairly small city that’s hard to get to, usually cold, but has so much to offer, not just on your plate, but with an experience that’s difficult to replicate. I would definitely go back as part of a tour, and I did back in 2015.

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