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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 03 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros

Leon is a progressive city, the last one on the Camino Frances to Compostela. Like others along the way, its glory days were in the Middle Ages, but what sets Leon apart is that it has never lost its separate identity – in 1188 it hosted the first Parliament in Europe, had its own language, Leonese (currently undergoing a revival) and maintains a calendar of unique fiestas.

Even if you’re not a pilgrim, Leon’s spectacular crystal Cathedral, its Pantheon of San Isidoro, and its singular building by Gaudi are worth a day by anyone who loves art and culture.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Camino de Santiago trail

Spain

A world-famous pilgrimage, crossing Northern Spain in 33 stages from Roncevalles, taking in the art cities of Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, and dozens of spectacular medieval churches along the way.

Best for ages: 18+ | £50 | 30 days

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Castille-Leon Museum of Contemporary Art
Experience

Castille-Leon Museum of Contemporary Art

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Inaugurated in 2005 by Emilio Tunon and Luis Moreno, this museum’s distinctive colourful facade resembles a brand new watercolour set. Inside, exhibits are dedicated to contemporary art and architectural expression.

Best for ages: 18+ | £3

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Collegiate Church of San Isidoro
Experience

Collegiate Church of San Isidoro

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

A 10th-century church famed for both its tomb of Saint Isidoro, and the extraordinary 11th-century, mural-covered Royal Pantheon. This funeral chapel of the kings of Leon is nothing less than the ‘Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art’.

Best for ages: 18+ | £4

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Gaudi Museum
Experience

Gaudi Museum

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

One of Gaudi’s earliest buildings, the stone-built, turreted Casa Botines (1893) is now a museum dedicated to the architect himself.

Best for ages: 18+ | £4

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Overview >
view on the cathedral, also called The House of Light or the Pulchra Leonina, on a sunny day in spring, with people in the foreground
Experience

Leon Cathedral

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Nicknamed ‘The House of Light’, Leon’s soaring Gothic cathedral dating back to the 18th century, has walls made of some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval stained glass.

Best for ages: 18+ | £6

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Hotel Real Colegianta San Isidoro

Leon, Castille and Leon, Spain

In the centre of Leon, an atmospheric 3star hotel in a former monastery, perfect for pilgrims or history lovers.

Official star rating:

Palacete Colonial

Leon, Castille and Leon, Spain

Stunning and intimate new boutique hotel on Leon’s main street, near the train station and historic sights.

Official star rating:

Parador de Leon

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

A recently-renovated and atmospheric 5-star parador and restaurant, in one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Spain.

Official star rating:

When to go

Peak season here is during the popular months of the Compostela pilgrimage, between April and October. Leon also gets a fair number of summer tourists for its monuments and its festivals, including its unique version of Holy Week (Semana Santa), the week before Easter. Other busy times are the major fiestas of San Juan and San Pietro, running between 23 and 29 June.

July and August are dry and warm; the wettest months are October through January. Come in winter if you want to experience Leon like a local.

Getting there and away

Leon has an airport, 6km west of the centre with daily flights from Madrid and Barcelona. You can hire cars there, or take a taxi into town.

The city is also easy to reach by rail, with high-speed trains from Madrid arriving in under two hours at the station just west of the centre.

Getting around

Leon is very walkable, with all points of interest within a couple of kilometres of each other. It has plenty of taxis in ranks distributed across the centre and at the train station. There are three convenient pay parking garages near the west end of Calle Anche, convenient for the central Plaza Mayor, Cathedral, bars and restaurants.

Where to stay

First-time visitors should try to stay in walking distance of the picturesque Old Town, known as the Barrio Humedo (the ‘wet district’ because there are so many bars!), around Plaza Mayor and Calle Ancha. It’s also walking distance of Leon’s sights, and a wide choice of restaurants, bars and shops.

Leon’s luxurious Parador and a few other less grand hotels are located along the peaceful park-like banks of the Bernesga river, which are still in walking distance of the sights.