Things to See and Do in Leon, Spain

Beautiful view of Cathedral of Salamanca, Castilla y Leon region
Beautiful view of Cathedral of Salamanca, Castilla y Leon region | © iStock / Getty Images Plus
Esme Fox

Leon may not be a very well-known Spanish city, but it does offer visitors a fantastic variety of things to see and do. If you love architecture, you’re in for a treat, as Leon is home to a a wealth of grand, historic buildings, which include some of the most important in Spain. From convents and cathedrals to historic and contemporary museums, you’ll certainly find more than enough to keep you occupied here.

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The Basílica de San Isidoro

The Basílica de San Isidoro is a grand caramel-coloured old church and collegiate college sitting at the edge of the Old Town. It was consecrated in 1063 and comprises a Royal Pantheon, covered in stunning colorful frescoes; an Oriental and Biblical Museum; and a collegiate library. As well as these, the collegiate is also a beautiful luxury hotel, where you can dine in among the ancient cloisters and look down on the fountain-filled courtyard from your bedroom.

Gaudí’s Casa Botines

The famous architect Antoni Gaudí not only designed buildings in Barcelona, but in northern Spain, too. One of these is Leon’s Casa Botines, which opened in April 2017 for the first time in 125 years. Built between 1891 and 1892, it was commissioned by Simón Fernández and Mariano Andrés González, representatives of the Hispano-Colonial Bank of Barcelona. From the outside, it looks like a medieval fortress, but it was actually inspired by Leon’s gothic cathedral.

The Museo de Leon

Leon Museum is one the oldest and biggest history museums in the region of Castilla y Leon. The permanent collection takes visitors on a journey back in time through the province. Objects on display date as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages. There are also artefacts from Las Médulas, the ancient Roman gold-mining site.

The Convento de San Marcos

The old convent of San Marcos is one of the most famous and stunningly beautiful buildings in Leon. It’s made up the convent itself, which is now a luxury five-star hotel; a church consecrated in 1541; and a fascinating archaeological museum. It was a gift from Fernando the Catholic to the city of Leon, and today is considered to be the most important Spanish Renaissance buildings in the country.

Leon Cathedral and Museum

Leon’s Cathedral, the Catedral de Santa María de Regla de Leon, is a French style gothic cathedral, which was built on the site of King Ordoño II’s royal palace. He wanted to give thanks to God after he was able to defeat the Moors, and the cathedral was his way of doing this. It has a stunning facade, decorated with a huge rose window and lots of colourful stained glass. As well as seeing inside the cathedral, visitors can learn more about it and see some of its exquisite objects on display at the museum.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, one of the most important contemporary art museums in Castilla y Leon, houses more than 1,650 works by around 400 Spanish and Leonese artists, as well as international ones. The works only date as far back as 1992, and one of its most impressive galleries is the one devoted to the 21st century. Inaugurated in 2005, it was designed by architects Luis Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón, and is covered in hundreds of sheets of rainbow-coloured glass, which are supposed mimic the colours of the stained glass of the cathedral.

Palacio de los Guzmanes

The Palace of the Guzamanes sits right next to the Casa Botines and is a grand renaissance building that is the seat of the provincial government of Leon. It was built in the 16th century and was designed by the architect Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. He was ordered to build it by the wealthy Guzman family, one of most influential in the area at that time.

Have Tapas in the Barrio Húmedo

The Barrio Húmedo is the name given to the city’s casco antiguo, or old town. It translates as the ‘wet district’, because it’s where the city’s biggest concentration of bars, pubs and taverns is located. This is also where you’ll find the city’s best tapas bars. What better way to seek out the best of them than to hop from bar to bar, sampling as you go?

Museo Sierra-Pambley

The Sierra-Pambley Museum was only inaugurated in 2006, even though the building dates back to the 19th century. Here, visitors can enter the world of the Leonese bourgeois elite to find out how they used to live. The house was built in 1848 by Segundo Sierra Pambley and features all the original furnishings and fittings, such as patterned wallpaper, luxurious carpets and gilt-edged mirrors.

Have a Drink on the Plaza Mayor

At the centre of the city sits the grand Plaza Mayor, surrounded by colonnade arches, beautiful architecture and buildings painted in crimsons, mustards and rose. It was originally constructed in 1672, although there were some later additions in 1677. The original name of the square was Plaza Pan, or Bread Square, because it was home to so many bakeries. Why not admire this elegant square and its graceful Consistory building from one of the many cafes while you enjoy a drink?

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