How to Travel From Madrid to Leon by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

The famous cathedral in Leon, Spain

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Whether included in a road trip from Madrid to the medieval city of Oviedo or as a destination of its own, León is a great place to kick back with wine and tapas in the shadow of Romanesque basilicas and marvelous Gothic cathedrals. The northwestern city sits on the Bernesga River and offers plenty in the way of history, scenery, and food. León is 179 miles (288 kilometers) as the crow flies from Spain's bustling capital. It takes about three hours to get to it from Madrid if you're traveling by bus or car, but only two hours by high-speed train (the most popular option). Flying is an option, too, but decidedly less practical with plane tickets being five times the price of ground transportation and the lack of direct flights.

  Time Cost Best For
Train 2 hours from $17 Arriving on a time crunch
Bus 3 hours, 30 minutes from $18 Consistently cheap options
Car 3 hours 196 miles (315 kilometers) Exploring the local area
Plane 4 hours, with a layover from $100 Traveling in comfort

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Madrid to León? 

The cheapest way to travel between Madrid and León is also, unfortunately, one of the slowest: by bus. ALSA buses depart from Madrid Moncloa metro station regularly throughout the day, starting at $18 per ticket. The trip is direct, so it takes only about as long as it would take to drive the distance yourself—about three and a half hours. The earlier you book your ticket, the cheaper it's likely to be. However, because it's only slightly cheaper than the train (a much faster option), most opt for the latter.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Madrid to León? 

The fastest way to get to León from Madrid is by high-speed train. According to Trainline, Renfe's AVE train takes only about two hours and can cost as little as $17 for a one-way trip. More commonly, though, tickets cost between $25 and $35 and a slower trip can take three hours long. Trains from Madrid depart from either Puerta De Atocha or Chamartin station and arrive at the León railway station. Tickets can be booked via Rail Europe.

How Long Does It Take to Drive? 

If you want to explore the local area, you may want to look into renting a car and driving the route yourself. It takes about three hours to cover the 196 miles (315 kilometers) by car, but you can break up the journey with short detours to Burgos or Salamanca. Otherwise, the most direct route is via the A-6 and, according to ViaMichelin, it'll cost you about $47 in tolls.

How Long Is the Flight? 

Flying from Madrid to León's minor domestic airport is not ideal because direct flights are such a rarity (although Iberia has been known to offer them now and again). More often than not, you'll be faced with a layover in Barcelona, which can add hours to a trip. Flying from Madrid to León with a stopover can take four hours at best (an entire day at worst) and cost over $100.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to León? 

The best time to visit León is during the summer months, but if you're not fond of crowds, then September is a good bet for warm weather and less crowds. No matter what mode of transportation you take, try to travel outside of rush hour times. You may even get a deal on bus or train tickets if you depart from Madrid especially early or late at night.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport? 

Leòn's airport is very small and located 4 miles (6 kilometers) outside of the city. You can get the public bus into the city center for about $3 or take a taxi for $22. The drive takes about 20 minutes.

What Is There to Do in León?

León is known for its magnificent architecture and food. First, you'll want to see the cathedral—especially for its iconic stained-glass windows—and the medieval Basílica de San Isidoro. Once you work up an appetite, head to the Barrio Humedo (the "wet quarter") for some of the best tapas bars in Spain. Tapas in Leon come for free with every drink you order. Budget tip: Order un corto—an even smaller beer size than una caña—and get your food for free. A great day trip from Leòn is Astorga, home to one of the few Antoni Gaudi-designed buildings outside of Catalonia.

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