While the whitewashed villages and Mediterranean beaches of the southern part of the country might get all the credit, there's much more to Spain than the sunny images many travelers have in mind. Head up to the underrated northern coast and discover Asturias, a lush green paradise of breathtaking natural landscapes and unbelievably fresh seafood.
The pinnacle of excellence in Asturias is the region's largest and most happening city, Gijón. Once a coal export terminal, Gijón has risen beyond its industrial past to become a twinkling gem of a modern city on the Cantabrian sea. Here's how to make the most of your time in one of northern Spain's most stunning destinations.
Check Out the Largest Building in Spain: La Laboral
Originally built as an orphanage for children from local mining families, the building that today houses a cultural center and part of the university is a sprawling behemoth of a complex taking up more than 300,000 square yards.
A trip to Gijón wouldn't be complete without checking out this magnificent structure. La Laboral features an impressive main courtyard, a church, theater, gorgeous gardens, and so much more. However, if you only have time to experience one aspect of this incredible building, make it the tower — inspired by Seville's La Giralda, it offers unrivaled 360-degree views of Gijón and the surrounding countryside.
Enjoy Nature at the Atlántico Botanical Garden
Located just beside La Laboral, the peaceful Atlántico Botanical Garden provides a lovely complement to the grandiose building. A haven of natural beauty, the gardens are divided into four impeccably designed sections representing the different Atlantic geographies of the world.
Home to more than 2,000 different species from all over the world, the gardens offer an escape from Gijón's busy city center. Just be sure to plan your time wisely: the space is enormous, and it's easy to lose track of time wandering among the well-maintained paths as you explore this world of beauty.
Relax at San Lorenzo Beach
With a prime location just steps from the city center, Playa de San Lorenzo is one of northern Spain's premier beaches. It's by no means the only beach in town, but it's the most emblematic, offering breathtaking sunset views and a lively atmosphere where there's always something going on.
In the summer, visitors and locals alike flock to this beach to enjoy the water and sprawling expanse of fine golden sand. It's also a watersports-lover's paradise, with plenty of opportunities for surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, beach volleyball, and more. Even if you find yourself in Gijón in the fall or winter, it's still worth heading to the beach to enjoy the stunning views across the bay.
Step Back in Time at the Roman Baths...
Spain's Roman past is no secret — traces of the iconic civilization can be found all over the Iberian peninsula even today. One of the most important Roman sights in northern Spain is Gijón's Campo Valdés Roman Bath complex, with a storied history dating back thousands of years.
Located in front of the Church of San Pedro, the beautifully restored baths provide a fascinating look back at Roman society. The adjoining museum also provides an informative perspective that will help you gain a deeper appreciation for Roman contributions to the region and the part they played in Gijón's intriguing history.
...Then Treat Yourself at a Modern Spa
When spending hours or days exploring a new place, taking some time to relax and unwind is of the utmost importance. Head to Santageada Sport Talaso, one of northern Spain's largest spas of its kind, for an indulgent few hours spent recharging along their world-class thalassotherapy circuit.
Boasting a full range of therapeutic options, including a heated outdoor pool with views of the sea, this immaculate complex of pools, saunas, and top-of-the-line spa treatments is well worth it. After all, you're on vacation — you deserve it.
Learn About Local Culture
Just like Gijón is quite different than the typical Spanish city you may have in mind, the local culture is as well, with a long and proud history dating back centuries. At the Museum of the People of Asturias, you'll get a firsthand look at just what makes this region unique.
A fascinating collection of artifacts, photos, artwork, music, and so much more brings the storied traditions of Asturias to life. You'll walk out with a greater appreciation for this one-of-a-kind region and the proud people who call it home.
Get Out and About on the Cervigón Hiking Path
With rugged landscapes that look like a postcard, it would practically be a sin to leave Asturias without experiencing the wonders of its natural beauty. Even if you're not usually an outdoorsy person, the Cervigón hiking trail provides an up-close look at some of Gijón's most spectacular sights.
Winding its way along the city's eastern coast, the path provides no shortage of awe-inspiring views over Gijón and the sea. Walking the entire 8 kilometers will take about 3 hours, but you'll find plenty of people running and biking as well.
Drink Cider Like a Local
If there's one drink northern Spain is famous for, it's cider. This tart, refreshing drink has a long and storied history here in Asturias, with cider bars (sidrerías) often packed full of eager locals sharing it among friends and family.
Join in on the fun by heading to your nearest cider bar, of which there are plenty in Gijón's old town. If you're having trouble narrowing it down, Casa Oskar and La Galana are two classics that each make a great place to start. To really get the full experience, try pouring the cider from up above like the locals do.
Get Lost in Cimavilla
A quaint fishermen's quarter-turned-thriving urban nucleus, Cimavilla is the epicenter of everyday life in Gijón. With its rows of brightly colored buildings and old-world charm, the central neighborhood has retained much of its authenticity through the decades despite its upgraded status as Gijón's most popular barrio.
Many of Gijón's top sights are either in, or close to, Cimavilla, making it a solid option for a home base. If you have time, simply make your way through its colorful streets and see where they take you — there's no doubt that it'll be extraordinary.
Devour Local Cuisine
Gijón is a foodie's paradise, with dozens of eclectic eateries ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. Many bars and restaurants here eschew the tapas culture that is so beloved in other parts of Spain, instead offering hearty full plates of Asturian fare — Spanish comfort food to the max.
For traditional, homestyle dishes that provide the closest experience you'll probably get to eating at someone's Spanish grandmother's house, you can't get better than La Nueva Piedra. If you're looking for something with a bit more international flair, you can't go wrong with the award-winning fusion cuisine at El Quinto.
Get to Know Jovellanos
As you make your way through the city, you'll probably see one name repeated over and over again: Jovellanos. Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos was one of the most important figures in Spanish history, and he was born in Gijón — a fact of which locals are extremely proud.
A true renaissance man, Jovellanos was a judge, philosopher, author and politician throughout his life. Today, his hometown of Gijón features a wealth of places that bear his name, from the world-class Jovellanos Theater (catch a show here if you get the chance) to an emblematic plaza and even the home where he was born.
Experience Gijón's Fascinating Art Scene
Thanks to its gritty, industrial past as a coal port, Gijón has always had a bit more of an alternative vibe than many other cities in the region. As a result, it's a big draw for artists and creative types who make the city even more colorful through their work.
There are plenty of fascinating artistic exhibitions and events taking place throughout the year. However, the LABoral Centro de Arte is always an excellent choice no matter what time of year you visit. As Gijón's premier contemporary art gallery, this fascinating museum is full of whimsy and wonder.