Lose Yourself in Astorga, Spain
Astorga is one of my favourite cities in Spain. It is close to León and absolutely full of Spanish charm. Make sure to bring some shoes that you don’t mind getting wet — keep reading to see why!
Astorga is found on the crossroads of The Way of St James and the Silver Way (Ruta de la Plata) pilgrimages. It is close to the city of León, so it is an easy day trip if you do not want to stay overnight.
But because it's bursting with Roman history, Gaudi's Bishop's Palace, pilgrims on their way to the bones of St. James, a majestic Cathedral, and a town hall with unique Maragatos characters ringing the bells – we highly recommend staying for the night and really exploring the town!
Gaudi in Astorga
One of only three buildings built outside of Barcelona, the Episcopal Palace was commissioned by the Bishop of Astorga in 1877, who was originally from Reus; the hometown of Gaudí. There are stained glass windows, ornate columns made of handmade bricks from Jimenez de Jamuz, arched ceilings and three large sculptures found outside that were meant to be placed on the roof; were all designed by Gaudi.
The Museo de los Caminos is housed on the first 2 floors. It is dedicated to the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela; where St. James' (a disciple of Christ) bones are allegedly buried. The top floor is dedicated to Gaudi and his life.
Once inside, be sure you head down to the basement so see many Roman artifacts. There is not a lot written, and what is written is in Spanish, but it is still fun to walk through and daydream about Roman life in Astorga.
Give yourself two hours to explore the Palace and the grounds outside. Included in your entry ticket price is access to the garden and Roman wall.
I love that it is possible to walk on the wall and look over to the new part of the city. It is also great spot for photographs with the Palace in the background. Take time to people watch – pilgrims from all over the world come to visit this beautiful building!
The Roman Trail
I love that in Astorga it is possible to walk where the Romans walked and see remnants of their great architecture, mosaics and that we can venture under modern day apartments to hear stories and view the ruins.
The decline of this Roman city during the 3rd and 4th centuries is evident throughout the city. Parts of the walls that enclosed the city are still standing but received heavy damage throughout history either by invasions or sieges. Today it is possible to walk along restored parts of the wall.
After the palace and grounds, head over to the Jewish Gardens in the southeast corner of the old town to walk the old walls. In the summer there is an outside bar and a great place to enjoy a Tinto de Verano. On a clear day the Teleno mountain range can easily be seen.
A great photo opportunity can be found outside the walled city below Gaudi’s Bishop’s Palace for a spectacular view of the Roman walls, the palace and the cathedral!
Underground Roman Baths
Also, the Museo Romano de Astorga offers a tour of the underground Roman ruins. It must be booked in advance as it is very popular with locals and tourists. Tours are run in Spanish only, but don’t let that deter you!
There are signs in English found in each building that explain what you are looking at. After the tour – or before – watch the movie with English subtitles, offered in the main museum, for a better understanding of the Roman occupation of Astorga.
The Roman Public Baths (El Termas) are located underneath a modern apartment complex. They were places of social gatherings, not only for bathing but also for catching up on the intrigues of gossip, politics, and social issues.
With three pools for cold, warm, and hot – along with a sauna and change room – it was place of importance for public bathing and hygiene. The tour brings to life the sounds of daily life in Roman times making it an interesting way to view these ruins.
Roman Sewer System
These old Roman sewers were by far my favourite part of the tour. It is crazy that parts of this +2000 years old sewer system are still being used! The floor is sometimes wet with what we are assured of is just water from run-off of watering the Jewish Garden built above, and this is where your shoes may get wet!
Roman Square or Mosaic Domus
The Roman Square (Mosaic Domus) is just west of the Roman Museum. With wonderful mosaics and covered from the elements, it has signs in English explaining the ruins.
Pilgrims and a Cathedral
Santa María Cathedral is an important stop on the Camino de Santiago not only for tourists but also for the pilgrims travelling through town.
A Pilgrim's Refuge is close to the Cathedral and gives you a glimpse of what it would be like to walk the Camino, something I have always wanted to do.
Dedicated to Santa María and declared a national monument in 1931, this cathedral is impressive and very much worth a visit! The main altar piece by Gaspar Becerra is from the 16th century and one of many masterpieces.
The attached Cathedral Museum holds 533 religious works. Both the cathedral and museum can be accessed with the purchase of one ticket. An audio guide is also available and well worth it because unfortunately all signage is only in Spanish.
Give yourself lots of time to explore!
Where to Stay
There are a few nice places to stay in Astorga. Here are a couple I've stayed at myself and can recommend.
Posada Real Casa de Tepa
An 18th Century Palace close to the cathedral and Gaudi’s Bishop’s Palace is my top recommendation. Once the aristocratic home of the Count of Tepa, it is now a charming boutique hotel. Plan on spending an hour or two just exploring the multi-floors of sitting rooms and galleries. There is an Honesty Bar located outside on the terrace with great places to sit, relax and visit with other hotel guests. A buffet breakfast is also served in the mornings. A fun fact - Napoleon slept here!
El Descanso de Wendy
A wonderful boutique hotel housed in an apartment building close to the Cathedral and Episcopal Palace. Maria is charming, breakfast is delicious and street parking is available. We love that each bedroom is unique and tastefully decorated.
Where to Eat
There are many wonderful places to eat in Astorga. I have picked my favourites where you can have a quick bite.
Tuesday Morning Markets
Make a note that Tuesday mornings in Astorga is market day! The main plazas fill with vendors selling everything from socks to curtains, but my favourite are the food stalls!
You can find fresh baked breads, cured meats, cheeses, fresh veggies, fruit and – best of all – churros! They are freshly made in front of you. Just hand over €2 and enjoy hot-out-of-the-oil, crispy and sugary churros!
La Jamoneria De Martínez
At calle Manuel Gullon 25 (across the the street from the Laundromat) is where Jamoneria de Martínez is found. Founded in 1949 by Antonio Martínez, who sold the first Cecina in Astorga, you will find the best jamón, cecina, and lomo!
It is open from 11:00-14:00 and 17:30-19:00. We suggest going in the morning and booking a spot at their one table for embutidos and local wine. English is limited, you will need to use a little bit of Spanish to book this. I'd say try and book for 17:30.
When you're there, sit back and watch the locals, pilgrims and tourists come by to buy their locally dried meats, all while sipping your wine and enjoying plates full of Jamón, Cecina, Lomo, and crusty bread.
Found in the Plaza Mayor with a great view of the town hall – Ayuntamiento de Astorga – and their famous clock tower. This is my favourite place for morning coffee and spanish donuts! Afternoon tapas and a spanish red wine on the terrace are also a must.
Cuatro Caminos Panderia
Found on a little side street – Alcalde Carro Verdejo 1 – this is actually a local bakery shop. Besides an assortment of delicous freshly baked bread, you will find a showcase of delectible goodies! A favourite of mine are the mini-moon pastries and the house-made empanadas.
Getting to Astorga
Because Astorga is on the pilgrim route it is easily reached and there are buses and trains daily. But I prefer renting a car and driving the secondary roads to get around. I love the feeling of anticipation, wondering what will be found around the next bend! Below are a few ways for you to get here:
Travelling by Car
Driving in Spain is easy and safe and often a great choice to get around, but choosing to self-drive always comes with the dilemma of where to park! Luckily Astorga has two big carparks that have free parking. Both are just outside the old Roman walls – one on the north-side and one on the south-side of the city.
If you are arriving on a Tuesday, these parking lots fill up quickly because it is Market Day from 10:00 until 14:00. Alternatively if you are staying overnight in this beautiful city, your hotel may also offer parking.
Astorga is found just off of the A6 Highway at km 326. The old highway N-VI is a slower more scenic route through little villages and criss-crossing the Camino Francés (the French Way). I like seeing the pilgrims from all over the world winding their way into Astorga! If you are coming from León definitely take the N-VI.
Travelling by Train
The train station is located outside of the old town. It is basically just a drop-off/pickup point for passengers. There are no public restrooms nor cafeterias. And the ticket window is only open right before a train is due to arrive.
The train station is located on Av. la Estacion. It is about a 15 minute (1 km) walk to the Cathedral. There will be no taxis waiting outside, you will have to call for a taxi if you want one.
Astorga Taxi: (34) 639 42 70 21
Taxi José Redondo: (34) 635 03 85 55
I recommend getting the Renfe App for your phone, where you can book train tickets within Spain. It is in English, works really well and your tickets are kept on the App and easy to open and scan when boarding.
Travelling by Bus
The Bus Station is right below Gaudi’s Episcopal Palace and it is a quick walk into the old town. There are many buses daily from all directions arriving.
I recommend getting the ALSA App for your phone, that makes purchasing bus tickets within Spain easy and quick. When boarding the bus just show your ID that you used to purchase the ticket and board the bus! Be sure to pick your seat before finishing your reservation.