With a setting on the Cantabrian Sea, remarkable cultural and architectural offerings, and spectacular food, Gijon, in northern Spain has it all. There’s even a local word for it: Gijonomia used to describe all the reasons why residents love living in Gijon.
What are you waiting for? Here are four good reasons (though there are many more) to visit Gijon ASAP!
1. A City by the Sea
Gijon is an appealing seaside town and one of the main cities in the Spanish region of Asturias, a historic region of northern Spain. Just like Brittany, Cornwall and Ireland, Asturias has a rich Celtic culture. All together they compose an Atlantic arc sharing a common brotherhood mixing music, bagpipe, ocean voyage, granite megaliths and crosses, colourful costumes, tasty hearty food and cider.
More like a coastal town than a busy city, Gijon is surrounded by wild and beautiful coastline. Our path first lead to the seafront where we walked along Gijon’s main beach, San Lorenzo. On one side is a crescent of golden sand where residents and tourists can swim, surf and sunbath. On the other side you can catch a glimpse of the eclectic architecture of the city. The long beach is backed by a high stone wall and there is a lovely promenade with cafés and shops.
Keep your eyes open for contemporary sculptures such as the Letronas Rojas Gijon (huge red letters spelling the name Gijon) or the Cider Tree made with 3,200 empty bottles of cider, stand next to the 18th century Rivillagigedo Palace, timber houses and modern glass buildings. You might also spot a food truck selling delicious churros, a local favorite.
Gijon is a seaside city
We continued our walk toward Cimavilla, the oldest district of Gijon. We passed the ancient Roman thermae and the Mayor de San Pedro church before going up the Santa Catalina Hill that used to be a military zone, closed to the public. Now it’s a quiet park where locals go to walk their dogs. On the northern most point stands an impressive concrete sculpture called Elogio del Horizonte (Praise of the Horizon) made by Eduardo Chillida in 1990. Stand inside the sculpture to hear the sea and the wind blow through the high concrete structure. Don’t miss going up and down the small streets of Cimavilla and make your own discoveries.
Art Deco buildings abound in Gijon
2. An Amazing Art Nouveau Heritage
To the South of Cimavilla district is the modern part of Gijon. In the early 20th century the city went through a period of prosperity like never before thanks to the coal mining and steel industries. There were also Indianos who were migrants from Asturias that had made a fortune in America. They came back to their homeland and like other local nouveaux riches they intend to show their success by building spectacular houses.
More Art Deco at every turn
Get a city map from the Gijon Tourist Office and look for Jovellanos, Instituto, Cabrales, Corrida, Munuza, Los Moros, Trinidad and San Bernardo streets as well as Europa Square. Among the buildings dating to different periods you will discover real Modernist treasures. Some of them are obviously inspired by Catalan Modernism and Antoni Gaudi, while others are typically Art Nouveau.
There are also cafés and theatres showing beautiful architectural elements of that time. All these streets are very lively and offer plenty of shopping opportunities.
3: The Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura
The Laboral is one of the largest buildings in Spain (270,000 square metere) yet took only eight years to build during the late 1940′s and early 1950s. It was one of the 20 boarding schools built in Spain at that time to welcome gifted boys and girls from all over the country. They were meant to educate the future elite of the country. The buildings renovated in 2007 are still very impressive. Some of them still welcome students from Gijon others have been turned into exhibition and show spaces.
Laboral Cultural Center in Gijon
Guided tours will take you to the theatre, the elliptical church, the huge kitchen, huge corridors covered with beautiful blue tiles and the former sport area with a swimming pool, a rarity in Spain at that time. There is also a 130-metre high belvedere that used to be open to the public to get a panoramic view over Gijon and its area. Unfortunately due to the Covid pandemic the elevator has been shut down and we don’t know yet when it will be back on service.
The Laboral is three miles away from Gijon city centre but you can easily get there by bus or taxi.
4. Fantastic Food
In Asturias you will hardly be served minimalist nouvelle cuisine. Here you will have delicious hearty food from the sea and from the close by mountains. Here are our favourite places in town:
This is one of the best tapas restaurants in town. Everything is home made, fresh and delicious. Hot chorizo mini sandwiches, scorpion fish paté, home-made smoked salmon, “home style” vitello tonato, spicy squid, grilled tuna… Perfect with a glass of red or white Spanish wine. For desert have a turon ice cream made with the famous local nougat.
Beef tenderloin at Ciudadela Restaurant
Set on the waterfront, this restaurant proposes a typical Asturian cuisine. The plates are locally made and the decoration makes you as if you’re dining in an old cellar. Fried croquettes, tuna carpaccio, monkfish and giant shrimps, and perfectly cooked beef tenderloin were just some of the highlights. Everything is both beautifully served and delicious. A Gijon favourite for sure!
La Gijonesa restaurant is a dream for cheese and beer lovers
This place set in the heart of the old district of Gijon is a restaurant, a bar and a grocery store all in one place. They propose fantastic cheese and beer tasting that you will only get here. It’s a good way to discover local cheese such as Cabrales or Gamoneu. They serve local beers made in small breweries that change according to the seasons. They also have an online shop to buy cheese, beers and a vast range of canned seafood. www.lagijonesa.com
At La Galana enjoy delicious cuisine paired with fabulous cider
This restaurant is one of the best places in Gijon to drink cider. Cider is the true authentic drink in Asturias and this restaurant has a very special way to serve cider. In Asturias waiters have to go through a special training to be able to serve cider the proper way. They are named escanciadores. Holding a glass in one hand just above the knee they succeed to poor cider without looking at the glass from a bottle held high above their head. A real feat! Do try this Asturian cider that tastes like no other. It has much less bubbles than most ciders and is very low in sugar, almost bitter. You will enjoy your cider with seafood or meat grilled “a la plancha” on your table.
Stop by by the tourist office for maps and advice
To get your bearings or ask for advice on visiting the city, drop by the Gijon Tourism Office, located on the waterfront next to the sculpture made with cider bottles.
Be sure to visit Gijon’s pastry shops
They also offer a yummy tour of the city that will take you to the best cake shops of Gijon. For a few euros you will have a list of 15 different shops and five or seven vouchers for a tasting of local specialities. Master confectioners, master chocolate or ice cream makers are all renowned pastry cooks.
Numa Boutique Hotel makes it easy to explore Gijon
Where to stay in Gijon?
We had a very nice stay at the Numa Boutique Hotel, a newly opened 4-star hotel ideally located on Carmen St, close to the beach and the main places of interest in Gijon.
The rooms are vast and nicely decorated. A hearty breakfast is served in a lounge, but the hotel has no restaurant for lunch or dinner.
BeSeeingYou In: Gijon, Spain
Good to Know: Gijon is the largest city in Asturias, with a population of around 270,000
WOW! Factor: A good 80 percent of Spanish cider is produced in Asturias
Tip: Gijón receives far fewer tourists than most other coastal cities in Spain, so consider choosing it over other more popular cities
Author bio: Annick Dournes
Photos ©Annick Dournes