Burgos, a visit to Spain's Gothic city

During my recent visit to the Basque Country, I decided to stop by the city of Burgos for a quick visit. What was supposed to be a stopover turned out to be an unexpected surprise. If you love architecture, you can’t miss Burgos!

How to get there

Burgos is located at the north of Castile and Leon, approximately 250 km north of Madrid and 200 km south of San Sebastian. Most people visit Burgos on their way to Santiago, as it is one of the official stops of El Camino.

Burgos Cathedral in the fog

However, getting there is incredibly easy, no matter where you're coming from; buses are quite frequent, and the city is also very well connected by high-speed train. 

As my visit was in the middle of winter and the area tends to be quite foggy, I opted to avoid driving and took the train from Salamanca, following the line Salamanca-Valladolid-Barcelona.

Burgos train station was rebuilt quite recently and is an incredibly big and modern station considering the size of the city, however, it is located quite far from the city centre.

As I arrived very early in the morning I decided to get a taxi (approx. 15 minutes and a price of €8). There are also urban buses departing every 20 minutes if you prefer to a bit of some money. 

Things to do

The unquestionable highlight of Burgos is its cathedral, but before visiting this masterpiece of Gothic art, I started discovering the city centre while making some time before the cathedral opened at 10 am. 

Chancellery Palace

I started walking with no direction in mind and my first stop was the Chancellery Palace, famous for being the place where dictator Francisco Franco was declared head of the Spanish Army, leading the Nationalist Faction during the Spanish Civil War.

Today, it holds a military museum with exhibitions of flags and uniforms of the old military zone governed by the old chancellery.

The region of Burgos was also the place of birth of El Cid, a military leader in medieval Spain celebrated as a national hero after fighting the Muslims during the Spanish Reconquest. In Plaza del Cid you will find a bronze figure of El Cid Campeador, erected in 1955 in honour of this Castilian nobleman. 

His great deeds were immortalised in the Cantar del Mio Cid, a medieval poem written in Old Castilian that narrates his adventures expelling the Moorish from the Iberian Peninsula. 

El Cid

One of the most beautiful religious buildings in Burgos, leaving the Cathedral aside, is the San Lesmes Abad Church, which keeps the mortal remains of the patron saint of the city of Burgos, brought from the St. Jonh’s Monastery located nearby back in the 11th century. 

St. Lesmes Abad Church & St. John's Monastery

The interior of the church is richly decorated in a Gothic style, with a beautiful baroque altarpiece from the end of the 18th century. Just next to the presbytery is the tomb of San Lesmes. 

Burgos is known for being one of the coldest cities in Spain, and I realised why while walking down back to the Main Square. Due to its altitude at over 850m above sea level, it has one of the harshests winters in the Iberian Peninsula. If you're visiting Burgos during the winter months, don't be deceived by the fact that you're in Spain, it can also get very cold in here!

Plaza Mayor

Like most squares in Spain, the Main Square or Plaza Mayor is the seat of the City Hall. Built at the beginning of the 13th century in a Gothic style, it forms part of the area declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

In the middle of the square is placed the statue of King Carlos III, and the sides of the square are full of bars and restaurants where you can try the traditional tapas. From my experience, Burgos had some of the most elaborate and varied tapas that I’ve ever tried in Spain!

Around Plaza Mayor there are many narrow streets where you can find the most delicious tapas that you can imagine. Many of the tapas bars are quite hidden, so don't be afraid to venture yourself beyond the main streets.

And finally, I made it back to the imposing Burgos Cathedral. Built in the 13th century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is one of the finest examples of French Gothic constructions in Spain, and I'd dare to say in the world.

Burgos Cathedral

The cathedral was commanded by King Ferdinand III, and has had multiple restorations and additions along the centuries, until it acquired the current Gothic style towards the end of the 18th century.

The exterior is quite impressive, especially the façade of Saint Mary, inspired by the cathedrals of Paris and Reims. Above the rosette are placed the statues of the first eight kings of Castille. The façade is crowned with two twin towers that end in a spire. 

But if the exterior is astonishing, wait until you get inside. Tickets have a price of €7 including an audioguide, and the visit is absolutely worth it. There are also reduced prices if you're doing El Camino or if you're a student/retired. 

Interior of Burgos Cathedral

As I ventured inside, it didn't matter where I looked, it just kept getting better and better. I've never seen such a rich, precise decoration inside a Spanish cathedral.

The interior has a total of 15 chapels, and the transept contains the tomb of El Cid and his wife Doña Jimena.

I was especially fascinated by the multiple cupolas and ceilings in the form of a star - I just couldn't stop looking open-mouthed at the perfect shapes.

You can't miss as well the impressive Renaissance Golden Staircase and the Chapel of the Constable, the grandest chapel in Burgos Cathedral. It was built for Don Pedro Fernandez de Velasco and his wife, Constables of Castile during the 15th century. 

Due to its unique heritage, UNESCO declared the Catledral a World Heritage Site in 1984, being the first Cathedral in Spain to make it to the list on its own without being part of the historic centre.

The cathedral set very high standards, but the town still had some surprises left. 

St. Nicolas' Church

Just behind the cathedral is St. Nicolas's Church, built in the 15th century and completed thanks to generous donations from wealthy local merchants. The interior of the church features a remarkable limestone altarpiece well worth a visit.

One of the best areas for a stroll is Paseo Espolón, a promenade lined with trees just perfect after the art overdose of the historic centre. The avenue is situated at the bank of the Arlanzón river, and is also filled with cafes if you want to stop before continuing exploring the city. 

At the end of Paseo Espolón is Arco Santa María. This arch was the main entrance to the city of Burgos throughout the Middle Ages. Until the end of the XVIII century, it was also the Town Hall. 

The principal façade has the shape of an altarpiece representing, among others Carlos V, El Cid, the guardian angel and Virgin Mary. 

Arco Santa María

My time in Burgos was coming to an end, so before leaving the city, I decided to climb up to Hill San Miguel, where the Castle of Burgos is located. The hill, with a height of 75 m, offers great views of the city and Burgos Cathedral.

Burgos Castle

The hill is not too steep, you can easily get there within 15 minutes, but after an entire day of sightseeing, it wasn't that easy.

The castle dates from the 9th century, but unfortunately not much is left after it suffered a fire and was blown up by Napoleon's troops between the 18th and 19th centuries. 

To my disappointment, the castle had just close when I arrived, so I couldn't visit inside. In any case, the viewpoint was worth the effort. Even though the panoramic wasn't that spectacular, as the ugly modern city spoils the views, it still offered great views of the cathedral.

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a city that only was a stopover, and ended up being a wonderful surprise! 

View of Burgos Cathedral


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