12 Top Tourist Attractions in Burgos & Easy Day Trips
Celebrated for its magnificent cathedral, the medieval town of Burgos was an important stop on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela. Burgos was also the capital of the Castilla-Leon region from the 10th through the 14th centuries. This intriguing historic town has preserved its Old World charm, seen in the exquisite ancient monuments, quaint cobblestone streets, and shaded promenades. Burgos is a pleasant place to discover the sights, from the ruins of the old castillo (castle) on the hilltop to the inviting riverside restaurants. Also on the must-see list are numerous monasteries and churches. Visiting these sanctuaries offers an inspiring spiritual experience as well as a chance to see masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance art.
1 Catedral de Burgos: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
At the foot of Burgos' castle hill stands the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of Burgos, a masterpiece of Spanish Gothic architecture. The profusion of sculptural decoration and grandiose proportions make this cathedral one of the most impressive in Spain and the third largest after the cathedrals of Seville and Toledo. Built from white limestone, the cathedral is renowned for its elegance and sense of harmony. Although predominantly Gothic, the building reveals other artistic styles that represent later additions (construction was over an extended period from 1221 to 1795). The cathedral's main façade features the Puerta del Perdón doorway with a gallery of statues of the Castile kings. Above the doorway is a beautiful star-patterned rose window called an estrellón. On the Puerta del Sarmental facade are the cathedral's most exquisite sculptures, depicting figures of the apostles and evangelists.
The awe-inspiring interior is distinguished by the dome of the main nave, which features a lovely Mudéjar (Moorish-style) vault, and the 16th-century Italian Renaissance style Escalera Dorada (Golden Staircase) by Diego de Siloé. Within the immense sanctuary are 19 chapels in the side naves, and throughout are valuable altarpieces, paintings, and sculptures. In the center of the nave is the stunning cimborio (lantern), a marvelous example of Plateresque art, richly decorated with sculpture and coats of arms, gilded balustrade, and superb reliefs. Behind the ambulatory is the 15th-century Capilla del Condestable (Constable's Chapel), another example of ornate Plateresque style. The chapel houses the tombs of the Constable and his wife Doña Mencia de Mendoza, with lifelike figures carved from Carrara marble. The Capilla de Santa Tecla (Chapel of Saint Thecla) is also noteworthy for its art works. Be sure to see the 13th-century claustro (cloister), which contains the monumental tombs of Ferdinand III and his wife Beatrice of Swabia.
Address: Plaza de Santa María, Burgos
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Burgos
2 Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas
A must-see historic attraction, Las Huelgas is a medieval Cistercian monastery and Royal Pantheon of the Castile monarchs. The Monasterio de las Huelgas was originally a country residence of the kings of Castile. The Spanish word huelga means "repose/relaxation." King Alfonso VIII and Queen Dona Leonor converted the building into a Cistercian convent for noble women (descendants of the royal family) in 1187 at the request of his wife Eleanor, daughter of Henry II of England. The convent was granted wealth and royal stature, and its high-ranking abbess wore a special headdress and carried a staff resembling a bishop's. The monastery exemplifies the austere architecture of the Cistercian order, with the church, the cloister, and the chapter house. The original church of the 12th-century was built with a Mudéjar Almohad style, resembling the architecture of Andalusia. This church is now the Chapel of the Assumption, which contrasts with the Romanesque cloister (Claustrillas) and Gothic additions built in the 13th century. The monastery also displays a collection of precious medieval tapestries.
Address: Calle de Compases, Burgos
3 Cartuja de Miraflores
This Carthusian monastery lies about three kilometers outside the historic town of Burgos. The building was originally the hunting lodge and recreational palace of Henry III of Spain. The palace was restored by his son, King John II, and renovated again during the reign of Queen Isabella by renowned architects. The Carthusian monastery is a gem of 15th-century Gothic architecture. The monastery's exquisite Gothic church is one of the most important monuments of Burgos and contains the mausoleum of King John II and his wife Queen Isabella. Guided tours are available in summer.
Address: Carretera de la Cartuja, Burgos
4 Arco de Santa María
Guarding and allowing entrance to the old town, the Gate of Santa Maria stands at the end of the Paseo del Espolón opposite the Puente de Santa María (bridge) spanning the Arlanzón River. The Arco de Santa María was originally built in the 14th century as a triumphal arch in honor of Emperor Carlos V. In 1552, the gate was renovated by Juan de Vallejo and Francisco de Colonia in Renaissance style. The massive arch is flanked by two semicircular towers, giving it the appearance of a castle. The gate features statues of Castilian heroes and kings: in the center of the lower row is Diego Porcelos, the town's founder, next to Nuño Rasura and Lain Calvo, the first judges of Castile; in the upper row are the Cid, the Emperor Charles V, and Count Fernán González. Walking through the arch, visitors will reach the Plaza del Rey San Fernando on the southern side of the cathedral. The interior is often used to display temporary art exhibitions.
Address: Plaza del Rey San Fernando, Burgos
5 Iglesia de San Nicolás
Just steps away from the cathedral, the Church of San Nicolás is reached by taking a flight of steps via the Plaza de Santa María. The 15th-century church was restored to its former glory with a renovation project in 1911. The church interior is noteworthy for its fine vaulting and impressive tombs. The church's greatest treasure is the sumptuous 16th-century High Reredos by Francisco de Colonia. This monumental sculptural piece features reliefs of Old and New Testament biblical scenes with a special focus on the life of San Nicolás and the miracles he performed. With incredible attention to detail, the piece features 465 figures. The reredos was commissioned by a wealthy merchant who wanted the work of art to reflect his stature in the community.
Address: Calle Fernán González, Burgos
6 Paseo del Espolon
Shaded by plane trees and lined with cafés and shops, the Paseo del Espolón is the favorite promenade of Burgos residents. This pleasant pedestrian promenade extends along the Río Arlanzón from the Puente de Santa María to the Puente de San Pablo. Opposite the Paseo del Espolón, along the riverbanks, is a quiet garden of meadowland and banks of reeds filled with frogs, a truly peaceful pastoral scene. The Paseo del Espolón is a wonderful place to take an afternoon stroll or relax on one of the park benches.
7 Iglesia San Lesmes
Just east of the Plaza Mayor is the Gothic Church of San Lesmes. The church was built in the 15th century to house the remains of San Lesmes, patron saint of Burgos, who took care of pilgrims who stopped in the town on the "Way of Saint James" trail to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. The church also has other Late Gothic tombs and altars. In the 16th century, the church was renovated in the architectural and decorative style of the era. Tours of the church are available when mass in not in session.
Address: Plaza de San Juan, Burgos
8 Iglesia San Gil
One of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Burgos, this place of worship dates to the 14th century. The highly decorated interior has many chapels; the most noteworthy are the finely vaulted Nativity chapel and the Buena Mañana chapels. Tours of the church are available before and after worship hours.
Address: 12 Calle San Gil, Burgos
9 Iglesia de San Esteban
A short walk northeast of the Iglesia de San Nicolás is the Gothic church of San Esteban built between 1280 to 1350. This ancient church has an impressive facade with a richly sculptured west doorway. A beautiful rose window illuminates the sanctuary, with ethereal light filtered through the stained glass. The church also has an interesting Baroque retablo and a noteworthy Early Gothic cloister.
Address: 1 Calle San Esteban, Burgos
10 Museum of Human Evolution
Housed in a sleek modern building, this fascinating paleontology museum was created as a place to display fossils found in the fields of the Sierra de Atapuerca. Among the highlights of the collection are an 850,000-year-old hominid fossil and El Bifaz "Excalibur," the oldest symbol of human intelligence. The museum also offers educational exhibits such as theories about the first Europeans. Realistic reproductions of prehistoric human species are displayed as wax models. This incredible exhibit features the earliest known human ancestors and shows the progression of evolution.
Address: Paseo Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos
11 International Folk Festival
Burgos is renowned for its International Folk Festival, an outstanding cultural event. The festival is held the third week in July and hosts hundreds of Spanish folk groups from all over the world. Performances take place in public squares and historic venues such as the Plaza de San Juan Square, the Paseo del Espolón Pavilion, and the Principal Theatre. Performers reflect a wide range of artistic traditions from diverse countries including Italy, Honduras, Bolivia, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Philippines.
12 Museo de Burgos
The Burgos Museum displays a diverse collection in the Casa de Miranda, an elegant 16th-century palace. The collection includes exhibits of archaeology, antiquities from the province of Burgos, and an exceptional assortment of Baroque paintings of the 17th century as well as modern art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Address: 13 Calle Miranda, Burgos
Day Trips from Burgos
Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Silos
The Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos is 58 kilometers from the town of Burgos, accessible by the Covarrubias BU 902 and BU 903. The monastery is believed to have been founded in the late sixth century by the Visigothic King Reccared, destroyed by the Moors, and rebuilt by Santo Domingo (abbot from 1047 to 1073). The two-story cloister has fabulous carved capitals decorated with beasts, lions, stags, eagles and other birds, and swirling arabesques. At each corner of the cloister are reliefs depicting New Testament themes. The Mudéjar ceiling paintings of the lower cloister feature scenes from medieval life, showing a variety of musical instruments. The North Gallery contains the tomb of Santo Domingo.
Historic Town of Palencia
Tourists can travel 90 kilometers from Burgos to explore the historic town of Palencia. This ancient town was destroyed several times throughout its history, first by the Romans, then by the Visigoths, and finally by the Moors. In the 11th century, Palencia was rebuilt and had its heyday in the 12th century when it was the residence of the kings of Castile and the meeting-place of the Castilian Parliament. In the 13th century, King Alfonso VIII of Castile founded Spain's first university in the town.
Palencia has a striking cathedral on the Plaza de la Inmaculada. The Catedral de San Antolín was built between 1321 and 1516 and incorporates the remains of a seventh-century Visigothic chapel. Housed in the cloister and chapter house, the Cathedral Museum displays valuable religious art. The collection includes precious 15th-century Flemish tapestries, paintings by El Greco, Zurbarán, and Cerezo, religious sculptures, and monuments. To learn more about the town's heritage, visit the Palencia Museum, which occupies a 16th-century Renaissance house at the Plaza del Cordón. This museum exhibits archaeological findings of the Castile-León region, from the prehistoric era through the Middle Ages. The classical Roman period is especially well represented.
Hermitage of Quintanilla de las Viñas
About 40 kilometers southeast of Burgos, travelers can discover one of the rare existing Visigothic churches in Mambrillas de Lara. The hermitage of Quintanilla de las Viñas is an incredible sight that dates to the seventh century. The facade of the church features a splendid frieze with bas reliefs depicting vines, grapes, birds, animals, and monograms. The interior of the church is remarkably well preserved. Notice the horseshoe arch resting on repurposed Roman columns, decorated with sculpted figures of angels. An image of Christ and illustrations of the sun and the moon adorn the keystone of the arch.