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A Guide to Gijón, Spain: Asturias’ Beloved Beach Escape

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Updated: 14th March 2024

My visit was supported by #SpainByTrain

Set on Northern Spain’s leafy and fertile ‘Green Coast’ overlooking the Bay of Biscay, Gijón has become a favourite beach escape for both local Asturians and Spaniards from further afield. Lured by the curved bay, golden sands, and gently lapping sapphire waves, it’s a refreshing escape when the mercury goes above 40 degrees in the country’s south.

Gijón’s beaches aren’t the only pull, though, as the city provides all the seafood restaurants, nightlife, and Art Nouveau architecture that you’ll need for entertainment away from the waters. As the largest city in the autonomous community, with around 270,000 residents, it’s a proper city-cum-beach-break, albeit with a far different vibe than you’ll find in the likes of Benidorm or Mallorca.

If you’re seeking small fishing villages or remote golden sands, you’ll need to head slightly further down the coast. Cudillero, a cluster of colourful houses around a terraced bay for the former, or the often footprint-free Playas de Ballota for the latter. But for a mix of mornings exploring Roman baths, afternoons lounging along the shore, and lively evenings sipping sidra (cider) as a seafood accompaniment, Gijón is an ideal Asturian coastal base. 

The sign in Gijón, Spain
The Gijón sign

When to visit Gijón and Asturias 

Summer is the most popular time to visit Gijón, as Asturians and travellers from afar descend on the city’s beach. The average daily temperatures of 23°C in summer are particularly inviting for those who want to avoid the frankly unbearable heat in the south of Spain. Trust me, I’ve spent the start of summer studying in Andalucia before, and that was enough!

As a city break, it works well year-round, with daytime temperatures usually not falling below 13°C, though there are plenty more rainy days in the winter, which helps keep the region of Asturias so verdant.

For me, the low season is always the best time to visit Spain’s most popular destinations. So, if you can, I suggest plumping for late spring or early autumn to avoid the crowds and get better deals on accommodation.

Where to stay in Gijón, Spain 

Gijón offers a varied choice of accommodation to suit all budgets, though you’ll want to book ahead in the summer months.

Budget – Boogalow Hostel The dorms here aren’t the cheapest in town, but they are spacious and just seconds from San Lorenzo Beach.

Mid-range – NH Gijón This modern-looking glass cube holiday is where I stayed on my last visit. It’s a short walk from the historic centre but seconds from the beach. Some rooms have sea and beach views, as does the rooftop bar.

Luxury – Hotel Hernán Cortés Heritage building in a great location with more upscale rooms.

What to do in Gijón, Spain 

Although Gijón is something of an underrated European city, it is the largest in the Asturias region. So, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained both in the city and nearby. 

Top attractions in Gijón, Spain, include the Museo Ferrocarril (Asturias Railway Museum), the aquarium, and Jovellanos’ Birthplace Museum (a famed historical figure of the city). Eschewing these, I focused most of my visit around Cimavilla – the historic upper quarter of the city – covering what is listed below. 

Gijón's San Lorzeno Beach
Gijón’s San Lorzeno Beach

Sink in to San Lorenzo Beach

Unsurprisingly, for many visitors, the main thing to do in Gijón is to lay out their towels on Playa de San Lorenzo. Like a first-quarter moon, the city’s largest beach curves along the promenade, and the welcoming warm sands lead you to the refreshing waters. While it’s a good spot for a paddle or dip, thanks to the beach break, you’ll see a fair few surfers out on the waters in autumn and winter. 

Visit the Termas Romanas de Campo Valdes

The Roman Baths of Gijón are at the western end of San Lorenzo Beach and offer an underground glimpse into the city’s history. Platforms cross over the archaeological site and artefacts, which were constructed between the 1st and 4th centuries, so you can get a good look at what remains. While at first glance, the site might not seem impressive, if you look closely, you’ll see some well-preserved details, as they weren’t rediscovered until the start of the 20th century. 

Take in the views from Parque del Cerro Santa Catalina and Elogio del Horizonte

Behind the Roman Baths, the Santa Catalina Headland provides a grassy stroll with vistas back across the beach, where you’ll soon spot some weathered 18th-century fortifications behind graffiti. The strangest concrete sighting is the Elogio del Horizonte sculpture, constructed in 1990.

While this has become something of a symbol of the city, I’d be lying if I said I found it particularly impressive, but it’s there for you to make your own judgement of this sea-praising artwork. 

People watching at Plaza del Marqués

The Baroque Revillagigedo Palace (not mediaeval, although it appears so) is the backdrop to Marquis Square, a great spot to settle in for some people watching.

With the tower to one side, pastel-hued buildings behind, and small yachts bobbing in the harbour in front, the al fresco terraces are ideal for an afternoon drink. Here, you’ll also find the sidra (cider) tree, a testament to the art of siping fermented apple juice, which is undoubtedly one of the things to do in Gijón. 

Gijon's historic centre
Gijon’s historic centre

Admire Art Nouveau architecture

While Gijón’s architecture isn’t as impressive as some of the other best cities to visit in Spain, such as León, it does have a speciality to offer in the newer part of the city: plenty of Art Nouveau buildings.

In the 19th century, the El Musel Port was booming, and plenty of wealth trickled into the city. This led to some rather fanciful houses being built, and the ornate details can be seen on windows, door frames, and the crowning of multi-floored townhouses. Some of the best examples can be found around the Jovellanos Theatre and the magnificent Café Dindurra next door. 

Theatre in Gijón Spain
The theatre in Theatre in Gijón, Spain

Tour the ​​Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura

One of the top attractions in Gijón, Spain, is actually a short trip outside the city. In around 15 minutes, a bus will bring you to this hulking building, which is shrouded in stories and history and has, for many, very negative connotations.

Covering some 270,000 square metres, the Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura is regarded as the largest building in Spain. It’s mammoth and imposing, and it has something of a macabre feel—a feeling that makes sense when you know the building’s history. 

Commissioned by Franco (Spain’s 20th-century dictator) and initially constructed as an orphanage for children of miners, this vast, classically designed space was meant to be something of a self-contained city. There are many stories and doubts about how true this purpose was, and I’ll admit, as you see the towering walls and stand in the central square, there is something of a hidden-away-from-everything feel to the place.

Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura in Gijón Spain
Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura in Gijón Spain

In 1957, however, construction stopped unexpectedly. By then, it was already being used as a Jesuit-led university, and it continued doing so, teaching trades to students from all across the country. In 1996, with no students left and the premises continuing to decline, the last nuns left, leaving it empty until the local government acquired it in 2001. Debates followed, especially around destroying the mammoth sites due to its Francoist past, even as far as blocking a UNESCO nomination for it.

In the end, it was decided to save the vast building and repurpose it—although scars of the past remain, such as the empty and weathered swimming pools. Nowadays, it serves various purposes, from housing governmental buildings to hosting a cultural programme of events. To climb the tour and enter inside any of the buildings, you’ll need to arrange a tour in advance.

Read more: 25 ‘off the beaten path’ destinations in Spain

The mammoth Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura in Gijón Spain
The mammoth Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura just outside Gijón, Spain

Go green at the Jardín Botánico Atlántico

Gijón’s Botanic Gardens are a stone’s throw from the Laboral Ciudad de la Cultural, and they are a nice way to cheer yourself up and reconnect with nature after standing inside such an imposing building. I like how the gardens here are separated by the four seasons, giving each quarter its own personality, and with entry only a couple of euros, it’s a worthwhile hour or two before heading back into the city itself.

Learn at the Muséu del Pueblu d’Asturies

At the Museum of the Asturian People, you’ll be able to learn a little more about local life and the region’s history. It’s a little walk from the centre, but if you’re interested in learning about regional history, recipes, instruments and architecture, it’s a nice mid-afternoon break from the beach. 

Take a day trip to Oviedo, Asturias’ capital city

From Gijón, it’s only a 30-minute train journey to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. I absolutely adore this city; it’s the perfect size, has great food, and is super clean and pretty. For me, Oviedo is one of the best city breaks in Spain, so it makes sense to visit while you’re in Gijón if time allows.

Alternatively, if you want to explore a few more spots on a day trip, then there are some guide tour options available, ideal if you don’t have a car and want to maximise time. This trip to Luarca, Cudillero and Avilés, for example, will allow you to see more of Asturias in one day.

What to eat in Gijón, Spain

While a bounty of fresh seafood is available in Gijón, be sure to try some of the other typical regional dishes, too. 

Chow down on Cachopo

One of the most famed dishes in Asturian cuisine is a hearty, fried slab of veal, cheese and ham coated in breadcrumbs. Healthy? Not really. Delicious? You bet!

Tuck into Cachopo
Tuck into Cachopo

Sample the sidra: trees, festivals and bars 

Cider in Asturias isn’t just a drink; it’s a whole culture, and sidra pouring is an art form in itself. But it might be different to what you’re used to as it’s not sweet, and there is no yeast due to it being naturally fermented apple juice. It’s not even sparkling; the bubbles come from the high pour, so only a little should be poured at a time, and then it should be quickly drunk. If you’re used to sweet, commercial cider, it might take some getting used to, but it’s worth a taste, even if it’s just to try and master the pour.

If you’re lucky enough to be here in August, you might catch the Festival of the Natural Cider of Gijón. Thousands of cider bottles are raised and poured simultaneously before the bottles are placed on the ‘tree’ you see for the rest of the year in Plaza del Marqués.

Fabada asturiana
Fabada asturiana might be more tempting in winter than in summer

Warm up with a hearty Fabada Asturiana

While the typical regional stew might be a bit heavy on a hot summer’s day, you should sample Fabada Asturiana at least once during your visit to Gijón. The base of the dish is a local white kidney bean (if it’s the premium Verdina bean, even better), which is cooked in a fragrant stew and then topped with chunks of meat, such as blood sausage, pancetta and pork shoulder. It can usually be ordered as a smaller starter or a hearty main course.

Devour all the queso

Asturias is the largest cheese-producing region in Spain – and maybe even Europe – and artisanal queso is a big deal here. If you ask a local how many different cheeses Asturias produces, you’ll hear numbers ranging from 50 to 300. While the maths might be debatable, the quality certainly isn’t, and some of the most famous cheeses to sample include the blue Cabrales, naturally aged in caves and the unpasteurized cow milk Casín.

Boats in Gijón Spain
Boats in Gijón, Spain

How to get to and around Gijón, Spain

Exploring the city centre is easy on foot, with the beach and main attractions a short walk away. The city bus network is decent and reliable.

Travelling to Gijón by train and public transport

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Spain and wondering how to get to Gijon, then using the train service is likely the best option, with buses being a decent alternative. From Madrid, the journey by train takes around 5 hours on Renfe’s Intercity service, while from nearby Oviedo, you can reach Gijón by train in just over 30 minutes.

Train tickets, especially for long-distance journeys, should be booked in advance directly on the Renfe website for the cheapest prices or using one of the popular and best travel apps, such as Omio, for convenience.

BlaBlaCar, a car-share service (where you book a spare seat in the car of someone already making a journey)  is also very popular in Spain, and worth checking out if you struggle to find a direct connection from your starting point. ALSA is the main bus company for intercity travel in Spain.

Read more: 7 days in Spain itineraries

Plaza Mayor, Gijón Spain
Plaza Mayor, Gijón Spain

Travelling to Gijón by plane

The nearest airport to Gijon is Asturias Airport, a 45-minute bus journey from the city. Currently, there are limited flights from this airport, including from London; however, the schedules have been growing rapidly each year.

Travelling to Gijón flight free from the UK

You have two options if you want to visit Northern Spain from the UK without flying.

The first is to take the Eurostar to London and, from there, the train to Bayonne. To cross from France to Spain, you can opt for a two bus connection via Bilbao (likely slightly cheaper). You can expect this route to take around 16 hours if timed well. By train, the best option is to travel from Paris to Perpignan, Barcelona, Madrid, and finally Gijon—this will be longer and more expensive.

An alternative is to take the ferry from the UK, operated by Brittany Ferries, either departing Portsmouth or Plymouth (though some sailings are only in summer) and arriving in Santander or Bilbao. Both journeys involve two nights aboard the ship. From either arrival point, you can continue by car if driving, pick up a rental car, or take an approximately 5-hour bus or train journey to Gijón.

If returning the same way, you might want to consider spending a night in San Sebastian before sailing back, another enchanting coastal destination with one of the best culinary scenes in the county.

Oviedo, the capital of Asturias
Oviedo, the capital of Asturias

How is it pronounced: Xixón or Gijón?

The city’s local name is actually Xixón, pronounced hee-hon, which comes from the Asturian language. Sadly, this is a minority language in Spain, so if you want to learn some keywords to get by with, you’d be better off focusing on learning some Spanish online before your visit.

Where to travel after Gijón

From Gijón, it’s easy to continue your journey by train to explore the beautiful city of Oviedo or the architecture-heavy cities in the neighbouring Castile and León region. Beyond, plenty more of Spain’s hidden gems await.

This article was written following my #SpainByTrain trip in partnership with Spain Tourism and Asturias Tourism.

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