When I told a Spanish friend I’d be travelling to Oviedo in Northern Spain for the weekend (as part of the #SpainCities blogger project) he asked me ‘why?‘ and told me that this place would be the very last on his list of places to visit in his home country. When someone responds like that, it’s easy to be disappointed and lose the initial enthusiasm you had when hearing you would be visiting this destination.
We always love a good challenge here at The Travel Tester and strongly believe that every place in the world has its own beauty, if you know where to look for it. We cannot judge a place without walking its streets ourselves, meeting the locals and seeing with our own eyes if it’s worth visiting or not.
There are so many people that love certain cities in my home country The Netherlands that I would never ever recommend to anyone… yet somehow when an outsider looks at your country, they often surprise you with what they can find.
So please join me in this challenge and see the Spanish city of Oviedo through the eyes of an open-minded traveller and let’s see what amazing experiences we can find together!
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries – Aldous Huxley
Best things to do in Oviedo, Spain
Looking for something in specific? Here are some shortcuts:
- Walk around World Heritage Sites
- Visit the Old Quarter and the Mercado de Abastos del Fontán
- Discover the many sculptures around the old town
- Have lunch at Restaurante El Fondin
- Treat Yourself at Camilo de Blas
- Walk around Parque San Francisco
- Fine Arts Museum of Asturias
- Archaeological Museum
Short Introduction to Oviedo in Asturias, Spain
It is believed that the Asturias region of Spain (in the Northwest) has been inhabited for millennia by the Celts, but this area shaped in its current form since the 722 Muslim reconquest of the country. According to legend, a certain Don Pelayo saw the Virgin Mary appear and got inspired to fight the Moors, resulting to him being the first king of Asturias. The region soon became a refuge for the nobility until the Peninsula was once again under Christian rule.
The Asturian culture is largely based on its celtic origins (yes, they go wild on the bagpipes, if you can believe it) and the region is also known for its literature and theatre.
The capital of the region, Oviedo, is located in the center of the region, about 45 minutes drive south of the ocean. It’s a medium-sized old town with about 200.000 inhabitants. The city has some of the oldest Christian buildings in Spain, but when you look closely, you’ll also see the impact of much more recent historical events around the city, like the Spanish Civil War.
Oviedo became perhaps a little more known to people from outside of Spain when Woody Allen directed his film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in 2008. The movie was shot all around Oviedo as being a neighbourhood in Barcelona and spending time here made Woody fall in the love with the place.
“…a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city, like it didn’t belong to this world, like it didn’t exist…Oviedo is like a fairy tale” – Woody Allen
When I tell my tour guide Noelia that I only have one whole day in Oviedo, want to see as much as possible, eat all the regional specialties, LOVE cider and don’t plan on having a break during the day, her eyes light up and she rubs her hands together in excitement.
“I love my city, I love people and I love my job, so you’ll have a great time. Just tell me when I talk too much!”… and off we went on a whirlwind tour of all the good things Oviedo has to offer. Here is an overview of most of the things we saw:
Walk around World Heritage Sites
Oviedo was founded in AD 761, when two monks built a church dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa. The city has many pre-Romanesque 9th century structures that survived miraculously over the years and it’s no wonder they are now World Heritage listed. It’s relatively easy to see most of them!
Included in this group of listed structures are the following churches:
Santa María del Naranco
You can find this church on the slope of Mount Naranco. I wouldn’t suggest hiking up here, as it will take you forever, but drive with your car or call a taxi to do this.
The King of Asturias, Ramiro I, ordered this building to be built as a royal palace as part of a larger complex that also incorporated the nearby church of San Miguel de Lillo, 100 meters uphill the mountain. It was completed in 848.
When you walk around the structure, or have a look inside (you need to pay for entrance and might have to wait a bit before the caretaker comes around), it’s almost impossible to imagine how they were able to build such a detailed building so many years ago. The arched roof, all made out of stone is possible the most incredible. Where did they get the knowledge to do this so well?
The palace was converted into a church at the end of the 13th century and all of the surrounding buildings were torn down over time, so you won’t really know just how big it was, but it’s impressive nevertheless.
This Roman Catholic church was originally dedicated to St. Mary, but worship of this Saint passed to the palace down the hill in the 12th century. After that, this church became dedicated to St. Michael.
The church seems very small, and you’re right. it originally had a basilica ground plan with three aisles and a barrel vault. Unfortunately, part of the original structure has disappeared as the building collapsed during the 12th or 13th century.
This is the only Unesco site that I didn’t manage to visit, but I’ve inclued some photos from other people below. This Roman Catholic pre-Romanesque church is located about 25 km south of Oviedo, on an old Roman road that joined the lands of the plateau with Asturias.
The church has a different ground plan than a traditional basilica, with a single rectangular space with a barrel vault and four adjoining structures located in the centre of each facade.
San Julián de los Prados
I’ll be honest, when I arrived at ‘yet another church’ in Oviedo, I was interested, but to have a look on the inside wasn’t something I though necessary per sé. Well, that’s when a tour guide comes in handy and I’m glad mine made sure I did not miss out.
This church is from the beginning of the 9th century and one of the greatest works of Asturian architecture. While the building itself is quite interesting from the outside, the decorations on the inside are the ones that (as the young kids say these days) ‘will blow your mind’: it’s covered in frescoes painted in three layers and is decorated with architectural decoration that bears clear Roman influences.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, but imagine looking at artwork that people from over 10 centuries have made and it’s not hard to understand why you will be quite impressed!
Camara Santa is the Spanish word for the ‘Holy chamber’, but this Roman Catholic pre-Romanesque church is also known as the chapel of St. Michael. It’s built right next to the pre-Romanesque Tower of San Miguel of the city’s cathedral.
The holy chamber was built in the 9th century as a palace chapel for the King and the church of San Salvador, which were both demolished in the 14th century to make place for the cathedral you can find here now. Besides being a royal chapel, this chamber was also built to house the jewels and relics of the cathedral and the most interesting thing is that it still does so today, more than 1200 years later!!
On display are several treasures associated with the Kingdom of Asturias, such as crosses and boxes decorated with rare gems.
The only place where you can see the chamber from the outside is in a secret inner courtyard…
While you’re here, make sure to check out the cathedral:
The arch points you in the direction of Santiago de Compostela, how amazing is that?!
The oldest street art / grafitti I’ve ever seen! WOW!
The complete story of Christ, from his birth on the bottom to the resurrection on the top
Once a year, they bring out this wooden vessel for services
When money runs out and you can’t finish the windows…
When you’re walking the courtyard and need a pee (not a joke -heehee)
And finally, also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Oviedo is this rare 9th century water supply system made up of a pond, a chapel and a water channel. This structure remains the only surviving civil architectural item for public use of the Early Middle Ages. If you look closely, you can see the Victory Cross on the top, which is the symbol of Asturias.
I managed to tick this sight off at 2 am on my final night in Oviedo. Because, why not?
Visit the Old Quarter and the Mercado de Abastos del Fontán
With all the UNESCO sites crossed off your to-do list, it’s time to relax a bit and wander around the old town of Oviedo. You will see parts of the old city wall, a monastery where nuns still work, sing and bake cookies (they do know how to make friends!), lots of sculptures and plenty of adorable cobblestone streets.
Here is a bit of a photo impression:
The streets of Oviedo are SO clean!
Peek into Oviedo’s University Courtyard
The Old City Hall
There are many references to the pelgrims, as Oviedo is the starting point of a few routes!
You can even get a guided tour by a traditional Pilgrim!
Make sure to visit the lovely Fina, 88 years old and still happily working in her shop!
Part of the old city wall
This band is performing daily
Not to miss: Mercado El Fontan
Discover the many sculptures around the old town
Oviedo really is a city of sculptures. They can be spotted everywhere! The most famous is the one of Woody Allen, who loved the place so much that he filmed his movie “Vicky Christina Barcelona” here.
Read our post:
20 Doors And Windows In Oviedo – Asturias, Spain
Have lunch at Restaurante El Fondin
If you’re looking for typical dishes from the Asturias region of Spain (with ingredients coming from the fresh market right next door) and a nice, relaxing place for lunch, then this is the place you want to get a spot at!
Read our post for a full review:
Restaurant El Fondin In Oviedo, Spain: Typical Asturian Market Food
Treat Yourself at Camilo de Blas
For a sweet treat, there are plenty of options in Oviedo. One place you should definitely not miss though, is the more than 100 years old sweets shop “Camilo de Blas”. Here, they sell the famous “Carbayones”, which is a typical Asturian sweet and actually, a specialty of Oviedo:
Walk around Parque San Francisco (San Francisco Park)
Ok, we’re not really getting that active of course, because you might not have much energy left for more walking! I can recommend (weather permitting) to relax a bit in this beautiful green park and stroll around the duck pond and see a couple more sculptures.
Fine Arts Museum of Asturias (FREE admisson)
Housed within the 18th century Velarde Palace, this museum has the largest public collection of art in Asturias. There are over 8000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, photography and industrial art.
Archaeological Museum (FREE admisson)
At the end of my day, I managed to squeeze in a bit of this incredible museum, but I recommend spending a bit more time then just 40 minutes here.
This museum is housed in what was once the 16th century Benedictine monastery of San Vicente and displays a variety of local prehistoric, pre-Romanesque and Romanesque artefacts, all spread out over three floors. There are mosaics, epigraphs and ceramics, as well as altar stones from the churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa Maria del Naranco.
While the signage in the museum was in Spanish, at reception they gave me an English guidebook which gives you extensive information about all the items in the museum, so I can definitely recommend getting that to enhance your visit.
As you would expect in Spain, the evenings are long and people won’t go out for dinner until late. Both nights I was in Oviedo, I made it well past 1AM and there were TONS of people still up and about. For me, that made the city feel quite safe as well, because there were even families with kids still at the restaurants and on the streets.
You wouldn’t perhaps expect it with an old city such as Oviedo, but there were actually a whole lot of bars where you can drink, talk or dance the night away. Especially on the Saturday night, Oviedo was a city like any other!
At the local Irish Pub
Diario Roma – If you’re into the Golden Oldies!
Taste the local Cider
Asturias is known for its hard cider (sidra in Spanish), so when you visit the region, make sure to visit a sidrería (cider house) for some authentic local atmosphere. Calle Gascona in Oviedo is known as “cider boulevard” and while a bit touristy, here you can sample some great local ciders.
The way cider is served in Asturias is a bit different than in the UK, where you basically get a glass filled to the brim (a clean one, if you’re lucky) and pay half your monthly wages to then be allowed to drink it in a dark, smelly pub with a greasy carpet (oh yes!) on the floor. In Spain, however, drinking cider is an important social ritual. It involves pouring the cider from high above into the glass, to then be downed at once by the lucky guy or gal who paid about 2 Euros for a bottle.
They don’t let the cider get all dead in the glass, as the oxygen that gets into the glass through the pouring breaks (as they call it) the cider and you get a good 20 seconds of pure bubbly pleasure. And that is even for a Spaniard worth stopping a conversation for.
Back in the days, it wasn’t just the bottle of cider that got shared between friends, even the glass went around. That is why you pour the last drops of your drink on the ground, so the glass gets cleaned and is ready to make the next person happy again.
We had cider the first night at restaurant “La Pumarada”, which had an amazingly friendly staff and great atmosphere and the second night at the “Tierra Astur” Ciderhouse. I liked the cider at both places, but there seemed to be a bit more of family atmosphere at the first restaurant (well, it’s run by father and son, so perhaps not so strange) and also a bit more attention for empty glasses, etc. But I had a good time AND amazing food at both!
Try more local specialties at Tierra Astur
I had such a good dinner at restaurant Tierra Astur, I can’t believe we literally just had cheese, cornbread and sweet pies, topped with lots and lots of cider… and that this was totally acceptable!
Read our post for the full review:
Restaurant Tierra Astur In Oviedo, Spain: Asturian Food And Cider Feast
Here are some helpful resources to help you plan your trip to Oviedo:
- Asturias Tourism – https://www.turismoasturias.es/en/home-en/
- Spain Tourism (about Oviedo) – http://www.spain.info/nl/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/otros-destinos/oviedo.html
Restaurants, Bars and Markets
- Restaurante El Fondin – Calle Fierro, 2, 33009 Oviedo
- Restaurante Sidrería Tierra Astur Gascona – Calle Gascona, 1, 33001 Oviedo
- Diario Roma Bar – Calle Mon, 11, 33003 Oviedo
- Pub Ca Beleño (Irish Pub) – Calle Martínez Vigil, 4, 33010 Oviedo
- Mercado El Fontan (Market) – Plaza 19 de Octubre, s/n, 33009 Oviedo
Looking for more food suggestions? Read our extensive post on local food from the Asturias region: www.thetraveltester.com/local-food-asturias-spain
Where to Stay in Oviedo?
During my two nights in Oviedo, I stayed at Hotel Fruela. This hotel is located in the center of the city, near to all the sights, so perfect if you’re here only for a short time. While it was not the most memorable hotel I ever stayed at, it was all very clean, friendly staff and the room was perfect, if only a little bit noisy through the walls of the next room. The breakfast was in a hotel across the street and consisted of fresh fruit, some yoghurts, juices and sweet rolls, all very simple, but enough as you’ll be eating LOADS during the rest of the day!
Wondering what else to do in Oviedo?
Here are some other great reads for you from my fellow blogger colleagues:
- Spain Snapshots: The Romanesque Churches of Oviedo [Sunshine and Siestas]
- The fairy tale begins in Oviedo [Trip & Travel Blog]
- Exploring Asturias – first stop Oviedo [House of Anaïs]
- From Oviedo with Love [Young Adventuress]
- Spain Tourist Attractions: Oviedo [Travel2Next]
For my Dutch readers, I’ve got a fun episode of the TV-show 3 op Reis, where Chris Zeegers shows you a bit of Oviedo and more of Asturias.
Watch the episode here: 3opreis.bnn.nl/afleveringen/347558
Wondering what else to do in Northern-Spain & Asturias?
These bloggers have written some great guides for you:
- El Camino de Santiago: Go Your Own Way [Urban Travel Blog]
- Autonomous Community Spotlight: The Principality of Asturias [Sunshine and Siestas]
- Asturias in a nutshell [House of Anaïs]
- An Asturias Road Trip: Exploring Spain’s Northern Coast [Sunshine and Siestas]
- Sun, Sea, Sand… & Cider: Take Me To Asturias! [Urban Travel Blog]
- Life on the Camino; A Pilgrim’s Way [Mallory on Travel]
- The Camino Primitivo Podcast [Indie Travel Podcast]
- 5 Reasons to Go to Northern Spain [Young Adventuress]
- Asturias: Spain’s best-kept secret [Young Adventuress]
Wondering what else to do in other cities in Spain?
Nine of my blogger friends have been part of this #SpainCities project and are writing guides to some amazing places as well! I can highly recommend to check them out:
Disclaimer:I was hosted in Oviedo by the Spain Tourism Board as part of the #SpainCities blogger project organised by Traverse Events. All photos and opinions in this article are 100% my own.