Good Times in Burgos, the Heart of Spain

Though mostly under the radar and off the beaten path these days, Spain‘s province of Burgos and city of the same name are the traditional heartland of Castile, itself widely considered the heartland of Spain. And if you’re living and studying in any number of Spanish cities within driving distance (Madrid, for example, is 2 1/2 hours away), a weekend discovering the lovely, historic cities and towns is a truly marvelous experience.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Spain’s mediaeval folk hero El Cid, the celebrated warrior against the Muslim interlopers who controlled much of Iberia for 700 years? He was born here, and it’s here in the magnificent, 13th-century Burgos Cathedral that his remains and those of his wife Doña Jimena lie. This enormous church is the city’s most iconic monument, but the rest of the historic centre is also splendid indeed, as you’ll see just by strolling the Paseo del Espolón, the leafy, parklike promenade that’s the outdoor “living room” for burgaleses, as locals are called. These folks tend to be a bit gruff on the surface, but have hearts of gold, and make excellent guides and hosts.

There’s plenty more cool stuff to do in Burgos, too. One of our favourites is the Museum of Human Evolution, pretty much unique in the world (and with a number of days and times when admission is free, including Wednesday afternoons, Tuesdays and Thursdays 7 to 8 pm, and special dates April 23, May 18, October 12, and December 6).

Once the sun goes down, many young locals love to party, and till well into the wee hours. We’d especially recommend stopping in at El Patillas, presided over by a colourful gent who’s a notable character in a city which was once known for its conservatism but these days has become something of a magnet for the fun, the hip, and the quirky.

Then beyond the provincial capital, there are also some lovely towns and spots well worth a visit.

The Atapuerca archaeological site should top the list. This series of caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to containing thousands of human fossils going back nearly a million years – the earliest evidence of humans in Europe. It’s easy to get out here, too – the evolution museum runs shuttle buses for the half-hour trip.

If it’s charming towns that float your boat, check out tiny Orbaneja del Castillo, amid the distinctive karst hills of northern Burgos, about an hour from the capital. In addition to atmospheric mediaeval architecture, Orbaneja is known for its dramatic waterfall, flowing right through the centre of town.

Impressive things in unexpected places – that pretty much sums up Burgos. Come check it out!

Photo | Bindalfrodo