A trip to the heart of the Leonese province. Through this article, we will discover things to do and see in El Bierzo as we go through great classics to visit in El Bierzo. The region is full of charming villages, panoramic roads, monuments, and beautiful hiking trails.
In the north of León there is a region that shines with its own light. Its historical origin takes us back to the very Paleolithic, its monuments make us dream of medieval kingdoms, and its surroundings are a true natural paradise of mountains, forests, rivers, and waterfalls. A destination to fall in love with at first sight! So that you do not miss anything, I have put together a super complete list with the best places to see in El Bierzo.
The said. We are in the extreme northwest of the Leonese province in a border territory with the Community of Galicia and Asturias. This natural region, mining land since the Roman Empire and the protagonist of Spanish industrialization, structures its territory from north to south on the Sil river basin. From there, it dazzles us through valleys with their own identity and landscape diversity that will surprise you. Shall we start?
20 incredible places to visit in El Bierzo
This list is based on my personal experience in the region of Berciana. Obviously, there are still a lot of places to see in El Bierzo that I hope to discover in the near future. However, don’t let the distances fool you. To be able to visit all these tourist points you will need a minimum of 4 or 5 full days.
If you only have one weekend, you will have to choose the areas that motivate you the most. Right at the end of the article, I am going to leave you a map with the location of these 20 places to visit in El Bierzo so that you can get an idea of distances and how to organize it.
With all certainty, the most famous corner to see in the El Bierzo region. It rose to fame many years ago for its striking landscapes, the vividness of its colors, and the great historical and cultural heritage that it hides behind. The origin of these mountains of ocher and intense red colors is found in the passage of the Romans through these lands. What our eyes actually see is a man-made landscape, no more and no less than the largest gold mine in the Roman Empire.
Whether natural or caused by human beings, Las Médulas is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Almost nothing! The best way to visit is enjoying such impressive viewpoints as the Orellán viewpoint and the Pedrices viewpoint, and a simple and beautiful hiking trail, the Senda de las Valiñas.
Peñalba and the Valley of Silence
BRUTAL! I can’t think of another word to describe the beauty of this idyllic corner of Leon. The town of Peñalba de Santiago with its stone and slate houses and its lush mountainous surroundings is a fantasy. Not only does it seem to me one of the most beautiful towns in Castilla y León, but I would also dare to say that in all of Spain.
We are within the territory known as Tebaida Berciana where the hermit monks sought refuge, peace, and silence among an exuberant nature isolated from large populations. And from there we find the origin of the also spectacular (and very close to Peñalba) Monastery of San Pedro de Montes. An abandoned and semi-ruinous monument that, however, exudes magic on all four sides.
This visit would not be complete without facing a hiking route through this mountainous area. The route of the Cueva de San Genadio is one of the simplest but there are many to choose from.
We are facing the most populated and most important town of El Bierzo, in fact, it is the capital of the region. Ponferrada is a small city full of attractions. The largest of all is its spectacular Templar Castle, a defensive construction in perfect condition and whose interior visit is an absolute must.
But the thing does not end here. I recommend that you dedicate at least a full morning or afternoon to enjoying other places as interesting as the church of San Andrés, the Clock Tower, and the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. In addition, Ponferrada has a handful of quite interesting museums. From my point of view, the best is the Energy Museum located in the old thermal power station of the Minero Siderúrgica de Ponferrada.
Villafranca del Bierzo
We entered the old Bercian capital. A town full of monuments and a key stop on the Camino Frances to Santiago . Aim well because you cannot miss a visit to the Castle-Palace of the Marquises of Villafranca , the church of Santiago Apóstol (which is why it has received the nickname of the small Compostela), the church of San Nicolás el Real and the Collegiate Church of Santa María del Cluny , among other magnificent historic buildings.
It is also highly recommended to enjoy the atmosphere of the Plaza Mayor and walk through some of its charming alleys such as Calle del Agua. By the way, Villafranca has a river beach on the Burbia riverbed, so it is also a great summer destination.
The blacksmith of Compludo
If you are looking for authentic places to see in El Bierzo, you have just hit the spot. Embraced by a magical natural environment in the Valle de la Abadía de Compludo, this small construction of medieval origin transports us to an encounter with our traditions. We are in front of a restored blacksmith shop that is still active and was named a National Monument in 1968.
During the visit of about 20 minutes, they will show you how it works live. A very ingenious system that manages to produce the air that the forge needs and the force for the hammer through the water. Really, it is very worth enjoying the guided tour, it reminded me a lot of the Os Teixóis Ethnographic Ensemble in Taramundi (Asturias). It usually opens from Wednesday to Sunday at different times depending on the time of year.
Do not stay alone with the visit of the blacksmith. I recommend you go to the charming village of Compludo to hopelessly fall in love with its popular architecture. It is a very quiet and beautiful town.
Carracedo and the Gualtón waterfall
If we talk about beautiful towns in El Bierzo, Carracedo de Compludo must also occupy one of the first places on the list. We continue in the Compludo Valley to discover another jewel of traditional Bercian architecture. The complex stands out for the uniformity of its stone and slate-built farmhouses.
To the charm of its alleys, we must add another spectacular attraction. In the town of Carracedo, a hiking route begins that leads us to the Gualtón waterfall, a waterfall approximately 30 meters high. It is a path of about 8 kilometers round trip that, although it runs almost entirely through simple terrain and with impressive views, its final stretch descends sharply to the base of the waterfall. Be careful with this because the last meters can be complicated.
We continue with another beautiful town. In fact, Molinaseca (together with Peñalba de Santiago) belongs to the Association of the Most Beautiful Towns in Spain. There must be a reason. You just have to see its most idyllic image, that of the magnificent Pilgrims’ Bridge and the unmistakable profile of the Church of San Nicolás de Bari fused with the surroundings.
We are facing another key stop on the Camino Frances de Santiago. Something very easy to find out thanks to the good atmosphere that is lived in the main squares and alleys of a historic center declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1975.
Monastery of Santa Maria de Carracedo
What a wonder! That was just what I thought as I approached such a monument. It is a Benedictine abbey whose foundation takes us back to the 20th century. Today its ruins tell us without words the splendor and power that it came to accumulate under its walls over the centuries.
Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to access its interior converted into a museum due to temporary closure for works. But, if from the outside it is a spectacular building, I know that it is a visit that is 100% worth it and has very cheap access fees.
We continue to enjoy Bercian nature. An always winning combination of mountains, forests, rivers, vineyard fields, and, of course, waterfalls. And, although the Salto del Pelgo is not a natural waterfall, it seems to me such a beautiful and special little corner that it could not be missing from this list of essential things to visit in El Bierzo.
We are in front of a small dam that forms a waterfall about 16 meters high and 50 meters wide when it falls. The sound of the water is deafening and the image is almost hypnotic. I liked it a lot.
To get to Salto del Pego, we have two options. I am going to tell you about the one I chose because it is the simplest. It is an easy walk of just a couple of kilometers (less if you approach by car on an unpaved road).
Castle of Cornatel
After visiting the Castle of Ponferrada, it is difficult to find another that is up to the task, a requirement that is widely fulfilled by the one in Cornatel. This defensive construction stands slender on a rocky hill that impresses with its height even from a distance. A fortress whose origin, still doubtful, is placed in Roman times due to its proximity to Las Médulas. Almost nothing!
Although today we can see the ravages of abandonment, the castle was magnificently restored a few years ago and is open for tourist visits at different times depending on the time of year. As always, I recommend you check it on official pages because they can change without prior notice.
We set out to meet a beautiful town located at the foot of the Sierra de Ancares and one of the 7 Biosphere Reserves in the province of León. This town attracts a lot of tourism thanks to the conservation of a very typical construction of the area, the pallozas . These are traditional buildings with a circular floor plan and vegetable roofs covered with straw.
In the town of Balboa itself, we can find two pallozas in a good state of conservation that today serve as a restaurant. Not far from there, it is worth going to visit the Palloza de Chis, also converted into a restaurant but located in a very beautiful natural environment. To finish, I recommend you climb to the foot of the Balboa Castle and enjoy the panoramic views over the valley.
By the way, I didn’t have time to go to the neighboring town of Cantejeira but, if you have some free time, it seems like a great plan. In addition to being able to visit another palloza-restaurant, from there a simple and very beautiful trail starts up to the Cantejeira or Canteixeira waterfall.
Beech forest of Busmayor, is another place to see in El Bierzo
Obviously, this beautiful beech forest shows its best face during the autumn. However, any time is a good time to enjoy a simple hiking route full of attractions. We continue in the northeast of the province almost on the border with Galicia, and, beyond the beech forest that gives it its name, along the way we can see how the Valiña Grande stream rushes into several really beautiful waterfalls.
The path is circular, about 6 kilometers long, a little over 350 meters of unevenness, and is well indicated. Although it is a walk without any technical difficulty, you have to overcome a certain unevenness, so I only think it is recommended for people accustomed to walking.
Corullón cherry trees
Surely, it is not necessary for me to tell you that in El Bierzo indigenous wines of excellent quality are produced, protected under the DO Bierzo. The landscapes of infinite vineyards located in the Sil River Valley are one of the great attractions of Berciana. However, you may not know that another type of crop that is just as photogenic or more so than vineyards also grows in this Leonese region. I’m talking about the cherry trees of Corullón.
Obviously, the ideal time to visit is during the cherry blossoms in late February and early March. But the dates are not fixed and each year they can vary. It is not as spectacular a bloom as the one in Valle de Jerte but I think it is worth it. There are several hiking trails enabled for the enjoyment of the area. In addition, from the Mirador de Corullón, which can be reached by car, you will get a very complete panoramic view.
By the way, near the village, there is a swing with a view that has become very popular on social networks. I can’t recommend it first hand but in pictures, it looks like a very cool enclave.
The Route of the Mills
Let’s go with another hiking trail! This is one of the easy ones. A lot of reward with little effort. The Route of the Mills of Folgoso de la Ribera offers a linear and almost flat walk of about 5 kilometers (round trip) in which water is the undisputed protagonist. The channeled water flows from mill to mill for a charming walk and also the water of the Boeza River that falls in the form of small waterfalls almost at the end of the trail.
The endpoint is the so-called Light Factory, the ruins of what was an old hydroelectric plant. An easy and very complete trail that starts from the town of Folgoso de la Ribera itself and has no loss.
Roman Bridge of Palacios del Sil
Almost by chance and on the way to Salientes, there was an image of the town of Palacios del Sil that made me stop cold. The picture could not be more idyllic. I am talking about a three-eyed Roman bridge that rises slender over the Sil riverbed. The perfect climax to a town where we can find hórreos, mills, a palace and a small but beautiful Romanesque church finishing off the scene.
It should also be noted that the municipality of Palacios del Sil covers a fairly extensive territory and in it the presence of two animal species in danger of extinction has been confirmed, such as the brown bear and the Cantabrian capercaillie. For tourist sightings, it is best to contact local companies in Alto Sil.
Now yes. After traveling along a narrow and panoramic road where it is impossible not to stop at places as beautiful as the Matalavilla reservoir, we arrive at the tiny town of Salientes. Tiny but tough. Perhaps it does not have a popular architecture as beautiful and intact as that of other towns in El Bierzo, but it offers beautiful corners under a natural setting of mountains, streams and vegetation that makes you fall in love.
The great discovery of the trip! This town has something wonderful that is very difficult to explain. You have to experience it in the first person. Just getting to the foot of the semi-abandoned farmhouse of Primout is a small adventure in itself.
I was fortunate to walk among the stone and slate houses in the company of the murmur of the river and the echo of my own steps. A unique moment in a super special place that, after decades of neglect, has risen from its ashes. Today, you can see houses in ruins and many others still standing and rehabilitated.
Access is via a forest track of about 10 kilometers from the town of Páramo del Sil . I covered the entire track with my own vehicle (a normal car) and, although most of the road was in good condition, there were areas near the end with the road surface in very poor condition. In fact, many people decide to walk to the town to prevent frights.
Hills of the Field of Martin Moro Toledano
Take it now! It will take longer to learn the name of this town than to walk its most beautiful streets. They say that it has the longest administrative name in Spain and it is curious to know that the origin of such a nickname is in a battle between the Leonese troops and those of Almanzor.
Beyond anecdotal names, let’s talk about what’s important. Nestled in the heart of the Boeza River Valley and more than 1,100 meters above sea level, this Berciana town offers us, once again, a charming urban complex full of magnificent examples of traditional civil architecture. Noteworthies are the medieval bridge and the stone arch of the hermitage of Santo Cristo.
Quite close to this town is the depopulated Urdiales de Colinas. I didn’t have time to go there because access is on foot or in a 4×4, but they say it’s very pretty.
Route of the hanging bridges over the Sil
I could not finish this article of essential things to see and do in El Bierzo without mentioning another hiking route. This is also one of the easy and very photogenic ones. I am referring to the route that crosses the suspension bridges of Valiña, Villadepalos and Villaverde de la Abadía over the Sil River.
If you don’t feel like it or don’t have time to do it all, you can drive to one of its suspension bridges and enjoy the show effortlessly. The image you see is of the Hanging Bridge of Villaverde de la Abadía.
The highest swing in Spain in Librán
I haven’t had the chance to get to know it in person yet, but the images of this swing have seemed so beautiful that I had to put it on the list yes or yes. It seems that in the province of León they have seriously proposed finding the most beautiful bench (they say it is in Riaño), or the largest (in Burón) or the swing with the best views (it is probably the one in Riaño or that of Lario) or the highest.
Yes, we have the highest swing in Spain in El Bierzo, specifically in the town of Librán. An honor that the famous Riaño swing, also in León, snatched from its inauguration. Nothing more and nothing less than 9 meters high and wonderful views. The best thing about this swing is that to get there you have to complete a very interesting circular route that also runs through the Librán Canyon.