8 Things to Do in Leon Nicaragua – Family approved!
November 17, 2018
There are many things to do in Leon Nicaragua, a super atmospheric city that stole our hearts almost immediately! We spent two days in Leon and fell totally in love with this charming city. The colorful old houses, the churches on every corner of the streets (well, not every corner maybe….), the lively streets full of little stalls and street art, the quiet spots where you can rest in the shadow,….. Throw all these ingredients into the mix and enjoy the flavors!
One of the best things of Leon is that its flavors are appealing
to almost everyone. Whether you like history, churches, museums, street art,
nice restaurants and cafes, busy markets, or quiet corners, whether you are a
solo traveler, a couple or a family, you will most likely find what you are
looking for. So it was rather easy for us to plan things that were both
interesting for us adults, but at the same time totally child-proof too! So check
out our list of things to do in Leon Nicaragua and start planning your trip
there, I am sure you will enjoy it!
1. Get lost in the streets of Leon
We spent two days in Leon, and both of those two days, we
walked quite a bit. The city is very walkable, many sights are close to each
other. You can easily pick a few areas you want to explore and walk from one
area to the other, enjoying the busy streets, the beautiful colorful old houses
and some street art.
2. Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Gurdian
Though the kids are usually not fond of musea, we decided to give this one a try. After all, it is said to be the finest museum of contemporary art in all of Central America. The museum is housed in two separate houses, facing each other across the street. The houses are nice to look at in their own right, with Arabic tiles, interesting architecture and nice airy courtyards with little ponds filled with fishes and turtles. Bonus points from the kids!
The museum is easy to navigate, you are directed from one room to the other, so you have time to take it all in without being overwhelmed by the many paintings to see. As we went from room to room, we picked our favorite paintings in each room, discussing why we did or didn’t like a painting. We especially liked the modern paintings and wouldn’t mind taking a few of them home… Time flew by and we all had a great time. The kids admitted it was way more fun that they thought it would be!
3. Iglesia de San Francisco
The small Iglesia de San Francisco is right around the
corner of the museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Gurdian. It is one of the oldest
churches in the city. It is a national heritage site, worth a quick visit, to
see the rococo interior with lots of gold.
4. Eat in café El Desayunazo
If all the sightseeing makes you hungry, head straight for café El Desayunazo, on the corner of 3aCNO and 2aAvNO (close to the Lazybones hostel). As you might suspect, this café is famous for its elaborate breakfast menu (that you can order all day by the way). But they have plenty of other good stuff too: a great choice of typical Nicaraguan food, fish, chicken and meat dishes, some pastas, some burgers, and some delicious vegetarian options (the vegetables brochette with grilled cheese is just yummie). The service is really friendly and relaxed and we felt very welcome and taken care of.
5. Visiting the Catedral de Leon and it’s overwhelmingly white rooftop
One of the highlights of visiting Leon is a visit to the Catedral
de Leon, known as de Basilica de la Asuncion. It is a majestic building,
completely white and beautifully ornamented. It is the largest cathedral in
Central America, and construction went on for more than a hundred years. Above
the big entrance portal, a statue honors the laborers who took part in this big
Inside the cathedral, you will find some beautiful statues
and paintings (for example the stations of the cross by Antonio Sarria). They
are worth a look, but what you really want to do is to get to the rooftop! So
you leave the cathedral, go round to the back, and find the tiny office where
they sell the rooftop tickets, adults pay $3, children $1. For this price, you
get a guide who will take you on a rooftop tour.
After climbing a very narrow stairway and peeking into the cathedral at some points, you arrive at the rooftop. The rooftop is overwhelmingly white, so be sure to bring your sunglasses! (We didn’t, so we enjoyed the sympathy of our guide, who felt very sorry for us).
The sights on the rooftop are great. The rooftop itself is
magic, with all the white domes that form kind of a surreal landscape. But the
view over the city and the surroundings is great too. You can see the 16
churches of Leon (quite a challenge to spot them all!) and the ring of
volcanoes around Leon. What I liked most was to see the narrow lively streets
and colorful old houses, and to observe the hustle and bustle from above. A
true highlight for the whole family!
6. Spending some time at the Parque Central and feeding the pigeons
The parque Central is a really nice place to spend some
time. It is the vibrant heart of the town, and at the same time a place to
relax. People gather to sit in the shades, to talk, laugh, listen to music. To
eat a snack and drink something fresh.
The best thing about it, especially for the kids, are the
many pigeons in the park. There are vendors selling some bird food that you can
give to the pigeons. They come really close and are not scared. Our kids looked
for their favorite pigeons, gave them names and tried to make sure “their”
pigeons got the best bites! Every now and then something startles the pigeons
and then they fly away all at the same time. A spectacular sight. And just
before the kids get sad that all the pigeons are gone, they bravely come back,
and the routine can start all over again, to the joy of the children! They
could play on that square for hours, if it weren’t for the sun and that ice
cream we had promised them….
7. Ice cream at Kiss Me
One of our finest discoveries in Leon was definitely this little ice cream shop, across the street from the Big Foot Hostel. It is run by two young guys, who make you immediately feel welcome. They were incredibly patient while the whole family tried to decide which flavors to choose. We could all taste several different flavors, before making a final decision. This was great, because this way we all ended up with an ice cream we really liked. The shop is nicely decorated, in fresh colors and with an eye for detail. Willem ordered an extra coffee, and he could choose how strong he wanted it, with the help of a colorful hourglass. Another great detail (one that the kids loved very much too!).
8. Museo de Leyendas Y Tradiciones
The museo de leyendas y tradiciones is one of the weirdest
museums we have ever visited.
The collections consists mainly of big life-sized
papier-mâche figures from Leonese history and legend. There is signage in
Spanish and in English, so you can easily understand the stories that are
depicted. For us, the most special figure to meet was Florentina La Gigantona, since
our daughter Flora is named after her grandmother, whose name is Florentina.
Florentina was really gigantic and made Flora look really small!
The museum is housed in a former prison, which gives it a special
atmosphere. In the courtyard there is a series of murals, depicting methods
that were used by the Guardia Nacional to torture the prisoners. You can
vividly imagine how it must have been for the prisoners there.
When we were walking through the museum, meeting its odd papier-mâche
inhabitants, thinking about the prisoners who have lived there, suddenly strange
noises echoed through the building, like howling men and crying woman,…. Someone
must have put on a tape that played throughout the entire museum, making the
whole experience feel a bit more “scary”. It worked well on our kids, too well
actually, because they wanted to leave within five minutes after that tape had
started (though they are normally not easily spooked, all elements of the place
combined proved to be too much!). But this will definitely be a museum we will
remember for a long time!
5. Taking a bicycle taxi
When your feet get tired of walking the streets of Leon, it is time to treat yourself to a bicycle taxi ride. Much nicer than taking a regular taxi, because you still go really slowly and thus you still have time to enjoy everything you see. Except when you go downhill, or rather when you speed downhill, which is in fact a bit of a scary experience too, but the kind of super-cool-scary experience! The kids really loved it, and I must admit I didn’t mind myself either.
6. Mercado central
If you are close to the cathedral and the parque central, be
sure to walk through the Mercado Central. A busy colorful market, where you can
find almost anything. From fresh fruits and vegetables, to kitchenware,
cleaning products, toys, shoes and clothing, they got it covered! It is a busy,
noisy, colorful place, where your eyes, ears and nose can’t possibly take it
8. Iglesia de la Recoleccion
The Iglesia de la Recoleccion is said to be one of the (if
not the) most beautiful churches of Leon. It is deep yellow-orange, lavishly
decorated with many ornaments. It is so over-the-top that you just gotta love
So you see, no shortage of things do to in Leon Nicaragua! I hope our blogpost can help you plan your adventures in Leon. And I am sure you will find many more things to do and to love. Have fun exploring this charming city!