León is known as the “shoe capital of the world” and shopping for leather goods is one of the main attractions here. León has a long history as a center of the leather industry, offering shoes, boots, belts, jackets, and other leather accessories not only in Mexico, but around the world. It has first-class services and hotels making it one of the most important cities in Mexico along with León’s entertainment, restaurants, leisure activities, arts, and recreation. It is also considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Mexico and has a high number of cyclists, in part because of integrating a network of bike lanes into the public transportation system. In March 2012 it received an award as “City Water Champion,” due to great progress it has made in the areas of sanitation, wastewater reuse, and energy cogeneration from biogas.
While much of León is industrial, it is also a great little authentic Mexican city. There is a nice, large pedestrian area in the center, which comes to life at night with street sellers, music, and Mexican families just enjoying their city. Also, León is a great place to escape if you’re a budget traveler, unless you’re in the market for a lot of leather. Read on to find out about the top things to do in León, Mexico.
1. Martyrs' Square
Martyr’s Square is the main square of León and was once known as Constitution Square. It was renamed after many citizens were killed there protesting election results on January 2, 1946. It is now a peaceful garden where you can take a break and rest on one of the cast iron benches underneath beautifully manicured trees. In the center is a gazebo where often there will be live entertainment. Bordered by the streets Pino Suarez, Juarez, 5 de Febrero, and Francis I, the garden is surrounded by Neoclassical arcades on three sides which house numerous businesses: hotels, restaurants, jewelry stores, clothing, and footwear, among others, and the City Hall of León.
Address: 14 Zona Centro, León, Mexico
2. Plaza Fundadores
Every town has its center, both in terms of history and culture. For León, it is Plaza Fundadores. The giant Fountain of Lions dominates the Plaza. It was placed in the Plaza in 1976 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city of León. The fountain is made of quarry stone, crowned by a shell supported by four reclining lions, each symbolizing a century of León’s history since its founding. This is where the people of León come to sit, relax and enjoy themselves.
Any visitor to the city should take the time to come here, shop at the market (there are many leather good vendors, as you might expect) and visit the inexpensive restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream vendors. Sit on the benches and indulge in some people-watching.
Address: J. Ortiz de Domínguez 102, Centro, León, Mexico
Website: Plaza Fundadores
3. Cathedral of León
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Light is the seat of the Archdiocese of León. Construction of the church began in 1746 by the Jesuits and is a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical architectural styles and is considered the most important work of architecture in the state of Guanajuato. The roof has eight vaults and a central dome over the main nave. The exterior is Spanish Baroque and has a tripartite portico made of ornamental stone and doors of cast iron. The Neoclassical interior is crowned by a marble altar, topped with a magnificent sculpture of the Holy Trinity. There are two chapels off the high altar and four lateral chapels.
Cathedral of León
Address: Alvaro Obregon Esquina con Hidalgo, Zona Centro, León, Mexico
Website: Cathedral of León (in Spanish)
4. Museum of Art and History of Guanajuato
Opened in November 2008, the Museum of Art and History of the Guanajuato Cultural Forum is the best of its kind in the state of Guanajuato. At the entrance to the museum is a sculpture by Ricardo Motilla representing the Roman martyr and patron of the city of León, San Sebastian. Inside there are permanent and temporary exhibition rooms.
The permanent art collection is vast with most being by Mexican or other local artists. There are several cultural exhibits that show what life was like in Guanajuato during the various historical periods. There are also interactive exhibits and educational services (classrooms, a playroom, screening room, multi-purpose room, a cafeteria and a bookstore). Its Opera Theatre has a capacity of 1,500 people.
Museum of Art and History of Guanajuato
Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Closed on Monday. Free admission on Sundays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Address: Vasco de Quiroga, Zona Recreativa y Cultural, León, Mexico
5. Zona Piel
Find yourself asking the question, “What is León, Guanajuato known for?” The answer: leather shoes! The City of León is the Leather Capital of Mexico and has about 3,400 shoe manufacturers, not to mention hundreds of leather goods and accessories industries, suppliers of textiles, innersoles and other materials for shoemaking as well as tanneries. Much of these industries are located in the main leather district of Zona Piel (leather zone). Located in the Centro area of León, this is where you go to get your leather on - leather shoes of all types, belts, jackets purses, luggage, wallets, cowboy boots, coats, and vests.
Zona Piel is an incredible shopping area that includes block after block of thousands of shops, booths, and stands selling leather products. There are even street vendors. Quality varies from so-so to high, so be familiar with what you want to buy. Nearby the Zona Piel you will find other shops, malls, hotels, and restaurants.
Address: Avenida Hilario Medina S/N, Coecillo, 37219 León, Mexico
6. Feria de León
Feria de León is celebrated every year in January and February lasting 26 days. The Feria de León is one of the three largest and most important fairs in Mexico and has been taking place for 141 years. Attractions include handicrafts, cattle shows, bullfighting festivals, mechanical games, and presentations by local performers. There are several forums on the fairgrounds where the various events are held. Among them; an ice skating forum, multimedia and fireworks forum, live performance forum, and circus forum. There are also several free events. If you are in the León area during January or February, a visit to the Feria will give you a chance to experience an authentic cultural event unique to Mexico.
Feria de León
Address: Blvd. Adolfo López Mateos Ote 1820, La Martinica, 37500 León, Mexico
Website: Feria León (in Spanish)
7. Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazon (Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)
At first glance, the architecture of the Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus may seem out of place. Most post-colonial architecture in Mexico is Spanish Baroque or Neoclassical, but this church was built in a French Neo-gothic style, which is rare in Hispanic setting. Construction began in 1920, but the Cristero Rebellion of the period stopped the project, so the church stands today partially incomplete.
Even though incomplete, it is an imposing and majestic church, one of the most beautiful in the state. The facade is a series of Gothic arched partitions and the tripartite central portal with brass doors and a rose window above. The interior is a vast and soaring space of height and light. Behind the high altar in the apse are panels of beautiful clerestory stained glass. Below the altar is a crypt and catacombs built during the Cristero Rebellion (1926-29).
Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazon
Address: Francisco I. Madero 721, Centro, 37000 León, Mexico
8. Arco Triunfal (Triumphant Arch)
The Arco Triunfal was built in 1896 to commemorate the 83rd anniversary of the independence of Mexico. It is located on the Calzada de los Héroes which extends along nearly 500 meters (1,640 feet) between the last block of Calle Madero and Avenida Lopez Mateos and is the main avenue into the city. Above the central arch is a bronze lion sculpture, a symbol of the city. Lined with trees, along the way you can see eight bronze sculptures on pedestals made from quarry stone.
Address: Calzada de los Heroes, Zona Centro, León, Mexico
Website: Arco Triunfal
9. Explora Science Center
Still thinking of what to do in León, Mexico? Take easy advantage of this center for innovation, scientific discovery, and more, when your search for the absolute best attractions in León, Mexico leads you to the Explora Science Center! Known as the “Centro de Ciencias Explora” in León, this haven for intellectual adventure and discovery for all ages promises to easily redefine your understanding of the scope of thrill that the region offers! With respect to the many natural and religious sites that are present in León, the Explora Science Center proves as formidable an attraction as any you’ll find in the immediate or the extended León region itself, a center typified by all of the innovation you’re hoping to find during your adventures.
With a wonderfully diverse portfolio of displays, many of which prove recent and constantly changing, the Explora Science Center proves a wonderful encounter for locals and for visitors alike. As one of the top-rated sites that León offers, the Explora Science Center is renowned in Mexico as one of the most complete science centers available anywhere in the country. Set just south of León’s “Bicentennial Theater,” the Explora Science Center is the perfect place for prospective discoverers of all ages, and proves the ideal family outing, especially when rains drive the tourist population indoors.
However, the Explora Science Center isn’t limited to the adventure located inside of its doors; on the contrary, many of the exhibits take place outdoors, especially during periods of the year easily conducive to outdoor exhibitions. You’ll be able to recognize the Explora Science Center by its train and airplane displays outside of the building itself, and the greatest part of the museum is the price: it’s free to the public! Come make this flavor of unique intellectual adventure your own, at the Explora Science Center!
Explora Science Center
Address: Blvrd Francisco Villa 202, La Martinica, 37500 León, Gto., Mexico
Website: Explora Science Center
10. Aquarium Bajio
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
For an introduction to many of the aquatic creatures that characterize the bodies of water closest to León, try the Aquarium Bajio on for size! Known in the region as the “Acuario de Bajio,” this space is entirely filled with creatures you’d only dream of, from large underwater creatures to those delicate fish which decorate the ocean floor. From seahorses to well-lit tanks full of crabs and other sea creatures, this outlet for a winning experience in León proves effectively as great an encounter with mysterious underwater life as any you’ll find elsewhere in Mexico!
From the affordable entrance price to the bevy of creatures awaiting your discovery, this family-friendly venue proves the perfect place for your next date, outing on the town, or social event! And with a constantly rotating portfolio of both animal and local displays, there’s always a new reason to stop by the Aquarium Bajio, for the latest in acquired marine life.
Public transportation can take you directly to the aquarium itself, and you can easily spend hours losing yourself among the halls of vibrant underwater creatures. allow Aquarium Bajio to become your classroom for aquatic education, and discover the ease by which marine life can entertain even the strictest traveler!
Address: Blvd. Aeropuerto 104, Cerrito de Jerez Nte., 37530 León, Gto., Mexico
Website: Aquarium Bajio
People say that you shouldn’t skimp on the things that separate you from the ground, one of those being our shoes. Have you ever wondered how these majestic things we use daily are made? If so, then come along! Join this activity of watching the process of how leather shoes are delicately crafted. You will witness the expert León shoemakers hard at work. After your tour, your host Andrea will guide you to see some art that will bring you closer to León. Make sure to ask your host for the other things that you must check out during your visit!
Shoe process, art exhibitions & cebadina
Duration: 2.5 hours
12. Zoo León
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Children (and adults!) always seem fascinated when looking at animals, unusual or not. There is something about them that will always capture our attention. If you happen to be traveling in León with your kids and family, don’t forget to stop by Zoo León. It is a worthwhile group activity that will pique your kids’ interest and further their curiosity about animals. Zoo León is open every day until 5 pm, so you don’t have to worry about squeezing in a visit!
Address: Carretera a Ibarrilla KM 6 Ibarrilla, León, Guanajuato. C.P 37207
Website: Zoo León
Opening hours: 9am - 5pm (daily)
León, Mexico, off the beaten path
When traveling in Mexico, the city of León is usually not on the list of most tourist destinations, but it is worth a trip as it is a very authentic Mexican city. The city is bike friendly and budget friendly, with Mexican small town prices, and it is worth visiting in the month of January or February to take in the spectacular Feria de León. Now that you know all the wonderful places to visit in León, Guanajuato, there is no better time to start planning your trip!
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