One day in Jaén, southern Spain’s inland paradise
Jaén, the capital city of the province of the same name, is a small, quiet city, surrounded by plantations of olives; nonetheless there is plenty to see and do. It is fairly easy to reach: Granada airport is just an hour away, and a complex system of buses reach Jaén from all of the major cities of Andalusia. Although it has plenty to offer to those who plan to stay longer, the most important places in the city can be visited in one day: use the following schedule to make sure that you get the most out of your visit.
Arrive in Jaén in the morning and start your visit at the cathedral, which is dedicated to the Asunción de la Virgen and is the biggest Renaissance cathedral in Spain. The entrance costs €5 and unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside. After visiting the cathedral, take a walk through the narrow, Moorish-like streets that surround the cathedral towards the Santuario – the church where the statues used in the processions before Easter are kept.
For a real Spanish feel, walk through Barrio San Ildefonso towards the ancient city walls in the Casco Antiguo (old town). For those passionate about bullfighting, the Plaza de Toros – where all bullfighting takes place – is easy to reach from here. The traces of almost eight centuries of Moorish conquest can still be seen in Jaén; for example, the well-conserved Arab Baths were constructed in the 11th century. Nearby you’ll find one of the city symbols: El Lagarto, a statue of a crocodile.
The Castle of Santa Catalina, constructed on the highest hill of the city, is another remnant of Moorish conquest. It takes about an hour to reach the castle by foot from the city, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a wonderful view over the city and olive plantations. Unfortunately the castle interior can’t be visited, but you can stay overnight – the castle has been reformed and is now a hotel.
The one thing you absolutely have to do when visiting Jaén is to admire the city lights from La Cruz, a huge cross near the castle. By night, both the castle and the cross are lit up, as well as the cathedral. The fountains in Parque del Bulevar and Gran Bulevar are also illuminated in the evenings, so make sure to visit them – but be aware that most parks in Jaén close at 11pm.
When night comes, relax and experience a real Spanish fiesta. To begin with, go back to the barrio of Ildefonso, where the majority of traditional bars are located, and enjoy tapas. Tapas are small portions of food, which can vary from olives and cheese to steak and fries. In most parts of Spain, each tapa costs €1-3, but in Jaén you get a free tapa with each drink you order – and the drinks only cost €1-2!
Near the cathedral, there are some wonderful bars like El Abuelo, Azulejos, El Pato Rojo; in front of the Santuario, there is a bar called Santuario, which is one of the few places in Jaén where you can choose your tapa. For those that are hungry for more, bars specialized in Colombian and Ecuadorian food can also be found.
After a good meal, nothing is better than to dance. Jaén is rich in pubs and discos, and a fine example is Kharma, a disco of Indian influence with two floors and a terrace. Here, people love to party, that’s why discos are open only after 3am and the party goes on until 10 in the morning!
If you find yourself in Jaén during mid-October, you should not miss the Fiesta de San Lucas, the city fair, which takes place on the outskirts of the city. The fair begins in the evening with the Cavalgata, a procession famous all over Spain. Then, for the next ten days, all of Jaén is partying: during the day, you can go to the fair, see flamenco shows or go to a corrida; at night, the whole city goes out to party.
So, there you go, after 24 hours in Jaén, you are ready to leave. The possibilities for where to head next are countless: the Renaissance villages of Baéza and Úbeda can be reached in less than an hour, Granada and Córdoba are each an hour away, and in three hours you could be lying on the beach in Málaga. Wherever you go, enjoy the views of Jaen’s infinite olive plantations as you leave.
Tips for a safe journey
1. Between 1.30pm and 5pm, most of the shops and restaurants are closed — it’s siesta time! If you reach Jaén during these hours, you probably won’t find anything open. Also, on Sundays and public holidays (and there are many of these) everything is closed.
2. Jaén is a quiet and safe city; nevertheless, do not go alone on foot to the castle by night. Also, if you plan to visit the fair, pay attention to your belongings – the city is pretty crowded during the fair and unfortunately there’s a higher risk of petty theft.
3. There are no hostels in Jaén, only hotels, so if budget accordingly if you plan to sleep there. However, being a small city, Jaén is cheaper than cities like Granada or Seville.