When I traveled to Jaén for the first time, it amazed me for many reasons: for its multiple corners filled with history, not to mention its charming steep streets that lead you to discover treasures all around the city. Plus, there was excellent weather by the end of October. And of course, its delicious tapas and gastronomy. Then, I toured through the historical cities of Úbeda and Baeza. So, with this article, I want to inspire you to get to know the city and add it to your bucket list. Thus, note these 9 main reasons to visit Jaén.
If, like me, you enjoy being told legends and curious facts; I recommend you starting your visit on a free tour. You can book it at this link.
Where to stay
I suggest the Hotel Europa since it is located in the center and within 3 minutes away from the bus station. If you plan to move by bus, for example, to visit Úbeda and Baeza, this is the perfect choice.
Also, the staff is friendly and offers a delicious breakfast where you can taste different olive oils.
9 main reasons to visit Jaén
Now, without further ado, I share with you the 9 top reasons why you need to visit Jaén:
1 – The Jaén Cathedral
The first reason to visit Jaén is to admire its cathedral. Since it is the emblem of the city, I start the tour in the Plaza de Santa Maria, where this impressive cathedral rises. The temple, of Andalusian Renaissance style (XVI – XVII centuries) was built over the main mosque of the city.
And what is so special about it? The fact is that its interior holds one of the most ancient relics of Christ. It is the image of the Holy Face, a cloth on which the face of Jesus was engraved when he dried his sweat on his way to the crucifixion. The canvas of the Holy Face is in the Main Chapel, guarded amid great security.
Fun Facts about the Cathedral
One of the cathedral’s curiosities is its many balconies. In the past, they were used to displaying the relic to the many faithful who gathered at the site. Even today, they still showed the canvas to visitors every Friday of the year.
One more curiosity about the cathedral, in this case it is a legend: In the canvas of the Holy Family, known as the Virgin of the Scissors, there is a sewing box with a pair of scissors and a needle. According to tradition, whoever finds them can make a wish to the Virgin, and she will grant it.
And another last one to highlight: there is a secret passage that starts in the sacristy, so would you like to explore it?
Regarding its outstanding artistic treasures: on the exterior, a main facade in baroque style. And inside: the neoclassical choir, the tomb of Pope Pius I, the sacristy work of the famous Renaissance architect Andrés de Vandelvira, also builder of the cathedrals of Úbeda and Baeza.
- Opening Hours: In this link, you have them updated by dates
- Entrance fee: 6 euros and audio guide included.
Next to the cathedral, in the Plaza de Santa Maria, are also two significant buildings of the city: the Town Hall and the Bishopric.
2 – Villardompardo Palace, Arab Baths
The palace gathers several points of interest. Inside, around the courtyard, are the Arab Baths, the Museum of Art and Popular Customs and the International Museum of Naïf Art.
In the Plaza de Sta. Luisa Marillac, it was built at the end of the XVI century and declared a Historic Artistic Monument; it combines several interesting spots.
As has been noted, the Arab Baths are one of the essential visits in Jaén. It will surprise you to know that they are the largest and best preserved among the ones in Europe and North Africa. They were discovered in the basements of the palace in 1913, but it was in the 80s when they were rebuilt according to the originals.
They were built in the 11th century during the Taifa reigns and were used as baths after the Christian Reconquest until the 15th century. The Count of Villardompardo built his palace over them and for this reason, the thermals were hidden.
The access to the lobby of the Arab Baths is splendid, with the stars in the vault and the remains of wall paintings from the Almohad empire that are still preserved.
Also, on your tour around the baths, you will find traces of skylights (lamps of the time), tiles, and ancient coins.
Terrace and Viewpoint
A plus to note: In the palace there is a cafeteria with a terrace on the second floor. And this offers stunning views of all Jaén, which you can’t miss.
- Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 10 pm. Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm. Monday: Closed
- Entrance fee: Free. It also includes the Naif Art Museum and the Museum of Folk Art and Customs.
Folk Art and Customs Museum
It exhibits a variety of objects related to the province of Jaén, linked to the rural world and craftsmanship.
Naïf Art Museum
The museum displays an extensive collection of works by national and international artists related to this pictorial trend.
3 – San Juan Church
Located in the Jewish quarter is the church of San Juan, one of the oldest in Jaén, built in the second half of the fourteenth century. As a curiosity, it was the site of Town Hall meetings during the Middle Ages.
And attached to this temple, the slender Torre del Concejo (Council Tower) stands out, where the city’s official clock is housed.
4 – The Jewish Quarter
The Santa Cruz quarter is actually the old neighborhood where the Jewish community lived in the Middle Ages, and because of its relevance, has been declared of Cultural Interest.
The historic district includes the streets of Santa Cruz, Plaza de los Huérfanos and Calle del Rostro, among others. Besides the Church of San Juan and the Palace of Villardompardo, mentioned above, you will also find the Monastery of Santa Clara, the Chapel of San Andrés, or the old synagogue on your way through its winding and steep streets.
Today, the neighborhood is in the process of enhancement, and thanks to this, since 2005, the city is part of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters “Caminos de Serafad”.
5 – Other Museums in Jaén
This museum is located in a modern building, and it exhibits archaeological pieces in order to introduce the Iberian culture in the Community of Andalusia. In addition, it houses some important itinerant collections.
I found this museum highly informative. Housed in a neoclassical palace, it contains two permanent sections: one of Fine Arts and the other of archaeology.
As for the archaeology exhibit, it shows the history of the province from prehistoric times to the Hispano-Muslim era. It displays pottery, sculptures and jewelry from different periods.
Both museums are located in Paseo de la Estación and admission is free.
6 – Santa Catalina Castle
Another of the main reasons to visit Jaén is the Castle of Santa Catalina, a fortified enclosure that overlooks the city since Arab times, and today keeps its original structure.
When you enter the castle, besides enjoying an exceptional panoramic view of the city and the vast sea of olive groves, you can visit the parade ground, its six towers, and the interpretation center to learn about the history of Jaén.
How to get to Santa Catalina Castle
At the hotel where I was staying, they advised me to take a cab, since there is no bus that drops you at the door. The distance from the center to the castle is about 7 kilometers and the cab fare is about 5-6 euros.
In my case, I felt like walking along the cobblestone path that starts from the Ring Road. If you have time, I definitely recommend it, it is an enjoyable walk through pine trees that takes around 1 hour.
You can also go by bus that will take you nearby but not at the doorstep: Buses Lines: 03, 09, 13B, M3 and 103.
Entrance fee: 3,50 euro. Wednesday from 3 pm to 6 pm is free.
Parador de Turismo Nacional
Once in the fortress of Santa Catalina, you will find the El Parador de Turismo Nacional, one of the most emblematic castle-hotels in Europe. If you are looking for an exceptional accommodation, this is your place.
Definitely, one of the best things to do here is to have a drink on the terrace of the cafeteria while you enjou breathtaking views of Jaén.
And as for the interior, it is also spectacular and luxurious, set in the Middle Ages with classic style furniture, fireplace, stone walls and high vaults.
7 – San Lorenzo Gate
Within the historic center lies the Church of San Lorenzo. The only remaining part is its arch. Built during the XIII-XIV centuries, it collapsed in 1825 because of its abandonment.
Today, its artistic treasure is in the church of San Bartolomé.
8 – San Bartolomé Church
Again, in the historic center and built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, is one of the oldest churches in Jaén. It stands out for its Mudejar interior and the altarpiece of its High Altar, from the XVI century and the image of the Christ of the Expiration, considered one of the best crucified carvings of Jaén.
9 – Gastronomy and tapas
Among the other main reasons to visit Jaén is to enjoy its delicious gastronomy, and of course, it is absolutely a must try the tapas. Good news: the tapa you get with your drink is free.
Overall, the city has plenty of places to go out for tapas, but to name the most central areas: The Cathedral area, the Plaza de la Constitución and the San Ildefonso neighborhood.
The different cultures that have come through its territory and from the nearby provinces of La Mancha, Granada and Cordoba inspired the traditional gastronomy of Jaén.
However, the star is the Olive Oil, which is present in most of the local dishes. Seeing that, it’s no surprise Jaén is known as being the olive oil capital of the world, since the province is the largest producer of olive oil in Spain.
9 main reasons to visit Jaén, my thoughts
In this article, I have outlined the top reasons for visiting Jaén city. I hope you have found it inspirational and helpful when planning your trip. Both for its history, architecture, gastronomy and culture, it deserves you consider it when setting plans for your next adventure.
If you are looking for inspiration to explore other destinations, you might like to check out more exciting getaways in this link.
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