Avilés, a diverse port town
Avilés is a small port city in the Asturias province, with a population of less than 100.000. It is located between the Asturias Airport (OVD) and Gijon, the largest city of Asturias, and is only a 30 minute drive from both.
You can find beautiful architecture in the city centre where the old part of town is.
Around the centre there are mostly tall apartment complexes. This is because in the 20th century a lot of jobs opened up in the emerging cities, and large numbers of population started moving away from rural areas to seek jobs in factories and new industries. So having available housing for everyone was imminent. However, even the apartment complexes are not grey and irrelevant, most of them are very colourful, maintaining the vibe of the city.
Avilés can initially seem as just an industrial city, but in reality it is very diverse and its old quarters are beautifully preserved.
It is perfect to visit even If you only have one day, as you can walk from one side of the city centre to the other in only 15 minutes.
Calle Galiana and Calle Rivero, the oldest streets
The two oldest streets that lead to the city centre are Calle Galiana and Calle Rivero. They both have beautiful buildings, lined with sandstone arches and columns, exhibiting elegant architecture going back to the medieval times. Calle Rivero leads to the main square, Plaza de Espana, where the town hall is.
In Calle Rivero you can also find the Los Canos de Rivero fountain, next to the church of San Pedro. If you take a peek into the church you will see some peculiar wax figures engaged in medieval torturing.
You can also take a stroll in the Ferrera Park, situated between the two streets. For Woody Allen fans, the guitar playing scene from Vicky Cristina Barcelona was filmed there.
El Mercado de Avilés, an indoor market
Don’t forget to go to the large indoor market, El Mercado de Aviles. You can find the traditional Jamón ibérico, as well as many different types of chorizo, and other kinds of cured and fresh meat. The Jamón can be quite expensive, but the sausages are between 1 and 3 euros each usually, so I would recommend going for the best quality there. There are also many fresh fish stalls, as well as vegetables, fruit, and pretty much anything you may need. Even if you’re not buying anything, it’s a nice place to go and understand more about a place’s tradition in food and shopping. You can also get really good coffee and tapas on the first floor of the market.
Sightseeing around the market
Next to the market, getting closer to the sea, you can find the Muelle Park, with charming flower decorations and arches and across it the Palace Camposagrado, build in the 17th century in baroque-style and on the east the Church of the Franciscan fathers, the oldest church in Avilés, dating back to the 13th century.
Estuary landmarks: Bridges, Centro Niemeyer and Church of Sabugo
If you keep walking towards the river, you will reach the modern side of the city, crossing the La Grapa bridge and then the rainbow coloured San Sebastian bridge, leading to the Centro Niemeyer, a cultural centre designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It has an auditorium, film centre, an exhibition room and a large square surrounding it. The architecture is very modern, with a lot of curves on the buildings and minimal in colours.
You can walk across the next bridge to find the 13th century Church of Sabugo in the sunny and peaceful Plaza Carbayo, where there are also plenty of options for lunch or drinks.
The search for tapas in Avilés
The food situation is a bit peculiar in Asturias in general, and I will give you our experience from Casa Alvarin restaurant on our first night. The restaurant has two different menus, one supposedly a bit more expensive than the other. There wasn’t much difference but we went for the cheap one, where the main dishes costed around 15 to 20 euros. There was no english menu so we asked for recommendations, and we got patatas bravas, octopus and breaded fish. The patatas bravas were decent, but the more expensive octopus and fish were almost inedible. They were incredibly salty and sunk in oil, even though the octopus was cooked well. The fish was completely plain, with just a slice of lemon, definitely not worth 20 euros.
We also got 2 bottles of sidra (Asturian cider), at 3 euros each, and they saved the night! The sidra is either poured by your waiter from a height or using a machine on your table. It kept us cheerful through the disappointment of the food. We ended up paying 53 euros for 2 people including service charge.
Throughout our road trip in Asturias we found some places that were like this, so it’s a good idea to check the menu or reviews before you go to an Asturian restaurant! I also felt the concept of tapas is quite different than in Catalunya. In Asturias you can get a whole plate of food and it could still be called tapas! But as you will find out, Asturias is very different from the rest of Spain in many ways.
Thankfully the next day we found the nicest little place to enjoy some tapas and a drink. It’s called Merlot vinos y tapas. It’s quiet during the day, you can sit outside and it has a nice view of palm trees and sandstone buildings. The host welcomes you with a small plate of potato tortilla, the spanish omelette. Each tapas plate costed 5 euros and the quality was amazing. We had chorizo, patatas bravas and anchovies marinated in oil and vinegar, the perfect meal and more than enough in quantity!
Stunning architecture: Palacio de Balsera and San Nicolas De Bari
If you cross the small serene park behind Merlot, you will find a charming square, Plaza Domingo Alvarez Acebal. On the corner stands the Palacio de Balsera, an Art Nouveau palace built in 1909, now functioning as a music conservatory. On the other side, the impressive church of San Francisco (or San Nicolas de Bari), with column lined hallways surrounding an inner yard with cypresses. There is also a beautiful fountain outside the church, Fuente de los Caños de San Francisco.
It may be underestimated as a tourist destination, but colourful Avilés is a lovely town with a lot of history, and definitely a great place to spend at least a day!