Castles and Tapas in Jaén, Spain 

Castles and Tapas in Jaén, Spain 

Surrounded by groves of olive trees and the Jabalecuz mountain region, Jaén, Spain is a must-see destination in Andalucia, Spain. Being a pueblo, or small town, Jaén is not considered by Spanish locals to be a top tourist destination. However, I was lucky enough to be placed in this quaint pueblo during my study abroad year through the California State University Study Abroad Program, where I uncovered the gems this city has to offer. 

From cheap lodging to scenic hikes to free tapas to ancient fortresses that sit high atop the city providing sweeping views, Jaén, Spain is a historic city that deserves to be at the top of your Spanish travel list. 

For all those who are planning a trip to visit the Iberian Peninsula and want to see beyond the major tourist destinations, look no further than Jaén. With this guide you’ll get to live like a local, eat and drink like a local, and have the opportunity to explore a city that remains unknown to many. 

How to Get to Jaén, Spain 

If you’re flying from the United States, there are three major airports that I recommend comparing flights between to get to the city of Jaén. These airports are Malaga, Barcelona, and Madrid. Your priority when comparing these airports should be more about the duration of time it takes to reach your final destination than the cost. Transportation throughout Spain is fairly easy to use and cost-efficient. If you’re arriving in Barcelona or Madrid in the northern part of Spain, there are three options I recommend looking into—train, bus, or BlaBlaCar

If you want to take the train to Jaén in Spain, it is best to look for tickets on the official website of the national train operator, Renfe, rather than going through a third-party site. Avoiding these third-party sites can save you money with regard to extra fees. While taking the train is usually the fastest mode of travel from Barcelona or Madrid to Jaén,  another way to save time is by finding a carpool through the community-based travel network BlaBlaCar. Similar to other carpool services, BlaBlaCar allows you to find someone who is traveling to the same destination that you can catch a ride with by paying a flat rate fee. BlaBlaCar is one of my personal favorite modes of travel throughout Spain as it’s a great way to meet locals, practice your Spanish, and reach your destination quickly. 

Lastly, the bus is an excellent choice of transportation for getting to Jaén from Malaga, Barcelona, or Madrid. It’s cheap, easy to navigate, and a great way to see the Spanish landscape. Similar to the train, I recommend buying your bus tickets on the ALSA website, one of the leading bus operators in Spain. 

Jaén in Spain: Where to Stay

So you’ve planned how you will arrive in Andalucia, Spain, but where will you stay? While Airbnb and homestays are becoming more common throughout the country, they can be scarce in smaller cities. Thankfully, there are plenty of hotels in Jaén that are great options you can choose from depending on your price range. 

If you’re looking for more affordable accommodation, I recommend Hotel Infanta Cristina. A couple miles walk from the city center in a quieter part of the city, this is a four-star hotel and a great option for those looking to sleep soundly and save some money. For those wanting to be closer to the city center, Hotel Europa Jaén is ideal. With only a nine-minute walk to the Jaén Cathedral and an included buffet breakfast, this is another great choice for accommodation. 

Top Tapas Bars in Jaén, Spain

My favorite thing to share with people when they tell me they’re visiting Jaén in Spain are the tapas bars. I’m a big foodie. Huge. I believe food is an integral part of culture—especially Spanish culture. If you love meat, potatoes, and seafood, you’re guaranteed to enjoy Spanish cuisine. However, like most countries, the different regions of Spain have their own unique popular dishes. And for me, Andalucia has delicious and noteworthy plates to look out for. 

Beyond that, they’re one of the few regions where you can find cities that participate in the culture of tapas—the free ones(even better, right?). When eating out in Jaén, it’s not as common to order dishes, also known as platos, because with every drink you order—alcoholic or non-alcoholic—you typically receive a tapa. Here are some of my preferred tapas bars and why I love them.

Bar El Abuelo

A Jaén staple, Bar El Abuelo is a must-visit. Not only does this restaurant have free tapas, but they’re so big that you’re likely to find yourself asking them to stop feeding you if you plan to stay for a few drinks. Unlike most tapas bars in Jaén, Spain, at Bar El Abuelo you get to choose which tapa you’d like. In the nine years I’ve known and visited this bar, they have never changed their menu—another reason why I love them. If you find yourself at Bar El Abuelo, the bacon tapa is my personal favorite.

La Manchega

Founded in 1886, La Manchega is the oldest bar in Jaén, Spain. Situated in one of the oldest parts of the city, La Manchega is a local favorite. As you make your way to the bar, take your time and notice how the city transitions to marble walkways surrounded by ornate buildings older than the United States. Once you’re done visiting La Manchega, I recommend hopping over to Casa Gorrión where you’ll find the city’s oldest jamón leg dating back to 1918. Don’t worry, they no longer serve from this mummified piece of cured meat. 

How to Spend an Afternoon in Jaén, Spain 

Once you’ve filled yourself with tapas, exploring the old city on foot is a great way to spend an afternoon in this underrated Spanish city. From some of the city’s oldest landmarks to new features that have become key aspects to Jaén locals, follow along for top tips on what to do and what to see with a free afternoon in this Andalusian city. 

Jaén Cathedral

The Jaén Cathedral is a can’t-miss site within the city and one of my most-loved European cathedrals. Located in the Santa María Square, the heart of central Jaén, the cathedral contains Gothic and Renaissance elements and was completed in the eighteenth century. Since then, it’s maintained its position as the highest point in the city and is hard to miss—especially at night when adorned in lights. 

If you’re already feeling at home when you make it to the cathedral, sit down on the benches next to one of the local older men. Most of them have spent their entire lives in the city and might just share a tale or two with you—as long as you can muster up a few Spanish words. After visiting the cathedral, if it’s after siesta time (the Spanish local’s afternoon nap), head to Colombia 50 Café for an afternoon coffee and treat. Their desserts and ice cream are all made in-house and trust me when I say it just might make it onto your list of top cafés. 

Castle of Santa Catalina

Standing above the city of Jaén is the Castillo de Santa Catalina, or Castle of Santa Catalina. If you don’t mind a walk, especially a hilly one, walking from the center of Jaén to the castle is a great way to spend your afternoon in the city. As you make your way to the castle, you’ll pass through the oldest parts of the city dating back to the early nineteenth century. The Jaén Cathedral to the Castle of Santa Catalina is an approximately 3.4 km walk that will take the average person one hour to complete. But please remember, in order to get the amazing view from the top, you must be ready to walk uphill for most of the way. 

Must See Parks in Jaén in Spain

As you make your way out of the center of the city, there are two parks that are perfect for spending an afternoon basking in the sun. Parque de La Concordia and Andrés de Vandelvira Park are two of the most popular parks in the city. Full of fountains, grassy areas, and beautiful flora and fauna, walking through these parks is perfect for those looking to save some money and spend their afternoon outdoors. 

If you had not yet heard of Jaén, Spain before reading this article, I hope I’ve convinced you to make it a stop on your next trip to Andalucia. While the city may not be as well-known as Madrid or Barcelona, this Spanish town is a great place to experience the country’s authentic culture away from the busier tourist destinations. Here, you’ll find a slower pace, friendly locals, and some beautiful views. In my nine years of knowing this city, it continues to maintain its beauty and charm. From upholding afternoon siestas to free tapas, the city of Jaén is rich in Spanish culture and continues to maintain its nature of untapped beauty—at least for now. 

Interested in learning more about planning your next trip to Spain? Check out this guide to some must-try foods in Seville, Spain.

21 thoughts on “Castles and Tapas in Jaén, Spain 

  1. I’ve never heard of Jaen before, and I’m so glad I have now. We’ve been talking about a trip to Spain, and we would have missed this amazing place!

  2. I checked out the link you provided from Dreams Abroad about castles and tapas in Jaén, Spain, and it sounds like an incredible adventure! I have been to Spain over 30 times, but I have not visited this city yet. Exploring ancient castles while indulging in delicious tapas sounds like a perfect blend of history and culinary delight. Jaén’s rich cultural heritage and culinary traditions offer a unique experience for travelers. If you’ve had the chance to visit Jaén or plan to do so, I’d love to hear about your experiences and any tips you might have for fellow travelers!

  3. Jaen looks like a beautiful place to visit! I have never heard of Jaen, but it looks like it boasts a lot of history. I would love to see that castle!

  4. Oh my gosh, this is making me dream of Spain! I’m hoping to go at some point this year and explore this beautiful country fully. Fingers crossed. 🙂

  5. I would love to experience Spain. Free tapas? That is cool! I love to try different foods, so I guess smaller portions are wonderful, and tapas provides just that.

  6. I am always on the lookout for food places to try – and these tapas places sound fantastic. Thank you for recomendating them.

  7. Spain is on my bucket list of places to visit. I definitely need to add Jaen to my list as well. Love this comprehensive guide to visiting Jaen, particularly where to eat tapas!

  8. I’ve been eager to visit Spain for quite some time now, and I’m aiming to go in September. Your recommendations are greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  9. Spain is absolutely stunning! What a beautiful place to visit…the architecture is exquisite. I’d love to experience it in person!

  10. I had always wanted to visit Jaen, Spain, the land of castles and tapas. I booked a guided tour of the magnificent Santa Catalina Castle, where I learned about its history and architecture. I ended the day with a delicious meal of tapas, sampling the local specialties of olive oil, cheese, ham, and wine.

  11. I do love Spain, it’s such a gorgeous place to visit. I am hoping to go again this year. The tapas there is lovely, they have so many yummy options.

  12. Spain is such a beautiful country – they just seem to have such a relaxed way of life there. Jaen looks very much like the kind of place I would love to visit, I love the culture and the scenery!

  13. I have actually never been to Spain despite living so close, but I’ve actually not even heard of Jaen. But it sounds like a lovely place to go explore and eat all the tapas x

  14. This sounds like my kind of vacation! It sounds like such a fun and also relaxing trip, I’d love to visit Spain some day.

  15. Spain is my number 1 travel destination right now….and this is a beautiful spot to make sure to visit when there. I am so overdue for a getaway and Spain is perfection!

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