Valladolid is a university city in Castile and León in western Spain. It’s associated with the epoch-defining author José Zorrilla, who was born here in 1817 and has a large monument in his honour in front of Campo Grande, the city’s park.
Vallodolid was also home to the Castilian court in the early-17th century, and there’s an array of stunning palaces and churches from the middle ages to the 1700s that underline the city’s status as a centre for culture and politics.
In the 19th century Valladolid became a powerhouse of industry, which endowed it with some majestic “historicist” architecture and a regal shopping arcade for its wealthier citizens.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Valladolid:
1. National Sculpture Museum
This attraction has a fine collection of sculpture and art from the late-middle ages to the 1800s, but the museum building is itself a work of art too.
This is the Colegio de San Gregorio, a school for theology for Dominican monks that was built in the late-1500s.
Dwell a moment beneath the facade to see the unbelievable detail of the carved tympanum above the door.
Inside are gothic, renaissance and baroque sculptures and paintings that were mostly commissioned for altarpieces at convents that were shut down by decree in the 1800s.
Every Easter more than 100 of these works are lent to the city’s Catholic brotherhoods to be paraded as “pasos” or floats during Holy Week.
2. Palacio de Santa Cruz
Part of the university is this free attraction that is also loved as much for its beautiful architecture as for what you can see inside.
The 15th-century palace is the rectory of the University of Valladolid, and valuable because it was the first building in Spain to be designed in the renaissance style.
The best part has to be the interior courtyard, which is three-storeys high with exquisitely detailed traceries on the first-floor balustrade.
The building holds the Fundación Jiménez-Arellano Alonso, a museum devoted to African art.
If you see nothing else, take a few minutes to behold the two realistic 13th-century head sculptures from Ife, a civilisation based in what is now Nigeria.
3. Iglesia de San Pablo
This church’s carved facade stops most visitors in their tracks – it’s that beautiful.
It was completed in 1500 by Simón de Colonia, who was also the master builder of Burgos Cathedral.
The style of this extremely ornate stonework is Isabeline gothic, deriving from Queen Isabella I. Carved at the very top of the facade is the coat of arms that she shared with her fellow Catholic Monarch, Fernando II. Within you can see where the Spanish kings Felipe II and Felipe IV were baptized.
In the main chapel is also the tomb of Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, the most powerful man in the country during the 17th-century reign of King Felipe III.
4. Santa María la Antigua Church
The solemn romanesque bell tower of this 12th-century church is one of Valladolid’s most famous images, and is best admired from a bench on Portugalete Square.
It is the only part of the original design that is still standing, as the rest is from the 1300s and has gothic architecture.
You can tell that the tower is romanesque because of its square shape, pyramidal spire, unassuming decoration and the classic, long narrow arches of its windows.
On the north side there’s a handsome little arcaded gallery with fourteen arches in three sections, separated by Cistercian-style buttresses.
5. Academia de Caballería
On the northern limit of Valladlid’s main park, Campo Grande, is this stately building that is owned by the Spanish military.
The Academia de Caballería is actually from 1920, and if it looks older that’s because it has a historicist design, inspired by Castilian plateresque architecture from Spain’s Golden Age.
The building is still in use as the only functioning cavalry academy in Spain, turning out around 800 graduates a year as lieutenants and sergeants.
If you’re into military history you shouldn’t miss the museum, which has gathered medals, paintings, weapons, saddles and other memorabilia relating to Spain’s cavalry.
6. Plaza Mayor
Almost every Spanish city has a Plaza Mayor, but few will be as large or as old as Valladolid’s.
The square has been known as “Plaza Mayor” since the 1300s and the current design is from the 1500s following a city-wide fire.
Arcades were added to the buildings facing the square, a format that proved so popular it was copied by Salamanca and Madrid.
Now they’re an ingredient of every main plaza in the country.
The Town Hall is here, and originally Valladolid’s various trade guilds were on the square, but these have long been replaced by restaurants and tapas bars.
7. Casa de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is probably Spain’s most esteemed cultural figure, feted for writing Don Quijote, which is regarded as the world’s first modern novel.
At the turn of the 17th century Cervantes moved to Valladolid when the royal court of Felipe III relocated to this city.
Where he stayed during this time was a mystery until the 1860s when documents were discovered that showed exactly where he lived in 1605. The house is on Calle del Rastro, and though the exterior has changed the internal structure hasn’t been altered and is decorated with early-17th-century furnishings.
8. Campo Grande
The city’s largest urban park is a delight, with fountains, marble sculptures and an ornamental lake with swans.
On warmer days you can amble along Paseo Principe, a regal mall that is flanked by iron gas lights and covered by the dense foliage of some of the park’s 60 different tree species.
The ones in charge at the Campo Grande are the peacocks: These birds come and go as they please and you’ll spot them strolling along the paths and through the gardens, showing off their bright plumage.
There are also three aviaries at the park, with species like Japanese bantam roosters and pheasants.
9. Pasaje Gutiérrez
This kind of gallery was a response to the industrialisation of the city: As the streets became busier it made sense to build covered passages between buildings, creating sequestered and opulent places for the bourgeoisie and upper class to shop . Now Pasaje Gutiérrez is one of only three left in Spain and is a gorgeous monument to the Belle Époque . The gallery has two sections, which are joined by a small junction beneath a stunning metal and glass dome.
At the centre of this junction is an elegant statue of Mercury, cast in Haute-Marne, France in the mid-1800s.
10. Teatro Calderón de la Barca
The neoclassical Calderón Theatre opened its doors in 1864 and is still one of the largest theatres in Spain.
It was named after Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the 17th-century author and playwright, one of the most prominent cultural figures at a time when the Spanish Empire was at its peak.
The interior is very palatial, designed by the 19th-century Italian architect Augusto Ferri, who was responsible for bringing Spain’s theatres in line with the best standards of central Europe.
With opera, plays, musicals and dance performances, check the programme when you visit Valladolid to see if there’s something that tickles your fancy.
11. Calle de la Platería
Another project that was part of the rebuild following Valladolid’s fire in the mid-16th century was this broad street that runs north to south.
At the time it was a revolutionary piece of urban planning that was reproduced at Spanish colonies across the globe.
Now it’s completely pedestrianised and is a very refined place to come for a cup of coffee or a shopping trip.
As you walk north you’ll have a great view of the Church of Santa Vera Cruz.
You can pop inside to see an amazing ensemble of 16th and 17th-century sculptures, while the reliquary has what is claimed to be a piece of wood from the cross used to crucify Jesus.
12. Museo Oriental
On the south side of Campo Grande is the Convento de los Agustinos Filipinos, a delightful 18th-century seminary established to train priests going on missions to the Philippines.
This link with the Far East is maintained in the building’s basement, which has one of the finest collections of Asian art in Spain.
These items were mostly collected in China and the Philippines by the priests during their missions in the 19th-century, and the oldest pieces are almost 2,000 years old.
The Chinese section has paintings, porcelain , bronzes and coins, while the Filipino section is more ethnological in its scope, with tribal sculptures and primitive weapons.
13. Puente Colgante
You might be scratching your head when you visit this industrial-era monument.
That’s because it’s name means “Suspension Bridge”, but when you see it you’ll realise that it’s nothing of the sort.
In truth only the abutments were ever built and the project was abandoned in 1854, while the rest of the bridge is a wrought iron bowstring structure that was opened in 1865. When it was completed it was only Valladolid’s second crossing on the Pisuerga River, and was one of Spain’s first industrial-age iron constructions.
14. Castle of La Mota
This marvellous castle just south of Vallodolid is considered one of Spain’s most beautiful.
What helps is that it’s in such a good state today, and when you get up close you’ll see that the building isn’t made of stone, but thousands of red bricks that were produced locally.
The castle is from the 1400s and the most distinctive part is the main “Torre del Homenaje”, which is five floors high, with turrets on the corners.
The wall of this tower is still pocked with scars left by artillery hundreds of years ago.
When the use of gunpowder was perfected in this period the outer walls were still difficult to damage because they were relatively low, and protected by the deep moat that encompasses the entire fortress.
15. Valladolid Wine
Within the Valladolid Province are an amazing five Designation of Origin wine regions: Rueda, Cigales, Toro, Tierra de León and finally, Ribera del Duero, which is the most famous of all.
Each region has devised its wine route with all sorts of viticultural experiences on offer; of course, there are a catalogue of wineries for tours and tastings, but also wine-oriented spas, and even cooperages, where you can observe the craft of barrel-making.
The near-mythic Vega Sicilia vineyard is 25 kilometres from Valladolid, with reds made from the tempranillo grape, which is loved for how well it matures in oak.
These are some of the world’s best and most expensive wines.