Well, it’s all free if you only eat tapas. And we soon found out that there were about a hundred tapas bars within six blocks south and west of our hotel. You order a drink and you are served a slice of food on a tiny plate. You can order water, coffee, soda, beer or wine and you will receive a small plate consisting of one tapa for free. You can order a small glass of beer for less than one euro or a bottle of beer for less than two euros. A few bars specialize in wine but the majority of people we observed sitting around eating tapas were drinking beer with their tapas. Most of the bars specialize in one kind of tapas. So we have the pub crawl where you order your drink, consume your tapas and then move on to another place that serves a different type of tapa.
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We arrived at our hotel in León around 5pm on a Saturday and we were hungry. So we asked Rocio, the desk clerk, when the hotel restaurant would open. She told us that it would be closed for the next two days because of private parties but then added that most people don’t go to hotel restaurants anyway. Everyone prefers the tapas bars.
So we went for a walk to the cathedral and then down Calle Ancha to Calle Cid and there we found our favorite tapas bar across from Parque Cid and just down the street from the basilica of San Isidoro. My wife and I liked this place so much that we suggested to my sisters that we go there the next day for lunch.
There are many types of tapas but we found out that the most popular kind consisted of a slice of bread with a slice of cheese and another slice of either ham or sausage.
On Sunday evening we went to look for dinner after attending the 6pm Mass at the Cathedral but most of the restaurants were not serving anything but tapas until 8 or 9 o’clock. So we walked around a bit and finally discovered a pizzeria about a block away from Plaza Major. We ordered drinks and each of us received a small slice of pizza with our drinks. That was their version of tapas. Then we each ordered our own complete pizza dinners.
On Monday evening our hotel restaurant opened at 7:30pm and we were there by 7:40. There was one person in the room already and she was gone within ten minutes. We then had the restaurant to ourselves for the rest of the evening — not one more customer! The food was good and rather inexpensive (I had slices of veal with sauce plus potatoes and vegetable; my wife ordered a seafood dinner) but still much more than a couple would spend on drinks in order to eat some free tapas.
The area west of Plaza Major and south of Calle Ancha is called Barrio Humedo — wet district — because of all of the tapas bars. There are about a dozen places that serve tapas within a block of Plaza Major and about thirty more within a block of Plaza de San Martin which is a couple of blocks west of Plaza Major and is considered the heart of Barrio Humedo.
We left León on Tuesday afternoon and spent the next three nights in Ponferrada, a much smaller town than León. They had tapas bars, too, but nowhere near as many as those we saw in León. The tapas were free in Ponferrada, too!