Part of the Cantabrian Mountains, Picos de Europa is an extensive mountain range that stretches for about 20km in northern Spain. These peaks, located in Asturias, extend from Cantabria and go all the way to the region of Castilla y León. The area is famous for its natural beauty and hiking trails.
The Picos is Spain’s second-largest national park, and its highest peak sits at an elevation of 2650 m—known as Torre de Cerredo.
It features three major massifs: Central (also known as Urrieles), Eastern (known as Ándara) and Western (called Picos de Cornión). Inside the park, you’ll also find some of the world’s deepest caves and charming hilltop villages.
Our guide below includes the best things to do in Picos de Europa, so you don’t miss a thing. It features an itinerary through the region’s villages and highlights the best hiking trails, including family-friendly options.
Our tour begins at Mogrovejo, a village in the Cantabria region. Despite its small size, with only forty residents, this is one of the most picturesque villages in Picos de Europa. Most of the houses go back to the 16th-century and still stand to this day. One century later, the village’s church was erected, and it has been illuminated ever since. This village is 10km west of Potes, the next town on our itinerary.
Potes is one of the most popular villages in Picos de Europa—if not the most popular. This old town is considered the capital of Liébana, the valley area that lies between the Picos and the Cordillera Cantábrica.
In Potes, you can feel a medieval vibe, reinforced by some of its famous sights. San Cayetano bridge and Torre del Infantado are two great examples of this era.
Since this village is an important staging post, it’s better equipped and prepared for tourists than others. Proof of this is the interactive exhibitions inside some of the houses, telling you a bit about Potes’ history—particularly the story of Beato de Liébana, a well-known theologian and monk.
Sotres sits in the Asturian municipality of Cabrales, and it’s the highest village in Picos de Europa. It’s part of the area’s Biosphere Reserve, surrounded by the peaks of the Central and the Ándara Massif. Around a hundred people live here, but during the summer the town is much more crowded with tourists occupying the available hostels. The population of Sotres has decreased since the early 1970s, but the recent opening of the park’s first ski resort has helped attract more visitors.
Bulnes may be the most challenging village to get to. Sitting very high in the mountains with rocky peaks surrounding it, it’s not accessible by road, which means you have to arrive on foot. You can follow the very much inclined 5km trail, starting in Poncebos—which takes about two hours. Another option is to hop on the Funicular de Bulnes, a tunnel railway that rises for about 2km, leaving you at the village. Bulnes is divided into two areas: Barrio del Castillo, at the highest point, and La Villa, at the lowest, where you’ll find all the amenities.
Arenas de Cabrales is popularly known as Las Arenas. It’s one of the most populated villages in the region, with its main road packed with restaurants, hotels and bars. The village is a famous base for walking the Garganta del Cares, a spectacular trail that crosses the mountains.
To the west of Las Arenas is Covadonga. This small village was an important site during the Reconquista—when the Muslims were defeated for the first time in Spain, around 722 AD. Covadonga offers incredible mountain views and it's surrounded by forests, creating a magical setting whenever it snows. Rising amid the mountains is the imposing 19th-century basilica.
It’s also worth checking the lakes close to the village: Lago de Enol and Lago de la Ercina (1km away from each other).
Don’t miss the Mirador de la Reina—a stunning viewpoint overlooking the Bay of Biscay 8km uphill from Covadonga. To learn more about the village’s history you can visit the Museo de Covadonga.
If you’re a fan of kayak or canoe trips, then Arriondas has to be on your list. This tiny village is home to the Río Sella, a lake that has several endpoints between Toraño and Llovio. Despite its size, Arriondas is filled with hundreds of people on the first Saturday after August 2nd. This is the day of the Descenso Internacional del Sella, an international kayaking and canoeing event.
Cangas de Onís is the most famous village in Picos de Europa since it’s there that most hiking trails begin. Because of this the place is filled with plenty of facilities and is way more populated than other villages. The town sits 30km west of Arenas de Cabrales and for a while it was the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Asturias. It fills up with tourists in August, but it’s still pleasant to visit.
Soto de Sajambre belongs to the Sajambre Valley. It’s one of the most remote villages in Picos de Europa and you can access it on foot, passing through several viewpoints along the way. Soto de Sajambre is what it is today thanks to Félix de Martino, who, after emigrating to Mexico (where he got rich), decided to invest in its birth town—improving the living conditions.
Hiking is one of the top things to do at Picos de Europa. There are trails for all levels, so you can choose between the easiest or more difficult ones. The most popular routes extend for 12km at Cares Gorge and spread across the high peaks. But be careful not to go on these trails alone, as you can face severe challenges in the Picos. Unpredictable weather and bad path conditions are common so it’s best to bring a hiking partner. Below are some of the best hiking trails in Picos de Europa:
There are several things to do with kids in Picos de Europa. You can
explore the tiny villages across the mountains and get lost in its
narrow streets or follow one of the many family-friendly hiking trails.
Kids will love the Fuente Dé route, where they can hop on the cable car
up to the mountains. The hike itself takes under an hour and is
downhill, so it's perfect for the youngsters.
The Lagos de Covadonga Circular Route is easy and flat and gives children the opportunity to spot cows and horses grazing on the green pastures.
The Ruta del Cares, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging but it does offer plenty of places to stop along the way and admire the views.
Instead of the traditional tapas restaurants, Picos de Europa is mostly famous for its hearty meals. You can count on huge quantities of cheese, meat and beans. Make sure to try the traditional fabada (bean stew) or have a bite of the Cabrales cheese. Below are some of the best places to eat in Picos de Europa:
If you are to gather all the perfect conditions to visit Picos de Europa, then the best time to do so would be in June and September. You can visit the Picos in August, but be aware that it will be a bit crowded. It’s the time of the year when it’s mostly sunny, so many tourists come around this time. If you choose June or September, you’ll find fewer people, which leaves the main attractions empty (like the hiking trails). If you’re a fan of wildflowers and birdwatching, then you should consider visiting during April, May or October, which are great months to observe the endemic fauna and flora.
You can reach Picos de Europa from a dozen roads. You can come from the south through León, from Santander on the north coast or from Oviedo and Cangas de Onís on the west. There is public transport to the park, but the services can be pretty infrequent, even in the summer season. The best way to explore the region is by renting a car. If you do decide to take a bus, there are long-distance services that connect Arriondas to several cities like Santander, Oviedo, Gijón, La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela. From Santander, there are also buses to Potes, some of which continue on to Fuente Dé. Around the mountains, the Alsa buses offer services from Arriondas and Cangas de Onís to Covadonga.
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