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Oviedo, the capital of the Principality of Asturias, is a lively university town and has been one of northern Spain’s most important industrial cities since the 19th century, thanks to nearby coal mines. The region’s three major cities – Oviedo, Gijon and Aviles – are all within 20 kilometres of each other and less than an hour’s drive from the airport, which is also close to the region’s Atlantic beaches. Although Gijon is not the regional capital, the city is larger and in many ways more modern than Oviedo. Heavily damaged during Spain’s civil war, it was extensively reconstructed during the second half of the 20th century and is a major seaport. Its historic centre stands above the sea on a small peninsula, surrounding the frivolously charming Palacio de Revillagigedo and the Plaza Mayor. Gijon is more than just an industrial city. In the summer it attracts crowds of visitors from all over the region to the long, sandy beach within walking distance from the center. The principality’s third city is Aviles. Like Gijon, it is mainly an industrial city with a historic core. The hub of the old quarter is the Plaza de Espana, overlooked by the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Iglesia de San Nicolas, both dating back from the 14th century. The arcaded streets around the square are lined with restaurants and cafés and are the liveliest on summer evenings. Ribadesella is claimed to be one of the prettiest seaside towns in Asturias. Here you can find a clutter of old Neo-classical houses clustered on either side of a wide river mouth and a harbor full of yachts and fishing boats, surrounded by tapas bars and seafood restaurants.
In and around the cities are relics of earlier eras. These relics include many pre-Romanesque churches and other buildings dating from the 8th to the 10th centuries, when Asturias was one of the few regions of Christian Spain to remain unconquered by the Moors who occupied most parts of the Iberian Peninsula. The region was a cradle of prehistoric civilisation, and remarkable cave paintings may be seen at the Cueva de Tito Bustillo in Ribadesella. Almost one-third of the region has been designated as a region of outstanding natural beauty and four nature reserves have been given UNESCO Biosphere status.
There are many places to eat in and around the cities, especially in the Old Town areas. In Asturias there are many typical dishes to try, like the famous bean stew, cheese, rice pudding and delicious fish dishes.
Oviedo and Gijon are real night-owl cities. Oviedo has, thanks to its large student population, a lively after-dark scene focusing on Calle Mon and the narrow streets either side of it. This is where there are more than 100 spots to drink and chill, many of them with live music. Most bars stay open until 3am on weeknights and are open as late as 5.30am on weekends. Dance clubs are open until 5.30am or even as “late” as 7am. In Oviedo, you will find plenty of sidrerias (cider bars) along Calle Gascona, where many people start and finish the evening with a visit to a club in between. El Rosal is the heart of the younger nightlife scene, while the El Cristo area is full of slightly more sophisticated spots attracting a more mature audience.
Asturias (and Oviedo in particular) is famous for its handmade leather and calfskin goods, including handbags, shoes, coats and luggage. Some of the top shops in Oviedo are to be found on Calle Gil de Jaz, Calle Uria and the surrounding streets. Likewise, main shopping spots in other towns are concentrated in the city center.
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