León is in Nicaragua.
Leon is named after Leon, Spain. After independence, the elite of Leon and Granada struggled over which city would be the capital. Leon was dominated by the liberals and Granada by the conservatives. The fighting ended when Managua became the capital.
After Granada, which is better preserved, Leon has the best colonial architecture in Nicaragua. It is a university town that stubbornly remains somewhat pro-Sandinista. During the 1979 revolution, the Sandinistas took over Leon in violent street by street fighting. Somoza then had the city bombed! An unforgivable move considering he was bombing his own people. The National Guard took Leon back over, again in street by street fighting, but this time less intense since the Sandinistas melted away. Finally, the Sandinistas took Leon back over and held it until the Somoza government fell. You can still see bullet marks on some buildings. Also, there is a shell of a church on the road out of town that some people say was destroyed during the bombing. Across the street from this church is the Museo de las Tradiciones (Museum of the Traditions), which prominently displays a statute of a Sandinista guerrilla holding a handmade bomb. Some sarcastically call it the Museo de las Traiciones (Museum of the Treasons) as a reference to how the Sandinista rank and file has been cheated by Daniel Ortega and the rest of the Sandinista elite.
Leon used to be the hub of cotton growing but that has declined. The economy is relatively depressed. Tourists are not very visible in Leon. Leon still is a university town, filled with students. Backpackers, Volunteers and other extranjeros usually melt with local students.
Leon has more colonial churches and cathedrals per capita than any other place I have been to. If you are still on the church tour, there are thirteen, I think, you can check out in town.
Nearest commercial airport is in Managua.
Just about anyone in Managua can tell you how. The Carretera Vieja to Leon (old road to Leon) is in the best shape it has been ever. It's about 90 kilometers from Managua. About a 90 minute trip. Stop for Quesillo and tiste in Nagarote or La Paz Centro.
If you are coming from the carretera norte, take the turn north of Matagalpa and save yourself the trouble of going through Managua.
from Managua take the bus leaving from mercato israel levit or the microbuses (camionetas) leaving from UCA (universidad centroamericano). the bus should cost 25 cord. if you take the bus, make sure to get an expreso bus - otherwise the bus runs over the carratera vieja, which takes one hour more. greedy bus drivers don't tell travellers that they are on a slow bus!
theres one bus from esteli, if you miss it, you've got to change in san isidro on the panamericana.
the bus terminal is about 2 km northeast of the center, take on of the trucks waiting in front of the terminal - which serve as local buses (3 cord) - to the center.
The city is very walkable if you can stand the heat. Unlike Managua, the locals get around by bicycle and walking.
ruletos (trucks) serve as local buses. (3 cordoba per ride)
The Cathedral of Leon is the biggest in Central America. Some say that it was built that large by mistake, when plans that were meant for Lima, Peru, were mistakenly sent to Leon. It is also the final resting place of Ruben Dario.
Quetzaltrekkers Nicaragua offers non-profit volcano Treks. They are located just around the corner from ViaVia and Big Foot.
Take advantage of the beaches of Poneloya and Penitas nearby. Penitas is less of a town than Poneloya with less activities. Be careful once there though, not of the people who are just as friendly as in Leon, but of the surf. The waves are large and quite fun, but watch out for the undertow. The surf claims a few victims every year, including the young and fit. There are accommodations from hotel Poneloya, old and historic, all wood structure, to a crash pad w/ a/c across the street that has uncomfortable beds and no windows for about $20 dollars a night, to the nice beachfront hotel Suyapa Beach which is where you should stay if you have the money. Besides hanging out at the beach, there's a billiard hall popular with locals at the end of the paved road in Poneloya, restaurants, and lots of Flor de Cana rum. There is also a Catholic Church in Poneloya in case you need to make atonement for what Flor made you do. Buses depart from the road to Poneloya on the outskirts of town (by Subtiava), they are quite affordable. Splurging on a taxi is also an option. The beaches are less than 20 kilometers away.
Catch a baseball game if you are there during the season. The Leones won the championship in 2004 and are perpetual contenders. For fifty cordobas you can sit right behind home plate, or pay a bit less for 3rd base side where the lively crowd sits. Order some vigoron, get a Victoria and enjoy. If Chinandega is visiting, it can get quite rowdy. The stadium is in the northern part of the city.
Visit the Museo Ruben Dario. Pick up some of his poetry (Azul is a good beginning).
For the best view over the city and the volcanos, go to "el fortin", an old somoza stronghold southwest of leon, best reached from subtiava. it's a 20 minutes walk, ask locals for directions
Spanish at one of the schools.
There are free-of-charge volunteer opportunities with Quetzaltrekkers an organisation raising money for street kids by offering hikes to volcanos around León. You can volunteer as a hiking guide for a minimum of three month.
Las Tias - the supported organisation - also takes volunteers, taking caro of the streetkid, with a two month minimum.
Queso ahumado (hard, salty, white cheese that goes great with tortillas or bean soup).
Comedor Lucia, next to the Big Foot Hostel offers great food for 1-2 dollar. They are closed at night. A branch called comedor Lisetta is on Avenida Ruben Dario, open in the evening.
Cocin Arte is a great vegetarian restaurant. Take about 4 dollar for a meal and a drink.
Los Pescaditos, located in Subtiava, is worth the cab ride (less than 10 minutes from Cathedral). You should check out the Subtiava Church on the way back to walk off your meal.
Payitas, El Sesteo during the day. Don Senor, Dilectus or La Calabiza at night.
ViaVia got live music every friday (follow the crowed when it closes at 11 pm - it's still a hostel, with tired travellers...). El Divino Castigo (3 blocks north of parque central) got live music every tuesday. La Esquina del Movimiento (one block eastof the above) got spanish alternativ movies allmost every thursday, and often live music on saturdays.
There are about 10 other hostels and hospedajes in Town.
Los Balcones, on the corner down the street from the Supermercado Colonia, is a nice hotel that is a splurge only by Nicaraguan standards.
Leon is - by central american standards - a very save and comfortable town. in the city center is save to walk home even at 3 am.