Seville, the capital and largest city of Andalusia, is an intriguing cultural melting pot. With its east meets west vibe it enchants every type of traveller. You can find the most exquisite architecture, including the world’s largest cathedral, taste some mouth-watering dishes and hear the lusty sounds of flamenco at every turn.
Situated on the plain of the river Guadalquivir, in the south of Spain, the sunny Seville is the perfect weekend getaway: let it seduce you with its beautiful old town, many historic sites and pretty parks.
SEVEN THINGS NOT TO MISS IN SEVILLE
1 – SEVILLE CATHEDRAL & LA GIRALDA.
La Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, better known as Seville Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church situated in the old town. With 80 different chapels, it is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world by volume and since 1987 it is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You will lose hours staring in awe at the beautiful architectural design. And if you look closely you can still find hints of the mosque that once stood on this spot under Muslim rule, especially in the Court of the Orange Trees on the north side, where Muslims once performed ablutions.
Another enduring emblem for Seville is the Giralda, the bell tower right next door to the Cathedral.
It has Moorish origins, being the minaret for the former mosque and was built to resemble the one of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco. It was converted into a bell tower for the cathedral after the Reconquista, although the topmost section dates from the Renaissance. The tower is 104.5m in height and the curious fact is that it has no stairs, but 34 ramps that lead to the top; this was made so that the muezzin – who led the call to prayer – could ride his horse up the tower instead of walking.
The statue on the top, called “El Giraldillo“, was installed in 1568 to represent the triumph of the Christian faith, and from there the view is even better than you could hope for.
2 – REAL ALCAZAR
The Alcázar of Seville is one of the most representative monumental compounds in the city and it is situated near the Cathedral. Within its walls and gardens, you’ll find influences from the Arabic period, Mudéjar (Moorish-inspired architecture for non-Islamic buildings) right through to the Renaissance, Baroque and the XIX century.
The palace is basically divided into two sections: the first part is the Maidens Courtyard (Patio de las Doncellas) in the centre, whereas the other is the Dolls Courtyard (Patio de las Muñecas) being the main space used for the private occasions.
You will spend half a day wandering here, counting endless azulejos (painted little tiles) on the walls and imagining how life was in the past; tip: take a stroll in the gardens of the Alcázar, as dusk falls, and experience the seringa and orange blossoms exuding their fragrance.
The Alcázar has also provided the setting for a number of films, including Lawrence of Arabia, the Kingdom of Heaven and most recently, the fifth series of the Game of Thrones.
This former Moorish fortress is the oldest European royal palace still in use; in fact, the upper levels are used by the royal family as their official residence in Seville (you can also book a tour to visit the rooms).
Alongside with the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies, the Alcázar was declared World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987.
3 – PLAZA DE ESPANA
This colossal monument was built for the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair in 1929; for the occasion, the entire southern end of the city was redeveloped into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards. That’s how Parque de María Luisa saw its birth as a Moorish paradise: a half mile of tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, orange trees, Mediterranean pines and stylized flower beds. Plaza de España was one of the principal buildings here, in a semi-circular shape, edged by a canal and overlooked by a large, curved palace.
It’s very interesting to walk beneath the gallery, where you can see some important national figures and installations for every province in Spain.
4 – CASA DE PILATOS
The Casa de Pilatos is probably one of my favourite places in Seville, alongside with the Alcázar, even though it’s not the most known attraction amongst tourists.
Located in the historical centre, once you enter the main door you’ll see a mix of architectural styles, from Gothic to Mudejar wonderfully combined with Renaissance innovations. And even if there is almost no original furniture or decorative elements left, the whole Andalusian palace really gives you the impression of what life was back in time.
The Casa de Pilatos is also known as the Palace of the Governors of Andalusia and it’s the permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli, so being one of the biggest private residences of Seville.
The construction of this palace was an idea of Pedro Enriquez de Quiñones, although it was completed by his son. His pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1519 is the origin of the current name of the house.
According to tradition and popular belief, after his return, he discovered that the distance between the ruins of the home of Pontius Pilate and the site where Jesus was crucified was the same as that between his palace and a temple known as the Cruz del Campo. Surprised by the coincidence, he established the Via Crucis of the Cruz del Campo in 1520; the first station was initially the Casa de Pilatos’ chapel, representing the exit of Jesus from Pilato’s house. The Via Crucis became so popular that in 1529 it had to be celebrated outside of the palace.
The Casa de Pilatos has around 150 different azulejo designs, making it one of the largest azulejo collections in the world.
5 – PARASOL METROPOL
In La Encarnación square, located in the old quarter of Seville, there’s a wooden structure that will immediately catch your attention. The Metropol Parasol – locally recognized as Las Setas (meaning “mushrooms”, due to its shape) – consists of six interweaving waffle-like wooden panels rising from the ground and which are positioned in such a way to architecturally form canopies and walkways below the parasols. This design was inspired by the vaults of the Cathedral of Seville and the ficus trees in the nearby Plaza de Cristo de Burgos.
Metropol Parasol is organized in four levels: the underground level houses the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains were discovered during the construction; the street level is the Central Market; levels 2 and 3 are the two stages of the panoramic terraces (including a restaurant), offering fantastic views over the city centre.
Today, the Metropol Parasol is commonly used as a meeting spot for locals or as a shaded place to hang out during the hot summer months.
6 – TAPAS
Seville is the home of Tapas and they are one of the main cultural attractions of the city. What you shouldn’t miss is crawling from one tapas bar to another, in order to try some delicious snacks at each stop; in fact, many of these bars (and there are nearly 2000 only in Seville) have only a few specialities, so it’s gonna be fun finding out your favourite one.
There are so many tapas, like the “patatas bravas” (spicy potatoes), “chipirones” (deep fried baby squids), “queso manchego” (cheese), cured ham and so many others, but unfortunately it’s a hard life for vegan people because there’s meat or fish in almost every dish!
So, as I said earlier, eating tapas in Spain should be one of the highlights of your trip also because they are tasty, small and cheap… a true pleasure for every traveller! You’ll immediately recognize a tapas bar because after 9 p.m. (yes, they have dinner very late) they are always full of locals eating at the counter, probably watching a football match on tv at top volume.
Some tips on where to find the best tapas?
Here’s my favourite three (thanks to Sandra from Seville Traveller for the advice)
1. Las Golondrinas II (Calle Pages del Corro, 76 – near Triana Bridge)
Best tapas: Champiñones (mushrooms with a garlic sauce), aliños (marinated vegetables, like carrots, radishes, red peppers or artichokes)
2. Bodega 2 de Mayo (Plaza de la Gavidia, 2 – near Museo de Bellas Artes)
Best tapas: Tortilla de Camarones (fried baby shrimps), Jamon Iberico de Bellota (typical Spanish ham)
3. La Azotea (Calle Conde de Barajas, 13 – near Alameda de Hercules)
Best tapas: Ensaladilla de ahumados (smoked salad), solomillo a la mostaza de piñones y albahaca (pork tenderloin with mustard, basil sauce and peanuts).
7 – FLAMENCO
Flamenco is probably the most famous Spanish dance in the world, being usually very passionate, loud and sensual.
So, once you get to Andalucía you cannot miss the chance to enjoy one night in a Tablao and watch a show with live music.
Here are some tips on where to spend a night out learning about Flamenco.
1. Casa de la Memoria (Calle Cuna, 6)
They have a nightly traditional flamenco show that incorporates a balance of guitar, singing, and dancing, performed in a small and intimate environment. If you happen to study guitar or dance, make sure to check their schedule of master classes of flamenco. You can reserve online or beforehand at the venue. Booking is recommended, as is turning up early—this place is tiny!
2. Casa del Flamenco (Calle Ximénez de Enciso, 28)
The show takes place on the internal patio of a building nestled in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood. As well as the fantastic location, the show is wonderful: Its main claim to fame is that it’s one of the only shows in Seville that doesn’t use some kind of microphones or amplification.
3. Casa de la Guitarra (Calle Mesón del Moro, 12a)
Not only they offer an intimate nightly show, but they also have a collection of flamenco guitars which is worth having a look at. This space is very small and intimate, with only enough stage space for one dancer, but you can’t beat the vibe of the venue.
There are so many things to do in Seville, but you can also take a day trip and explore the surroundings of the city. Only half an hour away, there is the Italica site. And if you’re into the Game of Thrones tv show, these Roman Ruins may look familiar to you, as they’ve been the set of the Dragonpit in season 8.