Spring won’t officially arrive for about another 3 weeks, but the beautiful weather in western Andalusia this weekend sure had me fooled.
In honor of southern Spain’s regional festival, Día de Andalucía, and the five-day weekend that came with it, my friend Tiffany and I headed to the renowned Andalusian capital and threw in a day trip to the beach city of Cádiz while we were at it. A couple days is not nearly enough time to experience all that these incredible destinations have to offer, but if you’re short on time like we were, here’s how we made the most of a long weekend in two of southwestern Spain’s most popular cities.
We arrived in Seville at around 6:30 p.m., ready to not see the inside of a bus again for quite a while after traveling all day. Because most tourist attractions close around 7 on the weekends, we decided to just spend the first evening walking around the city.
Shortly after leaving the hotel, we were greeted with this beautiful view of the Triana neighborhood. Triana, historically separated from the main part of Seville by the Guadalquivir river, is where gypsies and other minority groups in Spain developed the art of flamenco to express their pain and anguish over being treated as outcasts in mainstream Spanish society.
We also stumbled upon the Torre de Oro (Gold Tower), an ancient watchtower overlooking the river, as well as more incredible views as night settled over Seville.
Our best decision of the night by far was to check out Seville’s main square, Plaza de España. A bustling tourist hotspot during the day, the plaza was calm and magical by night.
Walking around will obviously make you work up an appetite. We finished the night with some raciones and drinks at La Chunga, a trendy local spot right near our hotel that hit the spot after a long day of travel and exploring.
Never underestimate the power of a good free walking tour. That’s exactly how we started our first full day in Seville (well, after gobbling down some churros and chocolate for breakfast). I love free walking tours because they’re a great way to get a taste for a new city and give you ideas of places you might want to visit on your own if you have no idea where to start.
Our tours were led by Feel the City and I can’t say enough good things about the experience. I learned a lot and was completely exhausted (in a good way) by the end of the three-hour tour. I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat – a savory pastry filled with goat cheese and spinach – from a tiny little bakery before our visit to the Royal Alcázar that afternoon.
The Royal Alcázar was built centuries ago by the Moorish kings that once ruled the Iberian Peninsula, and part of it still serves as the Spanish Royal Family’s official residence in Seville to this day. Along with the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita in Córdoba, it’s one of the top three most beautiful monuments in southern Spain. We reserved our tickets online ahead of time, which ended up being a good idea because there was a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets when we got there. I’m not sure if there were more people there than usual due to the holiday weekend or what, but reserving your visit in advance takes 30 seconds and you’ll get to skip the line.
After spending a few hours wandering around the Alcázar, you’ll be simultaneously amazed and tired. Stop by one of the nearby cafes for some coffee and a macaron as an afternoon pick-me-up before heading to the cathedral.
Much like Córdoba’s aforementioned Mezquita, the cathedral in Seville was originally built by the Moors as a mosque before – you guessed it! – the Christians came and kicked them out, turning the mosque into a cathedral. The cathedral as it appears today took 500 years of construction to become the largest cathedral in the world. Christopher Columbus is also buried here.
A student ticket to the cathedral costs €4 – just make sure you have some kind of documentation showing that you’re under 25 (other prices can be found on the website). I especially loved the fact that the price of admission included a trip up to the Giralda bell tower and the breathtaking city views that come with it.
Fun fact, courtesy of our tour guide: there are actually only 17 steps in La Giralda! Back in the day, whoever was in charge of ringing the bells would get to the top on horseback, so the majority of the way up to the top consists of ramps. The 17 steps can be found at the very top, leading right up to the viewing platform. It was definitely much easier than hiking up endless stairs, but unfortunately some people viewed the ramps as an open invitation to roll their babies to the top of the tower in STROLLERS. (Maybe I’ll feel differently when I have kids, but for now I don’t get it.)
After the cathedral, we headed back to the hotel for a little bit to sit down and charge our phones before heading across the river to grab dinner in Triana. Tonight’s pick was La Comidilla, an authentic tapas bar with a killer wine menu as a great bonus.
The port city of Cádiz, which hangs off the mainland peninsula by a thread, is an hour and a half southwest of Seville and makes a great day trip.
Cádiz was founded 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, making it the oldest city in western Europe. It later fell to the ancient Romans, who built a theater near the city center that survives to this day (and which of course was closed for the holiday, but the small glimpse of it we caught through the gate looked cool!).
Our first stop after the failed visit to the Roman theater was St. Catalina Castle (Castillo de Santa Catalina), a 16th-century complex right on the Mediterranean which actually did not serve as a castle at all, but rather as a military prison.
After visiting the castle, we had lunch at Balandro, which had been recommended to us earlier that morning. It was absolutely delicious, but make sure to get there early so you can get a spot at the bar (much cheaper than eating at the tables).
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a whole lot left of our time in Cádiz after lunch. We headed to Parque Genovés (Genovese Park), which was my favorite spot in Cádiz. I wish I could have spent more time there just hanging out and soaking in the Spanish afternoon. Make sure to climb to the top of the waterfall for another great view of the sea (but really, there’s no bad view of the Mediterranean in Cádiz).
I loved Cádiz, but I preferred Seville overall (that’s just a personal preference – I’m more of a big city person). Although a lot of people had told me we could see Cádiz in one day, we weren’t able to see everything on our list – but that just gives me an excuse to go back!
Once we were back in Seville, we went to a few more places we wanted to see that we didn’t visit on the walking tour. Seville by night is truly magical – there’s really no way to explain it. Even though I was dead tired by this point in the trip, all I wanted was to keep enjoying the beautiful sevillano evening.
Our last dinner in Seville was at Vinería San Telmo, a great winery and restaurant recommended by several people in my tour group. When we got there, everything started to make sense: a group of British women to our right, some Chinese tourists to our left, and everyone’s favorite foreigners (Americans) right behind us. I thought back to the friendly Canadians and couple from New Zealand who had suggested it and put two and two together: it definitely seemed like a tourist spot. With that being said, the food was amazing – the bacalao a la roteña I had was something I would order again in a heartbeat, and this is coming from someone who’s not a huge seafood fan.
The last stop in Seville was Hotel Alfonso XIII, which we’d passed on our tour earlier that weekend and which the guides had told us was free (well, walking into the lobby to marvel at the stunning interior decor is free). So that’s just what we did. Nobody has ever looked more out of place than I did in that fancy hotel with my jeans and Converse, but it was still fun to have my Eloise-at-the-Plaza moment.
An 11:15 a.m. departure time meant that we couldn’t do much before getting on our bus to Granada. After having breakfast at a café near our hotel, we went to another nearby bakery and bought a small box of traditional Sevillian treats as a token of appreciation for Tiffany’s coworker, who had been spending the weekend in Granada with her family and was going to take us home from there.
This post ended up being way longer than I expected (cheers to you if you’re still reading), but I can’t express my love for these beautiful cities enough. If you’re planning on making a trip to southwestern Spain, I hope this gave you some ideas of how to make the most of Seville and Cádiz.
Enjoyed this post? You’ll also like:
- 13 Free (or ¡casi!) Things to Do in Seville from Sunshine and Siestas (the author is an American expat who has lived in Seville for 8 years, so this blog is a gold mine for anyone planning a trip there)
- 7 Reasons to Study Abroad in Seville from College Tourist