The capital of Andalucía is proud, beautiful and packed full of culture. Many civilizations have left their mark on this colorful ciudad and Seville wears its heritage with pride. Its sensual blend of Islamic, Gothic and Renaissance architecture is on magnificent display in the royal palace and mighty cathedral.
Beyond the elaborate mansions and verdant parks that Seville is most famous for, the city’s spirit thrives in countless tapas restaurants, in bar-strewn plazas and along the banks of the Guadalquivir river. From soul-stirring flamenco to glorious gastronomy and gregarious neighborhoods, here are our 10 favorite things to do in Seville.
Marvel at the Real Alcazár
Remarkably well-preserved, the royal palace is one of Spain’s most beautiful buildings and serves as a palimpsest of Sevillian history. Originally built as a fort in the 10th-century, subsequent rulers – from the Moors of North Africa to the Spanish Christians six centuries later – left their indelible mark on the palace complex. Let your imagination run amok beneath intricately carved archways and in staterooms whose geometric tiles have witnessed the scheming of sultans and kings. Don’t miss the stunning Patio de las Doncellas which archaeologists uncovered in 2004 or the subterranean baths of Doña María de Padilla. The sensual, foliage-filled gardens look prettiest in the soft light of the late afternoon – keep an eye out for a glimpse of peacock feathers.
Unwind in the Arab baths
After the glare of Seville’s sunny squares, the candle-lit depths of the Baños Árabes offer instant respite. Like much of the city’s architecture, the act of communal bathing harks back 700 or so years to when Seville was the seat of Moorish power. Then Muslims would cleanse by moving through a series of marble pools before seeking purification of the spiritual sort in a nearby mosque. Today the experience is less authentic but no less pleasurable. The ritual of steam, scrub and soak is heavenly at Aire Baños Árabes; spa baths housed inside a grand 16th-century Mujédar palace. After floating through the thermal circuit beneath cavernous ceilings bedecked with bronze lanterns, head up to the roof terrace for a view over the medieval cathedral and bell tower. This is one of Seville’s most romantic activities: reserve a slot at dusk before a late-night meal.
Tour the rooftop of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world
The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede is a staggering affair that melds Gothic, Renaissance and Moorish architecture. In true Sevillian style, Spanish Christians transformed the city’s 12th-century mosque into a cathedral between the 15th and 16th-centuries. These layers of history are best viewed on a rooftop tour, where you can get up close with startling gargoyles, the intricate stained glass windows and even see the sculptors’ initials, etched into the stonework.
If you can bear the crowds of tourists traipsing through it, make time for the cathedral’s cavernous interior, home to Christopher Colombus’ tomb and several valuable works of art. Ogle Francisco de Goya’s haunting painting Santas Justa y Rufina, the martyrs who are the city’s patron saints, before stepping out into the peaceful Patio de los Naranjos, an inner courtyard named after the sixty-six orange trees within.
Clap along to an entrancing flamenco show
Raw, passionate and utterly hypnotic, flamenco in Seville is rooted in Triana, a typically working-class neighborhood that was originally home to the Roma community, people who migrated from eastern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Intimate flamenco shows at night are the most powerful; let the frenzy of stamping feet and quavering voices transport you in Triana’s CasaLa Teatro. Close to the cathedral, shows in La Casa del Flamenco unfold between Mujédar arches or for something simpler, try the tiny Casa de la Guitarra.
With its low-slung ceilings, wooden beams and program of top-quality artists, atmospheric El Arenal hosts one of the best “tablaos” of flamenco in the city. For more of a casual setting try Lola de los Reyes, an authentically Sevillian bar whose elegant proprietor frequently joins in. Facemasks may be required during some performances so have one on hand.
Feast on tapas in Seville’s best restaurants
Seville is truly the epicenter of tapas – the small plates that have become one of Spain’s most prolific exports. More than 3,000 tapas bars hide along Seville’s side streets. Some are traditional affairs of wood, tiles and waiters that could be as old as the bar itself; others are swankier fusion joints. Feast on Andalucían classics such as pescaíto frito (deep-fried fish) or artichokes with jamón at Casa Morales. Stand with the locals at the back of this bustling bodega, a jarra of local brew Cruzcampo in hand. Just around the corner, haunches of ham swing from the ceiling of Cafe Bar Las Teresas, a friendly tapas bar replete with tiles and loyal customers.
If you – ever – tire of the platters piled high with fried slivers of berejenas (aubergines) and casseroles of chickpeas and spinach, then make your way to La Brunilda, an unassuming whitewashed building where inventive cuisine is beautifully served. Locals may squabble over who serves the best acorn-fed jamón ibericó bellota in Seville, but everyone agrees that the wafer-thin slices of the cured, salty meat are delectable at Casa Román, a 19th-century institution on the Plaza Venerables. Pencil in time for a siesta after lunch.
Climb the Giralda for unbeatable views of Seville
An icon of Seville’s elegant skyline, the Giralda gleams golden against the blue sky that stretches above Andalucía nearly all year round, The scalloped archways and Islamic ornament found on the lower section belies the Giralda’s origins; it was formerly the minaret of the 12th-century mosque. Climb the 35 ramps and flight of stairs during the morning, while it is cool. It’s worth the effort; at the top lie 24 mighty bells and panoramic views of Seville, with the hazy outline of the Sierra Norte mountains in the distance.
Cycle around Seville, from the Santa Cruz to Triana
Flat and sunny Seville is one of Spain’s most cycle-friendly cities. Grab a pay-as-you-go bicycle, Servici, and head off along 111 miles (180km) of smooth, interconnected bike lanes. Set out from the old Jewish district of Santa Cruz, a labyrinth of cobbled streets and squares shaded by orange trees, then head north towards the La Macarena neighborhood. En route, you’ll pass the ochre-and-white Basílica de La Macarena and the soaring arches of the Palacio do los Marqueses de la Algaba, a restored Mujédar palace that doubles as a cultural center.
After refueling on café con leche, peddle south past the two-millennia old Roman columns on Alameda de Hércules square and over the river into Triana. The old heart of Seville’s old ceramics industry is less picturesque than Seville’s other neighborhoods but still worth a visit. It is lined with popular cafes and eye-catching tiles adorn shop fronts, though not much happens here during the hours of siesta.
Learn about Spanish history at Plaza de España
Glorious and sun-drenched, this grand monument to Spain’s historic towns and cities is crammed full of the azulejo tiles that Seville is famous for. An ambitious commission for the 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana, it took local architect Aníbal González 15 years to complete the Plaza de España. Each of the four bridges over the crescent-shaped canal represents the old kingdom of Spain: Castile, León, Navarre and Aragón. In between snapping pictures, brush up on your Spanish history; tiled murals in each alcove tell the story of Spain’s provinces. Visit during the quiet of siesta, while the rest of the city naps.
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Sources: Lonely Planet
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