By Natalie Augustin
Three months ago, I found myself nestled comfortably in an air-conditioned taxi, rumbling through the streets of Seville (pronounced Seveeya). A cursory glance through the window later, I was smitten.
I’ve found that cities are like people. First impressions matter. And Seville? Well, it stole my heart.
It was mid-afternoon i.e siesta time, which meant that the plazas and streets of the largest town in southern Spain were devoid of crowds, save for the lone tourist braving the blazing heat.
By the time I arrived at my hotel, reassuringly named “Hotel Casa” (Hotel Home) and located a stone’s throw from two of Seville’s most popular attractions, it was time for a quick check-in before I headed out for an evening of sightseeing.
Perhaps I’m just partial to all things Latin, but it’s hard to be stingy with your emotions with a city as evocative as Seville. Think walking down streets pregnant with the scent of orange blossoms stewing in the balmy heat. Or the sight of a gurgling fountain welcoming you into a towering gothic cathedral. Or even better, the smells of the delicious tapas bars that line both sides of the narrow cobbled streets. And….ah! The excitement of hearing the sound of castanets, knowing that a flamenco dancer is just around the corner.
With enough flamboyance, beauty, and vibrancy to capture even the more discerning of travellers, Seville sure packs a might punch.
Its layered history begins in mythology with the Greek god Hercules, said to be the city’s founder. It then fell into the hands of numerous groups – the Romans, Moors, and Castilians – each of whom left their own distinct fingerprint on the modern-day Seville. And it’s no secret. Seville displays its rich heritage proudly – in its architecture, culture, traditions, cuisine and of course its people – making it one of the most outstanding towns in all of Spain.
With so much to offer, packing Seville into a short vacation can seem impossible. Thankfully, you have me! If Seville’s on your travel list this year, you might want to keep this list in handy. Here’s your guide to the must-haves, must-dos, and must-eats in Seville.
Plaza de Espana
There is a reason Plaza de Espana makes it to the top of my list.
During my five-day visit to Seville, I visited the plaza a whopping three times. There was something so poetic about the sprawling Renaissance/Neo-Moorish styled semi-circular building that I just couldn’t get enough. Centered around a grand square, the plaza looks like a magical carousal frozen in time, with horse drawn carriages lining a central fountain.
The plaza also features a long canal, crossed by four bridges, each one representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. Pretty as it is functional, the canal offers visitors an a leisurely row around. Not to mention the plaza’s beautiful tile work – a mix of Art Deco and traditional Mudejar (Arab) styles fused into the structures walls and floors – that gives it a hand-painted look and adds to the intricacy and charm of this must-see location.
Barrios de Santa Cruz
Also known as the, “real Seville,” the Barrios de Santa Cruz is the oldest area of Seville. Once the city’s old juderia (Jewish quarter), the area is notorious for its storied religious history – not all of which is pleasant.
Today the neighborhood is one of Seville’s most popularly visited, and home to churches, bars, and terraces alike.
Cathedral de Seville
One of the city’s iconic structures, the Santa Maria Cathedral (also known as The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. It is the largest gothic church and the largest cathedral in the world, sprawling an impressive 11,520 m2. It’s also one of the great 12 Treasures of Spain, and is a haven for anyone who’s a fan of flying buttresses and other Gothic elements.
Like many other histories cities, a change in power brought a change in buildings – especially places of worship. The 16th-century cathedral rests on the remains of what was once a Moorish mosque. The site is also the final resting place of world traveller Christopher Columbus. Mounted on an elaborate catafalque on the shoulders of the four ancient kingdoms of Spain – Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon – Columbus’s remains are now rest in his beloved city.
Maria Luisa Park
Things really heat up in Seville, and one of the best places for a shady reprieve is Maria Luisa Park. This is the largest park in Seville, located south of the city’s historic centre. It’s a welcome green retreat from the busy city, the park also features half a mile of tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, and exhedras built for the Ibero-American Exposition in the 1920s.
These legacy buildings are scattered through the park and provide an eye catching attractions for visitors. It’s home to many other popular tourist attractions, including the famous Fountain of Lions (Fuente de los Leones) and the Water-lily Pool (Estanque de los Lotos).
If you’re short on time, rent a bike. It’s the easiest, fastest way to discover all of the park’s many monuments, fountains, and perfectly manicured gardens.
Royal Alcazar of Seville
A amalgamation of hundreds of years of architecture, the Royal Alcaza of Seville is one of Spain’s most beautiful palaces. Built by Moorish Muslim kings, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most brilliant examples of mudéjar architecture. It is also the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.
As rulers were ousted and one regime made way for the next, religions shifted and the city evolved to these changing tides, Alcazar absorbed it all. Visitors today will find a palace divided into sections dating from a succession of eras: Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century), and Renaissance (15th-16th century), all existing in the same space.
If that’s not convincing enough, The Alcázar has also been featured in Hollywood, with parts of classics like Lawrence of Arabia, the Kingdom of Heaven, and most recently the fifth series of the Game of Thrones, all filmed there.
Plaza de Toros
As electric and dramatic as the Plaza de Toros is, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The site of the one of the most well-known bullfighting festivals in the world, the plaza is also dubbed one of the most unforgiving. Every year, during the annual Seville Fair, hundreds of charging angry bulls and parading matadors with a killer fashion sense go head-to-head in the ultimate battle of man vs. beast.
The Baroque styled bullring is considered to be one of the finest in Spain, and is one of the oldest and most important in the world. If you missed the fair, fights usually occur on Sunday, and while some might avoid them for being a bit too gnarly and gory, for most, watching one live is the highlight of their trip.
Flamenco is one of the cultural treasures of Seville. A home grown art form, flamenco the result of multiple cultural influences throughout Seville’s history. While there are many Flamenco bars around the city capable of wetting your appetite, the Flamenco Museum offers more of a holistic experience to this multifaceted tradition.
This living museum dissects flamenco into its vital components – the dance, music, and singing that go into it. Interactive exhibits show the origins and evolution of flamenco, while displays of its music and costumes provide visitors with an authentic taste of the art form.
The museum offers daily shows and more in-depth dance and percussion classes.
As a travel destination, Seville offers one of the riches cultural experiences in Spain. But what makes it a jackpot is that it’s as much of a gastronomic city as it is a historical one.
In Seville, tapas and tapas bars are a part of life, serving small and hot or cold appetizers to hundreds of hungry visitors and locals.
There is a simplicity to tapas that’s comforting – a communal meal, shared amongst friends and lovers alike. From traditional classics of fried and fresh foods, to modern takes with influences of Asian, Latin American and other European cuisines, Seville has something for every palate.
Everything about Seville seems rife with passion, and getting around the city is no different. The best way to get acquainted with the city is also the most romantic way, trotting through the city’s most picturesque sites in a horse drawn carriage. If you’re lucky, your friendly coach drivers might even double as your tour guide and let you have the inside scoop of the city.
If you’re running out of things to do, or just want a little more of the real taste of Seville, try taking a cooking class, especially one at the Triana market.
A typical class starts with a tour of the vibrant market, complete with an oyster bar, sushi bar, and a microbrewery. From farm we move on to table, where a professional chef personally guides you through cooking and serving up a delicious four-course meal.
No need to load up on those cheesy souvenirs; showing off your Spanish cooking chops back home is much more impressive.
Seville definitely caught me off guard. As a destination, not only did it deliver far more than I had expected it to, it did so with so much flair, drama, passion and romance that I wish I was still there. For now, I just have one word for travellers looking for a torrid Spanish sojourn – ¡Vámonos!