Few cities evoke the history, romance, beauty and passion of Seville. In the heart of the southern region of Andalucia, Seville conjures up images of swirling flamenco dancers, valiant bullfighters and labyrinthine stone passageways. Every plaza, courtyard and patio is enveloped in the rich scent of orange blossoms, while the distinct clap of castanets and classical guitar can be heard around every corner.
Seville may be known for its flamenco, bullfighting and history, but it is the people that carry the city's spirit. Every night, Sevillanos flood the city's bars and restaurants to eat, drink and be merry. To make the most of your trip, we suggest you do the same: slow down, sit back and take pleasure in all Seville has to offer.
Seville is a walking city, so all you really need to get around are your own two feet. While rental cars are available, parking is scarce and expensive, and besides, many streets in the central district—the Barrio de Santa Cruz—are too narrow to accommodate vehicles. Public buses are available but aren't really necessary as most of the tourist sites are within close proximity to one another.
Seville has a wide range of accommodations. At the upper end, the luxurious Hotel Alfonso XIII, just steps from the Alcazar, offers expansive guestrooms in Baroque, Castilian or Moorish design, high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi, butler and chauffeur service and a swimming pool. Another high-end option is the Hotel Casa Imperial, a 16th-century palace that features suites with individual indoor patios, private terraces and access to the Club Antares sports center, complete with saunas and a heated pool.
More modest choices include Hotel Alcantara, a basic, modern hotel in the heart of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, just minutes from shops, restaurants and major attractions. Around the corner is Hotel rey Alfonso X, boasting terraces with views of the Cathedral. Another option is the Taberna del Alabardero, a small 19th-century house near the Plaza Nueva renowned for its prestigious Andalucían restaurant, wine shop and cooking courses.
Those on a budget don't have to sacrifice amenities or style in Seville. The Hostal Goya, a centrally located hotel designed in Spanish style with traditional ironwork and ceramic tiles, features clean, basic rooms and private bathrooms. The Hotel Simon, once a private 18th-century mansion, has an antique-filled central courtyard and tiled rooms.
DAY ONE: EL CENTRO — CATHEDRAL, LA GIRALDA, TAPAS CRAWL
The Rio Guadalquivir runs through the center of Seville, dividing the city into east and west. You're likely to spend most of your time in the eastern sector, which is where the Barrio de Santa Cruz is located. This medieval Jewish quarter is one of the city's most charmingly atmospheric neighborhoods.
But first, begin by fueling up with a hearty breakfast at the Horno de San Buenaventura. There are half a dozen locations around town, but the one on Avenida de la Constitucion is conveniently located and overlooks the Cathedral. On the ground floor, you can grab a quick bite—toast, pastry or coffee—while the dining room upstairs offers full English, American or Spanish breakfasts; we like the tortilla Espanol, or potato omelet.
After breakfast, stroll through the maze of narrow, winding, picturesquely set alleyways and streets lined with white houses and bougainvillea-bedecked balconies. You'll pass a number of charming cafes and a plethora of petite public squares gracefully shaded and exotically scented by orange and jasmine blossoms. Don't worry about choosing a specific destination; explore randomly, take your time, and you'll discover all sorts of fascinating sights.
The barrio's El Centro, the geographical center of the city, houses the most popular landmarks: The Cathedral, Giralda and Alcazar. We don't recommend visiting them all on the same day, so instead start with the Cathedral and Giralda tower, the latter of which has spectacular views of the city and can help you get your bearings.
Located east of the main thoroughfare, Avenida de la Constitucion, the cathedral was built on the site of a former mosque. At the time, the Christians decreed: "Let us create such a structure that future generations will take us for lunatics." When the Gothic building was completed in 1507 (with some Renaissance touches added a few years later), they had indeed succeeded in putting together the largest cathedral in the world—an art, architecture and history museum rolled into one. Some of the church's stained glass windows are the originals set by Enrique Aleman in the 15th century, the golden age of stained glass design in Spain.
La Giralda, "The Rose of the Wind," looms on the northeastern side of the cathedral. Constructed during Islamic rule at the close of the 12th century, Giralda formerly functioned as the mosque's minaret. Identified by the bronze weather vane on top (known as giraldillo, or "little spinner," from which La Giralda takes its name), this is considered the loveliest building in Seville, and one of the most stellar displays of Islamic architecture on the planet. The crown jewel of the grounds is the Mudejar Palacio de Don Pedro, the intricacies of design rivaling Granada's Alhambra, though some view the orange tree courtyard as being just as majestic. The ascent up the bell chamber to the top of the Giralda is made easier by a series of ramps—built so guards could ride up on their horses. The panoramic vista afforded from this height is well worth the climb.
By this time you will no doubt be ready for a siesta. Though some say it's a dying tradition, the siesta is an important element to the life of Sevillanos, and we recommend following it as well. Most stores close from 2-5 p.m., and while many major attractions remain open, the heat of the day can be stifling. Instead, shift your schedule: opt for a late lunch and savor a much-needed afternoon break. That way, you'll be rested up for some Sevillian nightlife.
Begin by lunching at one of the many restaurants in the Santa Cruz district along Calle Santa Maria La Blanca. While popular for early evening and late night tapas, many are also open for lunch. Try Cafe Bar Carmela and order up one of the daily specials, such as seafood paella with shrimp, calamari and whitefish. Sharing several small plates is also a good bet; try the cheese torta with fresh tomato or the tortilla Carmela with potato, onion and pepper. After lunch, return to your room to avoid the midday heat and rest up for the busy night ahead.
Now that you're refreshed and rejuvenated, it's time to hit the town for a tapas crawl. Tapas, or small plates, are a practical solution to the fact that most Sevillanos—and Spaniards in general—eat much later than the rest of the world. In fact, many restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8 p.m. at the earliest. To hold you over until dinner, traditional tapas bars in the Barrio de Santa Cruz are Bar Entrecalles or Cafe Bar Las Teresas, both tiny places popular with locals. There are also dozens of places along Calle Mateos Gago; our favorite is Cafe Bar Patanchon. Try the ham cigars with mushrooms and cheese, the garlic prawns or the fried Camembert with raspberry sauce. Wash it all down with a glass of Spanish wine or sherry from the neighboring Cadiz province.
If you're still hungry, head to one of Seville's most renowned restaurants, Taberna del Alabardero, located in the hotel of the same name. In a 19th-century house, the restaurant features a seasonal Andalucían menu with local products. Appetizers may include such delights as red peppers stuffed with Iberian ham, couscous with tuna or scallop carpaccio, while mains include saffron monkfish, roasted wild boar or duck breast with fennel. The restaurant also boasts its own wine shop, with dozens of wines from throughout Spain. For a true insider's look into Andalucían cuisine, sign up for one of its evening cooking classes, focusing on topics such as traditional Lenten specialties and pastries.
DAY TWO: ALCAZAR, PLAZA DE TOROS, TORRE DE ORO, FLAMENCO
Begin your second day in Seville with a visit to the Alcazar. But first, stop by one of the many bars that surround the ancient fortress for a bite to eat. Try Bar Gonzalofor a simple Spanish breakfast of toast and coffee, and grab a table on the sidewalk for some first-rate people watching.
You can spend an entire day wandering the grounds of the Alcazar, so it's best to take a tour, or at the very least, rent an audio guide. Pedro the Cruel converted the former fortress into a royal palace (it remains to this day the Royal Family's official residence in Seville), incorporating fragments of earlier Moorish buildings into the reconstruction. The Alcazar, through centuries of war, fires and tremors, still encompasses some of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture (a style developed by Moors working under Christian rule). The Renaissance gardens surrounding the palace are also steeped in history—legend has it that the Cruel One assassinated his brother in 1358 in the "Patio of the Doll," so named because it was where his daughter kept her toys. On a lighter note, the gardens provide a tranquil escape from the crowds, one of the most serene being the Jardin Ingles on the southwest side.
After your visit, you should have worked up an appetite for lunch. Head a bit north and try Sierra Mayor, one of several locations in the city. Airy yet rustic, the branch on Calle Joaquin Guichot is hidden away on a narrow alley. Try the refreshing gazpacho, cold bread and tomato soup; the decadent tuna marinated in olive oil; or the house specialty, roast pork. After lunch, retreat to your room for a mid-day rest or laze under the trees in any of the city's neighborhood parks or plazas.
In the evening, continue your exploration of Seville by heading toward El Arenal. This district, along the Guadalquivir River, is home to several key sites, including the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, Seville's bullring. With construction having begun in 1758, the impressive gold-and-white bullring is one of the oldest in Spain. English tours are available and there is also a small museum on site showcasing the history of Spain's national sport.
Nearby is the Torre de Oro, or Tower of Gold, a 13th-century defensive tower overlooking the Guadalquivir that was once lined with gold tiles; their reflections in the sun were visible for miles. Now, it is home to a maritime museum. The riverside promenade on which it lies is a pleasant stroll, especially at sunset. Marvel at the Puente de San Telmo to the south and Puente de Triana to the north, bridges leading across the river to the atmospheric barrio of Triana, chock-full of pottery and tile-making shops. Watch kayakers play their unique version of water polo in the river, or relax at a seasonal café with a coffee or glass of wine and behold the superb views.
Tonight is the night to partake in the most Sevillian of all Sevillian pastimes: a flamenco show. While flamenco venues abound in the city—from tiny bars to large-scale productions—a good option for first-timers is El Patio Sevillano, just steps from the bullring. The hour-and-a-half long performances are a good introduction, and visitors can even arrive early for a brief lesson. Dinner/show packages are available, and while diners get the better seats closer to the stage, the pre-set menu is overpriced; save your money and eat later. Another nearby choice is Tablao El Arenal, a popular destination for tourist groups for more than a quarter century. If you want to delve deeper into the flamenco tradition, consider a course at Taller Flamenco. Weeklong classes are offered in traditional dance, guitar, singing and Spanish language.
With the sounds of guitar and castanets stomping through your veins, it's now time for dinner. Head back to Santa Cruz for an upscale meal at one of the city's finest restaurants, La Albahaca. On the scenic Plaza de Santa Cruz, La Albahaca, or basil, is a favorite for royalty, politicians and celebrities. The setting is refined, the dishes Andalucian with a touch of French influence. A set menu is available, or try any of the house specialties, such as Iberian pork, roasted boar or grilled monkfish.
DAY THREE: PLAZA DE ESPAÑA, MUSEO ARQUEOLOGICO, IGLESIA DE SANTA MARIA MAGDALENA, CALLE SIERPES
There’s still plenty to see and do on your third day in Seville. But first, if you’re tired of simple Spanish breakfasts, head to Bar Restaurant Mezquita el Cordobes, which offers English and American-style fixed-price breakfast dishes, such as eggs and bacon. After breakfast, it’s time to escape the narrow, winding streets of the city center and head south to visit grand boulevards and expansive open spaces. Here, you’ll find the Parque de Maria Luisa, a sprawling enclave of flowers, trees, gardens and ponds. Across the street lies the somewhat eerie Plaza de España. Built for the Iberian-American Expo of 1929, the plaza, which is now used for government offices, has faded from its former glory, as evidenced by cracking tiles and dried-up fountains. Still, the ornate curved building of brick, ceramic and marble, with each of Spain’s provinces represented in ceramic tile work depicting scenes from historic events, is worth a visit.
Nearby is Plaza de America, also created for the Iberian-American Expo. Dotted with rose bushes and white doves, the plaza is home to two notable museums: the Museo Arqueologico, containing jewelry, sculpture and other artifacts from prehistoric times; and the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, featuring historic garments, ceramics and model workshops.
Head back toward the city center and you’ll find yourself along the backside of the Alcázar’s garden walls. Sneak into the barrio de Santa Cruz alongside the peaceful, shaded Jardines de Murillo, named after the famous Spanish painter. You’ll find yourself near the lovely Plaza de los Venerables and the 17th-century church of the same name.
By now you should be ready for a break, so take in the atmosphere by lunching at the Hosteria del Laurel, with tables right on the plaza beneath the orange trees. The menu features many traditional Spanish tapas as well as fresh seafood and meats, including suckling lamb and pig. In typical Spanish style, follow your lunch with a rest back at your hotel before heading out again.
A visit to Seville wouldn’t be complete without doing a little souvenir shopping. Instead of tacky trinkets, head over to Avenida de la Constitución and pay a visit to Felix Cartelismo, which has a vast collection of vintage advertising posters. Head north to Plaza Nueva and its designer shops, and stop into Agua de Seville for the namesake perfume distilled from the orange blossoms that blanket the city. Around the corner is the bustling Plaza San Francisco, Seville’s main public square and former Muslim market, and the Ayuntamiento, or town hall.
It’s on the northern end of the plaza where you’ll catch the pedestrian-only Calle Sierpes, the heart of Seville’s shopping district. Calle Sierpes, as well as Calle Tetuan and Calle Valasquez to the west, are lined with dozens of shops loaded with shoes, jewelry, antiques and fashion. Although known for its high-end boutiques, there are plenty of moderately priced options as well. Due east is Calle de la Cuna, lined with shops specializing in custom-made or off-the-rack flamenco dresses.
If you’ve had enough of the crowds and consumerism, sneak away to the nearby Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, on the Plaza de la Magdalena, one of the city’s most stunning baroque churches. Inside, you’ll find paintings by Zubarán and frescoes by Lucas Valdés.
To end the day, and your visit to Seville, dine at the Restaurante San Marco. At the northern end of the shopping district, this palatial restaurant is housed in a neoclassical mansion adorned with crystal chandeliers, marble busts and original frescoes. The menu is mostly Italian with many Spanish influences. Try the homemade gnocchi with shrimp in tomato sauce, the cream-topped spinach tortellini with ham and peas, or the Iberian pork loin with red wine sauce atop freshly made pappardelle.
Tonight, your last night in Seville, is yours to do with as you please. Perhaps you’ll revisit the Santa Cruz area to wander its winding passageways. Perhaps you’ll take one last look at El Centro’s Cathedral and Alcázar. Or perhaps you’ll go out with a bang by once again indulging in tapas and sherry. No matter how you say adios, the passion of Seville is now in your blood, and although you may be leaving Seville, Seville will never leave you.
Originally published on www.gayot.com