Visiting Seville: The Best Places to Visit in Seville
Seville is both the capital and the jewel in the resplendent crown of Spain’s southernmost province of Andalucía. The city has long been a place where old cultures collide, and new ones emerge. The majesty of its architecture and the vibrancy of its traditions paint a picture of the city’s long history in a way that embraces its eclecticism, but is nonetheless uniquely Spanish. laid back, yet energetic, and big, yet intimate, visiting Seville is a must on any trip that hopes to catch a true glimpse of Spain’s mighty past and exuberant present. Here is our guide to places to visit and things to do in Seville.
Visiting Seville – An Ancient City:
Greek legend accredits Seville’s founding to the demi-god hero Hercules. A romantic myth this may be, it draws attention to a fact beyond dispute: that Seville is a truly ancient city. During its 2,200 year existence the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Moors, and, finally, the Catholic kings of the Reconquista have all conquered, settled, inscribed their influence on, and spent turns lording over the city and its surrounding area.
Although having always enjoyed a status of regional importance, Seville entered a golden age of influence and prosperity when the city became the national gateway for the wealth pouring into Spain from the far-flung corners of the Spanish colonial empire. When visiting Seville, the splendor of this gilded age can still be seen glimmering in many of the city’s architectural treasures.
Visiting Seville – Places to Visit in Seville:
Built during the 14th century for King Pedro, The Alcázar of Seville is a sprawling medieval palace which remains an official residence of the Spanish royal family. Designed in the architectural style of the Moors, intricate wood carvings adorn its ceilings and elegant geometric patterns weave across the tiled walls of its interior. Each turn beyond a hedge or emergence through a gate in its extensive gardens reveals another sleepy courtyard or horticultural view fit for royalty. The Alcázar is likely top the list of places to visit in Seville for Game of Thrones fans, who will get the chance for an up-close look at one of the real world locations used in the shooting of the series.
Queues for entry tickets on the day can rival the palace itself in size, especially during the busiest months of Seville’s high season. Shuffling along for hours in the Andalusian summer heat is something we would recommend not to do in Seville. Luckily those in the know can sidestep the wait with the help of a pre-booked ticket, which can be purchased here (change the language to English on the top right of the page).
Catedral de Sevilla
“Let’s construct a church so large future generations will think we were mad.”
Judging by the scale of the Catedral de Sevilla, the city authorities of 15th century Seville weren’t joking. The gothic cathedral they built remains the world’s largest. The enormity of its size and the awe inspiring spectacle of its statues and spires makes for as much of a spectacular showcase of the power, wealth, and artistic prowess of imperial Spain today as it must have when first completed. Catedral de Sevilla is a must on any list of places to see in Seville.
But the Cathedral’s builders did have a starting advantage. Much of its structure encompasses that of the old Moorish mosque that had previously occupied the site, of which one prominent feature remains. The soaring minaret has long since been converted into a bell tower, but its façade retains its original Islamic styling. This makes the cathedral one of the few places to see in Seville where original architecture from the city’s Moorish era is still visible.
The Cathedral’s interior proves that, architecturally at least, beauty can run more than skin deep. Among the many wonders that furnish Catedral de Sevilla’s chapels and chambers you’ll find the tomb of Christopher Colobus, artworks by Zurbarán, Murillo, and Goya, and the Cathedral’s famous golden alter.
Catedral de Sevilla remains a functioning place of worship, so make sure you are appropriately dressed before attempting entry.
Plaza de España
Compared with the other grand buildings of Seville, Plaza de España is more modern, but no less monumental. The complex was originally built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It consists of a large fountain dotted, canal crossed plaza embraced by the curved wings of a towering palace. Below the long, pillared walking galleries of the wings runs a procession of azulejos (Sevillian tiles) depicting famous scenes from Spanish history. The palace is now home to numerous departments of Seville’s municipal administration.
During the day, busking Spanish musicians and free flamenco shows can be seen and heard in the walking galleries, and paddle boats can be hired to potter around the plaza’s canals. The gaudiness of Plaza de España is inseparable from the pomp of its appeal and the grandeur of its spectacle. As with many of the popular places to visit in Seville, expect plenty of photo opportunities.
Parque de María Luisa
Bordering the Plaza de España is an ornamental oasis of ponds, pavilions, fountains, monuments, squares, leafy shade, manicured flowerbeds, and peaceful respite from the heat and hustle of the city center. Once part of the grounds of San Telmo Palace, Parque de María was donated to the public by Dutchess Infanta Luisa Fernanda in 1893. It is now Seville’s main urban park.
Parque de María is also a botanical garden and contains many rare, exotic species of plant from across the world. Here, bird lovers visiting Seville get the chance to see parakeets, ducks, swans, and the park’s famous population of doves, which lend their name to one of its sections: Parque de las Palomas (Dove Park). In Parque de María’s southern section you’ll find the Museo Arqueológico, a museum housing a collection of Roman artifacts and mosaics, many of which originate from the nearby ancient site of Itálica.
Visiting Seville – Things to do in Seville:
Watch a Flamenco Show
Tapping heels, swirling dresses, chattering castanets, impassioned dance, sonorous song, and Spanish guitar. If the Cathedral and the Alcázar are towering brick and mortar testaments to Seville’s iridescent cultural history, Flamenco is their living breathing counterpart.
The origins of Flamenco stretch back into the mists of history. Its emergence is sometimes attributed to the migration of Roma gypsies to southern Spain, and many Sevillians pinpoint their hometown as the artform’s birthplace. Whatever its origins, Flamenco as performed today is likely a synthesis of the numerous different folk traditions that have colored Andalucían culture. However, as 1774 marked the first recorded mention of the form, little in truth can be spoken of it before then. But this can be said of Flamenco for sure: this uniquely Andalucían artform is an exhilarating spectacle.
Seville’s streets, cafés, plazas, and bars are flush with the tap and strum of Flamenco performances. When visiting Seville, no stay is complete until you have seen one. But here’s a tip: if you want to catch a glimpse of Flamenco at its most raucous and most authentic, search for the hole in the wall venues across the river in Seville’s old gypsy quarter, Triana.
When hungry, the thing to do in Seville is to go for Tapas. Tapas are small snack sized dishes of food and a quintessential aspect of Andalusian culture. They are usually eaten accompanied by cañas (small glasses of beer) or manzanilla (Spanish sherry). Most Andalusian bars serve them (in Granada many serve complementary tapas with drinks orders). Tapas bar crawling is a central part of social life in Seville and across the whole of southern Spain.
Tapas were invented by illiterate pre-19th century innkeepers. Unable to write, they would offer their guests small samples of their food by way of a menu. These samples eventually became popular in their own right. The Spanish word “tapa” means “cover.” Debate persists as to the reason why ‘tapa’ also came to refer to small portions of food, but according to one explanation, it was once customary in Spain to cover drinks with bread crusts as a barrier to thirsty flies. Eventually, so the story goes, people began adding toppings and snaking on the crusts as they drank.
From simple bowls of crisps to sizzling plates of calamari, almost any food, hot or cold, can be served as a tapa. But often the tastiest tapas are those made with traditional Andalusian food. Andalucía is famous for its serrano (mountain cured) and iberico (acorn fed) hams, olives, and seafood, so when visiting Seville, keep an eye out for dishes on tapa menus containing any of these ingredients. Adventurous eaters might want to try Remojón, a salad of oranges, codfish, onions, and olives. That might sound like a strange mix, but it’s a longstanding local favorite.
Seville’s streets are loaded with tapas bars. We recommend enjoying tapas as the locals do, by hopping from one to the next. Ordering customs vary. In some bars, your tapas will be brought to your table, in others (usually the less expensive) you place your order then collect from the bar. If you are unsure, ask staff or watch other guests. Don’t be surprised by encounters with unfriendly waiters when visiting Seville. But don’t take offense, they aren’t being rude. Joviality simply isn’t a part of Andalusian service culture in the way it perhaps is where you are from. Vegans should note that animal product free tapas options do exist, but are harder to come by.
Attend a Festival
If you want something special to do in Seville, consider attending one of its festivals. Festivals are a huge part of Spanish culture and Seville hosts more than its fair share. Semana Santa and Feria de Abril are two of the city’s biggest and most famous.
Holy week—the week spanning Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—is celebrated by Christians around the world, but nowhere is it celebrated quite as it is in Seville, with Semana Santa being one the most revered festivals in all of Spain. Citywide festivities climax with an enormous street procession of flotillas depicting scenes from the passion. Each is carried by one of Seville’s 57 brotherhoods, all of which march donned in traditional catholic garb.
Semana Santa’s popularity and the subsequent scarcity of available accommodation makes visiting Seville during holy week difficult, and often pricy. But if you do attend it’s worth finding yourself a good spot along the main procession route down Calle Sierpes before the crowds begin to swell.
Feria de Abril
Two weeks after Semana Santa comes a time of moonlit revelry courtesy of a very different Sevillian festival. While Semana Santa is bombastic, it’s also a holy affair. Feria de Abril, by contrast, is a seven-day festival of food, song, dance, drinking, and night long indulgence.
The Seville fair, as the festival is also known, commences at midnight on Saturday and concludes with a huge firework display the following Sunday. During the intervening week, celebrations begin each morning with a horse drawn parade through the city center. Come nightfall, music fills the streets, manzanilla is drunk by the gallon, locals clad in traditional costume charm the eye, and flamenco shares dancefloors with local folk jigs reserved especially for this week of the Sevillian calendar.
The epicenter of the festival is found among the village of tents (casetas) that pops up on the far side of the Guadalquivir River each year. Attending the Feria de Abril is the best thing to do in Seville if you want to see the city at its most eccentric and most exciting.
There are a few things to bear in mind when visiting Seville during Feria de Abril:
- As with Semana Santa, the dates of Feria de Abril change year on year depending when Easter falls.
- Most casetas are privately rented by families, groups of friends, and companies. For visitors, this can make the main night time celebrations feel a little insular. But don’t be put off, look and you’ll find a scattering of public casetas too.
- Feria de Abril is a fancy affair. You won’t be expected to attend in traditional Andaucian dress, but you will probably want to put some effort into your appearance.
Hopefully this article has given you a taste of the many great places to see and experiences to be had when visiting Saville. As with the city’s palace, cathedral, and traditions, its appeal is nothing new. 200 years have passed since the famous poet and traveler Lord Byron wrote these words:
“In Seville was he born, a pleasant city, Famous for oranges and women, — he Who has not seen it will be much to pity, So says the proverb — and I quite agree; Of all the Spanish towns is none more pretty, Cadiz perhaps — but that you soon may see; — Don Juan’s parents lived beside the river, A noble stream, and called the Guadalquivir.
They still ring true today.
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