Here’s your guide to what to do in Seville.
I lived in Seville for years and fell in love with its fiery passion and cool, quiet courtyards. From traditional flamenco to wasabi-tinged tapas, let me show you what to do in Seville.
Seville puts the spice into Spain. It’s the city with the highest temperatures, the birthplace of foot-stomping flamenco and the home to the fiery temptress Carmen. It’s a buzzing metropolis that still makes time for siestas – and one that throws week-long parties each year in the name of the Feria de Abril.
Seville is sexy, sassy and very self-confident – and it prides itself on having a good time.
It’s a city in love with tradition; you’ll find posters for bullfights and black barrels for sherry on many a street corner. And those vibrant spotted dresses with ruffles and frills aren’t just there for the tourists. They’re worn with panache every year at the Feria, complete with matching heeled shoes and huge flowers pinned to slicked back hair.
Legs of jamon still hang from the ceilings, next to religious calendars depicting statues of virgins studded with tears. Then Holy Week, or Semana Santa, in Seville sees some of the world’s most spectacular Catholic processions, with both crowds and incense filling the streets all day and all night.
Yet for all the tradition, those streets lined with oranges do carry the spirit of change. Seville has opened its arms to new flavours and features of late, from wasabi-laced tapas to the swirling silhouette of the Espacio Metropol Parasol.
Wherever you end up, you can’t miss Seville’s Cathedral and its latticed tower, La Giralda. Beneath this landmark, you’ll find horse-drawn carriages, a thriving meeting point and the entrance to the Santa Cruz Barrio. This maze of white-washed streets is no place for maps. It’s a place for losing yourself amidst hot tapas and wild flamenco, small museums and Arabic baths.
To regain a sense of space, stride past the peacocks that strut through the gardens of the Real Alcázar and on towards the wide and open Maria Luisa Park. Grab a snapshot of Spain’s geography through the detailed curves of the Plaza de Esapaña and then stroll along the banks of the Guadalquivir, where ships from the New World used to return laden down with gold.
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Once you’ve had your fill of history, return to real life in the fresh market of Triana. Browse through the ceramic tiles that brought wealth to the district before heading head back to the mainstream world in Seville’s favourite department store, El Corte Inglés.
If you can take the heat, you can explore the whole city on foot, zig-zagging between shops and museums with the odd pick-me-up of hot chocolate and churros. Seville’s metro, while new, lean and clean, misses off most spots that visitors want to see.
You might want to follow a tip from the locals and squeeze in a siesta. Dinner’s nearly impossible before half past eight and most places aren’t buzzing ‘til ten. Even the spas stay open until midnight, in case you fancy a late evening soak. Don’t worry about missing the nightlife, though. Live music doesn’t kick off until late at La Carboneria, while clubs like Kudeta are open until dawn.
Just don’t do anything half-heartedly. This is Seville and it isn’t lukewarm. This is Seville and it’s hot.
Matadors and flamenco in the city of the South.
Two of Spain’s greatest icons, or stereotypes as some would describe them, hail from this part of the world. You can’t get far in Seville without noticing its love for both bullfighting and flamenco. Yet that’s by no means the only culture to find here, with modern art galleries and live music springing up throughout the city, not to mention architecture that has spanned more than 1000 years.
Love it or loathe it, there’s no getting away from the fact that bullfighting forms a crucial part of the Andalusian culture. A visit to the 18th century riverfront bullring, the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (1 www.realmaestranza.com) reveals a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, from the history of the tradition to the chilling dents in the gates left by charging bulls. You can even see the chapel where matadors say one last prayer before walking into the ring.
Another can’t-miss attraction and popular meeting spot is the Cathedral of Seville (2 www.catedraldesevilla.es,) whose elaborate tower, the Giralda, has become the symbol of the city. Visible from miles around, this beautiful landmark used to form the minaret of the mosque that stood here before the Catholic Monarchs drove the Moors from southern Spain. A close look near the top reveals the line where the Moorish mosque ends and the Christian ornamentation begins. Inside, you’ll find crown jewels, gilded altars and the resting place (allegedly) of controversial hero Christopher Columbus.
The Museo del Baile Flamenco (3 www.museoflamenco.com) takes you through the steps of Seville’s most famous dance to the soundtrack of stomping feet. Its rich visual display includes the costumes of some of flamenco’s most beguiling stars.
If you’re in Andalusia and you can’t reach the Alhambra, Seville’s Real Alcázar (4 www.patronato-alcazarsevilla.es) is the next best thing. Extensive Moorish fountains, carvings and patios plus a few resident peacocks make it a refreshing break from the scalding streets of Seville.
Then there’s the Espacio Metropol Parasol (5 www.patronato-alcazarsevilla.es,) Seville’s latest addition to the city skyline. Scorned by some for its drab-coloured walkways, there’s no disputing that the view from the top, which ranges from the Giralda to the plains beyond, is one of the best in the city.
For a look at how life used to be and the latest in temporary exhibitions, walk though the wide expanses of the Maria Luisa Park to visit the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla (6 www.museosdeandalucia.es/cultura/museos/MACSE/)
Drop down again in scale to appreciate the small but exquisitely formed Casa de Pilatos (7 www.fundacionmedinaceli.org/monumentos/pilatos.) This casa showcases the elegance of Seville’s old mansions, with interiors heavily influenced by Renaissance, Gothic and Mudejar styles and with fragrant gardens providing relief from the heat.
Travel further back in time to Italica (8 www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/museos/CAI) on the outskirts of Seville. Crumbling columns, coloured mosaics and broad walkways all whisk you back to life in Roman times a few thousand years ago.
For the latest in Seville art and culture, however, check out the exhibitions staged by the Instituto de la Cultura y las Artes (9 www.icas-sevilla.org) There you can find information about theatre performances, photography, music and fashion.
Where tapas is an institution
Tapas isn’t a stereotype in Seville, it’s a way of life. You’d be hard pressed to stumble for more than about 100 metres without finding a place that serves up a plate of sliced jamon washed down with cerveza. The anti-smoking legislation has cleaned up the bars, but their rich Andalusian character remains the same. Swap the places right by the cathedral for these higher quality, more exciting dining options in Seville:
Casa Manolo León (18 www.manololeon.com) ushers you into a stately private home complete with chandeliers, tiled fountains and some of the most succulent pork in Seville. It’s one of the few places where you can sit down for a full three course meal, plus coffee, in the quieter part of town.
For a glimmering view of the Guadalquivir River and the Torre del Oro – or tower of gold – step into the classy Restaurante Abades Triana (19 www.abadestriana.com) in Triana. Expect a beautifully turned out menu of caviar, tuna tartare and bacalao (salted cod.)
Forget the name, the Pizzeria San Marco (20 www.sanmarco.es) serves plenty of traditional Spanish dishes in the atmospheric setting of underground Arabic baths. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz dined here by these exposed-brick walls while filming the not so critically acclaimed film Knight and Day. Oh, and the name’s not totally redundant, they do serve pizza as well…
For a fast paced, full-flavoured selection of tapas, head to Los Coloniales (21 www.tabernacoloniales.es/colonialesII/tabernacoloniales.html) It’s just a few blocks from the cathedral yet a world away from the mediocre tourist traps. Be prepared to queue and be prepared to jostle your way to the bar, but once you have, your tastebuds will thank you. Try the tabla of local salmorejo with diced jamon or even the tapas of quail eggs. Los Coloniales is busy for a reason.
Relative newcomer Vinela (22 www.facebook.com/VinelaSevilla) awaits with a fresh and funky approach. Forget jamon and smoky dark spaces, Vinela is clean and bright with a sparse yet flavoursome menu.
Al Aljibe (23 www.alaljibe.com) on the edge of the laid back Plaza Alameda offers a leafy retreat from the hectic streets. Try salmon ceviche or paprika prawns served beneath the shade of the restaurant’s signature orange tree. A peaceful place to while away the hours.
To get well and truly off the beaten track, head to Eslava (24 no website ) a narrow corridor of a restaurant decked out in sky blue colours that actually do reflect the colour of the sky in Seville. Almost always packed, ask for the parcels of blue cheese and pork ribs that come in a delicious honey sauce.
From fino on rooftops to beer in the backstreets.
Eating and drinking while out on the town form such an integral part of life in Seville that it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between “restaurants” and “bars.” Most self-respecting bars have their own tapas menus and most “tapas bars” expect you to sit, chat and drink
In a city where dinner rarely starts before ten, you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to dance the night away. Yet Seville’s nightlife isn’t reserved for youngsters – you’ll find children and grandparents tucking into tapas at midnight and beyond, as well as adults enjoying free-flowing wine. With the crazy heat that Seville endures throughout much of the day, it’s no wonder its streets come alive at night.
Start with a relaxing stop at the bar come tapas spot Azotea (25 – www.laazoteasevilla.es.) Azotea has taken on several forms across the city, but its newest – and smallest – bar brims with creative cool. Choose from steak tartare tapas or even wasabi-flavoured platters to stave off hunger while you take a closer look at its interesting wine list.
If it’s just fast, focused, all night clubbing you want then try the recently rebranded Kudeta Bar(26 www.kudetasevilla.es) Known as the Buddha Bar to locals, you’ll find a zen-like ground floor with cross-legged statues and soothing plum fabrics before you head upstairs to all night parties and thumping dance beats.
El Rincóncillo (27 www.elrinconcillo.es) is more of an institution by now than a bar. It’s the oldest tapas bar in Seville, dating right the way back to 1860, though the building itself goes back even further. It was built in 1670 – and the décor looks that way too. Full of glazed tiles and jamon, both tourists and locals, it’s a sight not to be missed on a bar crawl of Seville.
La Carbonería (28 no website) has one of the most laid back vibes in town – except for when there’s a live flamenco performance on. A world away from the image of spotted dresses and castanets, flamenco here is dark, soulful and serious. Occasionally, you’ll catch a sevillana performance, a lighter (and some would argue) more enjoyable form of dance.
Bodeguita Casablanca (29 no website) offers up a hearty, no nonsense bar experience within easy stumbling distance of the cathedral and Santa Cruz. With staples of jamon hanging from the ceiling, framed photos of bullfighting on the walls and either football or the latest bullfight on TV, it’s the Sevillano equivalent of a local English pub.
For an upmarket sip of fino sherry while the sun sets over the Giralda, you can’t beat the rooftop bar at the Hotel Doña Maria (30 www.hdmaria.com )
If cheap and cheerful is more your thing, try the Cerveceria La Sureña (31 www.gruporestalia.com/es/franquicias.cfm )instead. You can pick up discounts on tapas each Thursday and savings on cerveza every night.
From sweet tasting biscuits to cracking ceramics
While you can find all the main chains in the city of Seville, it’s the smaller shops and national institutions that make shopping here a real treat. That, of course, and the flotilla of frilly spotted aprons, pink tights and sparkly matador jackets and soft cuddly bulls that crowd around the central tourist area.
Embrace the frivolity by heading into Padilla Crespo a la Ancha (32 – no website) where you can pick up all manner of tourist paraphernalia plus a few odds and ends that can actually turn out to be helpful. Don’t dismiss the folding fans when it comes to beating the heat and perhaps pick up an illustrated tapas cook book so that you can bring the flavours of Seville back home with you.
To satisfy your tastebuds a little earlier than that, try any one of the mouth-watering delicacies sold at the Confiteria Heladeria San Pablo (33 – no website.) Keep an eye out for the crumbly, biscuit-like mantecado treats. They’re very low in fat and extremely good for you. Alright, that’s not entirely true but they do taste good!
For a truly healthy selection of food and a glimpse into how locals shop, cross the Puente Isabel II bridge from the centre of town to reach the Triana Market (34 – no website.) Head there in the morning to see fresh seafood, baskets of spices and curly-shaped squashes heaped up on separate stalls. It’s not for the squeamish, though. Be prepared to see bulls’ heads pinned to the walls and bulls’ tongues sliced up for sale.
If it’s gentrified shopping you’re looking for, visit any one of El Corte Inglés (35 www.elcorteingles.es) branches across the city. This department store has become a national treasure across Spain, stocking electrical goods, clothes, books, music and photographic equipment. Think of it as Spain’s answer to Marks & Spencer’s.
For a more alternative, edgy shopping experience, browse the multicolour leather goods sold by Ginza (36 no website) near Plaza Alameda. From rainbow coloured shoes to black Metallica babygrows, Ginza stocks a range of products that know how to make you smile.
The area of Triana is famous for many things, from nightlife to the Spanish Inquisition, but it’s also the home of the celebrated ceramic workshops whose products decorate most of the Iberian Peninsula. Cerámica El Altozano (37 no website) offers a good selection of products – from decorative plates to piggy banks to everyday utensils.
Finally, while Julián López (38 www.julianlopez.es/nuestras-tiendas/geolocalizador/sevilla) excels in selling reams and reams of fabric to the fashionable folk of Seville, its greatest draw is its extraordinary building and the way in which it has reinvented itself. Bare brick, mirrors, arches and a high ceiling create a striking atmosphere. It’s worth a visit for that alone, even if all the haberdashery you’ve ever done involved sewing a button onto a shirt many, many years ago.
1/ CHAMBAO CD
Flamenco may not involve the spotted dresses that tourists imagine but the sounds and the passion of flamenco still touch modern life in Andalusia. Popular local musicians Chambao bring the fresh sound of 21st century flamenco to your home with this CD, as well as showcasing other exciting artists in this genre.
2/ FERIA APRON
Bring some fun into your kitchen with one of these frilly, spotted sevillana aprons. Although locals don’t tend to wear them, they do wear tailor-made dresses from the same kind of fabric each year for the week long Feria celebration on the outskirts of town. With shoes to match.
3/ AZULEJOS TILE
On the Triana side of the Guadalquivir River lie some of the world’s most renowned ceramic houses and collections of azulejos tiles. Almost every street in Seville and half the houses inside use these coloured, glazed tiles and their craftsmanship is as much in demand now as it was hundreds of years ago when the workshops first started trading.
Beat the heat with one of these handy folding fans. Sheer black lace gives them a particularly local flourish but any pattern will do once the temperature rises.
5/ INÉS ROSALES
These round flat treats bring a smile to your lips and a bulge to your waistline. Made from far too much olive oil for you to want to know about, their sweet and spicy taste makes them an ideal companion for the journey back home.
1) Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, 12 Paseo de Colón, tel: +34 95 422 4577
2) Seville Cathedral, Avenida de la Constitucion, tel: +34 902 09 96 92
3) Museo del Baile Flamenco, 3 Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos, tel: +34 95 434 0311
4) Real Alcázar, Patio de Banderas, tel: +34 95 450 2324
5) Espacio Metropol Parasol, 18 Plaza de la Encarnación, tel: +34 95 456 1512
6) Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla, 3 Plaza América, tel: +34 95 471 2391 ()
7) Casa de Pilatos, 1 Plaza de Pilatos, tel: +34 95 422 5298
8) Italica, 10 Calle Mercedes Barris, tel: +34 95 439 6950
9) Instituto de la Cultura y las Artes, 1 Calle Silencio, tel: +34 955 471 422
10) Aire de Seville Baños Arabes, 15 Calle Aire, +34 95 501 0025
18 Casa Manolo León, 8 Calle Guadalquivir, tel: +34 95 437 3735
19 Restaurante Abades Triana, 69A Calle Betis, tel: +34 95 428 6459
20 Pizzeria San Marco, 6 Calle Meson del Moro, tel: +34 95 421 4390
21 Coloniales, 36-38 Calle Fernández y González, tel: +34 95 422 9381
22 Vinela, 4 Plaza doña Elvira, tel: +34 954 224 870
23 Al Aljibe, 76 Alameda de Hércules, tel: +34 954 900 591
24 Eslava, 3 Calle Eslava, tel: +34 95 490 6568 ()
25 Azotea 12 Conde de Barajas, tel: +34 95 511 6748
26 Kudeta 2 Judería, tel: +34 95 408 8518
27 El Rincóncillo, 40 Calle Gerona, tel: +34 95 422 3183
28 La Carbonería, 18 Calle Levíes, tel: +34 95 421 4460
29 Bodeguita Casablanca, 12 Calle Adolfo Rodriguez Jurado, tel: +34 95 422 4114
30 Hotel Doña Maria, 19 Calle Don Remondo, tel: +34 95 422 4990
31 Cerveceria La Sureña, 1 Metropol Parasol local, Plaza de la Encarnacion, tel: +34 90 219 7494
32) Padilla Crespo a la Ancha, 16 Calle Adriano, tel: +34 95 456 4414
33) Confiteria Heladeria San Pablo, 3 Calle San Pablo, tel: +34 95 421 2916
34) Triana Market, Calle Betis
35) El Corte Inglés, 1 Calle San Pablo, tel: +34 95 459 7010 ()
36) Ginza, 9 Calle Trajano, tel: +34 95 437 9387
37) Cerámica El Altozano, 3 Calle Antillano Campos, tel: +34 95 434 0908
38) Julián López, 23 Calle O’Donnell, tel: +34 95 450 2743
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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