A visit to Seville is also a visit to Naboo and Dorne. Early Roman and Muslim roots have shaped the architecture of Seville creating what might be the most beautiful city on Earth. The maze like cobble stone streets hide plazas filled with orange trees and ornate buildings.
Day 1 – Friday, June 26, 2015
Our week in Seville would be the hottest of the year with temperatures of over 100 degrees F for the duration of our visit. Our train arrived to the Santa Justa train station at 9:30am and we quickly made our way, via bus, to our apartment. The apartment was nicer than the Airbnb pictures; a ground floor unit with a living space looking out to the street and a bedroom looking into a Spanish courtyard.
Although the temperature was rising, we left the comfort of air-conditioning to get lunch at Pizzeria la Mia Tana. The pizza was good, but nothing beats our favorite pizzeria back home. Like true Spaniards we engaged in afternoon siestas, each taking naps at various times, exhausted from our early morning travels and the hot day.
As the sun began to lower (around 8:45pm), we ventured outside again. We had no exact plans, but wanted to enjoy wandering the streets. Seville, more so than anywhere else I can recall, is a maze. The streets are narrow and twist around each other in no particular pattern. Many of the lanes are covered in canvas sunshades which span between buildings to protect walkers from the intense heat. Often the streets would converge in plazas or squares. The plazas were usually paved with stones and filled with outdoor cafe seating. Many decorated buildings were strewn throughout the city. We would walk towards one spire or another, only to find that the closer we got to each, the harder it was to see the stunning architecture.
In particular we walked to the Metropol Parasol, a large wooden canopy. In fact, the parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure (by some accounts). During our visit, the sun was illuminating the structure in brilliant oranges. We wanted to ascend to the viewing platform on top, but weren’t sure it was open. We also stumbled across the Alameda de Hercules while walking. The Alameda is a large square lined with popular restaurants. It was a busy place to be and while the adults relaxed, kids played in the open areas and splash foundations.
As we started back towards our apartment, we stopped for dinner at La Pepona. La Pepona was a tapas bar with a little bit of everything on the menu; Japanese, Chinese, Spanish. Our meal consisted of raw clams and melon (which was more of a cream soup), salmon tar tar, Oxtail dumplings with a dipping soup, and San Peter fish stew (which wasn’t a stew at all). Leaving the restaurant, we both agreed that La Pepona was one of the best tapas restaurants we’d eaten at thus far in Spain.
Day 2 – Saturday, June 27, 2015
To make the most of the day, before the high temperatures, we joined the earliest free walking tour we could find. At 10am we met our tour guide at Plaza Neuva where we were divided into two groups; Spanish speaking and English speaking. Although there were about 20 people, Jon and I were the only two in the English group so we essentially had a private tour of the historic city center. The tour began with a brief history of Seville’s Roman and Muslim roots, then we looked at the Plateresque-style city hall building. In the Seville city center is the Palace Alcazar, Seville Cathedral, and the Archive de Indias, which are all UNESCO designated world heritage sites. The tour continued past an old boat yard, the Gold and Silver towers on the River Guadalquivir, and a former tobacco factory which is now a university.
The final stop on the tour was Plaza de Espana. Plaza de Espana is a beautiful gem and the highlight of the tour. It was built between 1914-1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. A beautiful, columned building around a plaza with lovely fountains, bridges, and tile-work. Despite the heat, we spent time walking around the Plaza and taking pictures. When we had exhausted what the Plaza had to offer, we slowly headed to our apartment for a siesta.
At 8pm we met my friend Jenna at Plaza Alfalfa, a small square in near the apartment we had rented. Jenna and I shared an apartment in college and hadn’t seen each other in 10 years. It’s another reminder of how lucky we are to have open and welcoming friends spread throughout the world. Jenna moved to Seville to study for one semester and returned for graduate school. She has been living there for 5 years. We went to a bar at Plaza del Salvador where Jenna introduced us to tinto. Tinto is the Spanish’s alternative to Sangria and is red wine mixed with lemon or orange soda. As we finished our drinks, the doors to Iglesia del Salvador across the square opened up. Inside was a very ornate carved alter which we couldn’t resist taking a peak at. Jenna also pointed out a structure in the back of the church which she identified as a float used in Holy Week celebrations.
For dinner, Jenna took us to a tapas restaurants called Taberna Coloniales. Once the locals head to dinner, around 10pm, Jenna said there is a line to get in. But, since we arrived earlier than that we were seated right away. Under Jenna’s guidance we tried to order the most authentic tapas we could. These included fried croquettes, Iberian ham, and patatas bravas. To finish off the evening, we walked past the parasol, which the locals refer to as ‘setas’ or the mushroom and to Alameda de Hercules for another drink.
Alameda de Hercules was the sight of the Seville Pride festival and we couldn’t believe how crowded it was. People were everywhere and a free concert was going on. We managed to find indoor seats at a bar which allowed us to escape the heat and the crowds and catch up some more.
Day 3 – Sunday, June 28, 2015
Sunday was predicted to be the hottest day of our time in Seville, with temperatures topping at 108F. We knew we would need an early start to beat the heat. Seeing the Alcazar (Royal Palace) in Seville was the most important sight for us, and so we began there. The line to enter the palace wasn’t very long and we were quickly inside (€9.50).
The Alcazar is a mixture of architecture, having been expanded by many of the rulers who lived there, however the mudéjar (Muslim) architecture prevails. Alcazar is, in my mind, one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. The interior spaces are separated by arched doors and columns and are decorated with intricately patterned tiles. Many of the interiors face open air courtyards which enclose fountains and orange trees.
The back of the palace opens up to the gardens which are lush and green. Fountains are placed throughout the gardens at most intersecting paths and a columned grotto bisects the grounds. People weren’t the only thing strolling the gardens. We also saw peacocks. Under a portion of the palace is the cool basement bath. Another good place to escape the heat is on the palace’s second floor where there is a small (air-conditioned) exhibit of tiles and other ceramics. The palace has been in several films, including Laurence of Arabia and more recently Game of Thrones as the kingdom of Dorne.
We spent 3 hours in Alcazar before stopping for lunch in the town. Many lunch restaurants have outdoor, covered seating with mist jets to keep the customers cool. We sat outside at El Pasaje and split tapas for lunch before going home to wait until the cooler evening.
An hour before sunset we again walked back to the Metropol Parasol, known by the locals as seta, or mushroom. For €3 you can take an elevator to the top of the parasol and enjoy the view. The setting sun was in the distance by a mountain, but the main attractions were lit up well enough for some photographs. There is a twisting walkway which gives 360 degree views of Seville. The ticket price also includes a free drink. The cafe on top of the Parasol was closed for the day, but several of the cafes at the base honor the drink coupon, so we stopped in for a glass of tinto.
We stayed close to our apartment and went to Bar Europa for dinner. Bar Europa was only open for one more hour when we arrived, and we were disappointed to find 3 of the 4 tapas we picked to have run out for the night. Regardless, the food we had was pretty good and we enjoyed our meal. Had the kitchen stayed open longer, we may have even ordered a bit more.
Day 3 – Monday, June 29, 2015
Our day began going to visit the Seville Cathedral despite the heat. There was a line to enter, but it moved quickly. The Seville Cathedral (€9/person) is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and has many interesting details which kept us there for several hours longer than we take to tour churches. The main room of the cathedral is beautiful and imposing. Huge columns support the vaulted ceiling which is intricately carved at the transept. The church has an impressive, craved altarpiece and is famous for housing the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The church also has several relics, including what may be a thorn from Jesus’s crucifixion.
Entry to the church includes climbing the Giralda (bell tower). The tower is a remnant from the original Muslim mosque that became the cathedral. Ramps, originally used by donkeys, lead to the top observation deck which is the highest point in the city. The final area of the Cathedral is the orange garden, another remainder of the sight’s original function as a mosque.
Just before sunset, we returned to Plaza de Espana. During our first visit, the sun had been behind the main pavilion leaving most of its beautiful facade in shadows. Returning late afternoon, we saw the facade lit up by the sun and took pictures until there was no more light hitting the pavilion. Another benefit was that the Plaza was much less crowded and we were able to enjoy its mosaics and architecture in solitude.
From the Plaza we walked to the adjacent Parque de Maria Luisa. Maris Luisa Park is a drastic change from the perfectly manicured gardens elsewhere in the city. The park is more natural and green, although there are fountains, flower beds, and arbors scattered throughout the park. We watched a lady feed ducks and swans for a while. We also enjoyed seeing some playful dogs splashing around in the fountains.
The historic center of Seville was lit up by the time we returned. For dinner we went to Bodega Santa Cruz, mostly because of the huge crowd. Bodega Santa Cruz was a fun experience, we stood at the bar as a dizzying bartender took orders, made drinks, and served tapas to everyone on our side of the restaurant with lightening fast speed. The only problem was that everything we ordered (and we picked several random tapas we weren’t familiar with) came deep fried. I did stumble on a dish called calzons en adobo which I really enjoyed, battered and fried fish nuggets with a yummy lemon flavor.
Day 4 – Tuesday, June 30, 2015
We had already visited the Seville sights that were highest on our priority list (the Cathedral and Alcazar), so we we spent Tuesday wandering around to some lesser visited attractions. We started with the old Royal Tobacco Factory which now houses part of the Universidad de Seville. Our guided tour of Seville had given us some historical background of the factory, which is also the setting for the opera Carmen. There seemed to be an audioguide application available, but we enjoyed wandering through the building discovering courtyard after courtyard. The factory even had its own jail for thieves.
Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, literally Bullring of the Royal Cavalry of Seville, was our next stop of the day. The bullfighting arena has a small museum and gives tours every half hour for €7. The tour guide spoke in both English and Spanish. The start of the tour was into the arena where we were given ample time to take photographs from the stands. The tour also stops by a small art gallery housed under the bullring featuring bullfight related works of art. Next is the 4 room museum where we learned about the history of bullfighting, parts of a typical bullfight, and saw memorabilia, including the mounted heads of the bulls deemed excellent fighters. One interesting fact was that only two bulls have been considered such great fighters that the judges (of the bullfight) declared they should live. Those two bulls were returned to a farm, never to fight again, and used to breed.
For lunch we stopped at a small cafe advertising two large glasses of sangria and paella for two for €14. We enjoy paella and decided we hadn’t been eating enough of it during our trip. The meal was quite good and really hit the spot, even through we were sure the paella was made en masse and the sangria was made with fruit cocktail.
That evening we met Jenna again and went to Tirana. Tirana is the Seville neighborhood located across the River Guadalquivir. Along the river are touristy cafes with lovely views, but set back along Calle San Jacinto are tapas restaurants for the locals. We ate at Taberna Miami, where we had another enjoyable but completely fried meal. The portions were large, and three tapas is all it took to feed the three of us.
Day 5 – Wednesday, July 1, 2015
At 8:30am we were at the Seville train station boarding a train to Cordoba. Cordoba is an easy day trip from Seville. From the Cordoba train station it is a 25 minute walk to old town, or you can take a bus. The area outside of the old town was very urban, but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves on small, winding streets. The first delight of the day was a glimpse of the city wall around one corner.
Cordoba is a popular day trip destination for one significant reason, its enormous mosque turned cathedral. The cathedral was €8 to enter and another €3 for an audioguide. As soon as you step into the door you are immersed by its signature red and white arches which fill the vast building. It was quite some time before we could tear ourselves away from the architecture to listen to the audioguide. The mosque, which was the largest in western Europe at the time of its construction, has undergone 3 large expansions by the builder’s successors. Eventually Cordoba became Christian and a large cathedral was built into the middle bays of the mosque. Today the building functions as both a Catholic cathedral and a mosque. The architecture of the cathedral, as well as the mosque is quite stunning and we spent several hours in the church. Also interesting are the ruins of an old roman church discovered below the mosque, complete with roman mosaics.
Immediately outside of the church doors was Bar Santos, which had been recommended to us as the the best tortillas (omelets with potato) in town. The tortillas are a sight in themselves to see and they did not disappoint us. We each enjoyed a slice, but found them so filling we didn’t need anymore to eat.
An easy walk across the nearby Puente Romano gave us the iconic Cordoba view. The bridge is a restored Roman original with the medieval Calahorra Tower and Puerta del Puente at either end.
Our last visit in Cordoba was to the Alcazar de los reyes cristianos, which translates to the palace of the christian kings (€7). The Cordoba Alcazar was surprisingly enjoyable and much less crowded than the alcazar in Seville. We started by exploring the building, including being able to walk narrow stairs until we were on the top of the turrets. From the palace, we moved on to the gardens which were some of the nicest and best maintained we had seen all trip. Large fountains are the prominent feature of the gardens but there are also colorful flowers, statues of ancient kings, and topiaries.
Back in Seville we ate at Duo Tapas for one of our favorite, albeit weird, meals of the trip. The servers were very friendly and attentive, however it took Jon 30 minutes to get a beer he ordered from three various waiters. Otherwise, the food came very quickly and was good. Our favorites were pork in wine sauce and duck, although everything was tasty.
Day 6 – Thursday, July 2, 2015
For breakfast we went to El Colmado. When we arrived at El Colmado, it seemed like a real locals place. It is located next to a large bus stop which distracted from the ambiance. The food however was good and cheap. For less than €3 each meal comes with a hot drink and toast or a toasted sandwich with toppings such as hard cheese, ham, or marinated meat.
Seville is considered the birthplace of flamenco. Shops throughout the town offer traditional flamenco dresses for sale and proof of their authenticity is obvious when, during festivals and holidays, the locals don their finest flamenco attire. Jenna, who has lived in Seville 5 years, now owns two dresses and has gorgeous photographs of her and other ladies wearing them to celebrations. We couldn’t leave Seville without attending a Flamenco performance.
The Casa de la Guitarra is small, but it is more than a performance hall, it is the ‘centro cultural de flamenco’. The walls are decorated with museum quality guitars from the past century, and if we knew anything about traditional flamenco guitarists, I’m sure that we would have recognized the names of a few of them.
The show only lasted an hour, but was truly amazing. The show we saw featured David Hornillo (singer), Maria Jose Leon (dancer), and Javi Gomex (guitarist). Javi started with fantastic guitar playing. He stopped to explain the style he had played in and brought David on stage before starting a different variation. Eventually Maria came to the stage. Her dancing was very powerful and emotional and went on for quite a while. She took a short rest and changed costumes while David, accompanied by Javi, demonstrated various singing styles. Finally Maria returned for another captivating dance. I wasn’t sure what to expect from flamingo, but this ended up being one of my favorite shows.
After the show we went to dinner at Ovejas Negras. Ovejas Negras was one of our favorite meals in Seville. The tapas were unique and delicious, not anything like the fried tapas at bars. We enjoyed pork cheeks, mushroom risotto, mushroom brochette, and beef.
Day 7 – Friday, July 3, 2015
We took two buses to the airport to fly to Mallorca, Spain.
- Plaza de Espana – Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 the Plaza features a beautiful, columned building around a plaza with lovely fountains, bridges, and tile-work.
- Alcazar – (€9.50). An enchanting palace and UNCESO World Heritage site of mudéjar (Muslim) architecture. The interior spaces are separated by arched doors and columns and are decorated with intricately patterned tiles. Many of the interiors face open air courtyards which enclose fountains and orange trees.
- Seville Cathedral – (€9/person) The largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The church has an impressive, craved altarpiece and is famous for housing the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The church also has several relics, including what may be a thorn from Jesus’s crucifixion.
- Metropol Parasol – For €3 you can take an elevator to the top of the parasol and enjoy the view. There is a twisting walkway which gives views of Seville for 360 degrees. The ticket price also includes a free drink at their the cafe on top of the Parasol or several of the cafes at the base.
- Golden tower – If you are interested in a view of the river, you can visit the historic golden tower used to control entry into the city via the river. Our tour guide advised us that the tower was free on Mondays.
- Casa de Pilatos – (€8 with audioguide) To view even more wondrous architecture, you can take of tour of this private residence.
- Free Walking Tour – A great introduction into the rich cultures which have helped shaped Seville over the centuries.
- Flamenco show – Seville is considered the birthplace of flamenco. This emotional dance is breathtaking to watch. I highly recommend taking in a show while visiting Seville. We loved the hour long performance at The Casa de la Guitarra, a small performance hall decorated with museum quality guitars from the past century.
- Day trip to Cordoba – If you want to experience an area outside of Seville, Cordoba can be easily reached by train. Once there visit the Cordoba Cathedral and Mosque, stroll the Puente Romano , and stop for a tortilla at Bar Santos.
- Tour of bullfighting museum – Seville is one of the last areas of Spain to still allow bullfighting. If you can’t make it to a fight, or don’t want to see one, you can still tour the stadium (€7) and learn about how this sport works.
- La Pepona – A modern, clean tapas restaurants which was one of our favorite of the trip. Every dish that we ordered was simple, well put together, and delicious.
- Bar Europa – A small tapas restaurant with dishes that we enjoyed very much. Go early, we arrived late in the evening and found several of their signature dishes to be sold out.
- Duo Tapas – The food came very quickly and was good. Our favorites were pork in wine sauce and duck, although everything was tasty. The servers were very friendly and attentive, however there was some breakdown in service and it took us 30 minutes and asking 3 waiters to get a beer.
- Ovejals Negras – The tapas were unique and delicious, not anything like the fried tapas at bars. We enjoyed pork cheeks, mushroom risotto, mushroom brochette, and beef.
- Tinto de verano or Tinto con lemon – Forget sangria, in Seville everyone drinks Tinto de verano which translate to ‘red wine of summer’. This light drinks is house red wine mixed with lemon (or orange) soda and served cold over ice.
- Agua de Sevilla -A sangria like mixture of cava, liquor, and pineapple served topped with cream.
- Seville has a public trolly and bus line, €1.60/ ride.
- The airport bus goes to the train station and costs €3/ride.