Seville is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The capital of Seville has a great heritage: it has the third largest old town in Europe, only behind Genoa and Venice. There is no shortage of things to do in Seville: from discovering the gardens of its beautiful Alcazar to walking and tapas in the Alameda de Hércules. In this post we tell you the best things to do in Seville so that you can get to know the city better.
Cathedral of Seville
The Cathedral of Seville and its Moorish Bell Tower is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. A Unesco World Heritage site because of the splendours of its architecture and the treasures within. Take a close look and its origins as a mosque can still be glimpsed in the bell tower, doorways and courtyards. This imposing building contains 80 chapels and 15 doors around its four facades. Each one is subtly different. Look out for the door of the lizard, where the strange courting gift of a crocodile hangs from the ceiling. The marriage proposal of the Sultan of Egypt was declined. Perhaps the princess preferred roses.
The altarpiece is a fine expression of gothic wood carving. It depicts scenes from the life of Christ and is sumptuously gilded with gold. The church was tithed a tenth of all the gold that was brought to Seville from the New World. This represents the life work of one single craftsman – Pierre Dancourt.
The opulent tomb of Christopher Columbus was constructed 386 years after he died in poverty. DNA testing confirms that his remains and those of his son Diego do lie in the Cathedral.
The Cathedral had owned two magnificent organs installed in 1753 and 1831. Sadly, these were destroyed in the earthquake of 1988. They were replaced in 1901 to 1903 by twin organs built by Aquilino Amezua to celebrate this splendid holy space. They have been modified to enhance their Baroque capabilities. To hear them in action, attend a mass or look out for a special event.
Climb to the top of the bell tower and be rewarded by panoramic views over Seville. The bottom half is Moorish but the top part was built in the Renaissance. Take a guided tour and marvel at the wealth and history behind the paintings, carvings and, artefacts on display. Remember that this is a sacred building and dress modestly ensuring that shoulders and knees are covered.
Visit a Living Palace
Alcazar is the oldest palace still occupied by a royal family in Europe. This site has been occupied from 8BC. The Visigoth basilica of St Vincent (patron saint of charities) was swept away by the Moors. They built a fortress which in turn was destroyed by Peter of Castille who built his royal palace. The current building is a blend of the influences of Islam and Christianity. Courtyard, arches, pools and exquisite tiling unfolding and revealing themselves as the site is explored.
Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven and more recently the fifth season of Game of Thrones have all utilised the splendid surrounds of Alcazar.
Very busy and very popular so it is essential to book online even if taking advantage of free Mondays.
Snacking and Feasting …
Think of food and Spain and tapas immediately springs to mind. This unassuming bar snack has evolved into a rich and complex cuisine. Tapas celebrates the rich and diverse culture of Spain and each region has its favourites. There are around 3,000 tapas bars in Seville. From the traditional with limited seating to the modern which are like restaurants. Tucked down back streets and along the main roads, tapas bars are a vibrant living expression of the culture of Andalucía. Spoiled for choice? Then take a tapas tour. The price includes a guide around historic Seville with visits to four tapas bars to sample their specialties. Many of the bars have been run by the same family for over a century. Each bar has its own special yet traditional dish. Bar Las Teresas serves high-quality Iberian ham or a deceptively simple dish of spinach and peas. La Fresquita whose walls are adorned with myriad souvenirs of Semana Santa, is very small and has no seating. It serves a range of delicious little sandwiches. The Bodega Fabiola serves chicharrones – fried pork belly fragrant with herbs and garlic. Bodeguita Romero was founded in 1939 and nestles close to the Cathedral. It serves a shrimp tortilla that evokes the scent of the sea. The sea brought the treasures and produce of the world to Spain. Tapas is not stuck in the past as there are also fusion bars like the Bar Alfalfa with an Italian owner and two menus (quick bar snacks and a more leisurely dish) to mix up the old favourites with some modern twists.
See the beautiful paintings …
The home of the Museo de Bellas Artes is a beautiful historic building. It was constructed in 1534 and housed the Barefoot Convent of Mercy. It was seized by Mendizabel government in 1835 along with various paintings and treasures from the church. A museum to display the beautiful treasures of Spain to the people was founded in September 1839. The museum of fine arts displays these liberated masterpieces from the convents and monasteries. It also has more modern acquisitions so the paintings on display range from the medieval to the 20th Century. The collection of paintings from Spanish artists from the golden age of Seville (17th Century) are exceptional. The quality and quantity of these mean this is one of the best galleries in Spain. Visit and enjoy the paintings of Murillo, Zurburan, Valdés Leal and Francisco de Herrerra (the younger) or for a more expert introduction book a guided tour. There is a range of tours available and some will include refreshments by way of tapas. When planning your visit remember that this museum is closed on Mondays.
Tap into the Beat …
Flamenco is a virtuoso performance of rhythmic patterns, hand clapping, footwork, and intricate hand movements. The dance has its roots in India. The Gitanos (Roma) migrated from North West India between the 9th and 14th Century. They brought their tambourines, bells and, wooden castanets. In Southern Spain, they encountered the vibrant cultures of the Moors and Shepardic Jews. This mixing of cultures produced the passionate, expressive dance that is flamenco.
When you watch live flamenco lift your eyes from the flying feet to the dancer’s face. This will express deunde -the spirit of the dance. As the dancers twirl and stomp their feet their passions and feelings for the music are shown on their faces.
There are many places to see flamenco in Seville. Traditional bars with spontaneous dancers to theatres with organised shows. Naturally, the Museo del Baile Flamenco. is an excellent venue with professional dancers being showcased.
For a whole evening out try the El Patio Sevillano. Many different dancers will perform across the evening. Arrive early because the seats are allocated on a first come first served basis.
The Casa de la Guitarra is a small theatre rather than a bar but this allows the beauty and fire of the dance to be appreciated without background distractions.
For a more authentic experience, La Carboneria has three shows a night. Entrance is free but you will need to buy a drink and it will be hot and crowded.
In the smallest venue in Seville, T de Triana, you can book a tapas tour with the flamenco dancers which culminates in a flamenco dance in the bar overlooking the river.
Explore the Culture of the Dance
Visit the Museo de Baile Flamenco – a museum dedicated to the art and culture of Flamenco. It is in an 18th Century building tucked away in a corner of the Jewish Quarter. It first opened to the public in 2006 thanks to the passion Christia Hoyos has for this vibrant dance of Southern Spain.
In addition to the many exhibitions, there are events, lessons and memorabilia. This museum does not celebrate flamenco as a past glory but as a living breathing evolving dance form.
Processions and Fairs
In March and April, there are two great city-wide spectacular events in Seville.
The Semana Santa is a week of parades and processions. A festival of faith and repentance taking part in the holy week leading up to Easter weekend. The routes of the processions change every year. This event attracts around a million visitors and as many of Seville’s other attractions close this week, it really is the only show in town.
Seek out the torrijas, a traditional snack of fried bread that has been soaked in honey, eggs and white wine from the iconic bakery Confiteria La Campana. Consume while watching the statues being carried from their home churches to the Cathedral. These lifelike wooden statues are transported on floats carried by up to 20-50 people. The invitation to be one of the bearers is highly prized. This celebration dates back to at least the 16th Century and possibly the 12th.
The most significant processions take place on the night of Holy Thursday. There can be around 3,000 participants. This procession is led by the Nazarenes whose faces are covered as a sign of penitence. They walk silently in pairs with pointed hats and only slits for their eyes. The processions range from silent and solemn (Gran Poder) to noisy and exuberant (La Macarena).
The climax of this celebration of repentance is La Madruga that starts around midnight on Good Friday. The virgins from Triana and Macarena are transported to the Cathedral. The most solemn and haunting procession will take place at 1.00am when the oldest brotherhood, El Silencio will parade slowly and silently by candlelight through the hushed crowds. An awe-inspiring moment that will stay in the mind for a long time.
The Feria de Abril begins two weeks after the celebrated Semana Santa. It begins at midnight on Saturday and runs for a riotous seven days. It is treated as an opportunity to dress up and celebrate. The extravaganza is far removed from its early beginnings as a livestock market.
Carriages and individual horse riders parade at midday every day of the fair. There are daily bullfights with the best matadors coming to take part.
Individually decorated marquee tents (caseta) cover the fairground and the banks of the Guadalquiver River. Each caseta is equipped with a bar and a kitchen. Often with a sound system too. Some tents are available for the public to enter including La Mamrimorena which serves vegan food.
The celebrations continue day and night to the accompaniment of the folk music of Seville.
Take a guided tour and be introduced to the many and varied traditions of the week-long party that is the April Fair.
Walk in the Old Town
In medieval times Seville had a thriving population of Shepardic Jews and the narrow byzantine streets of Barrio Santa Cruz were their home. Many of the streets are too narrow for cars so ideally suited to the walking explorer. The jasmine scented streets are home to small stores and artisan shops. For a more structured trip, a guided tour by foot or bike is reasonably priced and will take a couple of hours.
This is one of Seville’s oldest neighborhoods and contains such gems as Alfalfa Square which was once a Moorish market place. Casa Murillo is a small museum that celebrates the artists life and works. The Casa de Pilatos is a 15th-century mansion whose splendid gardens rival those of the Alcázar. Both of these can be found among the winding streets. The Pilatos is an intriguing mixture of architectural styles of Mudéjar, Gothic and Renaissance enclosing a traditional Andalusian courtyard. Spend some time exploring this maze of interesting streets, refresh yourself in one of the many small bars and take home an interesting handcrafted souvenir.
Witness Bravery, Bulls and Blood
Bullfighting is the last outpost of the blood sports that dominated medieval life in Europe. It is not to everyone’s taste as many modern audiences hope for a victory for the bull. Alas, however bravely the bull fights it is destined to stain the sands with its blood. In exceptional circumstances, it is pardoned and returns to live out its days on the ranch that reared it.
The art of bullfighting has been at the heart of Andalusian culture since Roman times. La Maestranza bullfight season runs from March to early October. The average bullfight lasts about an hour to two and a half hours, they start in the late afternoon. It is hot and the best area to sit is in the shaded area. Tickets are sold for three areas, shaded, sun and shade and potentially the most uncomfortable sun area. Umbrellas are not permitted as these would hinder spectators’ views of the action so take a raincoat if rain is threatening as the event will continue regardless of the weather. This bullring will seat 14,000. Tickets for the most popular matadors will sell out many days in advance.
The bulls are bred especially for the bullfight although they will not have fought until the day they enter the ring. A bull will be aged 4 to 5 years when it enters the ring. Two years older than its brethren bred for beef.
For those who do not want to watch an actual bullfight but still want to learn about this aspect of Spanish life, there is a tour of the Plaza de Toros and Museo Taurino.
The Plaza de Toros is the oldest bullring in Spain. It dates back to 1761 and was declared a Historical Art Monument in 1983. Stand in the bullring and get a glimpse of how it would feel, to be standing there alone as the mighty bull thunders towards you.
The museum contains a hall with paintings depicting the long history of bullfighting in Spain and in particular Seville. Some by Goya. There are exhibits of bullfighting equipment and the costumes worn by the matadors. A window into how the matadors train and prepare.
Regardless of the controversy over the actual practice of bullfighting, this is a fascinating insight into an activity that is a part of the Spanish identity. The tour is suitable for the whole family as the more bloodthirsty aspects of bullfighting are not covered.
See how a Bad Man does Good
The Hospital de la Cariad was founded in 1674. Itstill cares for the aged and infirm today so not all areas are open to visitors. The public can visit the chapel which contains exquisite baroque sculptures. There are some beautiful paintings hanging in the church. Not all original as Napoleon’s army removed some and relocated them.
The patio is decorated with tiled panels from Holland depicting scenes of the Old and New Testament. This part dates to 1700. Although small the church contains some exquisite 17th Century masterpieces.
The hospital is free to visit on Monday afternoons. At other times the fees collected are used to assist the charity hospital in caring for its residents.
Miguel Manara built the hospital after he repented of his former dissolute ways. Allegedly the fictional character – Don Juan was based on his early life. He asked to be buried outside of the church at the entrance to express his humility. Others embraced this idea and today you cannot access the church without stepping on the burial sites. Tread softly.
See the View from the Watchtower
The Torre del Oro is a dodecahedral military watchtower built in the 13th Century. It has been used as a medieval prison, a chapel, a gunpowder store and offices for the Naval Command. It now houses a small naval museum. Free entry on a Monday.
It was designated as a historic-artistic monument in 1931. Its name means the tower of gold and is a reference to the fact that its Moorish builders may have used gilded tiles. Alternatively, it could refer to the storage of gold brought from the New World by the conquistadors.
The exhibitions cover the history of the Spanish Armada. There are other nautical history exhibits such as the first steamboat built in Spain, the Real Fernando.
The tower boasts a rooftop viewing platform with wonderful views. After visiting the tower the river cruise departs from a position near by.
Roman Mosaics – the Collection of a Countess
Museo Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija contains one of the most complete collections of Roman mosaics in Spain. The Countess was a collector and traveller. She decorated her mansion with her finds and treasures. In addition to the stunning mosaics, there are exhibitions of Asian art and paintings by European masters
Her descendants opened the house to the public in 1999. When the family lived here they used the ground floor during summers and shifted to the upper quarters during winter. Visitors are free to explore and enjoy the stunning first floor. The upper floor with the family rooms and private chapel can only be enjoyed by booking a private tour.
She was a remarkable lady, the first woman to be accepted into the Fine Arts Academy of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and her house is a tribute to her life.
360° Views from the top of a Mushroom
The timber construction dominating La Encarnación Square is claimed to be the largest wooden structure in the world. The design was inspired by the vaults of the Cathedral of Seville and weeping fig trees.
It is known as the Giant Mushrooms because of its shape and appearance. This complex interlocking structure is the brainchild of the German Architect Jurgen Mayer and was controversial in that the costs doubled during construction. The birch wood was imported from Finland.
It is constructed on four levels. Underground is a museum containing Roman remains, some of which were found during the construction of the parasols. A Central Market on the ground floor and a plaza for open-air events on the second. The rooftop terrace includes a restaurant and provides 360° views of Seville. It is worth a visit to marvel at the monumental scale of this wooden structure.
Embrace Modern Art
At the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporanio there are learning activities and events throughout the year.
The history of the building starts with a monastery. Then it became a ceramics factory. The evidence of this is shown by the tall bottle-shaped kilns built by the Englishman Charles Pickman. Porcelain production continued until the 1980s. Now only the kilns remain.
When visiting look out for ‘Alicia’ by Cristina Lucas. This huge installation was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. A giant head and arm appear to try and climb through a monastery window. Other exhibits will vary as the gallery hosts a mixture of permanent and temporary exhibits.
See Recorded History on Display
The Archivo General de las Indias was built in the reign of Phillip II to house historical papers. It was designed by Juan de Herrera.
This is an important archive of many historic documents including the diary of Christopher Columbus. It is the source of original information referring to the discovery and conquest of the New World. Access to the historic documents requires special permission but the building itself is worth a visit. The 15 million pages of documents housed in the archive are currently being digitized and made available to scholars all over the world.
There are some excellent paintings by Goya on display, maps dating from the 17th century for almost every Spanish colony and some artifacts from that time, such as a bronze cannon.
See Great Art and a Painted Church
The Hospital de los Venerables is a baroque 17th Century building. It was originally constructed as a home for priests. It is now an art gallery and houses paintings (Murillo), frescos (Valdes Leal) and sculptures (Pedro Roldan). There is free entry on Sunday afternoons and guided tours are available.
It contains one of the few painted churches left in Seville and there are many small but interesting features such as the fountain in the courtyard and the staircase with its tiled walls. Well worth taking the tour to find out about the history of this modest little gallery.
Take Time to Play
The Isla Magica is a popular theme park. Time to let the kids use up some of their abundant energy. It is based on the 16th Century conquest of the New World. The rides are all reassuringly constructed using modern technology.
Terrifying rollercoasters such as the Anaconda and El Jaguar for the robust daredevil. Smaller child-friendly rides in the mini water park and beach.
Throughout the year there are special events and shows. The activities are aimed at all ages from puppet shows to battle reconstructions and night-time multimedia shows at the lake.