Our early February holiday is one for the for the mind, body and soul.
British winters are dull, damp, and thoroughly miserable. Throw in a less-than-healthy post-Christmas bank balance and the fact that the country is wallowing in the wake of a messy Brexit and you’ve got yourself a real stinker of a month. Considering this, we only had two specifications when choosing our first trip of 2020; it had to be kind on the wallet with a good chance of sunshine!
Fresh from our Madrid holiday the previous year, I was still fan-girling over Spain and everything Spanish, so when Skyscanner threw up cheap flights to Seville – known as the ‘frying pan of Spain’ – I knew my Vitamin D boost was within reach!
Seville is definitely getting more popular as a tourist destination, so what is there to do in Seville and what can we eat?
Discover the Plaza de Espana
Free walking tours are the best introduction when I’m visiting a new destination. By exploring on foot, I can finally make connections between the digital street map and the real soul of the city. We met our White Umbrella Tour guide just outside the Cathedral and we were told of the city’s history, shown where the best tapas bars are, walked along the river with views of Triana, discussed Seville’s famous bull ring (and associated controversies) and finally ended our tour at the Plaza de Espana.
The Plaza de Espana is such a symbol of Seville; if you’ve ever Googled or read anything about the city, this is the photo you’ll see. And my god, it’s massive, and absolutely stunning! Sure, the boating lake in the middle of the plaza is less romantic and more chaotic (think aquatic bumper cars with oars!), but the venetian style bridges are gorgeous and the 49 tiled homages to each of the Spanish provinces are so impressive.
After spending a long while hanging out in the plaza, we crossed over to Parque de Maria Lusia to beat the heat under one of the many orange trees.
Find The Best Views In Seville At The Metropol Parasol
Our hotel literally overlooked the Metropol Parasol, or Las Setas (translated as the mushrooms) as they are more commonly known. From below, the structure looks bizarre, imposing and kind of out of place in the tiny café-lined square, but our free walking tour guide assured us that Las Setas would offer up some of the best views over the city; “go at sunset” she urged.
It’s true, the structure is far more impressive when you reach the top and you can appreciate the whole bulbous shape in it’s weird waffle-like glory, made even better as it and the city, bathed in the perfect ‘golden hour’ glow.
Metropol Parasol claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world and costs only 3 Euro to visit so it’s a must see when visiting Seville.
Go Inside The Largest Cathedral In Europe & Climb La Giralda
Moving from the largest wooden structure in the world, to the largest Cathedral in Europe; it’s so big that you can’t actually get a photo of the whole of it without going to the extremes of sending a drone up! The history behind why it got so big is quite interesting. The site was originally a mosque – you can still easily spot influences from Islam in the architecture in parts of the cathedral, and the tower (the Giralda) was the old minaret. Seville was taken from Moorish control by King Ferdinand and the Gothic, Catholic cathedral was literally built around it. Apparently the instruction was to build a cathedral so big and so beautiful that “those who see it will think we’re mad” – a runaway success then, I guess?
We bought tickets to visit inside and were surprised to discover the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Columbus set off from the port of Seville in search of the New World, so perhaps it makes sense as to why he’s here, but why is the tomb suspended in mid air? Apparently one of his final wishes was to not be buried on Spanish soil. Well, I suppose that’s one way around it.
Our ticket also included the option to climb the Giralda. Despite being 320ft high, the tower only has a handful of steps – it’s actually made up of 35 ramps, built in this way so the muezzin could ride a horse to the top to recite the call to prayer. It’s down to this exercise-shy individual that countless tourists are now able to take a leisurely stroll to reach the top. 😉 The view is awesome too, made all the better considering the lack of thigh burn.
Explore The Real Alcazar de Sevilla
I’ve still never seen Game of Thrones! I really must, considering I’ve been to almost all the major European filming locations now… But I’ve been told that the GOT fans may recognise this as the Water Gardens of Dorne.
In a similar fashion to Seville’s cathedral, The Real Alcazar de Sevilla was built over the site of the old Moorish fortress, which again, explains the striking mix of Christian and Muslim styles across all of the rooms, ornate courtyards, patios and throughout the expansive gardens. I loved strolling about in the midday sunshine underneath all the palms and orange trees!
The whole site is just massive, so I’m glad I put aside a number of hours (and wore comfortable trainers!) to find my way around this place.
Find The Torro Del Oro And Take A Walk Along The River
There’s no shortage of beautiful spots in Seville; another one of my favourite areas was the banks along the Guadalquivir river.
From here we could see the Torro Del Oro, Seville’s bull ring, and across the water, the colourful houses of Triana.
It’s worth crossing over the bridge to visit this district, if only for the history and to visit the excellent local market for some street food. This area was historically a working-class neighbourhood, famous for its many azulegos (patterned tile) workshops, experienced bullfighters, sailors and flamenco artists; Triana is considered one of the birthplaces of flamenco.
Get Lost In The Historical Barrio of Santa Cruz
Isn’t Seville just the most photogenic city? Clearly not content with the beauty of the just Plaza de Espana or the Alcazar, we took some time out on our last day to wander the streets in the barrio of Santa Cruz. We set out without a plan or direction and got lost countless times in the tight streets, stopping every dozen steps to take another photo from another angle. Handily enough, this former jewish quarter is probably where you’ll find some of the nicest traditional tapas bars (using Calle Mateos Gago as a solid starting point), so you can probably lose a good half a day just bar hopping.
Experience A Flamenco Performance
It would be a missed opportunity to come to Seville and not experience, first hand, the intensity and raw art of a flamenco performance. Originating the Andalucía region this deeply traditional expression, formed from a marriage of music, vocals and dance, was said to be born from the Romani people settled in Spain. It’s hugely emotive and the music tells energetic stories of sadness, pain or even anger.
We were keen to go and see a traditional show, and many of the places in the city had excellent reviews, some offering the ‘dinner and show’ tourist package – which I was less keen on, but one venue – La Carboneria – kept cropping up.
Vaguely off the well-trodden path, this half-hidden warehouse-come-bar lures both locals and tourists with the promise of a free flamenco show. Reviews advised us to come early to poach the best benches near to the front; it makes good sense – a lot of the aesthetic of flamenco is focused on the furious footwork – no good shoehorning your way in at the back of the bar a few minutes before the show starts. It may not appear that way on the face of it, but this place is a very badly-kept secret and the bar fills up – fast.
After buying a couple of large beers we found a couple of seats overlooking the simple ‘stage’ area. Eventually as the benches bowed under the weight of an expectant crowd, the lights dimmed and the guitarist began to strum up a slow and soulful song, the crowd hushed and waited for the dancer to emerge.
The performance is slow to build, and begins with almost a lethargic tempo. But it’s captivating as the performance develops and the pace intensifies. There are no photos or video permitted during the flamenco – so the entire crowd is silent and fully focused on the dancer and the musician.
By the end of the half hour set, as the performance reaches a climax with an energetic flourish, even I, as a spectator, feels half-exhausted from witnessing such raw emotion.
Considering I nearly talked myself out of going to a flamenco show, I’m so pleased I managed to make one!
Drinking and Eating in Seville: Churros, Tapas & Vino De Naranja
Will I ever tire of Spanish food?
That was clearly rhetorical.
It was pretty much all I could bang on about when I returned from Madrid in October last year. Seville was no different, and I’ve saved the best until last. So where are the best places to eat in Seville?
Churros Con Chocolate at Bar El Comercio
When in Spain, the only acceptable breakfast food is churros con chocolate. I over indulged on these in Madrid, and you can bet I planned on doing the same in Seville.
Just a five minute walk from our hotel near Las Setas was Bar El Comercio. It gave me so much pleasure to perch on the bar with my coffee and churros and ease myself into the day with the perfect caffeine / chocolate combination. It was the energy of the place that kept me coming back though. I always think that Spanish bar-life boarders on theatre; half a dozen barmen clambering from one end of the bar to the other, the constant clatter and wheeze of the coffee machine churning out espressos, plates of freshly fried churros being passed over heads, and layers and layers of conversation and hollered orders. You hardly get the same buzz from your local Starbucks! 😉
It helps that the churros are wonderfully affordable, and for a few Euro, it makes for the perfect budget breakfast in Seville.
All the Wine at Casa Morales
Next up, wine! We stumbled on Casa Morales and ended up frequenting this wine bar twice a day. Twice a day! No judgment please, I’m on holiday and I’m definitely having an afternoon tipple followed by my evening vino…
This place had a fantastic collection of wine to try, and although I did branch out a bit and experimented with a few rioja’s and sherry’s, I kept returning to my favourite; vino de naranja (Orange Wine). As Seville is famous for its oranges, it was a must. Verdict: Super fruity and slightly sweet and syrupy, it’s far too easy drinking. 😉
Tapas in Seville’s Traditional Tapas Bars: El Rinconcillo, La Sacristia & La Fresquita
And where’s the best place for tapas in Seville? Starting with Bodeguita Romero this small chain of tapas bars in Seville is said to serve up some of the best ‘pringa’s’ (pork cheek sandwiches) around. Of course, everyone’s here to try them too, but we managed to squeeze in for an early lunch.
It’s also worth the trip over to the north east of the city to a bar called El Rinconcillo which lays claim to being Seville’s oldest bar, operating since 1670. Because of this, it is a little touristy, but the interior remains stripped back – all faded wood and traditional patterned titles. The fish dishes are to die for – try the bacalao (salted cod)!
Finally, just east of Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, on the edge of the pretty Santa Cruz district is Calle Mateos Gago. This super photogenic street is lined with tapas bars, all with a perfect view of the Giralda if you seat yourself al fresco. We ate at La Sacristia for small plates of goats cheese and honey (pictured above), calamares and paella, and later dined at La Fresquita – again, incredible tapas in a intriguing standing-room-only bar heavily decorated with religious photos and drawings, stacked floor to ceiling.
Have you ever travelled to Seville, or explored any other cities in Southern Spain? Has my trip convinced you to book a trip to this stunning city? Is Seville on your bucket list?