Seville is completely entrancing. This Spanish city feels like it has history written into every sandy-coloured stone and decorative blue tile.
There’s a rich cultural heritage here, a melting pot that resulted from centuries of architectural evolution, fusion of cultures and shifts in political power.
Of course, there’s the cultural heritage and architectural wonders… but there’s also bowls of sizzling paella, perfect sunny days, and flamenco dancing!
Seville is a perfect city for exploring on foot. With a beautiful maze of peaceful backstreets, ostentatious palace walls tiled in colourful motifs, and green garden spaces, there’s always something new to discover. And with an old town that is so compact, Seville’s sights are usually within a few minutes of each other.
When the weather is perfect and skies are blue, Seville is a photographer’s (or an illustrator’s) dream. And as an extra bonus, delicious tapas and a cold beer on a lively terrace are a wonderful way to relax at the end of a day of sightseeing. But where to start, for first timers? Here is my illustrated list of the top things to do in Seville.
The Real Alcázar
The Real Alcázar is the city’s royal palace and a charming centrepiece of the city. A hybrid mishmash of Moorish and Christian Castilian designs are at play here, known as Mudéjar. The grounds are sprawling, so you’ll often find yourself lost in a veritable labyrinth of courtyards, palm trees, magnificent halls, bathing pools, tiles and tapestries, and manicured garden arrangements.
For Game of Thrones fans, several scenes in Dorne were filmed here. The Alcázar’s most popular courtyard takes detailed archways and ceilings to a whole new level of precision. The Moorish influence on display is by far the most engaging aspect here.
Intricate arabesques cover entire walls and meet up into grand, domed ceilings. Spanish design, however, comes together in some of the cavernous great halls, in the form of tapestries and colourful tile arrangements.
Discovering secret courtyards with trickling fountains, echoing bathing rooms, and maze gardens can take a whole afternoon, and is probably the most essential activity one can enjoy in Seville.
The Catedral de Sevilla
The most conspicuous and awe-inspiring building in Seville is the delightful Catedral de Sevilla. And awe-inspiring it certainly is; in fact, you’re looking at the world’s largest gothic cathedral here in the heart of the old city. Exquisite details of flying buttresses, stained-glass windows and religious iconography make the exterior design even more impressive.
Wander inside, and you’ll find cavernous ceilings and smooth, polished floors lit by natural light, pouring through the windows. The 20-metre high Retablo Mayor is an exquisitely detailed craft of gilded wooden reliefs designed by Flemish craftsman Pierre Dancart, which took half a century to complete. And as a nice little bonus, you can find an orange grove in the courtyard!
Christopher Colombus’ mausoleum is located within the Catedral de Sevilla, too. The sepulchre is carried by four stone coffin-bearers, each representing the kingdoms of Castile, León, Aragon and Navarre.
La Giralda, built against the Catedral de Sevilla, is a landmark bell tower that sets the cathedral apart from others. Contrasting against the cathedral’s ornate gothic design, the straight and geometric La Giralda is actually a modified Moorish minaret.
In 1248, the Moors lost control of Seville to the Christians. And while the main mosque was left to fall into ruin, La Giralda was preserved. Unusually for a conquering force, the Spanish decided to keep the minaret instead of destroy it, incorporate it into their city, and add a bell tower to the top in a new fusion of styles.
Inside, wide ramps were built to allow a horse and rider to reach the top. Regardless of whether you have a horse of your own, you can still climb to the top to enjoy the city views.
For some of the most quaint, charming Spanish streets, look no further than Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. Santa Cruz is just next to the Real Alcázar, nestled against the great palace walls.
Ignore the first few restaurants and shops (these are tourist traps, and the food isn’t that good), and keep meandering through the backstreets to find some beautiful spots. Patterned brickwork and smooth cobblestones; lonesome, shady trees; and and cute houses with lovely stucco walls come together in a photogenic palette of pale reds, washed yellows and sky blues..
Cafes surprise you from time to time, a perfect excuse for a rest. Sipping a cappuccino in the shade of an umbrella, and admiring the bushy flower beds overflowing from painted windowsills is a nice way to relax.
Around the bend, a crookback alley might appear, so narrow that the houses have been built into each other. And just when you think you’re truly lost, the palms of the Alcázar gardens seem to appear just next to you.
Plaza de España
To the south of the city centre is the grand Plaza de España. A half-moon array of elegant buildings, columns and tile artworks curves around a large central courtyard. Another famous film location, the Plaza de España was used for a Star Wars: Attack of the Clones scene in Naboo in 2002.
A curved canal follows the path of the buildings and galleries, with four playful bridges that link the two sides. For those who want to relax, boat rides are available. The Plaza is host to a number of competing design styles; Moorish elements, renaissance revival, and modern Spanish architecture.
Parque María Luisa
Not far from the Plaza de España, the Parque María Luisa is nearby, a lovely public park. Palm trees, forests of great elms and bristling pines all form a shady canopy to the many walking paths. The duck pond with a pretty gazebo is a great place to take some pictures.
Guadalquivir river and the Torre del Oro
The Guadalquivir river runs through Seville, a wide river with paved banks, and perfect for aimless walking when the sun is out. On the opposite bank is Triana, another of Seville’s charming old town centres.
Eventually, the Torre del Oro appears into view. The circular keep, complete with crenellations and flags snapping in the wind, started life in the 13th century as a Moorish watchtower.
Wake up late, and find a good local cafe – outdoor seating and a decent view is a nice start. The Seville-style breakfast is available in most cafes, which is usually a crunchy tostada (toasted bread), topped with Spanish ham, or chopped tomato, and served with a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice.
Olive oil (always on the table next to the salt and pepper) is drizzled over the meal to increase the deliciousness. Enjoy!
The Metropol Parasol
Is it modern architecture, or a giant wooden puzzle of a mushroom? Jüurgen Mayer’s 26-metre high construction is certainly a controversial talking point amongst those who see it. Nevertheless, it’s certainly worth a visit. The latticework of the organic shape spreads across six ‘mushrooms’, to create one of the world’s largest wooden structures.
Pay a small fee, and climb the Metropol Parasol. Following the winding aerial walkways are a cool way to take in Seville from up high in every direction. This is not the most touristed attraction, so you’ll often have whole stretches of the walk to yourself. And for Roman history fans, visit the Antiquarium museum, which displays Roman ruins discovered under the site.
The Alameda de Hércules
The old quarter is full of paella restaurants for those who want to stay in the area of the Catedral de Sevilla. But, there is another dining and entertainment quarter where tourists don’t usually venture. To find some of the best tapas in the city, walk over to the Alameda de Hércules in the suburb of Macarena.
This wide, green, pedestrian-only street is a mixture of a grand boulevard and a public square. Along the way, dozens of lively restaurants fill up with local diners on outdoor chairs and tables. Catching up with a cold beer, some patatas bravas and barbequed prawns, locals bring their dogs along to mingle. The best way to soak in the Mediterranean atmosphere on a nice evening!
Have you been to Seville? What was your favourite thing to do in this wonderful city? Let me know below!