For Americans visiting Spain, Barcelona and Madrid seem the focal points. Both are amazing destinations, but seeing only those two cities misses my personal favorite city in Spain: Seville. The capital of Andalusia is one of the cultural highlights of all of Europe, a mid-sized city, easy to explore and with more to do than can easily be done in even a few solid weeks. It has incredible food, beautiful sites to see, rich history, and lovely parks. Add to that the constant smell of orange from the tens of thousands of orange trees in the city – this is, after all, where the famous bitter orange marmalade comes from – and you have perhaps a perfect destination.
Convinced? Well, this guide will help you plan the most wonderful Seville getaway as an individual trip, or an add-on to your Spain vacation.
Note: every link in this article will take you to another piece published here on The Royal Tour, so please click through if you want more information about a specific topic.
Plaza de Espana is one of my favorite places in the city!
The biggest challenge for a trip to Seville – other than deciding what to see first – is getting there. It has a small airport located on the eastern end of the city, a roughly €20 cab ride from the old city where you’ll likely be staying. Flights are only from Western European capitals and other cities in Spain, so at the very least you’ll have to change planes once, maybe twice, or if connecting through Paris (for example) even change airports. Most of these flights aren’t even on major carriers, so you might be better off booking a round trip to Madrid or Barcelona, and a separate flight (or train) to get to Seville. It seems like a pain, but the city is worth the effort. (It also helps to keep the tourist numbers down from what a city like Seville would normally command. This is a win for you.)
If coming from Madrid, you can also opt for a three-hour train ride, arriving into Seville’s Santa Justa station. That is also east of where you’ll likely be staying, but much closer than the airport. (From Barcelona, you are best off flying, a roughly fifty minute hop that runs regularly.)
Other than going to and from the airport or train station, Seville is a city meant for walking. There is only one metro line, more suitable for commuters than tourists, plus buses and a tram, but the narrow streets of the old town won’t accommodate anything but cars (barely), mopeds, and feet. Stick to the last one, but make sure to watch for cars, as sidewalks are not always available, especially in the Barrio Santa Cruz (the old Jewish Quarter).
From one end of the old city to the other (the river in the west to Avenida Menéndez Pelayo in the east) is about a fifteen to twenty minute walk; it could be a bit more if you take a windy route. Pretty much every sight you’ll want to visit is within this perimeter.
Finally, remember that Uber/Lyft don’t exist in Spain. There is an app called Cabify that you can download, or just use a taxi if needed. There are also scooters and bikes to rent, and well marked bike paths along the major streets.
Part of the charm of Seville is the narrow streets, but they can make it hard to get around.
Where to Stay
Seville is relatively barren in terms of American hotel brands, especially in the old city – and you’ll want to be as close to that as you can. So unless you want to stay at Marriott’s Hotel Alfonso XIII (five stars with a price to match), you’re probably better off searching through a service like hotels.com. Alternatively, you can do what I did, and nab an Airbnb. Mine was less than $40 per night for a private one bedroom flat mere minutes walking from the Barrio Santa Cruz.
The old city is relatively safe, so if you are anywhere around that, I’d consider it to be a decent place to stay. Remember, the Spanish keep very late hours, so restaurants (and the streets they are on) will be busy well past 10pm, so walking home late at night isn’t as scary as it can be in other places.
Hotel Alfonso XIII
What to Do
For what is today a relatively small (in comparison to Madrid or Barcelona) and unimportant city, Seville has so much to do. In my recent trip I spent two full weeks here, and still had things on my list I didn’t get to.
I spoke about many of the cultural gems in a separate article, but let’s run through a few of the highlights. There are – to my mind – three things in the old city you absolutely cannot miss.
First is the Real Alcazar – the royal palace. A combination of Muslim Moorish palace and more modern Spanish wing, the complex is a masterpiece of architectural styles, with gardens surrounding it, full of fascinating fountains. Get your ticket ahead of time; it is good for a timed entry, and if you can go first thing in the morning, you can beat some of the crowds for the iconic photos.
One of the courtyards of the Real Alcazar before the crowds
The second must-see is the cathedral. It is the world’s largest Gothic church (and third largest overall), with a can’t-miss tower you can climb for the best views of the city. Lines can be long to get in, and you’ll want at least two hours to wander around – make sure to see the tomb of a Christopher Columbus (lousy but iconic human), the treasures room, and the main altar with its 2,000kg of gold leaf.
Finally, the only free site on this brief list, make sure to visit the Archivo de Indias. The building is plain from the outside, but it houses the priceless relics and documents from Spain’s Age of Discovery. When I was there, it held an exhibition on Magellan’s voyage (with treasures like the original ship’s manifest), one of the best exhibits I’ve ever experienced. I can only assume the next will also be up to par.
As for other things to do in Seville, make sure to experience flamenco in some form, whether at the Flamenco Dance Museum or via a show. I talk all about flamenco here.
If you are interested in seeing the Jewish Quarter, just be prepared for a dearth of anything Jewish.
Make sure to wander through the Plaza de Espana, perhaps the most beautiful plaza I’ve ever seen, and the next-door Maria Luisa Park, especially on a pretty day.
Beyond these, the city has so many palaces, museums, churches, and parks to explore that you’ll have no problem filling your time, no matter how much you have. But to see this city in less than three days would require rushing, stressing, and potentially sacrificing some of the wonders. Remember, Seville was the most important city in Spain for centuries, and it shows! Just walk around, check out the buildings, and discover the hidden corners of the city.
The tower of the cathedral. The climb is steep but the view is worth it!
What to Eat
The name of the game in Andalusia is tapas. Unlike what we consider tapas in America (small shared plates), typical tapas are unadorned simple tasty bites that are pretty inexpensive. (Some places will give you a tapa for free with each drink purchased; some won’t.) Vegetarian tapas aren’t as common, so be prepared to eat meat or to order larger vegetarian dishes – vegetarian food as a whole is harder to find in Spain than in other western countries.
In Seville, as with other places, I do have my personal favorite spots, so here are a couple recommendations. For coffee or a fresh juice, hit up Jester. Then take your juice, coffee, and a fresh bagel sandwich to Plaza de Espana to eat and watch the people. For my favorite tapas – a bit pricier but so amazing – try Abaceria del Postigo behind the cathedral. (By pricier it was still under $60 for two people with two glasses of wine each and dessert.) Confiteria La Campana is a great place to grab an afternoon espresso and piece of cake, nestled between the Setas (magnificent modern art installation) and one of the top shopping streets running north from the cathedral.
Last, but not least, make sure to try Seville’s famous bitter orange marmalade while you are here. Made from the oranges you see all over (they are bitter, so eat one at your own risk – trust me, I tried), it is iconic and something to experience at least once. Some coffee or breakfast places will have some, or you can buy a jar from several of the monasteries around town, as they were the ones to make it historically. Try the Convento de Santa Paula.
My favorite tapa from Abacaria del Postigo was this flamed sausage.
Other Useful Information
Winters in Seville are mild, but summer heat is the reason siesta was invented. It can get brutal, and you’ll be thankful the buildings are built so close together to provide shade.
A note about the hours for food: lunch in Spain is normally from 12:30-2 or 3pm, and dinner rarely before 8pm.
While we are on hours, many stores will close for siesta from roughly 3-5pm.
There are horses and carriages everywhere between the cathedral and Maria Luisa Park. They won’t necessarily stop for pedestrians but will expect you to avoid them. Do so. Horses are bigger than we are. Also, while they have poop-catching bags, they are not perfect, so watch your step.
Flamenco is everywhere. Don’t miss it!
I was blown away by Seville. It quickly – from my first day exploring – became my favorite city in all of Spain, one of my favorite countries. Please make sure to include it when you travel next to this corner of the world. I hope this guide helped!
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