The winter seems to drag on forever, you need sun, you need good food, you want to see some amazing sights (old and new) and maybe even try dancing the flamenco. Then Sevilla is the place for you. It was for us, and we never dance. Let us guide you along the 10 best sights in Sevilla (according to us that is).
Rich in history
For a city of its size Sevilla packs a lot of historic punch. Once an important hub in Moorish Spain it later became the economic center of the catholic Spanish Empire when its port monopolized the trans-oceanic trade after the discovery of the Americas. It brought much wealth to the city, but as the Guadalquivir river became increasingly difficult to navigate its fortunes waned.
All this history can be found again in modern day Sevilla. We explored the city for 2,5 days in March. This was the perfect time to go. We had glorious springtime weather, the sun being out all day long and very nice temperatures. That was so much better than when I visited in summer thirty years ago. With temperatures over 40o Celsius back then, sightseeing was considerably less fun.
10 best sights in Sevilla
If there’s one thing that you have to visit when in Sevilla then it is the Real Alacazar. The first royal palace in Sevilla is Islamic in origin and has a history stretching back more than a thousand years. It’s actually a series of smaller palaces, new palaces being added every time power changed hands. The palace therefore reflects the history of the city, with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements.
The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens that are nice to walk through and give you some respite from the heat (in summer) and the crowds.
The large amount of tour groups sometimes can get in the way of really enjoying the palace. Therefore it’s best to visit as soon as the palace gates open and waiting lines are still short. For some of the upstairs rooms separate, timed tickets have to be bought. We were unaware of this and when we heard we had to wait for 2,5 hours decided to skip it.
Cathedral and Giralda Tower
With a length of 126 meters and a width of 83 meters Sevilla’s cathedral is the largest Gothic church in the world. Like so many other religious buildings in Andalusia it was built as a mosque at the end of the twelfth century and consecrated as a cathedral after the Reconquest by the Spanish in the thirteenth century.
The current cathedral is from the fifteenth century and it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer size of the building and the treasures found inside. It is claimed that the remains of Christopher Columbus are buried here, but this is open to debate. You’ll find it easy enough because all tour groups are dutifully led past his supposed grave.
We spent 1,5 hours here including walking up the 96 meters high Giralda tower, the symbol of the city. It can be a tough climb in the heat of summer, but this is the best place in Sevilla for some sweeping views of the city.
Plaza de España
This semi-circle brick building in Renaissance-Moorish style is probably the easiest recognizable landmark of Sevilla. It was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition in 1929. All along the wall are 48 alcoves with benches. All Spanish provinces are depicted here on amazing tableaus of colorful azulejos (painted ceramic tiles).
In front of the building, following the façade, is a 500 meter long canal where you can row a boat. A bit über-touristic if you ask us. The Plaza de España is located in Parque Maria Luisa, south of the city center (but to the right on most maps). Bring food and especially water, as there’s not much for sale here apart from some cheap Andalusian souvenirs (fans or castanets anyone?) and there’s little to no shade.
Casa de Pilatos
One of the most beautiful old private homes in Sevilla is the Casa de Pilatos, an archducal residence built in the sixteenth century. We found the entry ticket quite pricey. A rather boring audio guide was included. This was offset though by the beauty of the home.
The architecture was as fantastic as that of the Real Alcazar, with a mixture of Spanish Mudéjar and Italian Renaissance styles and adorned with many beautiful azulejos, but without the crowds. In fact, there was hardly anyone else there when we visited. A little piece of heaven.
As street art lovers it was inevitable that we’d allocate part of a day to look for street art. Most street art can be found on the sides of apartment buildings in the Poligono de San Pablo neighborhood, at the Plaza de Armas bus station and along the banks of the Guadalquivir river. For more pictures check out our separate post on street art in Sevilla.
This example of modern architecture detonates with its historic surroundings, but we loved it (maybe because of that). We found it an interesting object to practice our photography skills. The results of this can be found in this separate post.
Archivo de Indias
This may not be everybody’s cup of tea but if you’re interested in the early years of the Spanish discoveries of the new world this is the place for you. The Indian Archives, next to the cathedral, registered all trade with the new colonies and still houses these documents. We just hopped in for a quick look around. It had a nice interior and entrance was free.
When you’re in Sevilla it’s almost imperative that you visit a flamenco show. Flamenco is a way of life, a mixture of gipsy and Andalusian culture that developed into a public art form of song and dance in Andalusia. El Palacio Andaluz is said to host the best flamenco show in the world. Maybe it’s more fun to enter one of the bars all around Sevilla where regular performances are held and have a more intimate flamenco experience.
Barrio Santa Cruz
Located next to the cathedral and Real Alcazar is the former Jewish quarter in Barrio Santa Cruz. This small neighborhood of narrow, winding alleys and some cozy plazas is great to explore on foot. It boasts souvenir shops, restaurants, terraces, bars and pretty whitewashed Andalusian houses.
Many visitors of Sevilla concentrate their wanderings on the area directly surrounding the cathedral and Real Alcazar but it’s great fun to throw the map aside and get lost in Centro, the city center, to the north (but to the left on most maps of Sevilla). You’ll not only find the main pedestrian shopping streets here but dozens of smaller ones and some picturesque plazas as well.
If you walk even further north you’ll get to Alameda de Hercules, an elongated square that’s a popular meeting point for locals. It is great for a drink and some serious people watching.
Stay – Sevilla is not a cheap place to stay, but staying at the Boutike Hostel, not far from the Metropol Parasol, didn’t break our bank. It was more a small hotel than a hostel. We had a no frills economy room at the backside of the hostel. This meant no outside window but also no street noise, always a plus.
Wifi was okay and a pretty good buffet breakfast was included. It was only served from nine o’clock in the morning, which we thought was pretty late if you want to do a full day of sightseeing. Major sights like the cathedral and Real Alacazar were about 10-15 minutes walking distance away
Transport – We walked everywhere, but rented a bicycle when we went in search of street art. A typical rate for a half day rental is 8-10 euro. Be aware, though, that some rentals close midday. If you arrive through Sevilla International Airport, make sure that before you leave you know how to get to your accommodation when using the bus. There’s no information whatsoever at the airport. We thought this was pretty daft.