If when you think of Spain you conjure up images of women dancing in bright flamenco dresses, bull fights, quaint cobblestone streets and ceramic tiles you would find Seville fits into that picture on all fronts. To many visitors, Seville is emblematic of their visions of Spain.
Seville has a long colourful and rich history. It was one of the most important Spanish cities many times throughout its existence. From as early as 45 BCE, when it was officially given status as a Roman colony by Julius Ceasar, it was a prominent city. It was later a cultural centre under the Visigoths in the 6th and 7th centuries and continued to enjoy great importance under the influence of the Arabs from the 8th century on. In 1248 Ferdinand conquered Seville for Christianity and transferred his court to this graceful city.
Walking through the streets of Seville you can see the result of the meld of cultures, each left its stamp on the architecture and culture of Seville.
Seville is such a diverse city, so full of life that you could stay there for months before you would be able to see and do everything that is genuinely Seville. If you want to study the history of Seville, or the stunning and diverse architecture you many have to stay for years. If you would like a quick overview of the highlights I will do my best to break down a few “must see” places. Fortunately, Seville isn’t a huge city area-wise and if you have a good pair of walking shoes you can get to almost everything easily.
Don’t forget your camera as this is one of the most photographic cities you may ever visit.
1. Take a guided tours of a 8th Century Moorish Castle—the Real Alcazar of Seville
Real Alcazar of Seville. This palace is situated in the centre of the old part of the city. Don’t be fooled by the not-so-royal looking entrance, once you step inside its walls, you will be whisked away to a time far away. You see what it was like to live in a Moorish castle in the 8th century, and later how the Catholic kings from the 15th century onward added their stamp and yet still kept the original flavour. You can almost hear the voices of the harem echoing around the Andalucian patios. You will want to get a guided tour to get the full history of the myths and legends that are still whispered about through the halls.
Hours from October to March: Monday to Sunday from 09.30 to 5:00 p.m.
Hours April to September: Monday to Sunday from 09.30 to 7:00 p.m.
Closed January 1st and 6th, Good Friday and December 25th.
Rates: General admission to the ground floor: € 9.50
Entrance to the ground floor for seniors and students 17 to 25 years: 2 €
Youths under the age of 16 are free
2. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Seville
Take a ride on the horse-drawn carriages. You will get to see a lot of the old downtown area from the vantage of the carriage as well as the Plaza de Espana, Marie Luisa Park and along the river, the Guadalquivir. Not all of the drivers speak English, but most of them are more than willing to tell you about where they are taking you. They are the second line of tour guides in Seville.
3. Take a walk around the Plaza de España
A stop at the Plaza de España is a must. Although this is not one of the historic buildings in Seville, it was built for the world fair in 1929, it is very impressive. The plaza is surrounded by a semi-circle structure with towers on the north and south ends. A narrow river runs around the structure and has four large bridges crossing at various points. Along the wall, there are 48 alcoves with benches each with a ceramic mural representing the distinct provinces in Spain. Numerous movies have been filmed here including Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. If you go on a Saturday evening you are almost guaranteed to see numerous wedding parties posing for photos.
4. Cruise along the Guadalquivir River to view some of Seville's historic buildings
A cruise along the Guadalquivir River. You can opt for a one-hour cruise that will take you under the bridges of Seville and past some of the most emblematic buildings in Seville, such as the Torre de Oro (Gold tower), the bull ring as well as the famous Barrio de Triana (the Triana area). If you need a break from walking and want to take in a different view of the city, this is an excellent option.
5. Visit the unique University of Seville
It might seem strange to recommend a look around the university, but it is housed in an impressive building—the former Royal Tobacco Factory. This immense structure was at one time the 2nd largest building in Spain, second only to the El Escorial Palace. In its prime, it employed 1000 workers and 250 horses. This structure gives some insight as to why smoking is still so common in Spain. The tobacco factory was converted into a much more beneficial use in the 1950’s when it became the University of Seville. It is a stunning structure and worth a walk around.
6. A walk through the old city and see the fascinating Barrio de Judios
A walk through the old city, including Barrio de Judios (Jewish section) and some of the streets near the Cathedral. The Jewish section is fascinating to see as you will immediately notice the difference in the style of buildings. In this area, the buildings are much closer together and have fewer windows. It is worth your while to delve into the history of this quarter by visiting the Centro de Interpretación de la Juderia is a museum located in the Santa Cruz district that exists to recover and to value Jewish culture. For only 6.50€, enter the museum Monday to Saturday from 10:30 until 15:30 or Sunday from 10:30 to 18:30 to understand the boundaries of the city, its history, its characters and their stories.
7. Rent a bike in the Marie Luisa Park
This is a beautiful park that is worth a stroll through. There are still a number of buildings from the 1929 world fair in Seville. In the heat of the day, this is a perfect place to take refuge in as the large trees and foliage offer a lovely cooling shade. You can rent bikes for your family or just find a favourite bench and sit, listen to the birds and take in the sites.
The suggestions I have listed here are only a drop in the bucket of the hundreds of things to see and do in Seville. Don't rush your visit. Walk and find all the nooks and crannies. I have no doubt that you will fall in love with Seville and want to return.
If you would like some information in French, check out this wonderful article on visiting Andalusia, including Seville.