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If there’s one place that sums up Spain in a nutshell it’s Seville. Anyone who has visited during carnival season will know they have the most passionate Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations, an incredibly colourful annual feria (fair) and if you’ve read your guidebooks right, you’ll know that they’ve been credited with inventing tapas. Cut Seville in two and it would probably bleed flamenco and bullfighting…
In short, Seville thrives on la buena vida. The city is host to more narrow medieval streets than anywhere else in Andalusia and day or night, the atmosphere in these little neighbourhoods is something very special.
Thankfully, unlike many other major European cities that have undergone urban facelifts, there are still parts of Seville that retain its original authentic Andalusian look and feel. In the old town, especially the Santa Cruz district, it is possible to walk through bustling ancient streets and imagine you have stepped back in time to a pretty little Spanish village.
Were you to stroll these exact streets in the 12th and 13th centuries, the purpose of your trip would have undoubtedly been to visit Almohade Mosque. These days, almost all signs of the mosque have disappeared. It has been replaced by a Christian gothic cathedral which took over 100 years to build in 1401. Still, some surviving evidence of the mosque can be seen in the Patio Naranjos and Giraldo Tower.
Seville is an easy city to navigate by foot but if the heat gets too much for you, there are plenty of car rental companies offering a comfortable air-conditioned alternative, including Argus Car Hire, Avis, Hertz and Holiday Autos.
First up, get your bearings and kick off your tour at the Plaza de Espana which was home to the Spanish pavilion during the 1929 World’s Fair.
Admission is free and gives you the chance to see the mosaics that depict all the separate provinces in Spain. When the sun get too hot (high 30s and even 40 degree heat is normal in the summer months), it’s an easy stroll to Maria Luisa Park where you can sit in the cool and comfortable shade of a palm tree.
A trip to the city’s cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is a must. When it was completed in the 16th century, the cathedral overtook the Hagia Sophia and became the largest cathedral in the world. Today it still retains its impressive scale and is home to some 80 chapels. The Cathedral also has the distinction of being the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
While you’re in the vicinity of the cathedral, check out the nearby Jewish Quarter known as the Barrio Santa Cruz. Local arts and crafts have flourished here so it’s a great place to pick up a handcrafted souvenir, as well as slightly tacky flamenco and bull fighting paraphernalia.
This fort was originally built by the Moors to protect their city “Sbiliya” until the Alcáza expanded the original design to include a palace complete with ponds, courtyards, patios and baths.
Entry to the Royal Alcazars of Seville costs less than €10 and gives you access to the room where Christopher Columbus planned his most famous voyage.
There are more than a thousand bars in the city of Seville, meaning you can sample all kinds of tapas, from ham and sausage to vegetable and cheese. Do as the locals do and hop from one bar to another trying one dish at a time.
Apart from traditional dishes such as patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce) and tortilla (Spanish omelette), the tastiest tapas to try in Seville is one that involves jámon (ham).
Bar Alfalfa – one of the city’s liveliest bars. Locals and tourists flock here because of its loud, friendly atmosphere. The pan con tomate is always good too.
Bar Giralda – the tapas restaurant that shines brighter than the rest on Seville’s ‘Tapas Mile’ aka Mateas Gargo. Be sure to wash down your tapas with a glass of jerez (sherry). Prices are reasonable (nothing more than €5-€10 and its close proximity to La Giralda bell tower makes this a really popular spot.
El Rinconcillo – Spanish bar experiences don’t get much more authentic than El Rinconcillo – in fact, it’s quite the novelty to watch as the staff they scribble your order onto an old-school blackboard above the bar.
Habanita – situated close to the University of Seville, this restaurant is known for its extensive vegetarian options. It offers good value if you’re on a budget so is definitely one to keep in mind.
Seville has plenty of well-located hostels that offer you a base to stay when all you want is a shower and bed.
If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, check out the beautiful Hotel Holos (Calle Uruguay 8 ) and the elegant and centrally located Casa Romana Hotel Boutique.
Seville’s tourist attractions are much more wallet-friendly than Madrid or Barcelona and entrance fees are a lot cheaper. Restaurants and bars aren’t as expensive either and you can save yourself a fair amount by eating at your hostel or hotel.
Bear in mind that Seville gets very hot in July and August so you might want to avoid walking in the midday sun.
About the Author: Fiona Hilliard is a travel writer/blogger from Dublin, Ireland. When not writing about Seville, she can be found serving up great travel tips and advice at the Argus Car Hire blog.