We planned a trip to Andalucia last year, and all I heard about was Granada, Granada, Granada. Well, it happened to be little ol' Sevilla that made the greatest impression on us! Below are ten must-sees to entice you to this romantic and exhilarating city!
Unsurprisingly, the small appetizer-like plates known locally and worldwide as tapas were the cheapest and best-tasting in Sevilla. This city is known for its typical Spanish cuisine. We began our culinary journey through the city by simply selecting random places that we saw as we walked. The tapas are small, so it's not a big commitment if you don't like a place. Feel free to explore!
Most tapas are available in three sizes: (T): tapas, (M): medias, and (R): raciones. The tapas size is a small, single-serving of food. Like a mini-appetizer for one person, many places will advertise €1-€2 for a drink AND a tapa of chef's choice per person. This is a great way to experience a variety of tapas, and sometimes you get something you love, and sometimes not so much! Some places will even bring you a tapa for free with a drink purchase like some wine or sangria.
The medias serving-size would be a bigger plate to share with 2-4 people, and the raciones size is meant for a large table of 4-6 people. Technically you could consider the raciones size fit for a meal back in the U.S., but it is not common for Spaniards to order a raciones just for themselves. They take the time to enjoy one taste at a time. It's hard to break habit, but instead of ordering a lot of food at one time, order one tapas per person, or one media or racione per table, and take your time enjoying it. Meals can last for several hours. Get into the Sevillian spirit of things and enjoy several hours savoring and chatting.The best plate I had the entire time I was in not only Sevilla, but Spain was from Levies Cafe Bar which was a quiet and quaint cafe bar right around the corner from where we were staying. We ended up eating there twice.
One crazy thing my husband and I noticed right away as Americans enjoying a meal in Spain was the lack of background music playing while you eat. In the US, we happily foray into our cuisine with melodic accompaniment. Aside from the guitar peddlers that would stroll down the street and play for money, the meals were backed with little more than the clanging of dishes and chatter of restaurant patrons. It takes of bit of getting used to in a nearly empty restaurant, especially when you are accustomed to the noisy rock music blasting in your ear at a local sports bar in the U.S. But you get used to it, and even begin to enjoy it.
2. The Real Alcazar
When I told most people I was going to the Andalusia region, I was assured that the Alhambra in Granada was worth the trip to Spain alone. While I enjoyed the Alhambra, I enjoyed the Real Alcazar in Sevilla more. Featured as the Water Gardens of Dorne in the recent Season 5 episodes of Game of Thrones, Sevilla's 12th century palace is filled with entrancing maze-like gardens, elegant hallways, Moorish-patterned ceilings and doors, a Moorish bath house, and plenty of Sevillian-style, open patio courtyards. We accidentally showed up on a Monday afternoon and gained free entry! Score!
3. La Giralda
The Giralda, or church bell tower, is located within the Catedral De Sevilla, and is a fun haul to the top for some superb 360-degree views of the plazas and the city of Sevilla below. It took us about 15 minutes to walk up the 42-meter tower. It's only open at 2:30pm on Mondays in July and August, and 3:30pm the rest of the year, unless by appointment.
4. Plaza de Espana
When we turned the corner and faced this impressive 270-degree facade head-on, I was awe-struck. Easily one of my favorite places in all of Spain, this 50,000 square meter plaza is the perfect place to stroll arm in arm with your S.O. It's also a great photo-op for some picturesque Gothic-inspired architecture.
There are 48 alcoves that line the front of the main building. Each alcove is fitted with a bench and exquisite tile mosaics that display each of the 48 Spanish provinces. The four bridges over the canal represent the four ancient Spanish kingdoms. The center fountain perfectly balances the symmetry of this landmark.
5. Barrio Santa Cruz
With enchanting, winding, pedestrian-only side streets, this is the secret neighborhood you were looking for. Each corner you turn holds a small plaza with a fountain at the center. Each restaurant invites you to dine at one of its wrought iron tables outside in the open street. Windows and walls enchant you with geranium-filled, brightly painted, terra-cotta pots. Peer through gated entryways which hold secret courtyards for the residents of each building. The high buildings and narrow alleyways are meant to keep you cool even in the heat summer, as the shadows of these buildings provide you with a reprieve from the sun. We got lost in the maze of streets at least five times. Make sure to download the city maps from Google ahead of time before venturing into this maze of a neighborhood onto your phone. You don't need cell service to access the GPS location, but you do need service to load the maps. If you save this ahead of time, you don't need service to find your way around. The good news the area isn't enormous, so if you do get lost, continuing heading in one direction until you come out on the other side.
6. Cathedral de Sevilla
The third largest cathedral in Europe could be considered the heart of the city. All streets in Sevilla seem to lead here. Its size is only one of its most entrancing features. The incredible and awe-inspiring Gothic features will make your head spin!
Many Spanish visitors venture to this UNESCO World Heritage site that took over a century to build for the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Some visitors comes for the great alter that dominates the front of the cathedral. It is the largest and richest, and by many considered the finest, alter piece in the world!
One of our favorite features of this 15th-century masterpiece, aside from the Giralda as mentioned above, was the patio of orange trees, Patio de los Naranjos.
7. Flamenco Music
Believe it or not, we went all the way to Sevilla and didn't see one Flamenco dance performance. It's not that we didn't want to, it's just that it didn't happen. And sometimes, when exploring, you have to just go with wherever the night/day takes you, even if it wasn't exactly what you planned. Which is exactly what we did on our venture to see some Flamenco.
In the Barrio Santa Cruz, bills for Flamenco shows are all over the place. It's easy to find a Flamenco show that caters to tourists. But my husband and I wanted to find something a little more authentic than the steep €30 per person tourist-traps. We heard that La Carboneria was a bar located right in our neighborhood and was a great place to see some authentic and cheap Flamenco dancing. This place has been around for decades. What we hadn't anticipated is showing up at the 10:00pm start time only to find out from the owner that the city had apparently shut down all non-government regulated Flamenco bars. Or was it that they were on strike? Anyway, with no back up plan and even the touristy places now closed, we hailed a cab to head back.
Since Jet speaks Spanish, and wasn't giving up just yet, he was able to chat with the taxi driver to find out if there was another bar with some Flamenco performances nearby that we hadn't missed. This genial gentleman was happy to help, and called one of his friends to find out for us. He ended up taking us into Triana, a notorious neighborhood of gypsies, bull fighters, and general outcasts of historic Sevilla.
We were hesitant at first. Dropping us off at around 11:00pm, the streets were eerily empty and the bar, Casa Anselma, looked closed. The taxi driver reassured us they didn't open until midnight. Across from the bar was a little alleyway restaurant that we decided to grab a tapas and drink in until it opened and hoped for the best. We were a bit leery because there were no taxis around as ours had just departed, and no cell service to simply check up on the place or call for help!
But, thankfully, our trust in the taxi driver's suggestion did pay off. Sure enough, just before midnight, a little line of six or so people began to form outside the industrial storefront doors. My husband asked if they were here for the Flamenco show. They confirmed, and, at exactly midnight, the bar opened up. Keeping optimistic, we joined the line, and followed as about 12 people began to pile into chairs circled in the middle of the bar. A guitar player strummed his guitar and the soft sounds of a guitar being tuned filled the air.
There was a flurry of laughing and greeting each other on the cheeks as the main star, an older Romani woman, Anselma herself, entered and took center chair. They began to play and I was entranced.
While we didn't get any Flamenco Baile that day, we had an authentic and exciting experience with some true Sevillan-Romani Guitarra and Cante and it was truly unforgettable!
8. Sevillan Orange Trees
It's hard to picture any of the streets, monuments, palaces, cathedrals, and plazas in Sevilla without picturing the orange trees that frame the city. The oranges are, unfortunately, not edible. I mean, you could eat them, but they are very bitter, as we humbly found out after bravely trying one. Instead, they give an endless supply of fresh decoration to the city, and apparently some marmalade to the rest of Europe. But the trees are best for just admiring, in my opinion, and the city wouldn't be the same without them. We went in November, when an abundance of oranges were ripening on the trees. In spring, the flowers must be incredible!
9. Shopping Near Plaza Nueva and Avenida de Constitucion
If staying near the Plaza de Espana or Real Alcazar, hop on the above-ground tram to the Plaza Nueva, and explore the maze of streets filled with an assortment of boutiques and shops for some quality shopping time. This is where you can pick up an authentic Sevillan Flamenco fans or some typical Spanish clothing (think El Corte Ingles). The City Hall building is at the center of it all, as well as the small Plaza Nueva. This small square was great for browsing stalls of used books and watching Sevillan nannies supervise their adorably dressed tots as they played in the plaza. Don't leave Sevilla without exploring this area.
Just north of this area is the Metropol Parasol, an enormous wooden structure built over some ancient ruins. Above ground, an elevator takes you to a curving walkway on top of the "mushroom" with some fair viewpoints of the city. Personally, the building was a bit of an eyesore to me, and I'm sure some Sevillans would agree. My husband and I didn't feel like paying the fee to take the elevator to the top. However, it's free to at least walk under this unique piece and say you've seen it!
10. Sevilla's Plaza De Toros
This is the only item on my list that we didn't actually visit. We did tour the bullring in Ronda. However, I think if I went back to Sevilla, I would make a point to visit this fascinating place. I think the appeal of a bullring tour while in Spain is that it is quintessentially Spanish. It may feel a bit touristy, but there are very few places in the old world in which you can visit a bull ring in most major cities. Take time to not only walk the outer ring and the pit area of this or any Plaza de Toros, but the museum found within the walls. It is an important ritual when visiting Spain. If that's not reason enough, visit Sevilla's Plaza de Toros to see the setting of some Game of Thrones' fighting scenes!