ONCE the heart of the Moorish empire, the Andalucian capital is rich with cultural traditions, impressive architecture and tasty tapas.
Why go now?
This alluring Andalucian city has much to recommend it for a short break. The new year is a lovely time to explore the one-time capital of the Moorish empire: the tourist crowds have dwindled and the temperatures – usually in the low teens in January – are perfect for leisurely exploration.
Despite its exotic influences, Seville is also deeply immersed in its regional traditions such as religious festivals, flamenco, world-class tapas and sherry drinking. Tonight and tomorrow, the city will celebrate with colourful parades the Día de los Reyes Magos, or the Day the Three Kings came to visit the new-born Jesus.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted four times a week, and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) flies from Gatwick five times a week. Seville’s San Pablo airport is 11km north-east of the city. A bus (tussam.es; fare €2.40) departs every 25 minutes between 5am and 1.10am from outside the arrivals terminal. It stops at the railway station (1) and terminates at the Plaza Nueva (2). Taxis cost around €20.
Get your bearings
Easily explored on foot, Seville is peppered with spectacular architecture. Its opulent Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque buildings are vestiges of its illustrious past. It was the former capital of the Moorish empire and the most important Spanish port for the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Guadalquivir river, the reason for its status as the gateway to the Americas, flows through the heart of the city. Seville’s spiritual and historical centre is on the river’s eastern bank, with the Unesco World Heritage-listed Cathedral of the Virgin Mary (3) and its Giralda or bell tower (4) at the heart. Here, you can see the scattered remnants of Seville’s ancient city walls, begun by the Romans and improved by the Moors.
One of the city’s most picturesque quarters is the central Barrio Santa Cruz with its tightly packed web of cobbled streets and houses. It was also home to Seville’s former Jewish quarter. Across the river on the west bank is the more bohemian district of Triana, with flamenco dancing and decorative ceramics.
The main tourist office (5) is at Plaza del Triunfo (00 34 902 07 6336; visitsevilla.es; open from 10.30am to 2.30pm and 3.30pm to 7.30pm daily).
The neo-Mudéjar style Hotel Alfonso XIII (6) at Calle San Fernando 2 (00 34 954 91 7 070; hotel-alfonsoxiii-seville.com) was built by the monarch for which it is named for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Last year, a €20m facelift gave added lustre to the verdant garden, twinkling chandeliers and Moorish-style tiled walls. Doubles start at €315, including breakfast.
Once the home of a local aristocrat, the Hotel Casa 1800 (7) is an orange’s throw from the Giralda (4) at Rodrigo Caro 6 (00 34 95 56 1800; hotelcasa1800.com). It has 24 stylish rooms with parquet floors and a pretty internal courtyard. Doubles start at €147, including breakfast.
As the name suggests, the Hotel Amadeus (8) at Farnesio 6 (00 34 95 450 1443; hotelamadeussevilla.com) has a musical theme. It also has a great location in the old Jewish quarter. Doubles from €85, including breakfast.
Take a hike
Start outside the fabulous Baroque Fábrica de Tabacos (9) on Calle Fernando, the inspirational setting for Bizet’s opera Carmen, but these days the grand backdrop for the University of Seville. Continue down, with Hotel Alfonso XIII (6) on your left and cross the Puerta de Jerez (10) – one of the original city entrances. Continue left down the Avenue de Roma and on your left you will see the elaborate exterior of the Palacio de San Telmo (11), the erstwhile school of navigation and now the seat of the Andalucian government. Cross the Jardines de San Telmo (12) and continue along the banks of the Guadalquivir to the Torre del Oro (13) at Paseo Alcalde Marqués de Contadero, built in the 13th century by the Almohad dynasty as a maritime watchtower. Stroll along the river and note the distinctive ochre and white exterior of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza (14) soon comes into view. Cross the Puente de Isabel II (15), also known as Triana Bridge, and finish at the Plaza del Altozano (16).
Lunch on the run
It is said that the small tasty bites known as tapas were invented in Seville, and that the city has 4,000 tapas bars and tabernas. El Rinconcillo (17), 40 Gerona (00 34 954 223 183; elrinconcillo.es), is the city’s oldest tapas bar-cum-grocery store, founded in 1670. It sports a pleasingly antiquated look of wall tiles, a long, mahogany bar and legs of jamón dangling from the ceiling. Try the chickpeas and spinach and the salt cod in tomato sauce. Dishes cost around €2-4.
Take a ride
Seville is ideal for two-wheeled exploration. There are more than 250 free Sevici (00 34 902 011 032; sevici.es) bikes which can be picked up from stations around the city centre. Take a short-stay subscription, which costs €5 for up to a week.
Sierpes, and the streets surrounding it, form the city’s main shopping area. High street brands are interspersed with more traditional shops displaying fans, mantillas (veils), flamenco-style dresses and shawls.
As the window of Guarnicioneria Lopez (18) at Cuna 34 (00 34 95 421 69 23; laguarnicioneria.com), testifies, equestrianism is also a local obsession.
Many independent shops open 10am to 1.30pm and 5pm to 8.30pm; early evening is the perfect time for shopping as families stroll the streets for the nightly paseo.
Bar Laredo (19), Sierpes 90 (00 34 95 421 30 16; casa-robles.com), with tables spilling on to the Plaza de San Francisco in front of the town hall, is the ideal spot for local tipples: a copita de fino, manzanilla or a tinto de verano – red wine with lemonade at €2.
Dining with the locals
A tapeo is a languorous ramble around Seville’s tapas bars, stopping at a favourite haunt for a glass of wine, beer or sherry and a few bites. Most serve tapas, or you can ask for a slightly more substantial ración – just a few of these will easily constitute dinner. Many tapas bars have a couple of standout dishes. Start with a plate of sliced jamón de bellota and a goat’s cheese croqueta at Bar Estrella (20) at Estrella 3 (00 34 95 456 1426). Opposite Plaza del Toros, the ever-busy Bodeguita Antonio Romero (21) serves moreish piripi montaditos – toasted mini bacon and ham sandwiches (€2.30). Bodeguita Casablanca (22) at Adolfo Rodriguez Jurado 12 (00 34 954 224 114; closed Sundays), is decked in corrida-style stripes and has an avid following for its prawns from nearby Huelva and whisky-doused tortillas; expect to pay about €30.
Sunday morning: go to church
After the cathedral (3), La Iglesia del Divino Salvador (23), Plaza del Salvador (00 34 954 228 717; admission free) is Seville’s largest church. It’s built on the site of the earlier Ibn Adabas mosque and is a magnificent example of high Baroque architecture. Mass is said on Sundays, 11am to 1.45pm.
For Sevillanos, breakfast is a brief affair, but a good place to linger over a freshly pressed orange juice, olive oil toast and a coffee is the pretty tiled interior of Bar Europa (24) at Siete Revueltas 35 (00 34 954 2179 08; bareuropa.info) or, better still, a table on the Plaza del Pan opposite.
A verdant haven of manicured flower beds and palm trees, the Parque de María Luisa (25) comprises the former royal gardens. They were brought back to in 1929 for the Ibero- American Expo by architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier. It’s a romantic mosaic of water features, small islands planted with flowers beds, statues and shady palms.
The Alcazar (26) (00 34 954 50 23 24; alcazarsevilla.org) was constructed in the 17th century by the Arabs and became a royal residence in 1248. Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance details are seen in a sublime series of rooms with intricately carved wooden ceilings, dazzling Moorish-style tiling and flower-filled gardens (until March, open daily from 9.30am to 5pm; €8.50).
The sprawling Cathedral of the Virgin Mary (3) at Avenida de la Constitución (00 34 902 099 692; catedraldesevilla.org) was founded in 1403, on the site of an earlier mosque. It is the largest Gothic building in Europe with no fewer than five naves. It also contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the only two remnants of the original mosque in the Patio de Los Naranjos and the Giralda (open 2.30-6.30pm on Sundays, 11am-5.30pm other days; €8).
Icing on the cake
The Espacio Metropol Parasol (27) (espacio-metropol.com) is a futuristic, umbrella-like wooden structure that dominates the Plaza de la Encarnación. Nicknamed “the mushrooms”, it has several levels; a subterranean museum with ancient Roman ruins, a ground floor housing the relocated produce market, the Mercado de la Encarnación, and a 30m-high panoramic walkway with 360-degree views.
The upper floors house GastroSol – dedicated to all things gourmet, with a restaurant, café, shop, bar and tapas.