A few times I have fallen in love with a city as soon as I set foot in it. This has happened to me in Monaco, Munich and recently, Sevilla (Seville in English). I visited in April when the weather was warm and the city was in bloom. Given that my favorite opera, Carmen, is set in Sevilla, I was especially excited to visit. The streets are even labeled where scenes from Carmen were set.. I think that Sevilla is incredibly underrated – it is one of the best cities in Europe and a must visit.
Sevilla is characterized by bullfighting, flamenco and a sort of cowboy culture that reminded me of parts of the US. There are equestrian clothing stores, horse-drawn carriages and plenty of bullfighting paraphernalia.
NO8DO is the city’s logo. The 8 is supposed to be a bundle of wool (madeja) so that NO8DO is prounounced “no me ha dejado” which means “It (the city) has not abandoned me”. NO8DO is said to have originated from a coat of arms made for King Alfonso X in the 13th century, who gifted it to Sevilla for the city’s support of the King against his son, Sancho IV, who sought to overthrow his father. NO8DO is a pronouncement of Sevilla’s loyalty to the king. The logo can be found all over the city.
Sights in Sevilla
Alfonso XIII is the nicest hotel in Sevilla and is a destination in itself. Ena, the terrace bar, is a beautiful place to have a drink and take in the view of Jardines de Cristina and the Fuente de Híspalis.
Barrio Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, the neighborhood around the Cathedral, was the former Jewish quarter of Sevilla and is my favorite part of the city. It has the obligatory narrow, winding alleys, omnipresent churches and great restaurants and bars. Casa Robles has amazing seafood and the rooftop bar at EME Catedral Hotel has incredible views of the city and Cathedral. This is a great neighborhood to wander aimlessly – try not to be creepy peering into all the lovely courtyards like I was.
The Catedral de Sevilla is the highlight of any visit to Sevilla. A mosque was located on the site until the 13th century, when it was converted to a church after the reconquista – the Giralda (belltower) was formally a minaret. The cathedral is the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Milan Cathedral); it is the largest Gothic church in the world. It is also the burial place of Christopher Columbus.
Hours: Mon 11:00am – 6:00pm (closed 3:30-4:30pm); Tues-Sat 11:00am – 5:00pm; Sun 2:30pm – 6:00pm
I am always drawn to sights in Europe named as “the oldest….” It is probably because I am American and so many of these sights are older than the USA itself. At almost 350 years old!, El Rinconcillo is the oldest restaurant in Spain. It is highly trafficked and touristy, but kitschy-charming and worth a visit. You can enjoy tapas standing at the bar, which is a great way to mingle with other visitors. It is a lovely 1km walk northeast of the Cathedral.
La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (aka Bullring)
Regardless of your feelings about bullfighting, La Maestranza is worth a visit to learn more about an important part of Sevillan culture and history. Construction of the bullring began in 1749 but was not completed in 1881, due in part to Carlos III forbidding bullfighting in 1786. It can seat over 12,000 and there are around 20 bullfights a year between Easter and October. The bullring houses a bullfighting museum and a chapel where the toreros (bullfighters) pray before entering the ring. La Maestranza is an immensely popular sight in Sevilla, so it is good to plan a visit ahead; you can buy tickets for tours later in the day.
Hours: Everyday 9:30am – 7:30pm (Nov-Mar); 9:30am – 9:00pm (Apr-Oct); Closes at 3:00pm on bullfighting days; €8 entrance fee
Palacio de las Dueñas
The Palacio de las Dueñas is a 15th century home owned by the Duchy of Alba. The late Duchess of Alba, the most titled woman in the world, entertained Alfonso XIII, Jacqueline Kennedy, Wallis Simpson, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainiero de Mónaco.
Hours: Everyday 10:00am – 6:00pm (Oct-Mar); 10:00am – 8:00pm (Apr-Sept); €8 entrance fee
Parque de Maria Luisa & Plaza de España
Located to the south of the historic city center, the Parque de Maria Luisa runs along the Guadalquivir River. It contains the Plaza de España, which, like most of the park, was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. The Parque is a great place to take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Real Alcázar is a 10th century Moorish fort, later expanded as a royal residence for Pedro the Cruel of Castile in the 14th century. It has sections demonstrating different periods in Spanish history: Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century), and Renaissance (15th-16th century).
Hours: Everyday 9:30am – 5:00pm (Oct-Mar); 9:30am – 7:00pm (Apr-Sept); €9.50 entrance fee
There are direct flights to Sevilla from 40 cities in Europe, including Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon (each of which are under 2 hours and start around €100 roundtrip). Trains from Madrid to Sevilla take 2.5-3 hours and start around €50.
The historic part of Sevilla is pedestrian friendly and easily walkable. There is also a tram (tranvia) that runs through the city center. Tram rides cost €0.69; there are one day €5 tourist passes. Taxis are abundant and horse-drawn carriages too, of course.
When to Visit
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
The most popular time to visit Sevilla is during Semana Santa (Holy Week) leading up to Easter. There are processions through the streets of pasos (floats) carried by cofradías (religious brotherhoods). 50,000 people participate in 58 processions around the city on a route from La Campana to Calle Sierpes to the cathedral. The traditional dress worn by the participants (Nazarenos) is medieval in original and can be shocking to Americans due to the hoods.
Feria de Abril (April Fair)
The Feria de Abril begins two weeks after Easter. The fair lasts 6 days; each day begins with a parade and a procession to La Maestranza. Tents line the Guadalquivir River and parties last all night into the morning; you must be invited by someone who owns a tent to participate.
The weather in Sevilla is very mild in winter – lows are in the 40-50s °F. Summers are very hot and peak in the high 90s °F. I would recommend visiting in Spring, Fall or Winter, when the weather is temperate. Especially since Europe does not have the same love affair with air conditioning the US has; even hotels and restaurants can be sweltering.
Sevilla attracts a lot of crowds during vacation times and especially in April. However, due to the fact that the historic part of Sevilla is closed to automobiles, the crowds far more tolerable than in other cities (Lisbon) because there is plenty of room to walk around. However, during high traffic times, hotels are expensive and usually sold out, so arrangements are best made in advance if you are traveling in April.
Sevilla embodies the best parts of Spanish culture, history and traditions. Any Spanish itinerary should include a trip to Sevilla.