Last updated on January 24, 2019
The capital of Andalusia in southern Spain, Seville is every bit the seducer you imagine it to be.
With advice on the most essential sights and must-eat bites, this is my personal and somewhat overly-sentimental guide to the best things to do in Seville.
Blurring the lines between past and present, between fiction and reality, Seville is so much more than a city. So much more than a “holiday destination”.
No, Seville is a gripping fairy tale in which you play protagonist, a rousing poem you can see, hold and touch. A potent rhythm you can inhabit.
In many ways the Andalusian capital is everything you imagine when you dream of Spain. Day and night, melancholic flamenco guitar bleeds into the sun-battered streets.
Whitewashed façades throb and swell with streaks of bumblebee-yellow and bleached-aqua wall tiles. Hulking terracotta planters of sweet pine and burnt butterscotch bake, creak and whisper as you pass.
Constant reminders of the region’s Muslim, Jewish and Christian heritage await you around every corner. Mudéjar relics like the Alcazar royal palace sidled up to the iconic Giralda tower and gothic cathedral. It is beyond beautiful. Devastatingly romantic.
But there’s a different side to Sevilla too, a side I hadn’t anticipated. A softness and humility, an intensely sensitive understanding of the human condition, a humility that can be felt whether talking to the welcoming camareros or locking eyes with a flamenco dancer at one of the intimate tablaos.
What is it that makes Spain so special? I’m still not exactly sure. But whatever it is, you’ll find it here in Seville.
My Experience in Seville
I dreamed of visiting Seville for many years. I elevated it to something of a mythical status within my mind. I fantasised about it wildly. The ultimate escape from the “real world”.
I imagined it to be a brawling, untamed wild west sort of place.
A place where guitar-wielding gypsies wailed under orange trees in dusty squares, where toreros pranced through the streets in fuchsia frocks chugging wine from bota bags and beating the shit out of any tourist who dared get in his way.
I imagined toothless souls with long locks of greasy black hair hunched over warm glasses of sherry in fly-filled tapas bars.
But what I found was something altogether more convivial. Seville turned out to be infinitely more elegant than I imagined. Posh, even.
I suppose it makes sense really. This is the south, “the real Spain”, a land of deep and immovable roots. A land of such historical and cultural wealth that the mind spasms at the mere thought of trying to comprehend it all.
One trip to Sevilla is not enough to gain any meaningful understanding of this gregarious city. A lifetime would barely scratch the surface.
But one thing I did discover, as I wandered lonely as a cloud through the vibrant streets, from landmark to tapas bar, chatting with anyone willing to suffer my Spanish, is that this city is unquestionably one of the finest places you could ever wish to find yourself.
And so, mis amigos, here you have my overly-sentimental guide to the most essential things to do, see, eat and drink in Seville.
With tips on the best way to experience everything from the rowdy tapas and sherry bars of Barrio Santa Cruz to the iconic cathedral, Giralda bell tower, Real Alcázar and Plaza de España.
Things to Do, See and Eat in Seville
1. Toast Your Arrival with a Glass or Three of Local Sherry
Any time is a good time to drink sherry in Seville. This fortified wine is made in the province of Jerez, just an hour or so away from Seville, and is typically enjoyed as an aperitivo before lunch and/or dinner, though you’ll see the locals boshing it back at all hours with great aplomb.
Where to drink sherry in Seville: You’ll find good sherry in almost any local bar in Seville, but to celebrate your arrival in the Andaluz capital in style, I recommend heading to Casa Morales. Located in the old town’s Arenal neighbourhood, within stumbling distance of the cathedral, Casa Morales dates back to 1850 and is something of an institution. The ancient bar looks like something out of a black and white film, while the long-serving waiters and huge terracotta sherry tanks add to the traditional vibe.
Tips on ordering sherry in Seville: The staff will be happy to help you choose a sherry (or suggest a selection), but to get started order fino and manzanilla sherries for the ultra crisp and dry varieties that Sevillanos tend to drink, or the oloroso, Pedro Ximénez or moscatel varieties if you want to go sweet.
Hungry? Casa Morales is also known for its hearty montaditos (bread topped with all sorts of goodness) – definitely ask for a menu if you’re feeling peckish. This was definitely one of my favourite foodie spots in the city.
2. Lose Yourself in Seville’s Colossal Cathedral (and Giralda Bell Tower)
With its 80 chapels and looming naves, Seville’s herculean cathedral is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. It’s also the world’s third largest church (yep, it’s a church as well as a cathedral) after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Basilica of the National Shrine of our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil.
And as if that’s not enough to merit a visit, it’s also Seville’s cathedral is also the final resting place of none other than Christopher Columbus. No, really, they’ve done DNA testing and everything!
Its absurd scale is even more impressive when you consider that its construction began way back in 1401 (and finished in 1506). The ambitious plans were drawn up with a clear objective in mind: “To build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we are mad.”
You know what they say about madness and genius…
La Giralda Bell Tower
Even more iconic than the cathedral, and far more striking in my opinion, is Seville’s Giralda bell tower, which is fused to the rear of the cathedral (or vice versa now I come to think of it).
Built between 1184 and 1197, the tower is significantly older than the cathedral and was originally the minaret of a mosque during the period Seville was under Muslim rule. A muezzin would have climbed up to the balcony five times a day to recite the Adhan (Muslim call to prayer). The structure houses 35 ramps instead of steps so that the muezzin could ride a horse to the the top floor instead of walking.
Tip: Climb up to the Giralda balcony to enjoy some of the very best views of Seville.
Essential time-saving tip: Seville’s cathedral and Giralda are at the top of most visitor’s to-see list so I would strongly recommend investing a couple of extra euros in a ‘skip-the-line’ ticket, such as this one which includes access to both sites (and access to the balcony at the top of the tower).
If you’d like a guided tour of both the cathedral and Giralda bell tower – which is probably a good idea when you consider how many hundreds of years’ worth of stories there are to uncover here – then I’d also recommend booking this tour.
3. Tapas Bar Hop Your Way Through Barrio Santa Cruz
If you want to experience Seville as a local then this really is the way to do it. For the Sevillanos, going out for tapas is all about socialising. And of course tipping a few back.
In fact sometimes, living in Spain, I wonder if the tapas are there just to help the locals stay lucid enough to keep on drinking.
The Spanish ‘tapeo’ tradition is all about hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar with friends and family, and hopefully spotting a few familiar faces along the way. God they love to talk in this country.
Tapas tips: Sample one or two dishes at each bar – ideally the speciality of the house. Just see what everyone else is eating. Visit as many bars as possible.
Best Tapas Bars in Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz
There are countless tapas bars in Seville. Naturally you’ll find plenty of tourist traps in the historic Barrio Santa Cruz area, but I have no doubt you’ll discover a few favourites of your own.
A basic rule of thumb is to avoid the places with photos of their dishes pasted near the front door, or anywhere with a big menu outside translated into English, French, German and Chinese. Avoid these and all should be cushty.
Personally I tend to go for the dingiest, diviest looking places (such as Bar Julio, a little broom cupboard of a place that I should imagine most tourists would overlook). The place with no menu, no sign, no English and, typically, no customer service.
Join a Devour Seville food tour for the full story and a personal introduction to the friendly staff.
Order ‘un vino de naranja’ (orange wine) with some chicharrones de Cadiz (succulent slivers of pork belly smothered in garlic). There’s not much in the way of seating, so join the regulars in the street.
Dating back to 1670 (no joke), El Rinconcillo is the oldest and arguably most famous bar in Seville. Its colourful ceramic tiles and intricate carpentry make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time, as do the charming waste-coated waiters.
Join a Devour Seville food tour to hear more about this spectacularly storied establishment and a chance to chat with the faithful staff.
Order jamón and ‘bacalao con salmorejo’ (think gazpacho with hunks of cod), as well as the city’s veggie friendly signature ‘espinacas con garbanzos’ (spinach with chickpeas, a historic tapas dish that celebrates Seville’s Moorish and Jewish past.
Drink vermut (vermouth), a sort of sweet fortified wine, Cruzcampo beer or ask for sherry recommendations. Now that’s what you call breakfast!
Bodega Santa Cruz
A proper old rough-and-tumble Spanish boozer, Bodega Santa Cruz is one of those places that’s always packed out with rowdy students, professional bon vivants and local carousers.
Used napkins, sloshed beer and tapas remnants flood the floor (this is actually a good sign in Spain as it typically means the locals rate it highly).
It’s the sort of place where you really need to display some valour when summoning one of the (understandably) surly waiters.
Order Cruzcampo, the ubiquitous beer of Andalusia, and the house special ‘pringá montadito’ (a bite-sized sandwich filled with a sort of pulled-pork. On my visits I noticed all the locals were eating little gambas (prawns), so be sure to try them too if they’re available.
Other great tapas bars in Barrio Santa Cruz:
Bar Pelayo ~ A more modern/fancy take on local Andaluz cuisine.
Las Teresas ~ Traditional. Excellent jamón and great sherry offering.
Cervecería Giralda ~ A gorgeous bar dating back to 1923. Famous for its enviable terrace overlooking La Giralda.
4. Take a Food Tour and Delve into Seville’s Legendary Tapas
For me, there’s simply no better way to learn about a new place and culture than by throwing myself into its cuisine.
For this reason, I always try to take a food tour when I visit a new city, not only because I want to eat all the right things in all the right places, but also because I enjoy the hearing stories about how each dish came to be and meet the people who make them.
I’ve been on a number of Devour Tours now and can honestly say that the one in Seville was my favourite so far. Our guide Sara really gave us an insight into the local way of life, introducing us to the friendly staff as we hopped from tapas bar to tapas bar and making sure we all had a jolly good time.
If you’re into food, culture and history, definitely book yourself onto one of Devour Seville’s fun and delicious food tours – especially if you’re only in town for a short period of time.
5. Immerse Yourself in Mudéjar Architecture at the Real Alcázar (Royal Palace)
A series of arches within arches, rooms within rooms, creaky doors that lead to secret orange-blossomed courtyards and palm-filled gardens, peacocks traverse the rooftops like phoenixes.
This is the magic of Sevilla’s Real Alcázar de Sevilla. A royal palace like you’ve never seen before.
This ornate UNESCO-listed palace was one of the highlights of my time in Seville. It epitomises the city’s Moorish heritage and is, apparently, still frequented by Spanish royalty, which adds an additional layer of mystique.
I’d really like to emphasise that Seville’s Real Alcázar is not your typical palace. Developed during the 14th century, the entire complex is a visual feast of Mudéjar architecture.
As you explore the secret patios and colourful courtyards, the intricate carved ceilings and manicured gardens, you fee as though you have left Spain, that you have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and landed in another place entirely. Somewhere else, in some other time.
Practical tip: Buy your ticket online and skip-the-line (essential in the summer when temperatures reach one thousand and twenty six degrees).
6. Celebrate All of Spain at the Plaza de España
For that “Wow, we’re really in Sevilla!” moment…
This colossal monument was built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929 and stands within the sprawling Maria Luisa Park, which I fell madly and deeply in love with.
The name is slightly misleading as Seville’s Plaza de España is not a square at all but a semi-circular complex fringed by canals and an imposing palace (more of a lavish government office block in reality).
Depicted on countless azulejos (colourful ceramic tiles) you will find the names and icons of the different cities and regions that make up Spain. You’ll also find plenty of talented street performers giving live flamenco shows.
7. Take a Siesta in Maria Luisa Park
This sprawling park is the largest in Seville and was originally the gardens of the nearby San Telmo Palace. The landscaped grounds date back to the 1500s and have matured beautifully – you can almost imagine the team of gardeners adding new and rare species of flora as they were being discovered and harvested from far away lands.
I found myself here multiple times, typically when in need of a siesta after over-eating and drinking at lunch. I’d explore the little forests of palms and pines and watch the locals wrestle their dogs out of the ponds and water fountains.
Take a book and picnic and be sure to have a wander on your way to or from Plaza de España. This is a particularly romantic spot for couples. It’s also home to the Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla.
8. Explore Triana, Seville’s Gypsy Quarter
Just a short stroll over the Puente Isabel II (bridge) to the other side of the Guadalquivir river, the ancient barrio of Triana is known as Seville’s gypsy quarter.
For many years it was home to flamenco dancers and musicians, bullfighters, potters, tile-makers and salty old sea dogs. Gentrification in the 60s and 70s saw things change, but it’s still a vibrant place to visit and a world away from Seville proper.
Things to Do, See and Eat in Triana: The first thing you’ll spot once crossing the bridge is the gorgeous Capilla de Carmen, which looms over the lively Mercado de Triana. This traditional market should be your first port of call, followed by a quick cerveza in Plaza de Altozano, where you can also pose for photos with the iconic flamenco dancer statue.
Visit the Cerámica Santa Ana and Centro Cerámica de Triana to learn about the neighbourhood’s historic ceramics industry. You’ll find plenty of little shops making traditional azulejos here, but more importantly you’ll get learn about how they’re made and how important this area was in terms of making Seville and Andalusia the visual stunner it is today.
Where to Eat & Drink in Triana: Stroll along Calle Betis, a tapas-bar-packed street that hugs the river, and amble down the leafy boulevard of Calle San Jacinto, also lined with bustling cafes, tapas bars and shops. Cerveceria La Grande is a local favourite, serving little else other than gambas (prawns) and beer – definitely worth stopping by to refuel.
Explore the streets surrounding the Real Parroquia de Señora Santa Ana (church), especially Calle Pureza, to see the colourful houses and apartment buildings that once housed the local gypsy population.
The best meal I had in Seville…
I had one of the best meals I had in Seville sitting at the bar of Las Golondrinas, which I have since learned is something of a Triana institution – my ‘local spot radar’ never fails.
I like to think the bartender was impressed by how much food I managed to put away and noticed the free tapas he served me with each drink grew increasingly more elaborate the more I ordered.
I took advantage of his patience (with my Spanish) and asked for as many recommendations for local ‘tipico’ dishes as possible. He didn’t hold back…
Stand out flavours were the succulent ‘puntas de solomillo’ (mini sirloins) served on fresh bread and the bizarre but surprisingly moreish carrots marinated in smoky, garlicky vinaigrette.
I also enjoyed the radishes and a whole of beetroot, before wobbling back out into the street with a lopsided grin on my face.
Tip: When Triana was modernised, the gypsy community was rehoused in an area called Las Tres Mil Viviendas (Three Thousand Homes).
Today, this rough and ready barrio is where flamenco aficionados go to see and hear the most authentic performances.
9. Ramble the Rooftops of the Metropol Parasol (AKA Las Setas)
Better known as ‘Las Setas‘ (The Mushrooms – because, well, you’ll see…), the Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure.
It’s basically a giant sunshade that houses a bunch of cafes, tapas bars and a food market, but mainly it’s just a hangout spot for skaters, children, daydreamers and carousers.
Head down to the basement (which is more of a nightmare to find than you might think) to buy your ticket and ride the lift up to the top floor.
Explore the walkway and enjoy what are probably the best panoramic views over Seville.
10. Climb the Toro de Oro Maritime Museum
Standing proudly over the river, the ‘Gold Tower’ is a watchtower that dates back to the 13th century. It was built under the reign of the Taifa Kings during a period when Spain was under heavy attack from the Moors.
Apparently there was a twin tower on the other side of the river and a chain was hoisted taught between them to block invaders’ passageway.
Tip: Today it is a charming naval museum, which I discovered purely by coincidence is free to enter on Mondays (though it’s only €3 or €4 otherwise).
The best part of the building is its elevated rooftop, from which you can enjoy panoramic views over Seville and the river.
Talking of the river…
11. Canoodle on the Right Bank of the Guadalquivir River
It’s funny, as the sun began to wane in the late afternoon, I found myself being instinctively drawn to the river.
In the slightly cooler hours after midday, locals flock here with family and friends to sip wine and picnic by the river, to run, cycle and skate, or simply canoodle in the sun and enjoy the views over Triana across the river.
There’s also the trendy Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a sort of trendy food market with a huge terrace area overlooking the river.
I went there one evening with the intention of having a drink, but changed my mind after seeing how elegantly everyone there was dressed. A bottle of beer and a stone wall was all I needed anyway
It was here on an almost daily basis that I found myself hatching plans to move my life to Seville, so as I could live this way always.
12. Immerse Yourself in Andalusian Culture at a Flamenco Show
Seville is synonymous with flamenco and arguably the best place on Earth to enjoy this raw and emotionally-charged dance and music.
Known locally as a ‘tablao’, these intimate performances (often acoustic only) offer the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with local guitar players and dancers.
My advice would be to see as many tablaos as possible and to always arrive at the venue early so you can get a seat close to the stage. Flamenco is all about subtlety and sensitivity.
Best Flamenco Shows in Seville
Triana Flamenco Show ~ Head to the gypsy quarter of Triana to enjoy a seriously spectacular 70-minute some seriously. This would probably be my first choice. From €20 with a drink included.
Museo del Baile Flamenco in Barrio Santa Cruz ~ A intimate 1-hour flamenco show in a traditional ecijano (courtyard). From €22.
El Palacio Andaluz in La Macarena ~ A 90-minute flamenco show in an ornate palace with drinks and dinner. From €43.
El Patio Sevillano (near the bullring) ~ A 60-minute flamenco show in a stunning venue. Free drink included. Tapas also available. From €38.
Tip: There are tons of seriously authentic flamenco bars in Seville that offer free shows. Typically the performers are up-and-coming acts who haven’t quite earned their stripes yet, or locals who simply want to perform for the love of it.
Feeling inspired? Why not take a flamenco dance class (€36) and master a few basis moves to take home with you. Certainly a better souvenir than a fridge magnet!
13. Free the Bulls at Plaza de Toros (Bullring)
Plaza de Toros (Seville’s iconic bullfighting ring) is still very much a shrine of bravado. Here matadors de toros (literally ‘killers of bulls’) brush off their detractors’ outcries of barbarism with the same vanity and pomposity as they do when slaying their unfortunate props.
I am of course completely against the torturing-to-death of bulls and any animal, especially when done in the name of “sport”, “culture” or “tradition”.
My Stance on Bullfighting in Spain
It’s bizarre to me that bullfighting is still allowed in the modern age, that it’s even a topic of debate.
I was in Rome not so very long before visiting Sevilla and was more than happy to discover the gruesome history of gladiators and the death fest that was the Coliseum, but only because it’s a tale from the past.
I don’t need to witness 10,000 animals slaughtered in a single day with my very own eyes to understand the culture of Italy (as was once considered the norm).
I don’t need to see slaves (aka gladiators) forced to fight to the death with axes, swords and stones to learn about what it is to be Roman.
I’m not suggesting you skip Sevilla’s Plaza de Toros altogether, but I am urging you not to attend a bullfight (corrida) – because it’s mainly tourism money that keeps the agonisingly slow and torturous death of bulls in business.
Instead, visit to enjoy the gorgeous and surprisingly huge stadium, with its ornate baroque façade, which dates back to 1762. The museum is well worth a visit and traces the sport’s history, exhibiting memorabilia such as the bullfighters’ flamboyant costumes, and vintage posters of celebrated toreros.
There’s also an onsite chapel where the bull slayers pray before entering the ring.
This is where bullfighting belongs. In a museum. In the past.
14. Seek Solace in Plaza del Cabildo
Not exactly a big “must-see”, but I stumbled upon this magical little nook by accident and had one of those magical Spain moments (if you’ve ever been to Spain then you’ll know what I mean).
Here, on balconies of ivory and gold, I observed the lucky few who call this oval oasis home tend to their plant pots and toast the midday sun with little glasses of sherry.
The sounds of clip-clopping horses and cathedral bells echoed in the distance, the soothing rumble of happy bar hoppers floating on the breeze.
15. Celebrate Seville’s Local Religious and Cultural Festivities
Like the rest of Spain, Seville takes its fiestas (holidays) seriously. If you’re able to make your visit coincide with the following celebrations, both of which take place in April, you’re in for a real treat.
Semana Santa (Holy Week / Easter) ~ The Holy Week processions in Seville are Spain’s most famous.
Feria de Abril (April Fair) ~ Traditional costume, flamenco, stallions, food, drink and dance…
Tip: There’s always some kind of celebration/fiesta going in Seville. See my ‘Holy Smoke & Lingering Goodbyes: Pursuing the Cruz De Mayo Procession in Sevilla’ post for a little taster of what you can expect.
Make it Happen
Best time to go to Seville
Andalusia gets insanely hot in the summer months, which means the best time to go to Seville is either in spring (March to early June) or in autumn (September to early November. I was there in May and the weather was pretty much perfect: bright and sunny and only occasionally bordering on “Sod this for a game of marbles – get me some air conditioning and a cold beer immediately!” type weather.
Best areas to stay in in Seville
Broadly speaking you’ll want to stay somewhere within walking distance of Seville’s historic centre. It’s a compact city and you’ll be able to walk to pretty much everything if you stay in the historic Barrio Santa Cruz, El Arenal or Alfalfa areas. I’d also recommend staying in Triana if you want more of a villagey local vibe, or Macarena if you want piece and quiet.
Best hostels and budget hotels in Seville
I was travelling alone so I checked into the boutique For You Hostel Seville. It was honestly the best posh-tel I’ve ever stayed at, with modern rooms and facilities and a stunning rooftop terrace. The Black Swan Hostel is another popular budget hostel in the centre. And the family-run Hotel Alcántara is a fantastic budget hotel located in the historic Santa Cruz barrio.
Best mid-range (3*) hotels in Seville
Best luxury hotels (4* + 5*) in Seville
Best apartments in Seville
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