What to see, do and eat in Seville, Spain

31 August 2017

With its beautiful royal palace, tranquil gardens and ancient Moorish traces, the southern Spanish city of Seville has long been regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful destinations. Recent resident Sophie Smith recommends where to go and what to see.

The main sights

Real Alcázar

The Alcázar is the royal palace in Seville, originally constructed by the Moorish Muslim kings and then built upon by the Catholic monarchs over time. To see the beautiful blend of Islam and Christianity that existed for centuries in Andalucia, this is the place to go. A bonus for any Game of Thrones fan: this is where they shoot the scenes set in Dorne.

Sevillle's cathedral and Giralda tower, with orange trees in the foreground. Photo: Sophie Smith


Giralda and Cathedral

Seville's is the third largest cathedral in the world, and very impressive all by itself. But the cherry on the cake is the Giralda - a bell tower built by the Moorish empire that once ruled Andalucia. The Giralda is an icon of the city, and it's the oldest building. Climb to the top for the best view of Seville, but the tower doesn’t actually have any stairs - legend has it that the sultan of the time didn’t want to take the stairs to the top to call prayer five times a day. Instead he preferred to ride on horseback, so it’s all ramps all the way up!

Barrio Santa Cruz

This neighbourhood is the old Jewish Quarter in Seville. This city is really interesting for the way that Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together in peace for long stretches, and Barrio Santa Cruz is a beautiful way to step back in time. Get lost amongst the narrow streets (very easily done, I can tell you from experience) and soak up the atmosphere. Don’t fall into the tourist trap restaurants, but wandering around is free.

The Plaza de España at night. Photo: Sophie Smith

Maria Luisa / Plaza de España

Seville is a city with lots of green spaces, and the best of the bunch is definitely Maria Luisa Park. This vast, lush park is just south of the central city (about a 15-minute walk), and one of my absolute favourite places in Seville. Within the park is the Plaza de España, a huge palatial-style square building that was built for the 1929 World Expo, hosted in Seville. My favourite thing to do is pack a picnic, and sit and read all afternoon under the trees in Maria Luisa Park, and then catch the sunset against the buildings in Plaza de España. Unforgettable.

Las Setas. Photo: Sophie Smith

Las Setas

Las Setas, or the Metropol Parasol, is something of a contentious piece of architecture in Seville; many of the locals don’t like how the sleek modern design clashes with the traditional buildings of the city. But however you feel about it, the view from the walkway at the top is darn good, and it only costs a few euros to go up and have a look around (which includes a drink at the terrace bar), so it’s definitely not something to miss.

Contemporary Art Museum

This museum is housed in an old monastery to the northeast of the central city, and the buildings are super impressive on their own. If you are interested in art and want to see something a little edgier than your classic art museums, then I would highly recommend the trip over the river to the museum, properly known by its initials CAAC.

Barrio Santa Cruz. Photo: Sophie Smith

 

Where to eat and drink

One thing that I absolutely love about Seville is how cheap it is to eat out, and to eat well. My one essential tip is never to go to dinner in Seville too hungry, because most places don’t take bookings and you generally have to wait for a table. Never fear though, my strategy is to have a small snack before I leave home, and when I get there I grab a caña (a small beer to drink before it warms up), and people watch outside while waiting for a table.

More upmarket but still pretty good prices:

Eslava - Make sure you try the slow cooked egg yolk served on mushroom cakes - it won a prize as the best tapa in Seville, and it’s no lie.
Mamarracha - Very hip and every dish is mouthwateringly good. Dining next to their vertical garden is a unique experience in Seville.
Sal Gorda - Very creative fusion tapas, Spanish in essence but with some amazing twists. Don’t miss the strawberry and pistachio gazpacho with jamon (ham).

Good Value:

Los Coloniales - A great place to try all the classic tapas, and at a crazy low price. For some solid, comforting traditional Spanish cuisine, Los Coloniales is the place to go - very popular with the locals.
La Peña Betica - This place is definitely off the tourist track (some born and bred Sevillian friends took me), and if you want a genuinely authentic experience, then this is the place to be. It’s definitely no frills, but the food is quality, and if you are there during caracol season (caracol are tiny snails), then you have to overcome your squeamishness and try them!

Casa Morales. Photo: Sophie Smith

Old School / Traditional:

El Rinconcillo - This is actually the oldest bar in Spain, and a very authentic experience. Despite its status as a tourist destination, it remains incredibly popular with the locals, so it’s very crowded. It’s not the most relaxing place to eat or drink, but if you can handle the hustle and bustle, then it’s a must do.

Casa Morales - Another of the oldest bars in the city, Casa Morales is one of my personal favourites. You can sit amongst the old vats of wine, and indulge in some caradilla (the tenderest iberian pork cheek with herbs), and enjoy their excellent drinks list.

Cafes / Bars for Treats

Sevillians love to merendar (have afternoon tea), and I have wholeheartedly embraced this culture. Some of my favourite places are:

Red House - beautiful cakes (try the beer cake), craft beers, and cocktails.
Cachecheria - more indulgent cakes, cocktails.
La Centuria - churros and hot chocolate (or iced coffee, my preference in the heat).
Gigante - amazing cocktails, and the best bartenders in Seville.
Perro Chiko – try the incredible cake tasting platter.
Las Palomas – good place for traditional baked goods.

Maria Luisa Park. Photo: Sophie Smith

Other top tips

The best time to visit is spring

The best time to visit Seville is April / May, when all the flowers are in full bloom and the weather is still a very pleasant below-35 degrees. Try to be around for Semana Santa, the Holy Week leading up to Easter, in order to see the city’s extremely unique religious celebrations.

The Triana neighbourhood as seen from across the Guadalquivir River. Photo: Sophie Smith

Stay in Triana

Triana is a very traditional but simultaneously hip neighbourhood on the non-central side of the river. It’s less touristy and much more relaxed, great to wander around.

Take the bus 

Buses are a good way to get around Seville (1.40 euro ticket includes all zones), and they are actually really comfortable because they have air con, so you don’t need to kill yourself walking around in the heat.

Breakfast of champions: ham toastie (tostada) and coffee. Photo: Sophie Smith

Have a ham toastie for breakfast

Going out for desayuno (breakfast) is one of my absolute favourite things in Seville - but don’t expect pancakes. The Sevillians are all about a light, wee toasted sandwich. Get a tostada with jamon and olive oil, and feel yourself come around to the Spanish way of breakfasting.

Check out the no-frills bars

Often the worst looking bars in Seville are very popular with the locals, and for good reason. They are great value, and Cruzcampo (the locally made lager) is the same everywhere. Don’t be put off by florescent lights and plain stainless steel benches – if you see a bar packed with locals, chances are it’s a good bet. At the very least you’ll see some interesting characters!

Stay indoors

In the summer, when temperatures can get above 40 degrees, don’t kill yourself trying to pack as much into your holiday as possible. Do as the Sevillians do and stay indoors during the hottest part of the day (2pm - 7pm approx). Quite honestly it can be dangerous to really push yourself when it’s so hot, so just enjoy a cold caña, and relax in the shade.

Get free WiFi at El Viajero Sedentario

WiFi is hard to come across in cafes in Seville, but don’t just head for Starbucks. El Viajero cafe has a much nicer vibe with a good connection.

The Real Alcázar (royal palace). Photo: Sophie Smith

Book ahead for monuments

Many of the monuments and other sights you can book ahead with specific entry times. There’s no point waiting in line in the sun when you can hop online and speed up the process.

Cool down with an ice cream

But not from any old heladeria (ice cream store) – some of them are weirdly expensive. One of the oldest places in the city (still with great prices) and super creative flavours is Heladeria Villar. It’s a bit of a trek, but its popularity with the locals speaks to its status in the city.

Sit on the riverbank

One of the most Sevillian things you could do while you’re in this excellent city is to grab a few bottles of beer and some frutos secos (dried fruit and nut mix, very popular), find a possie on the edge of the Guadalquivir River, and enjoy the sunset and watch the people go by. I’ll never forget many a pleasant evening spent like this on the riverbank!

 

Sophie Smith

New Zealander Sophie Smith lives in Florence, Italy, where she works in hospitality and studies Italian.