Sevilla, or Seville as it’s known to English speakers, is the crown jewel of Spain’s Andalusia region. It perfectly encompasses the cuisine, music, grand architecture, and laid back atmosphere of southern Spain. And while Sevilla has a lot of churches and towers and riverside attractions, if you’re in town for only a short stay, these are the top things to do.
Notable for being the fifth largest cathedral in the world, the Sevilla Cathedral is a stunning work of Gothic architecture. With over 80 chapels and 24 bells in its tower, the cathedral is nothing if not extravagant. As one of the top things to do in Sevilla, prebuying tickets is advised. A visit to the church begins at the tower, so be prepared for a small hike up before you get to enjoy the rest of the building’s opulence. From the bell tower, you can see great views of the cathedral’s ornate exterior as well as excellent views of the surrounding area and the busy square below. Since the climb is sloped instead of a never-ending staircase, the way up the tower is not so bad.
After you come down the tower, you can follow the path around the many chapels and rooms such as the sacristy. Many of the chapels are behind large iron bars, but frankly no one needs to go into 80 chapels in one sitting so they’re probably doing you a favor. Taking all of the displays into account, the amount of precious metals in the Sevilla Cathedral is staggering. The 66-foot gold gilded altar alone is enough to evoke a mixture of awe and disgust. It’s one of the most impressive displays of the hypocrisy and greed of religion. But just in case that wasn’t enough, Christopher Columbus’s tomb is also on display in the Cathedral. Nothing justifies brutal imperialism quite like God.
Royal Alcazar of Sevilla
The other main attraction in Sevilla (that you’d also benefit from buying tickets in advance to) is the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla. It’s the oldest active royal palace in Europe, and its awe-inspiring interiors and beautiful, lush gardens were used in Game of Thrones as the kingdom of Dorne. The patios and rooms of the palatial complex demonstrate a mix of Islamic, Gothic, and Renaissance styles that represent the changing influences in Spain. The place is so large that you would need at least three hours to take it all in. But it does have a nice outdoor café where you can at least take a break from all that royal sightseeing.
In addition to the vast gardens and rooms that you can visit on the main grounds, with a slightly more expensive ticket, you can gain entry to the Cuarto Real Alto, which is where the monarchs up until the modern day have their private rooms. This tour comes with audio guide, which is a shame, because the whole visit could benefit from one. There is very little information around the grounds to explain what you’re seeing.
Pro tip: You can visit the Alcazar for free at certain times on Monday but you must book your ticket online in advance.
Stroll through the Plaza de Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa
Keeping with the laid back feel of Sevilla, some of its best attractions include beautiful parks where you can have a beer and pass the time. The Plaza de Espana is a plaza in the way you might call the Sahara a sandbox. It is a PLAZA. The curved building complex, which actually houses government offices, faces a moat and a fountain. If it seems vaguely familiar to you, it’s because it was used in the Star Wars franchise as the palace of Naboo.
The Plaza de Espana makes for a grand entrance to the Parque de Maria Luisa, the city’s largest public park. So large, in fact, that it has several other plazas (though none quite as grand) including the Plaza de America and the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions of Sevilla. The park is a paradise of botanical gardens, ponds, fountains, and monuments. Some outdoor bars and cafes line its perimeter, so you can stop for a while and have a drink as long as you don’t mind the flies that the carriage horses attract nearby.
See a flamenco show
Flamenco has become synonymous with Sevilla. So much so that you can barely go two feet in city center without stumbling onto a flamenco theater. Though it’s quite touristy, you’re guaranteed an impassioned night of music and dance as long as you choose one of the better-rated theaters in town like the Teatro Flamenco Sevilla or La Casa del Flamenco.
That being said, the city’s authentic flamenco scene can only be found very late into the night in small taverns and bars where the style flourished. You’ll probably have to head into neighborhoods outside the touristy center like Triana, and sometimes shows won’t start until 11 pm or 12 am as it’s part of a night out at a bar rather than the main event. Located in an old coal warehouse, you can catch free nightly flamenco at La Carboneria.
But the city’s musical atmosphere can be found all around town. You might see a flamenco show at the Plaza de Espana or while you enjoy some beers and tapas at an outdoor bar.
Eat, drink, and nap
Perhaps the best way to enjoy Sevilla is to get into the local rhythm of enjoying long leisurely meals and a few drinks before taking the hot afternoon hours off to nap and recharge. The great thing about the city is that it has taken all the traditional tapas and modernized them. So while you can enjoy traditional Manchego and grilled shrimp, you also have the opportunity to try some updated versions of shareable plates that highlight Spanish flavors in a whole new way.
In view of Sevilla’s Setas, the mushroom shaped wooden walkway, you can enjoy Spanish omelette with whisky sauce or oxtail with truffle bechamel at La Malvaloca. Over at Cristina Bistro near the Alcazar, you can feast on a light filo Andalusian pastry stuffed with spinach and goat cheese or share a squid stuffed with chorizo cream. It’s tapas… elevated. Of course, if you want a more traditional Spanish feel, you can pull up a chair at any of the local tabernas in city center crank out simple tapas and beer all day.
Sevilla’s best sights are enjoyed with a full stomach and a slight buzz.