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Sevilla's Plaza España

Sevilla for an Authentic Spanish Vibe

Sevilla simply takes your breath away. Filled with an air of mystery and magic, every corner is hard to resist.

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Sevilla—or Seville if you must—is breathtaking, riveting, and stately. In other words—as a well-known Spanish song claims—it has a special color. But what else would you expect from a city with three of Andalusia’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Located roughly 330 miles (530 km) from Madrid, Sevilla is a mere three-hour train away. Its idyllic casco antiguo is a brisk 26-minute walk from the train station. (A taxi might be better if you’re traveling with luggage.) And if Sevilla’s city center, oozing with Spanish charm, seems familiar, it’s been immortalized in countless film production sets.

Casco Antiguo

Although the entire city is bursting with Spanish flavor, historic sites are concentrated in the casco antiguo, or old town. The venerable Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the world’s largest gothic cathedral. In fact, it’s the fourth largest church of any style. It, along with the Real Alcázar and the Archivo de Indias, are Sevilla’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Located in the La Judería neighborhood, the cathedral’s adjacent tower, La Giralda, was once the minaret of the original mosque. Visitors can climb up its system of wrap-around ramps for a stunning 360º view of Sevilla. 

View from Sevilla's La Giralda
View from Sevilla’s La Giralda

Along the Guadalquivir River on Paseo de las Delicias, you’ll catch sight of some of Sevilla’s monumental structures like the Torre del Oro. You’ll also see Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla—a bullring and museum. If you’re a history buff, navigate to the Nao Victoria 500. It’s the replica ship and museum dedicated to the first sea voyage around the world.

While in el casco antiguo, you’ll inevitably run into what the locals have nicknamed Las Setas de Sevilla. These colossal mushrooms are a towering 85 feet and almost double the length and width of an American football field. Six giant mushrooms are tethered together by clever engineering that took more than ten years to complete. Underground, you’ll find an Antiquarium, showcasing Roman and al-Andalus remains discovered while excavating the site. There’s also a rooftop-interconnected walking path so day-trippers can catch another extraordinary view of Sevilla.

Sevilla’s old town area will enchant you into returning. Once you do, be sure to sit back and enjoy an aperitif at one of the many terrazas and absorb your surroundings.

The stuff of movies

Patio de las Doncellas Real Alcazar
Patio de las Doncellas Real Alcazar

The Real Alcázar de Sevilla, with its embellished archways and lavish riad gardens, is situated just south of La Judería. This palace is worth roaming its grounds for a glimpse of its historic significance. Once a royal palace, today it’s a labyrinth into the past, revealing sophisticated interior design and craftsmanship in medieval times. Also, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you know it as the Palace of the Kingdom of Dorn.

Ceramic embellishments in Plaza España
Ceramic embellishments in Plaza España

Sevilla’s Plaza de España is perhaps Spain’s most recognizable structure, known for its ornamentation and grandeur. Premiering at the 1929 Ibero-American Expo, this mammoth palace-plaza is used today to house government agencies. If you’re into Star Wars, you might recognize Plaza de España as the Palace of the Kingdom of Naboo. Architect Aníbal González blended elements from the Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival, and Neo-Mudéjar periods to build this landmark. It has numerous tiled alcoves along the semicircle which represent Spain’s provinces, and also serve as eye-catching Instagramable backdrops. If you see anything at all in Sevilla, this should be on the list.

Sevilla for discerning foodies

After this intense cerebral stimulation, you’ll likely be ravenous. Why not visit the Mercado Lonja del Barranco? This two-story food hall overlooking the river has 20 distinct counters; the options are innumerable. Ojaláta—a word mashup of ‘maybe’ and ‘can’—serves up the sevillano’s version of chicken and waffles, which swaps chicken for serrano ham. Try some unpretentious nibbles from La Papa y el Huevo, which offers a delectable take on huevos rotos. The Mercado has 16 food counters and four specialized bars, so whether you’re hungry or thirsty, their treats will tantalize.

If you’re looking for a formal night out, try a savory dish from local favorite La Cochera del Abuelo. Tucked away in the San Lorenzo neighborhood, this elegantly homey restaurant showcases inventive and flavorful cuisine. Although the chef frequently changes the menu, attention is equally paid to tasty vegetarian dishes.

Mere paces from the La Iglesia de San Lorenzo, Eslava offers scrumptious gastronomy. Showcasing typical Spanish tapas in unusual ways, this restaurant takes pride in perfecting their dishes. Dine inside for an intimate occasion or people watch on their street-level terraza. 

Spanish cuisine is accurately described as tapas, and Sevilla is no novice at producing these delightful delicacies. In fact, the term tapa—to cover—was coined in Andalusia. Owners of sherry pubs used cured meats or other small foods to cover the sherry glass, protecting it from flies. Furthermore, proprietors served up salty tapas with their sherries, so that their thirsty patrons would buy more wine. I can just hear the cha-ching now.

If you’re in the mood for el tapeo (trying various pubs) there are countless places you can visit. The old town alone has hundreds. El Pasaje Tapas, Castizo tapas bar, and Mamarracha Tapas are a few bang-on haunts. 

Titillating Tuna

Svilla students singing for extra change (Tuna)
Svilla students singing for extra change (Tuna)

While in Sevilla—any part of Spain, really—you might be serenaded by a tuna. Originating in the 13th century in Spain and Portugal, a tuna is a group of singing university students. Armed with traditional instruments, these students went around the city crooning at diners to earn extra money or some food. Today’s tunas are generally composed of students keeping the tradition alive; the extra pocket change might buy them a cañita. Their songs are typically cheeky, double entendre tunes that—if you understand the language—will have you in stitches. So if you see a group of youngish men dressed alike and carrying instruments, let them sing for their supper.

Feria de Sevilla

For nearly 200 years sevillanos and visitors alike have anticipated the annual start of la Feria de Sevilla. This year’s street fair took place April 23-29, 2023 in Los Remedios neighborhood. The fair kicks off with the lighting of la portada, a huge shimmering façade serving as the fair’s front door. 

Originally an agricultural and livestock fair, Feria de Sevilla has evolved into an affair of massive proportions. More than one thousand private and public casetas, or kiosks, line the streets serving Andalusian cuisine, libations, music, and flamenco. Meanwhile, horse-drawn carriages, carrying traditionally dressed Andalusians, strut through the streets, brandishing their Spanish pride. Women in fitted blazers cut at the waist, with rose-embroidered lapels; men wear similarly styled outfits. Flamencas are commonplace at the fair with their dazzling ruffled dresses, and hair pulled back into snug buns.

The parade is a seven-day street party where outsiders are invited to experience Spain at its best. It is said that thousands of bottles of the local manzanilla sherry wine are consumed during the festivities. 

Day tripping other Andalusian areas

Whether via train, plane, bus, or car, travel from the Andalusian capital is a breeze. And if you’re interested in day trips, many cities are within a two-hour journey. 

If you’re staying in Sevilla for more than a week, I recommend taking the train to Huelva, Jerez de la Frontera, Cordoba, or Málaga. Flights throughout Andalusia are shorter, however, long lines at airport security will add precious time to your daytrip. Train tickets can be purchased the day of travel, but check availability beforehand, especially to popular tourist destinations.

Whether you’re daytripping or staying awhile, Sevilla will leave an indelible mark on you.

Visit my travel page for more of my favorite places.

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