Like many cities, it is nearly impossible to truly get a sense of Seville in just one day...or even two days. With more than 4,000 years of (recorded) history and hundreds of churches and museums to see, Seville is a city that demands leisurely exploration. But if you only have a single day to see the sights, here are some top tips on where to go and what to do.
First and foremost: Seville is an ideal walking city. The terrain is almost perfectly flat, rain is very rare and the temperature rarely drops below 40 degrees even in winter. (In summer, however, it can get stiflingly hot, so be aware of the forecast.) The streets in the main part of town have remained largely unchanged for hundreds--in some cases, thousands--of years, and some have been closed off to vehicular traffic, making a foot tour easy. While exploring the narrow medieval streets, keep an ear out for oncoming traffic just in case: The sidewalks can get tight in some places, and some cars and motorcycles move fast. Best of all, many of the city’s main attractions are within easy walking distance of one another, so go ahead and mix up these suggestions.
8 a.m.: Get up early and grab a quick breakfast. Morning meals are not (usually) very elaborate here, but a strong cafe con leche is absolutely required. While Starbucks has infiltrated the city with several outposts, most authentic cafeterias (coffee shops) will not serve coffee to go. Instead, pick a coffee shop, grab a croissant or some toast or even churros (hot fried breadsticks, also eaten as an afternoon snack) and sit down to watch the people go by while you eat. (For something very local, get a small ham sandwich. It may not sound like a typical breakfast food, but it offers a good combination of carbs and protein, and is a popular breakfast pick for locals.)
8:30 a.m.: One of the main attractions in the city is the Cathedral, often misnamed as La Giralda. (La Giralda is, in fact, the cathedral’s 1,000-year-old bell tower, which has maintained many of its historic elements.) Formal tours are available, but take some time to wander about independently. The Cathedral is one of the three places in the world that claims to have the tomb of Christopher Columbus (he sailed to the New World from Seville in 1492, so it’s a logical conclusion). The bell tower itself is a very easy climb (no stairs, just ramps) and offers a top view of the city. (Fun fact: Until the Cajasol Tower started rising in the city’s outskirts, La Giralda was the tallest point in all of Seville.)
10 a.m.: Walk to the Museo de Bellas Artes (the Fine Arts Museum). This historic building, tucked away on a side street, is a treasure trove of world-class paintings by Spanish and international artists. One of the top exhibits in the museum is the room dedicated to 17th-century artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo, who created numerous religious paintings for many churches and infused plenty of emotion into every face on every canvas. He and his students have one of the most beautiful halls in the whole museum, and art students will frequently be seen seated on the benches just staring at the master’s work. Be sure to spend some time in front of La Virgen de la Servilleta, which (much like the Mona Lisa) is a small painting that uses facial expressions to create a major emotional impact.
|La Virgen de la Servilleta|
12 p.m.: In the nearby Plaza del Duque, a massive department store--El Corte Ingles, a major Spanish chain--dominates the scene, and offers reasonable prices for just about everything one would need, with top brands represented. This is a respectable place for doing some shopping if you need something in particular (although there are many independent shops that may offer a better value in the streets below).
Take a moment to head up to the top floor, which is home to a gourmet food shop, a cafeteria and a bakery. If the weather is good (and it usually is), visitors can grab a cafe con leche and head out to the patio to take a break, have a cup of coffee and look out over the narrow streets and ancient buildings.
In the main part of the plaza is an open-air market, with local artisans and vendors selling scarves, hats, belts, wallets, purses and lots of other trinkets for locals and visitors alike. Wander through the stands and see what’s available. (You may even have some luck haggling down the prices.)
|Patio San Eloy|
2 p.m.: This is the normal lunch hour in Seville, and many museums and shops will close at around 2 p.m. so that the employees can go home for the day’s main meal. While there are plenty gourmet restaurants in town, with only one day to experience everything available, head down the small, medieval side streets and stop by the Patio San Eloy--a popular lunch spot for locals. This eatery is hardly fancy, but the food and the ambiance embody Seville: strong, filling, rowdy and delicious. Place your order at the bar (the menu is available in English, and while all of the sandwiches are good, the Serranito is especially tasty) and grab a seat along the wall to watch locals chat, or head upstairs to grab a table. (Limited waiter service is available, but this is a very informal place, so be prepared to carry your own drinks and plates. It’s all part of the local experience!)
3 p.m.: Fortified, head down to the Metrosol Parasol, locally known as “La Seta” (The Mushroom). This new and decidedly postmodern attraction hovers over the local plaza and the street, contrasting with the 16th-century church (San Sebastian) just across the way. Grab a ticket and head up to the top level, where a pathway lets visitors wander along the rooftop and take pictures of the whole city spread out below. In the building’s basement, history buffs will want to explore the ancient Roman ruins that were uncovered during construction and preserved as a museum attraction (the Antiquarium).
|Plaza de España|
4 p.m.: The Parque de Maria Luisa was created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and the Plaza de España is a popular remnant of that event. The huge plaza is surrounded by an old-fashioned moat, and visitors can rent boats to go around it. Walk through the park (admiring the statues, niches and plant life all throughout) and head to the Plaza de las Americas, where many white doves (descended from those released for the 1992 World Expo) have settled. Local vendors will sell bird seed, and if the doves are hungry, visitors can expect to be swarmed by the feathered friends. (It makes for a terrific photo op.)
|Plaza de las Americas|
5 p.m.: Head over to the Alcazar, the city’s Royal Palace (and, recently, a filming location for TV series Game of Thrones). This is where King Felipe VI stays when he’s in town, and is a great site for lingering and appreciating the architecture, the artwork and the extensive gardens.
Good to know: In Winter, the Alcazar closes at 5 pm, so get there early during the off-season.
8 p.m.: Walk toward the river, cross the Puente de San Telmo (passing the ancient Torre de Oro, a remnant of Seville’s Moorish period) and turn right. You have left the main part of the city and are in the barrio of Triana, which could well be described as Seville’s answer to New York City’s West Village or Meatpacking District: once dirty and dangerous, and now chic and trendy. Walk down Calle Betis and look across the river at the Torre de Oro and La Giralda, which are lit up as beacons. As you walk, listen to the flamenco music coming from any given bar along the street. Find one that catches your fancy and go inside for a glass of wine and a tapa (a plate of olives or thinly sliced jamon iberico is typical) and enjoy the music and the dancing. This is the normal dinner time in Spain, so expect to see plenty of locals out visiting their favorite bars and grabbing drinks and small plates of snacks. (Good to know: The sun sets late in summer, so push this part of the trip back a few hours if you want to experience Triana’s nightlife.)
Late Night: Still have energy to go exploring? Hail a cab and go to La Carboneria, one of Seville’s more famous bars back on the other side of the river. Each of the bar’s three rooms generally has a different live musician performing (or a DJ spinning), so when guests get tired of one type of music, they can walk into another room and listen to something new.
There are still plenty of things to do in the evening and plenty of bars and nightclubs that will be open until all hours. It’s not unusual to head out for a night of dancing at 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning, so be prepared to stay out late if you want to really experience the city.