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A Guide to Seville (Sevilla), Spain

by Shawn Hennessey from Azahar Sevilla and Sevilla Tapas, April 2010

Alcazar Gardens, Seville

Alcazar Gardens

Seville (Sevilla in Spanish, pronounced se-VEE-ya) is the fourth largest city in Spain. It is the capital city and cultural and financial center of the Andalusia region in southern Spain. Founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, Seville boasts one of the largest preserved old city centers in Europe, where you can see the traces of its long history in its many architectural styles, from the Arabic period through late medieval, renaissance, and baroque. The population of Seville is about 800,000 including the suburbs, and it is quite spread out, but the old center is mostly contained within the old city walls on the interior ring road (the Ronda).

Unlike in larger Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona, you won't find a lot of English speaking residents here. And even if you speak some Spanish (Castellano) you may find it difficult to understand the "Andaloo" accent, as many residents of Seville (los Sevillanos) have a habit of dropping the "s" at the end of words, and indeed quite often the whole last syllable.

How to get here

Plane - There are direct daily flights from most major cities in Europe, and connecting flights to the rest of the world, usually via Madrid or Barcelona. To get to the city center from the Seville airport take the airport bus (2.40€) or a taxi (flat rate from airport is 21.70€ except on Sundays and holidays).

Train - If your stay in Seville is part of a longer Spanish holiday there is an excellent express train service from Madrid that arrives in the modern terminus of Santa Justa, a short bus or taxi ride from the center.

Car - Whether you rent or drive your own car be aware that there is next to no street parking in the center of Seville and underground parking costs are approximately 17.00€ a day.

Neighborhoods (Barrios) to stay in

Santa Cruz church steeple, Seville

Santa Cruz church steeple at dawn

The best option for a slow vacation in Seville is to stay in one of the many pleasant vacation rentals available in the central areas of town. These are more spacious than hotels or pensions, usually include a kitchen and a washing machine (but no dryers), and have a more comfortable "at home" feel to them. Most are within easy walking distance of shops, bars and restaurants, and the principal monuments.

Most vacation rentals will have heating and air-conditioning, but it is best to check. A growing number are now offering free internet access.

Barrio Santa Cruz - This is the most well-known area of Seville and includes the old Jewish Quarter. There are many vacation rentals available in this area, all close to wonderful restaurants and tapas bars, as well as markets and supermarkets. Typical Spanish supermarkets such as MAS, Supersol and Diaz can be found near the Plaza Alfalfa. For more variety El Corte Inglés has both a supermarket and gourmet shop located on their lower level (basement) floor.

Arenal - Situated between the Avenida de la Constitución and the river, this area has many very good tapas bars and restaurants. The only supermarket in the area can be found at El Corte Inglés in the calle San Pablo, but for fresh meat, fish, and fruit and vegetables I like to go to the Arenal market.

Things to Do and See

Chapel of Carmen, Triana Bridge, Seville

Chapel of Carmen, Triana Bridge

Although there are many impressive monuments and museums to see in Seville, one of the most pleasant pastimes is to throw away your map and wander through the labyrinth of small winding streets and little squares that make up the Barrio Santa Cruz and the old Jewish Quarter. At almost every turn there is something unexpected to be seen - a glimpse of a patio through an open door, a rooftop terrace, a fountain or a statue - or you can sit outside a bar or cafe, and watch the world go by.

If you want to go sightseeing the obvious place to start is in the Plaza del Triunfo, between the Alcázar, the Cathedral, and the Archivos de India, which are now world heritage centers.

The Real Alcázar is the royal palace-fortress of Seville. Originally built by Pedro the Cruel using Moorish architects it contains some of the finest examples of mudéjar art and architecture in Spain. It is also very pleasant to walk in the surrounding gardens, which in the summer (July - September) are the venue for open-air evening concerts.

The Cathedral, built in the fifteenth century on the site of a former mosque, is the third largest church in the world, and incorporates Seville's most famous landmark and symbol, the 800-year-old Giralda Tower. Once a minaret, and now the cathedral's bell tower, it offers an excellent view over the city (there are ramps going up to the top of the tower, which are much easier to climb than stairs). The cathedral has an elaborate - some might say, ostentatious - gold altar, a number of richly decorated chapels, and also the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

Plaza de Espana, Seville

Plaza de España

The Plaza de España is another of Seville's most impressive landmarks. Although relatively recent, having been built for the Ibero-American exposition (World's Fair) of 1929, it feels somehow much older. The super observant may recognize it as the set for a scene from one of the Star Wars movies.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Seville was established in 1835 in the former Convent of la Merced. It holds many masterworks by Murillo, Pacheco, Zurbarán, Valdés Leal, and others masters of the Sevillian School, as well as Flemish paintings of the XV and XVI centuries.

The Archaeological Museum, which contains collections from the Tartessian and Roman periods, and the Museum of Traditional Arts and Costumes are both in the María Luisa Park.

The Hospital de Los Venerables, in the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz, has an exceptionally fine church, with many works by Valdes Leal, and a typical Andalusian patio. It often hosts special art exhibitions.

Parks and Gardens

The city's largest park is the María Luisa. As well as the main promenades and formal gardens, its secluded corners and wide variety of birds, and trees and other plants make it an excellent spot for an early morning stroll.

The Jardines de Murillo are located along the outside of the far wall of the Real Alcázar, along Menendez-Pelayo Ave.

Festivals

Semana Santa, Seville

Semana Santa

The two festivals that Seville is best known for are Semana Santa (Holy Week) and La Feria de Abril (April Fair). Both take place in the spring with the Feria usually beginning two weeks after Semana Santa.

Unless you have a specific interest in seeing the processions during Semana Santa, it is advisable to avoid Seville at this time. Hotel and vacation rental prices almost double, tapas bars and restaurants are crammed full of tourists and locals and have special - more expensive - "Semana Santa menus", and basically you will not get to experience the real Seville.

The Feria is located away from the center of town, but visiting during this time you will often come across shops and bars that have closed for the Feria, as well as higher hotel and holiday rental prices.

For lovers of Flamenco there is a wonderful international festival every two years, the Bienal de Flamenco, which takes place in September.

Day Trips

If you fancy a day trip, the towns of Carmona, Córdoba and Cádiz are all worth a visit. The Mezquita in Córdoba is an absolute must-see if you have the time, and the old center of the little town of Carmona is very picturesque, but my personal favorite is the coastal city of Cádiz.

Córdoba and Cádiz can be reached by train, leaving from the Santa Justa station. There is the option of taking the AVE fast train from Seville-Córdoba (45 minutes), or you can take the regular train (1 1/4 hours) which is much cheaper. The train from Seville-Cádiz takes just under two hours. There is a RENFE booking office in the center of town on Calle Zaragoza (just off the Plaza Nueva) or you can go to the train station itself. Booking online with RENFE can be a confusing and frustration experience.

Carmona is a short bus ride away of approximately half an hour, leaving from the Prado de San Sebastian bus station. There is no train service to Carmona.

Climate

Weather in Seville

The best times to visit are the spring (especially when the orange blossoms are out - usually end of February to mid-March) and autumn, when you can sit outside to eat, and stroll about in shorts and sandals.

July and August are generally too hot for mere mortals, and though you can get nice weather in the winter, it can sometimes be cold, and the rain, when it comes, is sometimes torrential.

Here you can see a chart of the average annual temperatures and rainfall.

Azahar Sevilla

Shawn Hennessey, originally from Canada, has been living in Seville, Spain since September 1993. Previously she lived in Winnipeg, Toronto, Bristol and Salamanca (in that order).

Learn more about Seville on Shawn's blog Casa AZ and her websites Azahar Sevilla and Sevilla Tapas. Shawn leads Tapas Tours in Seville.

Original version of this article published by Shawn Hennessey on Azahar-Sevilla.

Resources

Books that feature Seville

Quotes from fellow travelers

"I was completely charmed by Sevilla. While there are plenty of things to see and do, my fondest memories are of just relaxing at an outdoor cafe, and wandering the maze of narrow streets. There was a magic just to being in such a beautiful old city." Alejna Brujos, Boston

"Sevilla is old, older than my country but it is young as well. It's a place to laugh and dance or just stand in wonder. Don't even get me started on the food! Tapas perfection at every turn, who could have known these delights existed?" Craig Lawrence, Vancouver

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