I first discovered Seville one summer years ago, while I was backpacking across Europe (let’s not talk about how many years). I vaguely recall some old buildings and getting infuriatingly lost in a labyrinth of laneways (ok, so it was before Google Maps). But mostly I remember being so hot that air conditioning and a bucket of sangria were the major highlights.
Seville holds the crown as Europe’s warmest city, with average annual daytime temperatures of 25.4°C (78°F). In July, that average jumps to 36°C (97°F), making it one of the hottest places in continental Europe. Now, I’m not saying that summer isn’t a good time to visit Seville – heat seekers will love it. But if the combination of hot weather and crowds don’t gel well with you, then Seville during the cooler months might be more your style.
And let’s be honest, you’re not going to be packing your thermals for Seville, even in the depths of winter. I recently ventured back, this time towards the end of November, and the days were a pleasant 18-22°C. (And at the time of writing this post in January, Seville’s temperature is still around 17°C. It’s a measly 3°C in London!) It made the city much more manageable.
So I’d highly recommend a visit during the cooler months. Here’s some ideas on how to spend a winter’s break in Seville – which is pretty much the same as what you’d do in summer, minus the risk of heatstroke.
Hit the pavement
It turns out that getting lost in Seville’s maze of laneways is actually a great way to spend some time when you’re not melting. The tightly packed corridors offer a seemingly endless supply of new sights to discover. Turn one corner and there’s a colourful plaza bursting with life; another and there’s a monument that’s centuries old.
Meandering through the streets is all the more enjoyable at this time of year given Seville’s famous orange trees are in season. They perfectly frame the narrow streets, their deep green leaves contrasting with the colours of the buildings rising above them. And with the trees overloaded with fruit, you can’t help but notice just how many of them there actually are – over 35,000! (Thank you, Google.) Just don’t eat the oranges – they’re sour!
In terms of neighbourhoods to concentrate on, explore Barrio Santa Cruz, the former Jewish Quarter that also incorporates the city centre where you’ll find many of Seville’s star attractions; Triana across the river for its city views, colourful laneways and azulejos (ceramic tiles); and Plaza de Seville, a remarkably grand plaza with the Maria Luisa Park nearby.
Do the big ticket items
without the with fewer crowds
Seville Cathedral and the Giralda Clock Tower
If you’ve set a foot in Europe, you’ve likely stumbled across a breathtaking cathedral or two. There’s so many that they can get a little pedestrian after a while. But no matter how many you’ve seen, I challenge you not to be awestruck by Seville’s gargantuan cathedral.
The largest gothic cathedral in the world (and third largest overall) is certainly out to impress. Everything is upsized – from its floorplan, to its towering vaulted ceilings, to the overdose of gold in the altar. It’s all a clear, and overwhelming, reflection of the wealth this important trading centre once had.
No visit to the Cathedral is complete without climbing to the top of the Giralda Bell Tower, the iconic structure that was originally an Islamic minaret. (The climb consists of 34 sloping ramps, rather than stairs. A welcome change to most of Europe’s cathedrals!) You’re rewarded at the top with unparalleled views across Seville – albeit with rather limited space from which to take them in. Expect to get friendly with some fellow tourists!
Back down in the cavernous cathedral, you’ll find the Tomb of Christopher Columbus. The impressive memorial certainly is a worthy tribute to the famed Spanish explorer. There’s just one catch….it might not actually be him who’s buried there. The Dominicans claim he’s buried in Santo Domingo, and they’ve constructed their own over the top monument to make their point. Awkward!
Real Alcazar de Seville
Any respectable Game of Thrones fan will know that Seville’s Real Alcazar is where the scenes of Dorne were filmed for the TV series. (Guess which fanboy geeked out? Me!) I’m pleased to report that it’s one location that’s just as stunning in real life as it is in fiction.
Like the Alhambra in Granada, Seville’s ornate Alzacar has evolved over the centuries, incorporating the styles of the various ruling cultures of the day. The palace as it stands is a grand marriage of Christian and Moorish architecture, with a few Gothic and Baroque touches thrown in for good measure.
There are a vast number of rooms to explore in the palace, as well as exquisite gardens. The highlight is undoubtedly the Salon de Embajadores (Ambassadors Reception Room), a richly decorative room that opens out onto the tranquil Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens). I’ve seen quite a few impressive rooms in my travels, but this has got to be one of the finest.
The upper levels of the Alcazar are still used by the Spanish royal family as their official residence in Seville, making it the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. You can visit the royal quarters (Cuarto Real Alto) from 10:00am to 1:30pm for an additional fee.
If old world architecture doesn’t float your boat, head to the Metropol Parasol for something more modern.
Designed by German architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann, the Metropol’s six giant mushroom-like parasols (hence its local nickname ‘Las Setas’, or mushrooms), form the largest wooden structure in the world. While the aesthetics of its design have been hotly debated, even if you’re not a fan, you can still enjoy the 360° views of Seville from the top of the structure.
Eat (and drink) your way through the day
Eslava tapas bar
Eslava (Calle Eslava, 3) was, without doubt, the culinary highlight of my trip. The ‘cigarro de bequer’ was the standout, a cigar-shaped pastry filled with cuttlefish and algae (don’t let that put you off); so good we ordered a second after one bite. But there was a long list of other worthy contenders, including the ‘huevo sobre’, a slow-cooked egg on a boletus cake; the roasted pork ribs in honey sauce; and manchego ice cream (yes, manchego and ice cream do belong together and I won’t hear a word otherwise).
Eslava gets exceptionally busy and doesn’t take reservations in its tapas bar (their restaurant next door does take bookings, but has a different menu). To avoid the chaos, get there as its opening or towards the end of service.
El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40) is the oldest tapas bar in Seville, so you’d be forgiven for being a little wary that it might be a tourist trap. Rest assured, that’s not the case.
Given its doors have been open since 1670, they’re clearly doing something right. Locals and tourists alike crowd the atmospheric tapas bar. The place oozes old world charm with its wood panelling and decorative ceramic tiles, but it doesn’t feel stuffy. The waiters navigate the crowds with speed and efficiency – just don’t be offended when they don’t stop for a chat.
But of course, it’s all about the food and I’m pleased to report what we ordered was all delicious, particularly the spinach and chickpeas, a local speciality that’s exceptionally good here. The menu is largely what you’d expect from a traditional tapas bar, so it’s not going to change your world. But for a reliably good meal in a venue that’s full of character, El Rinconcillo is a great option.
Like Eslava, if you don’t want to have to elbow your way to the tapas bar, there is a restaurant section that takes bookings but has a different menu.
If you’re in the market for a casual brunch or lunch spot, try El Pinton near the Cathedral (Calle Francos, 42). Its main dining room is a light-filled indoor courtyard just made for Instagram.
The food is an eclectic reboot of your typical Spanish fare, with some Asian influences thrown in. It doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Eslava, but I enjoyed dishes like the mini ox burgers, tuna tataki and the delicious fresh toast brioche.
Lama La Uva
While I firmly believe Spain is the land of the perfect gin & tonic, I did take some time out to try a local wine bar.
Luma La Uva is a tiny but charismatic wine shop and bar, tucked away behind the Metropol Parasol. (Calle Regina, 1, Local 4) While its main trade is bottles to go, there’s a small section of seating where you can enjoy some Spanish wine, along with local cheese of course. Try their wine flight option, which allows you to compare four wines from across Spain’s different wine regions.
See some flamenco
Given the Andalusia region is flamenco’s birthplace, there’s an abundance of flamenco venues in Seville, many leaning firmly towards the ‘tourist trap’ end of the spectrum (these tend to be the ‘tabloas’). For a more authentic version, try Casa de la Memoria, which delivers flamenco in its raw form. (Calle Cuna, 6)
Up until this trip, I’d only seen the odd flamenco number here and there. (The Riverdance version counts, right?) I admit, I was a bit sceptical about how I’d find it. Certainly, as we sat down in the cramped, dishevelled theatre with the performers sitting on rickety little chairs, I thought to myself, ‘What. Have. I. Done?’.
But the moment the dancers started their powerful performance, I was captivated. And while I couldn’t understand a word that came out of the singer’s mouth, I still felt the overwhelming urge to give him a hug and tell him everything was going to be all right. The whole thing was haunting and hypnotic and seductive and intense, all in equal measures.
Casa de la Memoria has two performances each evening. The performances sell out so book online or buy tickets in advance at the door (€18 for a full priced ticket). And given the theatre is tiny with no reserved seating, get there at least 20 minutes before the performance starts to ensure a decent seat. (Just be warned that no matter your seat, you’ll likely be sharing half of it with your neighbour!)
Take a cooking course
For something a little different, we decided to try a Spanish cooking class with Taller Andaluz de Cocina. To be fair, “cooking class” is a generous term – it was more a four-course demonstration with some active participation, but regardless, it involved plenty of eating, and sangria before noon, so I was very happy.
The class takes place in the historic Triana food market. Before getting dirty in the kitchen, your instructor takes you on a guided tour of the market, which provides some useful insights into Spanish produce and cuisine. For example, I now know locals will only ever have sangria at home or a party, when they know it’s been made fresh. Sangria in bars and restaurants is just for the tourists. Whoops!
Quick tips when visiting Seville