A city of celebration and culture where the sun shines almost 300 days a year, Seville is the perfect destination for a weekend or a week. Nestled along the Guadalquivir River, which connects it to the Atlantic Ocean 43 miles away, the capital of Andalusia offers a wonderful architectural mix, the result of the successive migrations of the Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs and Christians. Symbols of this beautiful diversity, its immense cathedral, which transformed the minaret of the old mosque on which it was built into a bell tower, the Giralda, and of course the palace and gardens of the Real Alcazar, built by the Arabs and later remodelled by the Catholic kings. In addition to these two immense monuments, Seville also and above all hosts multiples traditional and modern districts, in which it is pleasant to get lost, between monumental squares such as Spain Square or squares decorated with fountains and orange trees, colourful doors and windows, paved alleys and green patios covered with azulejos. As soon as the temperature drops as night falls, Seville puts on its festive clothes and invites you to a flamenco atmosphere in the countless tapas bars that brighten its streets to meet a population that sometimes seems to live outside.
Here are the best things to do in Seville:
1. REALES ALCÁZARES
The royal residence, with its palaces, patios, Mudéjar rooms and gardens, is simply a pure wonder. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is – together with the Cathedral – the monument of Seville that should not be missed under any circumstances. Arriving from Plaza del Triunfo, you cross the formidable enclosure through the Puerta del León (Lion’s Gate). The lion, immortalized by azulejos, symbolized the victory of the Reconquest (for a short time, this door was indeed defended by a real lion). The route leads to the Alcazar Real (Royal Palace) where, traditionally since the Reconquest, the kings of Spain stay when they are visiting Seville. The site was already known to the Romans. In 712, the Moors built a fortress there. After the Reconquest, the Catholic Monarchs resettled there. The current complex was built gradually, with each sovereign adding his own touch.
2. MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS OF SEVILLE
Located in a former 17th century convent, this museum can be considered the second largest art gallery in Spain. Since it houses more than a thousand paintings but also drawings or sculptures. If it is particularly renowned for its exceptional collection of Sevillian Baroque works, among the many great artists on display are the Sevillian painter Valdés Leal, Zurbarán, Murillo, el Greco, Francisco Pacheco, Herrera the Elder, Van Dyck, Veronese, Goya, de Morales. Many sculptors are also present: Torrigiano, Montañés, Roldán, de Mena… As well as a beautiful series of Flemish paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. The ground floor is dedicated to Spanish medieval art, Renaissance art, mannerism, naturalism and Sevillian Baroque school, with many works by Murillo. In each room, a panel recalls the constituent elements of the styles presented. An opportunity to review or learn new things about art history, the guidelines are simple and didactic. The upper floor is dedicated to Baroque in general in the room (VI), to Murillo and his disciples (room VII), to Juan Valdés Leal (room VIII), to Baroque but European painting this time (room IX), to Zurbarán (room X), then to the different Spanish paintings through the centuries, from the 18th to the 20th. Regarding Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, one can admire, for example, The Penitent Saint Jerome, The Vision of Saint Francis, Virgin with Child or The Adoration of the Shepherds. And for Zurbarán, some exceptional works such as Christ on the Cross, The Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas, St Hugh in the Carthusian Refectory or Crucified Expiring Jesus. However, it should be noted that the museum site alone is worth the trip because it is the former convent of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción, demolished in the 12th century to make way for a new complex designed by the architect Juan de Oviedo y de la Bandera from 1603 onwards. The monument now occupied by the museum combines the Mannerist style with the first Baroque influences. The patios with fountains and the high ceilings as well as the brightness of the place promise a great visit.
3. CATHEDRAL AND GIRALDA
Inseparable, they both seem to proclaim for eternity the triumph of Christianity. This proclamation is all the more significant as the cathedral is built on the site of the former Great Mosque and the Giralda was its minaret.
Emblem of Seville, miraculously preserved from the ravages of wars and earthquakes (1504 and 1888), the Giralda with its noble and fine structure, patinated by time, stands at more than 321 feet high.
4. PLAZA DE TOROS DE LA REAL MAESTRANZA
The Real Maestranza in Seville is one of the most visited monuments in the city after the Cathedral and the Alcazar. And, according to the words of the architect Rafael Montero, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful monument in the city.
In Andalusia, bullfights are always linked to brotherhoods. In 1670 the brotherhood of the Maestranza de Caballería de Seville was created and the construction of the Arena took place between the 18th and 19th centuries: begun in 1760 and completed 120 years later.
5. MUSEO DEL BAILE FLAMENCO SEVILLA CRISTINA HOYOS
This is a small museum hidden in the Barrio Santa Cruz. It is run by the legendary flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos, and it is an interactive museum – not just objects and artwork, but also video and audio presentations about the history of flamenco, descriptions of styles/palos, etc (with translations in many different languages if you don’t speak Spanish). It also includes a small school where you can take dance classes (mostly for beginners), and there are also shows. There is a gift shop where you can buy flamenco-related souvenirs, books, as well as dance shoes/
The entry fee for the museum is 10 Euros for the general public, 8 Euros for students and seniors, and 6 Euros for children. You can either buy a ticket in advance or pay at the door. It is open 10am-7pm every day.
6. BASÍLICA DE LA MACARENA
If you are not in Seville on Maundy Thursday, you can still admire the most venerated sacred image of the city: Santa María de la Esperanza, better known as the Macarena. It is said to have been carved in the 17th century, crowned with gold, adorned with five diamonds and emerald brooches, and is located behind the main altarpiece. Also present is the Cristo de la Sentencia, who goes out in procession on Good Friday. Immerse yourself in the religious fervour of the faithful who came to admire them and kiss the crucifix. The Tesoro de la Macarena Museum (and its shop) displays the magnificent clothes of the Macarena and the pasos that wear the two statues during Holy Week.
7. IGLESIA DEL SALVADOR
It is, behind the cathedral, the largest church in the city. Located on Plaza del Salvador, in the heart of Seville, it is a beautiful monument whose entrance is unfortunately not free. It is necessary to spend 4€ (audioguide included) or 8€ with the visit of the cathedral to be able to admire its impressive central vessel and its luxurious altarpieces. It is especially recommended for lovers of sacred art, Seville not lacking in free churches often very beautiful but more modest.
8. ARCHIVO DE INDIA
The city’s port became the first line of communication with America in 1492.
Seville is the capital of trade with the Americas. Every boat that arrived in the peninsula had to go through Seville to record what was being reported. However, all the documents are in the Archivo de Indias. It was created in 1785 by the will of King Charles III, with the aim of centralizing in a single place all the documentation that had been dispersed in different archives of the Spanish colonies.
In 1987, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is an essential historical site if you go through Seville.
9. HOSPITAL DE LOS VENERABLES
If you take a walk in the Santa Cruz district, you can’t miss the “Hospital de los Venerables”. From 1627 onwards, it was a place to protect and care for priests, the elderly, the poor and the disabled.
The architecture of the building is in baroque style, and has a patio with a fountain.
Around the courtyard, there are galleries, Tuscan columns… The paintings that cover the roof and walls were made by Lucas Valdés and are absolutely worth seeing!
This place is also a cultural centre for exhibitions and conferences.
A real masterpiece!
10. CASA DE PILATOS
The Pilate’s House is located in the historic centre of Seville, in the Jewish quarter. It is the prototype of a typical Andalusian palace, built in the 16th century, which today belongs to the Foundation of the Ducal House of Medinaceli. It’s an essential stopover in the city. The facade was made in Genoa by Antonio Maria Aprile and is topped by a Gothic basketry. The most significant part of the court is the central fountain and the 24 busts of Roman emperors.
The entrance fee of 5 € gives the right to visit the first floor free of charge, 8 € for a guided tour of the top floor and exhibition of paintings.
11. IGLESIA DE SAN LUIS DE LOS FRANCESES
The church of San Luis de los Franceses, now being restored, is a marvellous example of 18th century Baroque architecture. It was designed by the architect Leonardo de Figueroa and built between 1699 and 1730. The Jesuits arrived in Seville in 1554 and built a church, a professed house and a novitiate. Of all these buildings, only the church of the Annunciation remains. At the beginning of the 17th century, Lucía de Medina donated land to them to build a new larger building and a new church that would be dedicated to San Luis. It was inaugurated in 1731 by Archbishop Luis de Salcedo y Ascona with the name of Church of San Luis de los Franceses. The facade is profusely decorated, alternates stones and bricks and is flanked by two octagonal towers. It also has a splendid dome, one of the most impressive in Seville.
12. PALACIO ARZOBISPAL
The Archbishop’s Palace is one of the most beautiful examples of Seville’s Baroque architecture. Near the Cathedral on the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Seville. Classified as a National Monument, it impresses as much by its architectural beauty as by its colourful character. Inside, a charming patio offers an unexpected resting area in the heart of the city.
13. PARQUE DE MARÍA LUISA
In 1893, Marie-Louise of Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier, donated part of the gardens of the Palacio de San Telmo in Seville, where she lived (19th century), to the municipality. The city chose to redevelop these gardens thanks to landscape gardener Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier to turn them into a sublime park, called El Parque María Luisa.
In 1929, on the occasion of the Ibero-American Exhibition, several monuments were created, such as the Plaza de España!
This park is full of European and exotic plants. It has a very pleasant lake to enjoy at the end of the day during sunset. You will also find some very impressive trees with their roots.
Finally, it is in the heart of the María Luisa Park that the Museum of Arts and Popular Customs of Seville and the Archaeological Museum of Seville are located.
14. PALACE OF THE COUNTESS OF LEBRIJA
This Renaissance Palace is located in the shopping street Cuna, near the Quintero Theatre. In addition to being a “Historical Monument of Spanish Heritage”, it is considered to be the “best paved palace in Europe”. This is due to the large quantity of mosaics and archaeological discoveries that were found by chance in a nearby olive grove and moved here during its renovation decided by the Countess of Lebrija at the beginning of the 20th century.
15. SANTA MARÍA DE LAS CUEVAS
The origins of this complex date back to the 13th century; the Order of San Bruno was established in the monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1810, the monks were expelled by Napoleonic troops who elected the monastery as a military district. Bought by an Englishman (Pickman) in 1839, the site became a ceramic and porcelain factory, which explains its furnaces and fireplaces, five of which are still standing. Located in the area of the Seville Expo ’92, it houses in particular, and since recently, the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art (ACCA), which organizes various events (including a festival of electronic creation and the International Biennial of Contemporary Art Of Seville (BIACS) and presents a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions (photographers, video artists, visual artists, painters…). On Wednesdays evenings, free flamenco shows.
16. ACUARIO DE SEVILLA
A fun and very pleasant visit during a stay in the city. Divided into 5 thematic areas (Guadalquivir, Atlantic, Amazon, Pacific and Indopacific), the aquarium invites visitors to relive Magellan’s journey in 1519 and allows them to discover the planet’s different seabeds. It has the deepest shark basin (29 feet) on the Iberian Peninsula. In this oceanarium live many species, seahorses, clown fish, marine turtles….. Don’t miss its new spaces (mangrove and tropical jungle) and the jellyfish exhibition “Calma. El latido del mar”.
17. PALACIO DE LAS DUEÑAS
The Palacio de las Dueñas is one of the most beautiful palaces in Seville. It combines the Mudéjar, Gothic and Renaissance styles. It also houses a beautiful collection of works of art and furniture but the main reason to visit Las Dueñas is the patios and gardens.
The Palacio de las Dueñas was built in the 15th century by the de Pineda family. In 1496, the building became the property of Catalina de Ribera, who made numerous improvements and left it to her son.
In the course of the 17th century, the de Ribera family joined the House of Alba, an aristocratic family from the region of Castile. The palace was restored during the 18th century while in the 19th century, the building was transformed into a guest house.
A commemorative plaque indicates that the famous poet Antonio Machado was born in this palace. The whole property still belongs to the Alba family today. Since 2016, some parts have been accessible to the public.
18. PLAZA DE ESPAÑA
Built for the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition, Plaza de España is one of Seville’s architectural gems. It’s a little pompous but still harmonious. The visit to the site also provides an overview of the history of the country and the Spanish provinces.
Construction of the Plaza de España began in 1914 and was completed in 1928, one year before the opening of the Ibero-American Exhibition.
The architect Aníbal González directed the works, which Pedro Sánchez Núñez took over in 1926. The site covers 500,000 sqft and no less than 1,000 workers participated in its construction.
19. TORRE DEL ORO
The Torre del Oro is the “Golden Tower” of Seville. The 118-feet high tower was built by the Almohads in the 12th century and was an integral part of the Moorish ramparts, which formed a defence between the Alcázar Palace and the rest of Seville. The purpose of the tower was to control naval transport on the Guadalquivir. From the massive tower, a heavy chain passed underwater to the other side to prevent enemy ships from sailing on the river.
Torre del Oro is located on the Guadalquivir River and near the Plaza de Toros. The Golden Tower owes its name to the golden age of Andalusia, during the period of the Latin American colonies. When ships entered Seville via the river, they could unload their (gold) cargo here. In addition to being a warehouse, the central part is a prison. Another reason for this name may be the reason that in the past, the upper part had a golden appearance and in the river shone a golden glow. It was not until 1760 that the last small tower was added to the top.
This former public building, built in 1527, according to the plans of Diego de Riaño, is famous for its pure Plateresque style and its splendid façade decorated with historical figures such as Julius Caesar, or legendary figures such as Hercules. Several paintings are preserved there, including one Zurbarán. Across the street stands the Audiencia, an old court, built in 1606.
Featured image: From the Seville Tourism Bureau