Things to Do in Cádiz
Wandering the miniature streets of Cádiz’s El Populo neighorbood, it would be easy to never realize that tucked behind the seemingly old buildings is a much, much older structure: the world’s second largest Roman theater. In fact, no one realized this until 1980, when a fire prompted the ancient theater’s discovery.
The Roman Theatre of Cádiz (Teatro Romano de Cádiz), which was likely built during the 1st century BC, fit some 20,000 spectators in its day. Since then, it was built over by a fortress, and later by more recent buildings, hence why it has since remained so very secret. Fortunately, part of the theater has now been excavated, with certain portions, including an interpretation center, open to the public. Though it is still being excavated, much of theater will remain unearthed given the buildings that sit atop it.
Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore. It’s not the only impressive structure here, either, as the beach is bookended to the north and south by two fortresses, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina.
To truly soak up the magic of Cadiz, plan to explore its oldest neighborhood, El Pópulo. The barrio dates back to the 13th century, and gets its name from an image of the virgin that once stood vigil above one of El Pópulo’s gates. It read “ora pro populo,” meaning “pray for the village.”
The grand Cadiz Cathedral, which rises high above the city skyline with its golden-hued dome, dominates El Pópulo. There are other sights to see here, too, such as City Hall, the almost-hidden Roman theater, and a handful of famous arches (or gates), one of which includes the aforementioned Arco del Pópulo. Perhaps one of El Pópulo’s most beloved sights, however, is simply its tiny tangle of streets that will have you happily lost, and certainly never far from the sea.
While in Cadiz, a trip toward the sea can offer more than just pretty views. Indeed, if you go to the northwestern border of the island-like southern city, you’ll happen upon one of its favorite treasures, Genovés Park (Parque Genovés). Created in the 19th century, the seaside green getaway wasn’t always so green, though: it once went by the name of Parsley Promenade given its sparse vegetation. But these days the garden serves as a botanical wonderland filled with over 100 species of trees and shrubs.
Strolling down its paths lined by fancily manicured greenery, you can escape the city and catch glimpses of the sea. Children will appreciate the man-made lake, which features dinosaur statues poking out of its waters, and a waterfall, which can be climbed atop, or even explored below by walking through its grotto. Whether you wish to sip on a coffee at the garden’s café, or prefer to find a quiet bench to relax on in the shade, the park is an enjoyable Cadiz stop that is worth a wander.
Get to know the essence of Cadiz during a wander through one of its most beloved old quarter neighborhoods, La Viña. The name, which means “the vine,” was inspired by its previous life when it served as land for vineyards. That was, of course, before buildings cropped up to accommodate the city’s population, which grew due to increasing trade with the Americas in the 18th century.
Since its vineyard days, this area has been known as a fishermen neighborhood given its easy access to the sea via La Caleta Beach. It should come as no surprise, then, that this is the ideal place in town to sample some of Cadiz’s best seafood, particularly pescaito frito, a dish of fried local fish for which Southern Spain is famous. Apart from tapas hopping — particularly along the main drag Calle de la Palma — La Viña is also ripe with flamenco bars, and is the epicenter of Carnival celebrations, arguably the city’s most important festival. At the end of the day, be sure to take a break from getting lost in the barrio’s streets to make a sunset visit to the beach and neighboring San Sebastian Castle.
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