Things to Do in Seville
Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.
Designed for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, Seville’s grandiose Plaza de España is a semicircular public square brimming with brick and tile fountains, canals, and foot bridges, giving it the nickname Venice of Seville. Renaissance and neo-Moorish towers sit at either end of the plaza, which is situated within Maria Luisa Park.
The world’s largest Gothic cathedral, built atop the remains of a mosque, the Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede) features a spectacular gold altarpiece in its main altar depicting 36 scenes from the life of Christ, as well as the tomb of Christopher Columbus, works by Goya and Murillo, and the dramatic Giralda Tower.
Santa Cruz is Seville’s historic Jewish Quarter, a barrio filled with whitewashed buildings and some of the city’s most popular sights, including Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral, and the Real Alcázar. Meander down streets, stopping in bodegas and art galleries to enjoy the cultural and architectural richness of this barrio.
There is no more representative symbol of Seville’s layered history than the 322-foot (98-meter) The Giralda (El Giraldillo). The bell tower of the city’s cathedral stands a little apart from the main building; it was once the minaret of a mosque that stood on the site before it was razed to make way for the cathedral.
The 12-sided Torre del Oro, perched on the Guadalquivir River, is a Seville landmark. Also known as the Golden Tower, it was constructed in the 13th century when the city was ruled by the Almohads, a Berber Muslim dynasty. Visit the Torre del Oro to peruse its onsite naval museum, and for views from the top of the tower.
Just across the Isabel II Bridge, and squished between two parallel branches of the Guadalquivir River, you'll find Seville's Triana neighborhood. Originally founded as a Roman colony, this neighborhood -- like the rest of the city – has also been ruled by both Muslims and Christians. Over time it has served as a key strategic position as the last line of defense before invaders reached Seville's western walls. Traditionally, it has also been home to an eclectic mix of residents, from sailors and bullfighters to potters and flamenco dancers – all especially proud of their Triana heritage.
You can still see what endures of the barrio's eccentric personality in today's Triana. While visiting the neighborhood, keep an eye out for the few remaining (and culturally protected) corrales, which traditionally served as communal homes for the district's many Romani people. Meanwhile, make a stop at the emblematic Chapel of El Carmen, with its Traina-made tiles, famously produced in the neighborhood and seen throughout Seville. And perhaps the highlight of your visit: a stop at the Triana Market, located near the Isabel II Bridge in a Moorish Revival Building, which has been constructed atop the ruins of the Castle of San Jorge. There, you can get an extra-local taste of Seville, from fresh produce to meats, fish and cheese.
South of Seville's main old quarter and extending along the Guadalquivir River, you'll stumble upon the city's main green getaway, Maria Luisa Park. Once primarily the land of the Palace of San Telmo (now home to Andalusia’s president), this patch of paradise was donated to the public in 1893, evolving over the years into the Seville escape that you see today.
Most of its transformation came about during preparation for the 1929 World's Fair: expansive boulevards were created, fountains erected, gardens planted. Today’s park is so robust in flora and fauna that it is actually considered a proper botanical garden. And expect not only diverse plants, but also birds too, including ducks and swans that float in the fountains and lakes, and even green parrots that live in the center of the park.
It's not all just grassy knolls, ponds and paths, either: Maria Luisa Park is also home to numerous monuments and sights. Don't miss the Fountain of the Lions, with its four stone felines spouting water into an octagonal pond, or the Mudejar Pavilion, which houses the Museum of Arts and Traditions. And most notably, be sure to spend some time wandering the colorfully tiled Plaza de España, which is crisscrossed by several bridges and lined by painted scenes of provinces around Spain.
The Seville Aquarium is one of the city’s newer attractions, With more than 7,000 animals in 35 tanks that are both fresh and saltwater, there is plenty of marine life to discover. Themed around the sea voyages of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, it’s home to animals and plants from around the world viewed through this unique lens.
Visitors can walk through and see not only the local wildlife of the Guadalquivir river but also from across the Atlantic Ocean, up the Amazon River, and even the Pacific Ocean. The aquarium’s biggest draw tends to be its massive shark exhibit, a tank that’s nine meters deep and is home to two adult bull sharks and other large fish. It’s one of the deepest aquarium tanks in Spain.
A highlight for many is the aquarium’s baby animal center, where new life and young animals are on display. There’s also a great ‘Toca Toca’ shallow touch pool that’s great for children and families, accessible under the guidance of trained professionals. A visit to the aquarium is easily combined with a trip to the nearby Guadalquivir River.
Set inside a 16th-century Moorish palace, these thermal baths are an atmospheric spot to relax and rejuvenate. The hushed, candle-lit main bathing area features thermal baths of varying temperatures, a steam room, a jet bath, and a salt pool, while a rooftop pool offers views of the historic Barrio Santa Cruz.
More Things to Do in Seville
Stroll cobblestone streets, stop for tapas, and marvel at centuries-old architecture in Seville's Historic Center (Centro Historico de Sevilla). This destination may be best known for its trio of UNESCO World Heritage Sites—the Cathedral, Alcázar, and the Archivo de Indias—making it a prime destination to uncover Spanish history.
Seville's bullring—or the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza de Cabellería de Sevilla—is the oldest in Spain. It was here that thecorrida, or bullfight, moved from horseback to foot, and many of the cherished theatrical traditions of the matador evolved. Completed in the late 18th century, the bullring is a yellow-and-white baroque beauty.
Situated in a renovated 18th century building, the Flamenco Dance Museum (Museo del Baile Flamenco) is one of Seville’s most important cultural touchstones. Here, you can attend a live flamenco performance and also learn about the history of the dance form at an interactive museum—an immersive experience you won’t find at other venues.
The Royal Tobacco Factory (Real Fábrica de Tabacos) offers a glimpse into Seville’s once booming tobacco industry—although what was once the largest industrial building in Europe is now a university building. Many visit in homage to Bizet’s operaCarmen; it’s in this former factory that the namesake heroine rolls cigars on her thighs.
Consider this your bridge — literally — to discovering one of Seville’s most beloved, eccentric and spirited neighborhoods, Triana. Commonly called the Triana Bridge, the Puente de Isabel II — which was completed in 1852 under Queen Isabel II’s reign — crosses the Guadalquivir River, thus connecting Seville and its old quarter to the almost entirely river-surrounded barrio.
The neighborhood of Triana is what will especially make this bridge worth crossing. It’s noted for its historically eclectic and Triana-proud residents, ranging from sailors to bullfighters, potters, and flamenco dancers. Beyond its cultural curiosities, it’s also a great place to explore: Visit the Chapel of El Carmen, with its Traina-made tiles, famously produced in the neighborhood and seen throughout Seville; or get a taste of local fare by stopping at the Triana Market, located near the bridge in a Moorish Revival building constructed atop the ruins of the Castle of San Jorge.
There was a time after Spain’s first journeys to the Americas that Seville
served as one of the most important commercial cities and ports in Europe. For that reason, in 1572, this Renaissance-style building — now called the General Archive of the Indies — was erected, with the goal of serving as a merchant’s exchange.
Come 1785, when Seville’s role as a trade hub fizzled out, the grand building was finally converted into a space meant to unify all the country’s documentation related to its overseas empires in the Americas. These days, this includes 9 kilometers of shelving with over 43,000 volumes and 80 million pages, and is composed of documents such as exchanges between Christopher Columbus and the Spanish King and Queen, as well as other writings by explorers. Though the extent of what visitors can actually view is quite limited, entrance to the building is free, and therefore worth a quick wander, especially since it’s located right next to the main cathedral.
Set on the site of the 1992 Expo in Seville, Magic Island Park (Parque Isla Magica) brings 16th-century colonial Spain to life—complete with pirates, galleons, jungles, and swashbuckling adventure. Seven themed areas center on a lake, with highlights that include white-knuckle roller coasters like Anaconda and El Jaguar, the 223-foot (68-meter) El Desafio drop tower, and Iguazu, a high-speed flume ride through the Brazilian jungle.
Today’s it’s the seat of the Andalusian government, but once upon a time, this grand, rusty-red and golden-yellow building served as a royal palace. That wasn’t its original destiny, however: built in the late 1600s, it was meant to serve as a seminary school for the University of Navigators, and is thus named after the patron saint of navigators, San Telmo. Later it was purchased by the royals, after which Princess Maria Luisa donated much of its lands to the city of Seville, hence why the grand nearby park bears her name (she ultimately donated the entire palace to the church).
Nowadays, the palatial building belongs to the government of Andalucia, and has ever since 1989. Its exterior alone is quite impressive, as it is noted for its elaborate baroque façade, and a stretch of statues featuring historical figures, which is situated along Avenida de Palos de Frontera. The interior is nothing short of impressive, either, with its fancy gilt chapel, and ballroom-turned-reception-room called the Salon of Mirrors.
The Church of Santa Ana (Iglesia de Santa Ana) is the oldest church in Seville.Located in the Triana neighborhood, the 13th-century church is home to impressive sculptures, paintings, jewelry and religious processional items, many of which are displayed throughout the interior chapels. Master Castilian stonemasons and Muslim master builders worked on the church, whose remarkable interior features columns topped by corbels decorated with castles, vine leaves, lions and human heads. Admire a conglomeration of architecture with a step inside the originally Gothic church and its Baroque-style reconstruction, added after an earthquake in the 17th century.
You can visit the church as part of a guided bike tour of Seville's highlights, which includes stops at San Jorge Castle and the Jewish Quarter, as well as souvenir photos.
Snuggled up against the Guadalqivir River’s east bank and set amidst some of Seville’s most storied streets, you’ll wander upon El Arenal. Its name (arena means sand in Spanish) tells the story of its past, when, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the sandy-banked neighborhood was used as Seville’s port, making it one of the most important port cities in the world. From its shore, boats set off west for the New World, or east for spices, and returned with grand treasures.
These days, the neighborhood, which sits within the city's historic quarter, is especially known for its residents' passion for bullfighting and also religion. Their faithfulness is evident in the abundance of Arenal brotherhoods, whose devotion can be seen during Holy Week each year, when Seville’s Catholicism comes to life in colorful processions that take over the city streets.
Within El Arenal you’ll also find some of the Seville's most notable sights, such as the 13th-century Torre del Oro, erected as a watch tower under Muslim rule; the royal shipyards of the Real Atarazanas; and the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the second-most important bullring in Spain after the one located in Madrid.
North of Seville lies one of Andalusia’s most important historical sites: the ruins of Itálica near the Guadalquivir River. Founded in 206 BC, Itálica was the first and largest Roman settlement in southern Spain. The site, which can be visited on a guided tour, includes mosaics, an amphitheater, and the remains of grand villas and city streets.
In Seville’s Triana neighborhood, near the banks of the Guadalquivir River, the Castillo San Jorge was the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition from 1481 to 1785. The 12th century castle was demolished in the 19th century to make room for a market and today the underground ruins of the castle are home to the Inquisition Museum.
Founded in 2009, the museum chronicles the religious purges that took place during one of the darkest periods of Spanish history. Visitors will learn about how the Inquisition occurred, from accusations and inquiries to detentions and torture, as well as about daily life in the castle for both prisoners and jailers. However, no devices of torture are displayed. Drawings show suspects wearing pointed caps and tunics marked with an X, and maps show the other major Inquisition-related sites in Seville.
A beautiful Spanish square surrounded by palm trees and classic architecture, the Plaza de América is one of Seville’s most beautiful open air plazas. It was first constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition and is today lined with several of the city’s top museums. The three palaces, each with a different architectural style, are worth seeing for their facades alone.
The plaza is a place to take a leisurely stroll or sit on a bench and admire the surroundings, but most will want to visit one or all of the excellent museums. The Royal Pavilion is a beautiful Neo-Gothic structure, while the Museum of Popular Arts showcases Neomudéjar style and the Archaeological Museum was built in Neo-Renaissance style.
Other highlights include two large roundabouts, colorful tile work throughout, and the famous white pigeons that can only be found in this part of the city. The plaza is often included in walking tours of Seville.
If you can't make it to Madrid's Prado, then consider the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville (Museo de Bellas Artes) your second-best option. Hailed as having one of the most impressive art collections outside of the capital, the museum is well worth the stop, and for more than just the artwork.
The Museo de Bellas Artes (as it is called in Spanish) dates back to the 1830s, and is situated in what used to be a 16th-century convent. Within its walls, explore works – largely religious in subject matter – dating from the Gothic period to the 20th century, and by greats like Murillo, Zurburán and even El Greco. Beyond just paintings, you'll also find other items on display, ranging from sculptures to ceramics and furniture.
But don't just come for the art: The building alone is worth scoping out. During your visit, you’ll pass through an entry hall adorned in Seville’s hallmark colorful tiles, then wander through tranquil patios and a garden-filled cloister, and finally discover museum nirvana below the elaborate ceiling of an art-filled former chapel. Even better: Given the museum's off-the-tourist-track location just north of the main sightseeing area, expect your visit to be relatively crowd-free.
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