Seville, a Journey into Southern Spain

From the heart of Catalonia (Barcelona) to the heart of traditional Spain (Seville). Southern Spain is the heart of bullfighting, free tapas, 50 degree days, flamenco dancing, and rolling hills with perfect rows of olive trees.

It’s what one typically thinks about when they hear the word “Spain”. It’s the stereotype, but it also holds a few surprises. It’s extravagant, but there’s also some down-to-earth pockets left to be explored.

The biggest asset of Seville – its beauty – is also its biggest drawback, because everyone knows it. Most places we went, we were met with an invasion of tour groups, swarms of 30 or more people huddled together and armed with headphones, selfie sticks, and iPads (I strongly judge everyone who takes photos with an iPad… just… don’t).

Pushing our way through these crowds honestly dampened my experience of Seville quite a bit, especially when we were exploring sights like the Cathedral or Alcazar. I know there’s a solution to the crowds because I witnessed it first-hand a few days later in Cordoba. Entrance to Cordoba’s main sight, the Mezquita, is closed to tour groups until 10 am. It makes the biggest difference, and I fervently hope the same rule is implemented in Seville.

But I can’t be a hypocrite. I myself am a tourist (obviously), and Mom and I saw a whole lot of things that were touristy-as-hell. But, we also wanted to venture off the beaten path a bit and take a break from swatting away selfie sticks. Below I’ve compiled a list of both popular must-see attractions in Seville as well as places to go that aren’t as crowded (but are worth your time all the same!).

Take in the views from Metropol Parasol

What used to be an old parking lot in an area that tourists overlooked is now the site of one of the world’s largest wooden structures. While locals are divided on Metropol’s looks (it’s been nicknamed “las setas” which means the mushrooms), I highly enjoyed walking along the top and enjoying the stunning views of Seville. 

The clean, round lines of the structure are a beautiful juxtaposition with the centuries-old linear facades of traditional homes. During mid-day, it might have been hot on the unprotected roof, but the lack of crowds made up for it.

Join the Tourists at the Cathedral

Get ready for Disneyworld: Seville Edition. No fun rides. Same insane lines. I had no idea the Cathedral would be so busy, otherwise I would have prepared myself better – gotten tickets earlier, lined up earlier, etc. The groups in the line were so unbelievably rude and pushy, that unfortunately, I ended up having a negative experience.

To escape some of them, Mom and I headed straight for the Giralda, the old Muslim tower monument that’s accessed not by stairs, but by a ramp. It’s a gentle slope but a difficult climb, one that was done by the imman on horseback five times a day to give the call to prayer.

Also worth checking out are the orange-trees in the courtyard, Christopher Columbus’s tomb, and the decadent altar laden with gold. 

Go Back in Time at the Alcazar

Game of Thrones set. Former palace. Popular tourist attraction. After the smorgasbord at the Cathedral, Mom and I were prepared. Tickets were purchased online. We arrived 30 minutes early to get in the queue. Once our tickets were scanned, we sped walked/ran to the most popular spot – and bam, we actually managed to get some pristine photos.

The inner palace is alive with intricate carvings, soaring ceilings, and colourful tiles, but don’t miss the equally stunning gardens at the back. Palm trees balance precariously on thin frames and surround lovely walkways that lead to mazes, fountains, and secret hideaways.

Explore the Santa Cruz District

The neighbourhood just east of the Alcazar is the old (medieval-old) Jewish district and currently the main tourist hub. Here we encountered dozens of tourist shops amidst the labyrinth of tiny, narrow streets. 

Why so narrow? To protect people from the insane Sevillian sun, of course! Elsewhere in the city, where the streets aren’t as narrow, fabrics hang from one building to the next to create shade above. On our first day in Seville, the temperature was above 40 – and September isn’t even the hottest time of the year! Walking around the shady streets in Santa Cruz was the perfect place to hide out during siesta, the hottest time of the day.

Walk Through Spain at the Plaza de España

Okay, so we didn’t literally walk through all of Spain – but metaphorically, that’s what the Plaza de España is all about. Built in 1929 for the World Expo, each region of Spain gets its own alcove decorated in tiles that reflect the area.

By walking from one end to the other, we were able to "see" every region of Spain. The architecture itself is incredible here. The building is large and demanding, and the beautiful canal that runs underneath has serious Venice vibes. 

Visit the oldest Bullring in the world

Bullfighting. It’s a highly controversial topic, not only in Spain, but in the whole world. Supporters say it’s a traditional art; protestors say it’s animal abuse. I’m not going to get into the arguments for/against it here on the blog, but I do wish I could have watched an actual bullfight. Unfortunately, cue that Southern Spain sun, there are no bull fights in the summer months due to the heat. 

So I settled for a tour of the museum and the ring instead. I had a great experience going through the different rooms and listening to our guide (included in the fee) take us through bullfighting’s history. Standing in the middle of the yellow-dust ring and imagining all the battles that have happened right where I was standing is an experience I recommend everyone has.

Take a Stroll along the River in Tirana

Across the river, along the bridge, is the once-separate-village of Tirana. It was here, along the river on Calle Betis, that my mom and dad lived while working for a wealthy & elderly señora.

Just before crossing the bridge into the area, we paid a visit to the lovely modern food market, Mercado Lonja Del Barranco, where I had one of the best meals of my trip – a Spanish-style empanada filled with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers.

We happened to be in Tirana during siesta time, so most shops and stores were closed. One that was open, however, was Ceramica Santa Ana. I couldn’t leave Spain without taking a bit of it with me, and what’s more Spanish than colourful, classic tiles?

Treat Yourself at the Hotel Alfonso

I’m not talking about booking a night’s stay here – which will set you back $750 minimum! – but treating yourself to coffee and a snack. 

Hotel Alfonso's interior patio is open to the public, and if you stick to appetizers and drinks, your wallet won't take too much of a hit. That's exactly what Mom and I did, and for the hour we were there, we were treated like royalty – seriously, best service! I ordered a cheese platter and a glass of champagne, because if you’re going to be classy, might as well go all out.

Enjoy a Flamenco Show

Seville is the city in Spain to see a flamenco show. Flamenco is available in many forms – from fully serviced shows with dinner to impromptu performances on the street. Mom and I bought tickets to the Casa de la Memoria, a cultural centre that features some of the top Flamenco dancers in the country. 

I didn't know what to expect going into it, which is maybe why I was so taken aback by Flamenco – it's a very passionate, emotional dance! During the performance, we weren't allowed to take any photos, which turned out to be nice as it let us focus on the dancing and become involved in the performance ourselves. 

Drink with Locals in Macarena

Hands-down my favourite part of Seville was going out in the Macarena neighbourhood just north of the city centre. Finally, the hordes of tourists were gone, the heat of the day dissipated, and Mom and I got to experience nitty-gritty, down-to-earth Seville. This area comes alive at night, with locals spilling out onto the street, beers in hand, boisterous conversations echoing across the plaza.

What shocked me the most was seeing children out at late hours of the night. Parents would sit and drink outside near a bar while the kids entertained themselves, riding bikes or scooters or playing football. On the main boulevard Alameda de Hercules, a huge playground was situated right in front of a row of bars! That would never be legal in Canada. And yet, here in Spain, family is brought everywhere. Kids aren't a nuisance, and meeting with friends late into the night isn't off the table once you're a parent.  

Seville's a stunner, and if you go into your travels knowing there will be lots of other people enjoying its beauty, too, you can be prepared. Get everywhere early. Take some time to venture off the tourist trail. See the sights, but also get a feel for its personality.