The best things to do in Seville include visiting the city’s most iconic sites, sampling its unique culture, and getting off-the-beaten-path.
Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain and has a population of about 700,000. The city has 11 districts, divided into 108 barrios; this article focuses on three of Seville's colorful neighborhoods that are part of the Casco Antiguo, or old town: Barrio Santa Cruz, El Arenal and Macarena. In these three areas, expect mind-blowing architecture, peaceful parks, and colorful traditions.
These enclaves each reflect the history of Seville's people and together encompass about two square miles, and are highly walkable. In fact, I recommend against trying to drive around down here my husband and I went down the rabbit hole in a rental car, eventually finding ourselves on a side street that was about a half-inch wider than the girth of our car.
Seville happens to have a cluster of three stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites situated right next to each other--but travel is also about intangible cultural heritage. Seville is known as the birthplace of flamenco, so we share with you a variety of ways to explore this vibrant art form and cultural expression. And if you want a full-on epic experience, visit during one of Seville’s exuberant fiestas that celebrate fashion, faith and spring!
Where to stay in Seville
Seville has no shortage of distinctive boutique hotels. AC is a must and if you want access to a pool you will pay for it.
- 4* Hotel Casa Del Poeta (from $212) is a beautiful hotel located in a perfect area of Seville.
- 4* Hotel Rey Alfonso X (from $77) is located in the historic centre of Seville and has an outdoor
- 4* Las Casas de El Arenal (from $114) is only 300 m from the famous Seville Cathedral. This hotel offers a classic décor, an on-site bar and a seasonal hot tub in the shared terrace.
- 4* Vincci La Rabida (from $80) features a beautiful Andalusian courtyard and a roof terrace looking onto La Giralda Tower and is set in a charming mansion dating to the 18th century.
- 4* Petit Palace Marques Santa Ana (from $121) is situated in a restored 19th-century building and offers a roof terrace with city views.
- 4* Inglaterra Hotel (from $165) boasts spacious rooms with wooden floors and a beautifully designed marble bathroom.
- 3* Hotel Amadeus & La Musica (from $109) is located just 150 m from Seville Cathedral and guests receive a free welcome drink. All of their rooms come with a hydro-massage bath or shower.
- 2* Hotel Doña Manuela a Boutique Hotel with a roof terrace to enjoy great views.
- 3* Patio de La Alameda (from $76) - Former 19th-century palace, once the home of a famous Spanish sculptor, is in a lively area but the rooms are quiet.
- 2* La Abadia de Giralda (from $47) - Charming 18th-century building in the heart of Santa Cruz is a former residence of abbots and just 100 meters from the Giralda and the Cathedral.
- 2* Hotel Goya (from $37) - 19-room family-run budget hotel has comfortable rooms and is centrally located to all the sights.
People Watch in Plaza del Triunfo
One of the delightful features of Seville and many European cities are all the plazas, or tiny parks, that invite a pause to relax. Plaza del Triunfo is a popular meeting spot and surrounded on three sides by UNESCO World Heritage sites. Join others who are perched on the steps on the white marble monuments to watch the horse-drawn carriages and admire the views of Seville Cathedral and the royal palace.
Seville’s multi-cultural legacies merge into the magnificent Real Alcazar. This royal residence is the oldest in Europe and has been in constant use for more than 1,000 years. The fortress was built in the 10th century by Arabs and then enlarged in Gothic and Renaissance styles during the reigns of Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel and their grandson in the 15th century.
The complex of adjoining buildings and gardens exemplify the Spanish term convivencia or "living together". Plan to spend a half-day here-. The maze of structures is a delight to dally in!
Opening Hours: 9.30 am to 5.30 pm daily
Admission fees: Adults: €11.50, Children under 16: Free
Tours in Seville
GetYourGuide is a global company that offers tours by locals in destinations around the world. GTG was founded by four classmates in 2009, who themselves recognized the need for a central source for personalized tours. I myself know that finding the right guide can be a bit overwhelming. I use GYG and have enjoyed the tours I've taken immensely!
- Flamenco Dance Museum: Show with Optional Museum Ticket - Experience traditional Spanish dance tradition with a live flamenco performance at the best venue in Seville, an 18th-century building surrounded by orange trees and built on top of a Roman temple. Celebrate the true spirit of flamenco.
- Alcazar, Cathedral & Giralda Guided Tour - This is by far the most popular tour in Seville. On this tour, you will visit Seville's most important monuments on a 3-hour skip-the-line tour. Hear about the history behind the Alcázar, Cathedral and Giralda Tower.
- Guadalquivir 1-Hour Cruise Ticket & Commentary - See Seville from the Guadalquivir River and get lovely views of the city’s most famous monuments. Cruise under historic bridges, admire the towers of Plaza de España and see where ships carrying gold docked after their world explorations.
- Pueblos Blancos and Ronda: Full-Day Trip from Seville - Travel through the ancient Andalusian kingdoms of Castille and Granada, while enjoying the natural beauty and learning about the region’s history. Visit the white villages, the Grazalema forest and mountains, and the ancient town of Ronda.
Catedral de Santa María de la Sede
Right next-door to Plaza del Triunfo is the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, better known as Seville Cathedral. This magnificent building is another Seville UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1402 after the Spanish Reconquista, the cathedral was built to demonstrate Seville’s wealth as a major trading center.
According to oral tradition, the builders’ aspiration was: “Let us build a church so beautiful and so great that all posterity will take us for madmen.” Today, it is the fourth-largest church in the world. Prepare to be awed by its golden ceiling, extensive ornate carvings, elaborate tombs and 80 chapels!
Opening Hours: 8 am–2 pm, 4–7 pm daily
Admission fees: Adults: €10.00, Children under 14: Free
The Giralda is the bell tower of Seville Cathedral. Built-in 1184-96 as a mosque, the Giralda is considered the finest of the three great minarets created by the Almohad Muslim dynasty. Topped with four copper spheres that can be seen for miles around, the Moorish tower was used to call the faithful to prayer. The Giralda, named for a giraldillo, or weather vane, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, along with Real Alcazar.
Tip: After visiting Seville Cathedral, enjoy a spectacular view of it at sunset from the rooftop of Hotel Dona Maria.
In Barrio Santa Cruz, you are likely to notice the votive offerings in niches embedded in walls along each block. Interestingly, the neighborhood was once the city’s Jewish quarter. Most buildings here are beautifully decorated, crafted by artisans who took care to tile even their undersides with brightly-patterned tiles. A residence here is said to have inspired the balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet.
The Museum of Flamenco Dance
Close to the cathedral, the Museum of Flamenco Dance is housed in a building known as a Casa de Palacio and showcases the many facets of this zesty Andalusian tradition. The renowned flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos was the mastermind behind the museum, which opened in 2006. One exhibit simulates a dressing room, with a lavish collection of costumes, hats, shawls, castanets, fans and old posters.
In another room, a state-of-the-art interactive video depicts both flamenco’s ancient roots and current performers. In addition to the history, the museum contributes to the art’s future by offering classes in dance, guitar and singing.
Tip: the Museum hosts performances by world-class artists. Attending these intimate and soulful experiences is a must!
Opening Hours: 10 am to 7 pm daily
Admission fees: Show: €22.00, Museum: €22.00 & Show + Museum: €26.00
Do you find the zesty art of flamenco fascinating? Then you'll love this look at the history & spirit of flamenco!
A little bit to the west of the Flamenco Museum is Aurora Gaviño, a boutique that specialises in flamenco-inspired fashion. The shop is located on Calle Álvarez Quintero, 16 and owned by mother-and-daughter designers, both named Aurora. Mother Aurora has been making clothes for 50 years and her daughter is now a world-renowned fashion designer.
If you need a unique ensemble for a special occasion, or simply a dose of creative inspiration, stop in to meet the Auroras and admire their exquisite hand-made creations that embody the gypsy spirit.
Opening Hours: Mon to Sat 10:30 am – 1:30 pm, 5:30 to 8:30 pm, Closed Sundays
Head west for about a kilometer from Barrio Santa Cruz and you’ll be in El Arenal. El Arenal means “the sandy area” from the word arena. The neighborhood sits on the once sandy banks of the Guadalquivir River. For about 300 years, from the discovery of the Americas to the end of the 17th century, Seville was one of the most important ports in the world. Today this barrio blends some of the city’s most iconic tourism sites with being a lived-in neighborhood where you can rub elbows with locals at family-run tapas bars.
Plaza de Toros
One important attraction in the El Arenal neighborhood is the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, the city's bullring. Even if you hate the idea of bullfighting, the arena is really worth visiting, as the elegant symmetry of its architecture is absolutely stunning. The nearby museum has a collection of oil paintings and prints depicting the art of bullfighting--whatever you may think of the pastime, it is indeed theatre.
Toro del Oro
If you head southeast from the Plaza de Toros for about a kilometer, and following the Canal de Alfonso XIII, you will find Toro del Oro. This octagonal tower was built to control access to Seville via the river. Over its lifetime, it served as a prison, chapel and warehouse. Today it houses a naval museum. The "Tower of Gold" gets its name for the color of the reflection it casts in the Guadalquivir River below. It has other links to riches--this is where the treasure fleets from the New World offloaded their bounty.
Tablao Flamenco el Arenal
Finish your tour of this barrio in style at Tablao Flamenco el Arenal. If Seville is flamenco’s mecca, then the Tablao El Arenal is where aficionados come to pay homage to some of the art’s brightest stars. This performance venue is a critical part of the gypsy community in Seville.
The rapid-fire footwork, the syncopated percussion, and the emotive singing are authentic and mesmerizing.
Tip: Join in with the Sevillanos when they reward a stellar performance with either Olé!” or Eso e, meaning "Way to go!".
Opening Hours: 10 am to 7 pm daily
Admission fees: from €40 per person
Macarena is a little further afield and unless you are an avid walker, you're likely to cab it to this barrio. It's a cool and quirky neighborhood and well worth a visit. Once the biggest slum in Spain, it's now home to many of the city's artists and intellectuals who often share communal creative working space. Macarena gets its name from the Arab word meaning “gate,” and the medieval wall that runs through the neighborhood is punctuated by several major arches.
Basilica of La Macarena
In the center of the Macarena neighborhood is the basilica, a relatively new building, constructed in the 20th century. This church is home to the Virgen de la Macarena, a wooden statue that dates from the 17th century. Its full name is Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Macarena (Our Lady of Hope of Macarena). That may be a mouthful, but it's hard to overstate the huge social and religious significance this beloved statue has for the people of Seville. The Virgen de la Macarena is an extraordinary symbol of piety, hope and Sevillano identity and community. Next to the basilica is a museum, showcasing the history of the icon as well as the history behind Seville’s Semana Santa celebration. Check it out and connect with the deep meaning La Macarena has for the people of Seville!
The Virgen de la Macarena is an extraordinary symbol of piety, hope and Sevillano identity and community. Next to the basilica is a museum, showcasing the history of the icon as well as the history behind Seville’s Semana Santa celebration. Check it out and connect with the deep meaning La Macarena has for the people of Seville!
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat: 9:00 am - 2:00 pm / 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm. Sundays and Holidays: 9:30 am - 2:00 pm. / 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm.
Admission fees: Free
El Jueves Flea Market
Are you a collector? Love to rub elbows with local people? The El Jueves flea market is one of the best flea markets in Spain. It dates back to the thirteenth century, and happens every Thursday of the year except for Holy Thursday. It can be found on Calle Feria in Macarena, and is known for selling antiques and second-hand goods. It’s a great way to get off the tourist track, mix it up with locals, and snag some unique gifts!
One of the things I love about Spain is an absolute insistence on enjoying life. Not surprisingly, this translates into fiestas being a regular occurrence. Here are three that celebrate different dimensions of Seville’s culture.
Salón Internacional de la Moda Flamenco
If you enjoy fashion, glamour, and drama, then visit Seville in February, when the Salón Internacional de la Moda Flamenco in Seville is celebrated. In 2020, this see-and-be-seen flamenco fashion extravaganza featured 42 professional flamenco shows, more than 50 flamenco fashion brands, 1,700+ flamenco dresses on the catwalk and was attended by 72,000 visitors.
Are you passionate about pageantry and rituals? Drawn to the mystic? During Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the revered figure of the Virgin and other revered sculptures are outfitted in new, specially-designed robes. They are transported from the church on a solid silver platform in a procession attended by thousands of the faithful. In fact, it is one of many processions made throughout the week, when the streets of Seville teem with parades of penitents following elaborate floats adorned with icons. The deep faith and emotion of the Sevillanos is profoundly moving to witness, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
Seville Spring Festival
If you like a good party, then plan your trip to coincide with the Seville Spring Festival! This extravaganza starts two weeks following Semana Santa and is set up along the Guadalquivir River. The river bank is always crowded with rows of casetas, or tents of varying sizes made of brightly-coloured canvas and decorated with thousands of paper lanterns.
Los Sevillenos strut their stuff in exquisite flamenco attire: the women are poured into curve-hugging dresses and the men sport the unique wide-brimmed “Cordobés” hats and short-cropped jackets typical of Andalucia.
The Fair is a celebration for the senses–the smell of fried fish, the sound of carriages being pulled by grey Jerezano horses, the taste of churros con chocolate, and endless dancing of the Sevillenas to the beat of flamenco music enlivening each caseta. Everyone is a gypsy during the Feria--join in!
I know you'll love dreamy Seville, with its fascinating blend of eclectic architectural styles, its vibrant flair for style and design, and colorful and deeply meaningful traditions! Ole!
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