The one thing that everyone seems to want to know about visiting Córdoba is whether it can be done in a single day.
It’s easy to see why. Most travelers in Andalusia will want to dedicate at least several days each to Seville and Granada. That may not leave much time for much else, so is Córdoba still worth visiting?
My tour guide in Córdoba actually bemoaned how everyone stays the night in Seville and Granada but rarely in her cherished home town. It’s probably because Córdoba is such a tempting daytrip. It’s only 45 minutes by train from Seville and a convenient stop on the Madrid-Seville line.
But that’s not to say that Córdoba doesn’t have enough things to see or do.
In fact, I kind of regretted visiting only briefly!
How many days to spend in Córdoba?
My original plan was to spend at least two days in Córdoba, but the hotel prices were really high on my chosen weekend (for whatever reason). This nudged me towards doing it as a day trip from Seville instead.
One day was just enough to go on a walking tour, get a decent feel for the historical center, have a relaxed lunch, and visit the stunning Mezquita (which is Cordoba’s main attraction).
But… it wasn’t enough time to visit any museums, see the Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs, or fully soak in the atmosphere.
Personally, I think it’s nice to stay at least one night in Córdoba, so you have one whole day to explore.
If you’re not pressed for time then it’s well worth spending a full two days in Córdoba (at least, I wish I had). You can use day one to see the most popular sights and day two to stroll around and take in the details.
What’s interesting about Córdoba?
The main thing to know about Córdoba is that it was once the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba, when much of Spain and Portugal was under Islamic rule. It was a world-leading center for science and one of the most important places of its time.
In fact, during the 10th century, Córdoba was the biggest city in Europe.
Yes — bigger than London, Paris, or anywhere else!
You’ll see some of this history reflected in the architecture. Some buildings look decidedly Moorish (Islamic), while others show later Christian influences. You can see this especially well at the stunning Mezquita, which uniquely mixes elements of a mosque and cathedral.
Córdoba was a major trade hub even before the Moors came in. The Romans originally established the town at what was then the highest navigable point on the Guadalquivir river. You’ll see a few Roman remains, most notably the stone Roman Bridge.
Besides its history, Córdoba is also simply a pleasant medium-sized city in Spain with a pleasant atmosphere and many cozy tapas restaurants.
The historical center is quite compact and the street scenes may not be quite as lively as Seville or Granada, but I much enjoyed the vibe.
Córdoba as a daytrip or stopover
Thanks to being connected to Spain’s fantastic rail network, Córdoba is quite easily reached from other major locations.
From Seville: it’s easiest and fastest to get to Córdoba by train. The high-speed trains take about 42min direct. You need to book tickets in advance; I recommend doing so at RailEurope.com. There are AVE and Alvia services, both of which are high-speed, and all leave from Sevilla Santa Justa station. The price depends on which time you pick, ranging from about 15 EUR to 35 EUR one-way. From Córdoba station, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the historical center.
From Madrid: Many travelers on a larger trip through Spain like to visit on a stopover from Madrid to Seville. Córdoba is the last stop before Seville on the high-speed rail line. You’ll need to get two tickets: one from Madrid to Córdoba, and one from Córdoba to Seville. If you want to leave your luggage for the day, you will find lockers at the bus station which is just across the street from the train station.
From Malaga: The journey time can be close to 2 hours by car, but just about an hour by train. There are direct high-speed AVE and Alvia services. You can book tickets at RailEurope.com.
Córdoba highlights on a shorter visit
An efficient way to see a lot of Córdoba and orientate yourself quickly is to go on a free walking tour.
These tours are not really free but donation-based, so you can pay what you want at the end. The main company running walking tours in Córdoba is Owaytours. I did two different tours with them and liked it a lot. You can book ahead on their site.
Your next stop should definitely be The Mezquita. This structure which is part Mosque and part Cathedral is absolutely unique and a must-visit. Fortunately, since it is such a large open space inside, the flow of visitors through this attraction is quite good. Even on a weekend day, it was easy to get a ticket and go inside almost straight away.
The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos is a fortress from Moorish times, which was later a palace and the seat of the Castilian Royal Court, and later still became the headquarters of the Spanish inquisition for three centuries. Despite this gruesome past, it is today a beautiful place with gardens and fountains similar in style to the Alcázar in Seville or the Alhambra in Granada.
Unlike the Mezquita, there were huge queues for the Alcázar, probably as its space is more constricted. Since you don’t want to waste any time, I highly recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket and tour for the Alcázar.
Finally, leave a few hours to explore Córdoba by yourself. The old center and the Jewish Quarter with its windy streets and narrow alleys are especially rewarding to explore. Keep your eye out for some beautiful courtyards, patios, and balconies with many plants and flowers — as well as mosaics and ceramic decorations. There is a yearly competition that makes the locals put a huge effort into decorating these little spaces.