It has surely come to your attention that Seville is a much-loved travel destination in Spain.
You’ve no doubt seen the pictures of those sunny plazas lined with orange trees, the traditional tapas bars with Flamenco music, and impressive Unesco World Heritage monuments.
And you know what?
Sevilla really is that wonderful.
I first visited the city as a backpacker back in 2015 after a long trip through Morocco. I had planned to stay just a day but extended my stay to a week, as I couldn’t get enough of the wonderful atmosphere (not to mention my amazing hostel).
A few years later I visited again for a week, and more recently I lived in Sevilla as a nomad for about 6 months.
Because of my extended stay, I got to know the city pretty well. So if you’re planning a trip, I promise you I’ll share a couple of useful tips in this Seville travel guide that you won’t find in the usual things-to-do lists.
1. Get advance tickets for the Alcazar
The Real Alcazar is easily one of the must-visit (and most-visited) tourist sights in Seville.
This royal palace built by Castilian Christians was strongly influenced by Moorish architecture (this style is called Mudéjar). The tiles and decoration have an almost Arabic feel, though parts of it also conform more to Gothic or Renaissance styles.
It’s a stunning place, in parts somewhat reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada.
Just know that there is often a long line to get into the Alcazar!
Outside the tourist season, it can still be okay. But during popular times of the year, there are often long queues with hundreds of people wrapping around the block. I know this because I lived just a few streets from the Alcazar entrance.
To avoid wasting precious time queuing, I recommend getting the skip-the-line ticket for the Real Alcazar.
To get the most out of your visit, it helps to book ahead — and consider getting the audio tour or a guide to get a full appreciation of the palatial rooms and gardens.
My favorite interesting fact: the Real Alcazar was actually damaged in 1755 as a result of the great earthquake in… Lisbon! This was about 300km or 190 miles away, which gives you a real sense of the intensity of this disaster. As a result of the earthquake, some elements of the Alcazar were restored in a different (baroque) style.
2. Seville summers get very hot!
Most tourists seem to believe in one simple equation: “Spain = summer holiday”. But have you thought of Seville as an autumn or even winter destination?
I think this time of year is actually ideal for a visit!
You see, Seville happens to be the hottest city in all of Europe.
That means July and August are not the best times to visit. Average temperatures top out at 38° C (100 F) during this period, but there are peaks up to 47° C (117 F).
In August, many Sevillanos escape the city to escape the heat — for instance, by heading to Cádiz on the coast.
I think Seville is at its best in spring and autumn when the temperatures are closer to a Northern European summer.
Even in winter, you can still fully enjoy all the lovely plazas and outdoor spaces, with temperatures reaching peaks of 15° C in December and January (though rain can spoil the fun, so best make it a last-minute trip while keeping an eye on the weather reports).
My favorites times of the year are:
February – March. From around mid-February, it’ll start to really feel like spring. It’s a great time to go — before things get crowded around the major Easter events in April.
October – November. During this time it’s tourist low season, giving the city a more relaxed atmosphere. Even in late November, the weather was still pleasant enough to have drinks on my hostel’s rooftop every night.
3. You can get on top of the cathedral
The Seville Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site, notable for its unique mix of styles. If you look closely at its bell tower, you can see it used to be a minaret. In fact, the cathedral was founded in 1403 on the site of a former mosque.
By the time it was completed in the early 16th century, Seville Cathedral supplanted Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as the largest cathedral in the world. It remains the world’s third-biggest.
It also houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, who was a real jerk!
There are two different ways to see the Seville Cathedral. Normal admission is €9 and this lets you explore the ground level and climb the bell tower, called the Giralda, for some great views of the city.
But you can also get a full tour for €16 that also includes access to the maintenance balconies and rooftops. (This must be pre-booked on the official site.) I took this tour and loved it!
I got to see the cathedral from a behind-the-scenes perspective, while our guide spoke very entertainingly about its history and construction. By the end, you no longer see the building as one fully formed design, but as the result of many expansions, aborted plans, and improvisations. The views from the roof are also phenomenal.
The tour takes about an hour, after which you can still visit the inside of the cathedral by yourself.
4. Each neighborhood has a different feel
I’ve now stayed in 4 different parts of Sevilla and it’s made my stay different every time. Where you base yourself completely influences what you get to discover.
The whole center of Seville is beautiful, but each area does have its own character. Let me quickly tell you about my favorite areas to stay, all of which are at most a 20-minute walk apart.
The center: This area around the Cathedral is where you’ll probably do most of your sightseeing. Shopping high streets also run through it and you’ll find more chain cafes and tourist shops around here. It’s very beautiful but very retail- and tourist-focused.
While beautiful, I think the center can get a bit much sometimes. There are horse carriages, segway tours, and lots of public activities. Personally, I like to stay a few blocks further, such as in…
Alfafa & Santa Cruz: If you want to be central but prefer a more intimate atmosphere, try the area of Alfalfa or the Jewish Quarter of Santa Cruz. These two neighborhoods have lots of smaller windy streets. They’re excellent hunting grounds for finding cozy holiday apartments or B&Bs.
Triana: This traditional neighborhood was once the home of sailors, bullfighters, Roma people, and many famed Flamenco dancers. It’s often overlooked only because it’s across the river, but it’s nevertheless just a 10-minute walk from the center. Triana has a lot of soul and I think it’s one of the best areas to stay.
Feria / La Macarena: If you don’t mind being a bit further out and like seeing some local life, then this area might be just for you. Genuine local tapas places abound and you can sample all kinds of food at the Mercado de Feria. Every Thursday the Calle Feria comes alive with a huge flea market. Plaza de Hercules has lots of cool bars where young people go out, though outside of this the area is mostly residential and quiet apart for the square.
5. The free flamenco is not as good
The incredible dance of Flamenco originated in the Andalucia region when Spain was under Arab rule. Flamenco is huge in Seville and so it’s a great place to catch a show. (Second only to Granada.)
Many Seville travel guides recommend La Carboneria, a tavern where you can see flamenco for free. I think it’s nice but not the best.
The place feels like a beer hall where you sit at long tables together with a hundred or more people. Unless you’re very lucky and have a front-row seat, you won’t see that much of the performance. Consumption is mandatory.
It’s better to go for some of the ticketed shows. These are put up specifically for tourists, but they are a great way to see flamenco properly. A show might cost you 15 to 20 Euros or so, but it’ll give you an up-close experience. For example, you can book to see flamenco in Triana.
If you’re committed enough, you might also find some free flamenco shows that are truly meant for the city residents. They typically start after midnight and take place in tiny crowded bars, especially in the neighborhood of Triana. The paid shows are much easier to find, but if you are set on seeing the real thing, try asking some Sevillianos about where to catch a local show. (In my case, a taxi driver shared the inside scoop.)
6. Stick to the local mealtimes
Seville works a bit differently than other places you may be used to. This can lead to annoying surprises.
Want an early lunch at 12:30? Hope you’re not in a rush, because you’ll probably have to wait until at least 2 or 2.30.
Dinner before 21:00? Good luck, amigo… because most places will still be closed.
You see, Seville runs on quite a particular schedule. Some of the tourist restaurants and cafes do make exceptions, but lunch generally doesn’t start until 2 pm, and dinner time doesn’t start until 20:30 at the earliest. Places often close for a midday break (siesta) or only serve drinks outside of main hours. On the other hand, there is a weird rush around 11 am when many Spanish finally have their breakfast.
It’s possible to swim against the stream, but your options will be quite reduced, especially if you’re outside the tourist zone. So, often it’s just best to do as the Sevillanos do.
By the way, most shops are closed on Sundays. Even most supermarkets are either closed or only open their bakery section. Museums are still open and many places to drink/eat are too, but the atmosphere on Sunday is a lot quieter.
7. Budget properly for Seville
While southern Spain is generally not so expensive, Seville can be a little pricey in some respects.
On the one hand, you can get a lovely local breakfast of coffee and tostada de tomate (toast with tomato spread) for just 2 Euros in many places. Who can say no to that?
On the other hand, accommodation can cost a lot, especially on weekends. A double or twin room will cost at least 100 Euros per night on a weekend. Even a hostel dorm bed may cost you up to 40 Euro a night. Oof.
But, as the saying (that I just made up) goes, “No pain, no Spain”.
Luckily, things like food or transportation are all reasonably priced, especially for a major European city.
8. Leave the car, use the bikes
The center of Seville consists of numerous small streets and alleyways. Most of it has been pedestrianized and the few streets that do allow cars are narrow, don’t have many parking spaces and don’t give a lot of access.
Seville is the easiest to explore on foot. Many locals who live in the center also use scooters, motorbikes, or bicycles.
The city is actually known as one of the most bike-friendly in Spain!
If you’re in Seville for a while, it might be worth getting a pass for the SEVici bicycle system. For 13 Euro you can get a 7-day pass, which lets you use the SEVici bikes unlimited for up to 30 minutes at a time. (If you go over 30 minutes you pay a small extra fee.) You can pick them up and drop them off at any of the 260+ stations.
To register, just go to any SEVici station, make sure you bring along your credit card and follow the on-screen instructions. Use the app (Android, iOS) to know the location and availability of bikes.
9. There are wonderful details everywhere
Seville may be defined by its impressive monuments and museums, but I think it’s seeing the street life and all the details that make exploring it so rewarding.
Be sure to keep your eyes out for little patios inside the old buildings. They typically feature an arched central courtyard reminiscent of Moroccan riads, often richly decorated with plants, flowers, mosaic tiles, and fountains.
Don’t forget to look up while you walk around Seville as well. You’ll see many balconies beautifully decorated with plants and dried flowers (a local tradition), not to mention buildings with many architectural styles.
Many of the city’s quarters have beautiful plaques on street corners dedicated to different saints, or famous poets or flamenco dancers who lived there — particularly in Triana.
10. The Feria is amazing (with some caveats)
The annual Feria de Abril (Seville Fair) is held around Easter and is a major event in the local calendar. Some locals prepare for months in advance, practicing their dance routines or getting new colorful dresses.
There are all sorts of events happening during the Feria. You might see parades with men on horseback wearing traditional clothes. There are funfairs and many people dancing and socializing.
One thing that most guides don’t seem to mention though is that the Feria is not necessarily so open to participation. It’s very much a local tradition that you can observe, but you’ll probably feel a bit like an outsider.
While I wouldn’t recommend coming only for the Feria, it’s cool to catch at least some of this week-long event if you’ll be in town around this time.
The main event area has hundreds of tents called casetas that are kind of members-only, which can feel a bit snooty (although people have assured me this is not the intention). It’s inside these tents that people are celebrating and dancing the Sevillano. There are however also a number of public casetas with live music where no invitation is needed.
Other fairs in Andalucia are meant to be a bit looser and less traditional. Nevertheless, I loved when I visited the Feria with a group of friends to witness this very typical event.
11. Seville is a great base for (day) trips
Seville can keep you busy for days, but there’s also loads to do in the surrounding region. Here are some suggestions:
- Cádiz is a wonderful historic city on the coast that is just 45 minutes by train from Seville. It’s a nice day-trip if you’d just like to get some wind in your hair and possibly worth a longer stay if you surf or crave the beach.
- Córdoba was once the capital of Andalucia and the most prominent city in all of Europe a millennium ago. The unique and stunning Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is not to be missed. Just 50 minutes by train from Seville it’s also great as a day-trip.
- The White Towns of the Sierra de Grazalema mountain range are stunning. If you have or can rent a car, this is almost certainly the best road trip you can do from Seville. The first villages are about an hour’s drive away. This is seriously my favorite bit of Andalucia.
- Via Verde de la Sierra is an old abandoned railway from the 1920s that was more recently transformed into a cycling trail. You go via numerous tunnels, stone bridges, etc. through beautiful landscapes. The starting point is about a 90 minutes’ drive from Seville. An amazing off the beaten path experience.
The provinces of Sevilla, Cádiz and Cordoba are filled with interesting places, leaving you plenty to explore even on repeat visits to Seville.
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