Go ahead, call it “Sevilla” if you want. There’s more flair to it, and Seville is all flair, all the time. If you aren’t encountering a drive-by flamenco show while winding through the twists and turns of the Santa Cruz neighborhood, then you’re chasing tapas like gazpacho and boquerones (fresh anchovies) with a sherry-Sprite combo called rebujito. You’ll enjoy dinner-time serenades, photograph the azulejo-tiled buildings, and marvel at millennium-old architecture—with time to loll about in the shadow of the world’s largest Gothic cathedral or sunbathe in a rooftop terrace pool.
Seville isn’t exactly a checklist kind of destination, where you scurry from one monument to the next. The whole experience is like a daydream, and so uniquely different from the rest of Spain.
So, checklists be damned: Here’s an itinerary to consider for your first visit to Seville.
How to Get to Seville
If you fly, you’ll likely have to connect through another European city—probably Madrid. There are direct flights from the big hubs, like Rome, London, and Paris, but it makes more sense to tie your Seville visit to one with other Spanish cities, then access it all by train. For example, book your flight into and out of Madrid or Barcelona, then visit each place on the high-speed Renfe trains that take 3 hours each way between Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Madrid and Seville. This will save you the trip to the airport, drop you in each city center, and spare any layovers, too. To book, go to RailEurope, an EU train ticketing site built for U.S. travelers.
Where to Stay in Seville
Gran Meliá Colón
If you threw Seville into a blender (hypothetically, of course), then splashed it on the walls of a hotel, you’d get Gran Meliá Colón. Upon entering, the first thing you see is the modernist glass dome, an original detail of the 90-year-old building that was opened in tandem with the 1929 Universal Exposition. Gran Meliá Colón is covered in red, black, and white detail, a natural backdrop for flamenco and bull-fighting culture. There’s even a regular evening flamenco show in the lobby bar, El Tendido, which pairs nicely with their craft cocktails. Onsite restaurants El Burladero and The Majestic are both favorite Andalusian spots among locals. Every floor is adorned with artwork from a different Spanish painter, and the rooms and suites behind the art are among the most elegant in town. The hotel is an official Sevillian monument, and it’s in the heart of the city, a short walk from all the major sites. There’s a fitness center and a Clarins spa, outfitted with a sauna and hammam. You have access to the rooftop pool that props you up above Seville for an expansive perspective. When you book, add on the RedLevel benefits to access the hotel’s exclusive lounge, for made-to-order breakfasts and all-day beverage and tapas service. That’s in addition to 24-hour porter service and concierge access throughout your stay, plus an even more premium selection of rooms.
Many of Seville’s best hotels are indiscernible from the street. You’ve got to buzz in, meeting the desk staff in a beautifully restored interior. In Aguilas5’s case, you’re greeted in a marble-floored foyer, where colorful art adorns the walls. The apartment-style accommodations have 5-star caliber decor and comfort, with more guest amenities than you can fathom. It’s not a BnB, but you’re in the heart of Alfalfa, so there are a dozen spots within a block that can feed you. Best of all is the rooftop terrace and pool that you’ll likely enjoy alone, or with a couple others. Aguilas5 has all the things you love about a luxury hotel, mixed with all the homey details you love about Airbnb.
What to Do in Seville
Consider booking skip-the-line tours through GetYourGuide—especially if it’s high season and/or the weather’s super hot. While Seville is one of the more memorable and colorful places you’ll visit, it’s not so enjoyable standing in a queue when it’s 90 degrees. Many of these tours provide context you’d never get on a solo visit, too.
Real Alcázar: Arguably Spain’s most stunning attraction (sorry, Gaudi), this Muslim fortress turned royal Christian palace has history dating back to the 1st century, with plenty of details that mark its changes throughout modern history. You can book ahead to beat the lines or book a guided tour to learn the history of the space while you peruse. I’d highly encourage the latter. You’ll catch all the minute things you’d never notice just passing through on your own. Or, opt for a joint tour with the Cathedral and La Giralda to see and learn about the city’s core attractions in one fell swoop.
General Archive of the Indies: This archive houses important Spanish Empire relics, and is next to the Real Alcázar in the former merchant exchange building.
Cathedral of Seville and La Giralda Tower: It’s the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, converted from a 12th-century mosque. In all, there are 80 chapels, a stunning Renaissance vault, and numerous relics. It also has some of Christopher Columbus’ bones inside a magnificent elevated tomb. The adjoining Giralda Tower was also a Muslim install, with a minaret converted into the bell tower. The female statue atop the tower is called Giraldillo, or often just referred to as Giralda, and is emblematic of Christian fortitude. (No, Sevillians aren’t all that religious anymore, but they do love their history.) Book a joint guided tour with the Alcázar to learn about each building’s history and significance (and to skip the lines).
Plaza de España: This, above all else, is the visual everyone associates with Seville. It’s magnificent Renaissance and Moorish revival all in one. The plaza was built as the centerpiece of the 1929 Universal Exposition, and features moats, foot bridges, and 48 ceramic-lined pavilions that honor each Spanish province. Don’t venture off without a stroll through the massive and adjacent riverside Parque de María Luisa. You can even cruise through it by horse-drawn carriage, if you fancy. You can self-guide at the plaza itself, and meander throughout the structure for overhead views.
Las Setas: Setas (which means “mushrooms”) was finished in 2011, and is now representative of Andalusian modernity. It’s equal parts urban installation, event center, museum, marketplace, and panoramic viewfinder. Pay a few euros to take the elevator up top for a rooftop perspective on the city. You can even see where it all stops and turns to Andalusian countryside. Then, stop downstairs at the Mercado de la Encarnación to visit the produce and fish vendors, as well as refuel.
Flamenco Museum Performance: You’ll see pop-up flamencos all around town, and there are dozens of places to book a staged performance. We’d endorse the Flamenco Museum’s nightly shows above all else, given their intimacy, intensity, and the fact it’s an institution founded by famous flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos. Be warned if you sit in the front row: You may get smacked with the train of a flamenco dress or get sprayed by sweat from the dancers. That’s how close they are to you. But it’s all the more immersive.
Torre del Oro: Consider this 12-sided riverfront watchtower more of a landmark than a must-do. It’s a 13th-century Moorish feature whose cap was added in the 18th century. It stands out in photos, but its rooftop views are rivaled by many other panoramas you get on your visit.
Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza: This is the famous 13,000-capacity bullring, which you can tour most days of the year. You can catch an actual bullfight during the Spring Fair (Feria) from April through September. Get tickets here.
Triana: While you’ll likely stay in the city center, near Alfalfa and Barrio Santa Cruz, the one neighborhood that isn’t in your immediate periphery is Triana, just across the river (where lots of the city’s working-class population lives, as well as artists, flamenco dancers, and bullfighters). It’s just a 10-15 minute walk away, and offers a host of bars, restaurants, and shops to whet your appetite. There’s the Triana Market, if you want to grub your way through various vendors (or take a cooking class). It’s just as sprightly as the city center, and just as cobbled and Sevillian, but has its own unique charm. Point yourself to the stretch of tapas bars along Calle Betis. If you’re on the lookout for ceramics, then Triana is also your destination. Start with a visit to the Triana Ceramics Centre, a former factory, for an overview of the tiles and designs you’ll see around Triana and all of Seville.
Cooking Class: If you’ve so enjoyed Andalusian and Spanish cuisine that you’re curious about making it yourself, book a cooking class to cover the cost of dinner and lessons. You’ll probably break even with all the wine or sangria you drink. (Though, they’ll inform you that only tourists drink sangria.) You’ll cook up classic fare like gazpacho and paella, make friends with other visitors, and savor the fruits of your labor. You’ll also take home the recipes. You just need to order the proper paella pan…
Best Tapas Bars and Restaurants in Seville
In place of “where to eat in Seville”, the main thing you need to know is where to get tapas. The best part of your visit will be the crawl you do from one bar to the next, steadily eating and drinking throughout the evening. And it’s best done spontaneously, to gauge the vibe of each place as you pass through. Of course you can stay for a second drink if you’re into it, instead of rushing to the next stop. Here are a few places to star on your maps for a little bit of guidance: El Rinconcillo, Bar Alfalfa, Bodega Santa Cruz, Las Golondrias, Espacio Eslava, Bar Postiguillo, La Brunilda, and Bar Garlochi.
Make time for one afternoon lunch at Antigua Abaceria de San Lorenzo, too, near the Alameda. It’s a 25-year staple in the city, serving traditional Andalusian fare in a 17th-century Seviliian household. You don’t want to buzz through there. Instead, you’ll sit and savor every course and pairing. They’ll take good care of you.
A Day/Overnight Trip: Granada and the Alhambra
Granada is a three-hour drive or train ride from Seville. It’s worth its own overnight visit (try Hospes Palacio de los Patos). And don’t fret: It won’t compromise your Seville itinerary. In fact, it should be one of your utmost priorities. You could even detour there en route to Seville, on a train from Madrid.
First and foremost on your to-do list is the Alhambra, along with its ornate, vibrant courtyards and gardens, called Generalife. This 9th-century Moorish fortress and palace are UNESCO-protected, tile-decorated, pool-populated, and tunnel-lined. To tour it is a mind-boggling window into architecture (and life) some 1,200 years ago, as it’s the most illuminating surviving example of the era of Islamic Iberian rule, which ended at the conclusion of the 15h century.
Later in the day, you’ll meander the narrow streets of The Albayzín, catch a flamenco show in the cave homes of Sacromonte, pick up souvenirs at La Alcaiceria market, and tour the royal chapel and cathedral of Granada, as well as the mosque of Córdoba.
Savor these moments. We guarantee you’ll love it so much, you’ll start contemplating what’s required to live here. That’s the fever everyone gets when they visit.