A Short Stay in Seductive Seville
by Rachel Simpson
Friday, May 13, 2016
I visited Seville at the end of March, before the infamous summer heat stifles the city. The best way I can describe Seville is in the words of an old man I met in the Jewish Quarter; “Seville is slow. It isn’t like London or Paris. Seville feels like when you are in love and everything seems easy and you are happy just to be. It is a place to feel.” With spring in full bloom, I couldn’t help but agree. The city is a joyous and romantic place, with its shady narrow streets and traditional Andalusian courtyards just glimpsed through gates and keyholes. History always feels close because the modern city co-exists with its Roman, Moorish and Castilian monuments. Moreover, Seville is big enough to easily accommodate a three-day visit without getting bored; I will outline my personal favourites here!
As the capital city of the southern region of Andalusia, Seville is easily accessible by road and public transport and has an airport, train station and bus station. The train station is also served by the high-speed AVE line. In my case, I took an AVE train one-way from Valencia to Seville for 50€ (this may seem expensive but it is a good fare in Spain) which took about 3hours 50 minutes. Within the city, I would advise taking the bus or going everywhere on foot rather than using the limited metro network. In terms of accommodation, as a solo traveller/backpacker there for three nights, The Nomad Hostel was ideal. It is a small, modern hostel located on a quiet street in the old city centre with excellent facilities; large, airy rooms, clean bathrooms and a comfortable lounge. Moreover, they have a tasty organic breakfast available, free wifi, their own ‘SLOW’ philosophy and helpful, pleasant staff.
What to do:
Free walking tour:
I would highly recommend the free walking tour by Pancho Tours which at the time of writing, meets every day at 11am in the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes next to the Giralda Tower. The tour lasts approximately 2.5 hours and is available in both Spanish and English. It began with a short history of Seville from ancient times to present day, and we then proceeded to visit (from outside), the Cathedral and Giralda, India Archives Building, Golden Tower, and the Tobacco Factory, with the tour finishing just after Plaza España. These are all main sights of Seville, and the tour takes you on a wide circle around the city. Moreover, if you visit the Tobacco Factory and Plaza España on the tour, it is not necessary to return for a second view, which you may want to do with the other monuments (which have entrance fares). The Tobacco Factory is famously where Don Juan first meets Carmen in the opera/novella whereas Plaza España is a magnificent square built for World’s Fair of 1929, and has been used a set for many movies in recent years including the The Dictator and Star Wars: Episode II.
The Alcázar Palace was originally developed by Spain’s Moorish rulers over a thousand years ago, and was repurposed by the Castilians from the 13th Century. It is located opposite the beautiful Seville Cathedral, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. I chose to visit the Alcázar over the Cathedral only because I had a limit on my time; many visitors see both places. Nowadays, the Alcázar is the summer residence of the Spanish royal family and has also featured in Game of Thrones as the setting of Dorne. The sprawling grounds of the Alcázar also include extensive landscaped gardens, and it is well worth a visit (9€ adults). Unless you have reserved a ticket, queues for entry on the day can be long, and I would recommend going in the morning or just after midday when most tourists are looking for lunch. Personally, I most enjoyed the intricacy of the geometric mosaics and plasterwork which cover the interiors of this historic building, and in which you can still find traces of Arabic script. The greenery of the gardens and numerous tranquil fountains and pools also make this site truly mesmerising.
A Flamenco Show:
If you had to make a list of all things stereotypically Spanish, flamenco would surely feature. This style of music developed from Gypsy, Jewish, and Arab traditions in Seville. Funnily enough, the old man who I mention at the start of this article is the one who convinced me to go to a flamenco show. However, he did warn me that there are very few actually worth going to – La Casa del Flamenco was his recommendation, or failing that, a performance at the Museo del Baile Flamenco. In the end, I went to the La Casa del Flamenco (15€ student, 20€ adults) which is located in the picturesque Jewish Quarter, Santa Cruz. The show, which was in a 15th Century Andalusian townhouse, lasted approximately one hour, and had a limited amount of guests and only four performers (the traditional formula, apparently). There was a singer, a guitarist, and two dancers (one man and a woman) who went through several different styles of flamenco dance and costume changes. Witnessing the raw emotion of this dance almost brought me to tears, and was by far my favourite moment of my trip to Seville.
River Guadalquivir and Green Spaces:
If you are tired of all the sightseeing, or simply want a break from your shopping (Seville has plenty of high street names), head to one of the numerous green spaces or the banks of the River Guadalquivir. All through the afternoon you can see locals and visitors alike taking a break on either side of the river, and a notable beauty spot is near the Isabel II Bridge which overlooks the Triana neighbourhood. The view from this bridge is outstanding, and you can also see the charming Golden Tower in the distance, another relic of Seville’s Moorish past. Another little-known treasure which I also stumbled upon is the Murillo Gardens, a small tranquil spot shaded by trees next to the wall of the Alcázar. This park has benches decorated with typical ceramic tiles and is ideal to sit down for half an hour. If you would rather walk, go for a stroll in the large Maria Luisa Park which has a grander feel.
- The Museum of Fine Arts is free for EU visitors (1.50€ others), and houses an impressive collection of mostly Medieval and Renaissance works.
- For discounted entry to attractions you could be cheeky and say ‘estudiante’ (student) if you look under 25 years old as staff rarely check for student cards.
- It’s a good idea to download a map that works offline such as the one offered by Booking.com app.
- Avoid overpriced bars and restaurants next to the Cathedral and the inauthentic flamenco shows which offer you a dinner with the price.
- There’s even more to Seville than what I’ve outlined – check out the bullfighting ring or ‘Las Setas’; the largest wooden structure in the world!