Discovering Sevilla, Both On and Off the Beaten Track
December 6, 2018
by Kaatje Jones
Seville, Spain – or Sevilla, as the locals call her – is one of my favorite cities on the planet. I studied there for a year of my undergraduate and have returned several times since. I have spent many a charmed day wandering the labyrinthine streets. Sevilla is a city of endless stories and many magical corners, with a wealth of gorgeous historical places and museums. But there are other places and experiences that, in my opinion, deserve to be known more widely.
The main attractions are definitely worth visiting. Not included on this list are a gazillion churches, every one spectacular. You can also take a cruise of the Guadalquivir River, climb the Torre de Oro (tower of Gold), and visit the Triana neighborhood and the bullfighting ring. This list includes the places I take my friends to when they come to visit.
1. La Catedral
Sevilla’s cathedral is the third largest in the world. It was built on top of a mosque that was built on top of a Visigoth temple, an architectural layering that is common throughout the region
2. The Alcazar
This place is second only to Granada’s Alhambra when it comes to the grandeur of Spain’s ancient moorish palaces. Give yourself plenty of time to wander, because you will want to take a million photos.
3. La Universidad de Sevilla
The university’s spacious halls were once the old tobacco factory that Carmen was rumored to work in. This was also the center of the student protests of 2012, when I was studying there. One of my favorite protests of all time was a group of students who dressed as zombies with signs around their necks and staggered into banks in the commercial center, moaning ‘beca! Beca! Dame una beca!’ (Scholarship! Scholarship! Give me a scholarship!).
4. Metropol Parasol
It may not be one of Sevilla’s most historical attractions, but the Metropol Parasol is certainly one of her most striking. Known by the locals as ‘las setas’ (the mushrooms), you can ride an elevator to the top of the surreal structure, visit the market at ground level, or descend to the Roman ruins below.
5. Plaza de España
Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American expo, this enormous complex was created to be a symbol of the glory of Spain. Today it houses mostly government offices. You can rent a rowboat or take a ride through the neighboring Parque Maria Luisa in a horse-drawn carriage.
These are some of the places and experiences often overlooked by tourists. Check out the theater and music scenes if you can; one of my favorite things about the city is the vibrancy of its arts culture.
1. Alameda de Hercules
The Alameda de Hercules is one of the social centers of the city, yet few tourists seem to find their way here. It is a huge, mostly pedestrian avenue surrounded by bars and cafes with open air seating. This is where many locals hang out. From breakfast to an evening drink, this is the place to go for people watching. See if you can find a place offering the ‘Menu del Dia’ around 2 or 3 in the afternoon for the full experience.
While you’re in the area, walk down Calle Castellar and listen for the flamenco classes in session. If you’re lucky, you might find a peña open on a weekend night, with more raw, unpolished flamenco performances than you’d see in a tablao – and a much more participatory audience experience
2. Thursday market on Calle Feria
Every Thursday from early morning until about 2pm there is an enormous flea market. You can find everything here from second-hand flamenco dresses to spare parts to extraordinary antiques. Prices are low, but the locals always seem to barter anyway.
3. Monasterio de la Cartuja
This place shows up in most tourist books as the modern art museum. It’s a lot more than that, though. Located in an old monastery that was converted into a ceramics factory under the British, this gorgeous old building also has a sprawling garden that’s not as manicured as most of the others in the city. Paired with surreal structures built for the 1992 world expo, it makes for a charming place to wander and explore.
4. Bike paths
One detail that surprises a lot of visitors is the excellent bike-share system. There are bicycle stations scattered throughout the city. You can get a subscription for a week or a month or rent a bike just once. I recommend getting your subscription online beforehand if possible, as the terminal can be confusing to operate. The bikes are a bit clunky, but they usually work pretty well.
Once you have a bike, the city opens up. There are well-built bike paths surrounding the old city and along the river. Bike along the river for a mile or two to see some amazing street art. You can also visit some of Sevilla’s more far-flung, but still gorgeous gardens and parks. Parque del Alamillo, Jardines del Guadalquivir, and Parque Maria Luisa are personal favorites. Brace yourself before riding into the old town, though – cobblestones are your ticket to a bumpy ride!
5. Casa Grande Del Pumarejo
If you want to see the political and grassroots side of Sevilla, try to catch an event at Casa Grande Del Pumarejo. It is an 18th century house that has been turned into a community center. The residents managed to get the building declared a place of cultural interest when they were threatened with eviction in 2000. Today it is kept up by the neighborhood and is a meeting place for parties, cultural events, and political gatherings. Their website has an English option, but they don’t keep up their calendar well. If you really want to find out about events, go on their Facebook page with Google Translate in the tab next to it. You will probably be the only foreigners there.
6. CasaLa Teatro
In the bustling and famous Triana marketplace there is possibly the world’s tiniest theater. Comedy, flamenco, live music, burlesque, puppetry – you can find it all in this intimate venue. It’s the kind of place where artists invite their friends to shows and hang out for a drink afterwards with a view of the majestic Triana Bridge.