Seville: city guide. Lively, flamboyant, full of character, beautiful palaces and Spain’s best tapas

Why go

Seville is arguably the most charismatic and flamboyant of Andalucían cities, dripping in personality and swagger. Legend says it was founded 3,000 years ago by the Greek God Hercules. It’s swathed in what seems like eternal sunlight and is romantic, raw and sizzling in every way. You’ll find something to capture your heart around every corner, in a city that’s easy to get lost in – if you can stand the heat.

What to do

The capital of Andalucía in southern Spain is alive with activity, famed for its Flamenco, with  stunning examples of Mudéjar architecture (an Islamic-Christian hybrid). Visit the Moorish triumph, Alcázar Castle, and its buildings, and spend hot nights cooling off in one of the buzzing bars along the Guadalquivir River, opposite the imposing bullring. It’s no surprise this dramatic city has inspired many operas.

Where to stay
Travel Hotel Alfonso XIII Seville Lobby 620
The grandiose lobby of the Hotel Alfonso XIII, next to the Alcázar Palace

Barrio de Santa Cruz (close to the Alcázar and within walking distance of Prado de San Sebastián bus station) and El Arenal and and El Centro are some of the most popular districts. Book ahead if you’re travelling during Semana Santa and the Feria de Abril, when room prices can be doubled and sell out.

Hotel Alfonso XIII is a five-star next to the Alcázar Palace and is a none-too-shabby neighbour, with outdoor pool, garden courtyard and fountain. Vincci La Rabida is an 18th-century mansion with roof terrace looking on to La Giralda.

Relax in a cobblestone courtyard at Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza
Relax in a cobblestone courtyard at Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza

Hotel Casa, built around a courtyard, is set in a restored 19th-century mansion beside Seville Cathedral. Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza is bright and sleek, with terracotta and white walls, and cobblestone courtyards where you can help yourself to oranges.

Corral del Rey, tucked away in a narrow street in the old quarter, is a whitewashed boutique hotel in a restored 17th-century casa palacio with a rooftop plunge pool (from where you can see the whole city) and original Roman marble pillars.

Seville. Corral del Rey room
Corral del Rey, a simple, stylish boutique hotel in a 17th-century building

Looking for something more rural? The Hacienda de San Rafael, once an olive estate, has been restored and converted into a luxury hideaway, halfway between Seville and Jerez de la Frontera.

Where to eat
Seville. El Rinconcillo bar and tapas
Enjoy tapas at El Rinconcillo, Seville’s oldest bar

Locals like to say “En Sevilla no se come sino que se tapea” (in Seville you don’t eat but tapeur) and the city claims to have invented tapas.

You can’t eat tapas in Seville without going to El Rinconcillo. It’s one of Seville’s oldest bars, where you can either take a stool among a floor strewn with napkins (always a good sign, right?) or eat in one of the equally atmospheric mosaic-tiled rooms. Try the spinach with chickpeas.

Near to the cathedral is the popular La Azotea. Great for fresh fish, there are some delicious gluten-free options on the menu, too. It’s small, so book ahead.

Abades Triana, opposite the Torre del Oro watchtower, has panoramic glass windows over the river and offers a gourmet tasting menu. Book a private dinner in the glass cube that hovers over the water.

Getting around

Seville is served by as impressive a rail service as you’d expect of the area. Santa Justa is the main train station, offering regular services to destinations all over Andalucia, Huelva, Cadiz, Jerez, Jaen, Granada and Almeria. High-speed trains go to Cordoba and Malaga, and beyond to Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona.

When to go

March or mid-spring will mean fewer crowds and a more bearable heat.

Don’t miss
Seville. Parque de María Luisa. Wikimedia Commons
Escape the noise and crowds at Parque de María Luisa

Alcázar: nobody goes to Seville without visiting one of the most beautiful places in Spain. The World Heritage Site was originally founded as a fort for the Cordoban governors of Seville in 913, and has been expanded or reconstructed several times in its 11 centuries. It’s the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe (the upper levels are used by the royal family as the official Seville residence).

There is masses to see, and plenty of spots to take a cooling break. Stop at the eerie Baths of Lady María de Padilla, named after the mistress of Peter the Cruel, seek out the tiny faces inside the peaceful Courtyard of the Dolls, and breathe in the orange trees in the spectacular gardens. Give yourself hours to wander at leisure.

Add to your itinerary La Giralda, Seville Cathedral’s emblematic bell tower. It was originally built as a minaret during the Moorish period, with a Renaissance-style top later added by Spaniards.

Feria Market, in the north of the city, stands next to a 13th-century church and boasts a famed tapas bar, La Cantina. And escape the noise of the city to rest by the duck ponds at Maria Luisa Park.

Travel Seville Clare Hodson flickr 620
Stroll around the Plaza de Espana
Three things we like
  • You’re guaranteed to find a party. Just look for the crowds that swell outside the best bodegas, where locals and tourists mingle as day turns to night.
  • Rooftop Seville. Start at the Hotel Doña Maria. It’s the oldest roof terrace bar in Seville, and has arguably the best views.
  • Yemas de San Leandro, traditional sweets made with egg yolks and sugar, dispatched by nuns at Convento de San Leandro. Convents are marked on most tourists maps, or look for a sign saying ‘las dulces’ and follow your nose.
Seville Hotel Dona Maria roof terrace bar 620
Relax and enjoy the view from the roof terrace bar at the Hotel Doña Maria
Something we don’t like

The oppressive heat in high summer, when things get really sticky. Seville’s hot summers boast average temperatures in the 90s, so a pool is a must for cooling off.

High50 insider tips
  • Ignore the tourist trap Flamenco nights, with flammable frills and overpriced drinks, and instead head for the district of Triano, the old quarter.
  • If you’re prepared to stay up late, you’ll find a more authentic experience at somewhere like Casa Anselma, owned by a celebrated Flamenco dancer. Or ask someone local and they’ll point you in the direction of the best bar or even an open-air concert.
  • Visit during Triano’s annual festival Velá de Santa Ana, held in the final week in July. Performances are held free every night from around 10pm in the Plaza del Altozano and along the waterfront, as well as at the Museo del Baile Flamenco.
  • Anyone in your party over 65 should take proof of ID for free admission to Alcázar.
Need to know
  • Last year, councillors passed regulations to keep things quieter in this noisy city. Groups such as Seville Without Noise Now campaign for more peaceful streets, complaining that children aren’t able to concentrate at school due to the endless partying.
  • Seville remains a bullfighting city, with events hosted at the magnificent bullring on Paseo de Colón from April to October every year, dividing opinion among Spaniards and tourists. An Ipsos Mori poll in 2013 suggested that 75 per cent of Spaniards haven’t attended a bullfight in the past five years, with only 29 per cent in favour of the tradition.