Multiple cities in the Andalusia area of Southern Spain are known for their amazing architecture and rich history. (These include Granada – home to the famous Alhambra palace, Cordoba and its Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral, and Sevilla with the Real Alcazar and iconic Plaza de España). With only a few days to explore the area, and already committing to day trips to both Morocco and Gibraltar, we had to choose just one of these stunning places to explore. Sevilla, Spain (often seen written as Seville – which is the English pronunciation) was the winner. But really, we won. Because this amazing, vibrant city absolutely exceeded any expectations we had for this part of our trip.
Getting to Sevilla
We knew we were nearing Sevilla by the noticeable increase in traffic. We had flown into Malaga two days earlier, and while that was a sizeable city, this would be our first big – and touristy – Spanish city of our trip. Big cities tend to give us a bit of anxiety. And the crazy traffic and confusing roads we were encountering as we neared our hotel weren’t helping to lessen any of our stress.
(Note for future trips: Driving between destinations in Spain is easy and the roads are great. But, major cities will likely be hectic and hard to navigate. Maybe just use public transport for these).
Lost & Found
However, we couldn’t help but admire the gorgeous city we were hopelessly confused in. The architecture was stunning and the weather was perfect. As we drove around, we tried to focus on the beauty and not get aggravated with each other as we looped not once, not twice, but about four times trying to find the road to our hotel.
And by road, I mean the “pedestrian walkway that is okay to drive on if you are a guest of the hotel.” We were instructed to find it by turning by the palm trees, crossing the tram tracks and driving up the cobblestone sidewalk. Eventually, we just paid to park in a garage and walked to find the entrance. Which we had, of course, almost passed multiple times.
Luckily, our frustrations were allayed by the extremely kind English-speaking host who gave us a warm welcome to the beautiful apartment-style hotel. (Sevilla Central Suites – Apartments Puerta Jerez around the corner from the Alcazar). Plus, he shared lots of fantastic recommendations. He even helped guide Buddy into our space in the hotel’s gated parking area – a marriage-saver for sure. That upgrade to a small SUV wasn’t so awesome at that point. But my master driver/parker/navigator made it work with the help of our new friend.
While our cozy apartment was amazing (and had a great rooftop deck), we were excited to be without the burden of our car and ready to go find some delicious tapas. We fell in love with the city almost instantly as we wandered around looking for food. And once we got our hands on those tapas we had heard so much about (including a perfect mini-Paella), we fell even harder for Sevilla – and Spain in general.
The city reminded me of the Spanish-settled city of St. Augustine in our home state of Florida. (But with much older, more stunning buildings and way better food. Sorry St. Augie, you know I do love you, but I shall not tell lies). When I was a little kid, my dad took me to see the King and Queen of Spain speak during their visit to the historic Florida coastal city. Ten-year-old me would be excited to know I finally made good on a promise to myself to see Spain one day. It was better than I had always imagined.
Sevilla by Moonlight
Since we arrived in late afternoon, it wasn’t long until the sky started to darken and we got to enjoy some of the busiest attractions almost all to ourselves.
We wandered down dark, winding streets, through parks, and eventually ended up at the Plaza de España where we stopped to take photos for at least an hour. It was about 10 p.m. and we were some of the only people there, making it all the more beautiful.
We also lucked out with there being an international food festival in the large park near the Plaza, where we tasted beers from places like Brazil and Russia. This great event was on our radar after a chat we had with another American couple in Tarifa. Such a fun find!
But, Is It Safe?
Not once did we feel unsafe wandering alone late at night in this old, gorgeous city. I realized recently that this is a strange thing to mention to Europeans, since crime isn’t as much of a worry in big cities like it is in the U.S. But, I feel like it is important to note, because I was a little skeptical that the city was actually as safe as everyone said. While I’m sure crime happens and bad areas exist, we didn’t come across anything worrisome in the more popular areas of town.
During our entire time there, we were only semi-hassled twice. The first time was by some pushy older ladies trying to sell me some kind of herbs outside the large Catedral de Sevilla. And the second was by two adorable young men who came up and serenaded us at an outdoor café while we sipped our last beers of the trip. Looking back, I probably should have said “No, thank you.” But I was happy to give them a few Euros for their fantastic little show. However, I didn’t realize we were flat out of cash until they stopped singing.
After some apologies, we gave them the one American dollar we for whatever reason still had on us. And I did some half-Spanish, half-English, mostly make-shift sign language to ask them if we could buy them a beer. They laughed, said it was okay (I think…), high fived me for good measure, and tried to find the next target of their impromptu show.
The Real Alcazar Experience
Our only full day in Sevilla was dedicated to exploring the Real Alcazar – one of the most popular places in Spain. We hadn’t been able to pre-book tickets online like everyone tells you to (their site didn’t like our card), so we were prepared for the giant queue and a long wait.
While not an extremely long line when we arrived, we did end up waiting about an hour because we got there before they even opened. And it was a good thing we did, because the line was wrapped around the building before we went in, with another line next to it for people with tickets. Seems like you wait regardless, pre-booking just makes it a little less painful.
Once inside, we were awestruck. It was so much more beautiful than we could have imagined. The intricacy of the architecture and all the colorful tiles and paintings made each room a new experience.
And the gardens were amazing as well! However, while stunning in their own right, this is the only place we’ve been where the gardens didn’t impress us more than the interior decorations and architecture. We usually lean more towards natural beauty than man-made, but this was a strong exception. It was clear the palace was truly divinely-inspired.
Funny enough, I heard a tour guide mention that the purpose of the Alcazar was to give people a taste of heaven on earth – a place to renew their spirits and remind them of the wonders to come. They certainly achieved that goal.
Our Genius Plan
While we didn’t want to rush our experience in this majestic place, we were aware of just how many people were going to be filling up all the gorgeous rooms and gardens in no time at all. So, we tried to go through the entire palace somewhat quickly, to make sure we got a chance to see everything and take photos without the crowds. Then, after we had seen it all, we went back through and spent time really taking it all in and admiring the details.
This method worked so great, it is now how we plan to see every major attraction we go to.
Yet, even with our great plan, we both agreed we would have loved a few more hours to enjoy all the artistic and architectural details. But, we had already been there for almost three hours and tapas were calling.
After our tapas break, we walked around for a while in search of a hat for Buddy to protect his bald head from the sun. (Note to self: Spain is sunny. Duh). We hadn’t expected such hot weather during our trip, so he only brought a beanie – which had become very impractical. So, we scoured multiple stores looking for a plain cap, but eventually gave up and got one of those super touristy ones promoting the city. It does go well with the photos though!
Hat on head, we boarded the Hop-On-Hop-Off City Sightseeing Bus. We have really come to love these things as a way to tour parts of the city we wouldn’t end up in on foot. While we prefer to walk, we can only get so far – especially when stopping for cerveza and tapas every few hours.
From the top of the big red bus, we got to see places like Plaza de América and Torre de los Perdigones while listening to fun facts about the city. For example, we learned that Plaza de España was included in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. It was a nice break for our feet with great views. But I have to say, watching all the brave motorbikers weave in and out of traffic and the big buses take tight turns was pretty entertaining in itself.
Wrapping Up Our Short Trip
We only had one more night to go – filled with more delicious food and wanderings. Then we would be back on the busy roads making our way out of town and on to our next adventure – hanging out with two of the snuggliest, cutest pups in a small village near Malaga, Spain.
While much more touristy than anywhere else we went while visiting Spain, Sevilla gave us exactly what we were hoping for and so much more. We truly felt the magical, easy-going energy of the city. And, between that and living in rural Spain for two weeks, we fell in love with the Spanish way of life. I know it won’t be long until we return – I made a promise to 28-year-old me that I plan on keeping.
Special thanks to Sevilla Tourism for providing us with City Sightseeing Bus tickets. As always, all opinions are our own.