A trip to Spain is not complete without a visit to Andalucia, Spain’s vibrant southern region where olive groves are abundant, fields of sunflowers sway under the scorching sun, and the smell of orange blossoms is as strong as the stomping beat of flamenco dancers. It is also here where the combined Moorish, Jewish and Christian influences are most vivid. All of this cultural richness can be found in Seville, or Sevilla, offering plenty for families to do and see.
Sevilla is a hustling and bustling big city, but its old town center is quaint and charming. Seville is not only the fourth largest city in Spain, it is also the hottest in Europe. If you are there in summer, don’t be surprised to find temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the heat, you’ll want to embrace the afternoon siesta.
Plan activities for early morning then take a break in the air conditioned hotel room or at the hotel pool before exploring in the late afternoon and evening. Also keep in mind that restaurants don’t open for dinner until after 7:30 pm so plan to stop for ice cream or tapas to tide the kids over until dinner. Many of the major sites in walking distance of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter, so you can ditch the car and explore on foot. Here are some tips to get you started.
From the outside, the Alcazar looks like an unimpressive old fortress and it is easy to bypass — but don’t! When you walk through the gates and start exploring, it is a bit like finding a hidden gem. Originally a Moorish fort, the Alcazar is still used as a royal residence. Inside, you can see beautifully preserved evidence of Moorish architectural features. Even kids will enjoy the detailed tile work mosaics and the serene courtyard pool surrounded by symmetrical archways.
If they start to tire of exploring inside, escape to the gardens. Here you see the Christian influences with bubbling fountains and gravel pathways through the sculptured gardens and fruit trees. If you don’t have time to visit the Alhambra in Grenada, you’ll not want to miss the Alcazar.
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The Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world, is worth a visit on its own. The inside is jaw-dropping and your family can spend a long time looking at the gold-plated side chapels, pipe organ, and debating whether or not Christopher Columbus really is buried there. But as large and ornate and historically significant it is, it is still just a church and it may not keep kids attention for long. That is when it is time to head to the front and follow the signs to the Giralda Tower.
Once a Muslim minaret, Giralda is now a bell tower with a beautiful view overlooking the city. You’ll need to make it up 35 ramps and 17 steps to see the view but there are windows along the way and the ramps make it a lot easier than stairs. Tip: Rules suggest that knees and shoulders must be covered to enter the Seville Cathedral. While I didn’t see this rule strictly upheld, you may not want to take the chance. Also, when you finish up hot and thirsty, Bar Giralda across the street offers a great selection of tapas!
Every time you pass by the Cathedral or Alcazar, you’ll be approached to take a horse and carriage ride, so just give in and take one. Since you’ll spend most of your time exploring Barrio de Santa Cruz by foot, a carriage ride will delight most kids. It will also give you a chance to see a bit more of the city, including the impressive Plaza de España.
Tip: Don’t go during midday when the sun is at its height and be sure to bring along some water.
One way to beat the heat and enjoy some downtime in the afternoon is to head down to the Guadalquivir River for a river boat cruise. You’ll depart from the Tower of Gold (Torre del Oro) and pass by monuments such as the Plaza de España, Maestranza Bullring and Triana Bridge. You’ll enjoy the breeze off the water and the shade of the covered boat deck.
Flamenco has its roots in Seville and its Triana neighborhood is famous worldwide for its tablaos, where flamenco is performed. While the Triana neighborhood is most well-known, you can see flamenco throughout Seville and some of the venues in Barrio de Santa Cruz might be a bit earlier and more accessible for families. Unless you are an aficionado, chances are your family will be impressed wherever you go. When you think of flamenco (not flamingo!), you think of swirling dresses flashing layers of petticoats underneath and may even expect something joyful. But flamenco is actually quite solemn. The guitar playing, combined with such soulful, heart-wrenching singing and fast flying feet is guaranteed to move and impress the whole family.
You’ll want to give yourselves at least two days to see Sevilla’s highlights, including time spent exploring Barrio de Santa Cruz. Don’t be turned off by the many souvenir shops hawking the same polka-dot flamenco dresses, fans, and hair combs. There are some nice pottery shops to be found but most of all kids will enjoy “getting lost” in the labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and discovering hidden plazas and courtyard with fountains.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Tamara Gruber
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