If you are looking for an historical city break in Europe, you could do A LOT worse than sunny Seville in Southern Spain.
Yes, most people will automatically opt for Paris or Rome, but whats the point going to the same places as EVERYBODY else?
And if history is your thing then Seville has A LOT of history. As a settlement, it was first founded by the Romans, before being conquered by the Muslims in the 8th Century. It then became part of the Christian kingdom of Castille in the 13th Century.
However Seville really hit the big time in the 16th Century. After the discovery of America, Seville became a principal economic centre of the growing Spanish Empire. Both Spain and Seville’s more recent history has been more mixed but today it is a vibrant and colourful city just waiting to be explored!
This eclectic history has resulted in an extraordinary mix of Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance architecture in the city. Combined with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city – all literally within a minute’s walk of each other – Seville is an historian’s dream!
But where to visit? And how to make the best use of your time? Here’s my pick of the top historical highlights to visit Seville, combined with my top tips to get the most out of your trip.
Seville Historical Highlight – Real Alcazar Palace
Stepping into this royal palace is like stepping back in time. The 10th century structure is an outstanding example of Mudejar architecture – a distinct fusion of Islamic and Western styles found in Southern Spain.
Make sure you don’t miss the Ambassador’s Hall, with its beautiful intricate gilded cedarwood ceiling with hundreds of tiny mirrors. The Admiral’s Hall is another one not to be missed. Its where Columbus was received by Queen Isabella after his second voyage to the New World in 1496. There are also the extensive gardens, which can be an oasis of calm after the busy palace.
- Top Tip – Buy your tickets in advance to save time queuing. You will thank me later.
- Top Tip – Get there early. I know everyone will say it but listen! I got there early and there was still a bit of a queue to get into the palace. Once the sun hits there really is no shade if you are waiting to get in
- Top Tip – I couldn’t recommend this one enough – pay extra to visit the Cuarto Real Alto, the part of the palace used by the Spanish royal family. It was definitely the highlight of my trip to the Real Alcazar. I got to visit the small private chapel of Isabella and Ferdinand – the parents of Catherine of Aragon. You also get to access a balcony right under the stunning ceiling in the Ambassador’s Hall. The ceiling is breathtaking from ground level but up close it really is magical. Just allow a little extra time to get through those queues and find the entrance to this part of the place. But trust me, it will be worth it.
Seville Historical Highlight – Seville Cathedral
If you are an avid church crawler like me, then you will LOVE the Cathedral. Its not only the largest cathedral in the entire world, its also the largest Gothic church in the world, containing 80 chapels.
Make sure not to miss the tomb of Christopher Columbus (who was moved a crazy total of five times across two continents before reaching his final resting place) and the main altar. It’s almost 30 metres high with over 200 figures of saints, all gilded in real gold bought back from the Americas. Book on a tour to visit the Giralda or bell tower of the Cathedral, which was originally the minaret for the mosque that was on the same site first.
- Top Tip – Like the Real Alcazar, buy your tickets in advance.
- Top Tip – There is so much to see in this cathedral its easy to miss stuff, so I would recommend booking on a private tour. You also get to see features like the giralda much easier.
Seville Historical Highlight – General Archive of the Indies
If I told you to visit some archives while on holiday, you may call me boring. However, the General Archives of the Indies is different. This gorgeous Spanish Renaissance building is probably the most important centre in terms of documents relating to the discovery and conquest of the New World – you can even see journals belonging to Christopher Columbus himself!
I only got to visit the ground floor of the archive – for some reason the upper floor was closed the day I visited, and the staff werent forthcoming with a reason why. Get used to that in Spain!
- Top Tip – The archives definitely seem to be less popular than the neighbouring cathedral and palace – there’s not even a sign outside, and you might just assume it was a municipal building if you didn’t have a map of the city. Not that I’m complaining. A great place to use the facilities as its quieter..if you get my drift…
Seville Historical Highlight – Palacio de Las Duenas
Palacio de Las Duenas is a 15th Century palace belonging to the Dukes of Alba (who have the not-so-Spanish surname of Fitz-James Stuart).
I chose to include the Palacio de Las Duenas over the recommended Casa de Pilatos for several reasons. They both cost 10 Euros to enter, but I felt like the Palacio de las Duenas was better value for money. There were definitely more artefacts and paintings to see (the Casa de Pilatos is bare) and I really liked the way the Palacio was set out as a family home. It also has some really nice gardens with plenty of shade – perfect if you need a break from the Seville sun.
Seville Historical Highlight – Hospital de los Venerables
You know that feeling when you enter an historical building and you gasp out loud at the sheer beauty of it? Well, I guarantee you’ll get that feeling at the Hopsital de los Venerables, which was originally built in the 17th Century as a home for elderly and infirm Catholic priests.
The highlight is undoubtedly the church with its Baroque frescos. However, there is also a small centre devoted to the works of Diego Velaquez – a key painter of Spain’s Golden Age.
Seville Historical Highlight – Plaza de la Espana
The Plaza de Espana is a relatively recent historical addition to the city of Seville. It was built in the late 1920s for the Ibero-American exposition of 1929. It is a masterpiece of Regionalism Architecture – a mixture of Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles.
It’s also a great place to get your Instagram fix. I mean just look!
- Top Tip – listen to the guidebooks and visit first thing in the morning or late in the evening. There is some shade around the Plaza, but if you want to move around and get photos of the place its hard going in the sun.
- Top Tip – eating options around the Plaza are limited and verging on overpriced. Make sure you eat before you visit.
Other Top Tips for Seville
- The Spanish REALLY love their audioguides! All major sites offer them, sometimes at an additional cost, so always double check if the price of the guide is included. I would recommend getting them in the Real Alcazar and Seville Cathedral as interpretation is limited at these sites. However, I managed fine at Palacio de Las Duenas due to bilingual interpretation.
- Although its by no means an historical site, I would recommend a visit to the Metropol Parasol. Its only 3 euros to access the viewing platform on top of this modern structure, and you get a beer in that price too. Bargain!
- You will need Google Maps – and a traditional paper map. Basically all the old streets and alleys are so closely packed together in the historical centre of the city that you will need all the help you can get if you go off the beaten track.
My last tip for travelling to Seville is DO NOT copy me and visit during the summer months unless you want to roast like a rotisserie chicken on a spit. Seville would make a perfect spring or autumn city break, when the temperatures are much more bearable.
So, what do you think? Is Seville now on your list of historical travel destinations?