Spectacular architecture, vibrant festivals and flamenco flamboyance; Seville has plenty of peacock oomph. There is the cathedral designed so that “those who see it built will say we’re mad”; its Plaza de España, created for the world expo in 1929; the Real Alcázar (royal palace), as seen in Game of Thrones; plus the winding alleys of the Jewish quarter (Santa Cruz). Add in private palaces, Moorish patios, Roman columns here and there, and a golden tower. All this, and it’s the former home of Carmen and Don Juan and Velázquez (although most visitors don’t make it to the Hospital of the Venerable Bishops, which is full of his art).
And Sevillanos don’t do things by half: streets fill for eight days and nights in Semana Santa (Holy Week) as processions of pasos (floats) bearing tableaux of Christ, virgins or saints make circuits of the city. During the spring fair (Feria de Abril, 30 April-7 May), half the city decamps to the casetas of the Recinto Ferial to parade on horseback, drink sherry with lemonade, and dance sevillanas.
To avoid these things and look for the “real” Seville is to miss the point. Succumb – but it’s worth exploring beyond the horse-and-trap circuit, too, especially the neighbourhoods of Triana, just across the river, and buzzy Alameda, a short stroll to the north.
WHAT TO DO
You’ll hear the traditional dance music pulsing out everywhere from dark bars, and seeing it involves decisions or luck. The simplest option for those short of time is Museo del Baile Flamenco (C/Manuel Rojas Marcos 3), which hosts several one-hour courtyard shows each evening. This is the initiative of Sevillana dance superstar Cristina Hoyos and standards are high. Or catch a show at Los Gallos (Plaza de Santa Cruz 11).
For spontaneity and passion, try a bar after midnight, such as Bar Flamenco Los Martínez in Triana (C/Paraiso 1). Or seek out a peña (flamenco social club), of which Seville has dozens: Peña Torres Macarena (C/Torrijano 29) is perhaps the most famous. For sweaty, fun, spirited stuff that loosely adheres to flamenco, visit Casa de Anselma, a tourist institution (C/Pages del Corro 49), or walk along the riverfront to Lola Cazerola (C/Castilla 36), a restaurant presided over by vivacious Lola.
Cathedral and Real Alcázar
You cannot visit Seville without seeing inside the cathedral, the world’s largest gothic church, home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus, if not (and who knows?) his bones. Summer is both the best and worst time: the cathedral is by far the best place to be when outside temperatures hit 40C, but queues can be prohibitively long. Those who buy a ticket online can nip to the front. If you can’t make sense of the website, you can nip into the somewhat overshadowed big pink Iglesia del Divino Salvador in nearby Plaza del Salvador and buy the combo visita conjunta ticket for iglesia plus Cathedral plus Giralda. Don’t miss the Real Alcázar either, a genuinely dazzling conurbation of tiled and domed rooms and patios, home to the great rulers of Andalucía – Arab and Christian. It is now perhaps more widely known as a backdrop for the kingdoms of Dorne and Meereen in Game of Thrones. More than 1.6 million people visited last year, so it’s advisable to buy tickets in advance.
Thursday street market
Seville’s oldest market has been going since 1254 and is an excellent source of ecclesiastical trinkets, as well as chandeliers, 1970s magazines, gilt frames, old books and top-quality junk. Sandwiched between calles Castellar and Correduría, its neighbourly atmosphere is fuelled by brisk trade in the packed bars lining the main artery and surrounding streets and plazas. Combine a shuffle through the market with a nose around the smattering of independent shops, and end up at Metropol Parasol – the surreally beautiful wooden installation known as las setas (the mushrooms), designed by Jürgen Mayer in the Plaza de la Encarnacíon.
Centro Cerámica Triana
Housed in an old ceramics factory built on the site of a 16th-century one, inevitably plonked on a Roman one, this museum (€2pp, Calle Antillano Campos 14) could do more to trumpet the industry that spawned Triana, created the look and feel of Seville, and inspired Lisbon’s artisans to have a go at the whole tile thing. But what is on show – from kilns, ancient pots, geometric Islamic and vibrant Renaissance tiles, ceramic advertising panels (including for Pirelli and Singer) and exhibitions on Triana – is fascinating. For people who like buying things, there’s the well-regarded Cerámica Santa Ana shop next door. Browse antique tiles and bowls (along with frames, hefty locks, samplers, and etchings) over the Guadalquivir river at Populart in Santa Cruz.
The Guadalquivir river is well used by serious rowers and larking kayakers, but SUP (including SUP yoga) is still something of a novelty. The super-friendly Surf Sevilla club runs courses (from €30), sessions and tours, most launching from jetties near the clubhouse on the Triana side.
WHERE TO EAT
Contenedor began as a weekly pop-up; now it’s one of the city’s buzziest restaurants, with a focus on slow food, sourced locally, and reinvented Andalucían dishes. Staff in jeans and denim shirts talk through the menu: tataki de ciervo (venison); a tabla del mar with hake roe, semi-cured mackerel and tuna (€9 or €14); a legendarily good arroz con setas y pato (rice with mushroom and duck, €13), octopus and vegetables cooked in a wok with coconut curry sauce, among many other dishes. The setting is a bit like an art space, open with polished concrete floors, exposed air ducts, mismatched furniture and paintings on every wall. Indeed, incubating culture is a part of their philosophy, with music every Tuesday night and plenty of ad hoc events.
• C/San Luis 50, +34 954 916 333, restaurantecontenedor.com; closed August
Behind the great big blue door lie exposed brick walls, wooden floors, high ceilings, great food and bustle. The menu – constantly changing – is filled with fine examples of Seville’s new gastronomy wave, available in tapas or main-course portions (€4.80/€13). There are no reservations, so when it opens in the evenings, there’s usually a queue.
• C/Galera 5, +34 954220481, on Facebook
Bar Eslava/Espacio Eslava
There is gridlock down the narrow length of the bar to the miniature all-blue space with tables at the end, though weather permitting there are tables outside. The clientele is generally local and animated, but the venue has accumulated plaudits far and wide, and recently beat La Brunilda (and second-placed Puratasca) in the “best bar for creative cuisine” category of Seville’s prestigious Premios Gurmé. Try costillas a la miel (honey ribs, €2.90), ortiguillas fritas (fried sea anemones, €6) and the revolting-sounding but delicious ripe cheese ice-cream.
• C/Eslava 3, +34 954906568, espacioeslava.com
The Ovejas Negras Company started with the surprising move of opening a tapas bar in the heart of the tourist district. Now the group has five venues in central Seville, each very different, but all united by quality. To single out one is hard, but Mamarracha, with a menu that ranges from huevos rancheros to risotto but stars plenty of fish and meat cooked over charcoal, always delivers. But keep an eye out for the sister bars La Chunga (near Plaza de Armas bus station) and Torres y Garcia, and Tata Pila (which serves Andalucían market produce with a French bistro-fusion twist), too.
• Lunch €7 and dinner €10, C/Hernando Colón 1-3, +34 955123911; mamarracha.es
Little DeÓ sits in the middle of the tapas bar-restaurant spectrum – worth exploring for its ever-changing wine list, a well-curated selection with Andalucían wines figuring large – but diners can also order a three-course meal of, for example, slow-cooked artichokes with a mint chutney (€2.90), carpaccio of prawns with ginger (€7.50), followed by rice pudding mousse with green tea ice-cream (€5.90).
• C/Virgen de Valle 10, +34 955193809
WHERE TO DRINK
It is not just the music that evokes the 1970s; there’s something headily prog rock about all the dusty red velvet and eclectic antique clutter, the incense and sticky drinks. But this time warp is a Seville one, and all the statues of (ecclesiastical) virgins, winged cherubs, shrines and other Catholic paraphernalia, plus portraits of the late Duchess of Alba, give it a unique spirit, as do the clientele – largely local, despite Garlochí’s international fame as the city’s most kitsch bar. The house tipple is sangre de Cristo, a difficult mix of Grenadine, cava and whisky. It is not obligatory, despite the insistence of the eccentric landlord.
• C/Boteros 26
This is not the only joint in town with a dark wood bar, hams dangling by the hoof, shelves of bottles up to the roof, walls tiled to the waist, and staff who chalk up your tapas tab but, founded in 1670, it’s the oldest (and the oldest tavern in all of Spain, says the family that’s owned it for a century and a half). Of course, it’s touristy but aside from a translated menu, few other compromises are made, and it remains authentically atmospheric and curiously rough. There are formal dining areas upstairs but, for atmosphere, you’re better off jostling downstairs, perched on a barrel, drinking sherry or wine.
• C/Gerona 40, elrinconcillo.es
Las Golondrinas 1 and Triana bars
There may be annual gastronomy contests encouraging people to do more than deep-fry croquetas but Las Golondrinas has been serving the same tapas for the past 55 years, and it’s not about to change. For those looking for an old-style, unreconstructed bar with local clientele and low prices, this is a good start. Move on to Taberna Miami (C/San Jacinto 21) – note the stuffed crocodile above the bar – and then maybe take a wander down Calle Pureza, pausing at Bar Remesal (64) and Bar Santa Ana (82, in front of Iglesia Santa Ana) along the way.
• Calle Antillano Campos 26 (Triana), barlasgolondrinas.com
El Viajero Sedentario
Pure joy! Just about everything flanking the Alameda de Hercules is a bar or restaurant, but book cafes are a rare find indeed. The owner, Javier, is originally from Bilbao, but took his inspiration from the cafe culture of Argentina discovered during his travels. The cafe is tiny, with book-lined walls, wooden floors, and filled with the aroma of good coffee and chocolate cake (one of several made fresh by his neighbour) and the gentle sound of 1920s jazz turned down low. As an added bonus there is a shady courtyard area – which is just as well because people who get a table inside don’t move.
Alameda de Hercules 77, +34 677 535 512, on Facebook
La Dulcería Triana
Warning! Outstanding Triana patisserie that looks good, smells divine, and sells the very best cakes and pastries in all Seville (apart from at Manu Jara’s other two branches – Manu Jara Nervión and Bocasú). The shop opened four years ago in the former premises of an old ultramarino (grocery store), and the original tiled floors and antique wooden counters are intact, giving it lots of charm. The eponymous owner is a Breton, his croissants are made with Normandy butter, his doughnutty torrijas (seasonal – easter only) are made with Moscatel and miel de la sierra, and his bizcocho with extra virgin olive oil.
WHERE TO STAY
Open since last September, this is an absolute jewel. The six rooms (one a little suite with roof terrace) are the work of Amaro Sánchez de Moya, named recently in the Spanish edition of Architectural Digest as one of the up-and-coming interior design “magníficos”. The six bedrooms are gloriously stylish with black-and-white marble floors, sumptuous fabrics, custom-made furnishings, antique glass light fittings, and zigzag headboards of turquoise, white and black tiles. Each room is named after a city the owner and her husband have visited, decorated with art they’ve collected there (I love Oviedo and Napoli). A further property has been added and is due to open next year, providing communal space and more rooms (Triana Suites). And it’s all just a 10-minute stroll from the Torre del Oro and the hubbub of the cathedral area.
• Doubles from €129 B&B, trianahouse.com
La Banda Hostel
It’s hard to find fault here; the founders have used tips picked up on their travels to create an award-winning hostel. Accommodation is in bunks in shared dorms (for four, six and eight), but the range of facilities and level of service, plus the location in El Arenal, in the cathedral hinterland, is unbeatable at any price. It looks good, with plenty of upcycling, murals and lolling space. A programme of optional events includes arts and music nights, plus the chance to get a local’s view of the city with a staff member. Home-cooked dinners (including Yotam Ottolenghi’s orange and saffron chicken and the kind of spicy stuff that’s hard to find in Spain) are served nightly at a big table on the fabulous roof terrace. The average age range (of guests and staff) is mid-20s-to-mid-30s, although all ages are welcome: someone recently brought his 80-something mother who had a whale of a time, by all accounts.
• From €19 (breakfast extra), labandahostel.com
The Corner House
This airy, stylish 12-bedroom hotel has a roof terrace overlooking the tree-lined Alameda de Hércules. There’s a little light upcycling (fruit-box shelves, marble step as sink pedestal), custom-built wooden furniture, and a few quality designer touches (crushed paper shades over the stairs). The reception area segues into the equally stylish Restaurante el Disparate. There are dozens of dining options in the immediate vicinity, but as this is run by well-regarded chef Nacho Dargallo, staying here for a sharing plate at one of the high tables is a good option.
• Doubles from €60 (breakfast extra), thecornerhousesevilla.com; restaurant +34 954 913 262, eldisparatesevilla.com