At precisely 9:30 am on Saturday morning, I sat on a bench in front of the Alcazar in Cordoba, luggage in tow. I was waiting for Sara, a Blablacar driver, to pick me up and take me to Sevilla.
What is Blablacar might you ask? Blablacar is a Spain-based ride-sharing startup. Essentially, when people are driving to different cities and have space in their car, they can sell the space to passengers who are looking for a ride to the same destination. You can indicate your preferences for music, smoking, pets, etc, as well as read reviews from previous passengers. Not only is it cheaper and more convenient than taking a bus or a train, but it’s also a great way to meet interesting people. The added bonus was my ability to find a ride to Sevilla at a time that was convenient for me.
I was a teeny bit nervous, but as soon as I met Sara and her boyfriend, Guillaume, I instantly relaxed. They were experienced Blablacar drivers and were very friendly and chatty. Sara is Spanish and Guillaume is French, and they were road tripping through Andalucia together. It was a pleasant and quick journey filled with great conversation, and we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we agreed to meet up in Sevilla for dinner that evening. It felt good to exercise my vocal cords again!
My hotel in Sevilla was conveniently located right next to two of the city’s main historical buildings – the Alcazar and the Cathedral. How perfect is that? After dropping off my stuff and basking in the AC, I headed to the Seville Cathedral. I may have slightly overdone it on palaces and cathedrals in the last few days, so, while I was very impressed with the ostentatious interior, only a few elements were truly awe-inspiring to me: the main altar and the giant organ for the chorus being a couple of examples.
My stomach started rumbling at the end of my tour of the Cathedral, so I walked over to Bar Estrella, a restaurant recommended to me on Trippy. Bar Estrella’s food was spectacular. I tried three different Andalucian tapas that I’d never seen before: Crujiente de berenjenas (fried eggplant with honey), espinacas caseras con garbanzos (cooked spinach with garbanzo), and pimiento piquillo relleno de bacalao (peppers stuffed with cod). My stomach was doing a happy dance and so was I (but you know – in my head). Estrella’s exquisite flavors and impressive variety make it a must-try in Sevilla.
My next stop was the Alcazar of Seville (fun fact – the last season of Game of Thrones was shot here). It was deathly hot the day I went (100 degrees), so I, unfortunately, couldn’t enjoy the gardens as much as I would have liked. Luckily, the intricate interior rooms were just as inspiring as the fountain-filled gardens.
Somehow I was bursting with energy despite the heat, so I meandered over to the Royal Bullring of Seville. You can only enter with a guided tour, but I didn’t mind since I learned a lot about the history of bullfighting in Sevilla (where it is still practiced today). For example – every bullfight has six bulls, not one. And once a bull is dead, the meat is sold. We saw the main ring as well as the horse and bull stables, and the different doors where the fighters, bulls, horses, etc enter. It was really cool! Although I don’t think I could handle the brutality of watching a bullfight live, it sounds like it would be quite a spectacular show. Alas, bullfighting, like football, has seasons, and the next bullfight in Sevilla won’t be until September. Oh well.
My last stop of the day before dinner was the Metropol Parasol, also known as Las Setas. It’s an architectural beauty, located in a skateboarding park right in the center of the city. You can go up and see the view of the city, but it seemed to serve more as a popular hangout spot for teens and skateboarders than a viewing point. It looked more like an art installation than anything, and reminded me a bit the design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
After I’d successfully managed to walk all over the city, I was ready to eat dinner. I texted Sara and Guillaume and we agreed to meet for tapas at Ovejas Negras, a bar popular amongst tourists and locals alike. The place was packed when we arrived at 9:30, but we stuck it out and waited for almost an hour before we got a table. The food was well-worth the wait. They serve Spanish fusion, which was a nice change from the traditional Spanish food I’d been eating. We ordered some amazing risotto, bruschetta, and octopus. I only managed to snap a photo of the risotto since we were all hungry and scarfed down the food before we took any pictures.
We didn’t leave the bar until well after midnight, and even then there were still people waiting in line to eat and drink. Friday and Saturday nights in Spain are quite the party! After a short walk around, the three of us parted ways.
Since I went to bed super late the night before, I ended up sleeping in until 10. I opted to for a slow breakfast before going to see the Basilica de la Macarena since I had afternoon plans with Maria and Fran, a Spanish couple I had met while volunteering. Getting to the Basilica took a bit of a walk, but I enjoyed meandering through the maze-like streets. Given that it was Sunday and the end of August, Sevilla was dead, with the exception of the tourists of course. All the shops and a majority of the restaurants were closed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city this quiet during the day, ever. It was quite a strange vibe. When I arrived at the Basilica, it was teeming with tourists who seemed to be the only ones keeping the city alive and kicking that day. I loved the interior of the church in its ornate glory. It had hundreds of little paintings depicting religious figures. Beautiful!
I arrived at my hotel just in time to meet with Maria and Fran, and they happily showed me around their city for the rest of the day. The first stop on the “locals tour” was the old Jewish neighborhood of Santa Cruz, composed of a winding set of white streets and alleys. I was surprised to find that every major city in Andalucia had a Jewish quarter, or “Juderia”, despite the Spanish Inquisition. Maria knew a ton of history about Seville, which made the entire day much more interesting and educational than I’d expected.
Next, we headed over to the beautiful Jardines de Murillo. These gardens used to be part of the Queen’s palace in Sevilla (separate from the King’s palace of course). Most iconic was the statue commemorating Christopher Columbus’ journey to America – something I’ve noticed Spain is quite proud of. The gardens are conveniently located around the corner from the University of Seville. Not only is the university significant to Fran and Maria (because that’s where they met), but it also used to be a large tobacco factory back in the day. The university itself only consists of this one main warehouse-style building, so I could totally see how it had been renovated.
For lunch, we headed over to the Mercado Lonja del Barranco because every single restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. Not an exaggeration. Every single one. As I said earlier, Seville’s citizens were in full-on holiday mode, and that, combined with the fact that it was a Sunday, meant that we had limited options. Although the food wasn’t the most amazing I’ve had in Spain, I really liked the cafeteria-style options and the bright and open space. It was a great ambiance. We ordered a variety of food, but my favorite was the salmojero sampler platter – yum!
At this point, Fran had to go back and do some work, so Maria and I drove over to the tech district where she works. All the office buildings in this area were repurposed from the 1992 Seville world expo, so the architecture was completely unique to the various countries represented. My favorite was the Moroccan building.
Our next stop was the grand Plaza de España and Maria Louisa Park. I’d visited tons of plazas and parks at this point so I wasn’t expecting much, but Plaza de España blew me away. It used to be an old bullfighting ring, so it was giant. What’s more, it had plaques depicting culturally significant drawings for each city in Spain. Obsessed.
The park itself was grand, filled with fountains and small sculptures and an array of plants. It even had a mini waterfall.
Before we made it back to the car, we got caught in a mini freak rainstorm and had to stand under some trees in the park. According to Maria it never rains in the summer, so I’m guessing this was part of the global climate change we’ve been experiencing. Very odd.
Shortly after, we drove across the bridge to Triana, a typical local neighborhood of Sevilla located on the riverwalk. Despite the fact that Triana is a “typical” neighborhood, the architecture and different-colored houses gave a nod to a European style, rather than a Spanish one. What made the houses distinct were the numerous plaques honoring saints on every single building. Sevilla is a religious catholic city, in case you had any doubts.
Fran joined us for the walk and our last stop of the day, dinner! We thankfully found one of Fran’s favorite restaurants to be open and had a lovely meal of steak, fried veggies, and a variety of tapas. Delish!
It was hard to say goodbye that evening. I’m so fortunate to have made friends in Spain and to have experienced local Sevilla. Meeting locals is truly the best way to get to know a city. It was the best and most memorable end to my Andalusian adventure that I could have asked for [if you’re reading this Maria and Fran, thank you!].
Andalucía was everything I could have hoped for and more, and I look forward to seeing how Pais Vasco (San Sebastian and Bilbao) treats me in the next week. I’ll be meeting up with my Belgian friend Els in the foodie capital of the world.
Until then – wishing you many adventures!
TLDR: a short summary of what I did and where I ate in Sevilla for those too lazy to read the whole post
Where I went:
- Seville Cathedral: A UNESCO World Heritage site and the third largest church in the world, with intricate Gothic architecture. Make sure to check out the attached Giralda Tower for views of the city.
- Alcazar of Seville: Also A UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the Seville Cathedral. The Alcazar is the royal palace of Sevilla, and is still used as the official residence for the visiting King.
- Plaza de Toros (Bullfighting Ring): Still an active bullfighting ring and the most famous one in Andalusia. You can only enter with a guided tour, but tours are inexpensive and run every 5 minutes until the ring closes.
- Metropol Parasol, also known as Las Setas: A large modern architectural piece located in the center of the new city. You can go up to the second floor and see views of the city, but it seems to serve more as a popular hangout spot for teens and skateboarders.
- Basilica de la Macarena: an ornately decorated church near the city walls, with an iconic gold and white facade and equally iconic interior.
- Santa Cruz: the old Jewish neighborhood of the city, popular amongst tourists.
- Jardines de Murillo: now a beautiful public garden but used to be part of the queen’s palace in Sevilla.
- University of Seville: This used be a large tobacco factory back in the day. The university itself really consists of this one main warehouse-style building, and is located near the Jardines de Murillo.
- Isla de la Cartuja: The technology area and up and coming part of the city, former home to the 1992 world expo.
- Plaza de España and Maria Louisa Park: A beautiful plaza that was once the original bull-fighting ring of Seville and home to a myriad of cultural and artistic representations of Spain. Connected to the large park, which houses several museums, lakes, waterfalls, and themed gardens.
- Triana: A typical local neighborhood of Sevilla located on the riverwalk. Not only will you find colored, European-style houses here, but you’ll also see distinct blue and white plaques honoring saints on nearly every building
What I ate:
- Crujiente de berenjenas (fried eggplant with honey), espinacas caseras con garbanzos (cooked spinach with garbanzo), and pimiento piquillo relleno de bacalao (peppers stuffed with cod) at Bar Estrella
- Risotto, bruschetta, and octopus at Ovejas Negras
- Russian salad, spanish tortilla, olives, and a salmorejo sampler at Mercado Lonja del Barranco
- Steak, fried veggies, and tapas at a restaurant in Triana (whose name has escaped me)
Where I stayed:
- Hispano Luz Confort Guesthouse: Easily the best location in Seville. While the accommodation is basic, it is located less a minute from the Alcazar and less than 5 minutes from the Cathedral.
Last but not least:
- Use Blablacar for safe and inexpensive ride-sharing from city to city. Currently available in 17 countries at the time of posting.