We are just back from Seville, Andalucia’s capital city, where the orange tree-lined streets are vibrant and full of life even in the winter. We arrived on Dec 30th just in time to ring in the new year and were exited to participate in the “Twelve Grapes,” a Spanish New Year’s Eve tradition, alongside a huge crowd of Sevillanos in Plaza Nueva — the idea being that eating twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight is thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the year ahead.
Seville is a fantastic family destination. There are countless opportunities to take in the city’s culture, history and art together by day, enjoy a nice long siesta, then join in the tapas-hopping revelry by night. Here are just a few ideas on what to do, where to eat and where to stay:
See the Whole City from the Top of the Metropol Parasol
The Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure built to look like a giant mushroom. Some call it an eyesore that has no place in Seville’s traditional old quarter; others applaud its efforts to revitalize the Plaza de la Encarnacion since it was completed in 2011. We like its panoramic terrace that offers 360 degree views of the entire city and the small collection of kiddie rides housed underneath.
Eat Your Heart Out at the Mercado de Lonja del Barranco
Our favorite find has got to be the brand new Mercado de Lonja del Barranco, a gourmet market boasting 2 levels and over 12,000 square feet of top quality produce, prepared foods and drinks. This is Seville’s answer to Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel, without the tourist hordes – that is, until it makes its way into the guidebooks. Standouts include the spicy pulpo from the Pulperia and croquetas de jamon from the Croqueteria (yes, you can get ham croquettes everywhere, but these are special.) Pair them with a glass from Albero y Vino’s excellent collection of curated wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Andalucia.
Get Tickets to a Flamenco Show
Flamenco is a form of Spanish folk music and dance born out of Andalucia that mixes singing, rhythmic guitar, handclaps and high art — and seeing a show is must-do when visiting Seville. There are plenty of tourist trap venues charging high prices for low quality schtick, but we were very impressed with the performers at Los Gallos, an intimate room hosting top talent since their opening in 1966. Unsure whether or not a 2 hour show would hold our 3 year old’s attention, we already had an escape plan ready to put into play in case things went awry. But, he was captivated. He loved the ladies singing and dancing, their red polka-dotted dresses and the guitar playing. He didn’t want to leave until the very end, and even requested an encore performance the following night. (Which was denied, one show is plenty.)
Tour the Gorgeous Real Alcazar & Gardens
Some sights are worth seeing and the Alcazar is definitely one of them. Spend a few hours strolling through this royal palace — the oldest still in use in Europe — admiring all the colorful Spanish tilework, grand patios, peaceful fountains and gardens. To buy yourself some more time, hand over the camera – I gave mine to Jake once he’d declared it was time to go and he busily snapped away, leaving us with another 30 minutes or so to wander around and about 100 pictures of the rectangular reflecting pool. Don’t miss Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla — the famed rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero, near the gardens on the lower level.
Saddle up for a Carriage Ride
Yes, it’s touristy, but when those little legs get tired of walking, the carriages lined up outside the Cathedral — complete with warm, cozy throw blankets — become very tempting. You’ll get a quick history lesson from the driver as you gallop along and it’s a great way to see the city from a different angle. Do it for the kids.
Enjoy an afternoon at Plaza Espana and Maria Luisa Park
Maria Luisa Park is Seville’s largest park – beautiful, leafy and green. On the park’s edge you’ll find Plaza de Espana, a huge tiled complex with a large fountain in the center, built in 1929 for the Spanish American Exposition. Here you can hire a pedal boat or let the kids run free at the small playground nearby.
Get in the car and drive to a Hill Town
There’s so much to see in Andalucia and we always enjoy a good road trip, so we rented a car one day and went to the ancient city of Ronda. Ronda is home to some dramatic scenery, spectacular views over the El Tajo gorge and Spain’s oldest bullring. Rental cars are available to pick up at the train station (try Hertz if you need an automatic.) If you don’t feel like getting behind the wheel, there are also good train connections to cities throughout the region including Granada (3 hrs away) Cadiz (1 hr 45 min), and Cordoba (45 min.) Sherry fans should make a stop in Jerez ( 1 hr away) to tour its world-famous sherry bodegas.
You’re Never Too Young for a Tapas Crawl
Seville is a tapas town. And while it’s true that it’s definitely easier to do a tapas crawl without the kids, it’s absolutely possible to bring them along.
We found these few tips helpful: Don’t be self conscious. It is perfectly acceptable to take your kids out to tapas bars. Spanish kids go all the time, and their parents keep them out late too. We saw quite a few pre-schoolers playing and rolling around on the sidewalks outside until 10 or 11pm while their parents chowed down just inside the doorway. Get a table if you can. Not as much fun as sitting at the bar, but more practical. It can get crowded in there and kids have a height disadvantage. Limit the crawl to 2-3 spots at a time. We found that Jake started to seriously misbehave after sitting through 3 dinners.
A few of our favorite spots included: La Azotea, a restaurant serving modern tapas like delicious rice paper triangles stuffed with cheese, langoustines and leeks; Victoria 8, a tasty locals spot in Triana who’s winning dish was a plateful of garlicky cockles (pictured below); Vineria San Telmo, highly regarded for its excellent wine list and modern cooking, where the “Torta de Castuera” with caramalized onions stole the show, and Catalina, a surprise gem right next door which offered a refreshingly different menu instead of the same old dishes served everywhere.
Check into a Moorish Palace
We stayed at the historic Alfonso XIII, a freshly renovated 5-star property that looks and feels more like you’re living in a Moorish palace than a hotel. Rooms are stylish with distinctly Andalucian decor, and there’s a lush inner courtyard which makes a lovely place to enjoy a cafe con leche or freesh squeezed orange juice in the morning. The staff is wonderful and took care of everything from helping us arrange a rental car to purchasing our onward train tickets to Madrid to finding us a last minute dinner reservation on New Years Eve. A GM even went out of his way to get me two packs of lucky New Years Eve grapes from the kitchen when I got panicky as the last grocery store closed early that day (don’t fret if this happens to you — there are grape scalpers walking the streets near Plaza Nueva before the big event.) As our taxi driver from the airport put it when he dropped us off, “Here you are — the best hotel in the city.”