This alluring Andalucian city has much to recommend it for a short break. Now is a lovely time to explore the one-time capital of the Moorish empire: the tourist crowds have dwindled and the temperatures – usually in the low teens in January – are perfect for leisurely exploration.
Despite its exotic influences, Seville is also deeply immersed in its regional traditions such as religious festivals, flamenco, and world-class tapas.
Easily explored on foot, Seville is peppered with spectacular architecture. Its opulent Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque buildings are vestiges of its illustrious past. It was the former capital of the Moorish empire and the most important Spanish port for the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Guadalquivir river, the reason for its status as the gateway to the Americas, flows through the heart of the city. Seville's spiritual and historical centre is on the river's eastern bank, with the Unesco World Heritage-listed Cathedral of the Virgin Mary and its Giralda or bell tower at the heart. Here, you can see the scattered remnants of Seville's ancient city walls, begun by the Romans and improved by the Moors.
One of the city's most picturesque quarters is the central Barrio Santa Cruz with its tightly packed web of cobbled streets and houses. It was also home to Seville's former Jewish quarter. Across the river on the west bank is the more bohemian district of Triana, with flamenco dancing and decorative ceramics.
Take a hike
Start outside the fabulous Baroque Fábrica de Tabacos on Calle Fernando, the inspirational setting for Bizet's opera Carmen, but these days the grand backdrop for the University of Seville. Continue down, with Hotel Alfonso XIII on your left and cross the Puerta de Jerez – one of the original city entrances. Continue left down the Avenue de Roma and on your left you will see the elaborate exterior of the Palacio de San Telmo, the erstwhile school of navigation and now the seat of the Andalucian government. Cross the Jardines de San Telmo and continue along the banks of the Guadalquivir to the Torre del Oro at Paseo Alcalde Marqués de Contadero, built in the 13th century by the Almohad dynasty as a maritime watchtower. Stroll along the river and note the distinctive ochre and white exterior of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza soon comes into view.
Lunch on the run
It is said that the small tasty bites known as tapas were invented in Seville, and that the city has 4,000 tapas bars and tabernas. Try the chickpeas and spinach and the salt cod in tomato sauce.
Sierpes, and the streets surrounding it, form the city's main shopping area. High street brands are interspersed with more traditional shops displaying fans, mantillas (veils), flamenco-style dresses and shawls. Many independent shops open 10am to 1.30pm and 5pm to 8.30pm; early evening is the perfect time for shopping as families stroll the streets for the nightly paseo.
Dining with the locals
A tapeo is a languorous ramble around Seville's tapas bars, stopping at a favourite haunt for a few bites. Start with a plate of sliced jamón de bellota and a goat's cheese croqueta at Bar Estrella at Estrella 3. Bodeguita Casablanca at Adolfo Rodriguez Jurado 12 (closed Sundays), is decked in corrida-style stripes and has an avid following for its prawns from nearby Huelva and tortillas; expect to pay about €30.
Go to church
After the cathedral, La Iglesia del Divino Salvador, Plaza del Salvador is Seville's largest church. It's built on the site of the earlier Ibn Adabas mosque and is a example of high Baroque architecture. Mass is said on Sundays, 11am to 1.45pm.
A walk in the park
A verdant haven of manicured flower beds and palm trees, the Parque de María Luisa comprises the former royal gardens. They were brought back to in 1929 for the Ibero-American Expo by architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier. It's a romantic mosaic of water features, small islands planted with flowers beds, statues and shady palms.
The Alcazar was constructed in the 17th century by the Arabs and became a royal residence in 1248. Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance details are seen in a sublime series of rooms with intricately carved wooden ceilings, dazzling Moorish-style tiling and flower-filled gardens (until March, open daily from 9.30am to 5pm; €8.50).
Icing on the cake
The Espacio Metropol Parasol is a futuristic, umbrella-like wooden structure that dominates the Plaza de la Encarnación. Nicknamed "the mushrooms", it has several levels; a subterranean museum with ancient Roman ruins and a 30m-high panoramic walkway with 360-degree views.