On my first full day in Sevilla, my program took us on a bike tour of the city. 40 loud American students riding on bicycles through the streets of Sevilla, cutting through traffic, blocking the way of cars and other pedestrians, nearly running over a few Spaniards, receiving dirty looks, amused looks, and on occasion, claps and cheers and shouts of encouragement from some drunk hobos.
The Spaniards aren’t shy about openly staring at you. Many-a-time I was placed in the uncomfortable situation of knowing that someone was staring at me, briefly making eye contact in the hopes that they’d be embarrassed that they were caught staring, then letting a few seconds pass by before glancing back to see if they had moved on to gazing at other things, only to find them staring at me just as obviously as the first time. By the end of my time in Spain, I’d learned the only way to get them to stop staring was to stare right back, making the most intense eye contact you could possibly muster.
During our bike tour, I was slightly horrified by the amount of derisive stares we were receiving from the locals. I’m not used to derisive stares. In the U.S. anyone can be an American, regardless of how you look. And in Spain, as a girl with Latin American origins and pale skin, I blended in really well with the Spaniards. Walking alone on the streets, they assumed I was one of them. Until I opened my mouth, that is, and they could hear my accent. And even then, the Spaniards were always really friendly and helpful. But I suppose my cover was blown from the get-go and I didn’t get the chance to make a good first impression while terrorizing Spanish pedestrians as part of an American bike gang.
Back to the ride: I’m sure the derisive stares would have bothered me more if it hadn’t been for the one other feeling I had that was overriding everything else: the gut-clenching fear I had of falling off my bike and being squished into a crêpe (they don’t have pancakes here, so I make due with the closest thing they’ve got) by the oncoming traffic we were pedaling next to in our narrow bike lanes. I had a few close calls since it’d been a number of years since I had last ridden a bicycle.
When our ride around the city finally came to an end in the Maria Luisa park, I was thanking every god I could name, and then some. But, never fear! It wasn’t a total waste of time! There were a few moments when I felt safe enough to glance at my surroundings, and it was very cool. What was even better was taking the time to visit them after the bike ride as well. This post is about those places that every visitor to Sevilla needs to see:
1. La Catedral de Santa Maria and its tower, La Giralda (worth the climb to the top — highest point in Sevilla; also, check out Christopher Columbus’ tomb inside the Cathedral)
2. El Real Alcazar (the residence of the king and his family whenever they stay in Sevilla, and there’s a room where lots of famous explorers and conquistadors came to pray to the Virgin Mary before setting sail for the New World, including Columbus and Magellan) and its gardens (tons of peacocks, and help yourself to the fruit growing on the trees!)
3. La Plaza de España (immense, beautiful; a scene from Star Wars was filmed here!)
4. The Guadalquivir River — enjoy a stroll along it, and admire the bridges: Isabella II (a.k.a. Puente de Triana; designed by Eiffel), Barqueta, and Alamillo (both designed by Calatrava) were my favorite.
5. El Metropol Parasol (a.k.a. La Seta) — the world’s largest wooden structure, and worth the minimal price to get a great 360 degree view of the city from the top!
6. El Torre del Oro — one of the most famous symbols of Sevilla
7. La Real Fábrica de Tobacos / El Rectorado — originally the first tobacco factory in Europe (the play “Carmen” was inspired by the female cigar-rollers here), but now serves as the main building for the University of Sevilla.
8. Calle Sierpes — the main shopping street in Sevilla; at the southern end of the street look for the building with a plaque on its corner marking the place where the royal jail used to stand — this is where Miguel de Cervantes first started to write “Don Quixote” (can you tell I’m a total nerd?)
9. Calle Betis — on the other side of the Guadalquivir River, in the Triana neighborhood, this is where you want to be if bars and nightclubs are what you’re interested in. There’s also a restaurant/bar called “T de Triana” — every Tuesday and Thursday you can enjoy a free Flamenco show after your dinner! (I advise arriving no later than 9 PM to secure a table with a great view)
10. La Alameda de Hercules — Last, but certainly not least, the Alameda was one of my favorite places to hang out with friends in Sevilla. If you want to go bar-hopping (el poteo) or tapas-hopping (el tapeo), you’ll find an abundance of great bars and restaurants here, and there’s even clubs for those who want to dance the night away! For tapas, I recommend Bar Antojo, Duo Tapas, and Las Columnas (MUST get the Solomillo al Whisky). Also, the best ice cream place in Sevilla is right off of the Alameda — it’s called Heladeria Freskura, and they serve Italian gelato always made with fresh, natural ingredients. LOVE. But the best part about the Alameda is the atmosphere; here, you can come dressed however you like, do whatever you like, be whoever you want to be, and nobody cares. It’s got a very let’s-all-just-love-each-other-and-get-along-and-let-your-freak-flag-fly kind of vibe to it. So fun. If anything, go to the Alameda to people watch. You won’t be disappointed!
I just wanted to detail my top 10, but there’s tons more to see in Sevilla: El Parque del Alamillo, el Parque de María Luisa, the amusement park Isla Mágica, one of the best and most beautiful bullrings in Spain, two soccer (fútbol) teams and stadiums (Sevilla FC and Real Betis), el Museo de Bellas Artes (Spanish art museum, 2nd only to the Prado), and so on and so forth.
If you ever come to Spain, make Sevilla a part of your trip! But if you can, avoid coming in July and August. The heat is intolerable. The best time to come visit is in the winter if you want to avoid the throngs of tourists, or if you’d like to experience lots of cultural events, come in April (Semana Santa and Feria de Abril). Trust me, you won’t regret visiting the capital city of Andalucía, and the 4th-largest city in Spain.
¡Sevilla es una maravilla!