Destination of the Week: Sevilla, Spain

May 17, 2013

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For today’s Destination of the Week, we asked Madrid-based expat and TPG contributor Lori Zaino to cover one of her favorite cities in Spain, sultry Sevilla, whose stately tree-shaded streets, massive cathedral, and magnetic nightlife have drawn travelers from far and wide.

Sevilla’s rich history has included past rule by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and later the Christians, all of which have led to an eclectic mix of architectural styles and charisma in this sun-dappled southern city.  Visitors can get lost wandering through the tiny cobblestone streets of the old Jewish quarter, and a moment later see parts of an ancient mosque before admiring the Gothic moment next to it.  Not to mention the roots of gypsy flamenco that seem embedded in Sevilla’s magical culture.

View of Seville from the Giralda Tower.
View of Seville from the Giralda Tower.

Sevilla is a charming city filled with people out and about enjoying life at all hours, mainly due to the warm temperatures and sunny weather. If you are a flamenco fan, make sure to visit during Sevilla’s biggest festival “La Feria de Abril,” which features flamenco dancing, food, music and of course late nights filled with fun. Another prime time to see Sevilla is during Spain’s Holy Week (around Easter), when the streets are filled with religious floats and large religious processions, day and night.

Float from a procession.
Float from a Holy Week procession.

If you’d rather see the city when it’s a little calmer, try the fall or spring, and keep in mind that it can get extremely hot in the summer.

First, start by checking out the famous Cathedral and its soaring Giralda Tower. The Sevilla Cathedral is one of the world’s largest, and this particular monument is interesting because it used to be a mosque when Sevilla was under Moorish control (around the 12th century). It was later on was reconstructed by the Christians (in the 15th century). If you look closely, you can see the Moorish architectural influence on parts of the tower, whereas the Cathedral has been reconstructed to a Gothic style. Make sure to climb all 34 ramps to the top of the tower for a beautiful view of Seville and its surroundings.  Also, check out the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which is also located here.

La Giralda Tower.
La Giralda Tower at the Sevilla Cathedral.

Later, visit another of the city’s famous monuments, the Alcazar Palace. This old Moorish palace has many architectural similarities to the Alhambra in Granada. Afterwards, get lost wandering through the stunning, intricately designed gardens. This paradise will take you to a different time and place entirely, and its green trees and picturesque ponds provide a nice relaxing break from the bustling city.

View of the Stunning Alcazar Gardens.
View of the Stunning Alcazar Gardens.

A visit to the famous bull-fighting ring (Plaza de Toros) is another must-see attraction. The bull ring, which dates back to the 18th century, is considered to be one of the most magnificent in the world. You can admire it from the outside or take the tour and visit the small museum inside.

After, you can cross the Guadalquivir River on one of the many bridges to the neighborhood Triana, which features several riverfront restaurants and bars.  On your way back, stop and see the Gold Tower (Torre de Oro). It originally was a watchtower constructed in the 13th century to control who came down the river through Sevilla. Later on it was used as a prison, and now it serves as naval museum highlighting the importance of the river to Sevilla.

Torre de Oro/Gold Tower and the Guadalquivir River.
Torre de Oro/Gold Tower and the Guadalquivir River.

A visit to Sevilla is not complete without a trip to the breathtaking Plaza de España, a large plaza with tiled alcoves paying tribute to every city in Spain. The plaza is enormous, almost overwhelming, in size and grandeur. It’s located next to a park, and is a great place to visit on bike, as it’s perhaps a 30-minute walk from the city center. Look familiar?  It’s been used as a location for several Star Wars movies and the 2012’s The Dictator.  The plaza boasts several buildings, a moat, a pond, the tiled alcoves and a huge fountain – it’s easy to get lost in the majestic vibe of it all.

Plaza España at dusk.
Plaza de España at dusk.

If you are interested in flamenco, visit the Flamenco museum or check out one of the many flamenco shows in the city at famous venues such as El Patio Sevillano, Tablao El Arenal or Los Gallos Tablao. However, these shows are very much geared to tourists and usually on the pricier side, including dinner and drinks. If you stop into smaller bars late night, it is not unusual to see the locals of Sevilla stamping, clapping, and doing an impromptu flamenco dance or song after a cocktail or two.

If you have more time to spend in Sevilla, you can always take a bus or train for a day trip to Cordoba to visit the famous mosque, or to Granada to visit the famous Alhambra palace.

Tienes hambre?  Don’t expect any fixed-lunch menus in Sevilla.  It’s all about the tapas here. Every bar and restaurant in Seville offers tapas so it’s hard to know exactly where to go to find the best food and stay out of tourist traps but be sure to try one of Sevilla’s specialties, solomillo a la whiskey, which is basically a small piece of meat cooked with onions and potatoes in a delicious whiskey sauce.

For lunch try one of the three Gongora restaurants.  Recommended: of course the solomillo a la whiskey, adobo (fried fish) and the Carrillera (stewed meat).  For vegetarians, Sevilla can be a tough place to eat out, but try the espinacas con garbanzos, which is spinach and garbanzo beans with a delicious red sauce.

Some delicious Carillera and Red Wine at Bodega Gongora.
Some delicious Carillera and red wine at Bodega Gongora.

In the evening, the thing to do is to hop from tapas bar to tapas bar, sampling something in each. Try the La Catedral tapas bar first, which is slightly more subdued and relaxed. Then head across the street to Las Columnas, which doesn’t have much in the way of ambiance (you may have to stand), but has cheap and delicious tapas, and is frequented mostly by the locals.

Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

Sevilla Airport (SVQ), known as San Pablo Airport is conveniently located just 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles, northeast of the city center. It’s fairly small, however it does offer a few international flights to other European cities or North African countries like Morocco. You cannot fly directly to Sevilla from the United States. The best option is to fly from the US to Madrid or Barcelona and continue on to Sevilla from there. Iberia and American, Delta, and United all offer flights directly to Barcelona or Madrid from several major US cities. Once in Madrid or Barcelona, Iberia, the national Spanish airline can take you south to Sevilla.

Ryanair has the largest presence at Seville.
Ryanair has the largest presence in Sevilla.

Unfortunately, neither Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa nor British Airways fly directly to Sevilla. If you are already in another European country, your best bet is to fly a low-cost airline like Easyjet or Ryanair to Sevilla. Easyjet offers flights from Dussledorf and London, and Ryanair has many more options, flying from cities such as Brussels, Dublin, Marseilles and Rome, just to name a few. Air Europa will also take you to Barcelona and Madrid, and also several other European cities like Athens, Istanbul, Vienna, Zurich and Munich. Your final option is to fly to Madrid and take the AVE, Spain’s high speed train. The AVE takes a little over 2 hours and takes you directly to the city center of Seville.

Once you arrive at SVQ, it’s easy and quick to get to the city center via either a 15-minute taxi ride for about 15-22 EUR ($20-$30), or if you prefer a cheaper option there is a bus that will take you to the city center for about 4 EUR ($5). You can purchase your ticket on the bus, and it will take you about 30 minutes.  Most taxi and bus drivers in Sevilla do not speak English, so be prepared.



King guest room at the Hilton Garden Inn Seville.
King guest room at the Hilton Garden Inn Seville.

Hilton Garden Inn Seville: This may not be your first choice due to its distance from the city center, but it is a good budget option to have. This hotel is located 5 kilometers (3 miles) outside of the historic city center and close to a more industrial area of Sevilla, which is why it may not be ideal for people traveling for pleasure. Nevertheless, it does have free internet in all rooms, a 24-hour business center (a good amenity if you are traveling for work!) and they do offer an outdoor pool and 24-hour fitness center.  They also have a Garden Grille & Bar restaurant which offers international and regional cuisine.  This hotel is a Category 3 and will cost you 60 EUR ($77) a night or 20,000 HHonors points in May.


Exterior of the AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla.
Exterior of the AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla.

AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla: This property is located closer to Plaza de España and a short walk  from the city center. With 76 rooms and 10 suites, the hotel is slightly smaller than some of the others in the city, and is decorated with typical Andalusian décor outside and a more contemporary look inside. Features include an outdoor pool, nearby golf courses and two restaurants: La Mejorana for Mediterranean cuisine and the AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla Terrace restaurant for international cuisine. Keep in mind that pets are not allowed. This hotel is a Marriott Rewards Category 4 property and will cost you between 68-85 EUR  ($90-$110) a night in May, or 20,000 points.


Exterior of the Hotel Alfonso XIII.
Exterior of the Hotel Alfonso XIII.

Hotel Alfonso XIII: This hotel, perhaps the most famous in the city, is a 1929 landmark and was freshly renovated in 2012. It is located right in the heart of the city’s historic area. There are 151 guestrooms, each decorated to reflect a different area or time period of southern Spain from Andalusian and Moorish to high Castilian styles. This hotel has on Trip Advisor’s list as one of the 25 Best Luxury Hotels in Spain for years. The hotel also features an outdoor pool, abeauty salon and fitness center, as well as four restaurants.  Rates in May begin at 445 EUR ($570) a night or 20-25,000 Starpoints per night as this is a Category 6 property. Cash and Points is available for 10,000 SPG points and 180 USD, however availability in May is limited. This property is also part of the  Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts which Amex Platinum cardholders can use to book and receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks

Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One VentureCiti Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.

King guest room at the Gran Melía Colón.
King guest room at the Gran Melía Colón.

Gran Melía Colón: Located right in the historic city center, this hotel’s rooms and public areas are covered with prints of famous Spanish arworks, and many rooms have beautiful views of the Giralda Tower.  The hotel has a rooftop outdoor pool, a spa, wellness center and free internet access. They also have what they consider, “a hotel within a hotel,” which is called the Redlevel.  Staying on the Redlevel floor gives you perks like access to a special lounge, covered parking, a Nespresso coffeemaker en suite, fresh flowers in your room, free ironing service, luggage preparation, personalization of the mini bar, and more perks, kind of like club level offerings.  Rooms start at 185 EUR ($240) per night in May.

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