Enough culture to please the parents, enough parks to please the kids, enough laid-back living to please the whole family. Seville is a totally charming family getaway.
SEVILLE, Spain – It's hard to find the perfect place for families with kids of all ages and varied interests, but I came pretty close to Nirvana on a recent trip to Seville, Spain. The surrounding region of Andalusia ticks off so many of the boxes for the ideal trip: lovely streets, bright sunlight, calm pace of life, endless gardens, kindest people, and lots of fried food. Throw in the cultural highlights like mezquitas, cathedrals, and royal palaces, and, well, stop looking for other places to go.
An off-peak visit during winter, spring, and fall is ideal, as temperatures soar to 110+ degrees in the more crowded summer months. Orange trees abound, as do parks, play spaces, and casual restaurants at every turn. The one thing you'll have to adjust for is the eating schedule with kids. Spain marches to its own beat, even within Europe, and dinner is still not served before 9 p.m. Don't fight it: Just push the whole schedule back — late breakfast, late lunch, tapas around 6:30, then dinner as the locals do it. Andale!
WHAT TO DO
Go to Church
Where to begin? With an UNESCO World Heritage Site: the city's central Cathedral, Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, and its bell tower, La Giralda. Set on what was once a 12th-century mosque, the Gothic beauty is a wonderful mix of Moorish architecture and Christian elements (ornate chapels, golden altars, elaborately carved tombs.) Kids will love the climb to the top of the bell tower that was once a minaret and affords views over sprawling Seville and the Patio de los Naranjos below.
Keep it Real
Head practically next door to Real Alcázar, the royal residence that is a wonderful mix of grand halls and endless gardens. Fountains, flowering plants and trees, and places to run free all work for families, and you'll appreciate just being able to sit and take in the beauty of the surrounding patios and porticos. Much of the plasterwork was created by artisans from neighboring Granada, and the honeycomb structures and horseshoe archways make it feel very much like the Alhambra in Granada. Head inside the apartments for glittering domes, ornate tapestries, and Spanish tile work.
Maria Luisa Park, the largest in Seville, and is the perfect place for children to run free after exploring Plaza de España. Considered one of the most beautiful public spaces in Europe, the park was redesigned by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, landscaper of Bois de Bologne in Paris. Rent quad bikes and explore allees of palm trees with fragrant roses, or simply park it on a bench with an ice cream cone and watch the slow pace of Seville life pass by.
For a Mannerist museum experience, visit Museo de Bellas Artes where even non-art-lovers (AKA nine-year-olds) will be wowed by enormous artworks by Francisco de Zurbaran, Juan de Valdes Leal, and Bartolome Esteban Murillo, not to mention El Greco and Goya. Sprawling altarpieces fit beautifully into the museum's soaring spaces and cupola.
The Archaoelogical Museum, designed for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition, is full of treasures from the 15th century and earlier. You'll find exquisite examples of Roman marble statuary, tombs, funerary urns, and the Treasure of El Carambolo, a collection of gold armor and assorted pieces dating from the 7th and 8th centuries. A short and sweet gallery exposure for those who would rather be back exploring the parks, plazas, and tapas bars.
Day Trip to Cordoba
The high speed train makes nearby Cordoba an excellent excursion. The main attraction: The Great Mosque of Cordoba (la Mezquita), which is now functions as a Roman Catholic cathedral. It's easily one of the most spectacular buildings on earth, a dazzling Moorish and Renaissance architectural feat, with colorful horseshoe-shaped arches and columns of jasper, onyx, and marble. The city's other delights include bell towers, orange groves, and a honey-combed dome.
WHERE TO EAT
Lunch is a pleasure in this town on so many fronts. Since it's sunny most of the time, you'll want to eat outside on the wide avenues teeming with cafes. Watching the locals stroll and taking their leisurely time reminds you that a harried pace of life is, well, unhealthy.
Calle San Fernando 23; +34-954-047-371
Great for festive lunches of wood-fired pizzas and huge local salads (always served with tuna, white asparagus, and corn).
Calle Mateos Gago 1; 34-954-563-702
An old school Sevillana tapas bar complete with delicious sangria and stunning views of La Giralda. Go early and preferably off-season, as this one gets packed in high summer.
Spinach with chickpeas and cod fritters were outstanding, as was, of course, the Iberian cured ham, which we devoured with simple, crusty bread.
A bustling Andalucian restaurant spread over two floors and with a vibrant terrace that serves local specialties like fried grouper, mussels, and enormous trays piled with ham, cheeses, salami, and more. Wash it all down with Marqués de Villalua, the local white wine.
WHERE TO STAY
Gran Meliá Colón
The perfect starting point for Seville, and the staff couldn't be friendlier. Set in the heart of the old city, you'll be within walking distance of everything from the cathedral to El Corte Ingles (a mega store with great groceries). Book RedLevel, the boutique hotel within the hotel, for a separate sitting area and views over the whitewashed city. Added bonus: Each floor is dedicated to a Spanish artist (El Greco, Goya, etc.) and every room door is painted with that artist's work. Coming home to Velázquez's Las Meninas was a slightly campy hoot for everyone involved. Kids will love visiting the entire "art collection" throughout the hotel's seven floors. I won't lie: I liked the lobby sightings of Rafael Nadal, in town for the Davis Cup.
Hotel Alfonso XIII
The best five-star, neo-Moorish hotel game in town just had a multi-million dollar renovation, making for luxe comfort in the best location. Ornate ironwork, Andalusian frescoes, soaring archways and ceilings, not to mention endless pleasant patio settings. Feels like you’re living in a museum.
EME Catedral Hotel
If you're looking to up your hip factor, look no further than EME, a collection of 18th- and 19th-century houses in the midst of Seville that have been integrated into one stunning 70-room property. A rooftop pool (serious rarity), beautiful views of the Cathedral, a spa, and four on-site restaurants make this minimally chic spot a complete treat.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Fly: Seville Airport (SVQ) is just ten minutes from the city center. It is small and relatively manageable, though you'll want to leave plenty of extra time for check-in and security screening. Fly direct from London on Easyjet or Ryanair, or connect in Madrid on Iberia for more flight options.
The sun shines on this part of the world, literally and figuratively. Spring and fall months are ideal for touring with warm days and just slightly chilly evenings.
- Average high/low temperatures in Farenheit: 95/66 in summer; 61/42 in winter
- April-October: highs from mid-70s to mid-90s
- November-March: highs in mid- to low-60s