The Ellie and Co team of two just got back from a trip to Andalucia in Spain, which included a weekend in Seville, and guess what? We didn’t eat one orange! Neither did we catch a tourist flamenco show. Instead, we wandered around the backstreets, taking in all the little details in search of off-beat gems and local haunts away from the crowds.
While I was researching for my trip, every travel blog or article I read told me to visit the Alcazar, the Giralda cathedral, Casa de Pilatos, and Santa Cruz. These places are stunning but get seriously crowded. If you read along with my blog, you’ll know I’d Rather Be Punched in the Face Than Queue for Tourist SightsTM.
So today, I want to share with you my favourite secret highlights of my trip to Seville. These are hidden gems you won’t find on most tourist itineraries, which doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visiting or trying – far from it. Sometimes it’s the off-radar places that get to the heart of a place. So let’s dive into some alternative things to do in Seville!
Hidden highlights of Seville
1 San Lorenzo, a beautiful, overlooked neighbourhood
This quiet, residential area of San Lorenzo is unknown to most visitors, yet it’s full of charm and history. It’s within walking distance of central Seville and two minutes from the Guadalquivir river for evening strolls. We stayed here and loved watching the peaceful shady streets lined with colourful houses transformed by animated diners by night.
San Lorenzo is also one of the best areas in Seville to have tapas. It’s home to the Plaza de San Lorenzo and Calle Eslava, a new foodie hub, and Alameda de Hercules, a hidden sight in itself – a boulevard lined on either side with bars and restaurants. We loved the no-frills Bar Rodriguez a busy local favourite set by a square, Casa Pico on Alameda de Hercules, Casa Ricardo’s, a traditional place with a wooden bar, hams hanging from the ceiling, walls filled with framed pictures of the owners with visitors; and Eslava, a charming, unpretentious place serving some of the best Spanish food I’ve ever had.
Side points: We also loved the tiny book cafe, El Viajero Sedentario, a rare find along Alameda de Hercules, with its book-lined walls, wooden floors, and a courtyard, open for coffee and cake. The Alameda de Hercules also hosts a arts and crafts market every Sunday morning from 7.30 am, where you can browse, paintings and sculptures by local up-and-coming artists, as well as trinkets, antiques and nick-knacks.
2 Palacio Bucarelli, a hotel in a 17th-century palace
Seville is packed with charming hotels. We chose Palacio Bucarelli in San Lorenzo (see secret Seville highlight #1) – a bit of a splurge (£180/night), but we had things to celebrate – for its location and history. It was built at the end of the 17th century, and home to the esteemed Bucarelli family for four centuries. After a recent refurbishment, it’s now home to 15 simple and spacious apartments, some with an upstairs penthouse terrace, and gigantic bathrooms with his and hers sinks!
Stepping through the grand front door, you leave the heat and hum of the city’s narrow streets behind. Inside, there’s a beautiful pebbled courtyard, a trickling fountain, cypress trees and the scent of orange blossom. There’s also an honesty bar and a cool, shady little pool with fresh towels.
Side points: Breakfast hampers are brought to you each morning, and each room has a king bed and a mini kitchen. We felt as though we had the hotel all to ourselves. For a cheaper option, The Corner House nearby has a roof terrace and also comes highly recommended.
3 Yemas de San Leandro, traditional spanish sweets made by nuns who sell them behind a hidden hatch
Why purchase a sweet Seville souvenir from a shop when you can do so from a secret hatch in a door? How novel! I’m not embarrassed to admit this was my favourite Seville activity – thanks to a reader tip off on Instagram! Yemas are traditional Spanish sweets made of sugar, lemon juice, and egg yolks, made around the country.
You’ll find the San Leandro Convent, a Seville institution since the 13th century, on Plaza de San Ildefonso, in the historic centre of the city. When you enter the foyer filled with plants, you’ll see a wooden door. Embedded into the door is a wooden revolving tray. Choose what you want from the price list, then place the appropriate amount of money on the tray and rotate it behind the wall. A few moments later, a box of wrapped yemas should appear in its place. Ta da!
Side notes: I got so excited when it was my turn to buy sweets – there was a very short queue – that I totally forgot to take photos of the door and the hatch. The yemas are very sweet, but they also sell muffins and magdelaines which are slightly less so.
4 La Carboneria, a backstreet flamenco bar
Flamenco is synonymous with Seville, which means the city is awash with tourist-trap extravaganzas. Think: high drama, red polka-dot dresses, bold make up, perfect routines. You want to catch one of those shows in a tiny backstreet venue, where the performers rock up in jeans and start jamming, and you get swept away with the feeling nonetheless.
One such place is La Carboneria I read about on this blog. It’s hidden up a side street near Santa Catalina area and there are no signs to it, directions or indication it exists except a big red door along an alleyway, which makes it an adventure to find. Inside the gate you emerge into a beautiful courtyard garden filled with orange trees and decorated with string lights, perfect for a romantic date night! Performances take place around 10.30pm every night inside the bar.
Side notes: Order an Agua de Seville, a deceptively tame sounding cocktail, made with cava, whiskey and Cointreau, topped with whipped cream! Another option for flamenco is La Madriguera de Mai a little tapas bar that hosts flamenco shows every Friday and Saturday night.
5 Palacio de Las Duenas, where grace kelly came to tea
While everyone else is queuing up for the Alcazar, we head straight into Casa de las Dueñas, a beautiful, under-the-radar 15th-century palace, you don’t need to book tickets for in advance. It’s one of the homes of the late Duchess de Alba, a colourful aristocrat, who adored Seville, and hosted the likes of Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy.
The botanical gardens surrounding the house are a highlight, in Moorish style filled with fountains, tiled pathways and exotic plants including palm trees and plenty of citrus trees. Inside, the rooms host the family’s art collection and the late Duchesses belongings which reflect her love to Spanish culture.
6 Tinto de Verano, summer red wine!
This I discovered by accident, at dinner one night. In broken Spanish I ordered what I thought was a glass of red wine. Lost in translation, a simple tumbler filled with ice-cold rich-purple liquid arrived. Turned out to be a dangerously and deliciously refreshing alcoholic drink called Tinto de Verano, which translated means summer red wine in Spanish! I was happy for the mix up as I’d seen people drinking it and wanted to find out what it is.
It’s similar to sangria but more simple. It’s usually made up of one part table red wine and one part ‘gaseosa’ – a mix of Sprite and water, although this varies depending on where you get it. As we found out, some places sell it already mixed out of a pump which is really sweet, while others make it up for you. Highly recommend!
7 Early morning at the Barrio de Santa Cruz, beat the crowds
The Barrio de Santa Cruz is the city’s old Jewish quarter filled with narrow cobbled streets and pretty shaded squares lined with tiled benches. It’s also in Seville’s tourist centre, not far from the Giralda cathedral, Alcazar and all that jazz. What to do if you want a glimpse, but you’re a tourist-crowd-phobe? Here’s a tip I read here and swear by – get there early! Leave it too late, and it will be filled with tour groups – tricky when some streets are only one person wide, and you face a group heading towards you. Ah! We arrived around 8.30am and left by 9.30am just as a couple of groups were arriving.
Bonus secret highlight – Casa Manolo Leon, a restaurant in a magical courtyard
Casa Manolo Leon is a restaurant in a private stately home. We discovered it by chance around the corner from our hotel in the peaceful San Lorenzo neighbourhood (they also have two other restaurants in Seville). It was fully booked for our entire three-night stay, so we didn’t try the modern Spanish food. Instead, the staff let me have a peek at the ground floor dining room decorated to look like a typical Andalucian courtyard filled with plants and trees. There’s even a tiled fountain and it’s also one of the few places in Seville where you can sit down for a full three course meal, plus coffee.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my secret highlights of Seville and feel inspired to hunt for curiosities on your next trip to the Spanish city. Do you have a curiosity in Seville to recommend? I’d love to know!
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