10 top things to do in Cádiz, Spain
Does this look like a place you could fall in love with? Read on for 10 things to do in Cádiz!
Cádiz can be found in the south of Spain, in the Andalusia region, just below Seville. Sadly or perhaps gladly it is not always sought out by international tourists making it a destination with a different feel to the other big city greats that so often crowd a tourist’s schedule in Spain. We visited Cádiz as we had a whole month to travel halfway around Spain. We were very glad we did as Cádiz has a far more laid back vibe. It’s less crowded, less populous and a place that instantly relaxes you. We recommend staying in the “old town” end of the sand spit peninsula that is Cádiz, which incidentally is where you will find most of the items on the list to follow. Read on for 10 things to do in Cádiz and you will also find many more than 10 reasons to fall in love with this quieter, quainter, seaside town.
The List: 10 Things to do in Cádiz:
1. Cádiz Playas (Beaches)
Cádiz is surrounded on all sides by sandy coast so it’s surely little wonder that of course it boasts plenty of fantastic beaches. Our top pick would be Playa La Caleta. This is the beach that borders the historical old town of Cádiz, and was used as a natural harbour by the city’s many historical societies in millenniums past. We liked Playa La Caleta as it also seemed to be the most popular and lively beach but it never felt overcrowded. Cádiz experiences daily averages of over 8-12 hours of sunshine in every season but winter, and the beachgoers hug the sand until dusk. There are 83 beaches in Cádiz to explore including Playa la Victoria, an EU Environmentally Certified beach, and Playa Tarifa for kitesurfing. We’re pretty sure Cádiz has a beach to suit everyone!
Looking back at La Caleta beach in Cádiz around 5pm and beachgoers are still hugging the sand.
2. Hanging out Beachside Cádiz
If you’re the sort of person who can’t stand sitting on sand, fear not, Cádiz still has myriad other ways to take in and enjoy its coastal beauty. A wide pedestrian promenade runs all along the Av. Campo del Sur, along the coast from end to end of the Cádiz old town area. The view of the coast along this promenade may seem familiar to you already: in fact it was used in the James Bond film “Die Another Day” for the scenes set in Havana, Cuba! This promenade is gorgeous for evening walks and can be broken up by taking a seat in a beachside bar for coffee or an aperitif as the sun goes down. We stopped in Quilla, Restaurante, Café y Terraza, an elegantly constructed kiosk with alfresco furniture that’s brought out daily. If you alternately are one of those people who just can’t peel yourself off the beach then set yourself up down at Playa Santa Maria del Mar, and similar, where they have Chiringuitos (beach bar shacks) right on the sand.
3. A Castle in the Ocean: The Castle of San Sebastián Cádiz
Still beachside but bringing in the historical element that equally makes Cádiz so special, is the Castle of San Sebastián. This is a military fortress from 1706 built on a small island about 1 kilometre off the coast of La Caleta. Since 1860 it’s been linked by a wide levee over which the waves at high tide still spray those who walk out to visit the fortress. The walk itself is an awesome adjunct to a promenade stroll (or daily jog) and if history is a passion you may wish to also see the inside of the fortress, the grounds of which are open to visitors between 9.30am – 5.30pm daily.
The walk out to the Castle of San Sebastián Cádiz takes around 15 minutes each way and will likely be one you remember for a lifetime!
4. Cádiz Old Town
We’ve skirted the historical centre of Cádiz so far, hugging the coast, but now let’s delve right into the heart of it! Cádiz as a city dates back to around 1100 BC as first settled by the Phoenicians (those of phonetic alphabet fame!) They named this harbour town Gadir and today’s inhabitants are known as a Gaditanos. After the Phoenician start came the Carthaginians, Romans, Moors and Visigoths! Sir Francis Drake and Napoleon also (attempted) to visit. The Cádiz old town quarter that remains today shows a bit of all this history, especially Moorish domes and arches and is a warren of cobblestoned narrow streets to explore. Most of the buildings now are from the 18th century and newer although some still date from the 16th and 17th century. Being a small area you can easily self-explore it by charting expeditions from this plaza to that parque and onto the next monument, but there is also a 2 hour walking tour available for those who want a bit more historical and cultural insight.
5. Roman Theatre Cádiz
These ruins are from the second largest Roman theatre in the world. Built around the first century BC they were not rediscovered until 1980! They are partly excavated and open to visitors. Although a small attraction, we felt it had been very well done. One tier of the theatre seating, which was cut into the stone of an existing hill, has been excavated. Under this seating the original tunnel that permitted access to the various sections of the theatre has also been excavated and can be walked through as part of viewing the ruins. The stage of the theatre remains buried under the rest of the El Populo old town neighborhood. Entry when we visited was free for international visitors, by simply answering which country you were a national of, which was a welcome bonus!
From the tunnel visitors emerge out onto a viewing platform in the middle of the theatre seating. The Roman Theatre Ruins in Cádiz do an excellent job of giving visitors the experience of what it may have been like to be a patron of this theatre 2000 years ago.
6. Cádiz Plazas (squares)
In addition to it’s 83 playas (beaches) Cádiz also boasts inumerous plazas (squares), well at least 10, that time and again show up on the must-see around Cádiz lists. We explored the old town by simply charting a walking route from plaza to plaza, which provided a handy means of stopping along the way when tired/hot/thirsty. The plazas are all very good for laid back eats and drinks to while lazy afternoons away, with plenty having alfresco venues around their perimeters or just off on side streets. Plaza de Flores was a favourite for us having a colourful flower market in its middle. The Plaza Candelaria had a beautiful variety of shade trees and plenty of benches occupied by Cádiz’s older residents having spirited debates across the shaded walkways.
7. Cádiz Parques (parks)
Cádiz also has parks aplenty. What made Cádiz parks so exciting were the great variety of trees to be found, many of which are touted to have been brought back from Christopher Columbus’s New World expeditions. The Park Genoves is the best spot to catch these historic trees as well as over 100 other manicured types of interesting vegetation. Our favorite spot for vegetation, although technically not a park, was the Arbol de Mora with it’s giant, ancient rubber (ficus) trees. Arbol de Mora in fact means mulberry tree, but this spot is named for the neighbouring hospital: El Hospital de Mora. The folklore is that the ficus trees were brought over to Cádiz by two nuns travelling from India to the north of Spain. When one nun fell ill and had to stay in the neighbouring hospital the trees took deep root and have been there ever since.
Our favourite “park” in Cádiz was the Arbol de Mora in because of the impressively sized ficus trees growing there!
Cádiz Food Market
The Cádiz Mercado Central is a must-visit, popular with tourists and locals alike. It’s a permanent structure built like a square around which one can wander past the various counters of food purveyors. There are some benches and standing-height tables provided near these food purveyors if you’re partial to an informal standing lunch. Otherwise grab your chosen supplies and head off to a nearby square, park or beach for a picnic! If seafood is your thing then you will be very happy in Cádiz, which as a coastal town, is well-known for it’s high quality, fresh, local seafood. On Sunday’s a flea market pops up around the Mercado Central.
9. Cádiz Historic Buildings
I mentioned there were a lot of squares in Cádiz, here I will mention a couple more that you must visit, if you are a fan of historic buildings and architecture. The Cathedral Square (Plaza Catedral) is home to the Catedral Nueva (new cathedral) in the El Popolo neighbourhood. The Cathedral was designed in 1722 but not completed until 1838 and is very grand in both stature (sheer size!) and decoration. Attached to it is the old cathedral: El Sagrario which was built in the 13th century but today reflects the renaissance period in which it was redecorated (1602). The square, Plaza San Juan de Dios, houses the Cádiz Town Hall built between 1799 and 1861. The building is nice but in my opinion the square is even better! An excellent spot to grab a drink and a bite in an alfresco tapas or wine bar (we recommend Restuarante Salicornia) and there were even a number of pop-up market stalls dotted around selling homemade jewellry and crafts.
The pop-up craft market stalls in front ot the Cádiz Town Hall in the square “Plaza San Juan de Dios”.
10. Famous Spanish Art in Cádiz
If you love art you might love visiting a couple of the historic buildings around Cádiz to view the works of some Spanish masters in situ and in context. At the small underground church, the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, the ornate decorations feature paintings by Francisco Goya, Zacarías González Velázquez as well as a couple of lesser known painters and sculptors. At the Hospital de Mujeres you can enter the small chapel attached to this large baroque structure and view an El Greco: “The Ecstasy of Saint Francis”.
Where to Stay in Cadiz
There are many properties worth staying in the city, the most popular option is to stay at a Pension (small inn) in the heart of the city so you can easily walk around the historic center and main attractions. You do not have to spend a lot to stay comfortably in Cádiz, although there are of course accommodation types to suit all budgets. We were perfectly happy in Pension Las Cuatro Naciones at under 50 Euros per night. Pensions are typically family run guesthouses in Spain, they are usually small and personal and often have friendly local owners who will chat to you about what to do and see as was the case at our guesthouse.
Here are some Cadiz recommendations
Occidental Cadiz – close to the beach and reasonably priced – bedrooms are clean and modern style with spacious rooms. Excellent customer service and breakfast service.
Parador de Caiz – Beach location but easy access to the city, this modern hotel is comfortable, spacious with fantastic ocean and city views – excellent front desk service.
Bahia Hotel – no frills pension in the heart of the city with plenty of restaurants and shops, rooms are clean, small but adequate. You are paying for a better priced accommodation right in the downtown area.
Following are recommendations and reviews from Trip Advisor, click here for current prices and updates.
That’s our list! We hope you enjoyed it and have fallen in love with Cádiz like we did! A few more reasons to love Cádiz: it’s easy to get to via train or the national bus network direct to the conjoined station that is 5 minutes walk from the old town neighborhood of El Popolo. Or fly into the nearby airport of Jerez where you can then take a 50 minute train to Cádiz. If you really loved this list and plan to spend a lot of time in Cádiz why not also consider taking a day trip during your time to the nearby Los Alcornocales Natural Park for cork tree plantations, neolithic cave art and hiking? The list goes on! If you’ve visited and fallen in love with Cádiz we’d love to hear from you with your top picks in the comments section below.
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Guest writer Bio
Erin Hardie and Ryan Platten are teachers and travellers from Perth Western Australia. A mutual love of travel, Guinness and trying new flavours brought them together (til death do they part!). So they created the blog downbubble after having each travelled to over fifteen countries individually before joining forces. They now seek to bring a little taste of the places they love to others and share knowledge and travel tips with other travel lovers in a never-ending quest to become truly well-travelled!
Check out their blog at DownBubble.com
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