Its mixed architecture and celebrated flamenco make Andalucía’s largest city one of passion, history and irresistible charm.

Home to Moorish monuments, fine art, flamenco, endless festivals and the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, Seville is a city of passion where matadors and cantadors still make their mark.

Architecture
‘We’re going to construct a church so large, future generations will think we were mad,’ declared Seville’s canon in 1402 at the start of one of the most grandiose building projects in medieval history. Gothic masterpiece Catedral de Sevilla was completed in 1506, retaining La Giralda, the pretty minaret of the mosque that originally stood on the site (Avenida de la Constitución; £7).

Residence of generations of kings and caliphs, the Alcázar de Sevilla was originally founded as a fort for the Cordoban governors of Seville in 913. It has been expanded and rebuilt over the following 11 centuries but is an identikit of Mudéjar architecture. It features Pedro I of Castilla’s Mudéjar Palace, built in ‘perishable’ wood, ceramics and plaster, obedient to the Quran’s prohibition against ‘eternal’ structures (Patio de Banderas; £7.50).

Seville’s giant ‘flying waffle’ has injected a dose of modernism into the city’s traditional core, sparking predictable controversy. Designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer H, the Metropol Parasol opened in March 2011 and claims to be the largest wooden building in the world. Roman ruins discovered during the building’s conception have been cleverly incorporated into the foundations at the Museo Antiquarium (Plaza de la Encarnación).

Museums and galleries
Housed in a former convent, Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes portrays the city’s leading role in Spain’s 17th-century golden age. The most visually stunning room is that of the convent church, which is hung with paintings by masters of Sevillano baroque, including Murillo’s Inmaculada Concepción Grande (Plaza del Museo, 9; free)

Founded in 1399, Conjunto Monumental de la Cartuja is today the home of the superb Andalucian Contemporary Art Centre, which has a collection of local modern art and frequent temporary exhibitions. The monastery was a favourite lodging place of Columbus, and in 1839 the complex was turned into a porcelain factory, which explains the kilns that stand incongruously by the buildings (Avenida Américo Vespucio, 2; £2.60).

Seville’s futuristic El Pabellón de la Navegación may have been overshadowed by the Metropol Parasol but this modern museum and exhibition space, which opened in January 2012, is just as thought-provoking. Its permanent collection is split into four parts – shipboard life, mariners, historical views of Seville and navigation (Camino de los Descrubimientos, 2; 10am–7.30pm Tue–Sat, 10am–3pm Sun; £4.20).

Flamenco
The brainchild of Sevillana flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos, Museo del Baile Flamenco showcases photos, sketches and paintings of contemporary flamenco greats and a collection of dresses and shawls. There are regular classes, workshops and concerts (Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos, 3; 9am–6pm Nov– Mar, 9am–7pm Apr–Oct; £9).

Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus, a flamenco tablao (a place that stages professional flamenco shows) in Santa Cruz, is the most intimate and authentic nightly flamenco show outside the Museo del Baile Flamenco, and offers a wide variety of flamenco styles in a courtyard of shifting shadows. Space is limited to 100 so reserve in advance (Calle Ximénez de Enciso, 28; 7.30pm and 9pm; £14).

If you can squeeze in past the foreboding form of Anselma – a celebrated Triana flamenco dancer – at the door, you’ll soon realise that anything can happen in here. Casa Anselma is the antithesis of a tourist flamenco tablao, with cheek-to-jowl crowds, no amplification and spontaneous outbreaks of dancing. There’s no sign, just a doorway embellished with tiles (Calle Pagés del Corro, 49; 12am–late Mon–Sat; free).

Transport
EasyJet and Ryanair fly direct to Seville from London Gatwick and Stansted respectively, while BA, Iberia, TAP and other airlines fly indirect from other UK cities (from £120). Aeropuerto San Pablo is four miles from the city centre: Los Amarillos runs buses from the airport (£3.50), while a taxi costs about £20. Seville is easy to walk around, while the SeVici bike hire scheme has made bike lanes as ubiquitous as pavements (£10 for a week’s subscription, first 30 minutes are free, the next hour is 85p, subsequent hours are £1.70).

Where to stay
Round the corner from the Basílica de la Macarena, Hotel San Gil adheres to the Moorish concept of keeping the beauty within: while plain on the outside, the inner reception and courtyard are lovely. There’s also a pool and pretty gardens (Calle Parras, 28; from £80).

Situated in the old Jewish quarter of Barrio de Santa Cruz, Hotel Amadeus is an elegant hotel run by a musical family – the various instruments dotted around are available for guests to use (Calle Farnesio, 6; from £95).

Hotel Casa 1800 puts service and friendliness on par with its plush new interior. Rooms have wood floors and hand-carved furniture, and highlights include the free afternoon merienda, or light meal (Calle Rodrigo Caro, 6; from £145).

 

The article 'Mini guide to culture in Seville' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.