The large and important port city of Cadiz, located at the southwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. Founded in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, Cadiz has been ruled by many civilizations since then, including the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Spaniards. This colorful and often violent history has left behind an incredible number of monuments, walls, artefacts and cultural sites that make Cadiz a place to visit where you will never run out of things to do and see.
Cadiz has many claims to fame; here are a few. It is home to the world famous carnival, surpassed only by that of Rio. Christopher Columbus set sail for his second voyage in 1493 from the port of Cadiz. The city has more than 100 watchtowers, as it was constantly attacked by British pirates for 200 years. Lord Byron lived and was inspired here. And finally, Cadiz has pristine beaches to enjoy in summer, above all the long Caleta Beach. We haven’t even started on all the churches, museums and lavish buildings or the delicious food, the greasy oysters, shrimp fritters and bluefin tuna, all washed down with wines from nearby Jerez.
As a commercial center, cruise port and naval base, Cadiz is easy to reach. The nearest international airports are Jerez and Seville, both connected to Cádiz by trains and buses. By train, there are many connections from all over Spain. Part of the 8-hour journey from Barcelona, for example, can be done by high-speed Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), while other direct trains to Madrid take around 4 hours. Of course, you can also travel by car along the highways.
Here are seven fabulous experiences in the old port city of Cadiz.
1. Climb the Torre Tavira
One of the first things I like to do when visiting a city for the first time is to look for the tallest building and climb it – if possible – to get the best overview. In Cadiz, this magnificent belvedere is Tavira Tower. Built in 1778 as a watchtower, the elegant structure gives you the best view of the city, cathedral and castle after climbing the 170 steps to the top. On the top floor, you can discover a funny thing: a camera obscura. There are plans to install an elevator, but for now you have to rely on your feet to get to the top.
2. Be dazzled by Cadiz Cathedral
When the sun is shining (and it very often does in Cádiz), you might want to put on your sunglasses while gazing at the cathedral as the church’s dome is covered in golden tiles. Cadiz Cathedral, also called Cathedral of the Americas, is an architectural masterpiece that lasted 116 years. It was built between 1722 and 1838 and takes its name from the fact that the silver used came from the golden age of Cadiz and trade between Spain and South America. Due to the length of time, the church features neoclassical, rococo and baroque styles, with many interesting details inside and on the facade. You’ll notice the two towers that flank the church, with the Levanta Tower (aka Torre de Ponente) being open to the public and offering another stunning view of the city.
3. Step back in time at the Roman Theater
The remains of the Cadiz huge roman theater, considered one of the oldest and largest in the Iberian Peninsula, are located in the neighborhood of El Populo. Due to its size, it is estimated that it could hold 10,000 people. The theater is notable for the parts which have not yet been excavated and which still remain under the medieval El Populo. Several buildings of The People are superimposed on the theater, and it would be interesting to know what is hidden below.
It is the oldest part of Cadiz and the true medieval heart of the city. You enter through three entrance arches, which are a much-photographed view of Cadiz, and then you can wander the narrow streets at your leisure. The district dates from the 13and century, and because Populo and the theater are so close, you can take a trip back in time.
Pro Tip: Make sure you don’t miss any interesting stories and details about the theater and El Populo by joining this 2-hour program medieval walk.
4. Walk to San Sebastian Castle
the San Sebastian Castle is a fortress with a long history located on a small island at the end of one of the most beautiful beaches in Cadiz, La Caleta. The fort was built to protect the northern flank of the city from attack. In its current form, it consists of two open spaces, both closed and connected by a bridge.
Even more enjoyable than a visit to the castle is the scenic walk leading up to it. Walk along (or over) Caleta Beach and enjoy the ocean views and bustling beach life. Locals from the La Viña neighborhood come here not only to swim or sunbathe, but also to socialize or play cards. The beach is a 15 minute walk from the cathedral. Then continue on the boardwalk until you reach a footbridge that connects the island and the castle. Visit the lighthouse, built in 1908, which was the second electric lighthouse built in Spain. It’s an easy walk and gives you a really good idea of Cadiz life and culture.
5. Cross the bay to Puerto de Santa Maria
This is my favorite short boat trip in Cadiz combined with a few enjoyable hours spent in Puerto de Santa Maria. This small port city is located at the mouth of the Guadalete River in the Bay of Cadiz opposite the city. Puerto de Santa Maria is a typical Andalusian place with narrow cobbled streets, a beach lined with palm trees alameda (main street), seafood restaurants, a small museum, pretty houses and some historic mansions like the House of Lions. It is also home to the famous Osborne Sherry Bodegaswhich of course can be visited, including a visit to the bodegas and a tasting of their sherry.
Between all the curiosities and colors, you will find a market and pretty arts and crafts shops. The return ferry from the port docks takes you to Cadiz in around 30 minutes. You can see the Cadiz skyline and its approach to the grand harbor as you get closer. Don’t be fooled though; As short as the passage is, it can be quite rough and you risk being covered in spray. It’s a good idea to have a waterproof jacket handy.
6. Choose from the many museums in Cadiz
From the quirky and artistic to the historic, Cadiz has many museums with exhibits and artifacts to suit all tastes. Let’s start with the Cadiz Museum, which was formed in 1970 when the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts were merged. On the ground floor is a collection of Phoenician, Roman and Iberian objects, the second floor houses works of art, among which paintings by Rubens and Murillo, and the third floor reflects a very local : Tia Norica, puppet sets that perform at the Carnival of Cadiz.
If you like the elaborate goldsmithery of the 17and and 18and centuries, visit the small but impressive Cathedral Museum.
Located in the former headquarters of the Spanish Navy, naval history buffs will appreciate the San Fernando Naval Museumwhich exhibits models of ships, flags, uniforms and weapons from different periods of the long Spanish naval history.
If you like it quirky or even a little scary, the Title Museum is your place. It houses handmade puppets from all over the world, all with their own story. Again, some take part in carnival satirical plays.
It gets a little scarier in the Catacombs of Beaterio. They are the burial place of 17th century Franciscan nuns whose nearby cloister was destroyed by fire but the catacombs remained and can still be visited.
7. Enjoy the beautiful beaches – even in winter
If you are staying in the city of Cádiz, you won’t have to drive long to find one of the fabulous beaches that abound along the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light, where the city is located. The name comes from the fact that the region has more than 300 sunny days a year. Because of this, you’re probably warm enough to sit in the impossibly fine white sand, even in the winter months. Even better, the boardwalk stretches across the city and touches many of these unique urban beaches.
We have already mentioned La Caleta, so pretty that it appeared in the Bond film: Die another day.
Victoria Beachon the west side of town, is an 8,200-foot-long sandy beach that has a reputation as a party beach because it’s lit with luminous arches at night.
A little gem of a beach is the nearby Santa Maria del Mar. Calm and only 400 meters long, this beach is accessible by ramps.
Finally, there is La Cortadura Beachwhich is a massive 13,120 feet of fine white sand and is the most unspoilt of all the beaches in Cadiz.
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