The large and important port city of Cadiz, located on the southwest 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 B.C. by the Phoenicians, Cadiz has been ruled by many civilizations since then, among them the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and the Spanish. This colorful and often violent history left behind an incredible number of monuments, walls, artifacts, and cultural sites that make Cadiz a location to visit where you will never run out of things to do and see.
Cadiz has many claims to fame; here are just a few. It is home to the world-famous Carnival, only surpassed by Rio’s. Christopher Columbus set sail on his second voyage in 1493 from the port of Cadiz. The city features over 100 watchtowers, as it was under constant attack from British pirates for 200 years. Lord Byron lived and was inspired here. And lastly, Cadiz has pristine beaches to enjoy in the summer, foremost the long Caleta Beach. We haven’t even started on all the churches, museums, and palatial buildings or the delicious food, the fat oysters, shrimp fritters, and red tuna, all washed down with the wines from nearby Jerez.
Being the trade center, cruise ship port, and naval base it is, Cadiz is easy to reach. The nearest international airports are in Jerez and Seville, both of which are connected to Cadiz by trains and buses. By train, there are plenty of connections from all over Spain. Part of the 8-hour journey from Barcelona, for example, can be made by the high-speed Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), whereas other direct trains to Madrid take about 4 hours. Of course, you can also travel by car along the motorways.
Here are seven fabulous experiences in the old port city of Cadiz.
1. Climb Torre Tavira
One of the first things I like to do when visiting a city for the first time is to seek out the highest building and climb it – if possible – to get the best overview. In Cadiz, this splendid lookout is Torre Tavira. Built in 1778 as a watchtower, the elegant structure allows you the best overview of the city, the cathedral, and the castle after you have climbed the 170 steps to the top. On the top floor, you can experience a fun thing: a camera obscura. There are plans underway to install an elevator, but for the time being you have to rely on your feet to get to the top.
2. Be Dazzled By Cadiz’s Cathedral
When the sun is shining (and it very often is in Cadiz), you might want to put on your shades when looking at the cathedral because the dome of the church is covered with golden tiles. Cadiz Cathedral, also called Cathedral of the Americas, is an architectural masterpiece that took 116 years to complete. It was built between 1722 and 1838 and got its name because the money used was derived from Cadiz’s Golden Age and the trade between Spain and South America. Because of the length of time it took, the church features Neo-Classical, Rococo, and Baroque styles, with many interesting details in the interior and on the façade. You’ll notice the two towers that flank the church, the Levanta Tower (aka Torre de Ponente) being open to the public and affording another stunning city overview.
3. Go Back In Time At The Roman Theatre
The remains of Cadiz’s huge Roman Theatre, considered one of the oldest and largest of the Iberian Peninsula, are located in the El Populo district. Because of its size, it is estimated that it could hold 10,000 people. The theatre is remarkable for the parts that have not yet been excavated and still remain below the medieval El Populo. Several buildings of El Populo have been superimposed over the theatre, and it would be interesting to know what lies below.
This is the oldest part of Cadiz and the city’s true medieval heart. You enter through three entrance arches, which are a much-photographed sight of Cadiz, and then can walk around the narrow streets to your heart’s content. The district dates from the 13th century, and because Populo and theatre are so close together, you can undertake a spot of time travel.
Pro Tip: Make sure not to miss out on any stories and interesting details about the theatre and El Populo by joining this 2-hour medieval walking tour.
4. Walk To The Castle Of San Sebastian
The Castle of San Sebastian is a fortress with a long history located on a small island at the end of one of Cadiz’s best beaches, La Caleta. The fort was constructed to protect the northern flank of the city against attacks. In its current form, it consists of two open spaces, both gated and linked by a bridge.
Even more enjoyable than a visit to the castle is the scenic walk that leads to it. Walk along (or on) Caleta Beach and enjoy the views of the ocean and the lively beach life. People from the La Viña neighborhood come here not only to swim or sunbathe but to indulge in socializing or a game of cards. The beach is a 15-minute walk from the cathedral. Then continue on on the promenade until you reach a walkway that connects to the island and castle. Pay a visit to the lighthouse, built in 1908, which was the second electrical lighthouse constructed in Spain. It is an easy walk and provides you with a very good idea of what Cadiz’s life and culture are like.
5. Cross The Bay To Puerto De Santa Maria
This is my favorite short boat trip in Cadiz combined with a few delightful hours spent in Puerto de Santa Maria. This small port town is located at the outlet of the Guadalete River in the Bay of Cadiz opposite the city. Puerto de Santa Maria is a typical Andalusian location with narrow, cobbled streets, a palm-lined alameda (main street), seafood restaurants, a small museum, pretty houses, and a few historical homes like the House of Lions. It’s also home to the world-famous Osborne Sherry Bodegas, which of course can be visited, including a tour of the bodegas and sampling of their sherry.
In between all the sights and colors, you’ll find a market and some pretty arts and crafts shops. The ride back in the ferry that leaves from the port docks takes you to Cadiz in about 30 minutes. You can see the skyline of Cadiz and its big port approach as you come closer. Don’t be fooled though; short as the passage may be, it can be pretty rough, and you may well be covered in spray. It’s a good idea to have a waterproof jacket at hand.
6. Take Your Pick Of Cadiz’s Many Museums
From quirky and artsy to historical, Cadiz features a good many museums that provide exhibits and artifacts for every taste. Let’s start with the Museum of Cadiz, which was formed in 1970 when the archaeological museum and the museum of fine art were combined. On the ground floor is a collection of Phoenician, Roman, and Iberian artifacts, the second floor houses fine art, among it paintings by Rubens and Murillo, and the third floor reflects a very local form of art: Tia Norica, sets of puppets that perform at the Cadiz Carnival.
If you like elaborate gold and silver work from the 17th and 18th centuries, visit the small but impressive Museo Catedralico.
Located in the former headquarters of the Spanish Navy, lovers of naval history will enjoy the Naval Museum of San Fernando, which exhibits models of boats, flags, uniforms, and weapons from various periods of the long Spanish naval history.
If you like it quirky or even a bit spooky, the Museum del Titere is your place. It houses hand-made puppets from all over the world, all with their own story. Again, some take part in satire plays of the carnival.
It gets a little more spooky 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 Gorgeous Beaches — Even In Winter
If you are staying in Cadiz city, you don’t have to drive long to find one of the fabulous beaches that abound all along the Costa de la Luz, the coast of light, where the city is located. The name derives from the fact that the region has over 300 days of sunshine per year. Because of this, you are likely warm enough to sit down in the incredibly fine, white sand, even in the winter months. Best of all, the sea promenade runs from one end of the city to the other and touches on many of these unique city beaches.
We have already mentioned La Caleta, so pretty that it featured in the Bond movie: Die Another Day.
Playa de la Victoria, on the west side of the city, is a wide-open 8,200 feet long, sandy beach which has a reputation as a party beach because it is lit by arch lights at night.
A small jewel of a beach is the nearby Santa Maria del Mar. Quiet and only 1,300 feet long, this beach is accessible by ramps.
Finally, there is Playa de La Cortadura, which is a massive 13,120 feet of fine white sand and is the most untouched of all the Cadiz beaches.
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