On a recent trip exploring the south of Spain, we discovered that the best things to do in Cádiz are not covered by seeing all the sights. Instead just eat, drink and stroll the streets.


Before we go anywhere we do a lot of research. So, before our recent excursion, we were in planning mode to find the best things to do in Cádiz. We studied the guidebooks, scoured the blogs and understood the local history. We already had the first lines for this post forming in our minds. Something about how Cádiz had been alive for over 3,000 years; the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. About how this old lady of the sea, with her mascara peeling from her face, poured life across the city through her varicose vein twisted streets. A proud but crumbling historic city standing against the blowing Atlantic winds and pounding seas.

But during our few days finding the best things to do in Cádiz, we found the reality quite different. It’s not old and weathered, it’s not a warren of tightly-woven cobbled alleyways. It’s not dirty, or edgy, or dark. It certainly doesn’t feel like the oldest inhabited settlement in Europe. Instead, Cádiz is long straight lanes flanked either side by imperious terrace houses stretching three or four stories high. It’s tall, grand and graceful; filled with friendly locals living a modern lifestyle in a city that – while it may be old – appears to be gleaming from a fresh coat of paint.

THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CÁDIZ ARE NOT SIMPLY TICKING OFF THE SIGHTS

That fresh coat of paint came thanks to the influx of money in the 18th century when trade with the Americas – which was conducted through Seville – became inaccessible due to the Guadalquivir river silting up. As a result, Cádiz enjoyed 75% of the Spanish trade with America. The city you see today really came alive in this golden age and most of the impressive structures in Cádiz date back to this period.

So here are our best things to do in Cádiz. It’s not a long list, because the best things to do in Cádiz are not about ticking off the main sights. Instead, you should walk the alleyways, sample the sea air, sit in a square, soak up the atmosphere and down a drink. If you can also find a local along the way and have a chat, then you will have found the best things to do in Cádiz.

CATEDRAL NUEVA

Built with American cash which eventually ran out in 1792, this hulking church dominates the city from most angles. It’s not quite finished and a little patchy in places, but this only adds to its colossal charm. The bright, white marble interior is complemented beautifully with details in dark wood. Construction began in baroque but completed in neoclassical style, so it contains an aesthetically pleasing mix of architectural styles. We had a great time strolling around spotting interesting sculptures and artwork. The nets draping the ceiling to stop the crumbling bits from hitting the floor, add a certain ‘work-in-progress’ charm.

The cathedral has an audio guide which is free of charge. This provides great value per minute, but not great value per enjoyment. It’s long, excruciatingly detailed and aims to suck all the fun out of exploring a great building. Standing in front of the first chapel (which is amazing), I realised that I’d been hearing about one statue for 20 minutes and my eyes had started glazing over. Needless to say, we ditched the audio guide and took it all in without the prolonged oral assistance.

The walk up the ramp to the bell tower is one of the best things to do in Cádiz. Built after the church was completed in the golden age of Cádiz, the views from the tower are impressive. The golden tiles of the dome which crowns the cathedral are a beautiful addition to the blue sea in the background. If you look over the old cathedral next door you can see its roof still shows the signs of when it was converted from a mosque. It’s well worth taking the climb up to check it out.


Catedral Nueva / 10:00 – 19:00 Mon-Sat 14:00 – 19:00 Sun / Bell Tower: 10:00 – 19:00 everyday / Price: €5

ORATORIA DE LA SANTA CUEVA

For a hidden gem, visiting Oratorio de la Santa Cueva is one of the best things to do in Cádiz. Situated behind a very unassuming façade, the oratorio belonged to the illustrious Spiritual Withdrawal Congregation – some of the leading figures in Cádiz in the 18th century. They used the building to withdraw from the masses and undertake their spiritual penance.

After descending a beautiful marble staircase, you arrive in a very austere chapel with bare pillars and washed out stone walls. The only focal point in the room is an illuminated statue of Christ. It was in this room that the Spiritual Withdrawal Congregation undertook their penance in austere bleakness.

One floor up is an odd selection of religious memorabilia tucked into glass cabinets. The real showstopper of the Oratorio is the upstairs chapel, or the High Sacramental Chapel. It’s a remarkably ornate chapel, deliberately designed to contrast the penitential space downstairs. On our visit, classical music was wafting from places unknown and dappled sunlight was shining through the beautiful stain glass windows. Ostentatious design principles are in fine form in this space. The high chapel also contains a secret stash of works by Goya painted into the arches above the alcoves.


Oratorio de la Santa Cueva / Sep-Jun: 10:30 – 14:00 & 16:30 – 20:00 Tue-Fri; Jul & Aug: 10:00 – 14:00 & 17:30 – 20:30 Tue-Fri; 10:30 – 14:00 Sat (all year); 10:00 – 13:00 Sun (all year); Price: €5 (free Sun)

MUSEO DE CÁDIZ

The Museum of Cádiz is a two for one special combining the Museum of Fine Arts with the Archaeological Museum in one worn out building. In 1980 a three-phase restoration program was initiated to house the growing collection in the museum. Sometimes things don’t move very quickly in this part of the world as the third phases is still an on-going endeavour.

The downstairs archaeology collection contains Phoenician and Roman artefacts discovered in Andalusia dating back to the 5th century BCE. The collection was built upon the chance finding of a male anthropoid sarcophagus in a nearby wharf. This now dominates the display downstairs, along with a number of other important archaeological finds.

Upstairs is the fine art collection of Spanish works from the 18th to early 20th centuries and by far our favourite part for the museum. For a relatively small gallery, they’ve managed to score some big names in art. The 18 canvases of angels and monks by Francisco de Zurbarán are excellent. Murillo, Rubens and Miró have each contributed some standout pieces to this very good collection.

On the third floor, there is a smaller section which focuses on the ‘Tía Norica’ puppets and their history. Puppetry in Cádiz took off in the 18th century with the Spaniards looking for a way to combine their love of theatre and woodcarving. We weren’t up there very long!


Museo de Cádiz / 14:30 – 20:30 Tue; 09:00 – 20:30 Wed-Sat; 09:00 – 14:30 Sun & holidays; Price: free for EU citizens; otherwise: €1.50.

WALK DRINK EAT. REPEAT

While there are many more smaller sites in Cadiz we suggest you don’t try to collect them but slowly meander around the city and go where your curiosity takes you. For one of the best things to do in Cádiz is to simply explore streets and squares. Stop for coffee in your favourite looking local hangout. Chat with a local who will tell you how much they love their town. We found the area around the Oratorio, Museum and Cathedral interesting, but also make sure you head into the old fishermen’s quarter in the south west of town. It has some great squares, bars and alleyways.

If while you are ambling you come across Castillo de Santa Catalina Fortress sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, then potter in. It was built in the 17th century and for a time served as a military prison. Today it houses pop up art exhibitions in a cavernous warren of makeshift rooms. On our visit, the photo exhibition upstairs was excellent, even if the impressionism downstairs was a bit drab.

The Roman Theatre is also worth briefly checking out if you’re in the neighbourhood. It has a modern exhibition space built into the side of the old theatre which walks through some of the history. The theatre is not much of a sight, but the recently renovated museum gives a good overview of the Roman history of this town.

But if you don’t come across them, it does not matter. For by the time you have finished a dinner of fresh fish, washed down with a glass of wine on a beautiful square served by the friendliest of people, you will realise that just by wandering around you have found the best things to do in Cádiz.

WHERE TO EAT IN CÁDIZ

You’ll have no trouble finding great places to eat in Cádiz. Thanks to the many cultures who have called Cádiz home the food scene is as diverse as it is tasty. From cheap hole in the wall tapas bars with their signature tuna almadrabas to top end dining on white table clothes, Cádiz has something for foodies of all tastes.

For what it’s worth, here are our two top recommendations.

CAFÉ LAZO

Ideal for a local tapas lunch, Café Lazo is Cádiz relaxed eating at its best. Small, friendly and full of authentic charm, Café Lazo serves up excellent dishes at very affordable prices. Their croquetas and gambas pil pil were top notch.

LocationCalle Barrié, 17 / +34 956 22 94 99

 

TABERNA EL TÍO DE LA TIZA

One of the best things to do in Cádiz is to dine outside in their buzzing squares. Taberna El Tio de la Tiza is an ideal place to do this. They serve up a great selection of Andalusian specialities with a high focus on fresh local fish. For us though, it was the pork cheeks in PX sauce that really won us over. That and the very friendly service.

LocationPlaza Tío de la Tiza, 12 / +34 956 21 20 82

OTHER THINGS TO DO CÁDIZ

Although Cádiz old town is compact enough to walk, a bike tour will not only take you to the highlights of the walled city but also the new town and many of the excellent beaches. We recommend Baja Bikes, which offers and excellent 4 hour highlights tour.

If your time is limited and yet you want to try a range of eating places then consider a tapas tasting tour. This one visits 3 tapas bars over 3 hours and includes food and drink. It’s a good way to get some local insight and a great range of food.

WHERE NEXT?

Nearby to Cádiz, there’s a whole host of amazing things to do in Tarifa. For more urban adventures, here are some of our city guides from the region:

3 DAYS IN SEVILLE

2 DAYS IN CÓRDOBA

3 DAYS IN LISBON

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The best things to do in the Spanish town of Cadiz / #cadiz

The best things to do in the Spanish town of Cadiz / #cadiz

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