If you are traveling to Andalusia and you stop by the Atlantic Ocean, you will definitely need a guide on things to do in Cadiz Spain. One of the oldest towns in western Europe, Cadiz is today a laid-back place surrounded by the sea, with narrow streets filled with tapas bars and tourists, fresh seafood and long beaches.
As one of the oldest towns in western Europe, it goes back for 3,000 years. Cadiz (or Gadir at the time) was a prosperous colony established by Phoenicians and Carthaginians even before Roman times. It was one of the most important trade centers and stopovers for ships sailing from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. It continued to grow during Romans who also used the Guadalquivir river to sail from Cadiz all the way to Cordoba. Then came the Moors and the Christians. When Seville was struck by the 17th-century plague, the center for sailing to the New World was established here.
The country was invaded by the French in the 19th century, when the parliament was moved to Cadiz. This is where feudalism was abolished, the Inquisition repressed and the first Spanish Constitution was declared.
Things to do in Cadiz
I came to Cadiz by the high-speed train from Seville. The ticket is a couple of Euros more than the bus ticket (costs 16.60) and the train will take you 170 km/h. (It cannot develop its full speed since it has four stops on the route.) It’s cozy with displayed data on the screen and a conductor to check tickets.
TIP: If you are coming from Seville, the bus will cost you 2.5 Euros more than the high-speed train and the ride lasts for 2.5 hours – an hour more than the train ride.
On the way to Cadiz, unlike all those endless olive groves I saw throughout Andalusia by traveling from one town to the next, there were only flat plains and fields.
My initial plan was to spend the night here, but some friends made me rethink the idea since they visited few months earlier, saying that “the town seems to be neglected comparing to the rest of Andalusia” and that “there’s not much to see”. Have to admit that I was a bit sorry for having felt like rushing through town, even though I spent the whole day here. When you see all that architecture and remember where you actually are, you do wish you had more time.
Let me just remind you that this is where cargos of leather and sugar came from America once. All the vessels with technical issues sailing over the Atlantic had permission to dock in Cadiz, before continuing their journey to Seville. When large quantities of goods started to be transported by huge ships, the town began to flourish. The progress was not disrupted even by the plague in the mid-17th century that spread throughout Europe.
It’s easy to notice vast squares and charming facades. That’s why the best way to see Cadiz is on foot. I took a stroll from the station.
TIP: If you are not staying in Cadiz, leave your luggage at the bus station. The lockers cost 3 Euros per 24 hours and you take the key with you.
An area surrounding the station is not that interesting, it resembles an industrial zone, but as soon as you walk into the city you will be welcomed by fountains, lovely architecture and the smell of the sea. Streets were crowded with locals and tourists alike. Like in any other place in the Mediterranean, people tend to spend time outside. Cadiz is no different.
The square with the dominating Town Hall is hard to miss. There were stalls with domestic crafts and souvenirs with sheets above the passageway, giving some shade from the hot sun. (At the end of September when I visited, the weather was warm, humid and cloudy with 26 degrees Celsius – 10 less than in Seville.)
If you continue to walk further along one of the busy narrow streets you will come out to the Cathedral square, which should definitely be on the things-to-do-in-Cadiz list.
Erected in 1720 this Baroque building is today the landmark of Cadiz. There is a recognizable golden tiled dome on the top. The Cathedral is open for visits, there are no queues, and the entrance fee is six Euros.
The square is full of restaurants’ terraces, noisy passers-by, friends chatting over tapas, and street musicians. Even in this cloudy weather, it looked bustling and vibrant. As might be expected, as anywhere else in Andalusia, numerous streets are curving from the square. And when you stand here, looking around, it seems like crowds of people are flowing from all directions.
The Cathedral façade is impressive with a huge portal and interesting decoration. The Baroque interior is also adorned by the fact that one can get a perfect echo from the center. Try tapping the floor or clapping your hands. Still, do try to make as little noise as possible, since this is the church after all. Also, don’t miss climbing the Torre del Reloj, the Cathedral tower, for some nice views. Definitely one of the things to do in Cadiz.
A lovely view of the Cathedral is available from the quay as well. While strolling along narrow streets, you actually don’t have an idea how close you are to the sea on both sides. The city of Cadiz is a peninsula splashed by the Atlantic Ocean all around. (The Mediterranean Sea officially starts east of Gibraltar which is located at the very southern tip of the Cadiz province.) Going to one side or the other from the main street, it will take you less than 10 minutes to reach the shore.
I took a stroll along the Campo del Sur quay with pastel buildings lined up, and the Ocean washing its rocks. Tried to avoid getting cranes and wires on the photos, since some construction works were underway, but it didn’t spoil the landscape in person. Even the clouds started to disappear, so all these colors seemed more expressive.
While strolling around, I came across a few signs for local beaches and remembered reading how Cadiz was a location for filming a few scenes for the James Bond movie (Die Another Day). This is where ravishing Halle Berry came out of the sea, and the whole scenery was designed to replicate the famous Malecon quay in Cuban Havana.
Make sure to stop by the Torre Tavira for another great view not only of the Cathedral but of the whole Cadiz.
There were almost 160 towers all over Cadiz in the 18th century, from which the Ocean was watched. They are the true city’s trade and development witnesses, and Torre Tavira is specific for being located in the very center and on the highest point of the city (45 m above sea level). Ships coming from America were watched from here by telescopes once, whereas today tourists can admire the 360-degree-view of Cadiz, along with camera obscura installed in 1994.
As Cadiz was so famous for its watchtowers, one should definitely stop by Torre Tavira. It might be hard to spot it from below, since you will be surrounded by tall facades and your gaze won’t get that high. Also, one tends to enjoy the local ambiance, to photograph lovely shops, entrances, various details, and of course, to watch for cars going by extremely close.
TIP: Since the tower is open from 10 am, it’s wise to stop by early and check out the tours’ schedule. They are available in various languages. The entrance fee is six Euros.
It so happened that I had lots of time before the tour, it was almost noon, so I wanted to walk around some more. The plan was to visit all the landmarks first and then to have some local tuna dish for lunch Cadiz is famous for since my bus was leaving in the evening. (I was spending the night in Arcos de la Frontera, one of the white villages or “pueblos blancos”.) This was also a good opportunity to peek into local shops. (Stumbled upon comfortable pair of sandals for less than 15 Euros, perfect for endless walks – and I walked all over Andalusia for over 10 days now. Put them on instantly, while my old ones ended up in some trash can in Cadiz.)
Before the camera obscura experience, you will have enough time to enjoy the gorgeous view from the Torre Tavira terrace, another one of the things to do in Cadiz. This is where one gets the picture of the town’s position and the fact that it’s surrounded by the sea. Rooftops around the tower are often turned into lovely terraces with some greenery and chairs. You have to admire their diversity in colors.
With all those whitish buildings, and the Cathedral or some other church discerning in the distance, I couldn’t help but think that it all looks like a perfect photo. I admired the panorama and enjoyed a nice breeze and a fresh smell of the sea.
Camera obscura, on the other hand, allows you to look at the city and zoom in on its parts in real-time. The presentation itself doesn’t last long and you can even hear some interesting details related to things to do in Cadiz.
The main market in Cadiz is situated in the very center and it’s called the Mercado Central de Abastos. Its working hours are from 10 to 15 six days a week (besides Sunday), with stalls full of fruits and vegetables, meat and fish.
This travelogue of mine on what to do in Cadiz Spain wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t visit the Mercado. You will even be recommended by the local Tourism Organization not to miss the market place. Not only that you will come across all those colorful stalls, but this is also the place to see the diversity of fresh fish and seafood. It would be great to come here every morning to buy some prawns and clams for lunch, I thought.
I took a few pictures in the morning, planning on coming back, and immediately spotted a huge tuna fish. They say that Cadiz is famous for tuna and that local women and restaurants know numerous ways to prepare it. (There is even a statue of tuna on one of the beaches.)
„This is what I will come back for in the afternoon”, I thought, because even though I am often thrilled about having some fresh prawns and shrimps when traveling to towns such as Cadiz, it would be a pity not to try the local tuna.
There are lots of restaurants and cafes around Mercado and inside its walls. This is where people come for churros and coffee in the morning, or fish in the afternoon. A perfect place to have a bite of a catch of the day.
And so, after I visited all those places around the city, bought few souvenirs and even tried some traditional desserts, it was almost four o’clock in the afternoon when I decided to go for lunch around Mercado. It wasn’t that surprising that its stalls were already closed, and I went around the building to find a restaurant. Nevertheless, restaurants were also closing!
Okay, I thought, “let me take a glimpse inside the Mercado” since there are lots of those fast-food fish options. But there were only a few people finishing their meals, while the glass cases were already cleaned. I asked about the tuna filet at one counter, they sent me to the other, and these to the next, while those – were closed! All the waiters I saw were shrugging their shoulders, waving their heads and repeating: “No, no tuna, closed!”
This is not the first time (nor the last) that I got totally confused by the restaurants’ working hours. I knew of course that they are doing two shifts, but there were always some who were open throughout the day. All across Andalusia restaurants mostly work until two and reopen after five. Or they only work until five. Or they are not open until the evening. Or… well, whenever is convenient, I guess. So, pretty soon, you give up on trying to get any sense of the typical working hours, siestas, etc., and you just hope for the best when you get hungry. (This doesn’t go only for restaurants, bars and shops, but also for museums.)
When it already crossed my mind that I should just look for some local bakery and went out of the Mercado, I noticed a terrace that was open and still busy. Rushed in, asked if the kitchen is open and the guy said that they could get me the same meal two other ladies who just arrived ordered so that they will fix three portions instead of two. And so, I got a “pescaito frito” or the fried fish plate, along with a glass of white wine. What more could one want!
I still had enough time for another stroll, to try some delicious local ice-cream, and take more photos. It is true that Cadiz is somewhat different, because it’s a large harbor with cranes and facilities, while hippies are more often to be seen on its streets than hipsters, but the city is charming. It made me think how lovely it must be in the evening with the artificial lights and that it would definitely be nice to walk all around the peninsula…
I mean, this is the same place where Christopher Columbus embarked a few times during his sailings to and from America. Six centuries ago!
The full ANDALUSIA series