Easy to reach from the UK, this dramatic Andalucian city exudes Moorish elegance and modern sophistication. Cathy Packe reveals some of the secrets of its civic success

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Travel essentials

Why go now?

The summer heat in Andalucia's largest city has cooled and hotels are emptying. If you are looking for a focus for your visit, the Festival of European Cinema ( festivaldesevilla.com) takes place in the city from 6 to 14 November.

Touch down

Fly from Bristol, Liverpool or Stansted on Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), or from Heathrow on Spain's low-cost airline Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com). A bus (00 34 954 72 02 00; tussam.es) links Seville airport with Santa Justa railway station (1) every half-hour from 5.45am-12.15am, journey time 30 minutes; €4 return.

Get your bearings

The city centre, where visitors will spend most of their time, is on the east side of the River Guadalquivir. The area would once have been contained within the 12th-century city walls, which can still be seen along Calle Muñoz León. The skyline is dominated by Seville's imposing cathedral (2). Triana, the mainly residential district on the west bank of the river, is also worth exploring, particularly for the strip of pleasant bars and restaurants on Calle Betis.

The city is an easy one to walk around, but a new tram and metro (linking the suburbs with the centre) can take the weight off your feet. The lines meet at the Prado de San Sebastian (3), from where the tram glides through Seville's old town as far as Plaza Nueva (4). The basic fare is €1.30.

The main city tourist office (5) is at the bottom of Calle Sierpes (00 34 954 501 001; turismosevilla.org); it opens 9am-7.30pm Monday-Friday, 10am-2pm at weekends. The regional visitor centre (6) on Avenida de la Constitución covers everywhere in Andalucia except Seville. The shop next door to the city tourist office sells Seville Cards ( sevillacard.es); €32 buys admission to all monuments and museums for 48 hours.

Check in

The city's newest hotel is the Eme Fusion (7) at Calle Alemanes 27 (00 34 954 560 000; emehotel.com) whose facilities include a rooftop pool. Rooms are available from €180; breakfast is €20 per person.

More traditional in appearance, but equally luxurious, is the Casas de la Juderia (8) at Plaza Santa Maria la Blanca 7 (00 34 954 415150; casasypalacios.com). Located in the heart of what was once the Jewish quarter, it is built around a series of leafy courtyards, and its public rooms are tiled in traditional style. Doubles from €200; the buffet breakfast costs €19 per person.

Another good city centre location is the Petit Palace Canalejas (9), a comfortable, efficient establishment with boutique rooms and free Wi-Fi at Calle Canalejas 2 (00 34 954 226 400; hthoteles.com); rooms from €80.25, €8.60 for breakfast.

Finally, the Corral del Rey is a whitewashed boutique hotel in Seville's old quarter. You can get three nights for the price of two through Mr & Mrs Smith ( independent.co.uk/mrandmrssmith).

Day one

Take a view

Climb the 91 steps to the top of the Torre de Oro (10) (00 34 954 222 419), originally a watchtower on the banks of the Guadalquivir. The view will give you an idea of the city's layout, with the river winding through it, and the top of the modern bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, peeping up over the horizon. The tower opens 10am-2pm Tuesday-Friday, 11am-2pm at weekends. The admission fee of €2 also includes a visit to the naval museum on floors below the viewing terrace.

Take a hike

From the Torre de Oro (10), head east to the historic heart of Seville. The 16th-century, square, brick building that fills one side of the Plaza del Triunfo is the Archivo General de Indias (11) (00 34 954 500 528). Originally a trading centre when Seville was the centre of Spain's drive for expansion into the Americas, it eventually became the repository of the country's colonial archives, which are housed inside on 7km of shelves. The archive opens from 9am-4pm Monday to Saturday, 10am-2pm on Sundays, and admission is free.

From here, meander through Seville's oldest district, the Barrio Santa Cruz, with its warren of tiny alleys and pleasant leafy squares, before returning to the entrance of the Alcázar fortress (12) (00 34 954 502 324; patronato-alcazarsevilla.es) and the splendid gardens surrounding it. Two palaces are contained within the complex, one built to a Moorish design, the other in Renaissance style. The Alcázar palaces and gardens open daily 9.30am-5pm, later in summer. Admission is €7.50.

Finish the hike by walking through more gardens, outside the walls of the Alcázar, which will take you to the University (13), occupying the 18th-century cigarette factory that was immortalised in Bizet's opera, Carmen.

Lunch on the run

Opened this autumn, Extraverde (14) is an appealing modern addition to the many restaurants and cafés in the Santa Cruz district. Located in a pleasant square at Plaza Doña Elvira 8 (00 34 954 218417; extraverde.es), this olive oil bar and shop is the perfect place for a quick lunch: sit at the counter and order a selection of the imaginative tapas or a sandwich.

Window shopping

Plaza Nueva (4), whose elegant shops can supply everything from coffee to cosmetics, is a good place to find Spanish brands such as Victorio y Lucchino for fashion. Also worth looking out for are Hoss Intropia on Calle O'Donnell (15) and the popular shoe store, Camper, on Calle Tetuán (16).

An aperitif

The residents of Seville are spoilt for tapas bars: in Andalucia, at least, the tradition remains that you can drink a glass of chilled sherry, wine or beer and nibble on the free snacks which are often laid out along the bar counter. Calle Mateos Gago is a good starting point, with half a dozen bars to choose from, including La Sacristia (17), where a list of tapas available is posted on a board outside.

For a 21st-century take on the tapas tradition, try Pura Cepa (18), a delicatessen-cum-bar at Plaza San Francisco 8 (00 34 954 218 119). A glass of wine here will cost €2, tapas from €3.

Dine with the locals

Abades Triana (19) at Calle Betis 69A (00 34 954 286 459; abadestriana.com), is a welcome new addition to the gastronomic landscape. With its panoramic views across the Guadalquivir towards the city centre skyline, it offers a menu of traditional dishes given a modern twist: expect the gazpacho, for example, to be made with avocados.

F For a longer-established alternative go to Egana Oriza (20) at Calle San Fernando 41 (00 34 954 227 254; restauranteoriza.com), whose Basque chef has established an excellent reputation.

Day two

Cultural morning

The Fine Arts Museum (21) at Plaza del Museo 9 (00 34 954 786 500; museosdeandalucia.es) has a magnificent collection of Spanish paintings, many rescued from various of the country's monasteries when they were closed down. Particularly impressive is the collection of works by the Seville-born artist, Bartolomé Murillo. It opens 9am-2.30pm on Sundays, 9am-8.30pm from Tuesday to Saturday; admission free for EU passport-holders.

A notable omission from the Fine Arts' collection is any work by an even more famous son of Seville, Diego Velázquez, most of whose works are on display in Madrid. However, the city has recently acquired a portrait Velázquez painted of Santa Rufina, which is on display at the Hospital de los Venerables (22). This opens daily from 10am-2pm and 4-8pm, admission €4.75.

Out to brunch

Close to the hospital is El Rey Moro (23) at Calle Reinoso 8 (00 34 954 563 468; elreymoro.com). From noon, enjoy a tasty omelette for €10.90, or scrambled eggs with prawns or ham for €11.60.

Go to church

Seville's stunning gothic Cathedral of Santa María de la Sede (2) (00 34 954 214971; catedraldesevilla.es) is one of Europe's largest religious buildings: a masterpiece of elaborate vaulting and richly decorated altarpieces.

To one side is Christopher Columbus's tomb, and opening off from the north side of the building is the Orange Tree Patio that contains the Giralda, the ornate tower that was originally the minaret attached to the mosque that stood on this site. Services take place in the cathedral on Sunday mornings, and in addition, both the cathedral and the Giralda are open 11am-5pm Monday-Saturday (9.30am-4pm in July and August), 2.30-6pm on Sunday. Admission costs €8.

Take a ride

Board one of the river cruisers that operate daily along the Guadalquivir river. The hour-long trips (00 34 954 561 692; crucerostorredeloro.com) depart from the embankment next to the Torre del Oro (10) every half hour from 11am-11pm, price €16.

A walk in the park

Maria Luisa park (24) is an extensive area whose attractions include plenty of green space and a boating lake. The park was laid out to accommodate the Latin-American exhibition held in Seville in 1929, and some of the original pavilions have been turned into museums.

The icing on the cake

The elegant palace on the Plaza de Pilatos is the Casa de Pilatos (25), built in the 16th century by the first Marquis of Tarifa and now the family home of the dukes of Medinaceli. It sits around a series of courtyards and gardens in architectural styles including mudejar and Renaissance. Upstairs are rooms where the family would have lived in winter; there is a lovely dining room with beautifully-carved friezes and window arches, and the tower room, hung with Flemish tapestries and topped by an octagonal ceiling. The house opens 9am-7pm daily. Admission €8, including a tour of the first floor.