Why go now?
The oldest city in western Europe has the Continent's newest bridge. The spectacular two-mile span of El Puente de la Constitucion de 1812 (or, more concisely, “La Pepa”), has just opened to traffic. It transforms the skyline and accelerates access to an elegant fragment of Andalucia known as la tacita de plata (“the silver cup”) because of the riches brought here from the New World.
The closest airport to Cadiz is Jerez, with flights from Stansted on Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com). Direct trains run every hour or two from the airport to Cadiz railway station (1), taking around 45 minutes and for a fare of €7.25. The next best gateway is Seville, served by British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) and Ryanair from Gatwick; Ryanair also flies from Stansted. Take the €5 airport bus to Seville Santa Justa station, from where trains run around once an hour to Cadiz, taking 100 minutes and costing €16.05 each way.
Get your bearings
What attracted the Phoenicians to Cadiz 3,000 years ago was its location – a fist-shaped slab of rock at the end of an arm of land that connects it to the coast of south-west Spain. Everything of interest is located within the historic core, which begins at the wrist. The separation from the rest of Andalucia is marked by stout city walls.
An avenue runs around the shore, changing its name several times, and the interior is populated with a jumble of streets and monuments. The look is distinctly Latin American, and anyone who has visited that part of the world will appreciate the shared architectural DNA; Cadiz stood in for Havana in the Bond film Die Another Day.
Two landmarks dominate the city: the cathedral (2), a 19th-century structure with a mighty dome and tall towers; and the late 20th-century Parador Hotel Atlantico (3), facing the sea at the north-westernmost tip of Cadiz.
The city centre is dotted with information kiosks, but the helpful main tourist office (4) is opposite the port on the Paseo de Canalejas (00 34 956 241 001; visitcadiz.es; 9am to 5pm at weekends, 8.30am to 6.30pm weekdays).
The city's defiantly modern Parador (3) (00 34 956 226 905; parador.es) is the antithesis of the typical historical properties in this government-run chain. The block perches by the sea and offers a high-class Costa experience at €156 for a double, including breakfast, on some dates later this month.
At the other end of town, the beautiful Hotel Convento Cadiz (5) occupies a 17th-century convent at Calle Santo Domingo (00 34 956 200 738; hotelconventocadiz.com). It is also in prime position if you arrive late in the evening, because it's only a few minutes' walk from the station. You awake to find yourself in a comfortably chic room overlooking a ravishing courtyard, part of it comprising Santo Domingo church. A double room typically costs €97, with breakfast an extra €9.
For a budget stay, the two-star Hostal Bahia (6) at Calle Plocia (00 34 956 259 061; hostalbahiacadiz.com) is well situated and offers simple accommodation at just €45 for a double, excluding breakfast.
Take a view
For two fascinating perspectives on Cadiz, get to the Torre Tavira (7) at Calle Marques del Real Tesoro when it opens at 10am (00 34 956 212 910; torretavira.com; to 6pm daily, €6). You can enjoy the spectacular 360-degree view from the terrace of this old watchtower, then be in on the first session of the camera obscura, where an elaborate periscope projects an image of the city into a concave dish.
Go to church
For an alternative view, set your sights on the cathedral (2) (00 34 956 286 154). It opens to tourists from 10am to 8pm daily (Sundays 1.30-8pm) at an admission price of €5 that includes access to the east tower, reached by a steep spiral ramp.
Inside the grandiose, early 18th-century structure, you can admire the ornate silver casket in a side chapel and visit the crypt, where the local composer Manuel de Falla is interred. The old cathedral, now Santa Cruz church (8), is dwarfed and concealed by its bulky replacement, but worth seeking out for its commanding gold altar piece. It opens 9.45am to 12.45pm and 5.30 to 6.30pm daily (Sundays 10am to noon and 5.30-6.30pm), free entry.
The city's shopping hub is the Mercado Central (9) where a 2009 hall with a staggering range of seafood stands within the walls built in 1837.
Lunch on the run
For a high-quality, cut-price taste of what's on offer, join the queue at the Freiduria Las Flores (10), a café on the Plaza de Topete (00 34 956 226 112, 9am to 4pm). Order a quarter-kilo of deep-fried fish – surtido (mixed) for €5 or the dogfish in spicy batter for €3.60.
Take a hike
Start at the Plaza de Espana (11), which celebrates the nation's first liberal constitution, signed in 1812. Just north from here the old walls begin, providing fine harbour views. Heading west, Alameda de Marques de Comillas (12) is a pretty park. Follow the curve of the sea wall and through Parque Genoves, which leads to the Parador (3). Behind it, the Castle of Santa Catalina (13) (11am to 8pm, free) has a chapel with a Baroque altarpiece. The curved structure just to the south is the old La Palma spa (14), now the Underwater Archaeology Centre and closed to the public.
Las Caleta beach faces due west, making it the optimum location for a sundowner. Café Bar Club La Caleta (15) does not exploit its position just above the waterline: a pint of local beer costs just €3.50. Tapas are available only inside the cave-like interior, so if you prefer a snack with a view then ascend to Quilla (16), a café, art gallery and bookshop.
Dining with the locals
If the weather is fine, dine outside at La Taberna del Anteojo (17), which spills out over Avenida Honduras with fine bay views. The service is brisk and the prices reasonable: the speciality is a fish and shellfish paella blackened with squid ink (€10). Next door is El Balandro (00 34 956 220 992; restaurantebalandro.com), which has a large dining room with picture windows . All the fish is delicious, with main courses from €10 to €15.
To savour the city's antiquity, visit the Museo de Cadiz (18) on Plaza de Mina (00 34 956 203 371; museosdeandalucia.es; closed Mondays; free for EU citizens). Pride of place goes to a pair of Phoenician sarcophagi from the 5th century BC.
Out to brunch
Café Royalty (19) on the Plaza de la Candelaria is a visual feast – with mirrors borrowed from Versailles, screens from the Orient and frescos from the past.
A walk on the Atlantic
The Castle of San Sebastian (20), built in 1706 on a tiny island and linked to the city by a causeway, makes a great ocean excursion without getting your feet wet. Opens 9am to 5.30pm daily, admission €2.
Take a ride
Take a boat trip across the bay to see the 18th-century palaces of El Puerto de Santa Maria. Ferries leave from the Terminal Maritima Metropolitana (21) sporadically at weekends, at 12.10pm, 1.30pm, 4.20pm and 5.40pm, with a one-way fare of €2.65. (Services are much more frequent on weekdays.)
On the far side, El Puerto's impressive castle is a five-minute walk from the jetty. North from here the sleepy main street has enticing places to eat and drink.
You can take the boat back, or make a round trip on the bus or train to Cadiz. To experience the new bridge, though, take the train (€2) to Puerto Real – three stops towards Cadiz – and find a taxi to take you over the “La Pepa” bridge to the rail station (1) for a fare of around €20.
Icing on the cake
Flamenco flows through the veins of Cadiz. The entrancing blend of music and dancing is best enjoyed at a local bar or at the Pena Flamenca La Perla (22) – a theatrical social club close to the waterside at Calle Carlos Ollero. Shows tend to start at 11pm on Fridays, €5; if this timing doesn't suit, the tourist office (4) may suggest alternatives.Reuse content