Holy Week: the fiesta starts / AFP/Getty

Spring brings this beguiling Spanish city to life, with a pair of flamboyant festivals, and thousands of orange trees in bloom

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Things are hotting up in Spain's fourth-largest city. A pair of major festivals – kicking off tomorrow with Semana Santa (Holy Week), followed in three weeks' time by La Feria de Abril (April Fair) – will see Seville at its busiest. Both events feature processions and pageantry, combining solemn rituals and flamenco dancing with traditional dress and Andalucían flair.

The huge fiesta crowds make this an unforgettable time to visit. But the sheer volume of visitors presents challenges, too, with accommodation at inflated prices and in short supply. Outside the festival weeks, though, it's a different story. Seville offers excellent value, and is most beguiling in springtime. The city's 14,000 orange trees blossom at this time, filling the streets with their sweet, heady scent; and with temperatures reaching the mid-20Cs, condi-tions are perfect for sightseeing.

Furthermore, Seville hits the small screen in April, when the Alcazar Palace stars in the new series of Game of Thrones.

Touch down

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) starts flying direct from Gatwick on Sunday, with five flights a week. EasyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) also flies from Gatwick, and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Gatwick and Stansted.

The airport is 10km northeast of the city. Buses (00 34 902 459 954; aena.es; 5.20am to 1.15am) to central Plaza de Armas (1) take 35 minutes and cost €4. Taxis (15 minutes) cost €20 to €30, depending on the time of day.

Get your bearings

Most of Seville's key attractions are within the historic centre, which sits on a bend of the Guadalquivir, Spain's only navigable river. At its heart lies the glorious Alcazar Palace (2), which dates from the medieval period when Seville was the capital of Al-Andalus (the Moorish Iberian empire). Post-reconquest, and throughout the 16th century, wealth shipped here from the New World made Seville one of Europe's most prominent cities.

La Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral (3), is the signature landmark that dominates the skyline. Between here and the Alcazar is the main tourist office (4), at Plaza del Truinfo 1 (00 34 954 210 005; visitasevilla.es), open daily, from 9.30am to 7.30pm.

Check in

Corral del Rey (5), at Corral del Rey 12 (00 34 954 227 116; corraldelrey.com) is a restored, 17th-century palace with rooftop plunge pool and 13 contemporary guestrooms. Doubles start at €308 including breakfast.

Even older is Las Casas de la Juderia (6) in Plaza Santa Maria la Blanca 5 (00 34 954 415 150; lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com), set within several townhouses linked by leafy courtyards. Doubles from €150, room-only.

Sacristia de Santa Ana (7), Alameda de Hércules 22 (00 34 954 915 722; hotelsacristia.com) offers incredibly good value. The former convent has fabulously styled rooms from just €55, room only.

seville map

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Day one

Take a hike

Start by exploring the Alcazar (2) on Plaza del Patio de Banderas (00 34 954 502 324; alcazarsevilla.org; 9.30am to 7pm, daily; entry €9.50). Three palaces (one each from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries) showcase Gothic and Arabic architecture and overlook formal gardens of fountains and fruit trees. Across the square lies Seville Cathedral and its bell tower, La Giralda (3), built where once stood a mosque.

From the square, amble past the tapas bars and orange trees lining attractive Calle Mateos Gago (8). If you are here mid-week, visit Casa de Salinas (9), at No 39 (00 34 954 219 539; casadesalinas.com). This inhabited, 16th-century merchant's house is a piece of living history, whose owners offer guided tours for €6 (11am to 2pm, weekdays).

Proceed down Calle Fabiola, admiring the architecture of these tightly packed streets. Follow side-streets onwards to San Ildefonso (10), a fanciful, twin-towered church painted brightly in goldenrod, white and peach. Then continue via leafy Plaza Christo de Burgos (11) to end your walk at Metropol Parasol (12), a whimsical, modern building whose upper deck (00 34 954 561 512; setasdesevilla.com; 10am to 11pm Sunday to Thursday, 10am to 11:30pm Friday to Saturday; entry €3) offers views back towards La Giralda.

Lunch on the run

Patio San Eloy (13), at Calle San Eloy 9 (0034 954 501 070; patiosaneloy.com) serves fast food, Spanish-style, in a seemingly age-old setting. Choose your tapas (octopus salad, sliced ham) or bocadillo (sandwich), then find space on the blue-tiled steps at the back to soak up the jovial chatter and buzz. A bocadillo and a beer costs €5.

Window shopping

The main shopping street is Calle Sierpes (14), whose somewhat anodyne retail scene in dominated by high-street chains. Quirkier stores scattered among surrounding streets sell decorative fans or flamenco dresses, although olive-oil soaps are perhaps more likely purchases. Investigate La Tienda Ines Rosales (15) at Plaza San Francisco 15 (00 34 954 227 281; inesros ales.com) for olive-oil biscuits and chocolate. Most shops are closed on Sundays.

An aperitif

As the afternoon sun casts the streets into shadow, Seville's rooftop bars come into their own. Among the most stylish is that atop Hotel EME (16), at Calle Alemanes 27 (00 34 954 560 000, emecatedralhotel.com), whose dark-wood deck is perfectly positioned to admire La Giralda's brickwork. A less lofty option is Puro Tabanco (17), at Calle Francisco Carrión Mejias 6. Part-tapas bar, part-grocery shop, this abaceria specialises in regional produce, with wines from respected growers such as Bodegas Salado to taste or buy by the bottle or glass.

Dining with the locals

Seville is considered the home of the tapa – a bite-sized, savoury snack designed to accompany wine or beer. The historic centre is awash with tapas bars, and the done thing is to hop between them, sampling a tapa in each (or more in the bars you like best).

Start out, say, with delicious saquitos (cheese-stuffed rice-paper triangles) at La Azotea (18) at Calle Mateos Gago 8 (00 34 663 786 369; laazoteasevilla.com), then move on to trendy Ovejas Negras (19), at Calle Hernando Colón 8 (00 34 955 123 811; ovejasnegrastapas .com) for acorn-fed ham and patatas bravas. Expect to pay €5 per tapa, or more for a larger ración.


Moorish marvel: the ornate Alcazar (Getty)

Day two

A walk in the park

Sevillanos flock to Parque de Maria Luisa (20), south of the historic centre, for weekend strolls among fountains, pavilions and exotic plants. Don't miss the fairytale Plaza España (built for the 1929 Exposition) and the market in Avenida Don Pelayo, on the third Sunday of each month (11am to 3.30pm), with crafts, jewellery and clothes.

Take a ride

Seville's fortune was built on the Guadalquivir, so it makes sense to see it from the river. Hour-long cruises (00 34 954 561 692; crucerostorredeloro.com; €16) depart every 30 minutes (11am to 10pm) from the dock at Torre del Oro (21), a Moorish watchtower built in 1220. Or pick up a rental bike from any of 250 docking stations (00 34 902 011 032; en.sevici .es). With 80 miles of segregated cycle lanes, Seville is one of Europe's best biking cities. A short-term subscription costs €13 from any docking station; rentals up to 30 minutes are free, or €1 for up to 90 minutes.

Out to brunch

Tapas take a twist at Mercado Lonja del Barranco (22), Calle Arjona 24 (00 34 917 58 24 20; mercadolonjadelbarranco.com). This new, glitzy food market in a glass-and iron riverside pavilion, houses 20 stations serving gourmet cheeses, charcuterie, paella, oysters, ice cream and craft beers and wines by the glass. Browse, select, and tuck into your purchases.

Cultural afternoon

Seville Cathedral (3) (00 34 902 099 692; catedraldesevilla.es; €9), dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede, is Europe's largest Gothic building and the world's third-largest cathedral. The main nave (one of five) rises to more than 40m. Look out for artworks by Goya and a monument including partial remains of Christopher Columbus. Then scale La Giralda: a 12th-century minaret repurposed into a bell tower. Its 34 ramps allowed the canny muezzin to ride a donkey to the top five-times a day for the call to prayer (open Sunday, 2.30 to 6pm; Monday to Saturday, 11am to 5pm).

Icing on the cake

After tapas, Seville's other great innovation is flamenco. Discover its story at the Museum of Flamenco Dancing (23) at Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos 3 (00 34 954 340 311; museoflamenco.com; 10am to 7pm daily), where displays explain the genre's styles and techniques. Then head downstairs to the auditorium for an hour of mesmerising music and dance (7-8pm daily, additional shows at weekends; entry €10, or €20 with show).

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