With a relaxed charm and engaging spirit, there’s a host of wonderful things to do in Cádiz, Spain. Find local bars, top attractions, and beautiful squares in this gleaming island city in Andalucía.
Cádiz is an island city in Spain, a medieval fortress surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic Ocean. Now heading into its fourth millennium, an influx of wealth from the Americas in the 18th century gave the city the bleached-white gleam it has today.
It’s tall, grand and graceful. Modern, yet old. Clean shiny streets and ancient stone quarters accommodate a host of wonderful things to do in Cádiz.
Inside the walled city, the smell of the sea wafts through small plazas and long boulevards. Seagulls circle the medieval bell tower while flamenco music hangs in the air.
A muted hum radiates from tiny tapas bars along uneven stone laneways. It propels tourists and locals to roam the streets searching for food; squinting in the dazzling light reflected from white-washed buildings surrounded by sea. The search leads to small squares where evenings proceed indefinitely, centred around simple tapas and local sherry.
Cádiz doesn’t have the pull of Andalucía’s capital Seville, nor the historic fascination of Córdoba. But, perhaps the allure of Cádiz is more appealing. It’s for astute travellers, who know a good thing when they find it.
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IN THIS GUIDE
BEST THINGS TO DO IN CÁDIZ, SPAIN
1 – CATEDRAL DE CÁDIZ
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, which only adds to its colossal charm.
The Cádiz Cathedral began life as baroque aspiration, but various delays saw neoclassical elements confuse the structure into an aesthetically pleasing mix of architectural styles. Nets drape the ceiling to stop the crumbling bits from hitting the floor. Far from being a distraction, this adds a certain ‘work-in-progress’ charm.
The various chapels inside the building are stirring works of art. The free audio guide is charged correctly. Skip it and chart your own course.
2 – CÁDIZ CATHEDRAL BELL TOWER (TORRE DE PONIENTE)
The Cádiz Cathedral is best viewed from the seafront where the twin 131-foot bell towers preside over the old walled city. The walk up the ramp of the west bell tower (Torre de Poniente) is one of the best things to do in Cádiz.
Built after the church was completed in the city’s golden age, the views from the tower over the old town are impressive. The golden tiles of the dome which crowns the cathedral are beautifully backed by the azure blue sea behind. Peering over the roof, you can still see signs of when it was converted from a mosque.
It’s well worth taking the climb up to check it out.
3 – ORATORIA DE LA SANTA CUEVA
Discovering places like Oratorio de la Santa Cueva is one of the great things about travelling in Spain. Situated behind a very unassuming façade, the oratorio belonged to the mysterious Spiritual Withdrawal Congregation. Leading figures of Cádiz in the 18th century, they used the building to withdraw and undertake their spiritual penance.
After descending a beautiful marble staircase, a very austere chapel with bare pillars and washed out stone walls feels dank and ominous. In contrast, the upstairs chapel, or the High Sacramental Chapel, is remarkably ornate. Deliberately designed to contrast the penitential space downstairs, the upper chapel of Oratoria de la Santa Cueva is ostentatious and uplifting.
Dappled with sunlight via beautiful stain glass windows, it’s a wonderful thing to do in Cádiz. The high chapel also contains a secret stash of works by Goya painted into the arches above the alcoves.
4 – MUSEO DE CÁDIZ – MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS & ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM
The Museum of Cádiz combines the Museum of Fine Arts and the Archaeological Museum in one tired building.
The downstairs archaeology collection contains Phoenician and Roman artefacts discovered in Andalucía 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 contains the fine art collection of Spanish works from the 18th to early 20th centuries. This unassuming gallery has managed to score some big names. The 18 canvases of angels and monks by Francisco de Zurbarán are excellent. Murillo, Rubens and Miró have each contributed to this very good collection.
5 – PLAZA DE SAN JUAN DE DIOS
Without the typical main square you might expect in places in Andalucía like Cádiz, Plaza de San Juan de Dios has stepped into the void.
As the commercial centre of the city, the plaza is buzzing with local tapas bars, cafes and the usual big takeaway joints. Backing onto the harbour, the plaza is a great meeting point in the city. There is usually a craft market set up in the square, especially if cruise ships are in town. The café terraces are a great place to escape the heat and partake in some classic people-watching.
However, the standout feature is the beautiful Cádiz City Hall. Framed by palm trees lining the square, huge Ionic columns, rising over a series of arches, support a clocktower overlooking Cádiz. It’s free to enter the Town Hall but tours must be booked in advance. Unassuming from the outside, the decorative nave of the church of San Juan de Dios is also worth a look.
6 – ROMAN THEATRE
The Roman Theatre of Cádiz was built by Lucius Cornelius Balbus, a personal friend of Julius Caesar in an attempt to expand the city. Throughout the centuries it was built over, most recently by today’s El Pópulo neighbourhood. Remarkably it was only uncovered in 1890.
In its day, the theatre held 10,000 spectators in a horseshoe auditorium. The stage and portico have not been excavated and remain under the modern city.
A museum explaining the history of the ruin and other Roman influences in Cádiz is partially built over the excavated area. Glass walkways and panels provide better visibility of the theatre and how it has been consumed by city growth over the centuries.
7 – MERCADO CENTRAL DE ABASTOS
The Mercado Central de Abastos is considered Spain’s oldest covered market. Built in 1839, several refurbishments have given the original neoclassic building a split personality. But it’s still doing what it’s been doing for centuries, housing a lively local market.
Outer stalls are accessed through arches in the stone walls. Here, Rincón Gastromómico or Gourmet Corner takes place every day of the week. Tempting morsels including grilled seafood, tortillas, and olives are on display, ready to eat. Other stalls provide the necessary accompaniments: cerveza (beer), vino (wine) and of course, jerez (sherry). You could also pick up a local Spanish Rum.
Inside the market, stalls are bursting with fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. The lively banter of locals negotiating their weekly shop fills the air with life. Mercado Central is a wonderful thing to do in Cádiz. Don’t miss the churros stand on the way out.
8 – CASTILLO DE SANTA CATALINA
Castillo de Santa Catalina is a fortress on a rocky outcrop on the Cádiz harbour. It was built in the 17th century to defend the city from one of its most vulnerable fronts. As a result, it takes up a prime position overlooking the sea.
The star-shaped floor plan has survived to this day, practically intact. For a time it served as a military prison; some of the remnants of which are still visible today. The very picturesque Chapel of Santa Catalina add to the charm with excellent views over the Cádiz bay.
Today, the fortress is a multi-purpose recreational and cultural venue. It includes temporary exhibition rooms, educational spaces, and artistic workshops. On our visit, there was an excellent photography exhibition upstairs and an impressionism display in the cavernous warren downstairs.
9 – PARQUE GENOVÉS
Parque Genovés is a small peaceful park on the northwest edge of the city. Entering through the decorative gates, the park is a green sanctuary within the confines of the ancient stone walls of Cádiz.
The scent of hundreds of species of trees and shrubs wafts through the air. With little stone bridges and antique benches, Parque Genovés has a romantic element. It’s perfect for a mid-morning break from sightseeing in Cádiz.
Glimpses of the sea and the fortified Castillo de Santa Catalina are visible through the immaculately shaped trees and symmetrical flower beds. Take a coffee into the park and find a quiet spot to sit down and relax.
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10 – BARRIO DEL PÓPULO
Barrio del Pópulo is the oldest neighbourhood in Cádiz. At just over one square kilometre between the Town Hall and the Cathedral, El Pópulo is the original medieval centre dating back to the 13th century.
Connected to the original walled perimeter of Cádiz, entry is via one of the three remaining arches. Inside, a maze of narrow stone streets contains a host of churches, squares and interesting façades. Don’t miss the elaborate baroque palace of Casa del Almirante which dominates the tiny, secluded San Martin Square, surrounded by humble homes. Plaza de Fray Félix has an unusual drinking fountain dating back to Roman times which is also worth a look.
However, the best way to see Barrio del Pópulo is to stroll around and inspect the tiny shops and inviting tapas bars.
11 – PEÑA FLAMENCA LA PERLA DE CÁDIZ
Cádiz, along with Jerez and Seville, is an important centre for Flamenco in Spain. Many of the bars in the city cater to tourists looking for a Flamenco fix. But Peña Folklorica at Perla de Cádiz is where locals go to enjoy this expressive art form.
Set next to the Atlantic Ocean, the dramatic mood outside is matched by the stomping, clapping and singing inside. With a regular calendar of events that includes both the established stars of flamenco and a new generation of young rising talent, Peña Folklorica is one of the best places to witness flamenco in Spain. Experience the anger, sorrow and loneliness of this evocative expression in a truly local venue.
This is the real deal – there’s no English on the menu and it can be difficult to get in. So, book in advance before you go to Cádiz.
12 – LA CALETA BEACH
There are several great beaches south of Cádiz, stretching along the coast. While they may not have the pull of the Spanish Canary Islands, they are well worth a visit while in Cádiz. La Caleta is a lovely beach right in the heart of the city. It’s a refreshing way to break up the sightseeing and a great thing to do in Cádiz.
Located in the historical centre of the city, it is popular for both locals and tourists. As a result, it can get busy, but it’s well maintained, and the sunset views of the castles are some of the best in the city. After soaking up the rays, take a walk along the Fernando Quiñones Promenade to the gate of San Sebastián, the 18th-century castle built to protect the city from the north.
Barrio La Viña is very nearby, so when you’ve sufficiently soaked up the sun, head here to find a local bar to unwind.
13 – BARRIO LA VIÑA
Barrio la Viña is the old fisherman’s quarter of Cádiz, where the sherry flows freely from buzzing taverns and Andalusian tapas bars. Located on the western edge of the city, La Viña is filled with energy, local chatter and some of the best seafood in the city. Stroll from one bar to the next catching glimpses of the seafront between the old stone laneways.
Taberna Casa Manteca is a thoroughly authentic, traditional tapas bar where rustic dishes and great wines are served in a delightfully chaotic atmosphere. Taberna el Tio de La Tiza, deep in the backstreets of La Viña, has excellent seafood at great value prices.
After getting your fill, take in the views of the beautiful church Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de la Palma.
14 – PLAZA DE LAS FLORES
As one of the most colourful squares in Cádiz, Plaza de las Flores is a lively plaza with a bustling flower market. Although there are plenty of tapas bars lining the square, most are quite touristy. So this is the place to have a coffee and watch the world go by, rather than settle in for lunch.
Find a table at one of the cafes on the perimeter, order a coffee and watch the traders setting up their displays and locals haggling for the best prices. It’s a vibrant colourful square and one of the many things to do in Cádiz that’s all about soaking up the atmosphere.
Cádiz is a relaxed and easy place to explore. Collecting most of the main tourist attractions can easily be done on foot. However, if you want to meet some other people along the way, or get local insights, here are a few organised tours of Cádiz we recommend.
Although Cádiz old town is very compact and easily walkable, a bike tour is also a great way to see the city. Tours cover the main attractions of Cádiz, plus the new town. Many will also venture out to the excellent beaches south of the city. Baja Bikes has a 4-hour sightseeing tour which includes the main attractions plus Playa Santa María and La Caleta.
TAPAS TASTING TOUR
If your time is limited and yet you want to try a range of eating places then this tapas tasting tour is a great option. It visits 3 tapas bars over 3 hours and includes 6 dishes and 3 glasses of wine. It’s a good way to get some local insight into the tapas culture and try a great range of food.
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 tablecloths, Cádiz has something for foodies of all tastes.
But, here are two particular places we recommend.
Ideal for a local tapas lunch, Casa 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 was top notch.
TABERNA EL TÍO DE LA TIZA
One of the best things to do in Cádiz is to dine outside in a square. 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN CÁDIZ
Cádiz is a very affordable city to explore. So when it comes to picking accommodation, it’s possible to stay very centrally at competitive rates or find a beautiful seaside location for a splurge.
The white hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera is also a great base for visiting Cádiz. It’s only 45 minutes away and it has a great range of boutique hotels.
Exposed beams and carved arches give Hotel Argantonio a rustic Andalusian feel with a Moroccan edge. The traditional buffet breakfast is excellent, and the location close to La Caleta beach couldn’t be better.
This beautifully renovated hotel in the heart of the old town maintains the character of its 17th-century building, with all the modern conveniences of a top hotel. It’s a design-focused space with friendly hosts in a great location.
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA
Enjoy stunning Andalusian views from this magnificent 16th-century house in Vejer de la Frontera. The rooms are beautifully appointed with cool modern bathrooms, but it’s the stunning roof terrace that really steels the show.
HOW TO GET TO CÁDIZ
Cádiz is located on the coast in southwest Spain, 121 kilometres from Seville. With Spain’s excellent high-speed train network, and several airports nearby, getting to Cádiz is very easy.
Cádiz is within easy proximity of 3 international airports.
Jerez Airport is 43 kilometres away from Cádiz. Jerez is a good option if you’re travelling to Cádiz from another Spanish city. A few budget airlines also fly to Jerez from international destinations, including Ryanair from the UK. There is a direct train service from the airport to Cádiz which takes about 50 minutes, but it is rather infrequent.
Seville Airport is 130 kilometres away from Cádiz. There are regular flights from several European cities, therefore this is probably the most convenient airport. The easiest way to get to Cádiz from Seville is via a 90-minute direct train from Sevilla Santa Justa station.
Malaga Airport is 230 kilometres from Cádiz. Malaga has a large airport with several daily flights from many international locations. The best way to get to Cádiz is to drive, which takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Cádiz is on one of Spain’s high-speed train services called Alvia, which connects the major cities in Andalucía with Madrid. Average journey time from Madrid to Cádiz is 4 hours and 30 minutes (fastest journey is 3 hours 55 minutes). There are 3-5 services daily.
The mainline from Madrid to Cádiz also stops in other popular Andalusian destinations including Córdoba, Seville and Jerez. If you’re planning a trip to the region, collecting several cities, read our guide to Córdoba and our guide to Seville.
WHEN TO VISIT CÁDIZ
As a city completely surrounded by sea, the temperatures in Cádiz are more moderate than inland. In winter, the average is around 13°C (55°F) while summer highs average about 28°C (82°F).
Cadiz is a good destination all year round, but is best from April, after the winter rains have eased, to October. If you don’t like it too warm try to avoid July and August when the city’s temperatures can reach above 30 degrees on the odd day, and it is a little busier with summer tourists.
CARNIVAL OF CÁDIZ
The Carnival of Cádiz is the biggest on mainland Spain. From the weekend before Ash Wednesday, and lasting for 10 days, the city is full of colour, frivolity and raucous music. Planned street processions, impromptu concerts, comedians and puppet shows fill Cádiz with a carnival air.
The Carnival brings hordes of visitors to Cádiz so book well in advance if you’re travelling over this time.
DAY TRIPS FROM CÁDIZ
Cádiz is well located to take advantage of the best the region has to offer. Surfing beaches, the famous sherry triangle and world-class historical cities are all on the doorstep. Here are some great day trips from Cádiz.
Tarifa is a popular surfing destination on the southern tip of Spain where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The town has a north African feel with small, whitewashed laneways hiding some excellent restaurants. It is a 1 hour, 15-minute drive from Cádiz. It’s also the capital of kitesurfing in Spain. Read our guide to the best beaches in Tarifa.
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA
Vejer de la Frontera is a classic white village perched high on a hilltop overlooking a gorge. Tiny laneways lead from the small main square with a beautifully decorative central fountain. Vejer is a hotspot for luxury boutique hotels and it’s a 45-minute drive from Cádiz.
Seville is the capital of the Andalusian region and an excellent day trip from Cádiz. With world-class art, iconic attractions and some of the best food in the region, it’s the perfect way to fully embrace southern Spanish culture. It’s about a one hour, thirty-minute drive or direct train. Read more in our guide to the best things to do in Seville.
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
Jerez is part of the sherry triangle in southwest Spain. The small lanes of the old centre are packed with Moorish history, flamenco music and of course, cosy tapas bars. But the highlight is a tour and sherry tasting at one of its many bodegas. Jerez is just a 30-minute drive from Cádiz or 40 minutes on the train.
Córdoba is famous for its imposing mosque/cathedral, flower-filled patios and intriguing Moorish history. It’s about a 2 hour, 30-minute drive or direct train. All the information is in our guide to Córdoba.
Andalucía is one of our favourite areas in Spain. With an excellent climate, world-class cities and beautiful nature parks, it’s a fantastic southern European destination. Here are more of our guides from the area.
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