The capital of the Luce Coast is an understated, unpretentious city brimming with fabulous seafood, Blue Flag beaches and a historic center that hides a cornucopia of charming little spots. It’s all about a very indulgent holiday, spending the day on a sun lounger and enjoying a delicious, laid-back Spanish meal with loved ones at night.
Tip – Book Tours, Activities and Day Trips in Advance: Best Tours in Cadiz
When the sun is too hot, you can retreat to the dark streets of the oldest neighborhoods for a view, or stroll under the swaying palm fronds in the city park.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Cadiz:
1. San Sebastian Castle
Part of the fun of this 18th-century fortress comes from the journey.
The fortifications are located at the end of Paseo Fernando Quiñones, a long stone causeway that runs from the northwest edge of the city.
The views back to Cadiz from this elevated path are scrapbook-worthy, and you can stop to hang your legs on the wall and watch the Atlantic Ocean.
The fort building was built in 1706, but the lighthouse here is of Muslim origin.
Because it was so separated from the mainland, the Castle of San Sebastian was used as a prison or quarantine area for most of its life cycle.
Today, exhibitions and concerts are held here, and scenes from the Bond film Die Another Day were filmed at the castle.
2. Playa la Caleta
For the inhabitants of Cadiz, this bay on the west side of the city’s waterfront is more than a beach: it’s a postcard setting of great historical significance, as the ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans all used them to boats moored in this natural harbor.
Today there are plenty of motorboats and dinghies on the north side, but no tall masts, and the blue flag beaches are a place for people to relax, make friends and enjoy the sun.
Curious about the beach, each large rock has its own name (often after an animal or everyday object), many of which were given to them centuries ago.
3. Victoria Beach
The 2.8-kilometer long Playa de la Victoria spans almost the entire western side of Cádiz and is often rated as the best city beach in Europe and on par with the best in Spain.
It’s as popular as La Caleta, but its size means you can easily escape the crowds.
If you want to get some exercise in the sun, you have several volleyball courts and an outdoor gym, while the kids can run wild on the playground.
Immediately next to Playa de la Victoria is the city’s Paseo Marítimo, the perfect end to a lazy day along the promenade and a selection of bars, chiringuitos (seaside restaurants) and shops.
4. Falla Theatre
This exquisite 19th-century concert hall in Neo-Mudejar style, restored to medieval Moorish design, is one of the city’s top landmarks.
You will enter through a large horseshoe-shaped portal with classic Moorish alternating voussoirs (red and white arch stones). There are exciting schedules any time of the year, but if you really want to get to know the kinky folk culture of Cadiz, you must visit during the Carnival in February or March.
This is when the Comparsas compete, and the musical ensemble wears outrageous matching outfits and sings satirical songs ranging from pop culture to politics.
5. Torre Tavira
Torre Tavira, 45 meters above sea level, was designated as the official watchtower of Cadiz when it was completed in 1778.
At the top of ten flights of stairs and 170 steps is a roof terrace with the best views of the city, with the castle of San Sebastian to the west and the shining dome of the cathedral to the south.
The level below the terrace is the obscura of the tower, installed in 1994. Every half hour, you will be able to watch a multilingual demonstration of the instrument, which projects a live image onto the screen.
The camera’s lens has a high power, so it’s almost like looking at the city through a powerful telescope.
6. Cadiz Cathedral
For another great panorama of Cadiz, you can also climb up the cathedral’s Poniente tower, from where you can overlook the port.
The cathedral was built in the 1700s in a mix of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles.
During this period, Cadiz experienced prosperity due to trade with the West Indies, Central and South America, which explains the building’s nickname of the “Cathedral of the Americas”. In the crypt you can see the tombs of two of Cadiz’s most famous sons: the seminal early 20th-century composers Manuel de Falla and Jose Maria Peman. José María Pemán), the most active writer during Franco’s reign.
7. Genoa Park
Bordering the university campus to the north is a beautiful seaside park with trails made from the same sand used in the Andalusian bullring.
There are centuries of green space here, but the park as we know it is the work of the eponymous Valencian architect, Gerónimo Genovés i Puig.
Lots of interesting little details like the grotto, which has a waterfall and lake decorated with dinosaur sculptures.
The entire park is a large botanical garden with trees and plant specimens from all over: maples, poplars, Indian laurels, canary pine and cycads from southern India, to name a few.
8. Central Market
In most Spanish cities, a trip to the permanent central market is a great way to get to know the locals for the day and the best place to buy fresh produce.
In Cadiz, the market is an absolute must.
The main explanation is that the city is located on the Atlantic Ocean and has some of the freshest fish and seafood in Spain.
Get there in the morning, piles of crabs, oysters, lobster, shrimp, langoustine, tuna, eel, cuttlefish and more, you’ll remember for a long time.
There is also a food corner where you can buy freshly cooked prawns and oysters, as well as the usual bar serving snacks and a crisp beer.
9. Gadir Archaeological Site
Phoenicians from modern-day Lebanon settled much of the Spanish coast long before the arrival of the Romans, but extensive evidence of their towns and trading posts is hard to find.
That’s what makes Gadir so valuable, because 9 meters below the surface of Cadiz are the remains of a settlement from the 9th century BC. Much of what historians know about Phoenician life in Spain comes from this site below the Old Town Puppet Theater.
You can check everyday tools and see part of the city, including two streets and eight houses.
10. Puerta de Tierra
Historically, this part of Cadiz tapers into a narrow isthmus that marks the southern boundary of the old city.
In the 16th century, this massive fortress was built for fortified defenses and was fortified in the 1700s.
The towers you see today above the city gates actually serve no defensive purpose.
This is a signal tower built in 1850. Using the optical telegraph system, information could be transmitted from Cadiz to Madrid within two hours.
Until the 20th century, before the moat was filled in, there were deep ditches outside the city walls with only one opening, and two other large arches were rammed through for road traffic.
11. Puerto Santa Maria
Technically an independent town, you can reach this historic harbour by ferry or a 15-minute drive.
The old town has all the characteristics of an Andalusian city, with sidewalks shaded by orange trees and buildings decorated with hand-painted tiles and wrought-iron balconies.
The town’s first claim to fame is that the port was the site of Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas.
Another is the town’s membership in the “Sherry Triangle”, so you can visit the cellars to taste this Andalusian speciality, then descend to the cellars where the wine is aged in oak barrels.
12. Barrio del Pópulo
The oldest neighbourhoods of Cádiz are located at the lower end of the old town.
The name comes from a painting of the Virgin that adorned one of the gates in the 1500s: in Latin it reads “Oro pro populo”, which means “prayer for the people”. A walk here is through canyon-like streets filled with local shops and bars, with very little sunlight hitting the ground during the day.
From time to time you will appear on the cobblestone plaza, gleaming in the sun.
Besides Cadiz Cathedral, you can also discover the ruins of the city’s Roman theatre, which was only rediscovered in 1980.
13. Cádiz Museum
This attraction offers you a crash course in the city’s history, art, and folk traditions, with each category located on a different floor of the museum.
If you like ancient archaeology, the first floor is a delight, as there are sarcophagi, people depicted figures in the sculptures on their lids, and all the best finds of the Roman port found their permanent home here.
The first floor houses the Renaissance and Baroque art of Peter Paul Rubens, Francisco de Zubaran and Murillo.
The top floor showcases the local Tía Norica puppet tradition, which peaked at the beginning of the 20th century, when Farah composed music for the performance and Picasso even painted landscapes.
14. Las Playas de Caños de Meca
A simple road trip along the coast will take you to this small village beloved for its wonderful sandy beaches.
When you get there, you’ll understand why you’re making the journey: behind these beautiful sandy beaches there are only sand dunes and fragrant pine trees, tucked into the hillsides and poking their heads from cracks in the cliff face.
History records that the Battle of Trafalgar took place off the coast in 1805. The victorious British Vice Admiral Nelson was killed in the battle and returned with a barrel of brandy to save his life.
15. Seafood Restaurant
With the Atlantic Ocean so close at hand, there is no doubt that Cadiz will have incredible fish and seafood restaurants.
Many of the best are around Plaza Juan de Dios, a short walk from the port.
A mainstay for decades is El Faro, where you must try the Cadiz-style fried fish platter with a dash of lemon and local white wine.
Fish stew is also delicious, and many people follow recipes developed on trawlers over the years.
Snacks are also part of the Cádiz lifestyle.
Order a drink like a beer or sherry (fino) and include a snack in the price of the drink.
Further reading: Best tourist attractions in Spain
Tip – Book Tours, Activities and Day Trips in Advance: Best Places to Stay in Cadiz to Travel: Best Hotels in Cadiz, Spain
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