If you were planning a trip to Spain, where would you go? I’d wager that either Madrid or Barcelona would be at the top of your list. In fact, they may be the only Spanish cities you actually know of – not uncommon, but unfortunate nonetheless. In my new series called Must-See Cities in Spain, I’m going to be taking you across this wonderfully diverse country to places you may never have heard of. Spanish culture is so incredibly varied that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by limiting your trip to the two biggest cities. As I discover more of this place I’m lucky enough to call my second home, I’ll be sharing my recommendations and hopefully inspiring some serious Spanish wanderlust! First stop: Cordoba.
Living in Granada makes it very easy to travel throughout the south of Spain. Therefore, the first few posts in the series will feature cities in Andalucía. Cordoba, though often overlooked, has a rich history and jaw-dropping beauty to be found around every corner. Its main attractions are concentrated in a small area, making it the perfect place to visit if you’re short on time. I only stayed one night and felt it was enough as I had been once before. A day and a half or two days would be ideal for first-timers.
Where to Stay in Cordoba
Mayflowers is about as close to perfect as a hostel can get: great location, great price, great staff, and free breakfast. Located in the historic centre, it’s a five-minute walk from the Mosque-Cathedral, Alcázar, and Roman bridge. The hostel has a very homey feel, so don’t stay here if you’re looking to party. My one complaint is that our room had a single shared bathroom for six girls – not a huge deal, but an extra shower would have been nice.
What to See
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
By far the most impressive attraction in Cordoba is the Mosque-Cathedral. In fact, it’s considered one of the most accomplished Moorish structures in the world. Today, it’s Cordoba’s pride and joy, but the building has a rather tumultuous history. What began as a small Christian temple was turned into a shared space in the 8th century when the Muslims took over Spain. Later, the Christian part was purchased by the Emir and demolished to make way for a grand mosque. All was well until the 13th century when the Reconquista was at the height of its strength. The Christians were demolishing every mosque in sight in their quest to take back Spain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they admired the Mosque of Cordoba so much that they decided not to tear it down. Instead, they converted part of it into a cathedral.
Standing in the Mosque-Cathedral in 2017, you get the feeling that this building is a sort of compromise: a truce between two competing religions, two competing civilizations. Unfortunately, the two religions are not seen as equals even here where they share a sacred space. As I discovered while researching the structure, Muslims are forbidden to pray in the Mosque-Cathedral despite repeated requests to the Vatican. Evidently, much work remains to improve relations between these two groups in Spain.
Time required: 1.5-2 hours
Roman Influence: The Bridge and the Temple
The Romans controlled Cordoba for centuries prior to the Muslim conquest. Take a walk along the river to see the remarkable Roman bridge, framed by an arch that pays homage to the cornerstone of Roman architecture. Venture further into the historic centre and you’ll find the Roman Temple, which wasn’t even discovered until 1950! The temple was the most important of several in Cordoba.
Time required: As much or as little as you’d like!
I’ll be honest – I didn’t actually go to the Alcázar. Knowing I would be going to the Alcázer in Seville the next day and having already been to the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazaba in Málaga, I chose to spend my time exploring other parts of Cordoba. If you’ve never seen an Arab palace, however, I would recommend a visit. Lush gardens, exquisite pools, and incredibly intricate designs are all signs that the Arabs knew how to live luxuriously.
Time Required: 1-2 hours
The Historic Centre
All of the attractions I’ve mentioned so far are located in the historic centre of Cordoba, so once you’ve seen those, take a walk. Wander the alleyways. Get lost. Cordoba has a small-town charm despite housing over 300,000 people. If you’re visiting in the spring, get your camera out because the city will be in full bloom! Cordoba is famous for its Los Patios festival which occurs every year in May. The city bursts into colour as locals and tourists fill the streets to enjoy the vibrant flower displays.
Where to Eat
If you want to know the best places to eat somewhere, ask a local. If you want to know the coolest places to eat somewhere, ask a local hipster.
My super hipster coworker who grew up in Cordoba recommended a ton of restaurants and bars to me, all of which were great. El Astronauta was easily one of my favourite places I’ve ever eaten!
El Astronauta is a modern restaurant with a sunny, pastel-coloured patio just inside the main door. You can keep sheltered from the cold while absorbing some rays as you chow down on the BEST hummus you’ve ever tasted. Seriously. They give you a huge bowl sprinkled with raisins and a basket of toasted baguette crackers to dip. I could have eaten just that and been satisfied! For my main course I picked a veggie sandwich loaded with arugula and goat cheese. Again, phenomenal. While El Astronauta does not claim to be a vegetarian restaurant, you’ll find many more veg options than at a typically Spanish restaurant.
Cost: ~15€ for appetizer, meal, and wine
Bocaíto Andalusí Halal
Moroccan food is a must when in southern Spain. It’s also very easy to find vegetarian/vegan options at Middle Eastern restaurants. I went to Bocaíto Andalusí Halal upon the recommendation of Tripadvisor. I opted for the vegetarian couscous and while it was fine, I expected it to be more flavourful. The veggies included also weren’t my favourite, so that might have had something to do with it. The other vegetarian dishes on the menu like falafel and hummus looked delicious. I will say that the wine was excellent, as was the selection of Moroccan cookies I tried for dessert. While my experience wasn’t perfect, I’m still going to recommend this place because many others really love it and the atmosphere and service are top-notch. Maybe just stay away from the couscous.
Lido is the perfect place to sit by the river and people watch. The drinks are great; Guiseppe, the owner, is a treat; and the tapas are as beautiful as they are delicious!
Cost: ~5€ for drink and tapa
Directly across the street from El Astronauta is retro bar El Clandestino. Grab a cocktail from the bar (you might have to throw some elbows – this place gets packed!) and find a nice spot to enjoy the live music. El Clandestino often invites jazz musicians to play a set and take the crowd back to the 1920s. The bar really lives up to its name through an atmosphere of prohibition-era America. They also serve breakfast, so if you’re not keen on the hostel breaky, head to El Clandestino for a cup o’ joe and a croissant.
Cost: 2-5€ drink or breakfast
Although often overshadowed by Granada and Seville, Cordoba has a lot to boast about. From its fascinating history to its present-day trendy vibe, the city holds something for everyone. Hopefully, this brief guide convinces you to venture down south and see for yourself why Cordoba is so special.
Have you been to Cordoba? What did you think? Leave me a comment below!