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Three-week trip across Spain — guidance needed!

Three-week trip across Spain — guidance needed!

Old May 24th, 2024, 11:25 AM
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Three-week trip across Spain — guidance needed!

Thanks to many of you for your excellent guidance/reports/posts on the areas of Spain we are visiting in July. A special thanks to mikelg, Maribel, MFNYC, Maribel, KarenWoo, ekscrunchy and Micheal. Your input really helped us shape this trip.

We are 2 couples in our 60s traveling for 3 weeks in July to the Basque region, Madrid, and Andalucía (Malaga, Sevilla). It will be hot and crowded but seeing the Running of the Bulls has been on our friends’ bucket list so July it is! Though I have read many posts on Fodors, I still have questions and would love any advice you may have.

Our itinerary:

1. We will fly Chicago-Madrid-Bilbao. We have rented an apartment in Bilbao for 3 nights, in the Casco Viejo area. Some questions:

— Is this a convenient area for seeing the city? — Should we buy advance tickets to the Guggenheim given the high season?
— Any restaurant recommendations would be welcome. We are looking for mid-price places that serve great seafood.

We have rented a car and we want to drive to the Rioja region for a day. I have a reservation at Muga in Haro for 10 a.m. and would love recommendations for other bodegas in Laguardia and Logroño, as well as a place for lunch.

2. We then are then driving to San Sebastián for 5 nights. We have an (expensive) apartment close the Maria Christina, and have also a more reasonable option to stay closer to the Amara train station. How important is the apartment location given the size of SS?

We will use SS as a home base to see many of the towns mentioned in other posts on this forum (St. Jean the Luz, Hondarribia, Bayonne). We are also making a day trip to Pamplona via a tour operator to the San Fermin festival. We will have balcony tickets to see the bulls run, and will have a few hours after that to see the city, so any suggestions on other sights are welcome. Is Cafe Iruna worth a stop?

We are also considering driving to Lourdes in France for a day to see the Sanctuary. Has anyone done this during tourist season? How was the experience?

3. After San Sebastián we return the car and fly to Madrid. We are staying in an apartment there in the Malasena area for 3 nights.

— The area recommended by Maribel and others is Las Letras, but could not find a 2-bed 2-bath apartment there. Is Malasena a convenient area?

— My husband I have been to Madrid several times, but this is the first time for our friends. I would like the Prado again but am looking to do some “off the beaten track” experiences — smaller museums, architecture, etc. while our friends see the big sights. Any suggestions?
— The two of us would like to do a day trip. We have been to Toledo so we’re thinking of Avila and Segovia. Any other suggestions welcome.
— We would also like to see a flamenco show. Is Torres Bermejas a good option?
— Any restaurant recommendations welcome!

4. My husband and I will then take a train to Malaga for 4 days, followed by Sevilla for 3 days. I know it will be brutally hot but I have never been to Malaga, and was in Sevilla for 5 hours, so do want to visit again. In Malaga we are staying in the Centro, at ICON Malabar. In Sevilla we have a choice between H10 Corregidor Boutique Hotel and Hotel Posada del Lucero. Both are highly rated on Booking.com. What would you recommend based on the vibe of the areas?

We will then fly/train back to Madrid to catch our flight to Chicago the next day.

Whew! That’s all for now. Thanks again for your past insights and upcoming suggestions!



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Old May 24th, 2024, 11:33 PM
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1. Bilbao is a very walkable city so yes, the Casco Viejo could be convenient, but if you could tell mikelg, our Bilbao native, the exact location of your rental, he can inform you about the relative quiet of that particular street. He can also give you restaurant recommendations. He sent us to Los Fueros, which we loved.
In the Ensanche, the modern quarter, for excellent Iberian ham, we like the casual bars La Viña del Ensanche and for cazuelas, El Globo, both on Diputación.

We've also gone with mikel. our wonderful guide, to Txakolí Simón for great steaks, high above the city, and to the beautiful farm house restaurants Boroa, Andra Mari and Horma Ondo outside of the city. Bilbao has some extraordinarily fine restaurants. It depends on what kind of dining appeals to you and at what price.

mikelg can advise you as to whether or not advance tickets to the Guggenheim are advisable in July.

For other Haro bodegas, mikel has also sent us to Bodegas Gómez Cruzado, and we love their wines, especially Pancrudo. You can't go wrong here, and you can sample their wines without taking a full tour. It´s located in the same area as Muga, in the lower town, the Barrio de la Estación.
Highly recommended, and for lunch we're fond of Alboroque in the upper town facing the Plaza de la Paz, but you must reserve as there are only 15 seats. If you go, tell Laura (the head of the house) and Raúl (the talented chef) hi for us.

2. San Sebastián/Donostia is also a very walkable city like Bilbao. If you want to be in the "thick of things" (and lots of tourists in July!), the apt. near the María Cristina, but if you want to be a little removed from the crowds, the Amara one. Nothing is too far from the train station. I would go for price. Does either rental have parking? Street parking is impossible and pay garages are quite expensive, especially the one near the María Cristina.

I will be in Pamplona during the Sanfermines (21 years running).
After the encierro, you can go to Café Iruña just to check it out (they remove the inside tables so it's much less atmospheric and will be packed), but the bars in the Old Quarter will not serve their best pintxos due to the huge crowds, just simple fare, like fritos, (large round croquettes). To observe the action on the Plaza del Castillo, just sit on Iruña's outside terrace.

Does your tour not include a city tour afterwards?
If you want to see the bulls that will be running on other days, they are housed in the Corrales de Gas, below the city. You can walk. There's an admission charge.
Or to see a nicer, prettier (and less mobbed) part of town, walk over to the lovely park, the Ciudadela, where the fireworks show takes place at night.

Can't comment on Lourdes because I avoid it in summer, but my husband has been twice---crowded and hot.

3. Malasaña is "party central" at night and thus, very noisy and also rather hipster/ "grungy" (think Seattle's Fremont). It would be my very last choice. On what street in Malasaña? Can you find a 2 bed-2 bath in Palacio (around the Royal Palace)? Like the one in post #7 of this trip report?
Trip Report: Cycling the Camino Portugues (plus Madrid and Costa Blanca)

Day trip: Segovia rather than Avila, but with only 3 nights, I would stay in the city,
especially if you want to visit other smaller museums like the Cerralbo, Sorolla, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Lázaro Galdiano or the huge and very impressive MAN (Museo Arqueológico Nacional).
For beautiful 19th c. architecture stroll the streets of the Barrio de Salamanca: Velázquez, Serrano, around the Puerta de Alcalá.... or the streets of the Almagro quarter: Fortuny, Zurbarán, Monte Esquinza, Zurbano. And as Madrid native Revulgo says: "always look UP"

For flamenco, I wouldn't go to Torres Bermejo. Instead I would go to the venerable Corral de la Morería, this year celebrating its 68th year.

Restaurant recs: soooo many choices, but with only 3 nights, we should give you recs near your lodging rather than send you all over town. Madrid is one of Europe's very best dining cities these days. There are lots of Madrid dining discussions here.

4. Yes, it will be hotter than Hades in both Sevilla and Málaga but at least in Málaga you´ll have the sea. You will want strong a/c in both and also a pool, so in Sevilla I would choose Posada del Lucero with a much more convenient location. Both choices have pools but the Las Setas area is much better, imo, for a short stay and the Posada has more typical "sevillano" charm.

Last edited by Maribel; May 25th, 2024 at 12:30 AM.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 02:55 AM
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Also of architectural interest in Madrid, the Beti Jai pelota court. Free, open Sat/Sun from 10-2 and 4-8. At Calle Marqués de Riscal 7 between Monte Esquinza and Fortuny.
https://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-...i-pelota-court
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Old May 25th, 2024, 06:49 AM
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Wow, what great feedback! Thanks Maribel! I will make reservations for restaurants in the Basque area per you recommendations, and hopefully will get some additional input from Mikelg. And look for another apartment in Madrid for sure. And also another flamenco venue!!

in Bilbao we are on Bellosticalle, a pedestrian street. Parking is not included in any of the rentals and yes, it is going to be expensive to park at public parking lots — about $30 a day.

Regarding restaurants — we are looking for mainly casual places and a couple of expensive ones — $150 a person. Hope this helps narrow down the recommendations.

Thanks again!
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Old May 25th, 2024, 06:57 AM
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I hope mikelg sees this, since you've tagged him, and can give you more dining suggestions in his neck-of-the-woods, as I'm not sure what his current favorites in his home city are.

We can give you dining recommendations both casual and a couple of expensive ones in Madrid as soon as we know in what neighborhood you'll be staying----don't want to send you far, far away from your lodging, since you only have 3 nights, and it's not necessary, as Madrid is such a great restaurant city with fine, very recommendable places in each neighborhood. So check back here when you have your Madrid lodging location.

I hope you can find the 2 bed, 2 bath Madrid rental in a quieter neighborhood closer to the Art Triangle.

And for San Sebastián dining, we really like Casa Urola in the Old Quarter for sit-down.
For pintxos standing up in the Old Quarter, Txapetxa (if you like anchovies, it's the anchovy temple) and Tambo (formerly Tamboril) and Ganbara (but for this bar one must be at the door before they open, either at 12:30 or at 7 pm, as it gets. incredibly crowded) or at Ganbara just reserved for the back dining room. These all receive top ratings from the Instituto del Pintxo and from Michelin-starred S.S. chefs.

For pintxos in the Gros neighborhood, Bodega Donostiarra and Bar Bergara, both extremely good.
Bodega Donostiarra has bench seating, outdoor seating and table seating at its location across the street.
For sit-down, non-Michelin starred in the Gros quarter, the new "R" on Paseo Colón.

For sit down or even pintxos at the bar, the exceptionally good Narru in the Hotel Arbaso, which is in the center, across from the cathedral.

And for sit-down dining with glorious bay views and with one of the country's best wine lists, there's Rekondo on the way to Monte Igeldo, for your "splurge" dining.

Last edited by Maribel; May 25th, 2024 at 07:33 AM.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 09:42 AM
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Hi Maribel — you had asked for the address of the apartment in Madrid — it is on Calle Acuerdo, in Madrid's City Center. It has a rating of 9 on Booking.com. I will keep looking for other apartments in better neighborhoods, but wanted you to know this address. Thanks again for your amazing advice!
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Old May 26th, 2024, 10:42 AM
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Hi Maribel — you had asked for the address of the apartment in Madrid — it is on Calle Acuerdo, in Madrid's City Center. It has a rating of 9 on Booking.com. I will keep looking for other apartments in better neighborhoods, but wanted you to know this address. Thanks again for your amazing advice!
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Old May 26th, 2024, 11:49 AM
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in Bilbao we are on Bellosticalle, a pedestrian street. Parking is not included in any of the rentals and yes, it is going to be expensive to park at public parking lots — about $30 a day.

Regarding restaurants — we are looking for mainly casual places and a couple of expensive ones — $150 a person. Hope this helps narrow down the recommendations.
All the old quarter (Zazpikaleak/Casco Viejo) in Bilbao is fully pedestrian, so there´s no chance of parking close to your apartment. Belostikale is one of the quietest streets in the old town (where I lived 22 years), so no issues on that side.

For restaurants that I like, most of them much less than 150eur per person including wine:- Monocromo, for something “different” in a cozy atmosphere---close to the best place for long drinks in Bilbao, Gin Fizz.

- Urregin, one of my favorite places in the old town, gluten-free certified, excellent relationship quality/price, cozy atmosphere in a small place.

- Porrue, for top, advanced but very local product cuisine.

- In the old area, Bilbao La Vieja (not old quarter, facing it), Al Margen…perfect for vegetarians, its oven broccoli is very famous. Also, Nura, Txuqun and Sokarrat.

- Kimtxu, for Basque-Asian food, a mix that really works

- Mandoya, a renovated classic in the old quarter

- Los Fueros, the oldest running restaurant in Bilbao and also recommended by wonderful Maribel

- Txirene, classic with a modern touch

- Salitre, Michelin quality at a much lower price

- Lasai Bilbao, great relationship quality-price.

- Markina, for the classic Basque meals, Product, Product and Product

- Islares, brand new one, avant-garde dishes.

- Serantes III, for excellent seafood, fish and meats, can´t go wrong here

- La Bodeguita del Doce, informal atmosphere for light dinners

- Odoloste, advanced cuisine based on pork products, with a modern touch

- 13 de Henao, for platters if you´re not very hungry

- Burgoa, a classic for excellent meals, product is paramount

- La Viña de Henao and La Viña de Abelardo, perfect for a daily menu or some platters

Mon-Fri, lunch only, a great option is the "menú del día", for around 17eur per person (wine included) you can have a very good homemade menu in many restaurants in Bilbao and other cities in Spain.

One of my favorite bars in Donostia-San Sebastian is Ordizia, in San Lorenzo street, very much off the beaten path and still quite authentic..you´ll probably find D-SS quite touristy in July.

I would buy tickets in advance, not only for the 10% discount online as it´s quite cheap, but to avoid any possible queues.

(by the way, DO NOT miss Café Iruña in Bilbao, from 1903, and its wonderful ceilings and tiles)




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Old May 26th, 2024, 12:16 PM
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Thanks, mikelg,
I´ve read so many great reviews about Islares in the gastro press. I have to try it!
Ditto to Café Iruña, a true classic!

About Calle del Acuerdo, do you have cross streets by any chance or a number? I don't know if it's closer to San Bernardo or closer to Plaza España, which is a mass sea of humanity. This will not put you near any of the small museums I mentioned except for the Cerralbo on Ventura Rodríguez, if it´s closer to the Plaza España. If you have cross streets, I could go look at the immediate area.

I would recommend that you keep looking and hope you can find a 2 bed-2 bath that is more central in a very pretty neighborhood.




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Old May 26th, 2024, 12:48 PM
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Something nearby Calle del Acuerdo (Metro San Bernardo):
* Bar Antonio on the corner of Calle Quiñones and Calle San Dimas. This humble little neighborhood bar was renovated a few years ago and lost part of its traditional 'atmosphere' but is still recommended for a vermut (red vermouth on tap).
* Federal Café on Plaza de las Comendadoras for breakfast and some casual food https://federalcafe.es/madrid-comendadoras/
* Mercado de Vallehermoso.This grocery market was built in 1930 and its architectural structure was novel in comparison to other shopping hubs of the era. Its colourful and traditional façade makes it impossible to miss; it appears, unmistakeably, on the corner of the streets Vallehermoso and Fernando el Católico. The market contains several stalls featuring butchers, fish mongers, grocers, poulterers and bakeries. In the market visitors can also enjoy interesting culinary offerings. Recommended eateries: Miga Cana, Taberna Sacra, Kitchen 154.
* Detenderete on Calle Santa Cruz de Marcenado 13. Food from the Canary Islands https://www.detenderete.com/tu-resta...ario-en-madrid
* Conde Duque cultural centre https://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-...on/conde-duque
* ABC Museum https://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-...ion/abc-museum
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Old May 26th, 2024, 01:07 PM
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Hi Maribel! I found a great apartment in the Las Letras neighborhood and will cancel the one on Malasana! I am very excited!! Thanks again for your help. I also have a dinner reservation at Rekondo! 🥳

@mikelg — Thanks for your restaurant recommendations! We will definitely visit many of them, including Cafe Iruna. I am also glad you recommend the street we will be staying at in Bilbao. The host has provided a link to a parking lot nearby and we will reserve a space. We will make reservations for the Guggeinheim for sure. Do you have any recommendations for wine tastings in Laguardia and Logroño? We would like to drive there from Haro (reservations at Muga at 10 a.m.) and then back to Bilbao. Thanks in advance.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 01:10 PM
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About the Mercado de Vallehermoso,
We've eaten happily at Tripea, but it's now a tasting menu only, priced at 50 euros and includes 8 dishes, but it's one of the city's best Peruvian-Southeast Asian (Michelin star quality w/o the star). Only two seatings daily at 2:30 and 9:30, and every one needs to arrive on time. Hard to book, as it's so popular and there are only 20-24 spaces for each seating. Bar stools around a communal table. Closed Sun/Mon. There's a little brother now, Triperito in the Mercado de la Paz in the Salamanca district..

We also like Miga Cana and Kitchen 154 in the Mercado de Vallehermoso. This market is the real deal. I love shopping there, because it's where real people do their daily grocery shopping at stands that haven't changed hands in many years, not a glorified, fancy food court like the Mercado de San Miguel.

Last edited by Maribel; May 26th, 2024 at 01:17 PM.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 02:13 PM
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In Madrid we really enjoyed this small museum: https://www.cultura.gob.es/msorolla/en/inicio.html. If you like Impressionism, I think you'd enjoy this museum in the artists's beautiful former home. We were able to easily get there via public transportation.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 07:22 PM
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Thanks Revulgo! I must have posted the same time as you, to say we are now going to be in the Las Lettras area. I saw your excellent map of the neighborhood on another thread. If you have restaurant recommendations please share!

KTtravel — thanks for the museum recommendation. I see that TDudette also recommends it on her excellent TR and I am excited to learn more about Sorolla.

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Old May 26th, 2024, 08:14 PM
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Exhibition "Between Bosch and Sorolla" until 14 July at the Masaveu Peterson Foundation.
https://www.esmadrid.com/en/whats-on...maria-cristina
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Old May 26th, 2024, 09:41 PM
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In Rioja D.O.C. wine region I´d recommend Gómez Cruzado in Haro, Tritium in Cenicero, Casa Primicia in Laguardia, Alútiz in Samaniego, Valdelana in Eltziego...there are hundreds of wineries, really. I´d do at least a full visit in one of those with centuries-old wine cellars, it´s a very different experience from other wine regions and really worth the visit plus the tasting. I´m not that fond of the big wineries near Logroño, though, Maribel is much more an expert there than me.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 11:38 PM
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Driving and Rioja tasting
The police are very diligent to drive tourist drinkers who drive off the streets, so be aware. Your driver needs to stay out of the tasting.

I would make sure you book those visits, especially if you need special language skills or you want to be sure to get in.
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Old May 27th, 2024, 02:39 AM
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I thought the Muga was already booked for their 10 am tour in English.
There is no need to book a tour at Gómez Cruzado, as one can sample all their labels at the wine bar, either inside the winery or outside on the patio. And they speak excellent English. We go there often. It´s a favorite, not only for the friendly greeting but also for their superb wines.

You can exclude the lengthy tour at Bodegas Bailbainas, as they only give one English tour per day at 10 am, it´s very technical and lengthy, rather boring once you've done one lengthy tour at your first winery, the rest fade.

Ditto to C.V.N.E next door to GC, as you can also sample inside the shop or purchase.

Viña Tondonia-López Heredia now does tours only for professionals, alas. But they do have a shop, a glass structure in the shape of a decanter, designed by architect Zaha Hadid.

Roda produces stellar wines, and again, no need to book the tour, as they have a wine bar, as most Haro wineries do, in their cellar. The majority of the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa wineries do now have wine bars-shops...very different from the way it used to be.

Muga, Gómez Cruzado, C.V.N.E., Tondonia, Rioja Alta, Roda are all walkable from one to another. There is a large lot across from Muga where one can park and walk from winery to winery in this the lower part of Haro.

The other winery-wine bar that we like very much in the same Barrio de las Bodegas is Rioja Alta, that again, doesn't require a tour and has a lovely wine bar serving all their labels plus charcuterie platters and tinned goods. It's "El Garage Club de Cosecheros, beyond the winery in a separate building.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:30h a 17:30h
Sat/Sun/holidays, de 11:00h a 15:00h

I echo mikelg's thoughts about also visiting a centuries old winery, as it's a totally different experience from the highly contemporary ones.


All wineries do have buckets for "taste and spit", BTW.

Last edited by Maribel; May 27th, 2024 at 03:27 AM.
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Old May 27th, 2024, 07:14 AM
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Thank you for the heads up about the exhibition, Revulgo! I am going to be learning a lot about Sorolla!

Maribel, mikelg and bilboburgler, thanks for the winery recommendations and tips for Rioja. I have sent a message to the winery in Laguardia to see if we can book a tour of their old cellars. And yes, we do have a tour in English booked at Muga. Excited to see their barrel-making process! Also, my husband is not a huge wine buff so guess who will be the designated driver😝.

One question about the Andalusia portion of the trip. We currently have 4 nights in Malaga and 3 in Sevilla. The more I read about Sevilla, the more I see how much there to explore there. Should we add a day there and make Malaga a 3-night stay?Also, we currently have a hotel close to the Sete de Seville, Posada del Lucerno. Are the El Arenal and Santa Cruz neighborhoods better for seeing the big sights? I am looking at Hotel Los Casas de El Arenal and Hotel Tayko as options.

Thanks again!
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Old May 27th, 2024, 07:34 AM
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Do try to go to Casa Primicia in Laguardia, as mikelg suggests. There are 3 ancient, underground bodegas in this charming medieval Bastide town and Primicia, ime, gives the best tour. And you won´t want to miss the town itself and ask at the tourist office just below the main square, when the tours of the Iglesia Santa Maria de los Reyes are given. The interior policromed portico is one not to miss, extraordinarily beautiful.
Tours of the church vary from season to season. It´s at the northern end of the Calle Mayor.

YES! Do make Sevilla a 4-night stay. I promise that you won't regret it.
I have stopped staying in the Barrio de Santa Cruz because of the tremendous crowds that fill these very narrow streets and since the number of tourist beds far outnumber residents. As charming and romantic as it used to be, it has become unpleasantly crowded and neighbors, and Seville residents in general, complain that it has turned into a "tourist ghetto". I hate to say that, as I used to enjoy very much staying there.
For a long time on this forum, I suggested that visitors stay in Santa Cruz but I just really hesitate to give that advice now.

Here's an example of what sevillanos are complaining about in the Santa Cruz district.

Crowds lining the Calle Mateos Gago leading to the Cathedral.


The photo isn't mine; it comes from a very recent "overt tourism" article from the Diario de Sevilla, entitled "La turismofobia se desata en Seville"
("Tourism phobia breaks out in Sevilla").

We now decamp to the El Arenal district or close to Las Setas. Either makes for an excellent choice.
I do know the Tayko and had lunch there at Mareantes. It would be a nice choice as well and still close to the Cathedral but in the pretty area of Puerta de Jerez (near the venerable Hotel Alfonso XIII) and around you'll have more "breathing room".

Last edited by Maribel; May 27th, 2024 at 07:42 AM.
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