Things to do in Córdoba: The city of three cultures, it has a bewitching quality. This is Andalucía in it’s purest form.
Córdoba is one of the cities in Andalucía that best exemplifies the three cultures: Muslim, Christian and Judaic all living in the same place. The bewitching narrow streets filled with colorful flowers and wrought iron balconies will inspire your inner photographer. (This is an Instagrammer’s paradise!) The beautiful tiles and arches remind you constantly of the Moorish influence in the architecture of the city, as well.
With a past dating back to the time of the neanderthals, Córdoba has seen history unfold before it’s eyes. In fact, Córdoba was home to none other than philosophers Maimonides and Seneca! If all that weren’t enough this city is also packed with delicious tapas bars, great local wines and beautiful hotels. Ready to escape to Córdoba? Here’s our list of places you can’t miss!
The official name for this stunning landmark is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. It takes up a full city block and this is the one place that you absolutely MUST visit in Córdoba. Let me start with a bit of history, since it isn’t everyday that you hear the words Mosque and Cathedral in the same breath with just a little hyphen separating the two. Back in the time of the Visigoths, there was a little Christian temple on this site; but when the Muslims conquered Córdoba as part of the Reconquest, they divided the church into Muslim and Christian halves.
Things were calm until the year 784 when the Emir Abd al-Rahman I bought out the Christians and built the huge (gorgeous) mosque. The mosque is where you will find the famous red and white candy cane striped arches that have become one of the main symbols of Córdoba. When the Christians took power again, they created an ornate Renaissance cathedral right inside the mosque. As it now stands you can appreciate both cultures, but Spanish authorities and the Vatican won’t let Muslims pray officially inside the church.
Insider Travel Tip: It only costs a few extra euros to climb the tower and the view is well worth the extra steps and pocket change. You will enjoy the best views of Córdoba and the patio filled with orange trees below.
Speaking of patios, Córdoba’s other claim to fame is, without a doubt, its patios or courtyards. Hidden inside almost every home is an inner courtyard decorated with lush green plants and flowers. The whitewashed Andalusian homes make for the perfect backdrop for the colorful plants and beautiful painted plates, but the little courtyards also create a much needed refuge from the dry, hot summers in Córdoba. Many of the patios also have small fountain and serve as an entryway to the house. Some of the best known patios are found at the Viana Palace.
Insider Travel Tip: Many of the patios are left open for you to take a peek inside. If the gate is open, don’t be shy about appreciating the beautiful patio.
Julio Romero de Torres Museum
There are several art museums in Córdoba; but one of my favorites is the Julio Romero de Torres Museum. It also happens to be one of the first places I visited in Spain way back in 2002 when I was taking a Spanish art course as part of my study abroad experience. What I like about the Julio Romero de Torres Museum is that you get a real feel for the artist from Córdoba’s artistic trajectory. From his first paintings to the better known works like “Naranjas y Limones,” and “La Chiquita Piconera,” it is interesting to see how the artist evolved. Romero de Torres was originally from Córdoba and lived most of his life between Córdoba and Madrid, so it seems only fitting to appreciate his artwork during your visit.
Insider Travel Tip: The Julio Romero Torres Museum is found in the same building as the Fine Arts Museum of Córdoba, so if you have more time you can take advantage and visit both museums.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
The Alcázar or Fortress of the Christian Kings dates back to medieval times and while it changed hands multiple times over the course of history, the main attraction today are the lovely gardens and the two towers where you can enjoy the view from above. We once spent a morning exploring the gardens in early June, so we really appreciated the plants and water features to give us a bit of an escape from the heat of the sun.
Insider Travel Tip: If you are planning to visit in the summer, make sure to come early or after siesta time as there isn’t much shade. Córdoba is beautiful, but it’s punishingly hot at midday in summer.
Built in the year 1315 this tiny little synagogue was probably a private synagogue of a wealthy Jewish resident of Córdoba. What it lacks in size, however, the small building makes up for in beauty. As you walk inside there is a small stone courtyard. It is simple and you would never guess that inside the building there would be such beautiful stone carved decoration. In the entrance hall you can see interlocking circular designs carved into the stone above the door. While it isn’t all preserved from the 14th century, it is impressive nonetheless. Inside you will see the Mudejar influence with stucco panels, geometric and floral patterns along with Hebrew verses. It’s like stepping back in time as you visit this synagogue.
Insider Travel Tip: This is one of the best preserved medieval synagogues in all of Spain, so make sure to take time out to visit as you wander through the Jewish Quarter.
It’s hard to miss the Roman Bridge in Córdoba. You might have seen it as you drove into town, or perhaps as you made your way to the Mezquita. The bridge was built in the first century BC, although, as you can probably imagine, has been reconstructed various times since then. The bridge boasts 16 arches and was (most likely) part of the Via Augusta which ran from Rome to Cádiz. I’m always amazed by Roman construction and ingenuity, so it’s definitely worth strolling across the bridge, although there isn’t much to see on the other side.
Insider Travel Tip: Cross the bridge at sunset with your camera. You will have a beautiful view of the city of Córdoba from the other side of the Guadalquivir River.
The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter in Córdoba is a maze of picturesque narrow streets (so narrow you can reach across and hold hands with a friend). It’s the perfect place for a stroll in the summer since the buildings provide shade from the sun and most balconies are lined with brightly colored geraniums. Definitely stop into the Synagogue and keep a look out for the statue of Maimonides.
Insider Travel Tip: If you want pictures without other tourists, you might have to brave the heat of the sun or come in the off season. The area is beautiful, but it can get busy since the historic center of Córdoba is rather small.
Palace of the Merced
The Palacio de la Merced was originally built as a convent, although now it is used as a government building. The main reason to visit is to appreciate the architecture and the history. The building is made from colored marble and has a stunning courtyard with a barroque style fountain. Sometimes they also have guided visits led by actors who explain the history of this unique building.
Insider Travel Tip: The courtyards and rooms inside the palace often have interesting exhibits. It’s worth a look inside to check it out.
Tower of Calahorra
One of the lookout towers by the Roman Bridge, the Tower of Calahorra. It is another great spot to climb up and get a better vantage point for the landscape of Córdoba. As you contemplate the River Guadalquivir, it’s also important to note that in Roman times boats could go from Córdoba all the way to the Atlantic (nowadays the water level is too low.) It is an official historic site in Spain and, thanks to the thick stone walls, a perfect place to escape the sun if you are visiting in the summer!
Insider Travel Tip: The tower also houses the Al-Andalus museum where you can learn more about the three cultures and how they lived together in the city of Córdoba.
The Plaza of the Corradera
This is the only square Plaza Mayor (or main plaza) in Andalucía. While it’s common to see this sort of plaza in Madrid or in the north of Spain, in Andalucía it’s much less common. The plaza was originally constructed in the 15th century and it’s been renovated multiple times since. It is considered a cultural site, and quite frankly, we just think it’s a beautiful and unique corner of Córdoba.
Insider Travel Tip: If you decide to have a coffee or a glass of wine in the plaza, do so at the risk of paying a bit more. As my father would say, you are paying for the views.
When to visit?
The best time to visit Córdoba is, without a doubt, in the spring. The streets are filled with bright flowers, it isn’t too hot outside and it’s generally sunny. If you plan to be in Córdoba for Easter Week, you will witness the beautiful processions that snake their way through the streets of the historic center, making their annual pilgrimage to the Cathedral.
May is also a fantastic month to visit Córdoba, as it is packed with local festivities. The “cruces” is a festival where everyone decorates a cross in their patio with flowers and they compete for the best one. Soon after there is a competition for the best decorated patio and people really go all out. The patios are bursting with colorful flowers and potted plants. It’s the most beautiful time of the year in Córdoba. Last, but not least, in the month of May Córdoba also has their annual fair. The fair, with its huge entryway inspired by the candy striped arches from the Mosque-Cathedral is a week long party where the women dress in their beautiful flamenco dresses, lots of dancing, eating and drinking, as well as the typical carnival rides. It’s truly a party worth attending!
What to try?
Let’s be clear. The tapas in Córdoba are nothing short of delicious. If you’re looking to try something typical, we recommend the pinchos morunos (little skewers of lamb marinated in delicious spices and cooked on the grill), the flamenquín (a roll of pork, ham and cheese all breaded and fried to a golden brown), salmorejo (a creamy cold tomato soup thickened with bread and topped with bits of serrano ham and boiled egg). Other favorites include ajoblanco (a cold soup made from almonds), fried eggplant, oxtail anything and, of course to wash it all down a glass of fino (a fortified wine from the little town of Montilla).
If you’re looking for a local spot with delicious food, we can personally recommend Taberna Góngora (calle Conde de Torres Cabrera, 4).
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Hotel Eurostars Conquistador which is located right across the street from the Mosque-Cathedral. It was comfortable and the perfect location, although we will warn you that it’s complicated to find the parking garage. You have to drive into the historic center and depending on which roads you use, you could be facing a fine of up to 200 euros, so make sure you’ve got your directions and GPS handy!
Another great option for where to stay is the boutique Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailio. Built in a former palace, the hotel offers different experience packs including a romantic weekend or a night of flamenco music. They also have a spa and a gorgeous courtyard which, even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, is a perfect spot for a relaxing cup of coffee or glass of wine.
If you want to look for more options for accommodations, you can see all the hotels in Córdoba through this link.