With the highest average temperatures in Europe, Cordoba, one of Andalusia’s largest cities is the perfect spot to visit in the Summer for some of the famous summer sun. It’s the kind of place you reader, like me, might be tempted to buy a five euro hat just to cover up in the sun. With kids, it’s an incredible place to visit for incredible scenery, food, and fun ways to get around. Even better, with Spain’s incredible high speed rail network, it’s easy to get to for a day trip and still have tons of time to enjoy the city.
Like so many cities in southern Spain, Cordoba has a colorful history thanks to Moorish conquest and the reconquering of Christian Spain, all of which influence the way the historical landmarks have changed over time. Mosques turned cathedrals and palaces converted from Moorish to Spanish rulers’ styles are the biggest draws. The main sights are all close together in an easily walkable area, even better for families to have a short and pleasant walk to see it all. From the Roman bridge up to the medieval palace and the renaissance cathedral, it’s easy to trace how the city has evolved over time.
Thanks to the AVE train which connects many of the major cities across Spain with high speed connections, it’s very easy to get to Cordoba. From Seville, we did a day trip leaving in the morning and heading back just in time for dinner, and each trip took just under an hour. It was so quick in fact that our boys just managed to fall asleep as we arrived back in Seville at night.
Most of Cordoba’s historic sites are centralized around the cathedral which sits right above the Roman bridge. Walking around to see most of them is the easiest way to get familiar with the city and get in to the main attractions. The walk from the train station isn’t long, and can either be done directly through a long park or with a detour to see some of the other sites outside of the main center.
Another excellent way to see the city is on the hop on bus. While I initially ignored this as a touristy option not fit for true travelers like us, it’s actually an incredibly convenient way to get around town, see a ton of sights we wouldn’t have otherwise walked out to, and even to pick up some information thanks to the audio guide. Plus, the kids loved riding up top and looking out the front window and out through the open top for a while before the sun sent us back under cover. In Cordoba, there are two lines, one around the city on a larger double decker bus, and another through the smaller winding city streets on a smaller one.
What to see and do
Cordoba’s history goes far back to the Roman times as a fairly major town in the region. Ruins of one of the ancient temples are found just outside of the city center right next to a large bank branch. The Templo Romano still has most of the columns standing as well as the entrance steps all of which contrast with the newer buildings in the square around.
The other major Roman site still standing in the city is of course the massive Roman Bridge that spans the river from the cathedral. The size is quite impressive and has to be experienced up close which is easy since it’s pedestrian only. There’s not a ton of interest on the other side except for a path that follows the river bank under the bridge, so a walk out and back is a good way to get a feel for the scale of the bridge and also a unique viewing angle of the city.
For a somewhat more modern part of the city, the Palacio de Viana shows Cordoba’s renaissance history and culture. Inside the luxurious home is a large courtyard with numerous balconies shrouded in flowers, giving a nature inspired and beautiful feel. It’s a bit of a walk from the other sites, but there’s a stop on the bus or it makes a convenient detour while walking from the train station.
Also along the way from the train station is the Jardines de la Victoria, a park and gardens that follow the road along much of its length. Following the gardens provides shade from the sun as well as providing a pleasant walk through an otherwise boring part of the town. For kids, there are fountains and a playground for a diversion if needed.
The one can’t miss site has to be the cathedral, or Mezquita as it was called when it served as a mosque during the time Cordoba feel under Moorish control. Built as a mosque, then converted into a cathedral when Spain was re-conquered by the Christian monarchy, it has a truly unique blend of the two architectural styles and decoration. Keyhole arches found more often in North Africa and the Middle East house Christian altars and statues unlike anything else in the world. It’s easy to see how the building was expanded and adapted through time to suit the different desires of each controlling culture.
Where to eat
Calleja de las Flores, a café right next to the Roman Temple is perfect for a quick coffee, beverage, or snack when feet need a rest or the sun becomes too much. Their sandwiches make for a good snack while the ice cream is perfect for kids needing some energy or a break from a long day exploring and experiencing the city.
Gastrotaberna Mascura, a seafood focused restaurant turned out to be one of the biggest highlights from our whole trip across Spain. We ended up over-ordering food for lunch after a long day spent walking around and building up an appetite, but the food was so good we still managed to finish all of it. The paella was the biggest standout, served still sizzling in a huge shallow pan with a variety of fish and shellfish over boldly seasoned rice. While the boys mostly devoured that, we also enjoyed some excellent squid ink fritters and veggies. All of this was washed down with some excellent and no-frills house red wine sangria that was perfect while enjoying the outdoor seating. While the boys napped, we enjoyed nearly two hours sipping the sangria and nibbling on the paella at a Spanish pace.
Cordoba tends to get missed on a lot of Spanish itineraries since there is no nearby major airport and it’s generally smaller than the other Andalusian cities. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do or that it’s north worth visiting though. Cordoba has an incredibly diverse and deep history that still shows up across the city all the way back to the Roman times. These sites are incredibly well preserved and unique in the world, making them well worth the visit. With a quick and easy high speed train, it might be much easier to get there than most people realize.