Sunday, 27 July 2014

A budget break in Córdoba, Spain

Often viewed as one of the cities comprising Andalucia's 'must-see' trinity (the others being Granada and Seville), Córdoba is compact enough to explore in a weekend. Easily accessible by the AVE high-speed train from Madrid and Seville, it's an ideal city break getaway for those looking for a relaxed destination with historical sights and good food.

The tower of Córdoba's Mezquita

Where to stay
The partly-pedestrianized centre of Córdoba is compact, and easily accessed from the train and bus stations either on foot (around 15 minutes, depending on how many books/shoes you packed for your weekend break) or by local bus. Córdoba's most famous sight is the Mezquita, the mosque-turned-cathedral, which is surrounded by narrow cobbled lanes lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and pensiones. If a peaceful location close to the sights (the Alcázar and Puente Romano – Roman bridge – are also close by), go for a pension or hostal near the Mezquita, such as El Antiguo Convento. This area can be quiet once sun sets and the day trippers leave, so if you'd like to be closer to tapas bars, try one-star Hotel Boston on Plaza de las Tendillas. This pretty café-filled square is lively in the day and evening, but by bedtime the action has moved on  the hotel's sound proofing's good, too. Hotel Boston has decent en-suite rooms for a low price – ask for one of the corner rooms with views of the square. You're less then a ten-minute walk from the Mezquita in one-direction, and a few steps from tapas and wine bars in the other.

Where to eat
Tortilla at Bar Santos

With food possibly more important to me than the sights (hey, a dire meal can ruin a holiday – a dull museum can't), Córdoba doesn't disappoint. It may be a column-filler in every guide book, but Bar Santos is on tourists' itineraries for a reason: it serves the best tortilla in town. You'll spot this stand-up bar next to the Mezquita from the queue of locals and visitors snaking out of the door (it moves quickly). Make like the cordobeses and buy yourself a slice of the thickest Spanish omelette you'll ever see and a cup of salmorejo  (cold tomato cream typical of Córdoba) and head outside to the steps near the Mezquita: lunch for under €5. In the evening, you'll find plenty of cheap tapas bars on and around Plaza San Miguel, most of which have tables outside in summer. El Aguacero and La Tortuga are both trendy but kind to your wallet, serving a mix of traditional and modern bites and salads. You'll find dirt-cheap drinks nearby at Mercado Provenzal: yes it's a chain, but it has a terrace. And who can argue with 40 cent cañas (small beers) or a €1.50 glass of Rueda (white wine)?

What to see

Inside the Mezquita

It would be almost criminal to visit Córdoba without stepping inside its Mezquita. The mosque-turned-cathedral is the city's iconic image, the red and white striped archways of its interior gracing a thousand postcards and guidebook pages. But it's not merely a sight you visit to tick a 'been there' box: it's breathtaking. Access is via an orange tree-filled patio laced with irrigation channels, and once inside the cool of the building itself, you'll see the contrast between the simple architectural style of the mosque and the more ornate cathedral, which sits at the Mezquita's heart. Construction work began on the original mosque in 786, and continued through under four different Ummayad rulers before the building fell into the hands of Christians in the thirteenth century. The cathedral was added in the sixteenth century. Tickets to the Mezquita cost €8, but if you visit from 8.30–9.30 Monday–Saturday, it's free. Groups can't visit at this time, however: another reason to get in there early.

The Alcazar gardens

A couple of minutes' walk from the Mezquita is a later slice of cordobes history: the Alcázar. This palace-cum-fortress was home to catholic king and queen Ferdinand and Isabella for eight years. Nowadays, you can wander its courtyards and climb its towers, but the real treat is the fountain- and statue-filled gardens, which feature canopied walkways, mini shrubbery mazes, and carefully-tended flowerbeds. Admission is €4.50 (students under 26 half price).

Statues of the 'Catholic Kings' in the Alcazar gardens

Free city sights include the Roman bridge, from where you can take spectacular photos of the city's skyline, the old synagogue and the Museo de Bellas Artes. Between the train and bus stations and the city centre, you'll also find a park full of tiled benches and shady corners if you want to hide from the tourist trail for an hour or two. You can find more information on all sights here.


  1. There is also a really good USE-IT map made by locals: There are quite a lot of tips for cheap things to do as the map is aimed at young travellers.

  2. A most lovely city. I think the Mezquita is one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Europe.

    1. Completely agree, Judith! I've visited 3 times and know I will return many more.


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