11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Córdoba
Córdoba lives in the shadow of its monumental past. During the 10th century, it was the greatest capital city of Europe, surpassing Paris and Rome in its academic, architectural, and artistic achievements. This fascinating Andalusian city is still a kind of western Mecca because of La Mezquita, the UNESCO-listed mosque that is one of the most splendid Islamic buildings in Europe. Another appealing aspect of Córdoba is the old town with its characteristic Moorish atmosphere and historic Jewish quarter. The Judería (old Jewish quarter) is a charming labyrinth of narrow, winding streets; quiet squares; and whitewashed houses featuring colorful flower-adorned patios. Córdoba is also renowned for its artisan crafts and gastronomy. Be sure to sample the local specialties such as Naranja con Aceite y Bacalao (salt cod with olive oil and oranges); Salmorejo (fresh tomato soup, like gazpacho but heartier); and Pastel Cordobés, an Arab-influenced pastry filled with citrus-infused cream.
See also: Where to Stay in Cordoba
1 La Mezquita (The Great Mosque): A Masterpiece of Islamic Architecture
A UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, La Mezquita is the Great Mosque that was created for the Caliphate of Córdoba, an important Moorish kingdom of Andalusia. Built in the eighth century, the Mezquita is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture and is considered one of the most striking monuments of Moorish Spain. Enter through the Puerta del Perdón gateway that leads into the picturesque Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of Oranges) that is planted with fragrant orange trees and palms. This patio is where the ablutions prescribed by Islamic law were performed.
From the Patio de los Naranjos, visitors reach the Mudéjar-style Puerta de las Palmas, which opens into the prayer hall of the mosque. This impressive hall is an endless forest of 856 columns and awe-inspiring arches. The marble and jasper columns are linked by red and white horseshoe arches. In this hall, the mihrabs (prayer niches) mark the direction of Mecca. The Mihrab Nuevo, which displays the Koran, is an incomparable work of Islamic decoration. Crafted from a single block of marble, it is covered with a great profusion of floral and geometric patterns and verses from the Koran in Arabic script.
The mosque was converted to a cathedral in 1523 by the Catholic Monarchs. The cathedral's sanctuary, with its Gothic choir, was plopped right in the center of the mosque, while keeping the basic framework of the Islamic architecture. The mosque-to-cathedral conversion makes for an incongruous sense of design but serves as a reminder of Córdoba's multicultural heritage.
2 Judería (Old Jewish Quarter)
The old Jewish quarter is one of the most delightful areas of Córdoba to explore. With its narrow lanes, whitewashed houses, flower-filled patios, and quiet little squares, this area has a very distinctive atmosphere. Besides the enchanting Andalusian ambience, highlights of this historic neighborhood include two important Jewish monuments: the 15th-century Mudéjar-style synagogue at the center of the quarter and the Casa de Sefarad (House of Spanish Jews) museum; both sights are on the Calle Judíos. The Casa de Sefarad has been restored to its 14th-century glory and features five themed rooms that illustrate the history and culture of the Sephardi (Spanish Jews). Another interesting tourist attraction is the Archeological Museum at the Plaza Don Jerónimo Paez. The museum exhibits ancient Iberian objects (sculptures of lions and a relief depicting a stag-hunt from Almodóvar del Río); Roman and Early Christian antiquities; a large collection of Moorish art, including a bronze stag of the 10th century; and archaeological finds from Medina Azahara.
3 Palacio de Viana: Aristocratic Palace and Museum
The Palacio de los Marqueses de Viana is an aristocratic palace renowned for its 12 patios designed in the Andalusian style with decorative fountains and lush landscaping. The palace also has a collection of antique furniture, leatherwork, and an exhibition on falconry. After exploring the palace interior and patios, it's worth spending time in the garden. Enter the garden through an ornate stone gateway featuring the arms of the Viana family. Within the lavish grounds are fountains, formal parterres, pebbled paths, and elegant arcades. Lovely date palms, vibrant bougainvillea, sweet jasmine, and fragrant citrus trees are planted throughout the garden.
Address: Plaza de Don Gome, Córdoba
4 Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs)
To further explore Córdoba's multicultural heritage, visit the Alcázar across from the Puente Romano bridge on a site that includes Roman and Visigoth ruins. This former Caliphal Palace was home to the Moorish rulers until the city was conquered by Catholic King Fernando III in 1236. The square called the Camposanto de los Mártires in front of the main building is the site where Christian martyrs were executed. Some of the castle's ancient defense walls and towers date back to the Moorish era, but most, including the Tower of the Inquisition, were built later when the Christian Monarchs improved the fortress' citadel. Typical of Andalusian architecture, the Alcázar is made up of various halls around courtyards filled with exotic flowers, trees, and aromatic plants. The palace contains an antiquities collection including fine Roman mosaics in the Hall of the Mosaics where the items were discovered. Within the ancient walls on the Alcázar grounds are beautiful Arabian-style gardens featuring ornamental pools, hedges, and decorative fountains. From spring through autumn, colorful flowers bloom throughout the grounds. On summer evenings, the fountains are illuminated.
Address: Plaza Campo Santo de los Mártires, Córdoba
5 Concurso de Patios (Patio Festival)
The beauty of Córdoba is in full bloom every year in May during the Concurso de Patio. This popular festival is a competition among Córdoba residents for the prize of most beautiful patio. The prestigious prize is awarded for patio with the most impressive display of potted plants and colorful flowers. Many locals and tourists come out for this lively event, which includes singing, dancing, and delicious tapas. To get a glimpse of the gorgeous patios bursting with vibrant blossoms, wander around the Alcázar Viejo district, between the Alcázar and the Iglesia de San Basilio; around the Santa Marina district; around the Iglesia de San Lorenzo; and near the Iglesia de la Magdalena. Many exquisite patios as well as the Calleja de las Flores (Alley of the Flowers) are found in the old Jewish quarter, the area surrounding the Mezquita. The most elegantly decorated historic patios of Córdoba can be seen in the Palacio de Viana featuring 12 different courtyards.
6 Iglesia de San Lorenzo
This 13th-century church, converted from a mosque, is considered to be one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in Córdoba. Recent renovations have restored much of the building's original appearance. In front of the main entrance, the church has a distinctive portico with three arches. Other noteworthy features include a tower built on the minaret of the former mosque, with stylistic details that were a precursor to the Giralda Tower in Seville. Inside the sanctuary, visitors are awed by the lovely rose window and the main altar with its Baroque altarpiece and abundance of Italian paintings.
Address: Plaza San Lorenzo, Córdoba
7 Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts)
Córdoba's Museum of Fine Arts is housed in the former Hospital of the Charity near the Julio Romero de Torres Museum. The museum has an excellent collection of Spanish paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Highlights include the works by Zurbarán, Alejo Fernandez, Antonio del Castillo, Valdés Leal, and Julio Romero de Torres. Visitors are also surprised by the interesting assortment of 17th-century, 19th-century, and contemporary sculptures displayed throughout the museum.
Address: 1 Plaza del Potro, Córdoba
8 Jardín Botánico de Córdoba
An escape to nature right in the heart of the city, the Botanical Garden of Córdoba is filled with lush vegetation, spacious squares, and fountains. The garden is planted with native species typical of the Mediterranean such as rosemary hedges and hackberry plants. One area is devoted to agricultural plants including aromatics, medicinal herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. Visitors will find a Greenhouse near the central square of the park. This glass-enclosed environment is divided into three sections, containing the species of specific locations: the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, and Andalusia. The garden also has a pleasant shaded thoroughfare and an Arboretum filled with a wide variety of trees and shrubs.
Address: Avenida de Linneo, Córdoba
9 Puente Romano (Roman Bridge)
A vestige of the ancient Roman era, the Puente Romano is a 16-arched bridge that spans the Río Guadalquivir. The bridge was originally built after Caesar's victory over Pompey the Great. Later, a Moorish bridge was built on the foundations of the Roman bridge.
10 Iglesia de San Miguel
This church belongs to the group of 14 parish churches built after the Reconquest of Córdoba. These churches are called Fernandinas, and many were renovations of old mosques. Most of the Fernandinas were built with repurposed materials, which explains why they have Roman and Moorish columns. The Church of San Miguel features Romanesque elements as well as Caliphate-era and Mudéjar details. The distinctive architectural styles are seen in the baptismal chapel and the Epistle side doorway. Some of the arches incorporate Hebrew characters.
11 Museo Julio Romero de Torres
Born in Córdoba, Julio Romero de Torres was a renowned Symbolist painter and talented portrait artist. During his career, he painted more than 500 portraits, many featuring women. He was interested in every cross-section of society, from the aristocracy to the common people. The Museo Julio Romero de Torres, housed in a renovated 19th-century museum, exhibits the largest collection of the artist's work. The collection represents the entire span of the his career, from his early paintings to his more accomplished portraits.
Address: 1 Plaza Potro, Córdoba
Where to Stay in Cordoba for Sightseeing
Cordoba's old Moorish center is relatively compact, with most attractions within walking distance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Great Mosque (Mezquita). Adjacent is the Juderia with its tangle of narrow lanes; the Alcazar overlooks the river, a block from the Mezquita. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Cordoba's historic center:
- Luxury Hotels: Hospes Palacio del Bailio is a 16th-century palace stunningly repurposed as a hotel, with a glass floor revealing the original Roman building beneath. Orange and lemon trees surround a pool in the courtyard, and there is a spa with Roman-style baths. In the Juderia, near the ancient synagogue and close to the Great Mosque, NH Collection Amistad Cordoba has a courtyard and pool. The nearby Las Casas de La Juderia has a pool and antique furnishings, a short distance from the Alcazar.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Next to the Mezquita, Hotel Eurostars Maimonides has its own parking, rare in the historic center. Along the river, the charming boutique Hacienda Posada de Vallina is in a restored historic building, with balconies overlooking the mosque, and offers free breakfast. A 15-minute stroll by the river to the Mezquita, the boutique Hotel Viento 10 has a Jacuzzi, sauna, and stylish minimalist rooms with parking adjacent, a good choice for those not wanting to drive in the narrow streets of the center.
- Budget Hotels: At the edge of the Juderia and a 10-minute walk from the mosque, rooms at the family-run Hotel Don Paula have balconies. In a traditional Andalusian building that was formerly a convent, Hostal El Antiguo Convento is a block from the Great Mosque and surrounded by restaurant choices. A five-minute walk across the Roman Bridge from the Mezquita, Hesperia Cordoba offers the luxury of a rooftop pool with views of the city, underground parking, and easy car access.
Day Trips from Córdoba
Madinat al-Zahra: Moorish Palace and Medina
About 10 kilometers west of the Córdoba city center, the Madinat al-Zahra is a Moorish palace and medina (town) built by Abderrahman III in the 10th century and named after his favorite wife Zahara. It was said that the original palace was large enough to accommodate 30,000 people. The palace was destroyed in 1010 by the Almoravids and is now largely in ruins.
Address: Carretera de Palma del Río, Córdoba
Castillo de Almodóvar del Río
The Castle of Almodóvar del Río lies 22 kilometers from Córdoba in the town of Almodóvar del Río. The castle is an ancient Moorish military fortress dating from 740. Built in an advantageous position on top of a hill, the castle is surrounded by a fort that occupies more than 5,000 square meters. From its strategic location, the fortress provided defense for the city of Córdoba. Visitors can see the old defense walls, towers, dungeons, and underground passageways.
Address: Calle del Castillo, Almodóvar del Río
Parque Natural Sierra de Cardeña-Montoro
The Natural Park of Cardeña-Montoro Mountain is a lush Mediterranean forest in the district of Los Pedroches. The natural park contains rich wildlife, including animals such as lynxes, wolves, and even some royal eagles and imperial eagles. A large portion of the park is taken up by agricultural land used for raising sheep and cattle.
Parque Natural de las Sierras Subbéticas
The Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park is found in the dramatic limestone mountains outside of Córdoba. This rugged landscape has typical Mediterranean vegetation such as oaks and olive trees. Birdwatchers will appreciate that abundance of species found in the park, including eagles, vultures, peregrine falcons, and storks. The natural park also contains a few small rural towns perched on hilltops. With their picturesque whitewashed houses, these ancient Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) are full of Andalusian country charm.
Las Ermitas (Hermitages of Andalusia)
A delightful itinerary through Andalusia includes the group of 13 hermitages, which have been occupied by monks since the fourth century through to the present day. Visiting all the hermitages requires a full day. Leaving from Plaza de Colón in Córdoba, at the northeast end of the Ronda de los Tejares, take the Carretera del Brillante road for seven kilometers north to the slopes of the Sierra de Córdoba and Las Ermitas. These hermitages belong to the Congregation of the Brethren of Our Lady of Bethlehem in Las Ermitas. The congregation's 18th-century church has a viewpoint with a wonderful panorama of the mountainous landscape.