10 Top Tourist Attractions in Cádiz & Unique Excursions
Cádiz is an elegant seaport surrounded by endless beaches along the sunny Costa de la Luz in Southern Spain. Settled by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC, Cádiz is the oldest city in western civilization as well as the launching point for the adventures of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Today, Cádiz is still one of Spain's leading ports and has a vibrant cosmopolitan culture. From the palm-lined promenades to plazas filled with fragrant orange trees, Cádiz has plenty of Mediterranean charm to match the balmy weather. Las Puertas de Tierra (the city gates) guard the ancient center of Cádiz, an enchanting jumble of distinct barrios such as La Viña, the old fisherman's neighborhood; the historic area of El Pópulo; and the gypsy quarter of Santa María, birthplace of the flamenco song. From Cádiz, tourists can also explore the beautiful beaches and seaside villages along the Costa de la Luz. More adventurous travelers can head to the nearby port town of Algeciras or Tarifa and embark on an exotic adventure in North Africa.
See also: Where to Stay in Cádiz
1 Seafront Promenades & Gardens
Enjoy the lovely Mediterranean scenery of Cádiz while strolling along the palm-fringed seafront promenades found north of the Plaza de España facing the Atlantic coast. These elegant promenades are pleasantly landscaped and offer lovely sea views. The picturesque Alameda de Apodaca is a wide, terraced promenade lined with leafy palms and old-fashioned street lamps. Along this broad pathway, tourists can take scenic walks and many locals enjoy the paseo por la noche (evening strolls). From the Alameda Marqués de Comillas promenade, admire the monument to Marquis of Comillas and the sweeping views of the bay. Both of these promenades are flanked by waterfront gardens filled with shady trees and well-manicured shrubbery.
The prettiest public park in Cádiz is the Parque Genovés. On the northwest side of Cádiz, this carefully landscaped green space stands close to the sea and offers a serene outlook onto the deep blue waters. Taking advantage of Cádiz' balmy Mediterranean climate, the Genovés Park is filled with exotic trees and vibrant tropical flowers. Explore the beautiful palm garden to appreciate the variety of species. Stroll across a charming footbridge alongside gently cascading waterfalls, and relax by a charming duck pond. From the platform of a grotto, visitors can take in exceptional panoramic views. After exploring the gardens, tourists can stop for refreshments at the café & snack bar. During the summer, events and cultural performances are held at the park's outdoor theater.
2 Cádiz Beaches
Beautiful beaches and a warm Mediterranean climate make Cádiz a favorite seaside destination, popular among Spaniards as well as European tourists. Unlike many beaches in Spain, the beaches of Cádiz have not been spoiled by rampant development or high-rise hotels. Within the historic center of the city, the most popular beach on the Bay of La Caleta is the Playa de la Caleta. This "Blue Flag" beach is appreciated for its safe calm waters, ideal for swimming and wading. Also on the Bay of La Caleta, the Playa de la Palma is a lovely little beach in a sheltered location. This beach is found just south of the Parque Genovés beyond the balustrade in front of the Castillo de Santa Catalina (castle). A lighthouse stands on the south side of La Caleta Bay on a promontory reaching far out into the ocean.
Beyond the historic center is the Playa de Santa María del Mar, a long stretch of fine sandy shores in a more urbanized environment. A continuation of Playa de Santa María del Mar is another wonderful beach, the Playa de la Victoria. This expansive sandy beach has an elegant promenade, the Paseo Maritimo. The city's longest beach is the Playa de la Cortadura.
3 Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral)
The Catedral Nueva stands on the Plaza de la Catedral in the historic El Pópulo barrio of Cádiz. Exemplifying Spanish Baroque and Neoclassical styles of the 18th century, the cathedral was designed by Vicente de Acero in 1722 and completed in 1838. The impressive facade overlooking the Plaza de Pio XII is distinguished by its Baroque towers. A magnificent gilded dome glitters in the sunlight and is the most iconic feature of the Cádiz skyline. Visitors are awed by the cathedral's interior, an inspiring space of grandiose proportions, 85 meters long by 60 meters wide, with massive pillars and exquisite 18th-century choir stalls. The majestic dome reaches 52 meters in height and is adorned with classical patterns reminiscent of Rome's Pantheon. Light floods through the dome's windows, giving the sanctuary an ethereal ambience. Tombs of several bishops and the composer Manuel de Falla, a native of Cádiz, are housed in the crypt.
The Treasury houses the cathedral's Museum with an exceptional collection of religious art. One of the highlights is the Custodia del Millón, a four-meter-tall silver monstrance set with a million precious gemstones. The collection also includes exceptional art works, most notably the paintings by Alonso Cano and Murillo. Adjoining the cathedral is the church of El Sagrario, originally the Old Cathedral. This historic landmark was built in the 13th century and renovated in 1602 in Renaissance style. The interior is adorned with impressive sculptures and wall paintings. The richly decorated high altar was created by Saavedra around 1650.
Address: Plaza de la Catedral, Cádiz
4 El Pópulo: The Oldest Barrio of Cádiz
Tourists can enjoy a stroll back in time while exploring the oldest barrio in Cádiz. El Pópulo was originally settled in ancient Roman times and has ruins of the first century BC Roman Theater (near the cathedral). The medieval era largely shaped El Pópulo into the present-day neighborhood of cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and impressive palaces. El Pópulo has retained the old gates that allowed entry to the medieval city; the Arcos de los Blancos is the ancient entrance built by King Alfonso X in the 13th century. A must-see sight in El Pópulo is the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (on Calle Rosario) built in 1783. The sanctuary is decorated with masterpieces of painting by Goya. From the Baroque period, the 17th-century Casa del Almirante (Admiral's House) is a palace with a spectacular front gate and an elaborate facade of Italian marble. The building is not open to the public, but tourists can admire the splendid exterior.
El Pópulo is also distinguished by its historic plazas. The Plazuela de San Martin is at the heart of the El Pópulo district. Nearby is the emblematic Plaza de San Juan de Dios, a great place to sample the authentic pescaíto frito - a local specialty of fried fish. The clock tower at Plaza de San Juan de Dios chimes to the melody of Cádiz composer Manuel de Falla's Amor Brujo. Just outside the El Pópulo district is another atmospheric square, the Plaza Topete. Also called the Plaza de las Flores, this spacious square hosts a colorful flower market.
5 Torre Tavira
Cádiz is known for its watchtowers, testament to the city's trading importance in the 18th century. The town counts 129 watchtowers in total. In the center of Cádiz, the Torre Tavira is the highest point in the Old Town. At 45 meters above sea level, the tower offers the best views along the coastline and far out to the horizon in the Atlantic Ocean. The Torre Tavira was used by Don Antonio Tavira to monitor the incoming ships traveling back with goods from America. The Tavira Tower houses a museum dedicated to the history of Cádiz, with exhibits about trade in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as a panel about the Spanish Constitution (La Pepa). The city takes pride that La Pepa was established here in 1812. Included with a visit to the Torre Tavira is the Cámara Obscura show. This 20-minute show illustrates the history of the Cádiz, complete with 360-degree panoramic views of the city's monuments.
Address: 10 Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, Cádiz
6 Museo de Cádiz
The Museum of Cádiz is renowned for its collection of ancient artifacts and fine arts. On the ground floor, the archeological section displays items discovered at a Phoenician necropolis site in Cádiz. The most famous item of the archaeology collection is the Phoenician marble sarcophagus of the fifth century BC. Other Greek, Roman, Visigothic, and Arab antiquities round out the collection. On the first floor, the picture gallery displays 21 paintings by Zurbarán, including the Ecstasy of St. Bruno, the Vision of St. Francis of Assisi, and Pentecost. The collection also features Rubens' Holy Family and the works of Murillo (Ecstasy of St. Francis and Ecce Homo), Ribera, Alonso Cano, van Eyck, and Rogier van der Weyden. On the top floor, the Andalusian Puppet Theater exhibits traditional puppets and a video of puppet plays.
Address: Plaza Mina, Cádiz
7 Fiestas de Carnaval
For a truly memorable experience, visit Cádiz during the joyous Fiestas de Carnaval. This famous event begins on Shrove Tuesday, usually in February or early March, and lasts for 11 days. The history of the Cádiz Carnival dates back centuries and was influenced by the legendary Carnival of Venice, one of Cádiz' old trading partners. During the festival, locals and tourists alike dress up in costumes and take part in celebrations on the street.
Much of the festivities takes place at the Plaza del Mentidero, while the parade spills out into the streets that are packed with revelers. A crowd of around 100,000 merrymakers comes out to watch the colorful Carnival parade, which features a four-hour procession of classic floats (groups of people in costume with music) on the first Sunday of Carnival and a Humor Parade on the last Sunday of Carnival. The Gran Teatro Falla (theater) also draws thousands of people to attend the Music Group Competition. More than 100 groups compete in different categories including Coros, traditional songs; Cuartetos, quartets; Chirigotas, satirical songs; and Comparsas, songs that parody the year's events. The sense of fun, laughter, and gaiety found at this festival is incomparable.
8 Oratorio de San Felipe
This little chapel is a worthwhile tourist stop north of the Torre del Vigía. The oval-shaped church was built in 1671 and dedicated to Saint Felipe Neri. The Court of Cádiz met here in 1812 and a commemorative plaque graces the west side of the chapel. Be sure to see the remarkable painting of the Immaculate Conception by Murillo displayed on the high altar.
Address: Calle Santa Inés, Cádiz
9 The Chapel in Hospital de Mujeres
Just south of the Torre del Vigía, the Hospital del Carmen de Mujeres is a gorgeous Baroque building organized around two courtyards with a grand staircase. The façade has three sections and is decorated with Italianate Baroque details. The main tourist attraction is the chapel, with a Neoclassical altarpiece of the Virgin of Carmen and the renowned painting of Ecstasy of Saint Francis by El Greco. The chapel is the only part of the building open to visitors.
Address: 26 Calle Hospital de Mujeres, Cádiz
10 Museo de las Cortes de Cádiz (Museum of the Cádiz Constitution)
This museum was inaugurated in 1912 to commemorate the centenary of the Cádiz Constitution. The museum is close to the Oratorio de San Felipe in a building where the court came together to work on the document. Visitors will gain a thorough insight into the Cádiz parliament of 1812 and the process that went into creating the Spanish constitution.
Address: 9 Calle Santa Inés, Cádiz
Beautiful Beaches and Seaside Villages along the Costa de la Luz
Cádiz lies along the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light), a sun-soaked coastline that boasts consistent blue skies and endless beaches. With 138 kilometers of beaches, the province of Cádiz offers plenty of variety - from long stretches of wide sandy shores to small coves and inlets.
Fishing Village of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
About 50 kilometers from Cádiz is the beautiful fishing town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with excellent seafood restaurants and a magnificent stretch of golden beach. Extending for several kilometers, the four separate beaches of Sanlúcar de Barrameda include the Bonaza Beach with calm waters; Bajo de Guía, a busy beach with many restaurants and boat rentals; Calzada Beach, which hosts the Sanlúcar de Barrameda horse races; and the more rugged beach of Playa de la Jara that draws many surfers, windsurfers, and para-gliders.
The town of Chipiona, 50 kilometers from Cádiz, has several expansive beaches that are equipped with facilities. During summertime, the Chipiona beaches are filled with rows of lounge chairs and colorful sun parasols.
Cape Trafalgar's Spectacular Coastline
On the spectacular coast of Cape Trafalgar (58 kilometers from Cádiz), many golden-sand beaches are found around Los Caños de Meca. The beaches are ideally designed for tourists, with public facilities, beachside restaurants, and evening entertainment. In the Caños de Meca area, El Faro de Trafalgar beach is prized for its pristine environment and crystal-clear waters; it's also a great place for practicing water sports.
Playa de la Bolonia
One of the most beautiful Costa de la Luz beaches, the Playa de la Bolonia is further afield - about 95 kilometers from Cádiz and 15 kilometers northwest of Tarifa. Tucked away in an isolated nature reserve, this 3,800-meter-long pristine white-sand beach boasts gorgeous scenery. The Playa de la Bolonia also has ancient Roman ruins; the site was the Roman settlement of Belonia Claudia founded in 171 BC. Bolonia Beach is also popular with windsurfers because of the area's gusty ocean air.
Exotic Excursions in North Africa
Travelers can explore an exotic Spanish destination in an unexpected location - North Africa. Cueta is an autonomous Spanish city on a small piece of land across the Strait of Gibraltar that belongs to Spain, but has the ambience of Morocco. It's a great starting point to explore Moroccan destinations. To get here, travel about 90 kilometers from Cadiz to Algeciras, then take the one-hour ferry ride to Ceuta. This open-minded Mediterranean port city boasts a diverse mix of cultures. People of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish faiths live together in harmony.
Must-see sights of Ceuta include the beautiful 18th-century Neoclassical cathedral built on the site of the town's Great Mosque; the Murallas Reales, ancient ramparts constructed in the 16th century to defend the town, complete with moat and drawbridge; and the Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo (Mediterranean Marine Park), an expansive park next to the marina that is filled with saltwater lakes, solariums, and gardens. The Marine Park also has a restaurant inside a castle-like building. Another attraction of Ceuta is the coastline, which is ideal for kayaking, fishing, and scuba diving. Ceuta's coast offers a unique natural environment where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea converge. Many sea creatures thrive here, including turtles, dolphins, and whales.
For an even quicker trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco, take the ferry ride from Tarifa to Tangier. The charming fishing port of Tarifa, 100 kilometers from Cadiz, is only a 35-minute ferry ride to Tangier in Morocco proper. Here, visitors experience the enchanting and colorful atmosphere of Morocco, while getting lost in the winding old streets of the medieval Medina. Ceuta is about 76 kilometers from Tangier.
Monte Hacho is probably the legendary Mount Abyla in Greek and Roman mythology, one of the Pillars of Hercules that marked the end of the known world. An interesting trip from Ceuta, Monte Hacho is just four kilometers away, reached by the coastal road (Recinto Sur) that runs east along the south side of the peninsula. This leads to the lighthouse on Punta Almina, which offers magnificent views of Gibraltar to the north and the Rif Mountains to the southeast. At the summit of Monte Hacho, the 16th-century Ermita de San Antonio and an old fort preside over the landscape. From this vantage point at 194 meters, tourists enjoy sweeping panoramas of the town, the harbor, and the Moroccan coastline. On a clear day, it's possible to see all the way to Gibraltar.
The furthest outpost of Spain along the Moroccan coast, Melilla is 380 kilometers from Ceuta. This ancient seaport has a marvelously preserved Ciudadela (Citadel), the historic fortified city perched on a hilltop overlooking serene turquoise waters. This fortress that encloses the Old Town is a splendid example of military architecture of the 15th-17th centuries. The New Town surprises visitors with its Modernist flair. After Barcelona, Melilla is the second-most important city in Spain for its Art Déco and Modernist architecture, with around 900 buildings designed in avant-garde style. Melilla is also popular with nature lovers, cyclists, and water sports enthusiasts. The nearby coastal area, with its marvelous underwater world, is wonderful for scuba diving.
Where to Stay in Cádiz for Sightseeing
We recommend these unique hotels near the beach and old town in Cádiz:
- Parador de Cadiz: luxury hotel, bay views, floor-to-ceiling windows, high-tech rooms.
- Monte Puertatierra Hotel: mid-range pricing, five-minute walk to beach, contemporary style, helpful reception staff.
- Hotel Convento Cadiz: affordable rates, converted convent, central location, large courtyard, marble floors.
- Bahia Hotel: budget hotel, great location, compact rooms, friendly staff.