The amazing medieval island city of Cádiz was probably my favourite of all our many terrific stops in Andalusia. No, it doesn’t have the Alhambra, so Granada has it beat on that front, and Seville, Cordoba and Malaga each have more iconic single sites, but we really just loved the overall look and feel of the place. Plus, there is a surprisingly long list of things to do in Cadiz that made our stay fly by all too quickly.
Old, impressive and surrounded by ocean, Cadiz is a fascinating mix of new and old, beach resort and historical curiosity, hectic (main market on a Sunday afternoon) and serene (the narrow streets on a Sunday night).
The ancient stone buildings and cobblestoned streets are like a living museum, yet you can also stroll through modern art displays or sip cocktails on the beach. The Cadiz old town has steered clear of huge high-rise resorts and most Cadiz tourist attractions are centuries old, at minimum.
Cadiz sightseeing often revolves around touring fantastic seafood restaurants and friendly tapas bars while surrounded by medieval buildings. Sure, it isn’t the easiest place to drive (at times it feels like half the streets are closed for pedestrians or street dining) or park (we paid for an underground spot that required stuntman driving to get in and out). And it can get pretty hot. But that’s what the beach is for. And the cocktails.
So, after a rather busy week of touring the amazing white villages of Andalusia, we found Cadiz to be the perfect mix of old, new and boozy.
What is Cádiz best known for?
Cadiz is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in all of Europe, with evidence of Phoenicians living here as early as 12,000 BC. It is built on an island connected to the Spanish mainland by modern bridges but the Old Town area still retains the same medieval charm it has had for centuries. But it also has nice beaches – a place of many layers.
Map of Things to Do in Cádiz
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15 Best Things to Do in Cádiz
Narrowing down a list of the best things to see in Cadiz isn’t easy, as there are so many to choose from. But here is our personal list of the top Cadiz attractions and Cadiz things to do.
Wander the El Populo Old Town
The most evocative section of the Cadiz old town, Barrio del Populo is the oldest neighbourhood in Cadiz with most of the current buildings appearing in the 13th century and an overall history dating back even further to the days of the Romans. Very little sunlight makes it to street level, giving El Populo a mysterious feel and making it one of the few places you can comfortably explore in the mid-day heat.
Located alongside the outer walls of Cadiz, the maze of narrow streets in El Populo are accessed through three different medieval arches. Once inside, this 1 square kilometre neighbourhood offers an endless list of Cadiz attractions including old churches, pretty plazas, friendly bars and fascinating architecture.
Some of the main highlights are the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, Plaza Fray Felix, Parroquia de Santa Cruz, Iglesia de Santiago Apostol and Arco de la Rosa.
In the end,El Populo ended up being one of our favorite places to visit in Cadiz.
Marvel at the Cadiz Cathedral
The massive main cathedral of Cadiz looms over the city from every angle. Mostly built in the 18th century, it includes a somewhat bizarre mix of styles, including neo-classical, baroque and rococo, and was never completely finished after the American funding ran dry way back in 1792.
The best vantage point is from the malecón where you get a great look at the two gargantuan 40-metre-high bell towers. Of course, from the opposite side you can gaze upon the golden dome with the blue of the Atlantic Ocean in the background. Not bad, either.
You enter via the ramp up to Torre de Poniente (West Tower) and inside you can visit the tombs of both composer Manuel de Falla and writer José María Pemán. Then, after you are done exploring all the nooks and crannies, head back out and enjoy the view of the cathedral from 100 Montaditos restaurant. This should definitely be on your Cadiz to do list.
Gorge on Fresh Seafood
Not surprisingly, this island city knows a thing or two about seafood. Cadiz is filled with exceptional seafood restaurants, most of which prominently display their fresh catch of the day out front to help you decide.
You can find great restaurants anywhere along the waterfront but maybe the best collection of seafood spots is along Calle Virgen de la Palma, shaded by pretty palm trees and featuring the impressive sight of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora at the end.
And, although you can choose from dozens of preparation styles, at least once you should try the local Cadiz method of deep-fried fish with lemon and Andalusian white wine.
Find the Roman Theatre
This ancient Roman theatre was only rediscovered in 1890 after centuries spent buried beneath El Populo. Built by Lucius Cornelius Balbus, one of Julius Caesar’s cronies, it is estimated to have held over 10,000 people in its day, although it is still only partially excavated.
You can get a closer look from the glass walkways and there is a small museum providing info about all the adversity and various indignities it has suffered over the years (right up to current selfie-stick Instagram photos).
Experience the Cadiz Market
A key focal point of old Cadiz, the central market was built in 1839, making it the oldest covered market in all of Spain. It is an outstanding place to go for a snack, a drink or to stock up on fresh produce (although you’ll want to get there early in the day for the best stuff).
While tourists are drawn to its creative food stalls and social atmosphere like moths to a flame, or maybe lobsters to the trap, at least half of the people there are local “gaditanos”. There is a wide range of tapas, with the shrimp, oysters and other seafood specialties particularly popular.
Even getting in is fun, through your choice of several old stone arches, and once you’ve had your fill take some time to wander the impressive flower market in the adjacent – and aptly named – Plaza de las Flores.
Climb the Tavira Tower
Thanks to its time as a crucial trading port in the 18th century, Cadiz is riddled with towers – for defense purposes at the time, photo ops today. We are told there are an incredible 129 of them although, I must admit, I lost count at around 7.
Nonetheless, Torre Tavira – built 1778 by Don Antonio Tavira to keep a watchful eye on his valuable fleet and named the “official watchtower of Cadiz” – is the tallest of them, reaching 45 metres into the Spanish sky.
If you’re up for climbing 10 flights of stairs to the rooftop terrace you’ll be rewarded with one of the best viewpoints in Cadiz. Then, while you’re there, be sure to check out the fascinating Camera Obscura (Cámara Oscura), a set of optical equipment, lenses and mirrors that provide a panoramic view of the bay.
See the Sunset at the San Sebastian Castle
As you stroll along the malecón, it is impossible to miss this beautifully maintained fortress sticking out of the water at the far end of Paseo Fernando Quiñones. It was mostly built in the 18th century, although the lighthouse actually dates back to the Moors.
The San Sebastián castle has a pretty sordid history, including time as both a prison and a plague quarantine hermitage, but these days it usually hosts art exhibits and local concerts. Plus, the Bond movie Die Another Day filmed a few scenes here, so it will always have those 15 minutes of fame to fall back on.
The walkway leading to the castle offers good views back to the city and is very popular for evening strolls. If you have decent shoes, reasonable agility and the tide is out, you can explore further along the rocks for even better sunset views.
Take care, though, as some of the rocks are covered in algae and get quite slippery. Over two nights we saw at least 3 people fall. And I came perilously close (to the point I had the windmilling arms of a cartoon character, but without the impish charm).
Taking the time to watch the sun go down is always on the Cadiz must see list.
Catch a Few Rays at La Caleta Beach
While there are dozens of huge, popular beaches further east along the Costa del Sol, few can compete with the understated beauty of La Caleta Beach in Cadiz. Surrounded by castles, medieval walls and ancient churches, but also featuring some fabulous 2 for 1 drink specials, La Caleta is an outstanding place to warm up, unwind and relax while gazing out to the Atlantic.
Within easy walking distance of all the main Cadiz attractions, and probably your hotel, this lovely beach has been dazzling visitors going all the way back to the Carthaginians, Romans and Phoenicians (those heady days before sunscreen…)
Today, the Cadiz playa is clean, well-maintained and boasts Blue Flag status for its environmental practices. There are many large rocks that have, somewhat oddly, been given names (some centuries ago) and the views over the bay are magnificent.
Bar Club Caleta is a convenient, informal spot for a drink next to the sand and La Quilla, up on the malecón, is one of the best places in Cadiz to watch the sunset (get there early, though, or be prepared to wait in line).
If you fancy yourself a bit of a beach connoisseur, be sure to check out the long line of other (much larger) Cadiz beaches along the west side – Santa Maria del Mar, Victoria, Cortadura, Chato and Santibáñez (popular with nudists). They aren’t as convenient to the old town as La Caleta but they stretch on forever, making it easy to find your own favourite spot.
Check Out the Santa Catalina Castle
Another old fortress located on a rocky outcrop at the edge of Cadiz harbour, the Castillo de Santa Catalina looks across the bay to San Sebastian castle. This 17th century castle was built to defend against pirates and other invaders and later served as a military prison.
Now it features an interesting and ever-changing collection of art, recreation and culture exhibits. The Chapel of Santa Catalina provides phenomenal views over the Bay of Cádiz.
Stroll Through Parque Genoves
This beautiful green space tucked into the old town of Cadiz and filled with immaculate trees is a natural oasis in the midst of all the old stone walls and classic buildings. Parque Genovésis has a very diverse botanical garden with trees from all over the world, a picturesque grotto with a waterfall you can walk behind and a bird-filled little lake.
The current version of this ancient park was designed by famous 19th century Valencian architect, Gerónimo Genovés i Puig. The wide, sand paths were made with the same material as that found in the bullrings of Andalusia and from some angles you can actually see the Castillo de Santa Catalina. Wandering the park is one of the best free things to do in Cadiz.
Have a Coffee at the Plaza de San Juan de Dios
This is the biggest and busiest square in Cadiz, located right next to the harbour and the first place the crowds head as they disgorge from the giant cruise ships. It is full of restaurants, tapas bars, terrace cafés and even fast-food spots.
There are often craft markets here and any of the terraces work well to give your feet a rest and watch the (very busy) world go by. Of course, being Cadiz, there are obviously some highlight buildings to ogle as well, including the elegant City Hall and the pretty Church of San Juan de Dios. Hanging out here is one of the best things to do in the Cadiz port.
See the Cadiz Museum
As you might have noticed, there are practically endless historic Cadiz sightseeing opportunities and ancient architectural gems. To help you make some sense of it all, take the time to browse the Cadiz museum, which combines art, natural history and archaeology.
Located on lovely little Plaza de Mina, each of the three floors has a different focus, from the Phoenician and Roman artifacts on the ground floor to celebrated Spanish painters on the first floor and Cadiz folk art and customs on the second floor (including the “famous” puppets of Tia Norica)
Check out the Cadiz Plaza de España
Yes, basically every Spanish city has a Plaza de España to honour the nation, and usually it is one of the busiest and most important plazas in the city. However, that doesn’t mean they look anything alike. The Cadiz Plaza de España features the remarkable Monument of Constitution of 1812, which was built exactly a century later to honour the 100-year anniversary of the Spanish constitution.
The column is very intricate, adorned with endless symbols, text and ornaments, starting with the empty presidential chair, the horses symbolizing both peace and war and many areas devoted to Spanish citizenship and the country’s past reliance on agriculture.
And, if nothing else, the rest of the plaza is also very nice.
Cool Down in the Alameda Apodaca Park
Continuing on around the seawall from Parque Genovese you’ll eventually run into the other exceptional green space of Cadiz, Alameda Apodaca Gardens.
A lovely, peaceful area filled with lush greenery, towering trees and vibrant flowers, it has also been spruced up with a variety of sculptures, colourful benches, evocative fountains and fascinating tile work.
See the Convent of Saint Francis
Hidden away on a little-visited square (little-visited by tourists anyway – locals love the place) tucked in behind the Cadiz Museum, this dignified old convent has a great feel and is one of the oldest of its kind in Cadiz.
Built in the 16th century, rebuilt in the 17th century and heavily renovated again in the 18th century, the Convent of Saint Francis features daily services in front of a spectacular altarpiece and occasionally the courtyard hosts music concerts in summer. We think this is one of the hidden gems in Cadiz.
Where to Stay in Cadiz
Parador de Cádiz
With a perfect location close to Caleta Beach and the best parts of the old town, Parador de Cadiz is a great choice if you want to splash out a bit. Lounge by the outdoor pool with truly fantastic sea views, indulge in the spa or just enjoy your private terrace with a city or sea view.
Click here for Parador de Cádiz prices.
Hotel Boutique Convento Cádiz
For a midrange choice, try the Hotel Boutique Convento Cádiz located in another 17th century convent – there are still monks living in part of the building. It has a picturesque interior courtyard, manages to merge history with modern amenities and is conveniently close to the port.
Click here for Hotel Boutique Convento Cádiz prices
If you are looking for more of a budget option try the Hostal Canalejas near the Cadiz Cathedral. They don’t have dorms but they do have small, good value rooms and a nice rooftop terrace.
Click here for Hostal Canalejas prices
Best Places to Visit Near Cádiz
Once you are done with your Cadiz sightseeing you should check out the nearby options. With a bit of extra time and maybe a rental car, there is a wide range of terrific day trips to be had near Cadiz.
See the Other Amazing Andalusian Cities
Classic Seville is one of the gems of Spain, with a beautifully walkable old town, many amazing churches and, of course, the world-famous Real Alcazar. Hopeless romantics will also love the street and balcony that inspired Romeo and Juliet.
Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville
A somewhat bizarre bit of Britain dropped right on the edge of Spain, Gibraltar has some pretty compelling sites (i.e. Rock of Gibraltar) and historic WWII attractions. The border crossing is straightforward and Gibraltar is easily visited on a day trip, although the sites are pretty spread out so if you want to see everything it wouldn’t hurt to stay a couple of nights.
Along with the benefits we mentioned above (more modern, better transportation options), Malaga was also a pleasant sightseeing surprise for us.
It has some nice old streets, good pedestrian areas and the Alcazaba, a phenomenal ancient medieval Moorish fortress that is comparable to the big attractions in Seville, Granada and Córdoba. Well worth a few days.
Which is better Malaga or Cadiz?
In general, Málaga is a more modern city and serves as a main entrance point and transport hub for tourists. There are also a lot of foreign expats that have settled in the Costa del Sol area around Malaga while Cadiz retains a more Spanish feel.
Both have excellent beaches, fascinating historical sites and terrific seafood restaurants. Cadiz, however, in our opinion, is more classically beautiful with its old town crowded onto a little island with great views in all directions. It is also closer to most of the pueblos blancos (white villages), making it easier to take a day trip to see some of these wonderful towns.
Overall, we would recommend Cadiz as a destination in itself but Malaga if you are looking for a short city break before moving on to the Costa del Sol beaches or one of the other classic Andalusian cities.
The 14 Best Things to Do in Malaga
Much smaller and more manageable than Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, cute Córdoba has the world-famous mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, which is definitely worth the visit alone.
There is also a fascinating Jewish quarter, vibrant old town and impressive bridge (that also featured in Game of Thrones). It is just 40 minutes from Seville by high-speed train.
Check out How to Visit Córdoba on a Day Trip from Seville
Of the famous Andalusian triumvirate – Seville, Cordoba and Granada – amazing Granada is the closest to Cádiz and the easiest to visit on a day trip (just 1.5 hrs by car on easy highways). Granada’s central area isn’t quite as perfect as the one in Seville, or compact as Córdoba, but it has some fascinatingly gritty neighbourhoods and a long list of awesome viewpoints. And, of course, the Alhambra, which just might be the coolest historic site we’ve ever visited.
For more ideas, see The 17 Best Things to Do in Granada
Tour the White Villages
The famous pueblos blancos of Andalusia are an absolute must-see if you have any spare time during your visit to Cádiz. These ludicrously picturesque white villages each have a unique personality and feel, the only hard part is deciding which ones to see.
For an overview of our white villages road trip, check out 12 Spectacular Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia
Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry and flamenco capital of Andalusia. So if those are things you are into, Jerez is a must-see. If not, well, it’s still a very beautiful place (and much larger than most other towns on this list). It is also the location of the closest international airport to Cadiz.
Medina-Sidonia is the oldest pueblo blanco and features an understated elegance perched atop a hill not far from Cádiz.
Of all the amazing white villages we visited, Vejer de la Frontera was our favourite. Great vibe, beautiful place and the nicest main square in Andalusia.
Arcos de la Frontera is all about the arches, many obvious and others hidden in the least likely spots.
Algodonales boasts an impressive location next to the Sierra de Lijar mountains and is famous for a) having the largest hang-gliding school in Andalucia and b) making great guitars. I kid you not.
Tiny Villaluenga del Rosario has an awesome little bull ring and fantastic cheese.
Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.
Grazalema is known for its many amazing hiking areas.
Check out Grazalema: A Guide to Spain’s Hiking Pueblo Blanco
Olvera has some of the best viewpoints in the area from its impressive castle.
Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.
Ronda is both the largest town in the region and the crown jewel of the pueblos blancos with its stunning El Tajo gorge and fabulous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).
Check out Ronda: A Guide to Spain’s Best Pueblo Blanco
Pretty Casares is close to the Costa del Sol and is considered the gateway to the white villages. It also features a photogenic castle atop a rocky outcropping, a griffon vulture colony and a fun via ferrata.
Hike the Alpujarras
East of Granada, tucked between the coast and the central plains, you’ll find the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountains. Delightfully cool in summer and photogenically snow-capped in winter, the hiking is exceptional. The Alpujarras region, in particular, running along the foothills has a fantastic collection of fabulous white villages, as well as some of the best hiking trails in Spain.
Check out our 5-day village-to-village trek through the Alpujarras:
Hiking the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada
What is the best time to visit Cádiz Spain?
The best beach time is in summer between June and September when Cádiz is hot and the beaches are hopping. Although because it is surrounded by the sea, temperatures tend to be a bit more moderate than in some of the inland cities, with highs generally topping out around 28-29 instead of the 30+ you’ll see elsewhere.
Regardless, summer is great for lying on the beach and enjoying water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing. Spring and fall are the most moderate, with mid-range daytime highs in the 25C range and still very little of the rain that shows up in winter.
Despite the occasional rain shower, though, winter is still a terrific time to visit Cádiz, especially if you hail from farther north. Even in January the average daily temperature is 15-20C, which is why Cádiz is such a popular winter destination.
How to Get to Cádiz
Cádiz is easily reached from abroad with 2 international airports within easy driving distance.
Jerez Airport (XRY) is the closest, just 40 kilometres away. It is a 30-minute drive or if your arrival time matches up you can take one of the direct trains (50 min).
Seville Airport (SVQ) offers even more flight options and is still just 130 kilometres away. It takes roughly 80 min to drive and just 10 minutes longer via one of the frequent direct trains from Seville Santa Justa station.
Cádiz is conveniently located on the Renfe high-speed train lines, allowing for easy connections to Jerez, Seville, Cordoba and even Madrid (which can be reached in as little as 4 hours).
Most people visit Cadiz by car, either their own or a rental. With so many great towns and villages in the area we highly recommend renting a car for a day or two to cover more ground and set your own schedule. We find Discover Cars usually have the best deals in the area.
Nearby Main Centres by Car:
Seville to Cádiz: 120 km / 1.25 hrs
Gibraltar to Cádiz: 120 km / 1.5 hrs
Malaga to Cádiz: 235 km / 2.5 hrs
Córdoba to Cádiz: 260 km / 2.75 hrs
Granada to Cádiz: 290 km / 3.5 hrs
Nearby pueblos blancos:
Jerez de la Frontera to Cádiz: 35 km / 30 min
Medina-Sidonia to Cádiz: 40 km / 35 min
Vejer de la Frontera: 55 km / 45 min
Arcos de la Frontera to Malaa: 65 km / 45 min
Algodonales to Cádiz: 110 km / 1.25 hrs
Villaluenga del Rosario: 115 km / 1.5 hrs
Zahara de la Sierra to Cádiz: 115 km / 1.5 hrs
Grazalema to Cádiz: 115 km / 1.5 hrs
Olvera to Cádiz: 130 km / 1.5 hrs
Setenil de las Bodegas to Cádiz: 135 km / 1.75 hrs
Ronda to Cádiz: 145 km / 1.75 hrs
Casares to Cádiz: 145 km / 1.75 hrs
At the risk of sounding uncultured, Cádiz is awesome. Just a great blend of old and new, beach and city, tapas and beer, etc. You can wander the mazey streets of the old town, spend days poring over the history of the city in local museums or simply hang out on the beach getting good and tipsy. Or all of the above. The perfect place to cap off your Andalusian adventures.
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