Arriving in the center of Seville can be overwhelming, and not just because the city's Gothic cathedral is the world's largest (if you go by interior volume). The sheer number of tourists milling around Christopher Columbus' tomb will shock you. Get to know this lovely antique city in southwestern Spain by exploring some of its less crowded but nonetheless essential attractions.
See new art in an old building
Tourists swarm Seville’s Bellas Artes museum. If you like a little personal space along with your art, go instead to the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo (admission about $2-$3.50, Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de Las Cuevas, caac.es). Built in the 15th century as a monastery, it was purchased in 1840 by Englishman Charles Pickman and converted into a premier ceramics factory operated until 1982. The permanent collection focuses on Andalusian art from the 1950s to the present. Rotating exhibitions include works by both Spanish and international artists. An outdoor cafe in a charming courtyard hosts jazz concerts on Saturdays. Flamenco performances take place every Wednesday.
The futuristic Metropol Parasol, a fanciful wooden structure with walkways and viewing platforms high above the Plaza Encarnacion, is one of the most popular, and crowded, attractions in the city. Underneath is the Museo Arqueologico Antiquarium, a beguiling and eerily quiet museum displaying Roman and Moorish archaeological discoveries made when the property was being excavated. Seven houses built during different time periods display pillared patios, mosaics and marble pedestals. A series of fish-salting vats may remind you of the sardines you ate at lunch. Video displays in several languages, including English, explain everything on view (admission about $2.25, Plaza de la Encarnacion, 14).
Visit a hospital
The Hospital de la Caridad (admission about $6; Calle Temprado, 3) was founded by monks in the 15th century to attend to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor and prisoners sentenced to death. Part of the building still functions as a hospital today. Reformed playboy Miguel de Mañara (who some believe was the inspiration for Don Juan) joined the brotherhood in the 17th century and financed its spectacular Baroque chapel. The altarpiece, by Pedro Roldan, represents the burial of Christ in typical Spanish style, an extreme expression of pain and grief. The nave houses some of the most important paintings in Seville, including “Finis Gloriae Mundi” by Juan de Valdés Leal. Ask the ticket taker, who will let you in through a massive locked wooden door, for the excellent audio guide in English.
Sample Sevillan sweets
Not only does this gem of a shop serve beautiful pastries and wonderfully strong coffee, it has been selling exquisitely packaged handmade chocolates and confections to celebrate christenings, communions, weddings and holidays to generations of Sevillans. Stop in at La Despensa de Palacio for a morning cortado and a bollo suizo (a Spanish-style brioche roll). Buy boxes of chocolates and praline cookies. Estate-bottled olive oil and wine make lovely gifts (Calle Villegas, 1; ladespensadepalacio.com).
Go out of the way for ice cream
Avoid the pulsating music, neon lights and mounds of industrial gelato served up at chains along Seville’s main thoroughfares. Instead, head to La Fiorentina, a shop in the Arenal neighborhood with art deco signage and decades of tradition behind it. Third-generation ice cream maker Joaquín Liria features particularly Spanish flavors, including orange blossom, turrón (nougat) and Manzanilla sherry. The pine nut ice cream is unusual — and outstanding (Calle Zaragoza, 16).
Try modern tapas
Skip the tacky tapas bars located next to major tourist sites and seek out one of the new breed of restaurants serving updated small plates. Any of these places will have top-notch Iberian ham or traditional croquettes, but they’ll also give you a taste of the new Spanish cooking. At Perro Viejo (Calle Arguijo, 5; equipompuntor.com), try Peruvian-style salmon ceviche garnished with crunchy corn nuts. Vineria San Telmo (Pase de Catalina de Ribera, 4; vineriasantelmo.com) offers high-end tapas at remarkably affordable prices, including foie gras mi-cuit with vanilla oil and caramelized peanuts. Shellfish is the standout at La Azotea (four locations: Calle Zaragoza, 5; Jesus del Gran Poder, 31; Conde de Barajas, 12; Mateos Gago, 8; laazoteasevilla.com), where razor clams are served with fresh fava beans, and shrimp is tempura-fried, then tossed with kimchi-spiced hollandaise.
Dress like a vaquera
The stylish accouterments of Spanish equestrianism are on full display at Sombreros Antonio Garcia (Calle Alcaiceria de la Loza, 25; sombrerosgarcia.com), where you can find traditional hats and riding jackets galore. In addition, there are beautiful blankets, well-priced leather handbags and made-in-Spain trinkets, including authentic castanets.
Adopt flamenco style
Ignore kiosks selling frilly aprons and polka dot fans, and head to the shops where Sevillans deck themselves out for special occasions such as the Feria de Abril. At Raquel Teran (Calle Francos, 6) you will find exquisite flamenco dresses made with custom combinations of vintage fabric. Not ready for head-to-toe ruffles? Stop in at Isabel Mediavilla (Calle Francos, 34) for fringed scarves, earrings, and floral combs and headbands to get the look.
Cool down with Cruzcampo frio
Seville can be brutally hot, especially in the summer months. Scores of bars and cafes serve the local brew, Cruzcampo, cold — very cold. Look for signs advertising the beer at -2 Celsius, and chill with a small glass for about 1 euro. Many, many locations.
Duck into a palace
The lines at the Royal Alcazar stretch across the plaza, but the enchanting Museo Palacio de la Lebrija (admission about $6, Calle Cuna, 8; palaciodelebrija.com) is blissfully uncrowded. In 1901, this 16th century mansion with a stunning Renaissance/Mujedar courtyard was purchased by the Countess of Lebrija, an amateur archaeologist and collector who filled it with ancient treasures. The first floor, exhibiting the Countess’ precious Roman mosaics, is open to wander. For a few euros more, take a guided tour, in English, of the upstairs quarters, where you can view not only the remarkable architecture of the palace, but the furniture, porcelain and painting collections of the family who lived there until 1999.