With its sunny seaside setting and centuries-old historic sights, Cadiz is a fantastic place to visit and vacation. Lying along the Costa de la Luz in Andalusia, the ancient port’s palm tree-lined promenades and plazas are a treat to explore.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Southern Europe, it was founded around 1,100 BCE by the Phoenicians. Over the millennia, its strategically positioned strip of land has been ruled over by everyone from the Romans and Greeks to the Visigoths and Moors.
As it served as Spain’s main port for a long time, untold riches poured in, particularly during the Age of Exploration. This funded the construction of many of the grandiose churches, palaces and towers found in its Old Town today. Forts were also built to protect the city and its harbors from attack.
With plenty of pristine beaches, sumptuous seafood and spectacular tourist attractions, Cadiz is a wonderful spot to holiday while enjoying some history and culture. Besides these things to do in Cadiz, cities like Seville, Gibraltar and Jerez de la Frontera are all within driving distance.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Plaza de Las Flores
Right in the historic heart of the city is the picturesque Plaza de Las Flores. A very vibrant place, the square lies just a stone’s throw from sights like the Mercado Central and Torre Tavira.
So named due to all its colourful stalls selling beautiful flowers, its cobbles are lined by some lovely buildings. Aside from the main post office that dates to the 1930s, many of the others are now home to cozy local cafes and tapas bars.
As the triangular-shaped plaza is so central, you’re almost certain to pass by at some point. Its lively yet laidback ambience and all the blooming flowers make it a pleasant spot to stop for a drink at one of its outdoor terraces.
16. Baluarte de la Candelaria
Occupying the very northern tip of the small, narrow peninsula is the strategically placed Baluarte de la Candelaria. Once a military fortress, it now instead serves as an exhibition space with sublime sea views also to be enjoyed from its walls.
Due to the natural elevation of the land, a bastion was built here back in 1672 to strengthen the city’s defenses. Behind its sturdy seawalls, a row of cannons was placed, overlooking the entrance to the nearby port. Since then, it has been used as a barracks, engineers’ residence and even a dovecote.
Other than admiring its fine architecture and wandering about its courtyard, you can attend concerts, plays and art exhibitions. Its thick walls also offer sweeping panoramas over the shimmering waters surrounding the city.
15. Museum of Cadiz
If you’re interested in learning more about the city’s history, culture and heritage, then the visiting Museum of Cadiz is one of the best things to do in Cadiz. Packed full of fascinating artifacts and artworks, it takes you back more than 3,000 years into the past.
Established in 1970, the museum’s captivating collection is now spread across three floors of an old Franciscan convent bordering Plaza de Mina. While some rooms contain ancient Phoenician pottery and Stone Age tools, others examine the Moorish, Greek and Roman eras. As so many peoples and cultures ruled the city at one time or another, its artifacts are remarkably varied. Just as impressive are all its stupendous paintings by renowned names such as Rubens, Ribera, van Eyck and Zurbaran.
Much more extensive than we’d imagined, the museum ended up being one of our favorite stops in Cadiz. Highlights for us included all its striking statues and Phoenician sarcophagi that date to the fifth century BC. Although most explanations are in Spanish, it is still worth visiting for the staggering art and archaeological findings on show.
14. Playa de la Caleta
Definitely the most popular beach in town, Playa de la Caleta provides spellbinding views of both the San Sebastian and Santa Catalina castles. Aside from sunbathing and splashing around in the sea, it has fantastic restaurants and nightlife spots to hit up nearby.
Stretching 400 meters in length, its soft sands gently curve their way along the natural harbor in the Old Town. In ancient times, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans all moored their ships here, taking advantage of its calm, sheltered waters.
Nowadays, locals and tourists alike enjoy walking up and down the beach and wallowing in its warm waters. Besides topping up your tan and trying some of its tasty snack bars, you can drink in superb views over the sparkling sea and two castles on either side. This already picture-perfect scene looks even more magical at sunset when everything is bathed in the most amazing light.
13. Teatro Romano
For more insight into the city’s age-old history, head to the Teatro Romano just behind its grand cathedral. Only rediscovered in the eighties, its weathered steps, seats and stage are very interesting to see with an adjoining museum housing artifacts uncovered at the site.
Thought to have been constructed around the first century BC, it was among the largest ever built in the empire. In its heyday, some 20,000 spectators would pack out the enormous theater where plays, concerts and other performances took place.
For centuries it lay buried under first a fortress, then medieval buildings and finally warehouses until its fortuitous finding. Reading about its past and seeing the excavations really conveys just how old Cadiz is. Already quite large, the rest of its ruins lie beneath the buildings immediately surrounding it.
12. Day trip to Jerez de la Frontera
If you want to see a bit more of Andalusia, then Jerez de la Frontera is a great nearby option for a day trip. Located half an hour away, the sizable city has an atmospheric old town and an imposing cathedral and fortress to explore.
Due to its strategic position just inland from the Atlantic, the city thrived for centuries thanks to trade with the important ports of Seville and Cadiz. As a medieval border town though, it was attacked lots of times by first the Christians and then the Moors.
Contained within its old town are a plethora of pretty palaces, churches and convents to see. Among its main sights are its immense eleventh-century Alcazar and ginormous Gothic cathedral. The city is also famous for its sherry production, flamenco music and scintillating horse shows. Although there has long been a fierce rivalry between Jerez and Cadiz, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the city!
11. Castillo de San Sebastian
Sprawling across a tiny island just off the northwest shore of the peninsula is the eighteenth-century Castillo de San Sebastian. Now connected to Playa de la Caleta by a long, narrow causeway, the old fortress is wonderful to walk out to thanks to its unique approach and arresting views.
Once said to house a Temple of Kronos back in antiquity, the isle has been used both as a prison and a quarantine station at various times over the centuries. In 1706, the current complex was completed to defend the north side of the city from attack.
Now, unfortunately, closed to the public, its crumbling walls and watchtower can clearly still be seen on the walk there. The main reason to visit though is to take in the sea breeze and enjoy phenomenal views back towards Cadiz.
10. Barrio la Vina
Back at the start of the causeway is one of the most attractive parts of the city to stroll about: Barrio la Vina. A traditional fisherman’s quarter, it is home to lively taverns and tapas bars serving delicious seafood and strong local sherries.
Bordered by both la Caleta and the sea, the historic neighborhood is characterized by small cobbled streets and scenic squares. Along its picturesque main street Calle de la Palma, you can find dozens of bustling bars to try out. Very authentic, they dish up some of the best seafood and wine in the city.
Sometimes compared to Havana in Cuba, the charming barrio is also the center of festivities during the Carnival of Cadiz. One of our favorite parts of the Old Town, la Vina is a must for its vibrant feel, colourful townhouses and top-class restaurants.
9. Mercado Central
Just as fun to explore is the city’s Mercado Central alongside Plaza de las Flores. Popular with both locals and tourists, it contains tons of stands and stalls, all laden with fresh fruit, veg and other food products.
Actually Spain’s oldest covered market, it was established in 1837 with around 200 shops now found here. Remodeled a couple of times over the years, its central pavilions are lined by fabulous porticos and old stone walls. Inside, many stalls specialize in seafood though plenty are also piled with local cheeses, meats and baked goods.
Other than picking up some groceries and enjoying the atmosphere, there are countless tasty snacks to try. All along its outer edges are small cafes and bars to stop off at serving shrimp, oysters, tapas and beer.
8. Oratorio de San Felipe Neri
Only five minutes walk away, just past Torre Tavira, is the eye-catching Oratorio de San Felipe Neri. A delightful little church, it boasts some exquisite architecture and absolutely incredible artwork.
Sandwiched between a couple of other buildings along Calle Santa Ines, the Baroque church dates to 1719. As it is here that the first Spanish Constitution was proclaimed in defiance against Napoleon, its interior is very lavishly decorated with glittering treasures wherever you look.
Particularly impressive are its ornate rococo-era altarpiece and the Immaculate Conception; Murillo’s last ever painting. Countless other priceless carvings, statues and religious artworks can be admired in the chapels beneath its elliptical ceiling. Definitely one of the best buildings we saw in Cadiz, it lies just a short walk from many of its other main sights.
7. Plaza de San Juan de Dios
Also home to some of the city’s most elegant and important buildings is Plaza de San Juan de Dios. Full of pretty palm trees, the wide-open square has a stunning statue and water fountain at its center while numerous restaurants and bars surround it.
Built in the fifteenth century on land reclaimed from the sea, it was later enlarged when the city walls were demolished. Besides the beautiful church of San Juan de Dios, it is overlooked by the Old Town Hall. Exhibiting an arresting mix of Neoclassical and Gothic styles, it is here that Andalusia’s flag was raised for the first time in 1936.
Asides from snapping photos of their fine facades and large marble fountain, you can enjoy a coffee in its cafes. Arts and crafts stalls are also sometimes set up here while street performers and music acts regularly put on shows.
6. Park Genoves
A very peaceful place to wander around, the lush, green Park Genoves can be found along by the sea, in between Baluarte de la Candelaria and Castillo de Santa Catalina. After visiting all the city’s forts, squares and churches, its gorgeous gardens make for a very pleasant change.
Meticulously laid out and maintained, its meandering paths are lined by more than a hundred species of plants, flowers and trees. Dotted about are some statues, fountains and a pond with its wonderful waterfall usually attracting the most attention. This is because you can actually walk behind its shiny curtain of water or stroll across the top of it for fabulous views over the sea.
There is also a sea promenade to amble along and a small cafe to sit and relax at. One of the largest green spaces in the city, it also has lots of park benches and a playground for people to make use of.
5. Torre Tavira
For the best views imaginable over Cadiz however, you have to head to the top of Torre Tavira. Rising dramatically above the Old Town, the lofty landmark also has a cool camera obscura to check out.
Back in the eighteenth century, the city’s skyline positively bristled with towers as merchants wanted to know when ships from the New World were arriving. The tallest of the 130 or so watchtowers still standing, Tavira soars 45 meters in total.
To reach its viewing platform, you have to pant your way up 170 narrow, spiral steps. It is well worth the effort though as the 360-degree panoramic views are out of this world. We also really enjoyed its camera obscura experience which projects different parts of Cadiz magnified before you. While you observe the city from close up, your knowledgeable guide explains all about the history of the tower and the other landmarks you see.
4. Castillo de Santa Catalina
At the opposite end of la Caleta’s sweeping sands to San Sebastian is the charming Castillo de Santa Catalina. Unlike its counterpart, you can actually enter the fortress which contains an old chapel, art gallery and informative plaques on its past.
After the city was sacked by the English in 1596, the Spanish King commissioned the fort to improve its defenses. Protected by sturdy stone walls, the star-shaped structure is centered around its parade ground. Here you see temporary art exhibitions in its pavilions or marvel at the centuries-old chapel’s checkerboard floor and finely-carved altar.
Both concerts and other cultural events are also sometimes held in the fort’s shady complex. Its old walls also offer unbelievable views over the bay with sunset being the most magical time to visit.
3. Barrio del Populo
The oldest neighborhood in Cadiz, getting lost in Barrio del Populo is the highlight of many visitors’ time in town. While it boasts many of the city’s main sights such as the cathedral and Roman theater, its atmospheric alleys and cobblestone squares are just as enchanting to explore.
The heart and soul of life on the peninsula during the Middle Ages, it has thankfully preserved much of its past. Lining its densely packed mess of streets and plazas are plenty of impressive old palaces and medieval buildings to see. Many of these now house lively tapas bars and local shops.
Other than ogling at the cathedral’s hulking great facade, make sure to stop by El Arco de los Blanco. Once the main entrance to the Old Town, it was erected around the year 1300. Besides taking in the ambience and architecture, we really liked seeing the smaller church of Santa Cruz that lies along the seafront. Catching a dramatic flamenco performance at one of its tiny bars was another memorable experience we won’t forget anytime soon.
2. Playa Victoria
If after all the endless sightseeing, you just want to sit back, relax and soak up some sun then Playa Victoria is the place to go. Said to be one of the best beaches in all of Spain (and that’s really saying something!), its expansive sands border the newer part of town.
Lying just a ten or fifteen-minute drive or public transport journey down the peninsula from Barrio del Populo, it stretches almost three kilometers in length. Backed by a wide promenade with tons of bars and cafes, the beach is perfect for lounging on lazily. You can also swim in the sea, play volleyball or paddle in the shallow waves lapping at the shore.
Once you’ve had your fill of sun, sea and sand, there are some outstanding seafood restaurants to try out nearby. From here too, you can gaze out over the Old Town gently curving off into the distance.
1. Catedral de Cadiz
The city’s standout symbol and sight, the colossal Catedral de Cadiz showcases an astounding mix of Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical styles. Set right in the center alongside the sparkling sea, the must-visit landmark makes for some phenomenal photos and viewing.
Known as the ‘Cathedral of the Americas’, its imposing facade, towers and glittering dome were built between 1722 and 1838. Now a bit worn from sea salt and the centuries passing, its grand size and scale highlighted Cadiz’ considerable power and the wealth pouring in from the New World.
Inside is just as stunning as giant pillars prop up its soaring ceiling far, far above. Adorning its white walls are lots of religious artworks while artifacts from the Americas can be seen in its museum. As well as intricately-carved choir stalls, the cathedral has a crypt full of important tombs to enter and a forty-meter bell tower to climb up. Rivaling the view from Tavira, its sublime panoramas are the ideal starting point or end to any holiday in Cadiz.
Where to Stay in Cadiz
If you want to be both near the beach and all the historic attractions in Cadiz too, the traditional Barrio de la Vina is the perfect place to stay. Lots of options can also be found around Barrio del Populo in the centre of the Old Town. If you’re mainly after a beach holiday, the blocks along by Playa la Victoria in the newer part of town might be more suitable.
Very highly rated, the popular Plaza de la Luz Cádiz has both apartments and studios for you to stay in. Clean and comfy, they conveniently lie just a short walk from la Caleta Beach and countless dining options. Equipped with kitchenettes, its spacious apartments also often have terraces and balconies with views over the sea.
Even closer to the action (but further from the beach) is the three-star Hotel Las Cortes De Cádiz . Set in a classic nineteenth-century building, its chic rooms mix the traditional with the modern. Located in the heart of the Old Town, just minutes from many sights, restaurants and bars, it also has a great rooftop bar with a view for you to relax at.
How to get to Cadiz
Situated right in the southwest corner of the country, Cadiz is most commonly visited via the airports of Jerez de la Frontera and Seville. These respectively lie about half an hour and an hour away by car or taxi. Factor in around double this time for each if you’re taking the bus. Flights from around Spain and Europe land here.
Trains also run to both cities with people sometimes road-tripping along the south coast via Malaga and Gibraltar. Others arrive from the capital Madrid far off to the north either by car or train with both options taking around five and a half hours in total.
Lastly, ferries from the Canary Islands also dock here weekly as do cruise liners on trips around the Mediterranean.
Once you arrive, almost everything is within walking distance with only some things to do in Cadiz requiring a short taxi or bus journey.
Best Time to Visit Cadiz
As the sun is shining, the sea water is warm and everyone has holidays, July and August are by far the most popular months to visit Cadiz. Average temperatures of 29°C (84°F) are perfect for sunbathing, swimming and enjoying some of its fun watersports.
If you want to avoid all the crowds and high prices though, the shoulder seasons of April to June and September to November are perhaps better bets. Much calmer and cheaper for the most part, they average between 19 and 28°C (66 to 82°F). Except for the spring months and the end of autumn, swimming is pleasant this whole period.
As the seaside city remains warm year-round, you can find some great deals in January and March when the least people visit. Although they’re still a bit too cold to sunbathe or swim, that doesn’t put off some sunseekers from heading here in winter to celebrate the Christmas holidays.
The city’s main event of the year though is its two-week-long carnival in February. Attracting huge crowds, it sees costume-clad parades and musical groups take over the town. Around this time too, you can also attend one of the world’s largest flamenco festivals in the nearby city of Jerez de la Frontera. Hotel prices do shoot up though for the entire carnival period.