While it may often be shunned in favour Granada and Seville, the enchanting city of Cordoba certainly holds its own as one of Spain’s top destinations.
Once one of the largest (if not the largest) and most powerful cities in the world, Cordoba has a fascinating and storied history. Featuring one of the top 3 sights in all of Spain, along with perhaps the best arabic quarter, we think it’s a worthy inclusion on any Southern-Spain itinerary.
Only have a few days to explore this amazing city? We’ve put together the below guide to help you get the most from your visit.
Free Walking Tour
What better way to kick-start your visit than with a rapid-fire history lesson to get your bearings? Start off your first day with a free walking tour and learn about the incredible story of Cordoba that has led to it becoming the city it is today.
Plaza de la Corredera
Head to the most impressive square in the city and join the locals for a long lunch at one of the many of the outdoor restaurants. This square is unique in the south of Spain, with the designer being employed from Salamanca to create a square in the northern style.
Located close to the historic centre, when heading for the bridge you will first encounter the imposing Bridge Gate.
The bridge itself was was built by the Romans in the early 1st century BC and features 16 beautiful Moorish arches (however today most are not original). It underwent reconstruction while under Islamic rule and has undergone further restoration since then, including an extensive project in 2006.
On the south side of the bridge you can find another gate, the Torre De Calahorra, which was erected by the Moors as a defensive tower. Today it houses a museum documenting the rich Cordoban history characterised by the peaceful coexistence of Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
The crown jewel of Cordoba and one of the most important Islamic buildings in the world, the Mezquita is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who get the chance to visit. Constructed on the foundations of an old Visigoth church, the mosque was built in 784, during a time when the Caliphate of Cordoba was at peak power. However, once the city returned to Christian rule, the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, with a cathedral being constructed inside the mosque.
If you’re an early riser, switch this day itinerary around a bit and get to the Mezquita at 8.30am to receive free entry for one hour (Monday - Saturday). While the mosque is big, one hour is still enough time for most people. What’s more, it’s much less crowded at this time of the day. Access is through the two side gates to the courtyard - you’ll likely see others lining up here.
La Juderia, The Old Jewish District
Jews lived here between the 10th and 15th centuries and today it represents one of the most interesting parts of the historic centre. Located slightly northeast of the Mezquita, it features the only existing synagogue in Andalusia.
Constructed by the King Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328, the Alcazar of Cordoba is a medieval military residence that has housed the who's who of Spanish rulers over the centuries.
It is located in the historic centre, a short walk from Mezquita. Featuring Moorish courtyards, arabic style baths, impressive gardens, and Roman mosaics, there’s enough here to keep you busy for an hour or two. Make sure you climb to the top of the walls for impressive views over the old town.
The Alcazar is the second most popular attraction in the city and the lines can get a bit out of hand. Try and head here as soon as it opens to beat the crowds.
Plaza de las Tendillas
You’ll want to rest your legs after exploring the Alcazar and this is a great place to do it. Plaza de las Tendillas is located in the centre of Cordoba, and is the best place to watch locals going about their daily activities.
Grab lunch or a caña (small glass of draught beer) and soak up the atmosphere of the real Cordoba.
Roman Temple of Cordoba
A short stroll from Plaza de las Tendillas is the Roman Temple. While there’s not much to see here, it’s still worth a quick look (and is en route to our next destination).
Constructed around 50 AD, the temple was discovered in the 1950s during the expansion of the Cordoba City Hall. All that is left is the impressive columns, which have been heavily restored.
Historic Arabic Streets East of the City Centre
Trust us on this one. If you want to experience the real historic Cordoba, pack your walking shoes and get lost in the neighbourhoods of San Adres - San Pablo, La Magdalena, and Santiago.
The winding Aribic streets in these areas have been immaculately preserved and around every corner you’ll find beautiful sand-stone churches, quaint squares surrounded by cafes, and bustling tapas bars packed with locals making the most of the afternoon sun.
Many of the Churches scattered around the city are known as Ferdinand Churches after King Ferdinand III of Castile. Keep hold of your Mezquita ticket for free access to these.
Located about 6 miles west of Cordoba, the ancient city of Medina Azahara is both mysterious and enchanting. Take a day trip here and learn more about the period of history where Cordoba was a powerful Islamic Caliphate.
Constructed at around 900 AD by the ruler Abd-ar-Rahman III, this was a Moorish palace-city built to house the rich and powerful members of society.
As the direct translation of “the shining city” implies, Medina Azahara was built using a huge amount of precious materials including marble, gold, and precious stones. It displayed a level of opulence not seen before in Spain. The city represented a symbol of power for the Caliphate and served to demonstrate the superiority of the ruler over his rivals.
Unfortunately the city was sacked during a civil war about 100 years after its construction, however there is still plenty of this ancient city left to see, with UNESCO declaring it a world heritage site in 2018.
The easiest way to visit Medina Azahara is via the official daily tourist bus.
When to Visit
Cordoba gets seriously hot in summer. In fact, Cordoba and Seville are the hottest cities in Spain, with climates more like Northern Africa than the Mediterranean. It’s therefore recommended to visit in the shoulder seasons. Try visiting in early March and timing your visit with Carnival!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Hotel Boutique Caireles and it exceeded all our expectations.
While not cheap, the views and location are worth it, with the Hotel being located in the heart of the historic centre, directly opposite the Mezquita (perfect if you want to do the free 8.30am visit).
The hotel was clean, with comfortable beds and and an exceptional breakfast. It’s also one of the top rated on Booking.com.
If looking for more affordable options, you’ll likely need to look outside the historic centre. We recommend the neighbourhoods of San Adres - San Pablo, La Magdalena, and Santiago.
What to Eat
Cordobians eat typical Andalucian food, with tapas being the common meal format. Local specialties include Salmorejo, a cold tomato soup with breadcrumbs, topped with egg and ham (feel free to ask the waiter to exclude the toppings) and Berenjenas con Miel (fried eggplant with honey). Those more adventurous can try Rabo de Toro (bull’s tail stew).
How to Get There
Cordoba doesn’t have its own international airport so your best bet is to include it on your itinerary when visiting Seville, Granada, or Malaga.
Train and bus travel in Andalucia is easy enough and are a great way to see more rural parts of the area.
While buses are fairly affordable, train tickets can be pricey. Check out Renfe for travel times and prices and buy your tickets online to lock them in prior to your trip.
For buses, we found ALSA to have the most options in terms of available routes and timings. Also, the app works well and removes the need to print tickets - we used it all over Spain with no problems.
About THE AUTHOR:
Sam spends his free time trail running, hiking and mountain biking. From Canada to New Zealand to Nepal, Sam has completed many of the worlds "great walks". He also travels extensively and likes to combine experiencing new cultures with outdoor activities.
He is very passionate about his hiking gear and is always looking for ways to shave a few extra grams off his pack weight.
Sam and his family are based in Melbourne. Follow him on twitter at SamRuss20833220.