One of the joys of Seville is wandering its higgledy-piggledy streets, stumbling upon tiny hidden squares with orange trees shading tiled benches. You can find plenty of ways to experience the best cultural and historical offerings the city has without spending a penny. All you need to know is where to go.
Read on for the best of free Seville, while for further inspiration, here are guides devoted to the city's best hotels, restaurants, bars, things to see and do, plus how to spend a weekend in Seville.
Discover the seat of the Spanish Inquisition
Centuries ago, Castillo San Jorge, the riverside medieval fortress of St George's Castle, was the most-feared building in Seville – the seat of the Spanish Inquisition, operated by the Catholic Church from 1481. Today its ruins are located underneath Triana market, and house a museum with the interesting name of the Centre of Tolerance. You can find out about day-to-day life inside the castle, and watch an animated (fictional) film about a woman who was accused of being a witch for gathering herbs (she was burned); the main targets, however, were wealthy Jews, whose land and riches were confiscated by the Crown.
Take a walk in the Spain’s oldest public park
Originally built as a hunting estate for Palacio San Telmo, and bequeathed to the city by María Luisa de Borbon, the eponymous Parque María Luisa was turned into a public space for the 1929 Ibero-American Expo. Wander down palm-lined avenues and under bougainvillea-swathed pergolas; explore pavilions, pools and lakes populated with ducks; quiet ceramic tiled corners with pretty fountains invite contemplation. You can also visit the (free) Popular Arts and Customs and Archaeological Museums; the former was the Mudejar Pavilion for the Expo and is a stunning mix of Moorish and Renaissance styles, while the latter has superb Roman mosaics.
Travel around Spain without moving
Within María Luisa Park, facing towards the river, lies the Plaza de España. This gargantuan building with its vast plaza was the centrepiece for the 1929 Expo. Designed to display Sevillano construction and design skills, from brick-making to ceramic tile painting, its other key purpose was to welcome all-comers from newly-independent colonies to post-colonial Spain. A canal curves around the central plaza, crossed by four bridges representing the old kingdoms of Spain. Along the front of the building are tiled panels depicting the 48 provinces in Spain, each with its historical scene and map – selfie heaven for Spanish tourists.
Learn about Mudejar architecture at a palace
Escape the hustle and bustle of calle Feria at the Palace of the Marqueses de la Algaba, a 15th-century palace hidden behind Calle Feria market. Admire the Gothic-Mudejar façade, walk through the beautiful patio, and head upstairs to the Mudejar Interpretation Centre, a small exhibition in two rooms which explains about this unique style of architecture. Muslim craftsmen who stayed behind after the Reconquest used their skill and craftsmanship to create stunning artesonado decorated wood ceilings and the famous azulejos (ceramic tiles) for Catholic rulers. The intricate and ingenious geometry of their graphic designs – seemingly simple stars, with all the angles perfectly calculated – is fascinating.
…and then visit the palaces on Mudejar Monday
Three of Seville's most emblematic Mudejar-Renaissance palaces – the Alcazar, the oldest continuously occupied European royal palace, and setting for Games of Thrones; Casa de Pilatos, home to an astonishing collection of Roman sculpture, where scenes from The Crown Season 5 were filmed; Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija, which has superb Roman mosaics, doesn’t charge for entry on Friday mornings; and Las Dueñas, as well as the Cathedral, are all free to visitors on Monday evenings.
Opening times: Mondays, around 4pm-6pm in winter; 6pm-7pm in summer.
Discover Columbus, ceramics and contemporary art at a monastery
A short walk from the centre, over the river Guadalquivir, is La Cartuja monastery. Founded in the 13th century, this was where Columbus planned his voyages to the New World. In the 19th century an Englishman called Charles Pickman built a ceramics factory here, and later it was restored for Expo 1992. Today it’s a contemporary art centre, with three galleries in the old monks’ cells, refectory and chapel. The gardens are pleasantly quiet, with an extraordinary Mudejar tower bearing beaded curtains from a previous art biennale. Sometimes there are concerts and DJ sets – check their website for upcoming events.
Watch free flamenco in a converted coal factory
The unassuming La Carbonería is one of the best places to watch free flamenco in Seville. This converted coal factory in the quieter part of Santa Cruz has three live performances every night from 9.30pm, as well as poetry readings, film screenings, art exhibitions and other cultural events. The room is large, with a wide stage facing long tables and benches, often filled with lively groups. For a more focused audience, go to one of the scheduled evening shows, but for an entertaining few hours of singing and dancing gratis, La Carbonería is a great option. When gets hot in summer, cool off in the small patio.
See where fashion and religion meet at one of Spain’s best fine art museums
Considered Spain’s second-most important fine art museum after the Prado, with works covering six centuries, the Museo de Bellas Artes is heaven for lovers of Golden Age Spanish baroque. Be dazzled by Zurbaran’s saints such as Santa Dorotea, with his signature rich colours and fabrics, and admire the charming spontaneity of Virgen de la Servilleta by Murillo. More recent works in the converted 16th-century convent, with beautiful patios and tiled panels, include Las Cigarreras by Gonzalo Bilbao, showing us the cigarette girls in Seville’s tobacco factory, while Valeriano Becquer’s portrait of his brother, the romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, is an emotionally charged masterpiece.
Find your inner Carmen while wandering round a former factory
When the Royal Tobacco Factory opened in 1758, it was the first in Europe, and the second-biggest building in Spain, after El Escorial. Previous factories around the city – including in Triana, then a tough working-class neighbourhood – were amalgamated into one huge building employing up to 6,000 people, complete with its own chapel and prison. Women made the cigars and cigarettes (nimbler-fingered, better disciplined, and cheaper paid than men), including gypsies from Triana – the inspiration for Carmen, Bizet’s fiery heroine. Today it’s part of the university, and you can wander through its patios humming Toreador.