Things to do in Cádiz, my favorite city in Spain

Just when I sat down at one of the tables in a tiny roadside restaurant, I smelled it. Fresh washed laundry, hanging to dry in a very humid climate. The scent of moist mixing with fabric softener rose from the red-checked tablecloths in front of me, catapulting me back in time. Back to an image of drying laundry in front of the ochre-yellowish walls of an apartment building, its walls crumbling of age. I was sitting on the terrace of my hostel in the Casco Antiguo, Panamá.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of flashbacks. The smallest hint of a scent smelled a long time ago, can bring me back to this specific time and place. Not only smells, songs as well: ‘Cheerleader’ by Omi shows me images of palm trees against a deep blue sky, flashing by while driving from Trinidad to Varadero in a blue Viazul bus. Location: Cuba. I noticed colours transport me into the past too. A specific kind of ochre reminds me of the Cathedral in Cádiz.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cádiz lately. Being in Thailand, mainly on my own – that’s another story, not for now – I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’m temporarily living in a tropical paradise, but I’m missing my beloved Latin America. – always, but I know I’m going to go back – I’m missing living in Spain too. During the eight months I was working in Spain last year, I had the chance to visit tons of places in Andalucía, the city of Cádiz being my absolute favorite. About time I started to write about it.

At the Paseo Maritimo, watching over the ochre dome of the Santa Cruz Cathedral

Why, you would ask. Why Cádiz? Honestly, I don’t know. There are places that have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, a feeling or a vibe that make you feel like you belong there. There are magnificent cities with a ton of things to do, a vibrant nightlife, a mass of people raving about it and yet, they leave me completely indifferent. Others, however, catch me from the first moment I set foot in their streets, leaving me with a warm buzzing feeling inside and the dreams of buying an apartment and moving in for the rest of my life. Doesn’t matter if they’re big or small. I absolutely adored Mexico City, a huge mastodont smacked in the middle of Mexico with terrific traffic problems, while Cartagena, a beautiful colonial city In Colombia – and I do love myself a colonial city – left me irritated and eager to leave. Cádiz, however, enchanted me from the very beginning and even though it’s not one of the biggest cities in Spain – number 17 the be exact -, it still has enough sights to see and keep you busy for a couple of days. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss when visiting Cádiz!

Moorish heritage in Cadiz
The New Cathedral, right in the centre of Old Town Cadiz
Little narrow streets lead you to small Plazas, perfect to take a break from strolling around Cadiz
Watchtowers everywhere
Pink and other pastel colors for the houses in Cadiz

WALK THROUGH THE OLD TOWN

Cádiz is ancient. It’s founded around 1000 BC by the Phoenicians and considered one of the oldest still standing cities in Western Europe. You’ll breathe history when walking through the small cobblestone streets, referring to the times the Spanish Empire plundered the Americas. You’ll spot a Roman theater, right in the middle of the El Pópulo district. Memories of the Phoenicians, Greeks & Romans, Visigoths and Moors still linger in the streets. The area is so rich in stories, it’s hard to soak it all in. The best way – according to me – to discover the narrow streets of Old Town Cádiz is with a Free Walking Tour. I’ve spent quite some time researching which tour to take and opted for the Spanish speaking – a girl gotta practice her Spanish – tour with Lalunares, which was easily one of the best tours I’ve taken. Ever. The guide’s storytelling was so vivid, you could literally see the Romans march through the streets in front of your eyes. In case you’re not so fond of mingling with strangers and you’d prefer to discover Cádiz by yourself, you just have to walk around. Narrow streets with buildings in pastel colours, leading from Plaza to Plaza, opening up only to reveal some hidden wonders or lead you back to the seaside. It is the perfect city to get lost in and you’ll get to know its secrets while doing so.

View from Torre Tavira, the highest watchtower in Cadiz
View over the city of Cadiz from Torre Tavira

TORRE TAVIRA

Cádiz is a city of watchtowers, 126 to be exact. The city was blooming in the 18th century thanks to its trade – or robberies, depending how you see it – with the Americas, being the first port the ships arrived to after their trips to the Colonies. Merchants didn’t want to miss the arrival of their precious goods and build plenty of watchtowers hovering over the city, each with its own flag, in order to be spotted from far away at sea. Torre Tavira is the highest watchtower of Cádiz, serving as a museum, a camera obscura and the best viewpoint of the city, all at the same time.

Sunset at the Paseo Maritimo
Roman theatre in the El Populo area of Cadiz

PASEO MARITIMO DE CADIZ

The ocean is only a small walk away from the centre. Actually, almost the whole Old Town of Cádiz is surrounded by the sea. History and old buildings mingling with the seaside are my favorite. Once the narrow streets start to get claustrophobic, you just have to follow your nose and walk a couple of minutes before breathing the fresh sea breeze. The Paseo Maritimo leads you along the coastline to the Cathedral, while serving as a meeting point for young and old or the setting of buskers playing South American tunes in the evening light.

Sunset over Cadiz
Beautiful flowers of the Botanical Garden in Cadiz
The Castillo de San Sebastian, close to Playa de La Caleta
The crumbling road to Castillo de San Sebastian

PLAYA DE LA CALETA

The city ends at La Caleta, nestled between the castles of San Sebastián and Santa Catalina. A beach. And castles. Do I really have to say more? The perfect place to take a dip in the sea, after strolling through ancient streets on a hot summer day. The adventurous of heart could always head towards the entrance of the Castillo de San Sebastián, connected to the mainland through a crumbling road that clearly has seen better times. An ideal place to watch the sunset, with a cold drink, seeing the sky turn all colours of pink you can possibly imagine.

Selling fresh fish at Mercado de Abastos
Fresh shrimps ready to be eaten
The prettiest catch of the day at the Mercado de Abastos

MERCADO CENTRAL DE ABASTOS

The place to be in Cádiz to sample some of the best foods Spain has to offer. The market is the best in the mornings, when fresh fish and seafood is ready to be sold, cooked and land in empty stomachs. The smells of fresh produce and salty ham linger in the air while you walk around, deciding on what to cook that evening. Maybe you’ll be just buying some ingredients for a pick-nick at the beach. Or you’re in it for a quick lunch, browsing through the food stalls at the outer square of the market, ready for a true food fest.

Once you’ve visited all these highlights of Cádiz, you just scratched the surface. But I hope you’ll fall in love with the city just like me, not only impressed by the history, but also the simple things in life: enjoying pink sunsets on a rooftop terrace while freshly washed shirts are swaying in the hot summer breeze. Walking along the Paseo Marítimo while deciding which of the side streets you’ll discover next. Tasting some mouthwatering tapas while sitting on a terrace in one of the Plazas dotting the city, or licking the melting ice cream of your fingers while walking over ancient cobblestones.

Things to do in the city of Cadiz, Spain.

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