Thinking of going to Cordoba? Read this first!

Travelling takes time and money and hindsight is a wonderful thing.  I have just returned from 3 days in Cordoba and can share with you the benefits of having been there and getting the T shirt.  Hopefully, my travel tips will aid your own trip planning research and help you to get the most out of your visit.

Cordoba

3 Days in Cordoba - Good to Know Before You Go

When is the Best Time to Visit?

We visited at the end of February and enjoyed a very pleasant 16 – 20 degrees of blue skies and sunshine during the days dropping down to a comfortable 9 degrees at night.  No need for sun cream, sun hats or air conditioning.  Yes – there were plenty of visitors – especially in the middle of the day – but the narrow cobbled streets and the main tourist sites weren’t at all crowded.

I imagine it could be very different in the height of the season though.  March temperatures are still warm, April can be hot and May is Feria time.  If you want to see flower filled patios, then you would need to brave the crowds they inevitably bring.  July and August are way too hot for most people.  Many of the restaurants shut their doors during the hot Summer months.  The cooler Autumn months could be a good choice too. Overall, February proved to be a good time to visit, providing few days of sunshine when it was cold, wet and grey back home in the UK.

How Long Should I go to Cordoba for?

It is always a difficult question I think.  Too short a trip and the travelling time to get to your destination is disproportionately high.  Too long though and you reach your boredom/energy threshold and overstay your welcome.

If you are flying in, it is likely that you will travel to Cordoba via Malaga airport.  You can take a train into the centre from the airport or pre book a transfer by car.  Either way, it will add at least a couple of hours onto your journey, which makes Cordoba that bit more of a challenge for timing the length of your trip.  We opted for a transfer by car in the end – a little more expensive than the train, but it gets you directly from door to door in comfort without any added waiting time on station platforms.

Given the length of the journey to get here, I felt that 3 days was about right.  Travelling between the great Spanish cities of Cordoba, Granada and Seville by train is another option people like to take.  If you are doing that, then I would say 2 days is really sufficient to get a good feel for the city and see its main highlights.

What is there to do in a Cordoba?

The itinerary below is not quite the one we followed on our own visit – it is what I would have done with the benefit of hindsight which hopefully makes it of more use to you.

Cordoba Itinerary Day 1 - A Step Back in Time

Start your day by taking an early morning stroll through Cordoba’s pretty cobbled streets to the Calahorra Tower.  An impressive 1st century Roman bridge links the centre of Cordoba to the Tower and gives you some great views looking back across to the city.

For a small fee, you can climb slowly to the top through a fascinating museum that really brings 10th century Cordoba to life.  Muslims, Jews, and Christians all lived peacefully side by side in this city, freely sharing spirituality and learning with each other.  You can but hope that such a happy coexistence might one day prevail in the modern world?

Calahorra Tower and Roman Bridge - Cordoba
Calahorra Tower and Roman Bridge - Cordoba

The museum has a collection of painstakingly created miniature models that do a great job to help you visualise what life was like in the city way back in those formative days.  Of particular interest are scale models of both the original Mezquita Catédral and the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. 

The audio guide (available in English) gives you a really good understanding of why the Mosque was originally constructed the way it was – long before the addition of the Cathedral (no spoilers!).  The building of the Alcazar Palace and how the sense of serenity you feel when you visit the real thing is achieved is also well explained.  In my view, both sites can be much better appreciated by visiting this little museum first.

Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral) Model in Calahorra Tower Cordoba
Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral) - Model in Calahorra Tower

You could pause for a tapas lunch at one of the string of restaurants that line the main road by the Calahorra Tower.  This part of town is much quieter than the centre of the Old Town.  The menus seemed to me to be very much the same wherever you choose to eat, so I’m not going to make any particular recommendations – just take your pick!

Must Do - Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral)

The main tourist attraction in Cordoba is without doubt the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral  – one of the world’s greatest works of Islamic architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its construction began in the VIII century  – a legacy of Abd al-Rahman I who brought architects all the way from Syria to create the original mosque.  It is vast and you cannot help but stand in awe as you admire the many arches resolutely pointing the way to infinity and beyond.

Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral) - Cordoba
Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral)
Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral) Cordoba
Mezquita Catédral (Mosque-Cathedral)

The Cathedral built into the Mezquita’s centre in the 16th century takes you rather by surprise.  It is grandiose and glittering for sure, but looks to me rather incongruous plonked into the centre of the ancient mosque? 

It made me wonder – couldn’t they just have preserved the awe inspiring simplicity of the original mosque and the soothing symmetry of its multiple radiating arches and built a new cathedral next door?  Maybe they were tight on cash and using the old building as a base saved a bit of money?  Or maybe they wanted to make a statement that Christianity was now firmly the order of the day and that the old regime was a thing of the past? 

You can make your own mind up whether the addition of the Cathedral was a travesty or a triumph – for me, it was definitely the former.  I am not alone.  The cathedral was built with the permission of King Carlos I who famously regretted the result, saying: “You have destroyed something that was unique in the world”.

Tips for Future Travellers

You can buy tickets on line in advance of your visit to avoid having to queue.  Of course, you can book a guided tour too if you want to, but I found it preferable to just wander around this vast, impressive building at my own pace with the free leaflet provided at the entrance gate as my guide.  I guess it depends on your appetite for detail, facts and figures etc.

If you are over 65, do carry a form of ID with you which has your date of birth on it because reduced price tickets are available for the main sites and most of the smaller sites will allow you free entry too.

Cordoba Itinerary Day 2 - Gardens, Patios and Palaces

The Botanical Gardens of Cordoba are a short walk along the river from the Alcazar de los Reyes.  They cover a 13-acre area which includes an arboretum, several ornamental gardens and a Museum of plant evolution.  There is also a garden showcasing the plants that you can find in the famous Cordoban patios and information about why they were constructed and how they are maintained. 

Naranja - Orange Tree - Cordoba
Naranja - Orange Tree in the Botanical Gardens of Cordoba

If you like gardens and plants, it makes a nice place for an early morning stroll in the sunshine.  If you are like me and from the UK – where oranges are found only on supermarket shelves and in jars of marmalade – then a walk among the colourful, heavily fruit laden naranja trees is a joy!

After your visit, walk back into town via the Calleja de las Flores to see beautiful flower-filled patios hidden behind ironwork grilles and gates.   The Asociación de Amigos de los Patios Cordobeses – overflowing with bougainvillea, geraniums and cyclamen – can be visited free all year round. 

Patios of Cordoba
Patios of Cordoba - Statue

The colourfulness of the patios will depend on the season, but even out of season, they have a charm.  There are also craft workshops you can visit surrounding them. 

Guided tours of the patios are available – of course – but again, I really don’t think they would have added much to my visit.  Some of the patios charge a fee to enter – which is included in the guided tour price – so I guess it really depends on how long you want to allocate to this part of your trip.  For us, a short stroll and a visit to couple of patios was ample to get a feel for this pretty and colourful area of the city.

Calleja de las Flores Cordoba
Calleja de las Flores Cordoba
Patios of Cordoba
Patios of Cordoba
Must Do - Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

In the afternoon, you have plenty of time to visit the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos – a fort-cum-palace with serene gardens made all the more beautiful by cascading fountains.

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos Cordoba
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos Cordoba
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos Cordoba Gardens
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos Cordoba Gardens

For me though, the best bit of the Palace’s long history is that it was where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain made their first acquaintance with Christopher Columbus.  You can stand beneath the commemorative statue in the grounds and ponder on how that meeting changed the course of history for the entire world. 

I can imagine Christopher Columbus saying:  “Now look – I’ll be honest – this is not going to be cheap …!”  Yes – it certainly did all happen here in Cordoba al those years ago.

Christopher Columbus Statue Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos Cordoba
"Now look - I'll be honest - this is not going to be cheap ...!"

If you have time and inclination, finish your day with a visit to the nearby 10th-century Baños del Alcázar Califal – the impressive bathhouse of the Moorish Alcázar,

Cordoba Itinerary Day 3 - the Jewish Quarter and Museums

Judería Barrio is the old Jewish quarter of Cordoba.  Its narrow, winding, cobbled alleyways lined with their fascinating heavy old doorways are a peaceful place for a morning stroll before the heat of the mid-day sun comes up.  Peer into the silversmithing and jewellery workshops as you wander.  You can also pay a (free) visit to the tiny synagogue – one of only three remaining original synagogues in Spain – and admire the beautiful mosaics and inscriptions (with English translations) inside.  

Doorway - Jewish Quarter Cordoba
Doorway - Jewish Quarter Cordoba

Pause in the large square of Plaza Jeronimo Paez shaded with orange trees and survey the map there showing the location of Roman, Medieval, Moorish and Christian architectural remains dotted all around the city.  The Museum of Archeology is also located there.  The square makes a good place for another tapas lunch if you are hungry too – or just a welcome rest stop after all the pavement pounding. 

In the afternoon, you could visit the nearby Plaza del Potro – just on the outskirts of the Old Town.  The square houses the Museum of Fine Arts and Fosforito’s Flamenco Museum.  I didn’t visit the Fine Arts Museum, but did pop inside the Flamenco Museum for a while.  The entry fee is only a couple of euros and there are a few interesting exhibits inside.

You can don headphones and try your hand at flamenco clapping in time to video exhibits, but to be honest, it sounds way more interesting than it actually was.  Several of the displays were broken and I couldn’t make out how the clapping in time game was really supposed to work?

Lonely Planet bills it as “possibly the best flamenco museum in Andalucía”, so maybe I was missing something?   It does give you some history of the development of the art of flamenco dancing though and its importance in Spanish culture.

Flamenco Dresses Cordoba
Flamenco Dresses for Sale

A tour of the flamenco dress shops in the area was far more interesting.  Fans, mantillas, castanets, shawls, clicky heeled shoes and fabulous frilly dresses line the walls – the Spanish really know how to have fun at Feria time.

If you have time, the Cordoba Bullfighting Museum in Plaza Maimónides is another low entry fee Museum worth popping into for a while.  You can learn a little of the history of bullfighting and the lengths that young trainee matadors have to go to to learn their craft at the University of Cordoba.  Many of their sparkly, slim cut outfits – so much a part of this flambouyant and violent spectacle that is still so beloved in Spain – are on show there too.

More Time in Cordoba? - Some Further Suggestions

The City is home to the Royal Stables of Córdoba which has an evening Equestrian show at 7.30 which might be entertaining.  We decided it might be a bit too touristy for our taste.

If all the pavement pounding tires you out, you could book yourself in for a relaxing dip in an Arab bath – with or without an aromatic massage – at the Hammam Al Andalus.

Out of town, the 10th-century Medina Azahara – built by Abd al-Rahman Ill built as part of his attempt to overcome Europe – may be of interest.  It is reachable by a bus from the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos which departs at 11am and returns at 4.30 (except Mondays).  You will need to buy tickets at the tourist office or on line before you go. 

The site is still under excavation and so only fragments of the original city remain.  We decided that it would demand more imagination than we were prepared to devote to it and there was enough to occupy us for 3 days in Cordoba without feeling the need to leave the city, but it is undoubtedly an important historical site which I include here for completeness.

Where We Stayed

Our base for this trip was the NH Collection Amistad Córdoba.  The best thing about the hotel was its location which made the itinerary above very workable completely on foot.

NH Collection Amistad Córdoba
NH Collection Amistad Córdoba Bedroom
NH Collection Amistad Córdoba Bedroom
NH Collection Amistad Córdoba Bedroom

For a 4 star hotel, it is reasonably priced, but that may well reflect the fact that it could do with a refurb in places.  It has a pool, which was closed when we were there in February but looked like it would need quite a bit of cleaning and repair before it could be properly reopened.  The cobbled square in which the hotel is housed does get very noisy at times with tour groups etc. too.  I was pretty neutral about the hotel overall – you may well be able to find better.

Foodie Firsts

Cordoba has a bit of a reputation as a foodie city and this was one of the reasons for our trip.  Discovering local delicacies is always a trip highlight for me and there are quite a few I can share with you here to help you compile your own foodie first wish list:

Salmorejo

Salmorejo is a thick, creamy tomato soup served cold garnished with jamon chunks and hard boiled egg.  Made from fresh tomatoes blended with garlic, bread, olive oil and a splash of sherry vinegar, it is a meal in itself at lunch time. 

Salmorejo Cordoba
Salmorejo

Flamenquin

Flamenquin is a kind of roulade made with pork, ham and cheese and then fried in breadcrumbs.  You can find it on most of the tapas menus.  I found it to be rather dry myself, but each to his own.

Flamenquin Cordoba
Flamenquin

Berenjenas en miel

Berenjenas en Miel – Aubergine/Eggplant deep fried in honey.  How to make a vegetable as unhealthy as possible?  If you are travelling with children, this might be just the dish to tempt them to eat their five a day though?!

Berenjenas en miel - Aubergines fried in honey - Cordoba
Berenjenas en miel - Aubergines fried in honey

Pastel Cordobés

Pastel Cordobés are made of puff pastry with a filling of cinnamon and sweet squash.  They are eaten for breakfast or dessert and are way more delicious than they sound!

Pastel Cordobés Cordoba
Pastel Cordobés

Montilla-Moriles Wine

Cordoba is also famous for its Montilla-Moriles wine made from the Pedro Ximénez grape which thrives in the Sierra de Montilla and Moriles Alto area. The conditions here allow grapes to reach a potential of 15% alcohol by volume when harvested.  Therefore, in some cases (e.g. the Fino and some Amontillados), the wines do not need added fortification with alcohol.

Montilla-Moriles Wine Cordoba
Montilla-Moriles Wine

Restaurant Recommendations

Despite Cordoba’s reputation as a foodie city, I was surprised at just how repetitive the menus seemed to be here.  Tapas is everywhere and there is very little to choose between the myriad of restaurants that line the streets. 

If you are looking for a more elaborate evening meal, my best recommendation of the restaurants we tried would be Restaurant El Churrasco.  Their traditional finest iberico ham starter is hard to beat.  The menu has a good choice of traditional dishes and desserts too.

Bar Santos - Cordoba
Bar Santos - Cordoba

Cordoba also has one of the best potato omelettes – or tortilla.  You can try one at Bar Santos – made famous by Michael Portillo’s visit.  You’ll have to sit on the cathedral wall to eat it though.

If you are looking for evening entertainment, you can see a flamenco show at the Patio de la Judería Restaurant.  I didn’t try it out, but it might have been a lot of fun?

You Might Also Like

If you are looking for recommendations for short city breaks in Europe, you might find some inspiration on these posts:

  • Post category:Cordoba