City Guide: Córdoba, Andalucía

A city with a name that is replicated all over Latin America, Córdoba is growing in reputation as a city that must be visited during any visit to Andalucía. It usually isn’t even in the top 3 for visitors, who often put Sevilla, Granada, Malaga and Cádiz higher on the list. After visiting this city, you might reconsider a few things. I first visited Córdoba in 2013 with my brother, and spent just one night there. 6 years later, I moved there permanently, and haven’t looked back since, and this blog, along with all the others to date, have been published directly from this place. Welcome to a very personal guide of Córdoba, Andalucía.

First things first as always with my guides, is how to get there. Córdoba is very well connected with the rest of Andalucía, and has direct train services to all the provincial capitals except Almería and Huelva (Change at Sevilla and Granada respectively). It is also on the AVE line which from there, the main railroad splits and heads to Sevilla, Malaga and Granada. The other direction is from the very first AVE connection to Madrid, and subsequently connects to Zaragoza and Barcelona. Valencia is also connected with one or two daily trains via a different route.

Buses will pretty much take you to almost any other part of the country directly or via a connection. When I moved from Tarragona to Córdoba, there was just 1 connection at Ubeda and I only paid 75€ for it. Alsa and Socibus make the majority of the long-distance routes, whereas Carrera will take you to more local places like Lucena, 2nd largest city in the province. The airport in Córdoba does not currently have any commercial flights, so the nearest airports are Sevilla, Malaga and Granada. For me, the best ways back to England aren’t usually via Granada, so compare your flights with the other two.

Despite being the third biggest city in Andalucía, The infrastructure of Córdoba is quite basic. There is no metro, nor tram, but an extensive bus network by Aucorsa, where journeys cost 1.30€ each (buying a card for 5€ reduces the price to 0.76€ a journey, but this isn’t worth it for visitors). They are pretty efficient and can take you to most parts of town easily barring the old quarter, where you will have to walk more often than not. The chances are that you would never need to use a bus in order to see most of the attractions, though for transit between the city centre and the train and bus station.

The climate of Córdoba is extreme in summer, and mild or cool in winter. At an average of 37 degrees in July, The city has the hottest average summer high in the whole of Europe Only Ecija (Sevilla) is higher. During the summer of 2020, the mercury reached 45 on several occasions, and this kind of extreme temperature reflects the dip in number of tourists during June, July and August. The busiest times are actually around April, May, September and October when the weather is a more comfortable. Winters are usually a little wetter, and night temperatures can drop below freezing, so a jacket is advisable. Even in winter, you can easily enjoy the outdoors in jeans and a t-shirt on occasions as the temperature can reach 20+ degrees even in January.

On to the sights and one thing you must be aware of, is that the old quarter is one of the biggest in Europe, and I divided it into 4 sections: the commercial centre, the Judería, San Basilio, and Realejo/ San Lorenzo/ San Pedro. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The commercial centre/ centro commercial is as the name suggests where the majority of the shopping areas are in the city, and is where one of the main squares, the Plaza Tendillas is. This is the part of town that has seen the most changes over the last 100 years, with various buildings typical of eras ranging from the 19th-20th centuries. It is also a very popular place for locals and young people, who often meet in Tendillas and may fill the bars nearby.

Many of the narrow, windy streets have been changed over the years and made wider like the main shopping street, Cruz Conde. There are actually indications on the floor detailing the old streets and even a model showing the different eras. Many old streets still remain, and among some of the churches in the area, you can still find old classic white buildings even in this part. The Plaza de Capuchinos and Calle Conde de Torres Cabrera are the best examples of this.

San Basilio is the smallest neighbourhood, and has some of the most important attractions that aren’t in the Judería, Such as the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, and next to that, Córdoba Ecuestre. The Alcazar and its extensive gardens are a must see, and has some examples of Moorish architecture and views of the city along the walls. The Gardens however, are my favourite part, as they show the impressive irrigation system that’s been in place for years. During the night, especially in summer, there are light and water shows there which when I first visited, were free with the ticket (5€), but during some periods they now charge you. The Ecuestre centre is the place famous for the andaluz horses, and you can visit the stables, as well as enjoy the dressage shows in the evening.

San Basilio is also famous for the Patios de Córdoba, and some of the most beautiful are usually judged to be here. The museum of Patios Cordobeses is in this Neighbourhood, and the narrow streets, almost entirely surrounded by the castle walls are nowhere near as busy as the Judería. There is also the Museo de los Baños del Alcazar Califal, which takes you underground and enjoy the sights of the old moorish baths, on the border between San Basilio and the Judería.

The Realejo/ San Lorenzo/ San Pedro area is the biggest part of the old quarter and possibly the most underrated part of town. You can easily get lost in almost endless, narrow streets which are almost always photogenic as they always seem to have a church or two in the background. Here, you can find the Plaza de Corredera, the only square in Córdoba with passageways and arches and is full of life, with restaurants and the local market. You also have the Palacio de Viana, known for it’s courtyards and gardens and during the COVID pandemic, it’s also free to enter if you book.

What you might end up doing however, is enjoying the walk down various narrow streets, visiting any church, of which there are many, and relaxing in one of the many squares around, many of which have bars taking advantage of the area. I happen to live in this area, and it is surprisingly easy to get lost, and live a normal life without having to walk miles to do your weekly shop. The closer to the river you get however, the more touristic it becomes, though you will very likely see locals around these areas too.

The Judería is definitely the most popular part of town for tourists, is the oldest part of town, and the whole neighbourhood is a UNESCO world Heritage site. The Mezquita, the city’s cathedral has quite possibly one of the strangest, but also most spectacular interiors of any other cathedral in Spain. It follows hundreds of years of building and expanding and changes in religion, resulting in a gothic and moorish fusion of architecture. There are hundreds of arches surrounding the Christian scene in the centre, and you can tell which parts of the cathedral are older. A standard ticket to enter costs 11€ which is 3€ more than when I first visited in 2013, but there is a hack to this. If you enter the Mezquita between 8:30-9:30, it is free entry, for everybody. This does however exclude certain religious days, and many Sundays, so be aware.

The Judería is also home to a number of other sights, including the synagogue, Casa Andalusí, Patios Andaluces, Museo Taurino, Puente Romano and the Calahorra, the two latter monuments being on the Guadalquivir river with the Mezquita overlooking it. Some of these places charge a small fee of a couple of euros, but there’re no charge for the Patios, nor the Puente Romano, the oldest bridge in the city. With just these attractions alone, you can probably make a good day of it, depending on how much of a rush you’re in.

Souvenir shops are quite a prominent feature in this part of town, mostly on the streets surrounding the Mezquita and some of the streets are extremely photogenic, specifically the Calleja de las flores which I would visit as early as possible and your quality of the photo will depend on the season due to the flowers. There are also a few Arab baths in case you want a proper chill out, the Hammam and the Baños Arabes de Córdoba are located here and easy to find.

Outside the centre, There are some attractions a little out of the way that are more than worth the journey. The Medina Azahara, a UNESCO world heritage site 8km or so from the city centre, and is accessible by bus and bicycle. There, you have a visitor centre and the ruins of the ancient moorish kingdom that that offer views of Córdoba city in the distance. If you’re looking for more views though, I would recommend Las Ermitas on the tallest hill that immediately overlooks Córdoba. This place is series of crosses and shrines that is popularly hiked up to, from the city and only cost a couple of Euros to visit, should you decide to enter the premises.

Eating out in Córdoba was a pleasant surprise to me, as I realised just how many unique dishes were on offer here that were local. The typical dishes here include; Salmorejo (cold tomato soup with eggs, Jamón and bread) Flamenquín, Berenjenas con miel (fried aubergines with honey or sweet wine), San Jacobo (similar to a cordon bleu) and Rabo de Toro. Other dishes popular here are Naranjas Picadas which often go with salads and fish, Berenjenas a la montillana, a different kind of aubergine and tortilla. Many places often compete with each other for who has the biggest flamenquín or biggest tortilla or best rabo de toro, nice to know they want their customers to have the most unique experience ever, right?

In most restaurants you are going to see at least one of the aforementioned dishes on the menu, given how good they are, and how much the locals like them. Now let’s explore where are the best places to eat. The Judería is going to throw traditions at you and understandably, there is a mark-up on the prices, but the difference isn’t that big. you can enjoy the food as well as the odd flamenco show which are on offer in many places there. The Judería is also a minefield of tourist traps, and I can tell you now, if you are paying more the 3.50€ for a tapa, it has to be pretty special to be worth that much. One place around the Mezquita where locals keep coming back for more is Santos, where you can sample a slice of one of the biggest tortillas in the country at a reasonable price.

Other zones around the city are notably cheaper for the most part, the better places being around Avenida Gran Capitan, In the city centre, Ciudad Jardín near the train station, and scattered around the San Lorenzo area, where there are some amazing places like Taberna Santi and Sociedad Plateros. most places in the city, will give you a tapa free with a drink, though it is often Olives and crisps. In Ciudad Jardín, you are more likely to get something different. All I can say is, they are a very light bite and are more an appetiser for you to order a media ración of something.

It’s worth noting that the Plaza de Corredera has nice places to eat, but it’s a little more expensive there, and quality of the food is a little hit and miss there, but the atmosphere makes up for it. The Mercado Victoria is like the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, amazing food, buzzing atmosphere, but a bit pricey. It does have some night life there to keep the locals beyond midnight.

Speaking of nightlife, Córdoba has quite a lot of places for going out, but not in the Judería, which is empty for the most part after 1:00, but the commercial centre has places scattered around that keep going until sunrise. There are also notable spots by the river and in Ciudad Jardín which may be worth checking out.

While there may be events all year round in Córdoba, the springtime seems to be the most active. Easter, with the huge parades Feria de Abril and Los Patios all happen around this time. You will also see pop up bars from around February-May selling Caracoles (snails) in many popular places in the city. There is also San Rafael in September which is the patron saint, where people party for a three day weekend. During these times, crowds and one-way systems are formed in the centre, and while the atmosphere is amazing, it makes mobility slow- going. In fact, around the Mezquita during Easter, panels are set up preventing people from seeing the parades without paying for a seat. It can all be a hassle and a more expensive experience, but there are more positives than negatives, so don’t let it put you off.

Hotels and hostels are abundant in Córdoba, and even during peak times, it’s easy to find a bed for the night. Of course the majority of these places are, yep you’ve guessed it, in the Judería. There are some hostels around that cater for younger people, hostal Osio was a good place to stay, just a stone’s throw away from the Mezquita. Esencia de Azahar was also a very pleasant experience. During off peak times, you can easily find a private room for 30€ a night, and they will very likely have some amazing chill out spots on the roof if you are in the older part of town.

There you have it, my adopted city, and I feel so lucky to be living here. I hope you will understand why when you are able to visit Córdoba for yourself. If you want to see a city with so much colour, historic culture, and monuments that are unique, I would highly recommend this place becomes part of your itinerary if you are visiting Andalusia for a week. Just be aware that in summer, you are in for a sweltering time.

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