The first time I traveled to Cordoba, it was a day trip from Seville. It is not enough time to do justice to this incredible city but if you travel by high-speed train, here’s a guide to the very best sites that will have you promising to visit Cordoba again and for a longer trip – the Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral, the Gardens of the Alcazar, the Patios, the Roman Bridge, and the historic center and Jewish Quarter. Here’s how to do it all, and get there and back by high-speed train.
Getting there and away
Cordoba is well-connected by train and is part of AVE, Spain’s high-speed train network. That means from Seville Cordoba is just a 45-minute train ride.
Even better, the Cordoba train station is right in the heart of town.
The AVE also offers connections to the rest of Spain, meaning that Madrid, Barcelona, and other major sites are just a few hours away.
There are hourly trains between Seville and Cordoba.
Tip: If it’s your first trip to Cordoba, the Mezquita, gardens of the Alcazar, and Los Patios, can easily take up a day. I’ve added the Jewish Quarter to this itinerary for those of you who may have seen at least one of these attractions before and don’t need to spend as much time there. Certainly on my first Seville to Cordoba day trip, I didn’t have enough time to see the Jewish Quarter.
Best Value Entrance Tickets to Cordoba’s Main Attractions
Here are the tickets you need for a day at Cordoba’s best sights.
- Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
- Cordoba: Mosque-Cathedral E-Ticket with Optional Audio Guide
- Córdoba: Mosque-Cathedral, Synagogue and Alcázar Guided Tour
- Alcazar of Cordoba Entry Ticket and Guided Tour
- Cordoba’s Authentic Patios: 2-Hour Tour with Tickets
- Córdoba: Guided Tour of the Patios
- Tapas Tour in Córdoba
- Cordoba: Jewish Quarter Walking Tour
- Córdoba City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Tour the Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
Perhaps no other building offers a better testament to Spain’s tumultuous history than the Mezquita, the “Mosque-cathedral” of Cordoba, a World Heritage site.
This building has been a holy site for more than 2000 years. First, the conquering Romans built a temple here. Then the Visigoths converted it into a Christian church.
Muslims arrived in the 8th century and built the Great Mosque (Mezquita in Spanish). For 500 years it was a symbol of Muslim power in Southern Spain.
During the Reconquista, the mosque was recaptured by the King of Castille and converted anew into a Cathedral.
Since then, much of the original structure has been respected, although some adaptations to the interior were made to make it more suitable for Christian worship.
All that makes the Mezquita a must-see! Elements of the world’s two most popular religions sit side by side, the two styles at times harmonious, at times jarring.
Notable attractions inside include the Mihrab, a niche-oriented towards Mecca, decorated with typical Muslim geometric designs and calligraphy – far removed from the figurative images that dominate Catholic churches.
Elsewhere, the Christian altar and Bell Tower are evidence of more recent additions, although the latter was only built when an earthquake destroyed the original minaret.
Finally, like so much of Southern Spain, the Mezquita is blessed with beautiful orange tree-filled courtyards – El Patio de Los Naranjos.
If you wish to go up to the bell tower, there is a supplementary price of €3 on top of the regular entrance ticket price.
As well as the basic visit, there are a number of other options, including nighttime visits (“The Soul of Cordoba”) and various guided tours.
If you’re staying overnight in Cordoba, a private or small group tour of the Mezquita at night is a memorable (and uncrowded) experience.
It’s also worth remembering that as a functioning holy building, the Mezquita holds masses. During the week there is a mass at 9.30 am, while on Sundays and holy days of obligation, there are masses at 12 pm and 1.30 pm.
Whether you come for a visit as a tourist or as a practicing Catholic, bear in mind the usual rules about dress code apply: any clothing considered immodest, caps or hats, and large backpacks are all classed as mortal sins!
Stroll the Alcazar Gardens
The word Alcazar can be found throughout southern Spain to refer to former Muslim palaces.
Not far from the mosque, you can find Cordoba’s Alcazar, although the current construction was ordered by King Alfonso in 1328 on the site of the one-time Muslim stronghold.
This Christian re-conquering of Cordoba is commemorated by the Garden of the Monarchs, which features statues of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, the royal marriage that united the regions of Castille and Aragon and led Spain to final victory over the Moors – as well as financing a certain Christopher Columbus’ voyages.
The Alcazar itself is one of the least interesting in Andalusia, and if you’ve seen the Seville Alcazar, I’d skip the inside and just focus on the incredible gardens.
The Alcazar’s gardens offer a serene location for a stroll right in the heart of Cordoba, and like the Mosque, provide a fascinating blend of Christian and Muslim influence.
Also like the Mosque, the gardens are home to orange-tree line courtyards, and indeed the smell of orange blossom and jasmine is a major characteristic of the town.
Indeed, history lessons aside, the charm of this attraction is its natural beauty. A wide variety of plants and trees line the gardens, which are also adorned with numerous water features.
Finally, there is also a maze of hedges here, ideal for a little light-hearted fun.
Tip: I think this is my favorite garden in Spain, and that’s a big call, so don’t miss it! It’s fantastic on hot steamy Andalusian summer days.
Cross the Roman Bridge
While much of what is celebrated about Cordoba has to do with its Muslim-Christian blend of cultures, the Romans also left their fingerprints on this river-side town, notably with the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge).
Considering it is over 2000 years old, this squat, sturdy-looking bridge is amazingly well preserved and stands as a testament to the excellence and know-how of its Roman builders.
From a historical point of view, it is surprisingly one of the few surviving examples of a Roman bridge left in Spain and offers the viewer a window into Spain’s ancient past.
More importantly, perhaps, it also allows you to take a step away from the city center, and take in the Mosque and its surroundings from a different perspective.
The view is stunning – ideal for photos – and that is especially true at night.
See the Patios of Cordoba
Back in town, Los Patios Cordobeses (the Patios of Cordoba) offers an entirely different attraction.
Cordoba is one of those cities where half of the charm is simply wandering its beguiling streets and happening upon some unexpected spot.
Chief among these charms is the town’s patios – colorful courtyards that can be found all over town.
The sun in southern Spain has led to the creation of many cultural phenomena – not least the siesta! – and these courtyards can be added to the list.
Designed in Roman times to provide relief from the sun, they have long been a source of pride among locals, who decorate their courtyards with flowers.
While some of the courtyards are not open year-round to the public, many of them are, and even more excitingly, at certain times of the year private courtyards are thrown open to the public.
This is especially true during the Concurso de Patios, an annual contest where locals vie for prizes.
The contest takes place every year in early May.
When you visit you are allowed to take photos but there is always a bowl where you can leave a small donation as a gesture of appreciation.
As well as the patios, Cordoba’s historic center is a world heritage site in its own right and has plenty to offer.
A stone’s throw from the mosque, you will find Bar Santos (Calle Magistral González Francés, 3), home of the town’s most famous (and ridiculously large) tortillas.
If you have never tried Spanish omelet, this is the place to give it a go, and, despite the site’s fame, it retains a real down-to-earth vibe and price list.
While we are talking food, Cordoba is also the place to check out other Andalusian specialties, like salmorejo.
A close relative of the more famous gazpacho, salmorejo is a little thicker and often garnished with hearty chunks of egg, ham, or bell peppers.
Another local favourite is flamenquin, deep-fried ham and cheese which is then breaded. About as appropriate for weight-watchers as it is for vegans, it nonetheless offers an indulgent and comforting treat.
Streets and Squares
Continuing our walking tour, just north of Bar Santos es Calleja de las Flores, perhaps the epitome of Cordoba’s charm: narrow, whitewashed and winding, it is lined with gorgeous flowers.
Taking this street up will lead you to Plaza de las Tendillas, a relatively modern square dominated by the statue of Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba, the “great captain” of the Reconquista.
From there, head southeast to Plaza de la Corredera, arguably Cordoba’s most grand and elegant square.
Seville to Cordoba day trip add-on: The Jewish Quarter
Ferdinand and Isabel also oversaw the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, meaning that precious little remains of Jewish heritage in Spain.
In Cordoba, however, you can find a synagogue that was built when Cordoba was under Muslim rule.
The synagogue has both Mudejar and Gothic influences, making it yet another example of Cordoba’s fascinating history.
Next to the synagogue on the aptly named Calle de Los Judios (Jewish Street), The Casa de Sefarad is a cultural center offering insights into the history of Sephardic Jews in Cordoba.
The synagogue went under restoration work in the 19th century, and the Spanish government’s decision in 2015 to offer citizenship to the descendants of the Spanish Sephardic Jews is further evidence of how places like this can serve as a stimulus for reconciliation.
Another encouraging symbol is the rediscovery of Jewish cuisine.
In Plaza de Maimónides – a square which is named after an ancient Jewish philosopher – Casa Mazal offers kosher dishes that take in all of the culinary influences that Cordoba has enjoyed over the last 2000 years.