Discover the best things to do and see in Cadiz and get to know the oldest city in Europe
By Liza S. | Updated 17 Oct 2023 | Cádiz | Cities | Login to add to YOUR Favourites or Read LaterThis article has been visited 211 times
Are you planning a trip to Andalucia and looking for a destination that is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty? Look no further than Cádiz! This charming coastal city offers visitors a wide range of activities and attractions to explore.
Cádiz is a destination that seamlessly blends history, culture, and coastal beauty. From savoring delectable seafood to enjoying the beaches and discovering Roman ruins, Cádiz offers an authentic Spanish experience that resonates with both history enthusiasts and beach lovers.
In this article, I'll be your guide, unveiling the must-see attractions, hidden gems, and local insights that will make your visit truly remarkable.
Let's dive in and uncover the best things to do in Cádiz.
As the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, Cadiz has a rich and fascinating history. The city was founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC and was originally called Gadir. The Phoenicians were known for their seafaring skills and established a thriving port in Cadiz, which became an important trading center in the Mediterranean.
During the Roman era, Cadiz continued to flourish and became an important center of commerce and culture. The city's Roman Theatre, which dates back to the 1st century BC, is one of the most impressive and well-preserved ancient structures in Cadiz. It was built during the reign of Julius Caesar and could seat up to 10,000 spectators.
In the 18th century, Cadiz became a hub of trade and industry, thanks to its strategic location on the Atlantic coast. The city's port was a key link between Spain and its colonies in the Americas, and Cadiz became one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. Many of the city's most impressive buildings, including the Cathedral and the Torre Tavira, were built during this time period.
Today, Cadiz is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that offers visitors a unique blend of ancient history and modern culture. Not surprisingly, Cádiz is packed with reminders of its long history all concentrated in a small area. Whether you're exploring the winding cobbled streets of the old town or soaking up the sun on one of the city's beautiful beaches, there's something for everyone to enjoy in this fascinating city.
Interested in Cadiz’s history? Read our historical guide to Cadiz for more.
The Cadiz Cathedral is a stunning baroque-style cathedral that was built between 1722 and 1838. The cathedral's golden dome and bell tower are visible from almost anywhere in the city, making it a popular landmark.
Inside the cathedral, you'll find an impressive collection of artwork and sculptures, including works by famed Spanish artist Francisco Goya (there’s a small fee to enter).
If the weather’s good, I highly recommend taking a break at one of the cafes in the square facing the cathedral. It’s a great spot to people-watch, take in the atmosphere, and admire the Cathedral!
Cadiz Roman Theatre
In the 19th century, the sea broke through the defensive and seawalls and started to reclaim the land. A mound of debris along this part of the city coastline prevented further ingress but had to be laid at such a thickness that part of the ancient city was buried.
It was only in the 1980s during archaeological excavations in the city center when Cadiz’s Roman Theatre was discovered. These excavations revealed parts of the theatre's structure, including the seating area, stage, and orchestra pit.
Teatro Romano de Cádiz dates back to the 1st century BC, showcasing the city's significance even during the Roman period. After its restoration, the site is open to all visitors -- free of charge!
You can explore the archaeological site, which includes preserved sections of the seating area and the remains of the stage. Information panels provide historical context and details about the theatre's architecture.
The Roman Theatre would have been a typical Roman amphitheater, with a semicircular seating area (cavea) built into the slope of a hill. The stage area (scaenae frons) would have featured elaborate decorations and served as the focal point for performances. You will notice that on the seaward side of the cathedral the street level had been raised until it not only buried the theatre, it also half obscured the original ground floor windows in the cathedral itself.
I was completely wowed by this Cadiz attraction and it’s definitely a must-do on any visit to Cadiz!
Tip: One thing to note is that the entrance to the Roman Theatre can be a bit tricky to find. You can see the remains of the theatre from the seafront street/promenade but the actual entrance is tucked away on Calle Meson which is not too far from the Cathedral square.
The view from Torre Tavira
Plus, I always love how I can get insider tips from the local guide!
I usually use Guruwalk to find the best free walking tours in town. This Medieval Tour is great if you’re looking to discover more about this period of Cadiz’s history. Alternatively, if you prefer a more personalized experience, a private walking tour is the way to go. Either way, you’ll definitely learn a lot about Cadiz!
Today it’s a popular tourist attraction that offers gorgeous views of the city.
During your visit, you can access the tower's rooftop, which offers breathtaking 360-degree views of Cádiz and its surroundings. The vantage point provides a fantastic opportunity for photography and a deeper understanding of the city's layout and geography - Cadiz looks quite different from the top!
One of the highlights of Torre Tavira is the camera obscura, an optical device that projects a live, panoramic view of the city onto a concave surface in a darkened room. The camera works by using a system of mirrors and lenses to project an image of the city onto a concave surface.
The camera obscura provides a unique and interactive way to experience the city's surroundings in real time. A local guide, who operates the camera, will point out the city’s highlights and share historical anecdotes that help bring the city’s rich past to life. This was certainly a unique experience.
There is a small fee to enter the tower and the guided camera obscura experience is optional. I wasn’t expecting much when I visited but this ended up being one of my favourite activities in Cadiz.
Note: There are many steep steps to access the tower and the rooftop and it’s perfectly doable for most people. If you find going up/down stairs difficult, you’ll be glad to know that there is an elevator. The tower has been adapted to accommodate visitors, and the elevator provides access to the tower's rooftop, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and the surrounding area.
Inside are the remains of the Roman salt factory. In themselves not remarkable, there are better examples at Castillo de la Duquesa and Baelo Claudia, but what makes this exhibition come alive are the displays.
Here you learn that the original land on which Cádiz was built was actually two islands separated by a narrow sea channel. On the westernmost island, the Phoenicians built a temple to their god, Melqart, and the first small settlement called Gadir that, by the time the Romans arrived, rivalled any contemporaneous Roman city with paved streets, plumbing, villas with tiled roofs, street fountains and a surrounding city wall.
The Romans established their settlement that they called Gades on the easternmost island and the two existed together for hundreds of years until the sea channel gradually disappeared and the two parts merged. The salt factory was positioned on the banks of the sea channel inside what must have been a well-protected haven.
The whole process of fishing, salting fish and manufacturing that famous Roman delicacy garum is explained with the help of a 3D film. Products from this factory were exported by sea all over the Roman Empire.
Puertas de Tierra
The fortifications that surround the city were started in the 16th century as a direct result of raiders. As you enter the city from the isthmus, you pass through the massively built Puertas de Tierra, the only road access to the old city, and appreciate the strength of the walls themselves.
In addition, the Spanish built the Baluarte de la Candelaria, a fortress guarding the sea passage into the port of Cádiz situated on the northern point of the ‘star’. Again it is massively built, definitely not something even Nelson would have liked to challenge.
The Santa Catalina Castle is a neoclassical-style castle that was once used as a military fortress and is now open to the public as a museum. The Castillo de San Sebastian is on a small island at the end of a one-kilometre isthmus that joins it to the rest of the city. The castle was used as a military fortress until the 20th century. Today, San Sebastian Castle is open to the public and you can explore its many rooms and learn about its rich history.
The walls that totally encompass the old city between the castles are themselves a formidable obstacle to any would-be attacker. In fact, the old city of Cádiz could be described as a fortress in itself.
The beach is known for its stunning natural beauty, with golden sands, clear blue waters, and a unique backdrop that includes the castles and the city's historic architecture. It has another claim to fame as a filming location for an iconic James Bond scene (remember Halle Berry emerging from the sea in an orange bikini?).
While not as large as some other beaches, La Caleta is still suitable for swimming and enjoying the sea. The beach's smaller size also contributes to a more intimate and cozy ambiance. It’s a great place to enjoy breathtaking sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.
There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby where you can grab a bite to eat.
Tip: Cádiz has no less than six beaches, all facing the Atlantic. Three are in the old city and three along the isthmus. The most southerly before you enter the new city is La Victoria. This beach has everything you might want including, during the summer, an outdoor cinema and its own tourist information office. The two beaches on the isthmus itself are wide, wild, windy expanses of white sand backed by sand dunes with plenty of off-road parking.
The Town Hall's prominent clock tower is a local landmark. Inside, you'll find impressive halls and chambers that reflect Cádiz's rich history. The building serves as the administrative center of the city, embodying its cultural heritage and architectural beauty.
Spread over three floors, the museum has an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and archaeological finds. You can also find artworks by famous artists such as Murillo and Rubens.
In the archaeology section, you will see statues recovered from the Temple of Melqart and two sarcophagus. These were made in Greece and shipped to Cádiz for a wealthy Phoenician merchant and his wife. Other exhibits trace the history of Gadir to 500BC when it came under the control of the Carthaginians and 206BC when the Romans arrived.
The Visigothic period is well documented as is the period from 711 to 1262 when the Moors held sway. They called the city Qadis, which is where the modern name of Cádiz originates. Strangely, considering Cádiz’s importance during that period, the Age of Exploration after 1500 is not well recorded here. For that, you have to travel to Seville.
The museum is in Plaza Mina, the main square in the old town.
Whether you are a history enthusiast, art lover, or simply curious about Cádiz's past, the Museum of Cádiz offers a comprehensive exploration of the city's cultural heritage. It provides an enriching experience that complements your visit to the Old Town and enhances your understanding of this captivating destination.
Tip: As you leave the museum, just walk down Calle Zomilla opposite. On the left, is a tapas restaurant called Cumbres Mayores. Between 2pm and 4pm every day, this place is full to bursting point.
The food, tapas and raciones, all chosen from a menu, is excellent with strange but tasty delicacies like bull’s snout, as well as the more usual dishes featured. Your only problem will be finding somewhere to perch your dishes and plates to allow you to eat. In this frenetic atmosphere, it is a wonder the staff keep track of who has had what but they do.
The format is simple. First find a place to stand or sit with some sort of platform nearby, table, bar, shelf, barrel, whatever. Then find a menu. Choose your dishes and drinks and attract the attention of somebody behind the bar. You are likely to be two people away so you have to shout your order.
Drinks arrive immediately. Then keep your eye on whoever took the order. In due course, he will put it on the bar and nod in your direction. It is up to you to either shoulder your way through or negotiate with people between to have them pass your meal back to you. Good fun.
A lush oasis of tranquility, it features a diverse collection of exotic plants, colorful flowers, and towering trees. Stroll along its meandering paths that lead to picturesque fountains, decorative sculptures, and ornamental gardens.
Overlooking the sea, the park offers a refreshing escape from the city's bustle, making it a favorite spot for both locals and visitors to relax, unwind, and enjoy nature's beauty.
For a true taste of local life, head to the Mercado Central de Abastos.
This bustling market is the heart of Cadiz and is home to numerous stalls selling fresh fish, seafood, fruit, and vegetables. It's the perfect place to pick up ingredients for a DIY picnic or to sample some of the local delicacies. Make sure to try the ortiguillas fritas (fried sea anemone) and the cazón en adobo (fried dogfish) - two of Cadiz's most famous dishes.
While you’re here, take some time to admire the market’s lovely architecture as well.
No visit to Cadiz is complete without sampling some of the city's famous tapas. There are countless tapas bars scattered throughout the city, each offering their own unique twist on traditional dishes.
La Candela Tapas Bar and Casa Manteca are two popular options, but feel free to wander and discover your own favourite spot. Cadiz’s coastal location makes it a fantastic place to indulge in fresh seafood. Make sure to try the huevas (fish eggs) and gambas (prawns/shrimp) - two local favourites.
If you're not sure where to start with Cadiz's culinary offerings, consider booking a food tour.
These tours offer a fun and informative way to explore the city's food scene, with knowledgeable guides leading you to the best local spots. It's a great way to learn about the city's history and culture while indulging in some delicious food.
This 3-hour tapas tour is a fun exploration of Cadiz’s food scene where you’ll get to sample 3 drinks and 3 tapas per person from some of the best food spots in the city.
One of the most iconic cultural landmarks in Cadiz is the Gran Teatro Falla. This beautiful theatre was built in the early 20th century and has since become a hub for the performing arts in the city. The theatre hosts a range of events throughout the year, including concerts, operas, and ballets.
If you're interested in catching a show at the Gran Teatro Falla, be sure to check the schedule in advance on their official website.
Cádiz Carnival is, justly, famous. It was influenced by the carnival at Venice, with which city Cádiz had much trade during the 16th century and is now considered the premier carnival in Spain.
It is a party that officially lasts ten days but often carries on for up to three weeks and it normally starts in February. Even before the official start, you will find ‘rehearsals’ on various streets with bands practising, bars overflowing onto the footpath, roads closed using impromptu barriers and costumes being tried for size. The police cheerfully ignore such innocent fun, after all, this is the only carnival in Spain that Franco could not ban.
The Cadiz Carnival is renowned for its sharp, witty, and often satirical performances. Groups create songs, skits, and costumes that humorously comment on current events, politics, and societal issues, making the Carnival a platform for free expression and social critique.
Beyond organized events, the streets of Cádiz transform into spontaneous stages where impromptu performances, music, and revelry thrive, fostering a lively and immersive carnival atmosphere. The best part is that everyone is welcome to the party!
If you’re ready to see more outside of Cadiz, Gibraltar is a fantastic day trip from Cadiz. This British Overseas Territory is known for its iconic rock, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area. You can also visit St. Michael's Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels, and the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens. Don't forget to say hello to the famous Barbary macaques, the only wild monkeys in Europe.
The best way to get to Gibraltar from Cadiz is to drive and it takes about 2 hours to get there. Once in Gibraltar, I highly recommend taking a guided tour to see the highlights of the city.
If you prefer not to drive, taking a guided day tour from Cadiz that includes transportation is a great option.
For an easy day trip, check out Jerez de la Frontera, a charming town located just 30 minutes from Cadiz.
The town is known for its sherry wine, and you can visit one of the many bodegas to learn about the production process and sample some of the delicious wine. You can also visit the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art to watch a horse show or take a tour of the facilities.
There are frequent bus and train connections between Cadiz and Jerez and you can also opt for a private guided tour from Cadiz where you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the day.
Another day trip I love is to explore some of the gorgeous white villages surrounding Cadiz.
Arcos de la Frontera is a picturesque town located on a hilltop overlooking the Guadalete River. The town is known for its whitewashed houses and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. You can visit the Castle of Arcos de la Frontera, the Basilica of Santa Maria, and the Convento de las Mercedarias Descalzas.
Vejer de la Frontera, a hilltop village about 45 minutes from Cadiz, boasts a blend of Moorish and medieval architecture. Its whitewashed buildings with blue accents create a distinct visual appeal. The village offers panoramic views spanning from valleys to the Atlantic.
Ronda, nestled in the Malaga province, is famed for its dramatic setting atop El Tajo Gorge. The Puente Nuevo bridge spans the gorge, offering breathtaking views. The old town features cobbled streets and white houses, while its bullring echoes tradition. Ronda's captivating blend of history and natural beauty creates an unforgettable Spanish experience.
These villages and towns are best visited by car. You can also consider this private day trip of the white villages.
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