Cadiz is the oldest surviving city in Spain which was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100BC and was later occupied by the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. Today a narrow bridge is the only connection between the city and the mainland. In recent years the port of Cadiz has grown in popularity as a cruise ship destination which has given cruise passengers the opportunity to get a taste of western Andalucia.
The spectacular arrival point could hardly be better being located right in the heart of the historic centre of the city. In a few cases ships are forced to dock a little further away in which case free shuttle buses will transfer passengers to the cruise ship terminal.
Passengers disembark into an impressive terminal complex which is well equipped with facilities including a very helpful tourist information office. Once you step outside the terminal building you are on Avenida del Puerto which is within walking distance of all of Cádiz’s main tourist attractions as well as public transport services.
Getting Around in Cádiz
Most cruise ships visiting Cádiz arrive in the morning and spend a full day in port before departing in the late afternoon. This puts significant time pressure on visitors who decide to take a shore excursion to the likes of Seville, Jerez de la Frontera or Gibraltar. Those who choose to stay in Cádiz for the day won’t be disappointed as there’s plenty to see and do in this historic destination.
On Foot: Nowhere in Cádiz is very far from the cruise terminal so the vast majority of passengers will be able to walk around the city’s main sights. You should begin by picking up a city map at the tourist information office inside the terminal as well as a leaflet which lists several colour coded walking tours. Signposts around the tourist area and lines painted on the streets refer to these colour coded walks which proves invaluable in ensuring that you see the main attractions. An interesting alternative is to join a small-group walking tour in the company of an expert local guide who will show you around the highlights of Cádiz.
Hop-on, Hop-off Bus: At cruise terminals the world over there are hop-on, hop-off bus services available to passengers. If you’re an experienced cruiser you’re probably well aware that their worth varies enormously according to destination. In the case of Cádiz it’s hard to recommend the service highly if you’re capable of walking at a very leisurely pace for a few hours. The reason for this is that most of the interesting parts of the old city are pedestrianised making them inaccessible to public transport. If walking is a problem, you can get aboard this tourist bus outside the cruise terminal. Its route follows a circuit around the outside of the city with 12 designated stops. The same reservations apply to the city’s public bus service with vehicles forced to steer clear of the streets of the interior where the main attractions lie.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
As mentioned above you should pick up a copy of the leaflet entitled “4 Walks Through Cádiz” at the tourist information office in the cruise ship terminal. It lists the following themed walks:
- Green Walk: Medieval District and Puerta de Tierra
- Orange Walk: Castles and Bastions
- Purple Walk: Shippers to the Indies
- Blue Walk: Cádiz Constitution
Some of the main tourist attractions that you will discover whilst walking around the streets of Cádiz are as follows:
Cádiz Cathedral (Plaza Catedral): The dominant feature of Cádiz’s skyline is the golden dome of the city’s cathedral which is visible as you approach the harbour. The building itself was only completed in 1838 having been 116 years in the making. The modest entry fee includes an audio guide and permits entry to the cathedral’s museum, crypt and bell tower from where views over the city are quite sensational.
Torre de Tavira (Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10): For a very different way of seeing the city it’s highly recommended that you climb the steps to the top of this watch tower where a ‘camera obscura’ displays a 360 degree view of Cádiz.
Plaza de España: The first of numerous interesting squares you’ll come across in the city lies directly across the road from the cruise port exit. The impressive monument standing in the centre is the ‘ Monumento a la Constitución’ which pays tribute the signing of Spain’s first constitution. This event took place in Cádiz in 1812 when the city was briefly the capital of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.
Plaza de San Juan de Dios: Also within a few minutes’ walk of the cruise terminal this bustling 16th century square is home to a number of impressive buildings including the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento de Cádiz). There are lots of terrace bars and restaurants as well as the city’s main tourist information office so if you didn’t get pick up the walking tours leaflet in the port you can do so here.
Plaza de San Antonio This square is of great historical importance to the city have been the site of a well which provided water to the local population during the 16th century and the site of the proclamation of the Spanish constitution in 1812. Today it is best known as being home to the Church of San Antonio (Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua) and has good selection of simple restaurants nearby if your visit happens to coincide with lunchtime.
Mercado Central (Plaza Libertad): Dating back to 1830, the city’s central market is a fascinating place to visit where you’ll find a huge number of fresh food stalls. The fish stalls are particularly interesting considering Cádiz’s proximity to the sea. There are a few bars within the market area which are ideal spots to enjoy a few tapas in the company of local people.
La Caleta Beach If you’ve had enough sightseeing and fancy a dip in the cold waters of the Atlantic just wander to the western headland of the peninsula on which the city is located and you’ll come to the sandy beach of La Caleta. Film buffs might recognise this beach as the spot where Halle Berry emerges from the sea in the James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’.
Sea Forts: Off the northern edge of La Caleta is an interesting 16th century fortress called El Castillo de Santa Catalina which you can visit. Off the southern edge there’s a pathway leading to the lighthouse at El Castillo de San Sebastián which stands on its own islet about 1km from the mainland.
Roman Theatre (Calle Mesón, 11-13): Quite remarkably this ancient ruin which archaeologists believe dates back to the 1st century BC was only discovered in 1980. Renovation work is in its relatively early stages but it is estimated that with a capacity for about 20,000 people this structure will prove to be second largest in the Roman Empire after Pompeii. Please note that this is a work in progress and at the moment is nowhere near as impressive as other such buildings at sites around the continent.
Parque Genovés (Av. Dr. Gómez Ulla, 13,): Looking out to sea on the north-western headland of the peninsula this lovely park is an ideal place to escape the heat of the afternoon. Standing in the shade of the city walls it is home to the city’s small botanical gardens.
Gran Teatro Falla (Plaza Fragela): Named after locally born composer Manuel de Falla this beautiful theatre replaced the wooden Gran Teatro de Cádiz which burnt down in 1881. It’s an important landmark within the old town which is highly regarded for its Mudéjar architecture. You can simply admire the building or if time permits find out what events are scheduled during your stay.
Mudéjar refers to an architectural style designed by the Moors who remained in Spain after the Reconquest but never converted to Christianity
Seville: By far the most popular shore excursion from Cádiz is to the magical city of Seville which lies 120km to the north with a journey time by road of about 1½ hours. Known for its love of flamenco dancing, sherry and bullfighting, it has a wealth of art and monuments and a day trip to the capital of Andalucia will no doubt be one of the highlights of your cruise. You could easily spend a week visiting the many wonderful attractions that Seville has to offer but having to get back to Cádiz in time for your ship’s departure means your time there will be severely limited.
Many cruise ship passengers book the official shore excursions to Seville or join a small-group tour from Cádiz Port. Those who decide to go it alone will have to walk to Cádiz’s train station (turn left on Avenida del Puerto as you leave the port area). Time conscious visitors really shouldn’t contemplate this option as the journey takes approximately 2 hours each way.
Another option is the Taxi Turístico which is promoted on posters around the port area. They offer taxi tours of Cádiz, Seville, Jerez and Gibraltar which at first seem a little expensive but are actually quite reasonable when shared amongst 3 or 4 passengers. Once again, however, I’d be sceptical about recommending such an excursion as the trip to Seville will mainly involve sitting in a car for around 3 hours leaving very little time to see anything.
If you do take the official excursion or hire a private driver and guide you can expect to see some combination of the following attractions:
- The immense Cathedral which was built on the site of Seville’s main Mosque between 1401 and 1507.
- The Giralda tower which was the former minaret of the Mosque and dates from the 12th century.
- The Alcazar which was a fortress in the Muslim era (dates from AD 913) and served as a hideout of Muslim and Christian royalty for many centuries.
- Seville’s bullring which dates back to 1758 and is one of the oldest in the country.
- The Archivo de Indias which holds over 80 million documents related to Spanish colonialism in the Americas dating back to 1492.
- The Antigua Fábrica de Tabacos which was the city’s old tobacco factory used in Bizet’s Carmen. Today it is a part of the University.
- The Plaza de España which was built for the the 1929 Spanish-Americas Fair and is probably the most spectacular square in all of Spain.
Jerez de la Frontera:
Located just 35km north of Cádiz is the charming city of Jerez de la Frontera where life revolves around the Andalucian passion for horses, flamenco and sherry. Taking a tour of one of the city’s famous sherry ‘bodegas’ such as González Byass, Sandeman and Domecq is one of the main tourist attractions.
The other main attraction is attending a show of the famous dancing horses of Jerez at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. These performances take place 2 or 3 times a week during the summer months (once in winter) so check the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre website for confirmation of dates to see if they coincide with your visit.
Transport options for getting to Jerez are the same as for Seville as the city lies on the same road and the same railway line as its larger neighbour. The journey time is about 40 minutes by road and 50 minutes by train. Alternatively, you could arrange a small-group excursion from Cádiz Port which would also include a sherry tasting at one of Jerez’s world-famous bodegas.
If you do decide to go down the private excursion line you’ll have an English speaking driver awaiting your arrival who will transport you to your chosen destination. On arrival you will usually meet up with an official local tour guide who will show you around the highlights of Seville or Jerez de la Frontera before returning you safely to the Port of Cadiz in plenty time for your ship’s departure.
El Puerto de Santa María: Lying just 10km north-east across the Bay of Cádiz is the town of ‘El Puerto’ from where Columbus’s 2nd voyage to the Americas began. This earthy port town is home to a number of historic buildings, well-known sherry bodegas and a nice beach. It also attracts many ‘gaditanos’ (residents of Cádiz) to its seafood restaurants, most notably Romerijo (Plaza Herreria 1) which has been serving the freshest prawns you’ve ever tasted since it opened in 1952. For a pleasant mini-excursion simply take the catamaran ferry which departs frequently from Muelle del Vapor in Cádiz. There are also bus and train connections but they aren’t as much fun.