The south of Spain is always a popular location throughout the year. Yet away from the glorious beaches you’ll find many interesting sites such as the white villages of Andalucía, Sierra Nevada mountain range and countless cities and towns all with their own highlights. One of the most beautiful places in Andalucía is Cordoba, a city known for its culture, history and scorching summers.
Whilst Cordoba is a small city there are plenty of things to do. However, many visitors may be unsure if they can see the best of Cordoba in one day, especially with so much to see elsewhere in the region. So, to help you out, here’s the best way to spend one day in Cordoba and all the highlights of this stunning Spanish city with a remarkably interesting past.
Where is Cordoba
Situated away from the coast in the centre of Andalucía, Cordoba is almost equally distant from the other major cities in the south of Spain; Seville, Malaga and Granada. There are two parts to the city – the old and new. Whilst the old town is home to most of Cordoba’s popular sites, the modern part of the city is where you’ll find the high street shops, bars, restaurants, bus and train stations as well as several parks and gardens.
Cordoba’s bus and train stations are on the opposite side of the city to the old town. However, there are plenty of local buses and a taxi rank just outside the stations, while walking to the old town should take no more than 25 minutes.
How to get to Cordoba
Cordoba doesn’t have an airport for commercial flights, however the airports in Seville, Malaga, Jerez and Granada are all less than three hours drive away. Many visitors to the region choose to travel from Seville, Granada or Malaga to Cordoba for a day trip, while staying in the bigger cities.
Buses run regularly throughout the day between these cities and you can find more information on the Alsa Bus website. A bus from Seville to Cordoba takes a little over two hours, while travelling from Malaga is typically three hours and the bus from Granada around two and a half hours. Bus tickets cost less than €13 per ticket, except from Granada which is slightly more expensive at €15.
An alternative option is to take the train, which is faster but much more expensive. Travelling from Malaga takes about an hour and the cheapest ticket is €30. The price for the train from Granada to Cordoba depends on the length of the journey, with the fastest (an hour and a half) costing €32 and the slightly longer trip (just over two hours) €25. Seville has the shortest train journey at just 45 minutes with tickets priced at €30, or there is a longer journey that lasts an hour and a half and is just €14.
Best time to visit Cordoba
Summer in Cordoba can be extreme. Temperatures consistently reach well over 40°C and it is usually the hottest city in Spain. Shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn should see much of that oppressive heat absent, making it much easier to explore the city. I visited in mid-December and the temperature in the winter sun was warm with good weather. However, as soon as the sun sets the temperatures drop and the nights are much cooler. There are also less daylight hours and some places close earlier at this time of year.
If you want to see Cordoba’s famous patios then Spring is the perfect time to visit. The Patios Festival happens in May and while more tourists are attracted at this time of year, the flowers are in full bloom and temperatures comfortably lower.
The old town
There’s no better place to start your one day in Cordoba than its beautiful and historic old town. It can be easy to get lost among the narrow winding lanes, but with so many picturesque plazas and churches you won’t mind spending a few hours wandering the area. This is where you’ll find most of the popular sites Cordoba has to offer. Many of which have been present for the majority of the city’s vast, interesting history.
Plaza del Potro and Plaza San Pedro are both highly recommended locations, as is Iglesia de San Francisco. A small church found just a few minutes from Plaza del Potro. Barrio de la Juderia around La Mezquita is yet another beautiful area, with many opportunities for admiring the buildings from outside Cordoba’s most popular attraction.
The famous site of La Mezquita is a great mosque-cathedral hybrid, which the city’s old town is predominantly based around. It’s the principal reason why many people travel to Cordoba and it’s worth the trip at any time of year. There are three main parts to the site; the orange tree lined courtyard (or patio), the bell tower and the mosque-cathedral itself. Whilst you can see the courtyard for free it costs €10 to access the cathedral and a further €2 to climb the tower. Depending on how busy it is when you visit, you may be given a timeslot for accessing the bell tower and La Mezquita. At busier times of the year it’s better to arrive early and plan your day around the time of your allocated visit.
La Mezquita comprises an interesting mix of styles, with its unique architecture influenced by both its Moorish and Catholic rulers over the centuries. Inside you can wander through the incredibly spacious main room, marvelling at the amazing archways and columns whilst perusing several items of great historical interest. From the top of the bell tower you have a great view looking over the city of Cordoba. The main sights of interest are La Mezquita, the courtyard, the Guadalquivir river and the surrounding old town.
Just a few minutes’ walk from La Mezquita you’ll find another popular spot in the shape of the Roman bridge crossing the Guadalquivir River. The bridge has been around since the 1st Century and sits between two of Cordoba’s most famous attractions. Walking across the bridge with Cordoba behind you, you’ll see the imposing Torre de Calahorra looming ahead of you. On your return towards the city you’ll be treated to yet more spectacular views of La Mezquita standing high over the old town.
You’ll find a similar landscape (and in my opinion far more beautiful) in Salamanca. Yet whilst Cordoba’s bridge, or the sights beyond, may not be as great, it’s still worth stopping by. Especially late in the day as the sun sets over Cordoba, leaving a beautiful shade of red reflecting over the river.
Torre de Calahorra
Crossing the Roman bridge leads to Torre de Calahorra, a former medieval gate-tower and now the site of a small museum covering the history of the area. The tower was built by the Moors to protect the bridge from invaders as the main route into the city. It has undergone massive reconstruction several times in its history, including a restoration project as recently as 1931.
Entrance to the tower is €4.50 and includes several audio-visual displays in both Spanish and English. Among the displays you’ll find a model of La Mezquita in its original state as well as several other sources of interesting information covering the past of the city when the contrasting cultures of Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived side by side. At the top of the tower you’ll find a roof with great views of La Mezquita and the city. This is made all the more impressive if you can time your visit for sunset.
Los Patios de Cordoba
One of Cordoba’s most popular attractions aside from La Mezquita are its patios. Gardens filled with beautiful flowers can be found throughout Cordoba’s old town, with one of the largest being La Mezquita’s own Patio de los Naranjos. The large orange tree lined courtyard is free to enter and can be admired while waiting for your entry to La Mezquita or the bell tower. It’s also a great spot to take a break from the sweltering heat under the shady groves and relax to the sounds of trickling fountains.
The patios of Cordoba are so popular that a festival is held every May. Locals open their gardens to visitors as the city becomes awash with colour. You’ll find patios of all sizes and it’s easy to see why so many people visit at this time of year.
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos
The Alcazar, former home of the ruling Christian kings in Cordoba, is another spectacular Cordoba location. It was built in the early 1300s and since 1994 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival to the fortress you’ll immediately notice the large towers that provide a lookout over the old town and the grounds of the Alcazar itself.
Climbing up the stone staircase to the top allows you to enjoy some stunning sights over the gardens and nearby Caballerizas Reales horse stables. The gardens are incredibly beautiful at any time of the year with their long water features and tree-lined pathways. The main courtyard (curiously named The Courtyard of the Moriscos) is decorated by low hanging orange trees between arched passageways and centred by a beautiful trickling fountain.
Entrance to the Alcazar is just €5 and well worth the price. You can walk around the area freely, taking in the various rooms, ruins, Arabic baths, patios and gardens. You may even meet a few of the local cats who roam the area.
Puerta de Almodóvar
Forming part of the medieval city walls, Puerta de Almodóvar (or Almodovar Gate) is one of three remaining gates in Cordoba that allowed access between the Islamic part of the city and the area controlled by the Romans. Located on the west of Cordoba’s old town, the gate signifies the start of the Jewish Quarter. A beautiful part of the city to wander around and admire the architecture and culture.
Just a few minutes from Puerta de Almodóvar is the synagogue. Another building that shouldn’t be missed from your Cordoba itinerary. It was built in the 1300s and is surprisingly much smaller than many other synagogues you might find around Europe. The Jewish people were evicted from the city in the late 1400s and since then it’s had many other uses. From a hospital to a shoemaker’s guild, the synagogue was eventually reopened for its original intended use in the mid-1980s. Nowadays it is purely a site of historical significance and open to visitors between 9am and 3pm most days except Mondays. Entrance is free for EU citizens and just 30c for everyone else.
Palacio de Viana
Aside from mosques, cathedrals, patios and the homes of kings, Cordoba also has a palace. Built over 500 years ago, Palacio de Viana is located in the north-east of the old town, around 1.5km from La Mezquita. The house stores plenty in the way of art collections, as well as historical information about the area. Whilst the house and artwork are enough of an attraction on their own, the highlight of Palacio de Viana are the 12 gorgeous patios that make up over half of its 6,500m² grounds. It’s one of the most popular sights for lovers of the gardens Cordoba is so famous for.
Entrance to Palacio de Viana costs either €6 or €10 for adults (half price for locals) depending on how much you want to see. Most of the year it’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am until 7pm and until 3pm on Sundays. They also offer guided tours in Spanish with written translations available in both English and French.
In the heart of the old town you’ll find Cordoba’s Roman Temple. Built in the 1st Century the temple was actually lost until its remains were rediscovered in the 1950s while they were making renovations to the City Hall. Since then many archaeological artifacts have been discovered in the area.
The temple ruins can be viewed from the street, another of the many amazing free things to do in Cordoba. Located on Calle Claudio Marcelo, many people admire the site, dominated by the large stone columns, on their way to nearby Plaza de las Tendillas for a bite to eat.
If you have time or your own transport then one site that shouldn’t be missed on your one day in Cordoba is Medina Azahara. Around a 20-minute drive from the city centre, Medina Azahara was a vast fortified palace. In reality it was more like a city and the capital for the ruling Moors when they controlled the area they called al-Andalus. Much of which is now modern-day Andalucía.
The site had been left as ruin for over 1000 years until excavation work began in the 1910s. Somewhat impressively only 10% of the former fortress has been restored, giving you some idea as to the size of complexity of this once great palace.
As you can imagine with a site this important to the history of southern Spain, there is a lot to learn about the Medina and the people who built it. Guided tours are available from Cordoba, which last 3 hours (including transport from the city) and costs €26. If you prefer making your own way to the site tours are €18, or €15 for the night visit. Anyone from outside the EU will also have to pay an extra €1.50 for entrance to the Medina Azahara itself.
Where to stay in Cordoba
Even if you are planning to see Cordoba in one day, it’s recommended to spend the night in the city. For one thing it allows you to see the city by night and enjoy the sunset over La Mezquita from the Roman bridge. Cordoba is an easy city to get around with everything within walking distance. Choosing accommodation in the old town is ideal as you’ll find plenty of options for food and other necessities, especially in the area around the cathedral.
For something more unique I stayed in an Airbnb on a rooftop, sleeping in what can only be described as a shed. It was nice to have my own private terrace overlooking the rooftops and definitely one of my more memorable lodgings.
Where to eat in Cordoba
The narrow streets around La Mezquita have plenty of cafes where you can pick up a simple breakfast. Locals generally choose a few slices of toast with either tomato or olive oil and a coffee. Plaza de la Corredera on the edge of the old town is a picturesque square, typical of the main squares in many Spanish cities. There you’ll find lots of restaurants, each offering their own menu of the day. Make sure to try flamenquín, a typical local dish made of ham and pork and covered in breadcrumbs before being deep fried.
An alternative option for food is Plaza de las Tendillas, close to the ruins of the old Roman temple. Or for something a little more upmarket there is Victoria Market, situated in one of Cordoba’s large parks in the middle of the modern area of the city. During the evening Paseo de la Ribera, close to La Mezquita with views over the river, is the perfect place. If you’re looking for a nice place to go for a drink once you’ve eaten, head to La Bicicleta on Calle Cardenal Gonzalez.