Nestled low among mid-rise, colonial-era buildings in the heart of the old city of Cadiz, my rental apartment had just one problem; the rising sun did not enter my bedroom window until well past 8:00. As I’d chosen to stay in Southern Spain in February to escape the New England winter I did not want to lose a moment of daylight just because my sun-sensitive body clock was tricked into thinking it was still too early to get up.
A month later, (having surrendered to an alarm clock) I was doubly convinced. There is too much to enjoy in this historic city by the sea to spend one unnecessary minute sleeping.
The month I resided in Cadiz, I had three assignments for The New York Times, so I had to set aside time every day to work. This was not a problem. I simply packed up my things, walked down to the Mercado Central where I bought fresh sliced Manchego cheese and bread straight out of the oven for my lunch and set out for one of the dozens of plazas that would be my mobile office for the day.
Writing under the shade of a giant ficus tree with a fountain nearby can hardly be considered work and when I was done, I made sure I did not miss out on the sites that draw so many tourists here.
Those poor souls who arrive on cruise ships with only hours to spend or those who have just a day or two cannot experience the full fabulousness of Cadiz. But if it cannot be helped, here are some things even a quick visit should include.
Teatro Romano – As one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Western Europe, Cadiz has history and culture galore. Don’t miss the 1st Century Roman Theater, which was discovered only a few decades ago when a fire destroyed the warehouses located above the ruins. The interpretive center and smaller artifacts are fascinating and sitting by the ancient stone seats of the forum feels like being transported back in time.
Museo de los Cortes – A tribute to the creation of the Spanish Constitution in 1812, this opulent renovation of two former estates holds magnificent paintings and artifacts. The pièce de résistance is the room-sized mahogany and ivory diorama of the old city. With this bird’s-eye-view of town one can orient themselves to the warren of streets just outside.
Cadiz Museum – Equally useful in helping first-time-visitors get the lay of the land is the Cadiz Museum; a blend of art, archeology and history. Its claim to fame, with good reason, is the sarcophagi of Phoenician mummies.
Walking – Many of the streets in Cadiz old town are closed to cars, a blessing for walkers and bikers.
A perfect day is a long leisurely stroll on a beautiful byway and Cadiz has an abundance of them. In both directions from the magnificent Parque Genoves are expansive walking paths overlooking the sea. The crowd really thickens south of old town where the walk is along the beach. From one end to the other it is five extremely pleasant miles.
Biking – During my stay, I rented a bike from Bicis de Naranja. The accommodating proprietor, Lolo, arranged for everything I needed including helmet, basket and lock. In 2019, the final piece of a seaside bike-only lane was nearing completion. On the bay side, there’s a trail along the train tracks that leads to San Fernando and parts beyond for a great day-trip. If you find yourself too tired to pedal back (who me?) bikes are accommodated on trains, subways and ferries at no extra charge.
Dancing – Spaniards love to dance. Check out the Sala Holiday where the two dance floors open at 8:00pm. My friends Pepe and Pedro tried unsuccessfully to teach me the Sevillanas, a complicated folk dance that got everyone but me, shaking a leg.
Culture and Food
Art and performance – Hidden in the gates to the old city, is a treasure box of whimsy, at the Museo de Titere. Kids will love it for sure but your inner anthropologist will find fascinating the evolving concepts of family, tribe and society reflected in the exhibits.
Flamenco – Need I say more? There are several places in Cadiz to see and hear this Andalucian art form but for the most authentic experience, go to La Perla de Cadiz. This is a local club and few people speak English so be prepared with a Spanish phrasebook or just sign language your way through.
Each Friday a special dancer is featured. Shows start at 10:00pm, but that doesn’t stop attendees from lining up at the bar before the performance begins and ordering heaping plates of shrimp fritters with beer or Spanish wine to wash it down. Not. To. Be. Missed. Just sayin’.
Food and drink – Don’t be shocked, Spaniards sit down at what Americans might consider the dinner hour to mow through plates of churros dipped in chocolate sauce. How they eat supper afterward is a mystery to me, but this is the activity which kicks off the evening siesta. Shops and business close from about 4 to 8 while churros and chocolate are ubiquitously consumed at cafes throughout Cadiz.
When its time for a real meal, try lunch or dinner at Taverna Casa Manteca. This is a crowded but charming space, where you’ll strike up conversations with fellow would-be-diners while scanning the room for a table to open up. Don’t be impatient, waiting is part of the experience. Other notable dining spots are the restaurants on the sand with ocean and sunset views including Nahu Beach, and Potito Beach.
For many of us, mornings aren’t complete without coffee and that’s a good thing for Antonio Diaz and his companion Chari Aragon, who serve coffee and only coffee at the Cafe Brim at 2 Calle Compañía. Some tourists can be found at the cafe’s stand up bar but most of the customers are 3rd generation regulars who come for a cup made with such care, watching its preparation is a show in itself. Indeed, the brew was good enough to get me thinking about my Morning Joe the night before which, of course, gave me yet another good reason to rise with the sun.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.