This small city in Andalusia has a wealth of secrets to explore. Read on for insights into all things Córdoba.
To be completely honest, I went to Córdoba to see Calleja de los Flores. Pictures of these streets had been filling my Pinterest feed for months as I was planning this trip and I wanted nothing more than to walk these narrow paths in a foreign city with flowers hanging around my head. However, upon first arriving in Córdoba on a brilliantly summer day, I was struck by just how different is was from the cities in Spain I had visited so far. Firstly, it was quiet and calm. It was clean. I was immediately at ease, but equally ready for an adventure.
In Córdoba, the further you walk toward the cathedral, the narrower the streets become. These paths are mostly all cobblestones. Córdoba is a maze. I downloaded a Google Map of the city on my phone before arriving so I’d have an easier time navigating. The walls are white with bright yellow accents. Flowers, wooden signs, pots, and are all attached to the walls of these streets. It was truly magical to walk through.
This is everything you need to know about how to get there, what to see, what to eat, and where to stay the next time you’re in Córdoba, Andalucia.
How to Get There
The easiest and fastest way to reach Córdoba is by train from Madrid. It’s a little over 2 hour train ride through rural Spain with a handful of stops in between. I took the train from Barcelona. It was the same route, just a couple hours longer. Prices from this trip can range from $20 – $50 depending on what train you book with and what time of year.
There is an airport in Córdoba, but it’s only reserved for private planes. If you’re really penny pinching, you can opt for the bus. The bus to Córdoba connects from Madrid, Seville, Malaga, and Granda. The bus ride from Madrid would most likely take you almost five hours.
What to See
The Mosque of Córdoba was fantastic, in my traveler’s opinion. For all you Doctor Who fans, it reminded me of the TARDIS — it appeared bigger on the inside. The monument is one of the most important in the Western Islamic world. What might be the most striking is its architectural style. It stems from the “Omeya” style which consists of towering arches and huge open spaces.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
If you want a nice view of the city, this is your place. Not to mention you’re walking to a castle with tight, winding staircases, sweet lookout towers, and a garden with colorful plants, fountains, and fish. Exploring Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos I felt like I was taking a step back in time. Colloquially, the castle is known as the Royal Fortress and takes it name from the Arabic word meaning “The Palace.” It was built in 1328. The modest exterior and intricate garden insides are inspired by Mudejar, a decorative style in Christian Iberia that was strongly influenced by Moorish traditions. In 1994, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The best time to take this walk is in the evening. If you manage to plan your trip in the summer or fall, a stroll down this ancient bridge in the warm evening sun is utterly divine. The bridge was built in the early 1st century B.C. and crosses the Guadalquivir river. It has been reconstructed many times since. The version that stands today is Moorish and was built around the 8th century. It was originally built by the Romans and thought to have been replacing a less sturdy wooden bridge. There are 16 arcades with a width of roughly 9 meters and length of 247 meters. During the Middle Ages, the Calahorra Tower and Puerta del Puenta (the towers on either side of the bridge) were built.
Calleja de las Flores
If you’re looking at pictures of streets in Córdoba, you’re most likely seeing pictures of Calleja de las Flores. White-washed walls, narrow alleys, and endless rows of colorful flowers hanging down over you. It’s truly an amazing site and the first place I set out to find in Córdoba. The alley is tucked away in what used to be the center of the city. Admittedly, it took me ages to find it. The streets in Córdoba are tight and twisty and generally somewhat crowded the closer you get to the mosque. After nudging your way through the alley, you’ll come to a open space with a fountain in the middle, benches, trees (shade!), and of course, lots and lots of flowers.
Medina Azahara Conjunto
Similar is architecture to the mosque, Medina Azahara Conjunto is the ruins of an expansive Moorish medieval palace built by Abd-ar-Rahman III (912 – 961). The ruins sit on the outskirts of Cordoba, far enough that you’ll likely need to take a cab or Uber there. In its prime, the palace consisted of reception halls, mosques, gardens, a mint, baths, residences, workshops, and barracks. Today, visitors can wander these vast ruins and garner a slice of what life might have been like hundreds of years ago.
What to Eat and Drink
Turron is type of sweet delicacy that can be found in many places throughout Europe. Thirty years ago, all recipes traditionally houses the same ingredients. However, every country adds its own spin on the recipe to make it unique. The Spanish Turron is especially fantastic. There are two main types: hard (Alicante) and soft (Jijona). The hard variety is a sticky mass of almonds, eggs, honey, and sugar (yum) while the soft variety offers the same ingredients except for the almonds are ground into a paste (equally yum). I tried regular hard and soft then decided to go a little crazy and try kiwi and strawberry flavored turron. Side note: If you’re looking for a good souvenir for your mom or your roommate who watched your cat while you romped around Spain, turron is a good option.
Historically, paella is the merging of cuisines from two cultures. The Romans provided the pan and the Arabs that provided the rice. The word “paella” derives from the Arab word “baqiyah” which translates to leftovers. Servants of Moorish kings created the dish by mixing leftovers from royal banquets. The other common ingredients of the dish, including meats and seafoods, are all found in regions of Spain, making this the perfect dish to make itself at home here. It’s generally believed that paella developed in Valencia, a coastal town in eastern Spain, but has since spread and become plentiful throughout the country.
Need I say more? If you go anywhere in Spain and don’t try Spanish Sangria at least once, it might be a crime. Today, Sangria can be found all over the world as a popular and refreshing drink. It’s roots, however, harken back to Spain. The recipe is based on a traditional red wine punch that was popular in Europe for hundreds of years. Today, Sangria is typically made from red wine, fruit juices, soda water, fruit, and sometimes brandy. Every restaurant has its own recipe for Sangria, making every time you drink it taste just slightly different. My first sit down meal in Cordoba consisted of vegetable paella and Sangria in the middle of the day and it was divine.
Fun fact: Andalusia is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. Many people in Spain put olive oil on everything. Starting with breakfast, toasted bread is drizzled with olive oil to munch on with a morning cup of coffee. Almost all fried foods, squid, small hake, red mullet, fresh anchovies, are all fried in olive oil. Spain is home to more than 300 million olive trees, producing over a 100 different kinds of olive oil. And it’s not just the cooking oil itself you’ll find walking around Córdoba. Soaps, powders, face washes, toners — these have all been crafted from olive oil. Turns out, the product has some amazing health benefits.
Hold on. Don’t click away just yet. Sadly, Córdoba is an enormously underrated player in the Spanish wine game. There are over 40,000 Hectares (1 Hectare = 107,639 Square Feet) of vineyards in Andalusia. Specific to Córdoba is Montilla Moriles, the region of Andalucia notorious for it’s sweet wine. Most Montilla wines are made from the Pedro Ximenez grape which carries a much higher sugar content thus giving the wines a naturally higher alcohol content. Spanish drinkers claim this makes for little to no hangover the next morning, though I have yet to prove this theory. The oldest winery in the region is Alvear and dates back to 1729. Montilla-Moriles holds 95 vineyards and produces around 24.4 million liters of wine annually.
Where to Stay
The best neighborhoods to stay in are Old Town and the Juderia. Both are centrally located near the main historical sites in the city. The Juderia, or Jewish Quarter, is at the heart of the city and Old Town is not far off. As far as what kind of accommodation, that is entirely up to you. Luckily, you have some options. Hostels and Airbnbs are likely to get you closer to the city center. In my opinion, staying in an Airbnb in a smaller town was a unique experience. I got to see the daily life of my host and her son. Both were very helpful in providing tips for places to see and things to eat. I assume this could be equally accomplished at a hostel. Córdoba is also home to its fair share of hotels if you want to take that route. The choice is entirely yours.