Cordoba is best known for being home to one of Spain’s most fascinating attractions: the Mezquita. For this reason, many people visit the city just to see the stunning Mosque-Cathedral, but there are so many other interesting things to do in Cordoba. Whether you are looking for historical sights, Moorish architecture, or good food, Cordoba has it all! Its historic old town is a World Heritage site abounding with cobblestone streets, inviting squares, flower-filled patios, and lively taverns.
A Brief History of Cordoba, Spain
Cordoba has a tumultuous and glorious past. It was originally under the Carthaginians, but in 152 B.C. the Romans conquered it and transformed it into a Roman settlement. Under the Romans Cordova became a major town in the Iberian peninsula. Remnants from that period can still be seen today.
But Cordoba achieved its greatest glory under the Moors, between 756 and 1031, when it became the capital of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). It was during this period that the Great Mosque was built and the city’s importance began to grow.
In Medieval times, Cordoba was one of Europe’s largest and most powerful cities. It was sophisticated, cosmopolitan and tolerant. A place where Jews, Arabs and Christians could practice their beliefs without fear of persecution.
It was also a famous intellectual center. During the time of Caliph Hakam II, the city had over 70 public libraries, 900 public baths and numerous gardens. That attracted scholars and philosophers from all over Europe, who flocked here in great numbers.
In 1236, under Ferdinand III, the Christians retook the power and Cordoba became part of Christian Spain again. Over the following period dozens of churches and monasteries have been erected in the city, while Jews and Moors began being expelled, persecuted, or forced to convert to Christianity.
However, the new rulers were truly amazed by the beauty of the city, so they left most of it standing. Instead of demolishing the Great mosque, they built their new cathedral right at the center of it leaving the original arches and columns intact. The result is the extraordinary church-mosque we know today as the Mezquita.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN CORDOBA, SPAIN
Few cities in the world hold as many UNESCO Sites and Moorish remains from the glory days of Spain, so let’s see what are the best things to do in Cordoba.
1. Explore the Mosque–Cathedral of Cordoba (Mezquita)
The Mesquita, also known as the Cathedral-Mosque, is undoubtedly Cordoba’s main attraction. Actually, Mezquita is to Cordoba what Alhambra is to Granada, or the Seville Cathedral is to Seville. Just as people visit Seville to see the Cathedral, or flock to Granada to see the Alhambra, so do people visit Cordoba to see the Mezquita.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is one of the most important Islamic buildings in Spain and was once one of the largest mosques in the world. Today is a working Roman Catholic Church, a temple and a monument at the same time.
The Mezquita was erected in the 8th century, but during its long history was rebuilt, remodeled, and enlarged many times. The present shape dates back to 1523.
Tips for Visiting the Mezquita
The best time to visit is early morning, between 8:30 and 9:30 when it’s free and less crowded. The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is huge and difficult to navigate. Because it’s Cordoba’s most important attraction, this place swarms with people and groups of tourists at all times. Therefore, getting lost during your visit is really easy and it happens very often.
It’s best if you visit the cathedral with a guided tour. If you do, try to stick to your group and don’t wander around as it will be difficult to find your way back if you get lost.
Tickets are best bought online but are also sold onsite. To avoid queuing in line on warm days, book a guided tour of here and skip the line.
Opening Hours: daily between 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Admission Price: €13 for adults; €10 for seniors and students; €7 for children; €3 for the Bell Tower. Free Admission: Monday to Saturday: 8:30 am to 9:30 am
2. Cross the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano)
Cordoba’s best preserved site from the Roman period is Puente Romano. The bridge was built by the imperial troops in the 1st century BC to replace the original wooden structure over the Guadalquivir river.
It’s impressive to see this 2000-year old structure still standing today! And if it looks familiar, it’s because the bridge was used as the location for the Long Bridge of Volantis, in the Game of Thrones TV series.
But aside from that, the bridge is also a great spot for picture-perfect views of the city, which is why you’ll see it on so many postcards from Cordoba.
Over the years the bridge underwent several reconstructions, the last of which took place in the 8th century. Until the mid 20th century this was the only connection between the two banks of the Guadalquivir river. In 2004, after the construction of Miraflores Bridge, the Roman Bridge became pedestrian-only.
3. Pass Through the Bridge Gate (Puerta del Puente)
At the north end of the Roman Bridge rises the impressive Bridge Gate (Puerta del Puente), which in Roman times was the entrance to the city. The gateway is located on the site of the previous Roman gates, linking the city with the Roman Bridge and the Via Augusta.
The triumphal arch you see today was built in the 16th century to commemorate a visit of King Philip II to Cordoba.
Under Moorish rule the gate received several names, such as Bab al-Qantara (Gate of the Bridge), Bab al-Sura (Gate of the Statue) or Bab al-Yazira (Gate of Algeciras).
Puerto del Puente features a tall foundation made with massive blocks of sandstone that support four Doric columns. Above the gate seal there is an inscription that marks King Philip II’s visit to Córdoba, in 1570.
4. Discover the Remains of the Roman Temple (Templo Romano)
Cordoba’s Roman Temple sits on a hill above the old city, on what would have been the eastern edge of the city in Roman times. The construction started around 41 A.D. and took over 40 years to complete. Judging by the height of its columns, the temple must have been a structure of great proportions.
Unfortunately, all that survives today of the 2000-year old temple are a few columns and capitals, the foundation, the altar and the stairs.
While the temple may not be the most impressive attraction in Cordoba, it’s still worth a visit as it’s one of the very few Roman vestiges left.
Location: the temple is adjacent to the Cordoba City Hall, in the angle formed by the streets Claudio Marcelo and Capitulares.
Opening times: 24/7
Admission is free.
5. Visit the Castle of the Christian Kings (Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos)
Alcazar de los Reyes was erected on the same site where once stood the Royal Palace of Abd al-Rahman I. The current building, which was erected in the 14th Century under Alfonso XI of Spain, has an important place in the history of Cordoba. The Catholic Monarchs –Ferdinand and Isabella– lived in the Alcazar for almost 9 years. It was also here where they first met Christopher Columbus, to discuss his plans to sail for the New World.
Many people decide to visit this attraction because it’s located right next to the Mosque-Cathedra of Cordoba, which is convenient. But overall the site is not very impressive.
There are a few Roman mosaics inside and a large sarcophagus which was supposedly used to bury an entire family, but not much else. However, when you step into the gardens… wow!!
The gardens are the most beautiful part and definitely what makes the visit worth it. In summer it was really hot here, but I think in spring this place must be a joy to the senses!
Opening times: Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 8.45 a.m. to 3.15 p.m.
Admission Prices: €5:00 for adults and €2.50 for students
6. Wander Through the Jewish Quarter (La Juderia)
Between the Puerta de Almodovar and the famous Mosque-Cathedral, lies one of Cordoba’s most interesting neighborhoods: La Juderia (the Jewish Quarter).
Founded during the Roman times, the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba was separated from the rest of the city by a walled enclosure intended to isolate and protect the inhabitants from the wrath of Christians.
The neighborhood is a web of long narrow alleys framed by white and blue façades, old courtyards, small shops, and tiny squares. Pass through Calleja de las Flores, an alley decorated with flowerpots hanging on the walls.
This area is home to some important attractions and cultural monuments in Cordoba. Two that you shouldn’t miss are the statue of Maimonides and the legendary Synagogue of the XIV century, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Born in Cordoba, Maimonides was a Jewish philosopher who became one of the most influential scholars of the Middle Ages. In the latter part of his life he was physician to the Sultan Saladin, who ruled Egypt between 1174 – 1193.
Cordoba Synagogue dates back to the 14th century and is one of the three best preserved Medieval synagogues in Spain.
I have to confess that after seeing the Great Synagogue of Budapest, I felt really disappointed by this tiny structure. Access to the synagogue is through a narrow alley and the building itself is not visible from the street. The sanctuary has a square floor and coffered ceilings. On its Eastern side there is a small tabernacle where they used to keep the Torah.
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission prices: free for the EU citizens: €0.30 for the rest of the countries.
7. Attend an Equestrian Show at the Royal Stables
One of the most exciting things to do in Cordoba is attend an Equestrian Show that takes place at the Royal Stables, in the neighborhood of San Basilio.
Built in 1570 at the order of Philip II of Spain, the Royal Stables (Caballerizas Reales de Cordoba) had the purpose of raising purebred Andalusian horses. This majestic animal that carried the conquistadores in the New World, was a powerful symbol of the Spanish empire.
If you visit the stables during the day you can watch the Andalusian horses during their practice. However, if you come in the evening you can attend a night Equestrian Show, which is even more impressive.
There is also a small museum on the grounds which is worth visiting. The stables were declared a World Heritage Site in 1994.
8. Visit Palacio de Viana
The Palace of Viana in Cordoba is famous for its 12 beautiful courtyards, but the collection of furniture and artifacts inside is even more impressive.
Dating back to the 14th century, the palace was the residence of a few prominent people in Cordoba, among wich the Marquis of Villaseca, in the 15th century, and the Marquis of Viana, in the 19th century. In 1980, the 3rd Marquis of Viana sold the palace to a local bank which in turn opened it to the public, as a museum.
Palacio de Viana is huge, occupying an area of over 6,500 square meters, part of which are the gardens. Over the centuries the palace’s art collection grew, reflecting the tastes of each owner. The objects displayed include furniture, embossed leatherwork, coat of arms, tiles, royal muskets, tapestries, paintings, and porcelain.
Address: the palace is located at Plaza de Don Gome 2, in Cordoba.
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday 10:00 am to 7:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Monday closed.
Admission prices: €8/person (palace & gardens); €5/person (gardens only); free for children under 10.
9. Enjoy Lunch at Ermita de la Candelaria Restaurant
Ermita de la Candelaria is one of the high end restaurants in Cordoba. While prices may not be low, eating here is a truly unique experience! The food is absolutely amazing and the place has a very special atmosphere!
The restaurant is housed in a 15th century chapel which has been nicely restored to provide a beautiful setting. On the menu you’ll find traditional dishes from the region deliciously prepared.
Address: the restaurant is located at Calle de la Candelaria 2, 14002 Cordoba
10. Tour of the Authentic Patios of San Basilio Neighborhood
The flower-filled courtyards are one of Cordoba’s most sought after attractions. Each year in May the Town Hall organizes the Festival of the Patios, a contest in which home owners decorate their houses with flowers pots, hanging them from the walls or placing them around the patio.
The proud participants are glad to open up their courtyards to the public, so you can take a small group guided tour of all these beautiful houses.
The courtyards in Cordoba are open for visitation all the year round, not only during the Festival, so don’t miss them!
11. Learn About a Unique Leather Craft at the Guadameci Museum
The city of Cordoba is famous for its leather works and handicrafts. But perhaps the most intriguing one is the leather art technique known as Guadameci. The process, which goes back to the 10th century, consists of embossing the leather with an intricate design that features gold, silver and colorful paints.
This small museum is unique in the world because it demonstrates the original Omeya technique. It’s a wonderful showcase of Ramón García Romero’s work, who was a pioneer in the recovery of this fascinating technique.
His craft transforms the leather into amazing decorative works of art. You can learn about different handicraft techniques and see some beautiful examples of Guadameci art.
Guadameci Museum is located just a few steps from the Mezquita, so don’t miss it. Admission is free.
12. Discover Medina Azahara (Medina al-Zahara)
One of the most impressive attractions in Cordoba is the fortified palace of Medina al-Zahara, just a few kilometers west of the city. The 10th century complex –which includes a palace, some gardens and a residential area– was built by Abd al-Rahman for his favorite wife, Az-Zahra. Well, at least that’s what the legend says.
Actually, the reason for this construction was political. Abd al-Rahman III had declared himself “caliph” in 929 and as a symbol of his power he had to establish a new capital city. The palace was meant to impress his rivals, which is why Abd al-Rahman didn’t spare any expense.
Medina Azahara had everything a place of government should have: official reception halls, administrative offices, baths, aristocratic residences, service quarters, gardens, and even a mosque.
The construction took over 35 years to complete, but sadly Medina Azahara didn’t survive very long. Just a few years after the Abd al-Rahman’s death, the new caliph who took over the throne –Amir Al-Mansur– moved the government seat to a new place.
How to Get to Medina Azahara
The best way to get to Medina Azahara is on the daily bus that takes you directly to the archaeological site. The Bus stops on Paseo de la Victoria (opposite the Mercado Victoria) and takes you back from the site 3¼ hours later. That gives you a 2 and a half hour period to visit the complex.
Departure time is Tuesday to Sunday at 10:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
Bus ticket price: €9:00/adult and €5:00 for children
Admission price for the site: €1.50/person
Guided Tour: €21/person (click here to book)
How Many Days Do You Need in Cordoba?
Cordoba is one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, easy to visit and blessed with the largest number of World Heritage Sites in the world. With so many attractions and interesting things to do, we recommend spending at least 3-4 days in Cordoba.
Many people argue that two days should be enough for visiting the city, but I believe will need at least 3 full days to properly visit the attractions listed in this itinerary. In fact, the longer you stay, the more you are going to enjoy this city!
This itinerary works for 3 or 4 days, but if you have more time in Cordoba, there are many wonderful places to visit around the city.
How to Get Around in Cordoba, Spain
Cordoba can be easily explored on foot and is safe to walk both day and night. Most of the attractions are very close to each other, so walking is the best way to explore the city. That being said, there are a few places –like Medina Azahara– for which you’ll need a car, or use public transportation.
Cordoba is fairly easy to navigate by car, so if you are planning to rent one you won’t have trouble finding parking. With the exception of the Jewish quarter and the area around the Mezquita, which have many pedestrian streets.
Taxis in Cordoba are affordable, therefore a convenient way to travel. The cheapest means of transportation is of course the bus. Tickets cost €1.30/one way, but if you plan to use the bus a lot you can buy an unlimited pass for €33.
There is also a Cordoba City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Bus which stops close to different attractions throughout the city.
Best Time to Visit Cordoba, Spain
Cordoba has a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild winters. The hot season lasts from mid June to mid September, but summer temperatures can be brutal, almost like in Morocco. In fact, Cordoba is the hottest city in Spain, with temperatures reaching 45ºC (113ºF).
The cool season is from mid November to mid March, when temperatures get below 18ºC (65ºF).
Ideally, you should visit Cordoba during the shoulder season – April-May, or September-October, when it’s neither too cold nor too hot. But the cooler season is preferable to the arid, hot summers. We visited Cordoba in summer, as part of a larger European itinerary, and had to endure some unbearable heat!
A Final Word
Cordoba is an authentic and culturally fascinating city with plenty of things to see and do. Although some travelers skip it in favor of bigger name destinations like Granada or Seville, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cordoba should be on any Spain itinerary. I left wishing we had more time in this wonderful city.