Seville Cathedral | Guide For The Average Traveler
The Seville Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and a Spanish national monument. Its imposing structure can be seen from all over the city, and it’s certainly among the most popular things to do in Seville.
There are many things to see and do inside Seville Cathedral (in Spanish Catedral de Sevilla), such as exploring the numerous chapels, climbing to the top of the Giralda tower for breathtaking views of the city, and visiting the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
In this guide, I will share some history, interesting facts and, of course, what not to miss with plenty of tips along the way.
One such example, be sure to book a queue skip online ahead to avoid lining up in the 40-degree heat. Not that I’m stupid enough to forget that step, although I have always said I like to travel, not that I’m good at travelling, but more on that later in the tips section!
So, let’s get going.
Seville cathedral opening hours
- Monday to Saturday: 10:45 am – 6:30 pm
- Sunday: 2:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Introducing the Seville Cathedral
The Seville Cathedral was built to show the city’s power and wealth during the Spanish empire’s height. In fact, legend has it that when the cathedral was first begun, the clergymen exclaimed, “Let us build a church so beautiful and magnificent that those who see it completed will think we are insane.”
And I think they achieved it.
Once inside, you’ll be struck by the cathedral’s sheer size, reflecting its cultural and historical importance; the central nave rises to 42 meters. It’s the third largest cathedral in the world by volume (after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil).
There are 80 chapels inside Seville Cathedral, many lavishly decorated. The most important chapel is the Capilla Mayor (the main chapel), located at the cathedral’s east end. This is where you’ll find the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the remains of Ferdinand III of Castile and Alfonso X of Castile. We’ll get back to this a bit later in the post.
If you’re visiting Seville Cathedral, make sure to climb the Giralda tower. This is the cathedral’s bell tower, and at the height of 97 meters (318 feet), it’s the tallest in Spain. The panoramic views from the top looking over the river, Barrio Santa Cruz, and out into the Andalusian countryside are incredible, and you can see for miles over the city.
A bit of Seville Cathedral History
The history of Seville Cathedral is long and complex, dating back to the city’s Roman origins. The site where the cathedral now stands was once occupied by a grand mosque built in the 8th century.
After the reconquest of Seville by Ferdinand III in the 13th century, the mosque was converted into a cathedral. Its orientation was reversed, and its areas separated to accommodate Christian worship practices. Over time, the internal space was divided into chapels by constructing walls in the bays along the northern and southern sides.
This led to the project taking more than 100 years to complete, with construction declared finished in 1506.
Over the centuries, Seville Cathedral has undergone many changes and additions, including one just 4 years later when one of the main pillars collapsed, leading the central dome to fall and destroy the crucifix beneath it.
However, the most notable is the addition of the Giralda tower, originally built as a minaret for the mosque.
What not to miss at the Seville Cathedral
The views from the Giralda Bell Tower
The Giralda tower is the most iconic feature of the Seville Cathedral, and at 97 meters (318 feet) tall, it’s the tallest tower in Spain. The views from the top are incredible, and you can see for miles over the city.
However, be warned, the climb isn’t a walk in the park. It has no steps, but the Giralda Bell Tower was constructed to allow horses and mules to climb to the top, so there are no stairs, just 35 ramps with varying degrees of steepness, so it is definitely a bit of a workout.
That said, it’s definitely worth the effort, and you can take a break at one of the landings with views over the city.
The Tomb of Christopher Columbus
The Seville Cathedral is the final resting place of Christopher Columbus, one of the most famous explorers in history. His tomb is located in the Capilla Mayor, or main chapel, and is decorated with statues of kings and queens. If you want to learn about how he came to rest here, you can read my post about his journey.
In addition to Christopher Columbus, the Capilla Mayor also contains the remains of Ferdinand III of Castile and Alfonso X of Castile.
Capilla Mayor (Great Chapel)
The Capilla Mayor is undoubtedly the most stunning of the 80 or so bits that make up Seville Cathedral. It’s topped by a vast Gothic retablo (altarpiece) made up of 45 carved scenes from Christ’s life and the Virgen de la Sede, the cathedral’s patron saint. This is the ultimate masterpiece of the cathedral – dripping in obscene amounts of gold; it is among the largest altarpieces in the world and one of the finest examples of Gothic woodcarving anywhere.
Translated to the Royal Chapel, this one is dedicated to King Ferdinand III of Castille. He reconquered Seville from the Moors in 1248 and was the resting place for many other royal tombs, including Alfonso X of Castile and Pedro I of Castile.
The Capilla del Cristo de la Luz
This chapel, constructed outside the main structure and connected to one of the cathedral’s external walls, is one of the most unusual in Seville Cathedral. Originally built as a hospital chapel in the 15th century, it became part of the cathedral. The Capilla del Cristo de la Luz is famous for its beautiful stained glass windows and the statue of Christ on the cross, which hangs above the altar.
El Lagarto, the stuffed crocodile
In the Capilla de San Antonio, or Saint Anthony’s Chapel, you’ll find a very unusual sight – a stuffed crocodile suspended from the ceiling. The crocodile was brought back from one of Columbus’ voyages to the Americas and was initially displayed in the main chapel with other trophies from his travels. Tracking down the crocodile can be fun if you visit with kids.
Patio de los Naranjos
The Patio de Los Naranjos, or Orange Tree Courtyard, is one of Seville Cathedral’s most beautiful outdoor spots. It’s a peaceful oasis amid the tourism chaos, and it’s easy to imagine how lovely it must be when the orange trees bloom and the air is scented with their blossoms.
But … just be careful of the not-so-pleasant scent at the far end of the courtyard as it’s where you’ll find the toilets!
You can even get onto the roof
Something I didn’t do but looks pretty cool is the rooftop tour. In it, you will step outside, wander across the rooftops, through passageways and enjoy some of the best views Seville has.
You also meet some of the church elders behind the cathedral’s construction, including the master mason, stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, pot makers, esparto workers, and pawns … each coming together to create the masterpiece.
But, bear in mind that the tour runs on a schedule and takes approximately 90 minutes.
- Monday and Tuesday – 09:30 h., 10:00 h., 20:30 h., 21:00 h.
- Wednesday and Thursday – 09:30 h., 10:00 h., 20:30 h., 21:00 h., 21:30 h.*
- Friday and Saturday – 09:30 h., 10:00 h., 21:00 h., 21:30 h., 22:00 h.*
- Sunday – 20:00 h., 20:30 h., 21:00 h.
The cultural visit to the roofs costs 20€ per person. Find out more details on the cathedral website and here.
Tips for travellers visiting Seville Cathedral
Book tickets online before you go
Seville Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain. You can book online in advance to guarantee your spot and the ability to skip the line.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t very well prepared for my visit, so I didn’t have a ticket. It is still possible to visit the Seville Cathedral without buying a ticket in advance, but expect to be in a long line. We had to wait about 45 mins in the sweltering heat.
Be aware of what you are booking, just access or a tour
Before we started lining up to get in, we thought we could be a bit cheeky and buy a ticket at an agency around the corner. They were happy to oblige and quoted us around $60. I knew this was too much, so I asked, and it turned out they were trying to book us on a guided tour when we just wanted entrance. At this point, we realised we couldn’t complete our cunning plan, so we cancelled the order and went to join the line.
There are 2 entrances, know which one to use
If you have bought a ticket online before you visit, you will need to use the Puerta del Lagarto door, which is a different entrance for those who haven’t. If you need to buy a Seville Cathedral & La Giralda Seville Cathedral ticket, you’ll need to join the line at the Puerta del Príncpie.
Go early in the morning or later in the afternoon
If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Seville Cathedral is first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. That said, even if you go at these times, you will still have to share the space with many other tourists.
Seville Cathedral is one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, so expect crowds no matter when you arrive.
You can also buy a combined ticket that includes the Seville Alcazar
In addition to the above, you can find great deals on combined tickets with other Seville attractions. The most popular combines the cathedral and Alcazar, either just entrance or as a guided tour.
Remember, if you book a line skip ticket, you will have to book a time. If you are early, the staff most likely won’t let you in. I haven’t been late before, so I can’t say what would happen, but better not to find out.
Try to dress modestly
Seville Cathedral does not have a dress code but remember that you are entering a religious site; it is always respectful to dress modestly when visiting a church or cathedral. Ideally, this means covering your shoulders and your knees, but you won’t be turned away unless you are really letting the flesh fly.
The cathedral is enormous, so give yourself plenty of time to explore
If you are wondering how much time you need to visit Seville Cathedral, remember it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world, so you’ll need at least 2 – 3 hours to explore it properly. With this in mind, also be sure to wear comfortable shoes as a lot of walking is involved. If you include a tower climb, I wouldn’t recommend flip-flops, as I saw a few people struggling with their feet flipping and flopping in and out of them on the ramps. Remember, there is no elevator to get you to the top of the Giralda Tower.
Make sure you buy a ticket for la Giralda Tower
The tower ticket is a separate purchase you need to check is included in your ticket, especially if you are buying at the door. Someone will scan this before letting you climb, so make sure you keep hold of it.
I would highly recommend the tower; it was undoubtedly my favourite part.
Consider an audio guide
Audio guides are available for rent if you want to learn more about the history and architecture of the cathedral. They will certainly add a level of depth and historical context to your tour but will also slow you down if you are only visiting Seville for a short time.
What is the Seville Cathedral crocodile?
One day, the Emir of Egypt sent an embassy with rich and exotic gifts for the king and princess, one of which was a live crocodile. The size of the crocodile impressed the Spanish, and it was soon put on display in the Courtyard of the Oranges.
The crocodile became a popular attraction; over time, people began to believe that it had converted to Christianity. However, the truth is that the crocodile likely died in captivity shortly after arriving in Seville.
In any case, a wooden model of the beast was carved and covered with its skin.
When can I get free entrance to Seville Cathedral?
You can visit free on Mondays from 4.30pm to 6 pm. However, free spaces are limited, and you do have to book your ticket in advance.
Is Seville cathedral worth visiting?
Yes, absolutely! Seville Cathedral is a fantastic sight, and its history is fascinating. Even if you’re not religious, the architecture and artwork are well worth a visit and don’t forget to buy a ticket for la Giralda Tower – it’s definitely worth the climb!
Do you need tickets for Seville cathedral?
You need a ticket that can be bought in advance or at the door. However, I recommend buying your ticket in advance to save lining up for a long time in the Seville heat.
I hope we can agree that the Seville Cathedral is a must-see for any traveller to Seville. Along with the Alcazar of Seville, it is one of the best things to do in the city. With its rich history and stunning architecture, it is an unforgettable experience.
I hope you have found this guide helpful and will keep these tips in mind; if you do, you’ll surely enjoy visiting this incredible cathedral.