Rick Steves is not kind to Córdoba. “Frankly, Córdoba is less interesting than the other two big Andalusian cities, Sevilla and Granada,” he states. In another part he suggests spending a whole day and two nights in the city, but also offers the option to “focus on the Mezquita: taxi from the station, spend two hours there, explore the old town for an hour… and then scram.”
Full disclosure, I just spent an entire semester in Córdoba, a small city in central-southern Spain. And of course I’m biased, but I think there’s a lot more to do in Córdoba than Rick Steves thinks. There is, in fact, too much to do in a day, but if I had to confine myself to a day here’s what I suggest doing.
Start at the Puerta de Almodovar. Córdoba is divided into two sections, the old Jewish section, and the modern city. The “door” or gate of Almodovar, named after one of the famous philosophers of the city. is one of the few gates through the 12th century wall. Pass through here, and you’ll find yourself in the charming but labyrinthine Jewish quarter. Wander around, do some shopping, and try to find the Mezquita.
All European cities have a cathedral, but Córdoba’s cathedral, the Mezquita, is unique because it was carved out of the city’s mosque, built in the time when Córdoba was the capital of the Muslim world. You can still see the ruins of an old Roman and Visigothic temple, and wander through the mosque-like part before coming across the lavishly decorated cathedral.
Just past the Mezquita is another group of Córdoba’s monuments: the monument to the city’s patron saint, San Rafael, the unfinished triumph arch, and the Roman Bridge. Cross the bridge for a stunning view of the Mezquita, then re-cross it, surveying the ruins of the mills on the little islets in the river.
Next I recommend walking along the river to the Plaza del Pozo, or the Square of the Colt. If it’s late enough, or your stomach allows, an ice cream in the chocolate dipped cones at Buonissimo is delicious. Just off the square on the right side you’ll find two small museums. One focuses on Córdoba’s local artists (though unlike the US, the art goes back centuries and centuries), and the other on Julio Romero de Torres, Córdoba’s most famous artist. I loved seeing how he painted his beloved city into his paintings, and his ties with flamenco.
Once you’re finished with the museums leave the square from the north side, following the signs for something called Plaza de la Corredera. This quaint, colorful square has restaurants all around where you can stop for a snack or a drink if you need it. It’s also quite easy to get to the ruins of the Roman Temple from there. From there, it’s easy to find Plaza de las Tendillas. This is the center of the modern city.
If it’s lunchtime (aka around 2:30) I recommend Tavenra Salinas near the Tendillas Square. They have fairly cheap and very authentic food. My favorite dish? Berenjenas con miel, or fried eggplants with honey.
After lunch head to the northern part of the city, to the Palacio de Viana or the Palace of Viana. I found the indoor tour to be boring, but loved the outdoor courtyards, so I would recommend buying a ticket for those. Every May Córdoba holds a fierce competition for which house can best decorate their courtyard with flowerpots, and the gorgeously decorated spaces in this mansion are representative of this tradition.
If you can find your way back to the gardens of Victoria, I recommend walking along those. It’s probably evening, and you’re probably exhausted (especially if it’s summer and hot!), but if you can find Calle Lope de Hoces across the street along the right side of the gardens and follow it down there’s a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed café called Omundo de Alicia where you can stop to grab a drink, a pastry, and a break.
That finished, I would head further down the gardens and find the Puerta de Almodovar again. Keep heading along the wall, this time instead of crossing into the Jewish quarter, and look for the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (or Castle of the Christian Kings). The “castle” itself isn’t that spectacular, but it’s fun to climb the tower for a panoramic view of the gardens and the Mezquita. The gardens are the real showstopper, though.
For dinner (which usually starts at 8:30 or 9), I recommend going back along the Gardens of Victoria to the Mercado Victoria. They offer a cheap bar, traditional appetizers, along with food from all over the world. Not to mention that in typical Spanish fashion they stay open pretty late, so you can stay out as late as you want.