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Top Things to do in Córdoba in One Day

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Nestled in Spain between Madrid and Seville is a city of historic significance that you may have never heard of. This hidden gem contains some of the most exquisite Moorish architecture found in all of Europe. It’s a huge and striking departure from the other more traditional cities in Spain and in my opinion, a must-see when you visit the country. I’m thrilled to introduce you to the impressive beauty of Córdoba, Spain, and why you should see it when you go.

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Córdoba Alcázar, source: Pixabay

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The History of Córdoba

Córdoba got its start as the Roman colony of Corduba, founded in 152 BC. It rose to power and became the capital of the province that contained most of what is now Andalusia today. In the year 711 AD, it fell to the Muslims and became the Islamic capital on the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba became a world-leading center of education and learning. Scholars from all over the world visited.

Córdoba continued to grow. By the 10th century, it was the largest city in Western Europe and the second-largest city in all of Europe. It became known for its artisans skilled in silver, tile, leather, and textiles. Córdoba was also known for its gorgeous universities, mosques, and other buildings. What’s particularly interesting and poignant, is that it was known as an area where the Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted mostly peacefully. Though there were some periodic issues, there was a sense of tolerance from the rulers in Córdoba, and the people supported it.

In the 13th century, Córdoba was captured by the Kingdom of Castile (part of Spain) during what was known as the Spanish Reconquista. Following its conquest, Córdoba went through a significant period of decline. The city was then divided into sections.

Even though it lost prominence in the area, construction ensued, particularly on religious buildings. Many churches were built, including in the center of the largest mosque in the city, known as the Mezquita. By the 18th century, only 20,000 people lived there. (Which may be, in part, why you may have never heard of it!)

UNESCO World Heritage Site

If you have read other pieces on the My Flying Leap travel blog, you’ll know I’m a big fan of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I seek them out as they are interesting natural or man-made places to visit from both an aesthetic perspective, and generally a historical perspective. And deep down, I am a history lover nerd. I love learning about the past and I especially love architecture.

So, Córdoba was a highlight of my first trip to Spain. As of this writing, it was a number of years ago. And yet this city remains on my mind as a place I’d love to return to so I can spend more time exploring.

The architecture in Córdoba reflects a perfect blend of the cultural groups that occupied this area. This included Islam, Roman, Judaism, Christian, and Visigoth (Germanic tribes). The historic center of Córdoba including the Jewish Quarter is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was recognized for the outstanding examples of religious architecture.

Recommended Itinerary for One Day in Córdoba

If you only have one day in Córdoba, you’ll want to choose the most important, and most beautiful, places to visit. Here is what I’d recommend.

  1. Start with a visit to the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
  2. Explore the Jewish Quarter and stop at the Synagogue. Grab lunch.
  3. Visit the Alcázar of Córdoba and be sure to spend some time enjoying the magnificent gardens.
  4. If you have enough time, see the Roman Bridge. Cross over the bridge to see Calahorra Tower.

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is the most popular attraction in the city to see, so it’s a good idea to go early if you can before it gets really crowded. It’s really in the center of the historic center of town and close to everything. Stop for lunch in the Jewish Quarter before heading to the Alcázar. You’re going to want to spend some time enjoying the gardens and don’t want to cut your time short because you’re hungry!

If you are able to stay overnight to spend a little more time in this amazing city, I’d recommend it. I’ll also include a couple of other fun things to see in case you can make the time or if you want to swap out one of the things I listed in the one-day itinerary for another.

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Córdoba Jewish Quarter, source: Pixabay

Top Things to Do in Córdoba

The large cities of Spain and Portugal get a lot of buzz from travelers and are heavily touristed. Tourists flock to places like Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Porto and Lisbon in Portugal. They are really worth seeing and I enjoyed all of them. But, if you want something a bit different and just strikingly beautiful, check out Córdoba. It’s truly worth your time. And, actually, if you have the time, plan to take at least 2 days in Córdoba. I only had one and felt quite rushed and didn’t get to see everything I wanted to, though I did see the highlights (and enough to know I want to go back)!

Discover the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral)

The Great Mosque of Córdoba, also known as the Mezquita, is the best-known building in Córdoba. It was the largest mosque in the world at the time it was built. The original structure was built on the ruins of a church in 785 AD. A large mosque was built that was enlarged and embellished significantly over the years. It is one of the most incredible examples of Islamic art in Spain and in all of Europe.

It’s also known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba for the reason mentioned earlier. After the Christian conquest, a Renaissance cathedral was erected in the center of the structure. Now, it’s a blend of Christian and Moorish architecture that somehow works on an impressive scale. It is magnificent and opulent so plan to spend some time here exploring. Tour the Bell Tower, the Patio de Los Naranjos courtyard, and the great hall with the incredibly-detailed stone arches throughout.

The Mosque is known for its many columns in the Gothic and Roman styles made of jasper, onyx, granite, marble, and other stones. It’s ornate and features mosaics and azulejos tiles that are seen throughout the Iberian Peninsula and are featured prominently in parts of Portugal, like Lisbon and Porto. Local artisans built a masterpiece that is readily recognizable and it’s a truly stunning sight.

Visit Information

The Great Mosque of Córdoba is located at Calle Cardenal Herrero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain. You can buy tickets online on their website if you wish to purchase in advance to avoid the lines for 11 Euros (around $12.85 USD) or for 13 Euros with a visit to the Bell Tower as well (around $15.15 USD). It is open from 8:30 to 9:30, 10 to 2, and 4 to 7 daily.

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Mezquita, source: Deposit Photo

Wander Around the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba (La Judería)

Next, head over to the Almodovar Gate to visit the historical center of Córdoba, the Jewish Quarter. Though you don’t need to go through the gate to visit, it’s a nice way to enter this area as people once did back in time. This neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it includes many of the historical monuments and structures that attract tourists to this city.

This area was once a vibrant Jewish community from the 10th to the 15th century. During the 15th century, the religious tolerance enjoyed for hundreds of years came to an abrupt end under the Spanish rule of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. At that time, Spain was in the throes of the expulsion, when the Jews were made to leave Spain by the Queen and King. The year Christopher Columbus made his maiden voyage across the Atlantic seeking a western route to the Far East was the year this began.

This neighborhood is a lovely maze of narrow streets and beautiful courtyards. The Jewish Quarter is a busy area filled with lots of restaurants and shops. If you look around, you’ll see reminders of its history. There are signs and statues throughout the quarter that reflect the history and street names like Calle Judios and more.

Though your next stop gets quite busy, it’s a good idea to wander the Jewish Quarter first and to grab lunch here. That way, you make sure you have as much time as you want at your next stop. While you’re here, there are two places I recommend you see before you move on.

Visit Information

The Almodovar Gate is the historical entryway to the center of Córdoba and a good place to start a tour of the Jewish Quarter.

Visit the Córdoba Synagogue (Sinagoga de Córdoba)

While you’re wandering the Jewish Quarter, you will come across the Córdoba Synagogue, and it’s worth a stop. This helps you truly get a feel for this area and what it was once like as a thriving Jewish community. This Synagogue is the only remaining Jewish Synagogue in the Andalusia part of Spain. It’s also one of the best-preserved remaining in Spain.  Due to its small size, it may have originally been a private synagogue for a wealthy family. However, any other Synagogues in this area have been destroyed.

It is located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. This synagogue served as a temple until the Jews were removed from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. It was then used as a hospital and a school before it became a recognized national monument in the 19th century.

The building is quite small but has some incredibly intricate carvings and scrolling work on the walls. You’ll also see Hebrew inscriptions on the interior walls and some beautiful scalloped archways. It is worth getting a guided tour if you’re interested in learning more about the history of this synagogue and the Jewish Quarter.

Visit Information

The Córdoba Synagogue is located at Calle Judíos, 20, 14004 Córdoba, Spain. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 to 3:30. It is free for people living in the European Union and otherwise costs 3 Euros (around $3.50 USD). You can get a guided tour of the Synagogue and Jewish Quarter for 25 Euros (around $29.25 USD).

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Beautiful Detailed Walls of the Córdoba Synagogue

Admire Calleja de las Flores

Another place of note in the Jewish Quarter is Calleja de las Flores. It is a narrow street in the old quarter with some of the most beautiful patios and lots of gorgeous flowers and flower pots all around. It’s a very picturesque area that attracts a lot of tourists. It’s a good idea if you take two days in Córdoba to go early or late to avoid the crowds. 

You’ll see flowers like these, often in terra cotta pots hung against the white walled-buildings through some of the Jewish Quarter as well. Though this narrow road is especially picturesque.

Wonder at the the Alcázar of the Christian Kings (Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos)

After lunch, you’re in for another treat: the Alcázar. This was a medieval palace built in the historic center of Córdoba near the Mezquita. It was once served as a residence for the Spanish Catholic kings and it was a primary residence for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. During their reign, It became the headquarters for the Holy Office during the Inquisition. The main tower of the structure was actually known as the “Tower of the Inquisition.” 

The building is impressive, though the most noteworthy aspect of the Alcázar are the large and magnificent outdoor gardens. They are surrounded by the four towers of the Alcázar and you can climb the ramparts to get wonderful views of the city and these gardens. The garden has large paths lined with cypress trees, citrus, and palm trees, ponds, and beautiful fountains. It’s truly hard to believe you’re in the center of a city when you’re visiting here and wandering the gardens.

Notable Features of the Alcázar

An interesting statue in the Alcázar gardens is this one of Christopher Columbus with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella before setting off for his maiden voyage to find the new world.

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Columbus with Ferdinand and Isabella in the Alcázar Gardens

Another stunning feature of the Alcázar is the main hall, known as the “Hall of Mosaics.” It’s called this for the many stunning mosaics covering the walls and let me tell you, it’s impressive. It might even tie for what is most amazing about this building, though the gardens are quite spectacular as well. You’ can also see two beautiful courtyards and the royal baths.

Visit Information

The Alcázar of the Christian Kings is located at Plaza Campo Santo de los Mártires, s/n, 14004 Córdoba, Spain. It costs 5 Euros to enter ($5.80 USD) and it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Alcázar Gardens

Other Places to See and Things to Do in Córdoba

If you had to choose the few most remarkable things to see in Córdoba and you’re limited on time, that is what I recommend. However, there is more if you’re interested in exploring further and have the luxury of time. There are other fun things to see and do here that are worth your time.

Visit Córdoba Roman’s Past

Another popular attraction in Córdoba is the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano). Though much of the historical structures remaining are of Christian and Moorish architecture and history, there are some Roman structures as well.

This famous Córdoba landmark was believed to have been built around the first or second century. It features 17 beautiful stone arches and if you visit, you’re also rewarded by some great city views. If you walk to the end of the Roman Bridge across the Guadalquivir River, you’ll find Calahorra Tower. This was built during Muslim times to protect the bridge and it’s now a national historical monument.

Additionally, the remains of a Roman Temple were found in the 1950s. It was believed to date back to the first and second centuries and was believed to have been built around the same time as the Roman Bridge. You can now see the ten marble columns that they found.

Visit Information

The Roman Bridge is located at Avenieda del Alcázar, 14003 Córdoba, Spain. Calahorra Tower is located at Puente Romano, 14009 Córdoba, Spain. It can be toured and costs 4.50 Euros ($5.25 USD). The hours vary during the year, and in the winter from October 1 through April 30th, it’s open from 10 to 6. From May 1 to September 30th it’s open from 10 to 2 and 4:30 to 8:30. And the Roman Temple ruin is located at Calle Capitulares, 1, 14002 Córdoba, Spain.

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Roman Bridge, source: Deposit Photos

Attend a Horse Show

The famous Andalusian Spanish horse was first bred here from Arab origins. It’s a big deal in this area and their passion for these horses remains. If you’re interested in seeing these amazing creatures, the Royal Stables (las Caballerizas Reales) near the Alcázar offers horse shows several days a week.  

This horse show looks really interesting and has high reviews. It would be something I’d do when I return.

How to Get Around

You can see the charming Córdoba on your own and it’s a very walkable city. However, if you’re a history lover nerd like I am, consider a tour. It’s a great way to really get an understanding of this incredible city and to learn more about the important history while you do it.

This looks like a great walking tour with good reviews that sees many of the highlights of the area. You’ll likely want to spend more time visiting at the end and of course, you could go on your own to see the Roman Bridge. I also love to do free walking tours of cities, and I have gone with Free Tour before. They have been great! There are a number of choices for you to get the history of this area. Given that most are 2 hours, you will likely tour the Mezquita and Alcázar on your own. But you’ll get great information and a solid orientation before you do.

Where to Eat in Córdoba

When you’re looking for places to eat in Córdoba, you may find that some of the places may not look very impressive from the outside, particularly for tapas bars. But, if you find it’s overflowing with locals, it’s a good sign that you want to eat there. Here are some highly-rated places you may want to check out, though I encourage you to do some local research and give places a try. You will be surprised!

What to Eat in Córdoba

Like the rest of Spain, tapas is a tradition and one I definitely recommend. They are small appetizer plates made for sharing, and you would usually order a few to split with others. It’s a wonderful way to try the best of the food of this region and for those like me who love dining, it’s a great way to not make a commitment to an entree! Once you discover tapas, it’s very hard to go back to traditional dining.

An interesting aspect of tapas, though, is that they are usually eaten in the late afternoon, around 4 to 7 pm. Dinner is a much later affair in Spain, and is generally eaten around 9 or 10 at night. I don’t know about you, but I’m an early riser so I’m often getting to bed around 10 or 11 and don’t want to load up on dinner then. So, I often eat tapas for dinner when I have been to Spain, and it’s a wonderful thing!

Don’t leave without trying the most traditional Córdoba dish called salmorejo. It’s perfect for the hot weather in southern Spain. It’s a cold tomato soup made of vinegar, olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic, bits of serrano ham, and eggs sprinkled on top. Think of it like a substantial gazpacho soup (and gazpacho is crazy good). This dish originated in this area so if you’re going to try it, Córdoba is the place to do so.

Córdoba Restaurants

There are a lot of great restaurants in Córdoba. Here are a few that are highly recommended and either traditional local fare or local faire with a flair of something a little different.

Córdoba Tapas

There are many tapas restaurants in Córdoba. Here are some of the most popular:

Where to Stay

High-end: Hotel Madinat is pure luxury centrally located. All rooms are soundproofed so you may be in the center of it all but won’t hear it! It has 2 terraces with lovely panoramic views of the Mezquita and it’s only a minute’s walk away. It also has a hammam. Have you ever tried one? If not, you’re in for a treat!

Mid-range: NH Collection Amistad Córdoba: If you’re looking for a beautiful place to stay right in the heart of the historic district, this hotel has you covered. It’s a converted 18th-century mansion only five minutes from the Mezquita and right next to the Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

Budget: Hostal La Fuente is a budget option located in the Jewish Quarter with private rooms. It was built in the middle of the 19th century and features a traditional Spanish courtyard in the middle.

How to Get to Córdoba

Córdoba is located between Madrid and Seville. It takes around 2 hours from Madrid on the high-speed train or only a 40-minute train ride from Seville. This makes it a great day trip from either city. Or, you can take a train from Madrid to Córdoba, and end your evening in Seville, which is what I did. I loved it and wished I had an extra day or two to explore as there is so much to see and do.

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When to Visit

Córdoba has a hot, Mediterranean climate with hot and humid summers and mind winters. The hottest month is July and its highs average around 98 °F (36.9 °C) but can as high as 104 °F (40 °C). In August, temperatures start to drop. However, Córdoba has the highest average temperature in all of Europe during both months. June through September are quite hot and humid. Thankfully, the evening temperatures do cool a bit.

Winter lows are at the lowest in January at 39 °F (3.9 °C) and the January high is around 58°F on average (14.4 °C). The coolest time of year is from November to late February, where the daily high temperature is below 65°F (18.3 °C).

The chance of rainfull tends to run from late September through late May, and the wettest month of the year is in October.

Summer is a popular time to visit, though also the hottest and most humid. The best time of year to go will depend on your tolerance for humidity and if you want to risk a little rain during your visit.

Why You Should Visit Córdoba

Córdoba is a beautiful city worth visiting when you go to Spain. Enjoy the incredible architecture, beautiful gardens, and a long, deep, history highlighting the blending of several religions and cultures. It’s an incredible representation of this unique period in time for this location and worth exploring.

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