Second Chances: The Perfect Cádiz Day Trip

As the oldest city in western Europe and a popular summer hotspot, it’s easy to see why Cádiz is one of southern Spain’s most popular destinations.

But I didn’t love it the first time I visited.

It was 2016, and I headed to Cádiz on a day trip from Seville with a friend. I was already feeling under the weather, and it ended up being one of those Murphy’s Law-esque days filled with little annoyances that start to add up.

Our BlaBlaCar drop-off point ended up being quite far out, so we spent most of the morning just walking into town. The gold-capped cathedral on the horizon never seemed to get any closer no matter how much headway we made.

Aside from that, my phone was acting up so I couldn’t take as many pictures as I wanted, and we ended up next to an unbelievably rude group of people at lunch (eating at the bar at an otherwise good restaurant recommended by our driver). The city also seemed quiet and uneventful, without much going on.

I enjoyed the quaint historic center and the ocean views from atop the waterfall in Genovés Park, but for the most part left Cádiz that first time feeling ambivalent at best.

parque genovés cadiz spain
View from the top of the waterfall

In retrospect, I came to realize that many of the reasons why I didn’t really enjoy myself that day had nothing to do with the city itself. The last reason, meanwhile, might have had something to do with the fact that Cádiz is a beach city and we visited in February—no wonder it was on the quiet side.

Many people I know had raved about Cádiz, and with good reason. The city’s beauty and history is hard to deny, and its beachside location certainly helps things. Soon I became eager to give the city a second chance, and finally had the chance to do so earlier this summer.

A day trip to Cádiz from Córdoba

We drove the three hours southwest from Córdoba down to Cádiz. If you don’t have access to a car, you can take the train (the AVE gets you there in under three hours) or the bus (operated by Socibus; the trip takes three and a half hours but is cheaper than the train).

If you do decide to drive, be aware that the chances of finding parking in the city center are somewhere between “not a chance” and “nonexistent.” We ended up shelling out a few bucks to park at Parking Santa Barbara after fruitlessly circling around for half an hour.

Exploring Cádiz responsibly

Something about Cádiz feels different than other cities in Spain, or even Andalusia. Wandering around the Old Town, you get the distinct feeling that this is a place unlike anywhere else—and hopefully it stays that way.

While Cádiz hasn’t been nearly as affected by mass tourism as other Spanish cities (e.g. Barcelona), it’s still important to respect the city and its residents as if it were your own home. This is something that I’ve been trying to be more conscious of since I started working in tourism, and although it can take some work, it’s well worth the effort—and you’ll have a more rewarding experience as a result.

What to do with one day in Cádiz

As it turns out, most of the major tourist attractions we wanted to see were closed when we visited, either for the day, the summer season, or for a few hours when we happened to pass by during siesta. But I was still surprised at how much more enjoyable this visit was compared to my first trip to Cádiz.

After having breakfast at a cafe in sunny Plaza Mentidero, we headed back out again towards what’s still my favorite spot in the city, Genovés Park. A little corner of natural paradise overlooking the ocean, it’s a nice spot to escape a bit from the small but bustling city just outside.

A terrace on Plaza Mentidero in Cádiz, Spain
Most of the locals had already finished breakfast by the time we arrived, so the plaza was nice and quiet.

We came to Cádiz with the intention of sightseeing, but as soon as we approached lively Playa La Caleta, I wished we’d brought our beach stuff. Nevertheless, we spent some time exploring the nooks and crannies of the Santa Catalina Castle before heading a little ways downshore to its neighbor, the San Sebastian Castle.

Visiting the Santa Catalina Castle on a day trip to Cádiz, Spain
I’ve never been to the Alamo, but something about the Santa Catalina Castle somehow reminded me of it.

While the latter castle itself was closed indefinitely (apparently it’s undergoing restoration works after a bad storm), it’s still worth heading out towards it along Paseo Fernando Quiñones. Surrounded by water on all sides, this quaint little promenade is another contender for one of my favorite spots in town. We walked it at midday, but I’ve heard it’s the place to be if you want to check out the best sunset in Cádiz.

At San Sebastian castle in Cádiz, Spain
With the castle in the background…
View from Paseo Fernando Quiñones in Cádiz, Spain
…and looking back towards the town.

From there it was a leisurely stroll along Avenida Campo del Sur towards the cathedral, at which point we headed into the heart of the city. Even on a sunny July Saturday, the area around the Cádiz cathedral wasn’t oversaturated with tourists. This was a nice change of pace compared to Córdoba, where I have to strategically plan my walks into the city center past the crowded Mezquita.

Buildings along the shore in Cádiz, Spain
Getting closer to Cádiz cathedral
Square in front of the cathedral in Cádiz, Spain
The plaza in front of the cathedral was packed with people eating and drinking at the terrace bars, so it was lively but not overwhelming.

After a long lunch near the Mercado Central de Abastos, we spent the rest of the afternoon simply wandering around the old part of the city. Strangely enough, it was fairly quiet this time, too—much like that first less-than-stellar visit I’d made in February a few years before. This time, I imagine it was because many of the locals were either at the beach or on vacation elsewhere.

Exploring the city center on a day trip to Cádiz, Spain
Walking through the city center

But just because Cádiz is on the quiet side (or at least it was both times I visited) doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. Its rich history and beautiful streets make it a city that deserves to be explored as deeply as possible.

A typical square in Cádiz, Spain
Cádiz’s pastel-colored buildings look stunning against a cloudless blue sky.

We ended our day walking near the shore once again, along the Murallas de San Carlos looking out towards El Puerto de Santa María. It’s true that Cádiz is small enough to allow you to see the main sights in one day as we did, but it’s the kind of place I wouldn’t mind staying a little bit longer in—preferably sipping manzanilla sherry at a simple chiringuito with an ocean view.

Flowered walkway in Cadiz, Spain
A beautiful little place to walk.

Have you ever visited a place that didn’t impress you initially, but that you gave a second chance and came to love? I’d love to know—tell me in the comments!

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