I have visited a number of places in Spain and spent a lot of time in both Madrid and Barcelona however this was my first visit to Cádiz. My previous visit to the Andalucia region was restricted to Seville so I was anxious to explore new territory.
An ancient port city situated in southwestern Spain, Cádiz now plays host to cruise ships and their passengers. Founded by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe. My pre-cruise research indicated that we could walk off the ship and easily navigate the downtown core so I did not plan any specific tour, preferring instead to wander at will.
My husband and I opted to take a hop on, hop off bus (HoHo), which conveniently stopped just outside the gates of the cruise port. Although we anticipated long lines for the bus, we found that we were able to quickly board the vehicle with no wait. With respect to timing, we exited the ship about 1.5 hours after it docked and we understand from later discussions with friends, that the first to disembark had a bit of a wait. In order to determine our touring preferences, we opted to do the full bus circuit to give us the lay of the city and an overview of the places we most wanted to see.
As the bus moved around the city, we learned that Cádiz was once the home of the Spanish Navy, and it has more than 100 watchtowers tied to its defence mechanism. Over the years it was one of Spain’s (and indeed Europe’s), most important ports. Trade between Spain and the new world was often routed through this port which at that time, brought a certain prosperity to the city and region.
Almost in the center of the city area is a lovely beach called La Caleta which is apparently a popular tourist area in the summer. We later walked by the pristine beach with its silky sand and well maintained areas. Groomed daily and inviting to sun worshipers, it was unoccupied in the chill of the fall weather.
As the bus moved through the streets, we were treated to views of statues, fountains and beautiful little plazas that invited tourists to explore. On our second go-round on the bus circuit, we exited at the 18th-century Cádiz Cathedral. The drop off point is along the waterfront which is at the back of the Cathedral so it was necessary to walk around the building to the plaza in front to gain access. There was an entrance fee of €6 per person. Featuring baroque and neoclassical elements, the Cathedral is interesting from an architectural standpoint but where this place shines is in the presentation of historical artifacts in a museum format and the ability to view and sit in the spectacular choir area.
By way of background, the cathedral was built between 1722 and 1838 and officially opened in 1838. Given the length of time it took to build the cathedral, there are some style variations that make it interesting. It was the seat of the Diocese of Cádiz y Ceuta and was declared Bien de Interés Cultural prior to the Second World War.
Audio guides were included in the admission price and we moved from exhibit to exhibit starting along the left side of the Cathedral. There were religious items from various places around Spain (mostly local), which are clearly on loan to the Cathedral so I am uncertain if the exhibits change or whether overall this is a temporary exhibit. I could spend most of this blog describing this cathedral and the many items viewed, however suffice to say it is a must see in Cádiz and I highly recommend you spend time in the choir area which is magnificent. The choir area alone moved this cathedral into my top 20 listing of beautiful cathedrals in the world.
From the Cathedral, we easily moved through the old town area, stopping to admire buildings and points of interest. Almost beside the Cathedral are the remains of a roman theatre. This was built around the 1st century BC and our “hoho” audio guide indicated that this theatre was the biggest theatre built outside of Pompeii. It is estimated that this facility would have held up to 20,000 people so clearly based on size alone, one gets a fairly good idea of how large the Roman population of Cádiz was at one time.
As we continued to walk we noticed that the Spanish continued the custom of closing their stores at two in the afternoon (although we did find the odd store open until 2:30). Stores reopen at five and remain open until eight in the evening. We had to be back at the ship before the stores reopened so anyone wanting to shop would need to be attentive to the time of day and make their purchases prior to the early afternoon closing if they had a return to ship time. We laughingly found that some are fairly rigid in their adherence to those hours. My husband was in a store looking at an item with the store owner in attendance. She seemed quite engaged in making the sale when she suddenly looked at her watch and politely said, “We are closing so you must leave immediately.” My husband asked if it was possible to just make the purchase (which was over €50), before we left and she said “No, come back at 5pm”. She cheerily waved goodbye as we left and immediately turned away another customer who was attempting to enter her store.
With the closing of the stores, the streets seemed to empty and I was able to take some great photos of buildings and winding alleyways. I found a cow with an umbrella which struck me as a bit whimsical so I photographed it.
We walked back to the ship instead of taking the bus again. It should be noted that it is a fairly easy walk from the Cathedral to the ship and most of the places one would want to see so even taking the bus is not necessary in this location. As a port stop, for those just wanting to get off the ship and walk, one can see many of the points of interest without a formalized tour.