Last updated on November 26th, 2023
When I was planning my first Cordoba visit, I tried to find answers to two simple questions: “Why visiting Cordoba was important at all? And why this Andalusian city was that special?”
All sources of information in one way or another were emphasizing that Cordoba is known for its rich history, cultural heritage, and architectural beauty. That it has unique beautiful gardens and architecture, a captivating blend of cultures and cuisine. But can’t you say the same about many other cities, especially in Spain?
There was definitely more to that. I wanted to know exactly what to do in Cordoba to have the most complete experience.
Not to go through the list of all Cordoba attractions and things to do, but to explicitly have top experiences that could help me learn about its history and feel the essence of this city. Especially considering that fact that I had only 2 days in Cordoba and I didn’t want to do everything else that was available in other parts of Andalusia.
This is why I had to pack my days with activities and run around a lot just to understand at the end of my trip which experiences were particularly noteworthy. And then to sit down to write about them while my memories are still fresh.
So here they are, my top things to do in Cordoba to encounter everything that this city is famous for. They are also great for those on a short trip who only have one day in Cordoba.
Top 6 Experiences to Have on a Cordoba Visit to Get the Most Out of It
See Close the Only Mosque-Cathedral in the World
When visiting Cordoba, one of the must-see unique attractions not to miss is a catholic cathedral built into a mosque which is a Mezquita-Catedral.
It is a must-visit place for several reasons. Firstly, it is a historic landmark that dates back to the 8th century and is one of the most important examples of Muslim architecture in the world. Secondly, the Mezquita has a rich history, since it was erected during the height of the Muslim rule in Spain, but later converted into a cathedral during Spanish Rule.
During the Middle Ages, Mezquita was the second-largest Muslim mosque in the world. And now it is among the most famous architectural structures in Spain that got its fame during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty. At the moment, the building is in the TOP-4 list of the largest mosques in Europe.
Mezquita features a stunning forest of pillars and horseshoe arches that create a unique and breathtaking interior. Its decoration is striking in its beauty and richness. You’ll see inside golden prayer niches, high double arches of black onyx and jasper inside the mosque. And there is a majestic blue dome with pale stars in the center of the cathedral.
This mix of religious and cultural influences makes the Mezquita a unique and fascinating place to visit in Cordoba, one of its kind in the entire world.
I saw many mosques on my travels, including an incredibly impressive mosque in the center of Dubai and an orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia which later became a mosque in Istanbul’s old town. I also remember driving to a very unique town of Mostar in Bosnia & Hercegovina which is evenly divided between Muslims and Catholics.
So before my Cordoba visit, I didn’t really think I’d be impressed to see Cordoba’s mosque. But I really was. Reading a lot of useful details prior to our visit and going to the mosque early in the morning helped to get the most out of this experience.
Have an Authentic & Beautiful Stay in a Colonial-Style Home
Some of you can put this one up for debate and say that Cordoba is not the only city with colonial homes.
While this is true and there are a few cities in Spain that have well-preserved examples of colonial architecture (like a port city of Cádiz, Seville, and Granada), none of them actually has as high number of beautifully restored and repurposed houses as Cordoba where visitors can get a glimpse into the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Spain.
But the most important is not even that. Cordoba’s colonial homes, unlike in any of these Spanish cities, have also elements from various parts of the Americas, notably the Southwestern and Central American regions.
They have a mixture of inspiration from Mexican, Argentinian, of course Moorish, and some indigenous design styles. This creates a distinct look that sets them apart from other colonial houses in Spain.
Staying in one of such homes in Cordoba transfers you back to the 17th or 18th century and offers a unique and immersive travel experience, allowing you to experience the city’s rich cultural heritage, live like a local, and enjoy comfortable and unique accommodation.
For a unique and totally authentic stay, better choose a balconied home, colorful pension, or brightly colored mansion.
On our visit to Cordoba, we stayed in Casa de los Azulejos with a beautiful colonial inner courtyard and ancient-style design (which is also among the most budget-friendly private heritage hotels). Look at its ceiling! Our host and the owner of this case told us that he had friends from Argentina and Mexico work on it:
Enjoy Unique in Its Nature Cordoba’s Patios
Another must-have experience on a visit to Cordoba which shows the real face of the city is an exploration of the city’s patios.
You can do it on your own while walking around and popping into each yard. Or through a patio tour with a guide who can help you travel back to Roman times and learn how the famous courtyards evolved over time.
If you choose to stay in one of the colonial-style homes, you will already be able to experience the beauty of at least one patio. But there are many more to see! Cordoba’s patios are special and different from patios in other parts of the world which puts them on the list of the most unique places to visit in Cordoba.
Behind each patio, there is a unique history and cultural significance. Each of them was traditionally used for socializing and entertaining and has been an important part of daily life in the city for centuries.
Almost all patios are known for their use of light and shadow to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Thanks to that, the light filters through the leaves and reflects off the water, creating a beautiful and peaceful environment.
All of Cordoba’s patios are also famous for their stunning beauty. They typically have decorations in the form of bright flowers, lush vegetation, fountains, and other beautiful features that create a peaceful and tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.
Seeing this important part of the cultural and architectural heritage is a must-have experience on a visit to Cordoba because it is one of those special things that Cordoba is famous for.
In the Old town, doors to many patios are open and visitors can go inside. Sometimes there is a saucer at the entrance for money (where entrance is donation based) to maintain order in the patio.
One of the places where you can see many patios at once is the Palace of Viana. It is a stunning palace that dates back to the 15th century and is full of beautiful courtyards, patios, and gardens. The Palace of Viana is open year-round, which is very convenient since you can check it out on a visit to Cordoba in winter.
Find other popular patios in San Basilio neighborhood. Numbers of the buildings are 14, 17, 20, 44. Just put in the map San Basilio and number of the building and it’ll show you where to go. Or just wander around and take a peek into different courtyards that you’ll be passing by. Those gorgeous yards are seriously around each corner!
You should not miss the opportunity to get to know the life and way of life of the local population through visiting patios. Especially considering how picturesque they are!
Unusual Excursions Not to Miss on a Cordoba Visit:
Travel Specifically for the Mozárabe Food
Wondering why else visit Cordoba Spain? Of course for food which (believe it or not) differs from food in other cities in the same region!
We are now seriously considering returning to Cordoba while staying long-term in Malaga just for the foodie’s experience. Because on our 2-day visit, there was not enough time to try all foods that this city is famous for.
The fact is the cuisine of Cordoba differs from the cuisine of other Andalusian cities in way of preparation, complexity, and sophistication.
After all, Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Berbers and Christians, replacing each other, left traces of their civilizations on this land and, accordingly, on its cuisine. This is why today in Cordoba province there are 2 different cuisines – modern Andalusian and so-called Mozárabe, an Andalusian cuisine that developed in the Middle Ages.
Mozárabe dishes are basically Spanish-Roman dishes cooked in accordance with rich Muslim tastes and spices that are popular in northern Africa and countries of the Middle East. As a result, it laid the foundation for such masterpieces as artichoke hearts with pine nut sauce and raisins or eggplants in batter with sugar cane honey, or bull tail stew, for example.
If you are a foodie and love to travel for food, Cordoba is a must-visit destination in Spain.
So what exactly to try in Cordoba? If you are limited in time, then don’t miss at the first place these famous dishes:
- salmorejo (a thick, cold, tomato-based soup but today you can also try salmorejo with pumpkin, watermelon, almonds, and even cuttlefish)
- rabo de toro (bull tail stew)
berenjenas con miel (that eggplant I mentioned above)
- flamenquín (pork fillet stuffed with jamon, cheese or sausages and fried in breadcrumbs and deep-fried eggs until golden brown)
- churrasco (a grilled Iberian pork tenderloin accompanied by 2 Arab sauces red and green)
- croquetas (Cordoba style croquetas with ham are so good!)
- tocino de cielo (dessert made from caramelized egg yolk and sugar)
Where to Find the Best Food in Cordoba
In many places but here is a quick list of some of the restaurants that we tried (they all were recommended by locals) where we tried delicious traditional food of Cordoba:
1). Taberna La Montillana – our host from Casa de los Azulejos (where we stayed) recommended this restaurant saying that it was as local as it can get. It is mainly frequented by locals who come for special occasions or family meetups.
Everything from the menu is delish but especially so the rabo de toro and berenjenas con miel (their eggplant dish is prepared differently than in other places. You can see it in my photo where it is cut in very thin short pieces).
2). Taberna Gongora – anything on the menu is good, but don’t miss here their croquetas, albondigas en salsa (meatballs in sauce), and flamenquin.
3). Hygge Cafe – while not the best, I still wanted to mention this cafe since it has a few tables outside with a very nice view of the Mezquita. We really enjoyed our cappuccino and pastel cordobes with the view and sounds of street life accompanied later by the bell ringing. Just like in the photos here:
4). Taberno COTO – they are famous for their champiñones a la plancha (fried mushrooms with butter and garlic sauce, the ones you see in the photo), solomillo con salsa chimichurri (fried beef medallions, also in photo above), and chupitos (strong alcoholic small shots of drinks).
They also have good appetizers, especially mousse de pato con queso de Zuheros (baked brie cheese with jam and toasts). And to me personally, their semi-sweet white wine is simply the best. I often order semi-sweet wine in different regions of Spain but the most delicious one was here in this tavern.
Explore One of the Most Important Symbols of Andalusia
And this symbol is of course Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos.
This is a palace and fortress which was first built as a caliphate residence in the 8th century, then reached its peak significance during the Middle Ages when Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella had been residing there for eight years, and later it became a center of Spanish Inquisition which existed for almost five centuries.
Among all the top things to do in Cordoba, exploring Alcazar should be on every itinerary, whether you are spending one day in Cordoba or more. It is the second (after Mezquita) most important place to visit as it serves as a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of Córdoba and the wider region of Andalusia.
Cordoba was a center of civilization, culture, and learning during the height of the Islamic Golden Age. And the Alcázar was a center of power.
Today, it reflects the mix of Islamic, Christian, and Mudéjar architectural styles that are characteristic of the region and provides a glimpse into the diverse cultural influences that shaped it.
Another reason why to visit Alcázar is its significant role in the history of the Spanish Inquisition. The palace served as a prison for political and religious prisoners during the Inquisition and its dungeons are a poignant reminder of this dark chapter in Spanish history.
Oh, and one more fact – Alcázar was the same place where Christopher Columbus came to ask for funding for his quest to find a westward route to China, India, and Japan.
Visiting Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba is definitely one of Cordoba’s top experiences as it is important to the world as a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of Andalusia.
Don’t Leave Without Learning About & Then Watching Flamenco!
Cordoba is among the top cities in Spain where flamenco culture is huge. You’ll find there not only many bars and mini centers offering flamenco shows, but also a fantastic, one of the best in the entire of Spain museum dedicated to flamenco.
So of course, when visiting Cordoba, one of the must-do things is to learn about flamenco and then go watch it in the evening!
Centro de Flamenco Fosforito Museum, located in the building of the medieval hotel Posada del Potro, is perhaps the best exposition dedicated to this traditional art in all of Andalusia. You can go there in the morning or during the day when spending two or three days in Cordoba.
And in the evening, watch a live show in the Tablao Flamenco El Cardenal theater (the main place where performances take place) or have a more intimate experience in one of the bars like Taberna Patio de la Juderia or Pena Flamenca.
We watched the flamenco show in the Tablao Flamenco theater and truly enjoyed it (photos below). The entrance ticket also included a drink and the room was cozy. But even these pictures don’t do it justice at all. As well as they cannot convey the atmosphere that was in the room!
If you also want to watch the show in the theater, prebook tickets in advance to make sure you’ll be able to get in. In the busy months of late spring, summer, and autumn, it is merely impossible to book a show even one day in advance. So plan ahead!
How to Get to Cordoba
It is really easy to reach Cordoba by different means of transportation. One of the most popular ways is to go by train. Regularly Renfe trains depart from many major Spanish cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Almeria, Valencia, Seville, Granada, and Malaga. Trains are both direct and with transfers.
Also, it is possible to reach Cordoba by bus from most cities not only in Andalusia but throughout the entire of Spain.
Going to Cordoba by Car
But the best solution for a trip to Cordoba is to go by car.
Mark and I traveled to Cordoba (from Malaga) in a rental vehicle and couldn’t be happier about this choice. First of all, it was much cheaper. Secondly, the road to Cordoba itself was comfortable and fast.
If you decide to travel to Cordoba by car as well, especially traveling from any other city, you’ll also have a great opportunity to add it to a bigger Andalusia road trip and see other cities.
Renting a car in Spain is possible at any airport where you arrive as well as in any city in the center. Although renting on the spot in the city, especially during the high season, will cost much more. But if you travel to Spain in winter, prices drop significantly and it is very easy to hire a car for as much as €40 per week which is going to be much cheaper than going by train or even bus.
To avoid high prices and to choose the most suitable car for your trip at the best price, you should book a vehicle in advance.
The leading company for car rentals in Spain is this company and you can see their prices right now below:
More Inspirational Resources for Travel in Spain
- Madrid in winter travel guide – what it’s like
- Introduction to northern Spain – where is the best place and why to go
- Introduction to Northern Tenerife – why you’ll want to plan a vacation here
- Tenerife North vs South – which one is better for you?
- Most beautiful coastal towns in northern Spain – for a romantic getaway
- What to pack for Spain – tips for every season
- Renting a car in Valencia – brief guide and tips
- Valencia to Malaga road trip – 12 exciting stops to make
- Malaga hidden gems – and secret spots to discover
- Barcelona to Valencia drive – 20 best places to visit
- Barcelona to Andorra by Car – unique stops to make to see more of Catalonia