The ultimate guide exploring one of the most stunning royal palaces of Spain
Are you planning a trip to Sevilla in Spain?
The beautiful capital of Andalucía is without doubt one of the destinations that deserves a place on every traveller’s bucket list.
The city, which origins go back to the 8th century BC, has many historic highlights and is without doubt one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in Spain.
Located on Plaza del Triunfo right opposite the stunning Cathedral of Sevilla, Real Alcázar is the beating heart of the city and one of the best examples of Mudéjar architecture in the world.
If you are planning to visit Sevilla, make it a priority to explore the beautiful complex with its various patios and halls and its beautiful garden.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Real Alcázar is one of the oldest palaces in Europe still in use. The upper floor of the palace is still inhabited by the Spanish royal family when they come to visit Sevilla. Officially owned by the Council of Sevilla, the palace is also used to host state officials visiting the city.
Check out my guide below to learn more about Real Alcázar and especially about the best way to visit this astonishing monument.
The history of Real Alcázar de Sevilla
The name Alcázar goes back to the Arab word ‘el qasr’ which refers to a fortified palace.
The origins of the complex go back to the 8th century when a fortress was built by the first Moorish rulers of the area. In the centuries that followed, more buildings were added to the premisses, while over time several were also demolished and re-build.
Most notably, in the 10th century a new governmental palace was built on the premisses by order of the Caliph of Cordoba, Abdurrahman III an-Nasir. Still in the 10th century a new Alcázar was added to the palace while in the 12th century the ruling Moroccan Almohad caliphate extended the complex by more palatial buildings.
Just one century later, or more precisely in 1248, King Ferdinand III and Queen Isabella successfully fought the Spanish Reconquista, reclaiming Andalucía and declaring Sevilla a royal city. Another century later (in the 14th century) King Don Pedro the Cruel ordered the construction of a royal palace on the grounds of the Alcázar. Built in the typical Mudéjar style of Sevilla, it became the beating core of the complex.
Today, Real Alcázar de Sevilla remains one of the few historic palaces across Europe still in use and is one of the most popular to be visited.
What you should know about admission to Real Alcázar
Real Alcázar is one of the most visited (if not the most visited) attraction in Sevilla. In fact, you can count that every visitor new to the city will be eager to tour the premisses.
The huge number of tourists visiting the site each year has prompted the city to limit the entrance to the site. Therefore, there is now only a certain number of visitors allowed to enter every 30 minutes.
As a result, I can only recommend planning your visit in advance.
Of course, there is a ticket office allowing you to buy tickets on the spot. However, be warned that going to the ticket office has its challenges (if not real downsides).
Firstly, you can expect a long line of visitors queuing for tickets. Which means, it can take well over an hour (and more) to buy tickets.
Secondly, don’t expect to buy a ticket and immediately head to the entrance. Tickets are sold for particular times and only a certain number of tickets are available for each of those slots. Therefore, it could well happen you are queuing in the morning, but the only spots left will be much later in the afternoon. Plus, there might also be a slight chance that tickets for the day will sell out while you are waiting in line. In that case, you will have to return the next day and try your luck again. There are no tickets sold for the next day (or any days in advance) at the ticket office.
Therefore, the best way purchasing your tickets to Real Alcázar in advance either through the official site of Real Alcázar or with a tour operator offering tickets and guided tours (more on this below).
Purchasing your tickets in advance will allow you to avoid queuing at the ticket office and head directly to the entrance at Lion’s Gate. Though you can still expect a queue at the entrance that can actually become quite long as well. However, once admission for the 30 minutes slot will start, you will get in quickly.
Check out the next session to learn about different ticket options visiting Real Alcázar de Sevilla.
What is the best way to explore Real Alcázar de Sevilla: Available ticket categories
There are different ways to explore Real Alcázar from discovering the complex all by yourself to various guided tours.
Should you decide to explore the complex on your own, I highly recommend reading my guide on what to see at Real Alcázar below – as once inside there are not many signs or descriptions available to guide you through.
Of course, you can tour the Alcázar with audio guide provided at the entrance.
In case you want to learn more about the place, or be able to ask questions, then you will need to join a guided tour.
Guided tours can be booked through the official site of Real Alcázar where you can chose from a number of different options including a tour of the Alcázar only, combined visits of Alcázar and the Cathedral, a tour through the Alcázar and Barrio de Santa Cruz, and special private tours of Alcázar. You can book the tours in English, Spanish, French, and Italian.
In addition, various other tour operators offer guided tours to the Alcázar, which would still allow you preferred entrance including Tripadvisor, Get your Guide, and Viator among others.
Also worth noting, in addition to the regular ticket that will provide you access to the ground floors and gardens there are more ticket categories offering access to the upper floor and access after regular opening hours. However, these special tickets require you to enter as part of a group or guided tour.
What is the best time of day to visit Real Alcázar de Sevilla
Real Alcázar is open from 9.30am to 7pm in the summer (April to September 14th) and from 9.30am to 5pm in the winter (September 15th to March 31st), seven days a week year-round – with the exception of December 25th, January 1st, January 6th and Good Friday.
However, I certainly recommend planning your visit during the morning hours (between 9-11am) and in the afternoon from around 4pm.
Though tickets are sold for a fixed admission time (every 30 minutes) and the number of tickets per slot is limited, the complex will fill up with tour groups from around late morning to early afternoon.
In addition, unless you visit during the winter months, it can get quite hot between 11am to 4pm, and especially in the summer you will not want to walk around in the scorching sun.
How much time should you plan to visit Real Alcázar de Sevilla
Wondering how much time you should allow for a visit to Real Alcázar de Sevilla?
Ultimately, it is your decision how long you will linger in the many courtyards, halls, and the stunning gardens.
Given all that is there to see, you should allow for 1.5 to 2 hours at least.
However, once you are inside the complex, there is no time limit, and you can stay as long as you wish.
Is there a dress code for Real Alcázar de Sevilla
Just in case you wonder, yes there is a dress code if you want to visit Real Alcázar. Though less strict if compared to entering a cathedral or church (thus pay attention in case you are purchasing combined tickets including entrance to the Cathedral of Sevilla), you should still avoid certain outsits.
The official dress code to Real Alcázar is ‘smart casual’ which means no shorts, athletics wear or swimwear (the latter should be no question but you’d wonder …).
What to see at Real Alcázar de Sevilla
Though commonly called Real Alcázar or more simply Alcázar, the complex is officially named Alcázares Reales de Sevilla, as it is composed of various palatial buildings, courtyards and gardens built over different eras.
Real Alcázar de Sevilla blends different styles of architecture though most of the buildings you can admire today are largely build in the typical Mudéjar style of medieval southern Spain. Mudéjar is a style that features the application of decorative Islamic art to Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
The Mudéjar style emerged during the 12th century and was largely influenced by the particular political, social and cultural conditions that characterized the life in Spain after the Reconquista, the victory over the Moorish rulers by Spanish Christian Kings. It is a style of architecture found across many parts of Spain but mostly in the south that would be worth planning a trip and being explored in its own rights!
But back to the Real Alcázar.
There also remains part of the original structure build in Islamic style, including Patio de Yeso, Sala de Justicia, Patio del Crucero and Patio de la Casa de Contratación.
Real Alcázar is truly amazing throughout. Yet there are some parts that you can’t miss when visiting. Check out the most marvellous sites to explore when visiting the Alcázar de Sevilly below.
Puerta del Leon or Lions Gate today is the entrance to the Alcázar. Both the gate and the adjacent walls were built by the Moorish rulers during the 12th century. The gate formed the entrance to the garrison yard of the original palace built during the same century.
The coat of arms showing a crowned lion holding a cross was added only in the 19th century, and it is behind the gates name.
Right after passing the entrance, you can spot one of the more historic parts of Real Alcázar. Patio del Leon is the courtyard leading to Monteria’s Courtyard, the main courtyard of the complex. Separating the two is a wall with a triple arch built during the 12th century.
Patio de la Montería is the central courtyard providing access to Mudéjar Palace, the Gothic Palace and Admiral’s Hall. It used to be the place where during the reign of King Pedro I hunters would meet ahead of a hunt with the king, which explains its name (monteria means hunting).
Located at the western side is the House of Trade which features a façade with a portico that was built during the 17th century.
Throughout the Alcázar, you will come across a lot of beautiful tile work. Most are coming from the Triana neighbourhood located on the west side of the Guadalquivir River. This working-class barrio once used to be home to a large number of ceramics factories producing the famous colourful azulejos.
Check out my guide to Barrio de Triana if you want to learn more about this place and why its worth exploring when visiting Sevilla.
There is also a space dedicated to a small display of tiles on the upper floor of Admirals House accessible from Patio de la Montería.
Patio de las Doncella, or Maidens Courtyard is perhaps the most stunning area of the complex. The lower part was built during the 13th century and while Andalucía at the time was already under Christian rule – or more precisely under the rule of King Pedro I, it definitely highlights the Moorish origins of the place. Meanwhile, the upper floor was built only during the 16th century and mostly build in Renaissance style with some elements of Mudéjar architecture.
It is called Maidens Courtyard as a tribute to the legend that the Moorish rulers once demanded a yearly tribute of 100 virgins from the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
Following the death of King Pedro, the courtyards centrepiece, the rectangular pool and sunken gardens were covered up with marble slabs and a Renaissance fontain and only rediscovered in the early 2000s.
Salon de Embajadores (Ambassador’s Hall) which is accessible through Maidans Courtyard was built during the 11th century already. It was the most prestigious space of the historic complex, and it was in this room where the most important guests were received. The hall was later modified by orders of King Pedro I during the 14th century when it became the most important piece of the king’s royal palace.
To see the most stunning part of the hall, you need to look up. The wooden dome is gilded with gold and adorned with hundreds of tiny mirrors.
By the way, looking up is definitely a good idea at other places as well. The artwork you can find decorating the ceiling is absolutely stunning.
Located within Palacio del Rey Don Pedro, Courtyard of the Dolls gets its name from the doll faces adorning the entrance arch. It is one of the sites at the Alcázar that was remodelled only during the 19th century when the upper floor was added. However, the columns and capitals are of Caliphal and Roman origins and this rather small courtyard is absolutely stunning.
Another spectacular part of the Real Alcázar is located in the underground. The stunning Baños de Doña Maria de Padilla, the rainwater tanks located beneath Patio del Crucero are named after King Pedro I’s mistress. It is said she used to bath here while she was the royal consort.
There is also an option to tour the Royal Apartments on the upper floor. However, you need to purchase tickets especially including this part of the Alcázar. Visits to the Cuarto Real Alto are only possible in the morning and it is not allowed to make photos of the apartments.
One of the highlights of visiting Real Alcázar de Sevilla is the beautifully curated garden area.
First cured more than one thousand years ago, it features various water ponds and fountains, along with approximately 20,000 trees and plants that belong to around 187 different species.
The most spectacular part of the extensive garden is Galería de Grutescos. Originally built during the Almohad era the then simple wall was transformed into a gallery during 17th century by Vermondo Resta. It’s decorated with fresco paintings by Diego de Esquivel.
The covered walkway extending from the gallery offers beautiful looks over large parts of the garden area.
Are you planning a trip to Sevilla in Spain. Then you need to visit the stunning Real Alcázar, the masterpiece of Mudéjar architecture and one of the few historic royal palaces in Europe still in use.