Discover Cádiz: the Oldest City in Western Europe

Cádiz is a city on the coast of the wider province that goes by the same name.

Cádiz was once called Gadir by the Phoenicians and this name evolved into the Latin Gades when it was under Roman rule. This is why the people from Cádiz are known as gaditanos even now the place is known today as Cádiz.

The gaditanos hold a reputation for being the funniest people in Spain and although I didn’t find this particularly evident in the Cádiz Capital, I certainly did when I visited El Puerto de Santa María which is just across the bay and of course, is still a part of the Cádiz province.

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Playa de la Caleta, Cádiz

Sometimes you visit a place and the moment you step off the train, bus (or whatever your mode of transport was… boat?), you take in the air and you just know. It’s an inexplicable sense that you’ve arrived at a good place and you feel so excited to just be there.

This is certainly the way I felt when I first visited Cádiz (I’ve been to Cádiz Capital twice now and to the province four times, and would happily return a hundred times).

Cádiz is affectionately known as ‘Little Havana’ due to its similarity to the Cuban capital in its architecture, the cathedral and the stretch of its bay. In fact, there is a ruling in place in Cádiz that no building is permitted to be constructed which is higher than the cathedral, to protect the views from along the bay and to avoid the ‘built-up’ look so commonly seen in places such as Benidorm or Fuengirola. With the omnipresence of palm trees lining the long paseo marítimo (promenade), it has, for me, a tropical feeling. I fell in love with it the moment I first arrived there!

“It was the most stunning setting for a wedding, with views right along of the golden sand and colourful parasols and of course the azure blue of the Atlantic waters..”

The summer climate is certainly hot and can be rather humid, however like most coastal towns, it is tempered by a light sea breeze. The Atlantic coast of Spain endures very strong winds known as levante and poniente (depending on the direction of the wind, which quite often is so strong it raises the sand). Tarifa, which is also in the Cádiz province, is very popular with surfers due to its strong winds and consequential waves. (You can read about Tarifa HERE)

With this said, the wind in Cádiz capital is not so strong and whenever I have visited, it has been a mild breeze at most.

On one of my visits to Cádiz, I attended the wedding of a close friend of my boyfriend. It was held in a church then the reception was at Hotel La Playa Victoria right on the La Playa de la Victoria beach. It was the most stunning setting for a wedding, with views right along of the golden sand and colourful parasols and of course the azure blue of the Atlantic waters.

It was a very hot September day and very humid too. I recall struggling in the heat and humidity in a rather heavily beaded/embroidered dress and stiletto heels, fanning myself with the typical Flamenco fan.

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Playa de la Victoria
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Alberto and I at his friend’s wedding in Cádiz

Whenever I think of Cádiz or someone mentions the very name, the first thing I always think about first is the sand. The sand is golden and powdery soft. I recall wading in the sea, water up to my waist, and feeling like I was standing on a carpet of velvet. Málaga’s beaches are absolutely fine and I have a special place in my heart for Torre del Mar however the beaches are either shingly or a rougher, darker sand.

I am NOT a confident swimmer and am usually hesitant to venture into the sea but I felt secure enough in Cádiz to go in and do my rather pathetic doggy paddle and treading of water…

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A banner on the town hall which translates as: “For a Europe of open doors: barriers kill”

All along the beach front there are the expected tapas bars and ice cream shops and at one point I was so hot and thirsty I stopped off for a lemon slush ice (which has a more attractive word in Spanish- granizada) which in that moment, tasted like heaven.

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Along the paseo marítimo

One time, a friend and I were walking through the town at night, looking for a bar for a nice glass of wine. We then stumbled across a salsa bar where at least 20 couples were dancing, in the dark, under the light of the moon. Waves were crashing into the shore right in front of the bar as latin beats rang out into the street as the people swayed and sashayed together. Sounds incredibly clichéd written out like that I know, but that’s exactly what the scene was like, it was a beautiful scene. It added more of that Cuban feel to the place!

I have attempted salsa dancing in informal settings as Alberto used to attend a salsa academy so he tried to teach me a few steps, but as I am so uncoordinated it really isn’t the dance for me. I’m all legs and arms splaying out and trodding on the partner’s feet (insert monkey with hands over its eyes emoji here!). So, needless to say, this night my friend and I just stood with our glasses of (chilled, as always in Spanish summers) red wine and observed the dancing and alegría, or joy, of the scene.

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Looking out over the bay to the beam of a lighthouse with chilled red wine

The photo above features those very glasses of wine I just mentioned. I should have photographed the dancing but for some reason I didn’t.

Instead I photographed an oscillating light from across the bay for the sole motive that it reminded me of one of my absolute favourite books and films: The Great Gatsby and how the protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is transfixed on ‘the green light’ which is cast from over the bay where Daisy, the love of his life lives. In this case, the light was from a lighthouse, guiding the nocturnal fisher boats safely back to the shore.

Their nightly catches are then served up freshly the next day in chiringuitos (beach bars/restaurants) in the form of pescaíto frito, fried fish.

I am not much of a fish fan at all, I didn’t like it at all up until I came to Spain and was introduced to seabass and boquerones and I’ve gradually came to like more white fish. Confident I’d like the boquerones as I was used to them in Córdoba and Málaga, I ordered a big plate of them to share with my friend.

I was horrified when the plate arrived as they came very differently, battered, but with head and tail intact. Eyes the lot. I know many people are unperturbed by this but I am just not prepared to go there! However, Cádiz is famed for its fried fish and people adore it!

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Not a beach bar but a lovely restaurant where we dined (and I knocked over a whole carafe of red wine which flowed right down the street…..)

The other thing that always comes to mind when I think of Cádiz other than the lovely soft, fluffy sand is the sunset.

The sunsets here are classic- a melting of orange, red and pink into reflections in the sea. I remember once waiting for ages on the rocks in San Antonio, Ibiza to see the famous sunset but it was an unfortunate day and was disappointing.

Another time, at the clifftop of Cabo San Vicente (the tip of Portugal which was once considered in antiquity to be the edge of the world), we waited for ages for the famed sunset but it was really cold and windy for August and we had to wrap ourselves in a blanket for a very mediocre offering.

In Cádiz, I’ve seen plenty of great sunsets just like in the photos below. A mobile phone’s camera never captures them well enough but oh well.

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The two principal beaches in Cádiz are La Victoria and La Caleta. They are both gorgeous but I did really like La Caleta for its pier and seaside resort ambience. It’s a very cheerful and colourful place so it’s quite easy to see why the people of this town are known to be so friendly and funny.

Away from the beaches though, I find the city centre itself to be highly charming.

“I watched as a beautifully-dressed, petite woman slipped through the square in a flurry of swirling crimson red skirts and head dress, placed a stereo on the tiled concrete ground and pressed play…”

The Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cádiz), in its rococo and neo-classical design, is stunning to behold. It is situated in the Plaza de la Catedral which is a bustling centre of restaurants and bars and street entertainers hustling for tourists’ money.

The cathedral’s construction was funded by the affluent trade income between Spain and America. In fact, Cádiz was from where Christopher Colombus (or Cristóbal Colón as he is known in Spanish) embarked upon his second and fourth voyages to the Americas. The first one was from the port of Huelva.

Cádiz was raided in 1596 by English and Dutch troops and prior to that, in 1587 the launch of the Spanish Armada was from the harbour of Cádiz.

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The cathedral of Cádiz

When I was in the Plaza de la Catedral, sitting on the terrace outside a restaurant having a drink, I watched as a beautifully-dressed, petite woman slipped through the square in a flurry of swirling crimson red skirts and head dress, placed a stereo on the tiled concrete ground and pressed play.

The cries of flamenco rang out and people’s heads started to turn; she began to turn also with all of the twirly elegance of her hands curling inwards then outwards, castanets clicking with little jumps and kick-ups of the frills of her dress.

I was mesmerised and she attracted quite a crowd around her. I had seen flamenco several times beforehand in Córdoba but her costume, incongruent with the casual setting of a town square in the afternoon made it really stand out. Here she is below:

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Flamenco dancer
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Another shot of the cathedral
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Me 🙂

So, that’s it for now on my tales of Cádiz to date. It is a beautiful, historic city with stunning beaches and a lovely vibe that you feel the minute you arrive. I am hoping to pencil in another visit next month and am looking forward to bringing my car over to Spain from England this August so that the 2 hour drive from Córdoba where I live to Cádiz is much more accessible for any weekend.

Have you ever been to Cádiz? What is your favourite part? Any recommendations for top things to see and do while there? 

I’d love to know. Please leave your comments below!

Spanish Glossary for this Entry

  • Gaditano/as- nickname for the people from Cádiz 😂
  • Playa– beach 🏖
  • Paseo Marítimo– promenade walk 🚶🏻‍♀️🚶🏾‍♂️
  • Levante– an easterly wind that blows along the Strait of Gibraltar 💨
  • Poniente– a westerly wind that blows along the Strait of Gibraltar 💨
  • Granizada– refers to slush ice drinks and hailstone/slushy snow 🍹❄️
  • Alegría– joy and happiness 😃😃
  • Chiringuito– beach bar/restaurant 🏖🍹
  • Pescaíto frito– fried fish 🍤
  • Boquerones– a small, white-bait type of fish common to Cádiz and Málaga 🐟
  • Catedral– cathedral ⛪️
  • Cristóbal Colón– Christopher Colombus 🗺

3 thoughts on “Discover Cádiz: the Oldest City in Western Europe

  1. Pingback: Tantalising Tarifa: White Sandy Beaches, Dolphin Spotting and Zen… – Laura in Andalucía

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