Over a thousand years ago, the largest and most important city in Europe was the Moorish Caliphate of Cordoba; the capital of Islamic Spain, a magnet for scholars and centre of learning for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
Today, Cordoba is a pretty little town full of whitewashed houses and cobbled plazas, with just a few reminders of its grandiose past left to bring in the tourists. These reminders are pretty spectacular – Cordoba shouldn’t be missed!
Read on for the best things to do in Cordoba with (or without) kids, and see why you should add Cordoba to your Andalusian itinerary.
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I had no idea of Cordoba’s illustrious history, but at its peak it was rivalled by only Constantinople and Baghdad in importance.
At one point there were hundreds of mosques, public bathhouses and schools among the paved and illuminated streets. Many of the most important palaces and riverside homes also had indoor plumbing. For a few hundred years, Cordoba was the height of sophistication.
As with all good things, this eventually came to an end; in 1031, internal fighting led to the downfall of Cordoba and it gradually fell into decline and obscurity.
After three days in the Andalucian capital, Seville, our little family headed to Cordoba. We found that Cordoba has a very different feel to Seville; there’s more of a Moorish influence and the city is much easier to navigate. We spent two full days and a morning here, and as usual, we found more than enough to do.
The best things to do in Cordoba with kids
Mezquita Cathedral of Cordoba
This has to be your first stop. The Mezquita is stunning, even right after visiting all of Seville’s attractions. It’s one of the most original places of worship that I’ve been in, and this is all to do with its chequered history.
The site the Moors chose for their mosque was originally home to a Visigoth church (built on a Roman temple). Initially, they turned part of the church into a mosque and let the Christians continue to use the rest.
The current Mezquita was built after the Visigoth church was torn down, and construction took place in several stages between the 8th and 10th centuries. After the downfall of Cordoba and the arrival of the Christians, a large church was eventually added to the building in the 16th century and the minaret of the mosque became a bell tower. The emperor who agreed to the addition of the church came to regret it; when he saw it he lamented the loss of the unique mosque.
You can enter the Mezquita through several doors in its battlement-like outer walls. These lead you into a mosaic-cobbled courtyard filled with orange trees. You can pick up your tickets here. Families with older children will be able to climb the bell tower; ours were too young.
You’ll need at least an hour for your visit here. While the architecture of the cathedral is gorgeous, it’s the older Islamic sections of the vast arched prayer hall and the mihrab nuevo which leave the greatest impression.
Tip: Start as early as possible. The main part of the Mezquita opens at 8.30am and entry is free for an hour or so – go now if you want pictures of the prayer hall with nobody in them. The cathedral section was cordoned off when I went this early and you’ll want to come back to see this.
Normal ticketed hours are from 10am to 6pm. It’s €8 per person, kids under 10 go free.
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos and gardens
This Alcazar isn’t a patch on the one in Seville, but you should poke your head in anyway and take a look in the towers (again, difficult with very small kids).
If you’ve had your fill of ancient buildings, make sure you don’t miss the gardens here. They’re full of pools and fountains, and were in full bloom when we went. There are quite a few shady areas where we were able to rest for a while. There isn’t a cafe here sadly, so bring your own drinks.
It’s only €4.50 per person to enter, and you can get tickets on the door.
Roman Bridge of Cordoba
You can’t miss the Roman Bridge. It’s an iconic symbol of Cordoba and is often packed full of tourists and locals, especially in the evening. It does date from Roman times, although the present bridge was built by the Moors on top of the Roman foundations.
Take a romantic stroll over the bridge before dinner if you came without kids, or chase after the little scamps if you bought them. Either way, make sure you don’t miss the old water wheel by the river bank. As with the Mezquita, the Roman Bridge is beautifully lit at night.
The tower building at the far end houses a museum to Moorish Cordoba. I’m sure it’s interesting but the kids weren’t in a museum mood when we had to chance to go in!
The Botanical Gardens
For a break from wandering through the picturesque streets, we decided to walk along the river bank to the botanical gardens. We hoped to give the kids time to run around a bit.
Don’t do what we did and walk there in the 38° midday heat. Flustered and dripping, we headed straight for the cafe. While the food wasn’t great we did manage to rest here for some time while the kids played in the shade. We saw about three other people the whole time we were there, so we definitely had the place to ourselves.
The gardens were well tended and informative, but if you’ve not got long in Cordoba, I wouldn’t make them your top priority.
See a Flamenco Show
I really didn’t think that we’d get to see any flamenco in Spain, just because I can’t trust the kids to sit through a scheduled performance!
There’s a way around this though.
One evening as we were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat, we saw a restaurant which had a live performance going on. So we grabbed a free table and hoped for the best. It worked well – the Cub was enchanted by the dance and music and Bee had some chips to keep him busy.
By this point we were on Spanish time; up early, back to the hotel in the afternoon/early evening for a rest; then out until 11pm or later for food. Despite the lateness of the hour, nobody batted an eyelid at two tiny kids being out and about in a restaurant. Patrons back in the UK would be having kittens; it’s Just Not Done.
This was just one of the reasons why we felt Spain was a really kid-friendly destination.
Take some time for yourself at Hammam Al Ándalus
I know this is a family blog, but occasionally, parents need some time to themselves!
I took an opportunity to escape for a couple of hours one evening and headed to a hammam we’d walked past a few times. A hammam is an Arabic style spa, and at this one you can soak in different temperature pools and relax in the sauna, as well as choosing a treatment.
Inside, the Hammam Al Ándalus was a good as I’d hoped; the decor is beautiful, staff were friendly and professional and the pools were wonderful. There are several different packages with treatment options; I chose to use the pools and sauna and get a 30 minute massage.
It was the perfect way to put my feet up and enjoy the thing that parents of small children crave the most: silence.
Other things to do in Cordoba with kids
In the spring, Cordoba hosts a patio festival. Because of Andalucia’s sweltering summer heat, the homes in Cordoba were built around a courtyard, often with a water feature, to keep cool.
For the festival, many different houses show off their beautifully decorated traditional patios. Homeowners fill their courtyards with baskets bursting with flowers, and the scent of jasmine and orange blossoms hangs in the air. The patios are judged for a competition, and visitors are welcome to look around.
You can download a map from Andalucia’s tourism website or pick one up at the tourist office. Most of the patios are free to visit but be aware they are often closed in the afternoons for siesta. Alternatively you can take a tour.
Children’s City/La Ciudad de los Niños
Oh dear – I wish we’d known about this playground! I think we’d have found out about it if we’d had a bit longer in Cordoba. It looks like kid heaven – full of climbing frames and space to run around.
Entry is nice and cheap: 2€ for an adult and 1€ for kids over 5. The opening hours vary considerably by season, so check the Children’s City website (Spanish only). It’s closed on Wednesdays.
You can also buy a combo ticket for the Botanical Gardens, Cordoba Zoo and Children’s City for €7 per adult and €3.50 for kids.
I’m hesitant to recommend the zoo; as we didn’t visit, I can’t say how good the facilities are.
Cordoba’s Jewish Quarter (Juderia)
The Caliphate of Cordoba was a tolerant place back in its heyday and both Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their religions unimpeded. So Cordoba had a large Jewish population in the 11th and 12th centuries. The twisting alleyways of the Juderia in Cordoba are some of its prettiest streets, although the whole place really has more of an Islamic feel than anything. We wandered through the Juderia but didn’t stop to look at anything in particular, other than souvenir shops.
If you’re interested, though, Cordoba has a large synagogue dating from the 14th Century which you can visit. You can also keep an eye out for statues of Seneca and Maimondes, and explore a traditional Jewish house, Casa Sefarad.
Azahara Medina (Medina al-Zahra), near Cordoba
For an excursion from Cordoba, try visiting the Azahara Medina which is a few miles away. The medina is the excavated remains of a palace-city built by the Caliph at the height of Cordoba’s importance.
Only about 10% of the city has been excavated so far, but there’s a museum as well as the palaces and aristocratic homes to look at. There’s a beautiful columned hall which resembles a cross between the arched hall in the Mezquita and parts of the Alcazar in Seville.
The best way to visit the Azahara Medina is to take a guided tour from Cordoba, as it’s difficult to reach by public transport. We recommend booking through Get Your Guide; check what’s available for your visit here.
Know Before You Go
How to get to Cordoba
The nearest airport to Cordoba is Seville, but we found that flying to Malaga was better. Prices from the UK to Malaga are much cheaper and there are more frequent flights. From Malaga, Cordoba is an easy hour’s train ride, or if you’re hiring a car, the driving distance isn’t too bad either.
If you’re flying into Madrid, it’s also pretty easy to get to Cordoba by train. Buy your train tickets from Loco2; it’s the easiest website to use. Pre-booking your train tickets is essential.
Many people travel from Seville to Cordoba, as we did. A direct train connects the two cities and the journey takes less than an hour. Because the two cities are so close, it is possible to do a Seville to Cordoba day trip. Many tours operate, but you can easily do it yourself. Just start out as early as you can!
Getting around Cordoba with kids
Cordoba’s winding streets don’t look like much fun to drive through; we were again glad we’d decided not to hire a car.
There are public buses to get about if you don’t want to walk everywhere (we did!). We did splash out on a taxi from the train station to our hotel though.
English is less widely spoken than in Seville. We got by on a few Spanish words, gestures and smiles; everyone was friendly and helpful. The kids also drew a lot of attention – travelling with little ones can be a real ice-breaker!
Where to stay in Cordoba
You have quite a wide choice in Cordoba. We booked at the absolute last minute but got a family room at El Palacio del Corregiador which was fine although not luxurious, and located an easy 10 minute walk to the centre of the town. It was reasonably priced, too. Check availability and the latest prices here.
If your budget stretches further than ours you’ll find plenty of beautiful hotels in the centre of Cordoba.
Highly rated hotels include the Hospes Palacio del Bailio; a boutique hotel in the centre of Cordoba with a pool – perfect for the summer heat. Get more information and check the latest prices here.
If you can escape from the children for a few minutes, then Soho Boutique Capuchinos is a good choice as it’s got its own hammam in addition to a hot tub and sauna. It’s centrally located but in a quiet part of Cordoba. Check availability and the latest prices here.
Eurostars Conquistador probably has the best location; smack bang in the centre of Cordoba, it sits right opposite the Mezquita. We peeked jealously into the gorgeous looking lobby as we walked past. Next time! Check the latest prices and availability here.
Where to eat in Cordoba
We had quite a few hit and miss meals in Cordoba. Most of the time, the narrow streets stopped our wifi from working so where we ate was down to pot luck.
Many of the restaurants in Cordoba that had free flamenco shows looked too formal for the kids but we did enjoy the show at El Patio Córdobes. The food wasn’t up to much but the courtyard was pretty, the kids loved the show and we got fed, eventually.
One of the better meals we had was at Doble de Cepa. We stopped in at lunchtime and had some lovely tempura aubergines. Staff were friendly and the food was good.
We spent our last evening outside at La Siesta, not far from our hotel. This place served great Spanish omelette and I had a bowl of oriental vegetables which was delicious and a change from the usual Spanish fare. It seemed to be a popular restaurant with locals.
Where to next?
We arrived from Seville, but as the train from Malaga goes to Cordoba first, you could always start in Cordoba and then go to Seville later. Read about what to do in Seville with kids here.
A popular destination after visiting Cordoba is Granada. Again, you can take the train to Granada from Cordoba very easily. Read about what to do in Granada with kids here, and how to buy your Alhambra tickets (especially at the last minute) here.