National Geographic Expeditions staff member and travel enthusiast Claire Tinsley recently traveled to Portugal and Spain, where she wandered the cobblestoned streets of Seville, a city steeped in history. After quenching her thirst for the city’s Gothic architecture, she stopped into a café to sip on tinto—the locals’ beverage of choice—before being treated to an unforgettable lesson in flamenco history and a mesmerizing dance performance.
We talked to Claire about her favorite spots in Seville, must-see recommendations, and, of course, sangria.
What is your idea of a perfect day in Seville?
If you have the chance to wander the streets of Seville, take it. Getting lost in its streets was one of the highlights of this trip. Finding yourself in the shadow of the Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, will leave you amazed at the intricacy of the façade detail as well as give a reprieve from the sun. Inside you’ll find ample 15th-century stained glass and 80 small chapels. It also happens to be the resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Later in the afternoon, consider stopping at a café, but instead of a glass of sangria (considered the touristy drink of choice), order a tinto. This simple drink is part red wine, part carbonated soda—generally 7Up or Sprite—and is a local favorite. While it may sound weird at first, it’s a very refreshing aperitif!
It sounds like Seville has a long, rich history to explore. Did you visit any great museums while you were there?
My favorite museum was in the heart of the tiny streets of Seville. The Museo del Baile Flamenco (Museum of Flamenco Dance), founded by the famous flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos, gave me a detailed understanding of the history of flamenco dancing. We were told that the dance has deep historical roots, coming from a mix of ancient Phoenician, Flemish gypsy, Caribbean slave, and Andalusian cultures. We also got to see flamenco costumes worn by some of the most famous dancers of their time, including the red dress Hoyos wore in her performance in the 1992 Summer Olympics, hosted in Barcelona.
Our group, traveling on a National Geographic Expeditions trip, was treated to a private tour of the museum, a cocktail hour with delicious sangria, and then a private flamenco dance performance. For those traveling on their own in Seville, you can buy tickets to either of the two daily performances.
What was it like to see flamenco after learning about its historical and cultural significance?
Two singers and a guitarist first came out and set the stage at the Museo del Baile Flamenco. They started a melody together, and a hush fell over the room. Then the dancers took the stage, and from the first tap of their heels they held my complete attention. As we now had a better grasp on the history and origins of flamenco, it was all the more powerful to watch as the dancers moved, striking the ground with their feet to add to the percussion of the musicians’ clapping and the guitar melody, all forming a perfect rhythm and harmony. While I sipped my sangria and watched in awe as their feet moved faster and faster, I wished that I could spend the rest of my trip in that small room, watching these masters practice their craft. Looking around the room at the other slack-jawed travelers, I realized I probably was not alone.
Did this trip change your travel bucket list?
When I was little, my older sister came back from a semester abroad in Spain and brought me a flamenco dress and castanets, and with all the uncoordinated vigor of a six-year-old I danced around our house by clicking the castanets and stomping my feet as quickly as I could. Getting to see these masterful dancers move with grace and speed definitely checked an item off my bucket list that I didn’t even realize was on there!