The opportunity for kids to meet their idols when they’re young are abundant. There are princesses at EuroDisney and Emmet at Legoland, and every summer fete or Christmas fair seems to have a Spiderman or a Peppa Pig. A toddler’s face as she meets Elsa and Ana is one to behold. When young kids meet the person or thing of their current obsession, open-jawed, interested, it’s parenting sorted. Tick.
As children grow up, their tastes get more refined, they find different passions, their interests diverge. For my 8-year-old daughter Clara, it’s the stomp of heel tack on wood, the clickety-clack of castanets and the wailing songs of gypsies that thrills her. It’s why, every Saturday morning, we drive 20 miles for a flamenco lesson and it’s why, for Christmas, instead of a phone (no chance) or an Ozobot (eh?), she got an EasyJet flight to Seville with her dad, the spiritual home of flamenco.
Apart from being significantly cheaper than the other items on her letter to Santa, it’s an experience that she’ll hold in her mind forever, as will I. She’ll remember the thwack of the heat as we stepped out of the airport, the waiter in the tapas bar who made a joke about the toy she was holding, she’ll remember the dulce de leche ice cream, and how to say ‘I’m hot’ in Spanish (‘Tengo calor’). So with a flamenco dress and shoes that took up most of the carry-on allowance, we headed to Seville.
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Travelling with children is a chance to open their minds to a world outside the school run, where an overnight stay at Grammy’s is the most exciting thing in the week. When travel is tied to a passion, it's even better. Your child's hobby can be a prism to explore a country, a culture, a people.
Flamenco is a dance that has roots in many cultures. It is the story of migration and of marginalisation. We found ourselves sat in tapas bars (beer for dad, Orangina for Clara), talking about language and history, food and clothing. ‘Where do gypsies come from?’, ‘Why do people leave their homes?’, ‘What’s Spanish for “wow”?’, ‘Why is it so hot?’. We had ice cream twice a day, went to the aquarium, bought souvenirs, rode in bendy buses and played tag in the airport. Seville, with a little planning, is a great place to take children on a city break. Here were our favourite places in the city, and a few tips on travelling to Seville with kids.
Seville is the largest city in Andalucia (and the fourth largest in Spain) and for me one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Old Town is a hive of narrow streets that open on to some of the grandest buildings of the Spanish empire. While there's so much to see, we found that one cultural site a day is plenty for young minds.
The Plaza de España features in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which we watched together before flying out, (and the Royal Alcazar of Seville was featured in Game of Thrones, which we didn’t watch together!). It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It was also on the top of Clara’s list. It was fun running over the bridges and cooling off in the shade. Best of all, from around noon, flamenco dancers and musicians perform in the square. Clara had her photo taken with a dancer with whom she was fascinated. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
The Plaza de España is part of the larger Parque de María Luisa, a large and shady green space near many of the major tourist attractions. There are a couple of playgrounds, but it’s the perfect place for a picnic and a spot of tree climbing – and a chance to spend a little time in the shade.
A cathedral may not be on the top of every kid’s list, but no one can fail to be impressed by this 15th-century gothic masterpiece – technically the largest cathedral in the world. As we entered, the voices of the choir were echoing through the vast chambers, and the sunlight poured through the stained glass windows casting a splash of colour on the dark walls. It was also mercifully cool inside. In fact, we went in quite a few churches to escape the heat and marvel at the architecture.
Aquariums have saved parents the world over! Seville Aquarium is modern and well-maintained with an admirable ecological message, something to which kids seem more attuned than many adults. The experience here is very well designed – as you travel round, you follow the journey explorer Ferdinand Magellan took around the world, exploring the life that was under his boat. The jellyfish are a highlight.
The Royal Alcazar is a collection of beautiful palaces and gardens whose creation maps the development of the city, from the Moors to modern day kings. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Spain, sweeping in influences from throughout its history. Entry for children under 16 is free. Be sure to book at least a couple of days in advance.
Some travellers hate these tours – but kids love them. Seville's open top tour buses, as well as being a fun way to travel with kids, offer a hop-on-hop-off service, meaning you can use this as your main form of transport for a day two. There are two services in Seville, the global City Sightseeing and also Sevirama. On Sevirama the second consecutive day is free. Both stop at the major sights including Torre del Oro.
Having an activity to build the trip around really works. I booked Clara a flamenco class at Flamenqueria Seville. The teacher was very supportive of her and was made to feel very special. Flamenco classes can also be taken at the Museo del Baile Flamenco. And don’t for a second imagine that boys won’t love it too – there's plenty of stomping and posing.
Although we went in the May half term (still surprisingly cheap with EasyJet), the adventure started on Christmas Day, poring over a guidebook to Seville and a ticket she stuck on her noticeboard. Her bedtime book was often the guidebook, and she made lists of all the places she wanted to visit.
Planning and pace seem to be the secrets for travelling with children. Planning, pace... and ice cream. We made it a challenge to find the best ice cream in Seville (according to Clara: Bolas on Cuesta del Rosario), we ordered the weirdest thing on the tapas menu, like snails (with plenty of croquettes as well of course), and she chose our direction through the maze of alleys.
Over the four days we stayed in Seville, we developed a routine of sorts. Breakfast in a cafe (churros con chocolate) followed by a morning exploring one of the cultural sites. Back to the apartment for a siesta and some quality digital time, before heading off for a Flamenco lesson or show, and then heading slowly home via a few tapas places.
Seville's Old Town streets has extremely narrow streets that are still used by cars and trucks, and often the pavements disappear altogether. If you have a small child in a stroller, it's best to stay downtown on the wider streets, and make sure older kids keep their wits about them. Additionally, beware of the almost silent trams and the cycle lanes with whizzing bikes and scooters.
Seville is often described as nocturnal. It’s not quite, but many restaurants and tapas bars don’t open until 8 or 9pm. A couple of hours chilling out in the middle of the day is essential if you're going to make it to dinner. A siesta is ideal – but proved to be a big ask for an excitable 8-year-old.
Prepare for temperatures of up to 42ºC in the city. Bring loads of sunscreen, and pop into an air-conditioned shop or cafe every 20 minutes to cool down. Take a fan, or buy one while you're there. Apart from being useful, it’s very ‘flamenco’!
Top image: Plaza de España, Seville, Spain © John_Walker/Shutterstock