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There are many unique locations in Spain, each with their own charm. Nestled away along the Bay of Cádiz in Andalusia is a beautiful port town called El Puerto de Santa María. Its history dates back to the Roman period, and the town has always been of strategic importance due to its location and access to the Atlantic Ocean and Alboran Sea. Despite it only being a small town, there are a number of unique things to do in El Puerto de Santa María that’ll keep you busy for the day. It's even home to some of the best beaches in southern Spain!
You may recognize the name from the history books as the port where Christopher Columbus set sail from with the ship named the Santa María. Or perhaps you know it has one of the three corners of the Sherry Triangle, along with Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. There are a lot of incredible things to do in El Puerto de Santa María, as it’s still a cultural and historic hot spot in southern Spain. Keep reading to see my recommendations on the best things to do in El Puerto de Santa María, as well as some helpful travel tips!
1. Castillo de San Marcos
Is there any better way to start the day than by visiting a 13th century castle? I don't think so! Castillo de San Marcos is located right in the heart of the town, and is one of the top things to do in El Puerto de Santa María. Parts of the castle even date back to the 1st century BC, when the Romans were developing this area. Many historic figures have passed through this castle, including Christopher Columbus, who stayed here while he was developing his expedition to the Americas.
Today, you can enter the castle for €8 or you can upgrade your ticket to include a tour of their very own winery as well. Their bodegas is attached to the castle, and you're already in the Sherry Triangle anyways, so you may as well treat yourself and learn about the different types of Sherry (psst, it's only €14)!
2. Palacio de Araníbar
If you're looking for the tourism office in El Puerto de Santa María, don't forget to take a look inside Palacio de Araníbar. It was built in the 17th century, and is one of the most important civil buildings in the city, as well as one of the oldest. The courtyard is simply stunning, and there are various rooms open to visitors as well. It’s one of the many free things to do in El Puerto de Santa María, and played a prominent role in the city’s history in regards to trading with the Americas. We didn’t realize that the entry was through the tourism office, and spent a good amount of time walking in circles outside of the building looking for the entrance. So hopefully this will save you time when you visit it yourself.
3. Plaza Juan de la Cosa
To the right of Castillo de San Marcos is Plaza Juan de la Cosa. It’s a very small plaza, but worth noting as it’s named after an important figure in Spanish history. In 1500, Juan de la Cosa drew the earliest European world map in which the Americas were included in. He was also the owner of the Santa Maria, the ship used by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. The plaza is home to a mural of the map as well as a bust of the cartographer.
4. Plaza de Cristóbal Colón
Don’t worry, Christopher Columbus also has his own plaza in El Puerto de Santa María. Plaza de Cristóbal Colón sits a few minutes walk from the tourism office and castle. The plaza was once a hub of activity due to its close proximity to the city’s piers, but in 1938 it was dedicated to Christopher Columbus because of his special relationship with El Puerto. There’s a pretty monument at the far end of the plaza with an inscription and a photo of Columbus set above a small water feature, as well as a tiled compass on the ground in the middle of the plaza.
5. Explore the Streets
I'm not normally one for pointing out city streets, but Avenida Micaela Aramburu de Mora really caught my attention while we were visiting Plaza de Cristóbal Colón. There wasn’t a single car on the road for quite a while, which was astonishing since it’s usually very busy. To me it looked like a photo I’d seen of the streets in Cuba, or rather the Cuban streets resemble El Puerto’s. As you’re walking around El Puerto de Santa María, don’t forget to look around, you may come across a hidden gem or find something that catches your eye.
6. Plaza del Polvorista
A short walk up Avenida Micaela Aramburu de Mora will bring you to another lovely plaza - Plaza del Polvorista. There are a number of notable buildings lined up around the perimeter of this plaza, as well as a monument to the famous poet Rafael Alberti. This is yet another free thing to do in El Puerto de Santa María, and is a great place to stop if you want to sit in the shade for a bit and get out of that Andalusian heat.
7. Plaza de Toros
I’m definitely not a fan of bullfighting in any way, but I do acknowledge the important and prominent role it’s played in Spanish history and culture. Plaza de Toros is another key tourist attraction in El Puerto de Santa María, and is one of the largest bullrings in the whole of Spain. It was built in the late 19th century and is worth taking a look at, if only for the architecture.
8. Museo Fundación Rafael Alberti
If you’re interested in learning more about the writer and poet Rafael Alberti, I would recommend heading to Museo Fundación Rafael Alberti. The museum is dedicated to the life of Alberti, and it comes highly recommended. It was unfortunately closed when we visited El Puerto de Santa María, but we still passed by it on our way to Plaza de España. For those of you who have never heard of Alberti, he’s considered to be one of the greatest Spanish literary figures of the 20th century. If you have time before visiting the museum, you can look up some of his poems online.
9. Plaza de España & Iglesia Mayor Prioral
If you’ve been to any Spanish city before, you’ll know that there has to be a Plaza de España lurking around somewhere. The Plaza de España in El Puerto is located in the heart of the historic centre, and connects many of the main streets together. The plaza was built in the 13th century by the Dukes of Medinaceli and has a number of important civil buildings around it, such as the Museo Arqueológico Municipal. The most prominent building in the plaza is the 15th century Iglesia Mayor Prioral, which is stunning to look at from the outside, and completely free to enter when its doors are open. This area is one of the top places to visit in El Puerto de Santa María, and any walking tour in El Puerto will make a stop here to provide you with some more history and background of the area.
10. Mercado de Abastos de la Concepción
If visiting food markets are your thing, less than 5 minutes from the main plaza is Mercado de Abastos de la Concepción. It’s a traditional Spanish food market, selling all types of fresh food. For all you fish lovers out there, you can buy some of the freshest fish in the area at this food market. The market doesn’t always come up on lists of things to do in El Puerto de Santa María, but if you’re walking by and it happens to be open, you may as well pop your head in for a quick look and maybe a little snack.
11. Casa Palacio de los Leones
El Puerto is known for having an abundance of palaces dating back to the time of exploration, especially around the 17th century, and has been given the nickname of the “city of 100 palaces”. One of the most unique palaces is Casa Palacio de los Leones, which is now a hotel. If you look closely you can see a variety of lion sculptures decorating the exterior. Casa Palacio de los Leones was built in 1790 and showcases the most impressive example of baroque architecture in the whole city.
12. Monasterio de la Victoria
This may not be at the top of anyone’s list of things to see in El Puerto de Santa María, but Monasterio de la Victoria is an interesting historic location to stop at. It was built in the 16th century to serve as a convent, and from 1886 was used as a prison for almost 100 years. When we visited the gates were locked, but we still managed to grab a quick photo before hopping back into the car. If you're looking for off the beaten path attractions in Spain, here's one for your travel list.
13. Castillo de Doña Blanca
A short drive from the city centre will bring you to Castillo de Doña Blanca, a 15th century tower situated in a strategic location overlooking the Bay of Cádiz. The tower had to be rebuilt in the 19th century following the Peninsula War, so the building standing today is actually an identical reconstruction. While you’re at the castle, you can also explore an 8th century BC Phoencian archaeological site. Both historic sites are completely free to walk around, and it takes less than an hour to explore. It's one of my top recommendations for things to do in El Puerto de Santa María if you have some spare time, and is one of the more unique historical places to visit in Spain too.
14. Puerto Sherry
After walking around El Puerto de Santa María all day, I would recommend heading to Puerto Sherry to relax for a bit. It’s a very popular beach area all year round, and is now considered a leisure port. The main things to do here are water sports, hitting the beach, and stopping at one of the many restaurants overlooking the Bay of Cádiz. If you’re planning a trip to southern Spain and want a unique beach area to visit, this is a great one. It's also a nice place to visit if you're looking for day trips from Cádiz as it's only a short drive over the bridge.
If I haven’t convinced you to visit this part of El Puerto de Santa María yet, did I mention you can take a cocktail on the beach with you at Playa de La Muralla? There are plenty of restaurants serving beers, wines, and cocktails, and if you ask them to put one in a plastic cup for you, you’re free to take it back to your umbrella on the beach and relax in style. This is one of the most popular, and smallest, beaches in El Puerto de Santa María, so get here early for a nice spot!
Out of all of the restaurants in Puerto Sherry, there was no way I was leaving without trying the best pizza in the area from Pizzería Blanca Paloma. They also have other Italian dishes on the menu, but the pizzas were pretty cheap and are made with all fresh ingredients on site so I couldn’t say no!
El Puerto de Santa María is a fantastic town in the Province of Cádiz to visit, and if you’re planning a road trip in Andalusia or planning a trip to southern Spain, you need to take a day trip here. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of one another, making El Puerto easily accessible for everyone. The city is deeply rooted in history, which is a big draw for me when I’m planning a trip anywhere, and it’s the perfect Spanish town to visit on a budget too. There's definitely plenty of things to do in El Puerto de Santa María to keep you busy.
I would love to hear about your experience in El Puerto de Santa María, if you've come across any other hidden gems in Spain, or help you plan your own trip to southern Spain, so please drop me a comment below! And remember to follow me on my travels on Instagram as well!