Former capital of the small Muslim kingdom Taifa of Baṭalyaws
Double the excitement for visiting a city completely not planned in the original plans for this weekend that turned out to be totally feasible and in turn, a great surprise for its prettiness, yet small, historic centre. We arrived quite late, that was our only downside, however still managed to get really nice pictures of most of the city in daylight, and take with us a great load of shopping. Why not to take the chance for getting some nice meat cuts, cheeses and staff I really like and cannot find anywhere else at this quality? Now this was a trip that really paid back well.
Our base was Elvas, merely 10 kilometres west from Badajoz. So while one is the last city of Portugal, the other is the first city in Spain (border-wise talking here). And because we perhaps planned too much time for Elvas while in reality it is a very small city, I strongly recommend if you fall in the same situation to plan beforehand the day to include both Elvas and Badajoz. Certainly we could have been more time in Badajoz, but as this was just planned on the go, never checked pictures of the city, nor a map nor nothing before coming, we did not know that in reality there are a lot of sights to enjoy, but as suggested before, this is a city where a full day can definitely be too much as well.
There are two well different areas in the city, one, the traditional old town around the old Moorish citadel, the Alcazaba and the perimeter walls and bastions surrounding it, and the newer city outside of the walls, and across the Guadiana River. The way we drove in from Elvas, meant we came directly towards the north bank of the river where we saw the most picturesque image of the city. Without any doubt it’s the most beautiful skyline view, with the Alcazaba in the foreground and the towering old walls across the crystal clear waters of the Guadiana river with the historic Palma Bridge. Only for this view the trip is already worth it.
Across the Palma Bridge you head directly to one of the former city’s entrance gates, the Palma Gate, where through it you are already in the historic old town, where edge to edge is matter of few minutes. Very small and extremely compact, with majority of the narrow streets pedestrian, and nice shades hanging from side to side of the street to protect from the sun. Yes, end of March however already prepared for what generally is scorching hot months coming to summer.
The complete visit of the old town is very straightforward, following along the main street leading uphill passing the Cathedral towards the main square, the Plaza Alta right by the base of the Alcazaba fortress physically behind. This part of the city is still in process of regeneration but the complete Alcazaba walls are now opened for visit and walk through the top, and free of charge, same with the archaeological remains of the castle. At night this gets really charming with the lighting-up of the structures. The rest, you will discover are you walk the streets and the small squares, very easy.
There’s not much further information needed to this brief introduction to the city. For more information about Badajoz check Wikipedia site. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Badajoz
- Palma Bridge The oldest and most beautiful bridge across the Guadiana River. From the north bank you will get the most iconic view of the entire city across the water, and when a bit farther from the bridge, you have the complete view of the bridge, the bastions by the north side and the city in the background.
- Palma Gate Right by the south bank of the river, across the Palma Bridge, is one of the main former city gates, dating from 1551. The medieval walls are long gone over here, but the bastion remains in site.
- San Francisco and San Aton Squares Continuing ahead from Palma Gate, you reach both squares, one after the other, with the former San Sebastian Hospital in between both.
- Cathedral Square – Plaza de Espana In the very centre of the historic town, where majority of the streets meet in the middle.
-Cathedral Built in 1238 with its characteristic fortress-like look. It has a beautiful choir and a Manueline Portuguese style cloister at its back.
-Casa Álvarez-Buiza Along the western side of the square, was built in 1920 in neo-Moorish style and it’s remarkable for the balconies works.
-City Hall By the northern side of the square, easy to spot for the elegant construction with its clock tower.
- San Juan Street The main street linking both the Cathedral square with Plaza Alta, filled with bars, restaurants and pubs. One of the main districts for going out at night along this street and the parallel ones.
- Plaza de la Soledad Two streets parallel and west from San Juan. It contains late 19th early 20th century buildings around, including the eclectic one, La Giralda. Continuing towards the north from this square (or from San Juan Street), you reach Plaza Alta.
-La Giralda Building One of the icons in Badajoz, built in the 1930’s in neo-Arab Andalusian regionalist style with its main tower being a small scale of the real Giralda bell tower from Seville’s Cathedral.
- Plaza Alta The most iconic square in Badajoz, and also the largest. The view as you enter it from the south, with the towers and walls of the Alcazaba in the background is postcard-perfect.
-Casas Coloradas Literal meaning for coloured houses. Self explained, they are located at the eastern side in an u-shape.
- Alcazaba The former Moorish castle from where the city and small Muslim kingdom of Taifa of Badajoz was ruled. Not much of it remains today, but it gives an idea of the size and engineering involved for such constructions and and defensive system of walls and towers.
-Walls A city within a city, the traditional way for the Moors to build their cities and protect the main core with a castle surrounded by another ring of walls.
-Galera Gardens Along the northeastern side of the Alcazaba, date from the 10th century. Recently revamped and landscaped, offer great views of the city and the remains of the Moorish citadel.
-Archaeological Museum Located within the fortress, in the 16th century palace of the dukes of Feria.
Badajoz has a small commercial airport 13 kilometres south of the city. However, it does only serve two routes, Madrid and Barcelona. The nearest major international airport is all the way 240 kilometres west, in Lisbon. Either if you fly to Lisbon as your entry point, or come from other cities within Portugal, then chances you will need to pass through Lisbon before continuing east are almost guaranteed. This is the main motorway from Lisbon to Madrid, and so the railway line linking both, and in between, Elvas right before the Spanish border, and Badajoz simply across. Coming from Spain, it requires the same but with longer journey times due to the distances. First, you will need to fly to Madrid and take a bur or train from there, but timings will be longer as it’s more distance to cover until you reach Badajoz.
Coming by long distance buses from elsewhere in Portugal or Spain can be much faster than by train, with no need to get into Lisbon or Madrid first to then change for the east-west corridor. Then the fastest and most comfortable option is without doubt renting a car. From Lisbon is around 2 hours, but bear in mind the countless tolls in the motorway, this is not a “cheap” business let me tell you, and unfortunately, the alternative road takes forever, but if you have the time do so, it’s way more scenic than the motorway.
Once in Badajoz, the city size is really small and totally compact. Basically, if you see the city on a map you realise its historic town lies entirely within a star-shaped wall. Walking distances are very small, and the streets are majority pedestrian and too narrow to allow even cars. No need for taking any public transportation anywhere.
Although a small city, there is a great choice of hotels of any kind from the small family run to the large world-wide chains and spa. Also because this is not such a touristy city coupled with our visit still during the low season at the end of March, you can find great offers around. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We did not stay overnight in Badajoz, but the first night in Setubal, 50km from Lisbon, and the second night in Evora. We commute from both places to all 3 cities planned on this weekend, Elvas, Badajoz and Evora.
As last, if you are considering in making Lisbon your base and get to Badajoz for a day trip, here you have a very complete guide for Lisbon with some of the hotels we’ve been in our past visits.