There are more well-known walled cities throughout Europe such as Dubrovnik in Croatia, Carcassonne in France, and even Toledo in Spain, but Cáceres offers an opportunity to explore an historic walled city without the drumbeat of tourist shops and ice cream stands at every corner. In Cáceres, the blend of architecture from Roman to Arabic and from Medieval to Renaissance means welcome surprises at each turn as visitors wind through narrow streets unexpectedly opening into plazas and squares. It justly deserves its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located in the Extremadura region of Spain along the Portugal border, Cáceres makes a terrific family destination for a weekend after visiting Madrid, Barcelona or Seville. Bring the family and allow everyone to wander the streets of the historic city, imagining themselves as Medieval knights patrolling the walls, pilgrims stopping to pray at a church, or movie stars in a scene from Game of Thrones.
SheBuysTravel Tip: People in Extremadura take a daily break or siesta quite seriously. Most museums and shops are open from mid-morning to just after noon, close for several hours, and then reopen. Tour guides are equally aware of the clock and may not be available every hour throughout the day.
1. Explore Inside the Walls of the Historic City
Most visitors enter the city through the Arco de la Estrella from the Plaza Mayor. To their immediate left is Torre de Bujaco, a must-see small museum for its tower and walkway along the stone ramparts.
While the city can trace its roots to Roman times and is influenced by centuries of Moorish rule, the buildings one sees today reflect the period from the 14th to 16th centuries when powerful, rival families built palaces and raised towers to literally one-up each other in the quest for dominance of the city. Queen Isabella tempered most of the rivalry and brought about a period of unified imperial rule over the area.
Trying to orient oneself is very difficult because of the narrow streets and the lack of visible landmarks. However, getting lost or finding oneself in a street that circles back on itself is one of the charms of the historic city. When in doubt, find the road next to the city’s walls and follow it around in a circle to the archway where you entered.
SheBuysTravel Tip: To get a sense of the buildings and the history, it’s highly recommended to take a basic guided walking tour that can easily be accomplished in two or three hours.
2. Climb a Tower for the Best View of the Historic City
Much is made of 30 towers that soar over the historic section of Cáceres, but from the narrow streets looking up, it’s impossible to count more than one or two at a time. The way to truly appreciate the city’s towers is from one of four buildings that offer a stunning view of the town and the surrounding countryside.
There’s no better panoramic view from a tower than that of the Co-Cathedral of Santa Maria. The “co-cathedral” refers to the church’s sharing a bishop’s seat with another cathedral. The church dates from the 13th century, but its Gothic appearance is a result of a fire and a major rebuild during the 15th and 16th centuries. There is a 4 Euro admission to the church which includes entrance to the bell tower.
A few meters from the Cathedral is the Iglesia de San Francisco Javier, also known as the Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre (Church of the Precious Blood). This 18th-century Jesuit church is considered one of the most important examples of Baroque architecture in Extremadura. Today, it is a museum connected to an arts school. For 1 Euro, a person can climb both twin towers for another great view of the city.
At a more diminished height than the tower of the churches but of equal importance is the Torre de Bujaco, towering over the Plaza Mayor. This majestic watchtower dates back to the 12th century, and the climb to the top is much shorter. From the tower is the visitor’s only opportunity to grace the top of the city walls to see people walking the narrow streets below. The cost is 2.5 Euros and includes admission to another 12th-century tower – the Baluarte de los Pozos – on the opposite side of the historic city. Located in the old Jewish quarter, the tower includes a small museum and offers views of several adjacent private homes.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you only have the energy to climb one tower at the Iglesia de San Francisco Javier, choose the one on the left after the entrance. It offers more unobstructed views.
3. Rub the Foot of San Pedro de Alantara for Good Luck
Standing proudly in the Plaza de Santa María, adjacent to the Cáceres Cathedral, is the striking bronze statue of San Pedro de Alcántara, the patron saint of the Extremadura region. Sculpted by Enrique Pérez Comendador in 1954, the life-size figure depicts the revered saint in a contemplative pose, his serene countenance gazing towards the heavens. The common belief is that the sculptor Comendador used his own face for the likeness of the statue.
The statue’s most captivating feature is its gleaming golden toes, a testament to the enduring devotion of Cáceres’ inhabitants. Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have lovingly kissed the saint’s feet or rubbed them for good luck.
4. Step Inside Palacio de Los Golfines de Abajo
Most of the buildings in the historic area are either public buildings, hotels, or restaurants. Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo is an interesting mixture of museums and private homes. Erected by the prominent Golfín family, the palace embodies the essence of 16th-century Spanish nobility. Stepping into the palace’s opulent interiors, visitors are transported to a bygone era of elegance and splendor. From the formal dining chamber to the intimate family quarters, the rooms open to the public are adorned with exquisite tapestries, antique furnishings, and priceless artwork from the family’s private collection.
Visitors are required to take a guided tour which lasts less than an hour. Several rooms are dedicated to revolving exhibits.
SheBuysTravel Tip: In many museums such as the Palacio de Los Golfines, the tour is in Spanish as well as the descriptive labels for artwork and furniture. However, there are often QR codes in the museums with English translations. Be sure to bring a phone that has cellular service or log in to the attraction’s wifi.
5. Relive Game of Thrones, Part 1
Cáceres’ narrow cobblestone streets, imposing fortresses, and grand plazas provided a fitting setting for the fictional city of King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros in the HBO series Game of Thrones. While Dubrovnik, Croatia, is more well known as the site of King’s Landing, the filmmakers came to Cáceres for these scenes:
- The city’s Plaza Mayor, with its towering Arco de la Estrella, became the scene of Euron Greyjoy’s triumphant return, showcasing his captive Ellaria Sand and her daughter.
- The Plaza de Santa María, with its 13th-century church, was another notable location, providing a backdrop for a scene with Cersei Lannister and Jaime Lannister.
- The Alcázar of Cáceres, a 15th-century palace, doubled as the Tower of the Hand, the residence of the Hand of the King.
For the more recent Game of Thrones prequel, House of Dragons, the filmmakers used small sections of the city’s cobblestone streets in three episodes of Season 1.
A Game of Thrones guided tour is available.
6. Order Up “Nuns Cookies”
There’s a long tradition of nuns in monasteries in Cáceres that bake cookies and pastries for sale. But because the nuns are cloistered, the transactions are made without any visual interaction. The process can be confusing, and the hours and offerings change regularly, but it makes for a memorable sales encounter when it happens.
To start, locate one of these four convents in the historic city – Convento de San Pablo, Convento de las Clarisas, Convento de San Antonio, or Monasterio de Santa Maria de Jesus. If sales are being made, a side door will be open to a small dark vestibule. There may or may not be a menu with sales posted near a small lazy susan built into the wall. Ring a buzzer to alert the nuns you are interested in buying. It is unlikely that the nuns will understand English so be prepared to order in Spanish. If you have to choose only one, visit the Monasterio de Santa Maria de Jesus which posts a menu with photos and prices.
Once you’ve confirmed the pastry is available, put the money on the lazy susan. The nuns will spin around the lazy susan, take the money, and spin it again. A package with pastries and change if necessary arrives!
SheBuysTravel Tip: These nuns’ cookies are less sweet and less moist than most American cookies and pastries, more like a shortbread. Because the nuns’ cookies arrive in a box with often more than a dozen cookies, best to stop at a nearby regular bakery to sample single cookies before purchasing a box.
7. Skip the Steps with a Tuk & Go
Americans accustomed to smoothly paved pathways and ADA-compliant sidewalks will find the historic city a challenge to navigate. The steps are often uneven, the roads steep, the sidewalks non-existent and the paving stones rough and inconsistent.
For a quick 30-minute tour of the city, consider hiring Tuk & Go for an overview. Visitors with concerns about walking the historic streets can map out the sites that are within easy reach of their hotel or adjacent sites worth a return visit.
8. Descend into the Ciudad de Cáceres (Cáceres Museum)
Located across the Plaza de las Veletas from the imposing Torre de las Ciguenas, the Museo de Cáceres provides an overview of the region’s history and cultural heritage. Housed within two magnificent 16th-century palaces, the Casa de las Veletas, and the Casa de los Caballos, the museum has two floors of exhibits of archaeological treasures, ethnographic artifacts, and art.
Be sure to descend to the museum’s remarkably preserved Hispano-Muslim cistern, which stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of diverse cultures that have shaped the region’s identity.
9. Visit the Casa Museo Árabe Yusuf Al Burch (Moorish Museum and House)
In the 1960s, José de la Torre Gentil purchased a 12th-century building in the historic city. While doing some construction work on the house, he discovered the remains of an Almohad (Arab) dwelling erected on an ancient Roman site. Over the years, he amassed a whimsical collection of Islamic art and artifacts including ceramics, textiles, and weapons. In 1976, he opened the Casa Museo Árabe Yusuf Al Burch so visitors could tour his home and garden to see his modest collection. Should you have a free afternoon, stop here for a quick visit.
10. Congregate in Plaza Mayor
Every visitor to Cáceres will spend some time in the Plaza Mayor, the heart of the historic center, dating back to the 13th century. Its Renaissance-style arcades enclose a vibrant hub of activity with restaurants for a quick meal of tapas during the day, clubs with nightlife, and tourist shops that extend for blocks up the hill to the modern shopping district along Avenida Espana.
11. Sample the Famous Iberian Hams
The prized delicacy of the Extremadura region is Jamón Ibérico, renowned for its exquisite flavor and aroma. The ham is meticulously crafted from Iberian pigs raised freely on the region’s tree-studded meadows, where the pigs feast on a bounty of acorns and aromatic herbs.
The unique microclimate of Extremadura, characterized by warm summers and cool winters, plays a pivotal role in shaping the ham’s exceptional quality. The slow curing process, spanning months or even years, allows the ham to develop its distinct nuances of flavor, ranging from nutty and sweet to savory and umami-rich.
For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Jamón Ibérico is almost always on the menu. For some meal, be sure to order a charcuterie board with other regional hams, cheese, and jams alongside a glass of fine wine.
12. See Modern Art in a Dazzling New Museum
If visitors happen upon a brochure or online description of the dazzling new Museum of Contemporary Art Helga de Alvear in Cáceres, they will be impressed by the stark minimalist design of the museum. Yet, wandering the streets by its entrance, the white sleek box is nowhere in sight, hidden by a historic structure that serves as the entrance.
Once inside, however, be prepared for the startling contrast of the new design against the stone historic walls. Housing Spain’s most significant private collection of international contemporary art, the museum showcases only a small collection of its more than 3,000 works, but art lovers will always see some famous 20th-century works from artists such as Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, Joseph Albers, Paul Klee, Nan Goldin, and Jenny Holzer.
13. Stroll with Locals Along Avenida Espana
Tourists may flock to Plaza Mayor, but if you want to stroll with the locals most every evening, then venture farther from the historic district to Avenida Espana. Pedestrians leisurely walk arm and arm beneath the shade of towering trees, while cafes and restaurants spill onto the sidewalks. The avenue’s crowning jewel, the Parque del Príncipe, offers a serene escape from the urban buzz with fountains, small cafes, park benches, and even amusement rides for children.
14. Hike & Go Birding at Los Barruecos
For a day tour or afternoon birding excursion visit the Los Barruecos Natural Monument, an easy 30-minute drive from the center of town. This otherworldly landscape consists of vast granite boulders sculpted into fantastical shapes by erosion that rises from the plains. The name “Los Barruecos” is derived from the word “berrueco,” meaning “large, isolated granite rock.”
Amidst this rocky wonderland are serene lagoons that are home to a variety of birds including grey herons and white storks, which nest atop the granite formations.
15. Spot a Stork
Storks hold a special significance in Extremadura as symbols of good fortune, prosperity, and harmony with nature. For centuries, storks have nested atop historic buildings in many of Extremadura’s villages and cities, particularly Trujillo. There’s even a special celebration, Semana de la Cigüeña in Malpartida de Cáceres, where locals gather to honor these revered birds.
In Extremadura, conservation efforts have helped stabilize stork populations, and their numbers are steadily increasing. The region’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage ensures that these magnificent creatures will continue to grace the skies of Extremadura for generations to come.
16. Relive Game of Thrones, Part 2
Los Barruecos Natural Monument served as a dramatic backdrop for one of the most iconic scenes in Game of Thrones history, the “Spoils of War” episode in the seventh season. The vast expanse of granite boulders was transformed into the battlefield for the epic “Loot Train Attack,” the first time that Daenerys’ fiery dragons are fully enlisted in a battle against the Lannister Army.
The sheer scale of the production was breathtaking with hundreds of extras, CGI dragons, and weaponry brought together to capture the intensity of the conflict. Remarkably, the unusual landscape which lacks dense foliage or tall trees allowed for much of the action to be shot with little change to the background.
17. Experience Art at Museo Vostell-Malpartida
Along one of the main lagoons of Los Barruecos Natural Monument sits a former washhouse for sheep’s wool that has been transformed into the Museo Vostell-Malpartida which features three collections of contemporary art: Wolf and Mercedes Vostell Collection, Fluxus Collection-Gino Di Maggio Donation and Conceptual Artists Collection. While the exterior of the museum blends in effortlessly with the countryside, inside much of the collection is jarringly provocative using large-scale pieces such as entire cars, huge canvases, and works that require considerable study to understand the artist’s intent.
Stay at These Historic Properties
Located in a converted 16th-century palace, the NH Collection Palacio de Oquendo Hotel occupies an ideal location within a stone’s throw of the city walls, a few blocks from the Plaza Mayo and across the street from the main shopping area of the historic city. There are 86 individual rooms spread across several levels plus an attractive wine bar and restaurant.
Located in the heart of the old town is the Parador de Cáceres, a combination of two former palaces. It has a beautiful restaurant and outdoor space within its walls.
The Hotel Casa Don Fernando is in the Plaza Mayor directly in front of the main stairs heading into the Old Quarter. There are 38 rooms, several of which accommodate pets.
On the outskirts of Cáceres is the Hospes Palacio de Arenales Spa, the former residence of Los Golfines (referenced above), which is surrounded by hundreds of centenary olive trees. A spa and swimming pool are offered on-site.
Dine at These Restaurants
By far, the most famous restaurant in Extremadura is Atrio Restaurante, awarded Three Stars by Michelin Guide. For those with a desire for exceptional cuisine at slightly more affordable prices, the owners of Atrio opened Torre de Sande nearby in the Plaza de San Mateo. Although the owners describe it as having a more “casual concept,” it’s still a high-concept restaurant for foodies in a gorgeous restaurant, whether dining inside or outside.
La Casa del Sol is also in the historic city, featuring a menu with local ingredients that changes seasonally.
For a more casual setting at the Plaza Mayor, try La Minerva for tapas plus local wines and beers.