Thea lived in Spain for years and has compiled several helpful articles for first-time visitors, especially those headed to Extremadura.
If you're headed to Spain anytime soon, you may want to get off the beaten path and opt for an escapade to Extremadura's northern province of Cáceres (KAH-thur-ace). This charming province is full of authentic, local culture, and there's plenty to do. It's truly the ideal place to have an authentic Spanish experience!
Most travelers I meet in the US or abroad who have been to Spain either went to Madrid, Barcelona, or Sevilla. All of these bustling cities have wonderful sights and cultural things to offer. But, if you're looking for a simpler, more provincial experience, I would recommend Extremadura, specifically Cáceres and the surrounding pueblos, or villages. Here, you are less likely to come in contact with English, more likely to live the Spanish way of life (including siesta), and guaranteed to enjoy so many of the amazing experiences that Cáceres has to offer! My husband and son and all of my in-laws are from Cáceres, and I lived there for years. Even though I am only 4% Spanish per my Ancestry DNA test, I am Spaniard at heart, and this information is definitely from an insider's perspective.
1. Plaza Mayor and Pintores street
Ask anyone, "Donde esta la plaza mayor?" and they will direct you to Cáceres' main square via bus, taxi, or even walking. In fact, as soon as you look up Cáceres on any search engine, most of what comes up is about the Plaza. This main Square was refurbished not even 5 years ago and is chock full of restaurants and places to drink your 11am or 5pm cafe. Once there, you will notice the impressive Arco de la Estrella, or Star Arch, right beside Cáceres' famous Bujaco tower, that legend tells was a key point of altercation between the Christians and the Moors during the 1100s. You can go up into this tower for beautiful scenes of the whole plaza. Behind Torre Bujaco and Arco de la Estrella, you will see a tourist office (Oficina de turismo) where you can begin your stroll through the Old City of Cáceres (see number 2 below). If you head down the arch's beautiful stone steps, cross the plaza and then take a left onto Pintores street. There you will find plenty of modern shops selling everything from clothes to souvenirs, shoes to jewelry, bags, candy, ice cream, and more. Pintores eventually will take you to the Teatro (theater), which is another place you can go to see a play or concert. Check at the box office to see what is showing that night.
2. La Parte Antigua (Cáceres' Old City)
La Parte Antigua (Literally, the old part) of Cáceres is a walled town virtually untouched since the 1500s. Towers and structures are built on top of Roman foundations from a few centuries after Christ. Buildings and homes remain from the 1100s all the way through the 1900s, with most being from the middle ages. The 2nd weekend in November is set apart for a Medieval Festival (Mercado Medieval), where characters dress the part and you can eat and drink and shop like the 12-1400s. If you walk through the Arco de la Estrella, head to the tourism office and grab a map. There are pretty good tours in English or Spanish that walk through the whole city.
You will have access to exceptional museums, including Museo de Caceres, which will charge you a small fee for entrance, but is totally worth the nominal expenditure. Walk through this ancient structure, including the basement, which is an Arab cistern known as an Aljibe. The Islamic-style arches are breathtakingly authentic and make you feel like a time traveler. Restaurants abound, but I would suggest Torre de las Cigüeñas for an authentic dinner with live music on the weekends. My other favorite place in the Parte Antigua is the Jewish quarters. There, you can see the tiny homes on the outer walls, which are chock-full of character and charm, making you wish you had been born centuries before. Still, there is so much more to see beyond the few things I have mentioned. There is specifically one tower that is free to enter. It is along the outer wall and is so picturesque. It overlooks Ronda San Francisco road, which is one of my favorite views in the city.
3. Cánovas park
If you walk down Pintores street, you will go past the theater and hit Cánovas. You'll know it when you see it because it is a red-and-white-tile lined central park full of trees and flowering plants and fountains. Along each side of Cánovas are all sorts of shops and eateries. My favorite shop in this area is the women's clothing store Stradivarius, but there is also a great shoe shop called Zambrano. A great place to stop and eat is El Kiosco de Cánovas. My other favorite breakfast spot in this place is El Gran Cafe which is located on an off-shoot of Cánovas park. The park is a bustling place during summer evenings and is great for people watching.
If Pintores and Cánovas don't kick your shopping craving, you'll have to take a bus or taxi to the mall, called Centro Comercial Ruta de la Plata. You can walk there but it's on the other side of town, near our version of Wal-mart, known as Carrefour. Here you will find trendy European fashion stores such as Zara, Bershka, Pull and Bear, Springfield, and more. It's also air conditioned if you happen to visit during a sub-Saharan African heat wave. Clothing is reasonably priced and January and July-August are the mall-wide (Spain-wide, really) rebajas, or sales. Things are marked down significantly and your euros will go much farther.
Dia is a lower-price grocery store and there are locations throughout Cáceres, all within walking distance. Lidl is my favorite store and is in the Mejostilla neighborhood, where you will also find Aldi for cheap, organic, and imported German items. Mercadona is another store Spanish people love because of the store-brand delicious food items and wide variety. I personally do not shop at Mercadona because the main added ingredient in all of their products is sugar! That's just me, though, so shop away! Another Wal-mart style store that is not Carrefour is Eroski Center, which is in Ruta de la Plata shopping mall at the far end. There you can find a fully-stocked supermarket as well as textiles, toys, clothes, shoes, houseware, and cleaning supplies.
5. Night Life
Spaniards are famous all over the world for going to bed late, waking up late, starting their workday late, and in general, enjoying a good party. I am not one for nightlife myself, but if you are feeling the need to get out and get down, get your taxi to take you to La Madrila where most of Cáceres’ nightclubs, discos, and late-night bars line the streets.
6. La Virgen de la Montaña
Start at the base of the Montaña with some good walking shoes. Hike up until you reach the small hermit and Virgin Mary statue. The views are spectacular! If you want a similar hike with not as many tourists, head to the nearby village of Sierra de Fuentes and walk up to the Risco hermit. Sierra de Fuentes is “my” village, and we spend our summers nearby. We might even run into you on this walking trail!
7. Stork Watching
Storks are perhaps the Extremaduran bird par excellence. Head 20 minutes outside the city to the village of Malpartida de Cáceres, specifically to Hotel las Cigüeñas to grab a coffee and to see these wobbly, lanky, yet adorable white and black birds clack their beaks and feed their young in their gigantic nests atop poles that are tens of meters high. (Fun fact: my husband and I had our wedding at this hotel! And the food was spectacular!)
Cáceres region is full of Catholic churches in the heart of every village and scattered all throughout the capital city of Cáceres. I would recommend checking out the architecture of some older churches in the Old Part during a mass service. If you are looking for a protestant worship experience, check out Iglesia Evangelica Cristo La Roca (Christ the Rock evangelical church) or El Puente Iglesia Evangelica (The Bridge Evangelical Church). The first is more Pentecostal, the latter is more Baptist. I am not aware of any mosques or synagogues in Cáceres. If you are lucky enough to be in Cáceres during Holy Week, hang out in the Old City to see the elaborate processionals that hooded locals carry through the streets in homage to Cáceres’s Catholic heritage.
Don't Miss a Visit to Cáceres!
So there you have it: a wide array of things to do and see in Cáceres, from a local’s perspective. Keep in mind, this doesn’t even include local festivals, markets, book fairs, gastronomic fairs, marathons, conventions, events, and parades, which seem to happen every week. Enjoy your trip to Cáceres, and come back soon!
© 2018 Thea Tsayt
RTalloni on July 24, 2018:
Well, if I never wanted to visit Spain before I would want to now, particularly Caceres. Thanks for a neat overview full of interesting info.
Matt Doran from Manchester, UK on June 04, 2018:
I'm not really familiar with Caceres but it sounds great. I'll have to get there some time.