Just 20km from the coast, Jerez feels like the middle child of Andalusian cities – often overlooked in favour of its more popular siblings, Seville and Cadiz. But that just means its streets are quieter, and its sights – from ancient Moorish architecture to a lively fish market and unique tabancos (sherry bars) – are ripe for exploration.
Jerez de la Frontera, to give it its full name, is now home to a passionate flamenco scene, cute higgledy-piggledy streets, freshly sizzled seafood, and down-to-earth, working-class locals – making it an underrated, alternative southern Spanish break for anyone who’s ticked off the “big four” mainland cities and wants something new.
Things to do
Learn about sherry
Jerez is the first stop on Andalusia’s famous “sherry triangle” (the other two are Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria), so it’d be a shame not to visit a bodega (winery) while you’re in town. French winemaker Lustau, which has been cultivating vines since 1896, offers professional, easy-to-digest, English-speaking tastings from Tuesday to Friday each week.
There’s a brilliant one-hour tour for €18 (around £15) a head (Tuesdays to Fridays at 10.30am), which includes six tastings, but if you love your sherries, splash an extra €10 for the one-hour 15-minute option (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 1pm), which goes deeper into the process and includes nine tastings. Either will give you enough sherry knowledge to impress your mates back home in the pub.
Chill out in the Arabic baths
A good way to unwind (or get rid of a sherry-induced hangover) is to cleanse your soul at the city’s soothing Arabic baths. You’ll pay €27 to enter Hammam Andalusi, a candlelit, Moorish-inspired oasis on the west side of town. Once you’re in your swimmers, divide your time between sipping sugary mint tea and dipping in and out of three baths (cold, tepid and hot) in complete silence. Better still, if you’re nursing pains that stretch beyond a sore head, treat yourself to a rub down: a one-hour hammam scrub and massage, combined with two-hour entry to the baths, will set you back €92.
Explore a romantic fortress
While we’re talking about all things Moorish, why not head to the Alcazar de Jerez de la Frontera – a sweeping fortress built in the 11th and 12th centuries. In warmer months, it’s best to visit the site in the morning, before temperatures get too sultry. Wander through carefully pruned, Arabic-influenced gardens and visit the well-preserved mezquita (mosque). If you have a head for heights, go up to the castle’s tower and check out the camera obscura, which projects clear, panoramic images of Jerez in real time onto a white ceramic bowl. Entry to the Alcazar costs €5, or €7 with a visit to the camera obscura.
Sherry barrels line a walkway in a bodega in Jerez, Spain (Getty/iStock)
Where to stay
For a good-value stay, it’s hard to knock La Fonda Barranco. This boutique family-run hotel, home to just 10 classically decorated Andalusian rooms, is only a five-minute walk from Plaza del Arenal (the main square in Jerez), although its biggest prize is its small, sunny terrace overlooking the cathedral. Rooms are available from €45 but breakfast is not included.
If you’re looking for something a little more fancy, it’s hard to beat a room in an ancient palace in the historic centre. The seven-bedroom, three-star hotel of Palacio del Virrey Laserna offers double rooms from €85 a night, room only. The price includes access to the lawn and dipping pool.
Budget travellers might prefer to opt for a a bargain double at Hotel YIT Casa Grande, an attractive period building with a roof terrace, situated in the old town. Doubles are available from £47 a night, room only, for single use, and £56 a night for two people.
Where to eat
For authentic tapas
Tabancos (Spanish dive bars) are characteristic of Jerez and serve anything from home-cooked stews (tabanco el racimo) to tapas and fried fish for ridiculously low prices (around €2-3 euros a dish). If you’re in the mood for something authentic, then visit the timeworn Tabanco El Pasaje, which has live flamenco shows every day of the week. It’s best to book a table and watch the show as waiters zip around the crowds bringing beer (€1.50) and tapas (from €3) directly to your table.
For a seafood lunch
Seafood lovers will soon be hooked on Jerez. You’re only 20km from the coast, so restaurants specialising in fish are plentiful. Rio Viejo is a fine place to sit watching locals striding across the busy Plaza del Arenal square as you tuck into cigar-thick tiger prawns from €7 (for 100g) and fresh red tuna from €6, which are best washed down with a drop of local white wine (from €2 a glass).
For veggies and vegans
Despite Jerez being a largely carnivorous city, vegetarians and vegans have options too. One is Alboronia – a small, modern restaurant in the centre with a menu of inventive Moroccan and Mediterranean fusion dishes. Get three sharing plates and two glasses of wine from around €25-30.
For a fancy dinner
Visitors to Jerez on the lookout for a fancy, slap-up meal might head to La Carbona – a well-respected restaurant with high ceilings and whitewashed archways. The old bodega offers set menus (made up of duck, fish and risottos) with sherry pairings from €45 per person.
A flamenco dancer in Jerez, Spain (Getty/iStock)
Where to drink
For a lively night out
One of the best areas to grab a drink in the heart of Jerez is down at the lively Plaza de Plateros. Cerveceria Gorila and Tabanco Plaza Plateros are where local folk go to prop themselves up at high tables overlooking the packed, buzzy plaza. Small beers are available at most bars in the square from around €1.50.
To drink with locals
Clink glasses with locals down at Tabanco las Banderillas – a claret-coloured, spit-and-sawdust-style corner bar packed with bullfighting memorabilia. Here chatty veterans drink ice-cold sherry (from €1) and crunch chicharrones especiales (Jerez-style pork scratchings) that cost around €3.
To see flamenco
You’ll want to tap into this city’s rich tradition of flamenco music – the question is, do you want to go rustic and authentic, or upmarket and slickly produced? For a no-frills tabanco with throaty tenors and cheap drinks, head to the salt-of-the-earth Tabanco a la Feria. If you’re after a formal, comfortable, sit-down flamenco show then check out Tablao Flamenco Puro Arte (tickets from €25).
Where to shop
It’s a bit of a cliche, but if you want to see a city through the eyes of a local, then head to its central market. Jerez’s Mercado Central de Abastos, located in the centre of town, is where Jerezanos (the local folks) go to pick up their weekly groceries. Here, vendors flog fresh fish, olives, local cheeses, cut-price vegetables and olive oil while knocking back frosty glasses of sherry. Out the back of the market, there’s a bar called La Pampero where punters pause for a cana (small beer) and some fried hake (€2).
Built in the 17th century, the immense structure of Catedral de Jerez proudly showcases three architectural styles: Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical. Inside the cathedral you’ll find an ornate painting of the Virgin Mary by Francisco Zubaran, as well as an intricately crafted domed ceiling and an epic 15th-century Gothic crucifix. But one of the most fascinating features is the slender bell tower, which, like that in the cathedral in Seville, is thought previously to have been the minaret of a mosque. Entrance to the cathedral costs €5 for adults.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Should I tip?
Tipping isn’t obligatory in Spain, but 10-15 per cent for good service is appreciated.
What’s the time difference?
How should I get around?
Get around by foot – Jerez is a supremely walkable city.
What’s the best view?
Head up to the watchtower in the Alcazar for the most expansive views of the city.
Want to live, breathe and sleep sherry? You can stay at the first “sherry hotel” in town, Hotel Bodega Tio Pepe, which opened last summer. Doubles cost from £90, B&B.
Trying to fly less?
You can get to Jerez entirely by train. Take the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord Station, then change for the city’s Gare de Lyon station and take the TGV Duplex to Barcelona-Sants, which takes just over six hours. After an overnight in Barcelona, take the local train to Seville, changing there for a train to Jerez (around seven hours total).
Fine with flying?
Ryanair flies direct from Stansted to Jerez Airport in around three hours; otherwise, various airlines fly to Seville (one hour 20 minutes’ drive away) or Gibraltar (one hour 30 minutes’ drive).