El Pópulo is the oldest part of Cádiz and clusters around the city’s great Santa Cruz cathedral. Plaza de la Catedral (itself one of the barrio‘s most beautiful spaces) is surrounded by a maze of shabby-chic shopping streets on which smart boutiques are interspersed with no-frills tapas bars. These streets are also home to three 13th century arches, the Arco del Pópulo, Arco de la Rosa and Arco de los Blancos. Notable spots are the lively Plaza San Juan de Dios and Plaza Candeleria, the latter of which surprises with some beautiful buildings and the spit-and-sawdust gem that is Bar Estrella.
The former fishing quarter of La Viña occupies the south-western extremity of Cádiz behind the Playa Caleta. This is a great place to head at night, as it is packed with restaurants and tapas bars to suit every taste, from the ultra-traditional Casa La Manteca to the more modern hangouts that line Calle Virgen de la Palma. Despite its popularity with tourists, this is still very much a working, residential barrio and the place to be if you want to take the pulse of Cádiz’s street-life. There are also some architectural treasures to be found amongst the quarter’s gracefully-ageing townhouses and long-abandoned buildings.
Santa Maria lies just behind the Puerta de Tierra – one of the city’s original principal entrances – and is the first part of Cádiz you’ll encounter if arriving by bus or train. It’s a tiny barrio and quickly gives way to El Pópulo, but it’s worth lingering here to explore the charmingly-scruffy backstreets and for a quick tapas at no-nonsense local joints like Bar Botica (you’ll be the only tourist there). Santa Maria is also a great place to stay, situated as it is out of the busiest areas of Cádiz yet walkable from all the main attractions. Hotel Convento Cádiz, which is housed in a stunning 17th century convent, is the quarter’s best hotel.
Occupying the heart of old Cádiz is “El Centro” – a busy area of shops, bars and offices packed into a tangle of improbably narrow streets. Be sure to check out Plaza Topete – a pretty square nicknamed Plaza de las Flores due to its several colourful flower stalls. Topete is also where to head if you’re a fan of churros, as they’re a house speciality at the hugely popular Bar La Marina. Just off Plaza Topete is the barrio‘s nerve-centre, Plaza Libertad, where’re you’ll find the wonderfully pungent, chaotic and noisy Mercado Central. As with all of these old neighbourhoods, the best way to explore El Centro is to ditch Google Maps and get lost.
A tightly-packed quarter of smart 18th century townhouses, San Carlos sits on the north-western tip of Cádiz overlooking the port. This is another of the city’s residential, working neighbourhoods – albeit one in which a lot more money is kicking around in than La Viña. Its principal square is the Plaza de España, home to a famous monument to the Spanish constitution of 1812, whilst the striking Casa de las 4 Torres (“House of the Four Towers”) is the barrio‘s architectural headliner. From its seafront promenade you can also watch the enormous cruise liners come and go in Cádiz’s port.