Quick Guide to Jerez
How to make the most of the World Sherry Capital
Glamorous Jerez has long been a secret privy to wine connoisseurs, flamenco aficionados and the horsey set. But tourists have finally twigged that this classy city of jacaranda-lined avenues and heritage architecture has a lot to offer.
Even better, it’s a walking city. You can do a lot in a day on foot and still feel as hot to trot as its famous dancing horses.
Jerez also makes a great two-centre holiday as the Atlantic coast is 20 minutes away by car. Or take the train, calling at Cadiz and the Sherry Triangle Town of El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Not that you’ll want to tear yourself away too quickly from the cool urban wineries and cooler sherry bars!
Where to start
Plaza del Arenal (see map below)is the city’s impressive square and if anything major’s going on – like the open air ice rink in winter – you’ll find it here. Leave your wheels in one of the car parks beneath the square, where you can also pick up a map from the Tourist Office and enjoy a coffee al fresco before you set off.
Make merry with Sherry
In a city that calls its wineries ‘cathedrals’ and its ageing cellars ‘sacristies’, sherry is a religion! There are over 20 bodegas in the city and these cool, yeast-scented labyrinths offer tasting tours and other surprises: at Williams & Humbert, an equestrian show; at Tio Pepe, a vineyard growing inside an urban bodega; at Tradición, priceless artworks by Murillo, Velázquez, El Greco, Goya and Picasso.
Lately, the city’s most famous export has been brought out of dark, musty cellars and into the limelight to star in the local gastronomy. Try it in a casserole, a cocktail or straight from the barrel in a crowded tabanco, paired with the hand-clapping, foot-stomping sounds of flamenco!
Get on your high horse
Jerez and horses have been synonymous since the local Carthusian monks began breeding Andalusian thoroughbreds 600 years ago. The May Horse Fair (see below) is nearly as old and this week-long street party is a great opportunity to see them up close. Another is the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, rated on a par with Vienna’s, where the stallions can pirouette on a pinhead. Man and beast come gracefully together in an immaculately-choreographed equine ballet, with shows several times a week year-round. Afterwards, take a city jaunt by horse-drawn carriage. You can pick up your chariot outside the gates.
Flirt with flamenco
Although it can sound funereal to foreign ears, to understand flamenco is to love it better and the Jerezanos are keen to show you how. Their city is the cradle of the genre and the birthplace of Lola Flores, its best-known star. Source its purest form wandering around the gypsy barrios of San Miguel and Santiago; or listen to it live at El Pasaje, the oldest tabanco in Jerez. This pint-sized sherry bar is often rammed, as the artists are good and the shows are free. Held lunchtimes and evenings Monday to Saturday. Calle Santa Maria 8.
The Alcazár’s Dark Chamber
The 11th century Alcazár fortress impressive enough with its citrus gardens, mosque and Arab baths where Moorish royalty steamed under a vaulted roof cut out in stars. But its medieval walls hide another secret: the magical Camera Oscura (Dark Chamber), which uses lenses and mirrors to project live city scenes onto a giant dish atop the highest point in Jerez. Gargoyles, rooftop cats, pushy pigeons and lost tourists scanning maps come into close focus, unaware they are being watched.
Buy fresh at the food market
Atlantic fish and seafood star alongside local retinto beef and mountains of jewel-coloured fruit and veg from the orchards of Cadiz Province at this traditional market, housed in an elegant period building. Seasonal specialities include almadraba (trapnet) tuna through May and June, wild spring asparagus and autumn mushrooms. Calle Doña Blanca.
Time out at the clock museum
The Atalaya Museum’s Palace of Time showcases 301 priceless antique clocks which all chime 12 noon at once. Set in parkland roamed by peacocks, the collection once belonged to late billionaire businessman José María Ruiz Mateos who did some ‘time’ himself, following the notorious Rumasa fraud case.
Shop ‘til you drop in Long Street
Parting with money is a pleasure in sweet-scented Calle Larga. Stroll beneath a canopy of orange trees as you check out Zara, Mango and quirky local boutiques – just mind your high heels on the cobbles! Detour down a side street into the Old Quarter for artisan shops, tapas bars and tabancos. Find a table in one of the pretty squares and let the fino flow.
Great buys: Sherry (of course) feria dresses, top-of-the-range equestrian gear
Top Tip: If there are shopping haters in tow, leave them at the El Gallo Azul gastrobar, a reference point in Jerez for its panoramic city views. Calle Larga 2.
Catch a train to the coast
A fried fish lunch on the seafront in El Puerto de Santa Maria is almost mandatory. Regular trains make the 10-minute journey from Jerez to this pretty maritime town where manzanilla sherry is the top tipple.
The second strand in the Sherry Triangle towns, along with Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda, they are the only places in the world entitled to call their wines ‘sherry’.
You can catch the same train to Cadiz city. For extra thrills, time it to fit with Sanlucar’s annual August/September beach horse races.
When to go
Any time except July and August, the locals will tell you as they flee the city for the coast. Yes, summer in Jerez is hot but hotel rates are a lot cheaper. Do your exploring before high noon and after eight, then head for the beach or stick to air-conditioning in between and you’ll be fine.
Driving distances from Jerez
El Puerto de Santa Maria - 20 km
Sanlucar de Barrameda - 26km
Cadiz City - 37km
Gibraltar - 112km
Staying in Jerez
Go for a character hotel occupying one of the city’s aristocratic mansions. There are so many you can take your pick. Here’s ours:
Art deco style, with chandeliers in the bedroom and a rooftop terrace. Owner Monika Schroeder makes you feel like her personal house guest and will be delighted to share her insider knowledge, in several languages.
Oozing contemporary designer chic inside and right on the money for location, on the corner of Plaza del Arenal. The rooftop pool and roomy bedrooms are other plus points.
Luxury in the Garvey sherry family’s old home. It’s spot on for the Old Quarter and shopping and overlooks a lovely cobbled square where you can relax under white umbrellas and feast on tapas. Calle Tornería, 24.
Top Events in Jerez 2019
Flamenco Festival of Jerez
February 22-March 9
A city-wide homage to this gypsy genre with concerts of music, dance and flamenco guitar and intimate evenings in traditional tabanco flamenco bars where sherry comes from the barrel. The event attracts a global following of aficionados. Learn more.
Holy Week Processions (Easter)
Like all Andalucia’s big cities, Jerez goes to town with multiple candlelit processions throughout Holy Week (Semana Santa). Entire families rent palcos (pavement pitches) along the route, where they can set up a table and chairs and enjoy a sherry while they watch the solemn spectacle.
Jerez Horse Fair
This week-long equine extravaganza held at the fairground is a chance to flaunt a flouncy flamenco dress and OD on rebujitos (sherry with lemonade). The spectacle of the horsedrawn carriages - every animal with its mane plaited in intricate styles to match the finery of their occupants - is a once-seen never-forgotten spectacle. And unlike Sevilla’s April fair, the casetas (flamenco clubs) where you can join in the drinking and dancing are open to all.
MotoGP Gran Prix
Bikers from all over the world flock to the Jerez Circuit for the annual Spanish Motorcycle Grand Prix. The track also hosts motorbike and motorcross events throughout the year.
Tio Pepe Festival
One of the most famous bodegas in the city hosts a programme of top flamenco music, dance and flamenco guitar in its atmospheric sherry cellars. This year you can also book candlelit wine-pairing dinners prepared by Michelin chefs in the cellars of Gonzalez Byass. Learn more.
Jerez Grape Harvest
Grape expectations run high at La Vendimia, the annual harvest festival of Jerez which has grown into a mega cultural tribute to sherry over the first two weeks in September. Read our review.
Map of Jerez de la Frontera pinned at Plaza del Arenal and Tourist Office
📌Vejer – Best-kept village in Andalucia – 67km
📌Cadiz – Salty city with a carnival atmosphere – 33km