Family-friendly Things to Do in the Land of Sherry, Flamenco and Dancing Horses–Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain

Looking for a family-friendly, long-weekend getaway?  Come to the land of sherry, flamenco and dancing horses–Jerez de la Frontera near the Atlantic coast of Andalusia, Spain—and have a bit of sun, sea, sand and perhaps a sip of sherry too.  It’s a gem of a destination with a diverse set of activities for everyone.  If you have three or four days, here’s six reasons to visit Jerez de la Frontera, whether you are by yourself, with your significant other, or with family and kids.

NOTE: This article was written for a family travel magazine before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once it’s all over we can expect to have the numerous flights resumed and travel restirctions. . . gone. “Ojala!,” as they say here.

Clockwise (from top left): Outdoor tapas/dining on the main street of Jerez center; old charm of Jerez continues with horse carriage rides at the Alcazar (the old Muslim fortress turned into a Christian palace); Monument of the Virgin of Asuncion with the Royal Church of San Dionisio in the back; Translates to “Made in Jerez”.

Wine/Sherry

As the land of sherry let us start with tour of a “bodega” (or wine cellar—a really big one).  But first, what is sherry and is a wine tour really for kids?  The quickie notes: sherry is a type of wine that is specifically produced in this little corner of the world in Cadiz province that has its own micro-climate.  Sherry has at least 7 different variations from the light colored “fino” to the sweetest almost-black colored “Pedro Ximenez” and Amontillado in between.  Try all variations for only one-euro-something at local bars, uniquely called “Tabancos”, and see what the fuzz is all about!  Local’s insight: Take a “Morenita” or an “Amorosso”—unique blends if available because you will have a hard time finding them outside of Jerez.

“Hush, hush! Sherries sleep here!” Bodegas, like this one at Tio Pepe’s/Gonzalez Byass, have a certain silence that befits cathedrals or catacombs. One would argue that here in Jerez, if you ask where a cathedral is, you might just get directed to one of the bodegas of this truly unique wine of Jerez.

As for a bodega tour, yes it is OK to bring your kids to pique their cultural curiosity.  Jerez, as in Spain, is quite family-oriented.  Besides, your kids would get a chance to see and understand vitriculture (all about winemaking) and the specific process called “solera” that is applied here.  For my kids, it’s quite an adventure to see the cellars that are almost as sacred, if not peaceful, as the crypts of churches themselves. 

There are several options for a wine tour 

If you stay in the center though, as I would recommend, the best options will be the most popular ones: Tio Pepe and Fundador.  These are almost synonymous with the name of the town.  They have visiting hours and guided tours from noon to 1700 hours, generally from Monday to Saturday, in Spanish, English and German.  A tour would cost between 15 and 22 euros, depending on whether you would like to have tapas and wine tasting with it or not.  Family friendly: FREE for children under 4 and discounted for those between 4 and 17.  Both are located less than 10-minute leisurely walk from the center of town in Plaza Arenal.  Tio Pepe is just southeast of the Alcazar (the former fortified castle) and Fundador is northwest of the Alcazar and the cathedral in the old historic district with its narrow, winding, cobblestone streets.

From lightly colored to dark, here’s some of the major types of sherry (vinos de Jerez/wines of Jerez): Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado (not shown), Oloroso Seco, Oloroso Dulce (not shown), Cream, Pedro Ximenez (not shown). The last one is Brandy de Jerez (aged in a sherry barrels. . . YUMMY. We highly recommend taking the Fundador tour with wine tasting and tapas pairing for a date with your honey-bunny.

Flamenco—Music, All Its Own

What’s next?  As the land of flamenco—you know, that Spanish guitar-driven music with polka dot dress-wearing dancers–this is a must.  And yet I understand that it is not for everyone.  In fact, the mixture of singing-crying-wailing-noisemaking-merrymaking that characterizes flamenco puro songs (pure or traditional flamenco) is rather difficult to digest, unless you equate it with Gypsy kings, castanets and the Sevillanas dance form. 

Fiery dance to the Bulerias–a song, once of the gypsies, then born in this town, now a song to which the hearts of Jerezanos beat, whether they like it or not. This was a normal Saturday at Peña Flamenca La Buleria in Barrio de San Miguel.

So why bother?  Well, there are few places in the world that have their own songs that are truly unique.  Jerez de la Frontera is the cradle of a specific flamenco style called Bulerias—that fiery twelve-count rhythm that some say can be heard in north Africa and traced back to India, courtesy of the nomadic gypsies of centuries ago.  Bulerias is the basic rhythm to which the hearts of Jerezanos beat.  It is the sound of Jerez!  There is also the Zambomba—Christmas songs performed in the festive flamenco style which originated in Jerez and spread to the rest of Andalucía.  From late November to Christmas Eve the city center streets are filled with merrymakers, singing Zambombas.

Tabanco El Pasaje–a reliable place to see flamenco for one hour at exactly 2 pm. Get there early, get a table and get. . . invigorated by an intimate performance (now) without amplification at this oldest, continuously running Tabanco in town. Pictured is Agustin del Fuente (one of the best tocaor/guitarist who plays at these local watering holes) and “El Quini” (cantaor/singer) whose powerful voice is gigantic enough to raise Hercules from wherever he is.

Locals’ recommendation 

Your first stop to see a flamenco performance is at El Pasaje in the center.  It is the longest running flamenco spot and the most reliable because it has two shows daily that start and stop on time.  And best of all it’s FREE!  As with most FREE places, please do support the artists and the establishments when you visit by consuming one-euro-something drinks and a bit more for tapas.  You may bring your small children too!  It’s ok here.  Flamenco is family-friendly tradition in Jerez!

“Bring on the dancing horses. . . wherever they may roam. . . ” I finally have a reference to what that 80s alternative music group, Echo and the Bunnymen, was singing about. Here, you can see them at the Royal School of Equestrian Arts. But mind you, the ticket is a bit pricey BUT (and a BIG BUTt at that) it’s a truly unique family-friendly and kid-approved experience.

Dancing Horses

As the song goes, “Here come the dancing horses!”  Yes, really!  The Royal School of Andalucían Equestrian Arts has an hour-long shows where horses dance to flamenco and other music.  These are not just any ordinary horses of course.  They are elegant and have the posture of nobility.  When they walk, they trot!  They were apparently selected, crossbred from the Arabian breed some hundred years ago for their intelligence and trained by monks.  Shows are for 90 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and some Fridays and Saturdays). Before and after the show, you can also enjoy the verdant gardens of the compound and partake in the Andalusian pastime of… chit-chat at its café.

Good connecting flights with many main cities in Europe

It is easy to get to Jerez.  It has direct flights to and from London and Manchester, UK, 8 big cities in Germany, four main cities in Spain and connections with Brussels, Luxembourg and Zurich during high season.  It also enjoys modern railway connections that can take you to a bigger city of Seville, only one hour away.

Cadiz–the oldest city in Europe with a coin to prove it, apparently, with its remarkable golden-domed cathedral (fading though as it is) against Andalusian blue sky–is a mere 30-minute drive or train ride away.

Good base to explore the Cadiz region

It is a great destination in itself for a few days or a good launching point to explore a variety of activities within a 30-minute drive during your week of vacation.  But before all that, let’s start with our little-big village that was once called “Xera” during the times of the Phoenicians (yup, a very long time ago).  Later, the name became “Sherry” and so was the wine that the land produced.  Ok, enough history!

Playgrounds, a Great Way to Meet Locals

Playgrounds in Jerez de la Frontera are a great place to meet locals and enjoy the art of Andalucían chit-chat.  We’ve met several locals and foreigners here at playgrounds.  There are three playgrounds in the city center.  Plaza del Progresso (the oldest) is the closest to the commercial street of calle Larga and is surrounded by outdoor seating from 3 bars/restaurants.  So, like the locals, you can watch your children play while you dine or drink or both (but not too much!). 

The newest of the playgrounds at Plaza de Belen in the old historic cradle of Jerez. This place is best visited at night when locals would come out after siesta when the heat would have tapered off… a bit. And, note: there is no bar/restaurant in the immediate vicinity, unless you are lucky enough to visit when Peña Flamenca Buena Gente (right on th eplaza) is open.

Plaza de Belen opened in the summer of 2018 and is located in the old historic center.  It enjoys the widest play space but no surrounding bar/restaurant, at least not yet.  You may be lucky enough during your visit to see live authentic flamenco for FREE at the local flamenco club located next to it.  Plaza las Angustias is the new addition in 2019 and is located about 5-minute walk to the east of center.  This one too is located in pedestrian only space with food places next to it.  Note:  It is normal for locals (or Andalusians for that matter) to take siesta (mid-day break at home) between about 2 and 5.  They also tend to start going out at 9 in the evening even with children.

A monument at Plaza Mamelon to commemorate the weeks-long party in May during the Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair).

The Near Outersphere of Jerez

After three days, Jerez can serve as your base to explore the nearby towns and white villages.  Within a 30-minute drive of Jerez de la Frontera you can visit these amazing places.  Cadiz–the reported oldest city in Europe with a coin to prove it, apparently, with its remarkable golden-domed cathedral (fading though as it is) against Andalusian blue sky, and the underrated beauty of Andalucia.  Napoleon himself unsuccessfully attacked its fortified little castle of San Sebastian that juts out into the Atlantic.  From Cadiz, you may take a ferry ride to Rota—home to the United States Naval military and to well-developed publicly accessible beaches.  Arcos de la Frontera is one of the many “pueblos blancos” (or white villages) of southern Spain.  It is a fortified medieval town high up on a hill.  Some have called it little Ronda.  Medina-Sidonia is also a white village and is the old capital of Cadiz that is, now, usually forgotten, making your visit even more special.

Here’s your 3-day+ itinerary guide in Jerez de la Frontera and beyond

FLAMENCO = JEREZ de la FRONTERA

Thursday:  Dancing horses+ Church of Barrio Santiago+ Center of Flamenco+Flamenco show

In the morning, stop by Centro Andaluz De Flamenco (Andalusian Center of Flamenco), watch the introductory video to get an overview of flamenco and its role in Jerez, and appreciate the beauty of the traditional little Jerezano palace… all for FREE.  Then, have coffee at a café right across from one of the iconic churches in Jerez–Iglesia de Santiago.  Head to see the dancing horses by noon (best to book ticket and arrive in advance; check schedule).  Walk back to city center and see a one-hour flamenco show at El Pasaje at 1400 (2 pm). They serve tapas if you’re getting hungry.  Then, have lunch at the city center afterwards.  If you have kids, take them to Plaza del Progresso while you have dessert and drinks at one of the three cafés/bar/restaurants.

Orange trees in the middle of winter are everywhere. Here our boys enjoy a paseo (a walk) after school at the Alcazar.

Friday: Sherry Bodega Tour+Old historic center+Cathedral+Playground

In the morning, explore the old historic center (within the old walls) and meander through its narrow-winding cobblestone streets.  Visit the old Cathedral built in the 17th century and made cathedral in 1980 that has a monument of Pope John Paul II nearby.  There’s an inexpensive café/restaurant directly in front of it for lunch or snacks.  Stop by the spacious Plaza del Belen for some play time for your little ones.  Go for a wine/sherry bodega tour with Tio Pepe or Fundador—the maker of the first Brandy of Spain that also has a restaurant in its premises.

The church of San Miguel marks the eastern entrance to Barrio de San Miguel–one of the two neighborhoods in Jerez with strong historic flamenco roots.

Saturday: Alcazar+ Barrio and Iglesia San Miguel+ Flamenco shows

Stroll through Barrio San Miguel in the city center—one of the two neighborhoods in Jerez with strong flamenco roots.  Here you can see statues of some of the famous “children” of Jerez, such as Lola Flores and, if you are into flamenco, La Paquera de Jerez, Don Antonio Chacon.  Stroll through its quiet street, walk past the residences of many others, including Paco Cepero who can be seen walking his dog, or catch live performances at local flamenco associations—Peñas La Buleria and Los Cernicalos.  This is the less visited part of the city, which is only a block or two away from the center, but can be magical for those who venture a little off the beaten path. 

Visit the iconic Iglesia de San Miguel that was built first in the gothic period and has church weddings on Saturday mornings.  At around 1430, head down Calle Barja (what my young kids call “echo street”) to Tabanco Cruz Vieja—a block from the church to enjoy inexpensive tapas or drinks and experience live and authentic flamenco puro, usually with a dancer.  If you want more, head to Peña La Buleria at 1600 to experience live flamenco with locals.

I’m sure you’ll fill-in the times in between with what we have recommended.  Give yourself plenty of time to chill and be still while sipping on sherry and bask in the glory of the Andalusian sun.  Should you have days four or five or six. . .  visit the towns we mentioned above in this order of priority: Cadiz, Arcos, Medina-Sidonia and Rota.  Read more about our family-friendly move, lifestyle change and travel abroad on our blog.

With Andalucian sun-kissed greetings, enjoy your stay in our little-big (adopted) town.

Free Electrons Family

The monument to La Paquera de Jerez–a flamenco singer/cantaora–greets you at he western entrance to Barrio de San Miguel.

About the author

Six is a husband and father to two children, aged four and seven. Yearning for a change in lifestyle, his wife and he decided to quit jobs in the USA and up stick it to Europe for a family gap year that has now developed into three years and counting. Based in Andalusia, they like to experience a slow-paced, yet adventure-filled life on the road and on the budget. Six also runs his own family travel blog called Free Electrons Family.

Dine or drink at this tapas bar on the main pedestrian-only street at the town center OR. . . in the less touristy spots in the side streets, if you prefer to be where locals hang out with more bang for your buck.

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