You could write several weighty tomes about Cádiz and still fall short of nailing its essence. Cádiz is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, founded as Gadir by the Phoenicians in about 1100 BC. Now well into its fourth millennium, the ancient centre, surrounded almost entirely by water, is a romantic jumble of sinuous streets where Atlantic waves crash against eroded sea walls, cheerful taverns fry up fresh fish and salty beaches teem with sun-worshippers.

Spain's first liberal constitution (La Pepa) was signed here in 1812, while the city's distinctive urban model provided an identikit for fortified Spanish colonial cities in the Americas.

Enamoured return visitors talk fondly of Cádiz' seafood, sands and intriguing monuments and museums. More importantly, they gush happily about the gaditanos, an upfront, sociable bunch whose crazy Carnaval is an exercise in ironic humour and whose upbeat alegrías (flamenco songs) warm your heart.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Cádiz.