Huelva Guide Andalusia | Portugal Visitor
Huelva Guide, Spain
Huelva on the coast of southwestern Spain is midway between Sevilla and Faro across the border in Portugal.
The historic town is the capital of the province of Huelva in the region of Andalusia.
In 2018 Huelva had a population of around 140,000 inhabitants.
Christopher Columbus set sail on his first voyage for the Americas from nearby Palos de la Frontera.
The area has a very long history going back as far as the Phoenicians – a thousand years before Christ.
During the Roman period it was known as Onoba Aestuaria and was part of the province of Hispania Baetica.
Moorish control of the town began in 712 and lasted until 1262 when King Alfonso X of Castile seized control of the area.
In 1492 Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera with three vessels the Pinta, Niña, and Santa María. He was accompanied by the three Pinzón brothers from Palos, two of whom captained the Pinta and the Niña and supplied finance for the voyage. The Pinzón family house in Palos is now the Casa Museo de Martín Alonso Pinzón and a statue of Martín stands in the town’s main square.
Before the voyage, Columbus had stayed at the Monastery of La Rábida in Palos where he sought help from the Franciscans in his appeal for support from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The prior Juan Perez was the confessor of the queen and convinced her to back Columbus’ voyage.
Huelva and Palos both prospered from the subsequent trade with Latin America. However, Huelva was badly damaged in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and the center of the transatlantic trade moved to Sevilla.
Huelva’s financial fortunes took an upturn when the copper and pyrite mines on the Rio Tinto were purchased by an international consortium (now the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto Group) in 1873. However, the mines had an adverse effect on the environment and were the focus of often deadly protests by local farmers and miners. Mining operations finally ceased in 2001 and now the area has a number of museums and tours dedicated to its long, industrial heritage stretching back to the Roman period and beyond.
There is much to see and do in and around Huelva, though the 1755 Earthquake destroyed much of the city’s earlier architectural heritage. The main square is Plaza de las Monjas and is pedestrianized.
In Huelva itself the excellent Museo de Huelva is a good starting point for archeological exhibits from the Roman and and Islamic period as well as information on Columbus and the Rio Tinto mines (Minas de Riotinto). One highlight is an original Roman water wheel used to pump water from the mines at Rio Tinto. There are also paintings by Daniel Vázquez Díaz on display.
The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Merced de Huelva is Huelva’s 18th century cathedral built in the Neoclassical style. The Universidad de Huelva occupies the cathedral’s former convent.
At Punto del Sebo on the Odiel Estuary, south of the center, stands the Monumento a Colón – a 37 meter-tall statue dedicated to Columbus by American sculptor Gertrude Vanderbuilt Whitney, erected in 1929. The figure represents a monk from the Monastery of La Rábida, an institution that did much to support the explorer.
The monastery itself is worth a visit for those on the Columbus trail and also to see the wonderful frescoes by local artist Daniel Vázquez Díaz (1889-1969). Attractions are the Mudéjar cloister, the cell where Columbus discussed his plans with the abbot, the refectory where he would have dined and the 14th century church where he prayed before departing on his fateful voyage. The Sala Capitular (Chapter House) is another historic room and in nearby rooms are exhibits of model ships, maps and objects brought back from the voyage.
The Sala de Banderas has flags of the nations of South America and a casket of earth from each country.
In Palos de la Frontera people interested in the Columbus story should also visit the 15th century Iglesia San Jorge, where the explorer heard mass before departing.
The Muelle de las Carabelas (Harbor of the Caravels) has full-size replicas of the three ships that made of Columbus’ fleet. Visitors can go on board to see the cramped living quarters. An adjacent museum displays more information on Columbus and his crew with the help of videos.
Also on the Columbus trail (Lugares Colombinos) is the small town of Moguer. Columbus prayed here at the 14th century Convento de Santa Clara after his return from his first voyage to the Americas.
Moguer is also worth visiting for its 16th century hermitage, the Nuestra Señora de Montemayor (Iglesia Parroquial Nuestra Señora de la Granada) and the Casa Museo Zenobia Juan Ramón Jiménez, dedicated to the 20th century Spanish poet and Nobel laureate.
The Muelle de Riotinto is a cast-iron dock built in 1876 on the riverfront in Huelva by the Rio Tinto company. The dock was used to ship millions of tons of copper ore from the company’s mines which were connected by a railway. The structure was designed by British architect George Barclay Bruce.
The Barrio Reina Victoria is a slightly bizarre piece of England transported to Andalusia. Around 70 houses built for the expats at Rio Tinto line the streets here. The architecture is an eclectic mix of Andalusian and British “Garden City” styles.
Minas de Riotinto
There is a similar group of houses out at the Barrio Inglés de Bella Vista near the Rio Tinto mines. Some of the houses here have been converted into places to stay such as Old England House and Riotinto Victorian House. There is also an English cemetery here, too, the Cementerio Inglés de Bella Vista.
The Museo Minero is housed in the building that was once the hospital for Rio Tinto’s employees. It is dedicated to the history of mining and metallurgy in the area from the Romans until the mines closed in 2001. The 200 meter-long reproduction of the Roman mine is a highlight along with the displays on the railway that carried the ores from the mines.
Casa 21, built in 1885 is a preserved house from the late 19th century complete with period furniture and information on the new sports the British introduced to Spain, namely billiards, football, cricket, golf, tennis and polo.
El Tren de la Luna is a 22 km ride on a former mining train along the Rio Tinto during the summer months. Tickets should be purchased in advance for this popular and fun experience.
Southeast of Huelva are the beaches and remote sand dunes lying between the towns of Mazagón and Matalascañas. There are walking trails and boat trips to explore the area and kite surfing is popular, too. In Matalascañas the Gran Hotel del Coto is the largest hotel.
Rio Tinto first developed Playa de Punta Umbría for its employees but nowadays it is popular with Spanish holidaymakers. The British colonial style holiday homes built for Rio Tinto staff have all gone, though one has been recreated and houses the Casa Museo de los Ingleses.
Doñana National Park
Doñana National Park is a vast area of marshland and sand dunes east of Huelva and southwest of Sevilla. The protected environment is home to colonies of flamingo in the winter months, fallow dear, eagles and a small population of the very rare Spanish lynx. Visitor numbers are controlled but environmentally-friendly tours of the park are a must if you are staying in the area.
Various visitor centers have information on the park including at La Rocina and Palacio del Acebrón.
Romería de El Rocío
The Romería de El Rocío is a huge festival that takes place in the small village of El Rocío during Pentecost. An estimated one million people make the pilgrimage grouped in confraternities and often in traditional costume to honor the Virgen del Rocío (aka the White Dove or Queen of the Marshes). Some arrive by car, on foot on by horse-drawn carriage. Several days of feasting, drinking and street dancing take place before the statue of the Virgin is brought from the Santuario de la Virgen del Rocío.
Niebla is a center of the El Condado wine-growing region. The town has a Roman bridge and a ruined Moorish castle with impressive walls. Wine-producing villages nearby include Bollullos Par del Condado and Parma del Condado.
Recreativo de Huelva, the oldest football club in Spain, is based in the city. The club was founded by two Scottish workers at the Rio Tinto mines in 1889.
Huelva Tourist Offices
Plaza del Punto, S/N, 21003
Tel: 959 54 18 17
Hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 2 pm.
Calle Jesús Nazareno, 21, 21001
Tel: 959 65 02 00
Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7.30 pm; Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 9.30 am to 3 pm.
Getting to & from Huelva
A bus links the resorts of the Algarve with Seville in Spain. The buses, jointly operated by Eva and Damas leave Lagos early in the morning, calling in Portimao 30 minutes later, Lagoa, Albufeira (after about one hour) and then Faro then taking about 3 hours and 20 minutes to reach Seville via Olhão, Tavira, Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Spanish border, then to Ayamonte, Huelva and then Sevilla Bus Station in Plaza de Armas.
There are local buses from Huelva to Aracena, Isla Cristina, La Rábida, Mazagón, Moguer, Matalascañas, Minas de Riotinto and Palos. Long distance buses connect Huelva with Madrid.
Huelva has rail connections to Sevilla, Cordoba and Madrid.
From the east Huelva is 90 km on the A49 highway from Sevilla. Journey time is about an hour or more. Ayamonte is just 40 minutes (60 km). Badajoz is 234 km to the north on the A-435.
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Huelva Hotel, Apartment, & Hostel Accommodation
There is a wide range of accommodation available in Huelva and the surrounding towns and beaches. The following is a recommended selection, listed from high-end to budget.
Hotel Exe Tartessos is located next to the Casa Colón Exhibition Centre. There is a restaurant and free Wi-Fi.
NH Luz Huelva has rooms with balconies, a restaurant and cocktail bar.
The Senator Huelva offers three star accommodation close to the railway station.
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Some recommended restaurants in Huelva include Cosas Buenas at Calle de Severo Ochoa N° 30, Masero on Av. Martín Alonso Pinzón and Restaurante Azabache on Calle Vázquez López.
Vegetarians should head for La Grosera which serves a variety of vegan pastries and soy milk.
There are many restaurants bars and cafes in Huelva. Try Mandala Mirador in Huelva or Vapu Bar in Mazagón.
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Other places to visit in the Algarve region of Portugal include Albufeira, Alcoutim, Aljezur, Alvor, Cabanas, Cacela Velha, Faro, Ferragudo, Fuseta, Lagos, Loulé, Monchique, Olhão, Portimão, Praia da Rocha, Sagres, Silves, Vilamoura and Vila Real de Santo Antonio.