Best Places to Visit in Andalusia: Advice from a British expat and travel blogger about the best places in Andalusia. Includes advice on what to see in Andalusia, top Andalusia attractions, and the best things to do in Andalusia.
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Best Places to Visit in Andalusia: Start Here for a Quick Overview of the Best of Andalusia
If you’re planning your Andalusia travel and are wondering where to go and what to do in Andalusia, start with our quick overview of this Andalusia travel guide.
We’ve added detailed info about all the best places in Andalusia in our Andalusia travel guide later on in this post, but we also wanted to provide a quick-guide summary of what’s covered as well. Each of the locations and activities is ‘clickable’, and will take you to more detailed info about that section below.
Andalusia Guide Overview: An Overview of the Andalusia Must See Places, and Best Things to do in Andalusia Spain.
- Introduction to Andalusia: A quick overview of the regions of Andalusia, weather, and why you should visit this lovely region of southern Spain.
- Where to Stay in Andalusia: 5 Cities to Base Yourself in Andalusia: If you’re looking to base yourself somewhere in Andalusia, start with these 5 cities, and plan your trip from there. These also make great main stops on an Andalusia road trip.
- Seville: A place like no other, we dare you not to fall in love with the orange tree-lined streets, tapas bars, and beautiful buildings.
- Granada: Home to the famous Alhambra de Granada, Granada is a mix of cultures and history. Get lost in the lovely Albaicin, and count how many different views of the Alhambra you can find.
- Cordoba: Come for the Great Mosque of Cordoba, stay for the charming patios, wonderful food, and beautiful old city.
- Malaga: At one end of the Costa del Sol, Malaga has distinguished itself as a hub of modern culture, with more than 30 museums to keep you busy when you’re finished with sun and sea.
- Cadiz: A bit further off the tourist trail than some others, Cadiz is well worth the time and effort. With a beautiful old town and lovely seaside, Cadiz is also a great base from which to visit some of the white towns.
- Where to Go in Andalusia: Cities, Towns, & Villages to Visit: Get out of the main tourist cities with visits to smaller cities, as well as lovely towns, and villages. Many of these spots can be visited from one of the larger “base” cities of Andalusia.
- Jaen: A hidden gem with few tourists, Jaen’s beautiful parador alone makes it worth the visit. It’s also the perfect jumping off point for visits to the UNESCO towns of Úbeda and Baeza.
- Carmona: A pretty town of 30,000 between Seville and Cordoba, Carmona makes a great day trip from either city, or a nice smaller spot to base yourself if you’re not a city person.
- Ronda: One of Malaga’s famed white towns, Ronda’s dramatic scenery is a top reason to visit.
- More White Towns: Arcos de la Frontera and Grazalema in Cadiz province are two more lovely white towns you might want to add to your itinerary.
- Villages of the Alpujarras: Not officially part of the ‘white villages’, the villages of Granada’s Alpujarras are just as beautiful, if not even more so.
- Alcala la Real: Halfway between the cities of Granada and Jaen, Alcala la Real is home to the impressive La Mota Fortress
- Where to Go in Andalusia: Best Coasts & Beaches to Visit: If you’re after some sun and sea, Andalusia has a range of options. Explore the Costa de la Luz, Costa del Sol, or Costa Tropical. And visit the impressive Caves of Nerja while you’re at it!
- Don’t Miss Andalusia: Top 10 Highlights & Experiences: If you’re in need of some Andalusia trip planning inspiration, we’ve put together a list of 10 Andalusia highlights — must-dos on any trip through the region!
- Eat & Shop in Andalusia: Ideas for gastronomic travellers and shoppers
- Tips for Renting a Car in Andalusia: Andalusia is made for road-tripping. We’ve listed a few reasons why we think having your own car is the way to go in this region, and our best tips for finding a rental.
Best Places to Visit in Andalusia: An Introduction to the Weather and Regions of Andalusia
Andalusia, or Andalucia as it’s spelled in Spanish, is unique and diverse. A multi-province region spanning the southern part of Spain, Andalusia reaches from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west, and from Malaga in the south to Jaen in the north, where Andalusia grazes the borders of Castilla-La Mancha, an autonomous region covering the famous plains of Spain.
With an average of more than 300 days of sunshine each year, Andalusia is a year-round destination. In summer, it’s not unusual for the thermometer to hit 40°C/104°F, or more. In winter, the inland provinces of Cordoba, Jaen and Sevilla can reach 0°C/32°F overnight, while the coasts experience milder and more moderate temperatures throughout the year.
The regions of Andalusia are split into eight areas, some far more famous than others. Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaen, Malaga and Sevilla are some of Andalusia’s most well-known cities, but they are the names of the provinces, too. The city of Granada, for example, is home to the incredible must-visit Alhambra Palace. But the province of Granada also has skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as clear-water beaches and a port along the Costa Tropical.
Each Andalusian province and city is full of culture, history, and traditions; there are fabulous ‘bucket list’ monuments and mouthwatering gastronomy; and, of course, plenty of tapas which need to be tasted on any trip to Andalusia.
If you love the idea of spending your vacation exploring small, sandy coves, then the most westerly province of Almeria, on the Mediterranean coast, might appeal. Europe’s driest region, Almeria is also home to the beautiful and little-known Tabernas Desert.
If full English breakfasts and long (but crowded) sandy beaches sound more appealing, Malaga and the Costa del Sol will suit you perfectly.
The Atlantic province of Huelva, which borders Portugal, is probably the least-known part of Andalusia, yet is home to the famously delicious (and famously expensive) Pata Negra ham, and served as one of Christopher Columbus’ bases while planning his excursions.
Probably the biggest challenge in planning a trip to Andalusia is the amount and diversity of attractions: Roman ruins, Moorish castles, small white-washed hill towns, cosmopolitan cities, sunshine, beaches, natural parks, and small wineries and gastronomy are all on the menu for an Andalusia vacation.
The most difficult thing is choosing where to go and what to do and see in Andalusia!
Where to Base Yourself in Andalusia
Southern Spain is packed full of great places to visit, and after your first trip to the region, we wouldn’t be surprised if you start planning your return.
The most popular ways to visit Andalusia are via road trip — self-driving through the region over a week or (ideally) more — or basing yourself in one or several different cities, visiting smaller towns and regions via day trip. Surely, the most popular three cities in Andalusia are Seville, Granada and Cordoba, and these cities indeed make great spots to base yourself during your Andalusia trip. Malaga and Cadiz are also fantastic stops and cities to base yourself in Andalusia, each with its own unique vibe, with Cadiz seeing fewer tourists than the other four.
Seville (Sevilla) – Seville is an absolute must-visit on any trip to southern Spain, and is one of the best cities in Andalusia. Be sure to give yourself several days to soak in a city that is full of highlights.
While many Andalusia guides recommend taking include taking a cruise along the River Guadalquivir, many of the cruises get mediocre reviews, at best. Instead, catch views of the river and city from Puente Isabel II, and then spend your time on some Seville’s many highlights: strolling around the wonderful Plaza de España (one of the many Spanish locations used in Game of Thrones); exploring the different barrios; and spending a day wandering between tapas bars. You’ll probably want to dedicate one day to the fantastic historic centre, which includes the Giralda tower and its jaw-dropping views, and the UNESCO-listed Alcazar Fortress and Gardens.
Top Rated Seville Tours
Flamenco Show at Museo del Baile Rated 4.8 / 5 from 30+ Reviews
Alcazar, Cathedral & la Giralda Guided Tour
Spanish Cooking Class with Dinner
Cathedral and Giralda Tower Guided Tour
Top Rated Seville Hotels
Suites Murillo (Affordable Boutique)
Suites Murillo — A lovely-looking affordable boutique hotel with excellent reviews. Located right next to the Seville Cathedral and Reales Alcázares — two of Seville’s must sees — it has a rooftop terrace with stunning views. The rooms look beautiful, with nice added touches to keep you comfortable, such as slippers and a bathrobe. This is one of the most frequently booked hotels in Seville from Wandertooth.
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Hotel Amadeus & La Musica (Mid-Range)
Hotel Amadeus & La Musica — A mid-range 3-star with a rooftop pool, right in the heart of Santa Cruz, this hotel is just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. With a lovely rooftop terrace, and great reviews from past guests, this is another fantastic option. If I had to choose between this hotel and Suites Murillo, I’d go for the cheaper of the two, as they both seem great!
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Hotel Rey Alfonso X (High-End)
Hotel Rey Afonso X — 4-star hotel with luxurious touches, this hotel is just a few blocks from the Cathedral and the Real Alcázar, and is super convenient for all the main sites. With a lovely outdoor pool to beat the summer heat, one guest review mentions the fantastic coffee in the mornings…always worth bonus points in my mind!
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If you need more help choosing the best area to stay in Seville, check out our Seville Neighborhood Guide, complete with hotel ideas for each barrio. And if you’re wondering what to do in Seville, check out our Guide to a Perfect Day in Seville.
Get a Free PDF of Our Perfect Day in Seville Itinerary
Granada – The fabulous and famous city of Granada, home to the incredible Alhambra fortress, is also a must-do.
For the Alhambra, book your tickets well in advance so you can see the Nasrid Palace, as visits are done by tightly-controlled reservations. From the Alhambra, wander down the meandering narrow lanes of the picturesque Albaicin quarter, poking your head into open doorways in search of carmens, which are pretty flower-filled patios and oh-so-quaint little museums that are open to the public. And be sure to catch a glimpse of the Alhambra from afar at the Miraror de San Nicolás.
All around the city, keep your eye out (and your camera ready) for pretty pomegranate symbols; granada means ‘pomegranate’ in Spanish, and is the symbol of the city. And be sure to give yourself enough time to pop into the bazaar-style shops, which may make you feel as though you’ve been transported to north Africa.
Top Rated Granada Tours
Skip the Line: Alhambra & Generalife Tour
Albaicín and Sacromonte 2.5-Hour Walking Tour
1.5-Hour Hammam Arabian Bath Experience
Alpujarra Experience: Mountain Villages
Top Rated Granada Hotels
Room Mate Leo (Affordable Design Hotel)
Room Mate Leo — A well like and very well reviewed 3-star design hotel with amazing views of the old city and the Alhambra from the rooftop terrace. It’s located in a traditional (but updated) building, and they offer free wifi device to take with you throughout the city so you’re always connected to wifi. It’s also located on a pedestrian street, which is a huge plus.
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NH Collection (4-Star Chain)
NH Collection Granada Victoria — An upscale chain hotel located right in Granada’s city center, this hotel receives excellent reviews from former guests, with special mentions of the great location, high level of comfort, and friendly staff. Located in a stunning building with beautiful and modern rooms, it seems like an overall great option. Note: one complaint we read was about the noise of the city centre.
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Parador de Granada (Restored Convent Within Alhambra)
Parador de Granada — A luxury property set within a restored 15th-century convent within the Alhambra’s grounds, this is a lovely splurge to make a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Alhambra even more magical. If you’re here for a special occasion, or simply want something memorable, this is a lovely choice. Do note that, while the hotel gets exceptional reviews, the restaurant gets mixed comments: worth it once for the ambience, maybe not for the food (vis-a-vis the price).
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If you’re still unsure of where to stay in Granada, our Granada Neighborhood Guide should help! And if you’re planning to visit the Alhambra, be sure to read our Tips for Visiting the Alhambra post, which answers the most common questions and explains the most confusing parts!
Get Our Free Map for Visiting the Alhambra Here
Cordoba (Córdoba) – Less visited than Seville and Granada, Cordoba is most-famous for the stunning Great Mosque of Cordoba (Mezquita de Córdoba) and UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Cordoba. Like Seville, Cordoba is flat and easy to explore, with the River Guadalquivir running through the city. The Mezquita is a must-see: for the most serene and magical experience, try to go in the first hour after opening or last hour before closing, as you’ll quite likely have the place to yourself. Beyond the mosque, the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter form a lovely maze to lose yourself in, and will tempt you to imagine how life used to be.
‘Patios’ are also a highlight in Cordoba: due to the climate, many homes are built around beautiful central courtyards filled with flowers and unique decorations. Most spectacular in the spring, and in particular during the annual May Patio Flower Competition when many of the city’s private patios open to the public in a glorious riot of colour and charm, other patios can be seen throughout the year. Some of my favourite patios open to year-round visits are at the Renaissance palace, Palacio de Viana, which has 12 individual patios, as well as an antiques and art museum.
For a unique gastronomic experience head to Mercado Victoria. A huge range of stalls serving everything from oysters to steaks to sushi will let you taste all sorts of local flavors and tapas. Buy your drink from the bar and head to individual stalls to choose the best-looking morsels.
Top Rated Cordoba Tours
Great Mosque Cathedral of Cordoba History Tour
Complete 4-Hour Tour of Córdoba
Córdoba at Night 2-Hour Guided Walking Tour
Half-Day Medina Azahara Guided Tour
Top Rated Cordoba Hotels
Hotel Madinat (Charming Boutique)
Hotel Madinat — A beautiful and recently refurbished hotel minutes from the Great Mosque, stand-out features for this hotel include a terrace, an on-site hammam, a nice bar to unwind at, and bathtubs in every room. The decor is a nice mix of fresh and rustic — think crisp white walls and linens with natural wood furnishings. Outstanding reviews!
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Eurostars Palace (Modern 5-Star)
Eurostars Palace — A 5-star chain with a slight resort vibe to it, this hotel in the center of Cordoba features a rooftop pool, large and contemporary-looking rooms, and spa tubs. Great location to the Mosque and Jewish Quarter, and overall good reviews mentioning location, comfort and staff.
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Soho Boutique Capuchinos (Lovely Boutique)
Soho Boutique Capuchinos — A fresh and beautiful-looking small boutique hotel within walking distance of the old center, past guests rave above the staff, comfort, and decor at this place. Featuring a sun terrace, hammam, hot tub, and sauna on-site, it’s in a quiet and relaxing location, with easy access to everything.
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Malaga (Málaga) – Once an old and run-down port town, Malaga has emerged in recent decades as a sun-soaked provincial capital known for style and culture. Betting heavily on the draw of cultural tourism, the city invested €100m in developing cultural attractions, and now boasts more than 30 museums, many of which contain world-class collections: The Pompidou, the Picasso Museum, the Centre for Contemporary Art, the Carmen Thyssen Museum, and a Malaga location of the St Petersburg State Russian Museum. Add to that beach bars on the Mediterranean, narrow old-town streets, an unfinished cathedral, one of the best-preserved alcazaba (fortress) in Spain and a lovely Roman amphitheatre, and you get a lovely destination that mixes beachside and urban, historic and modern culture.
Staying in the heart of the old town, a perfect day in Malaga includes a visit to the fantastic Picasso Museum, lunch on the beach, a stroll through the maze-like streets of the old town, and an al-fresco dinner. Stop by the tallest hotel in the city, the Marriott’s AC Hotel Malaga Palacio, for an after-dinner cocktail at the city’s highest rooftop bar, offering wonderful views of the cathedral and Mediterranean. And be sure to visit El Pimpi, a traditional bar and Malaga institution, during your stay.
Top Rated Malaga Tours
Evening Wine and Tapas Tour
Complete Malaga Walking Tour
Private Segway Tour of Málaga
Half-Day Excursion to the Caminito del ReyRated 4.8 / 5 from 195+ Reviews
Top Rated Malaga Hotels
Room Mate Valeria (Stylish Central 4-Star)
Room Mate Valeria — Part of the fresh and funky chain of Room Mate boutique hotels, this property gets rave reviews from past guests, with specific mentions of cleanliness, decor, the rooftop bar, comfort and location. Decor throughout the hotel is bold and beautiful, with strong colours and geometric patterns. Chic and well-located!
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Gran Hotel Miramar GL (Beachfront 5-Star)
Gran Hotel Miramar GL — With a renovation completed in Dec. 2016/Jan. 2017, this 5-star hotel screams elegant. With opulent common areas and fresh and elegant rooms, this beachfront hotel is a perfect base in Malaga if you’re looking for a little luxury. Stand-out features include a spa, hot springs bath, outdoor pool, sun terrace, and on-site restaurant.
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Ibis Malaga Centro Ciudad (Cheap & Cheerful)
Ibis Malaga Centro Ciudad — A relatively central and affordable hotel with great reviews from past guests, the Ibis is just across the river from the old center, making it a perfect base if you’re on a budget (or want to save all your Euros for tapas!). Clean and comfortable with friendly staff, this place looks basic and simple – exactly what you’d expect of an Ibis.
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Cadiz (Cádiz) – Located on a spit of land reaching into the Atlantic, Cadiz is a must-visit, especially if you like wine.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Spain (and Europe), Cadiz is packed full of history, culture, and gastronomy. With a romantic old town dating back to 1100 BC, Cadiz is a charming and under-visited part of Andalusia. The 18th century city walls and Castillo San Sebastian, which you might recognise from the James Bond film Die Another Day, are highlights of a visit to Cadiz, as are the regional wineries and many restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood.
Using Cadiz as a base, we’d recommend taking interesting day trips to Jerez de la Frontera and Puerto de Santa Maria, as well as the nearby white towns.
Top Rated Cadiz Tours
Medieval Tour of Cadiz
Walking Tour and Market Visit
Hop On/Hop Off 24 Hour Ticket
Top Rated Cadiz Hotels
Santa María 12 Boutique Apartamentos (Historic Apartments)
Santa María 12 Boutique Apartamentos — A centrally-located apartment complex with clean, bright and comfortable apartments, this property is just 5 minutes from the cathedral and 10 to the beach. Past guests appreciate the friendly owner, quiet location, and spacious apartments.
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Hotel La Catedral (Central 3-Star)
Hotel La Catedral — Located in a fantastic, central location, a stand-out feature of this property is the rooftop plunge pool with stunning views of the old town. Past guests rate the friendly staff and large and comfortable rooms highly. Overall, this hotel offers good value for money in a great location.
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Hotel Boutique Convento Cádiz (Converted Convent)
Hotel Boutique Convento — As the name suggests, this hotel is in a converted convent. Well located in the city centre, the building itself is jaw-droppingly beautiful, with marble columns, large rooms, and comfortable beds. Within walking distance of everything you need, and plenty of restaurants and cafés nearby.
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Best Places to Visit in Andalusia: Other Places to Visit in Andalusia
Beyond some the most popular tourist cities of Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Malaga, and Cadiz, there are many smaller cities, towns, villages and rural tourism routes worth your time in Andalusia. Once you’ve exhausted the most popular cities, check out some of the cities and towns listed below.
Jaen (Jaén) – Sitting high above the city, the fabulous castle/hotel Parador* de Santa Catalina (which you can spend the night in) makes Jaen worthy of a visit. Perched on a hill of the same name, you can visit the ruined castle and visitor centre, as well as take a walkway to a huge monumental cross with panoramic views of the city, olive groves stretching into the distance, and a backdrop of the Sierra Mágina mountains.
If you visit Jaen, a trip to the small Renaissance-era cities of Úbeda and Baeza is a must. About 30 minutes from Jaen city, they are only 8km/13mi from one another, and are twinned UNESCO-listed sites. Far less touristy than Cordoba, Granada and Seville, Úbeda and Baeza offer lovely historic centres packed-full of sandstone monuments. If you only have time do one, Baeza has a quainter and friendlier feel, but Úbeda is more awe-inspiring, with a huge stone-lion-guarded plaza surrounded by fabulous buildings. If you’re interested in gastronomy, both are a good bet!
*In Spain, parado refers to a luxury hotel in a converted historic building, such as a castle or fortress.
Copyright: bbsferrari / 123RF Stock Photo
Jaen is about 90km from Granada, and is reachable in just over an hour on the A44 highway. Baeza is an additional 40 minutes’ drive from Jaen, and Ubeza is another 15 minutes beyond Baeza. If you don’t have a car, you can typically find cheap day rentals through Holiday Autos (that’s the website we usually use). It’s also possible to do this by bus with Alsa Bus, but it may be cheaper to rent a car if there’s two or more of you.
Copyright: milosk / 123RF Stock Photo
Carmona – Situated off the A4 highway that connects Seville and Cordoba, Carmona could serve as a pretty small town base from which to visit Seville and Cordoba, or as a day trip from either. Highlights of Carmona include the 15th century tower, Roman necropolis, lovely old city, and the Parador, located in a gorgeous old 14th century Arab Fortress. Just by wandering around Carmona, you’re sure to find one lovely architectural beauty after another.
Carmona is about 40km from Seville, and is reachable in just over 30 minutes on the A4 highway. From Cordoba, it’s just over a one-hour drive to Carmona. If you book far enough in advance, you can probably get a one-day car rental for under €40 through Holiday Autos. The bus from Seville to Carmona costs less than €3 and takes 30 to 40 minutes. Check out Alsa Bus for tickets and schedules.
Ronda – Cleaved in the middle by the spectacular El Tajo gorge, Ronda is surely one of Malaga province’s most scenic small towns. The rugged scenery and winding mountain roads draw tourists from around the world, many of whom make a day trip from Malaga or Marbella (but also lovely to stay over for a night or two).
See the enormous Puente Nuevo, the new bridge spanning El Tajo between the old and new towns. Take in the views from the famous Ronda Balcony, visit ancient bull ring, and take your pick of several fascinating museums, including the Bandit Museum (Museo del Bandolero) and the Ronda Guitar House, which hosts live guitarists nearly every day.
Photo (viaPixabay) is licensed under CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
Ronda is popular enough as a destination that you have a few choices in getting there. The easiest option is visiting Ronda (and sometimes other white villages) as a day trip. Day trips from Seville and from Malaga are relatively common. Alternatively, if you have your own car, or are willing to rent one, you can drive to Ronda. It’s just under 2 hours from Seville, and 1.5 hours from Malaga.
The White Towns
Photo via PixaBay
Route of the White Towns – A collection of 19 pretty mountain towns spanning Malaga and Cadiz provinces, you can DIY a visit to one or two of them or, if you’re feeling ambitious, make it a challenge to visit all of them (which is probably overkill). Arcos de la Frontera is probably the most famous and dramatic in Cadiz, and is a great choice if you can only visit one; it’s also considered the ‘gateway’ to the other Pueblos Blancos. Nearby Grazalema is another great bet.
You can drive from Cadiz to Arcos de la Fronterra in about 45 minutes. Arcos to Grazmela is another hour or so. If you have a car, or don’t want to rent one for US $30 or so. We weren’t able to find bus info online, but that doesn’t mean a bus doesn’t exist, and it’s probably worth asking around or at your hotel.
Villages of the Alpujarras – On the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Granada province, there is a collection of white villages and towns just as or maybe more beautiful than the ‘official white villages’ in gorgeous walking country. Each settlement is lovely and unique, many still bearing Arabic architecture. We’d suggest checking out Trevelez, the highest town on mainland Spain, and very lovely!
Photo via PixaBay
Honorable Mention: Alcala la Real
Alcala la Real – If you’re a castle lover, add Alcala la Real to your list. Just over the border from Granada in Jaen province, it’s home to La Mota Fortress, the best monument along the Route of Castles and Battles (other than the Alhambra itself). It’s halfway between the cities of Jaen and Granada, about an hour’s drive from either one.
Where to Go in Andalusia: Beach & Coast in Andalusia
Best Places to Visit in Andalusia: Costa del Sol, Costa de la Luz, and Costa Tropical
At the south of Andalusia lies a long stretch of beautiful coastline, meeting the Atlantic to the west of Gibraltar, and the western part of the Mediterranean (Alboran Sea) to the east.
Each stretch of coast has its own name, many of which inspire a visit on branding alone: there’s the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light), stretching from the towns of Nerja in the east to Manilva in the west along Cadiz’s coast; the Costa del Sol (Coast of Sun), running more or less from Gibraltar to Malaga; and the Costa Tropical in Granada province.
The most famous and popular spots along Andalusia’s Coast include Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola and Marbella, as well as the luxury-focused celebrity favorite of Puerto Banus. Unfortunately, these are also the most busy and touristy spots.
If you want to get a little bit off the beaten path, Nerja is very busy, too, but still has plenty of charm. Visit the Balcon de Europa (hotel) for great views, and explore the area for tiny coves and a long sandy beach. Sitting at the edge of mountains, there are some interesting geographical features, including the incredible Cuevas de Nerja (caves of Nerja), which are amazing to experience.
Rachel’s favourite town on the Costa del Sol is Estepona in the west; it’s quieter, less commercial, and has a charming less-spoilt old town. Being a little further away from Malaga International airport also means there are fewer families that holiday there.
Don’t Miss Andalusia: Regional Highlights and Top Experiences
1.Catch A Flamenco Show – The raw passion, talent and pure emotion of flamenco has the power to mesmerize…if you catch a good performance. Be sure to find a show that includes dance (and not just singing). Granada and Seville are top places to catch flamenco, but you’ll also find shows in other places around Andalusia. Join a Flamenco ‘tour’ in Granada, Seville, or Cordoba.
2.Spend An Evening Filling Up On Tapas – This one almost goes without saying…almost. While you’ll be hard pressed not to come across tapas bars in Andalusia, for a really fun experience that combines eating with learning, we’d suggest you book a tapas tour. In the larger cities, especially, it can be hard to choose the best spots out of so many options. Go with an expert to be sure you choose the house specialties at each stop, and stop into the best of the best bars. Some tours include both flamenco and tapas experiences. Join a tapas tour in Seville, Granada, or Malaga.
3.Soak Up The History At The Alhambra Palace – A jaw-droppingly beautiful complex with a fascinating history, be sure to book well in advance and allow plenty of time to explore this massive complex. Before or after visiting the Alhambra complex itself, be sure to catch the lovely views of the Alhambra from the River Darro and/or Mirador de San Nicolas. If you want to get all the history, consider taking a small-group guided tour.
If you go in June, The International Festival of Music and Dance hosts live evening concerts in the Alhambra grounds. Tickets sell out quickly, so stay on top of event updates on their website.
4.Visit the Mezquita in Córdoba – If you visit during one of the quieter times of day, the corresponding peace and silence of the moment will increase the awesomeness of this enormous temple of worship, and the beauty of the orangery patios. Like the Alhambra, visiting with a good guide can make a big difference to your experience.
5.Visit At Least One White Village – While there is a designated route of white villages, in truth many of the villages and small towns all over Andalusia are white and lovely, sometimes even more so than those on the route. The real problem is that everywhere is worth a visit, and so many interior mountain towns are charming. If you have a car, or are willing to rent one, Rachel’s favourite is Setenil de las Bodegas, a place she’s been to twice, and wouldn’t hesitate to visit for a third time! If you’re without a car, you can access Ronda by bus, or take organized trips from the major cities. Check out white villages tours from Malaga or Seville.
6.Watch An Andalusian Horse Show – The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez de la Frontera is devoted to conserving the tradition and culture of Andalusian horses and dressage, and it’s possible to visit on a tour (from Seville) that combines sherry tasting and a visit around Jerez de la Frontera (or on your own). Also, the Royal Stables in Cordoba hold shows, but check well in advance for times and dates, as they can be a bit erratic.
7.Experience Traditional Hammam Baths – Hammams are another lovely legacy left over from the Moorish times, and a highly recommended experience at that. A hammam experience includes a visit to beautifully-styled baths (kept as close to the originals as possible), combining dips in cold, warm and hot pools with a massage and hot tea. My favorite combo is mint tea and the Kessa massage! Granada is the best spot to experience a traditional Hammam!
8.Test your Bravery at Caminito del Rey – Nature lovers and walkers will love this, but consider yourself forewarned: those with a fear of heights most definitely will not! The stunning Caminito del Rey was once called the world’s most dangerous walkway, but the old path has been completely renewed to create a hanging walkway surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. You don’t really need to be brave to experience the Caminito del Ray, but you must be willing to wear a hairnet and helmet! You can easily arrange a tour from Malaga, or go on your own. The Malaga Council has a great website about the walk, with loads of info to help plan.
9.Soak up the sun – With 161 kms (100 miles) of coastline and loads of blue flag beaches to choose from, there are plenty of spots to soak up the sun in Andalusia. If you like small, rocky coves then head to the Mediterranean coast of Almeria and the area known as Cabo de Gata. The opposite coast of Cadiz offers long, flat sands where, if you choose the right time of year, you can see horse races along the Atlantic beaches during the The Sanlucar Horse Racing on Las Piletas Beach. It’s held each year during August, but exact dates vary from year-to-year.
10.Road Trip the Region – With loads of small villages and towns worth visiting, the best way to experience Andalusia is by a self-drive road trip, giving you the freedom to go where you want when you want! Andalusia is still a relatively affordable region, and you can get exceptional deals on car rentals in off-season or shoulder season if you use an aggregator like Holiday Autos (I was able to find one-week rentals for less than $100 in February).
Unique Andalusia: Best Andalusian Souvenirs
For shopaholics and those hoping to pick up a unique Andalusia souvenir, you’re in luck. These are some of our top picks:
- While the brightly-colored Spanish ceramics make popular, fun and beautiful gifts and souvenirs, Rachel prefers the more practical partly-glazed and plain brown dishes that can go from oven (or microwave) to the table as a serving dish. She uses them endlessly and they come in all shapes and sizes.
- In the ‘White Village’ area, especially around Ubrique, there are many leather factories worth a visit. In addition to many finely-made off-the-shelf items, some of them will do custom work as well.
- If you’re shopping for children, it’s possible to pick up some lovely traditional clothing, such as mini polkadot flamenco dresses and Cordoban flat hats.
- Of course, food is a wonderful souvenir from a region so steeped in fantastic gastronomy. Local olive oils are always a nice bet, as is Spanish jamón. Before you blow the rest of your Euros on food items to take home, however, note that bringing food back can be tricky, and can result in disaster. Check what your home country’s customs and border agency has to say about it before you open your wallet: USA / Canada.
Gastronomic Andalusia: Must Try Foods in Andalusia
In a region steeped in gastronomic traditions, where olive trees dot the land as far as the eye can see, and unique wines and meats form an integral part of the culture, it’s hard for food-motivated travelers not to get excited about all the foods on offer.
Here are some of our favorites and ‘must tries’ on any trip to Andalusia.
- Olive Oil — I suggest visitors experience an olive oil tasting in Andalusia. While it’s not quite as fun as a wine tasting, it’s an interesting experience, especially if you’re new to oils. Be sure to try the fresh ‘green’ oils.
- Jamón — Spanish ham is mouth-wateringly good, and the best-of-the-best is Jamon Iberico Bellota. While it’s also the most expensive, it’s possible to get a small tasting plate for an affordable price in most tapas bars. Other great cured meat options include Lomo Iberico and Fuet, which is similar to Italian Salami.
- Cheese — Be sure to try a huge range of goat’s cheeses while in Andalusia. And if that’s not enough, try to time your visit with one of the many Cheese Fairs around the region for a great sampling session.
- Tortilla — Spanish tortilla is nothing like its Mexican namesake, and is more like a potato and egg frittata or omelette.
- Paella — Although paella originated in Valencia, today it can be found on menus in Andalusia, too. When freshly prepared, it’s fabulous, but unfortunately many restaurants reheat it. My recommendation is to look at the menu: if it lists a preparation or waiting time, then go for it; if not, choose something else on the menu.
- Arroz Negro — If you like Paella, give this rice dish a try. It’s black from the squid ink added to it, and is far more more delicious than it first looks.
- Gambas al Ajillo — A wonderful prawns in garlic dip dish that is served with fresh bread to soak up all the delicious juices.
- Pimientos de Padron — Delicious (and cheeky) little green peppers that are roasted and blistered to be wonderfully sweet. I call them cheeky, because every so often one will deliver a spicy shock!
- Gazpacho — This chilled tomato and cucumber soup is just the thing to beat the heat of an Andalusian summer.
- Salmorejo — A Cordoban specialty, be sure to try this creamy smooth cousin of Gazpacho when in the region. It’s a tomato and garlic dip served with chopped hard-boiled egg and jamón, and is my absolute favourite dish.
In addition to lovely mains and tapas, Andalusia is the perfect place to try out a traditional every day breakfast of tostado con aceite y tomate – toasted bread baguettes with olive oil and freshly grated tomato. Every bar does it, and every version is deliciously different.
On weekends and special occasions, or if you have a serious sweet tooth, be sure to try chocolate con churros. Churros are long, thin doughnut sticks that you break up and dunk into sugar and a chocolate sauce.
One final tip: if you’re travelling on a budget, it’s typical in some provinces (including Granada and Jaen) to offer free tapas if you order beer, wine or soft drinks. Similar to the aperitivo tradition in parts of Italy, it’s a great way to try different bites without spending too much.
If you’re a food motivated traveller, check out this post about some of Spain’s best food cities, including one in Andalusia.
While it’s possible to “do” Andalusia by packaged day trips and/or public transportation, renting a car and visiting the region as a road trip holiday will give you way more freedom. In fact, we’ve added an Andalusia road trip to our 2017 travel wish list, so we can go back to the region and re-visit our favorite spots, as well as check out the places we didn’t get to last time.
Here are some of the reasons we’d suggest you rent a car in Andalusia:
- Hotels with Parking. Many of the hotels in Andalusia are made for road trippers and Europeans taking a driving holiday. While some of the hotels right in the old and historic city centers lack parking, many of the hotels have great parking options. If you use Booking.com to search for hotels, you can set your search preferences (on the left-hand menu) to narrow search results to places with car parking.
- It’s Affordable. Spain is still an incredibly affordable holiday destination, and it’s possible to get a rental car for a week for less than $100 US (in shoulder or off-season). If you book early enough, you can rent a car during the height of the summer for around $200 US for the base price, which is a great deal! We use Holiday Autos to find car rentals in Europe. It’s an aggregator, meaning it combs the Internet to find the best deals and value.
- It Will Give You Way More Flexibility. While tours from the main cities of Seville, Granada and Malaga are quite common, they don’t cover everything. For example, if you want to explore the Alpujarras Villages, you’d be best to have your own vehicle to really get into it.
Our biggest tip in renting a car for Andalusia is to be sure your car has unlimited mileage. We’ve rented cars a few times in Spain and Portugal, and last time we booked in a hurry and accidentally booked a terrible deal with limited kms. We ended up returning it early and switching to a company with unlimited kms, costing us hundreds of extra dollars. If you plan on taking the car across the border to Portugal, note you’ll have to arrange that in advance and get some paperwork from the rental company. Note, Portugal also has a lot of toll highways, which will add to the cost. Andalusia has very few toll roads.
Finally, we always book through an aggregator, which seems to have gotten us the best prices in the past. We tend to have most luck with Holiday Autos, but some other options you may want to check out include Auto Europe (it was more expensive for the random Spain test rental I did while writing this, but obviously prices change all the time). Of course it could depend on cities, dates, etc., so it’s worth trying a few aggregators out for your specific situation.
More Reading to Help You Plan Your Spain Trip
- Where to Stay in Barcelona
- Best Day Trips From Barcelona
- Where to Stay in Madrid
- Spain’s Best Food Cities
- Where to Stay in Granada
- Tips For Visiting the Alhambra
- Where to Stay in Seville
- Best Things To Do in Seville
We hope this Andalusia Guide has been helpful for your trip planning! We’ve done our best to ensure everything is correct and helpful, but expect you to do additional research and check current availability and conditions. If you have any more questions, send us a note via Facebook!
We created this guide in collaboration with Rachel Webb, a British expat living in Andalusia and the blogger behind Andalucia Explorer, Luxury Spain Travel and Only Spain ~ Boutique Hotels. Rachel has lived in Andalusia for over 2 decades, and we’re thrilled she agreed to share her tips covering the best places to visit in Andalusia, and what to do while you’re there.
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