Flamenco, Bull Fighting and Sherry, this is probably what pops into your mind first when you think of amazing Andalusia. But there is more to it: find out about the gorgeous places to visit in Spain’s South and why you must go on holiday here!
The autonomous Spanish region of Andalusia is the second largest part of the country (87,000km²) and boasts the largest population with a whopping 8.4 million people living there. Andalusia is especially known for being the birthplace of the flamenco, bullfighting and cherry. The region is lined with four gorgeous coasts – Costa de la Luz, Costa del Sol, Costa Tropical and Costa Almería. The main time to go swimming is from June to September, but even in spring the temperatures are already at a very nice 21°C and people are already hopping into the waters as early as April. Things really heat up in summer with temperatures reaching 40ºC. But did you know that Spain is actually really good for skiing from November to May? In Sierra Nevada the highest mountains are covered in snow the whole year round and skiiers and snowboarders can go off down one of the 40 pistes available – you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Andalusia from A to Z
You’ll be getting a compact summary of the most beautiful towns in Andalusia to give you a great first overview of the region. Want to know more about these cities? Leave a comment below and I’ll get down to business!
When you’re in Almería you’ll almost get the feeling that you’re in north Africa – the whitewashed houses, palm trees and narrow alleyways all add to this feeling. Almería is the town with the most hours of sunshine in the whole of Spain (around 3000), and the sun heats the water up so in winter the sea’s actually warmer than the air! The biggest attraction in this bustling harbour town is the Alcazaba, a walled fort which offers dream-like views of the surrounding area. In the Cabo de Gata nature park the climate is almost Saharan and you’ll be greeted by a desert-like landscape and untouched beaches that look like something out of a dream – you can see for yourself in the pictures! Nearby is the Oasys Mini-Hollywood, a theme park right in the middle of the desert which has faithfully recreated a town from the wild west. Entry is €22.
Almuñécar, a popular place to go swimming, lies on the Costa Tropical. Kiwis, mangoes and avocados are grown here – these and other fruits are all sold daily at the market hall. There’s an excavation site you can visit in the local botanical gardens, and from the viewing point of Castillo San Miquel you can get an awesome view of the 19km-long coastline. The long, clean pebble beaches are unfortunately quite obstructed, which is why you should visit the largest sea aquarium in Andalusia instead, the Acuario Almuñécar. The highlights are the sea horses, and in total there’s around 3,000 sea animals here!
Arcos de la Frontera
Arcos de la Frontera is a well-maintained, whitewashed village which was built on top of a steep cliff. You should definitely visit the Conde de Aguila palace and the Plaza des Cabildo which has a viewing platform, the Mirador de la Peña Nueva.
Benalmádena not only has turquoise blue waters, but also a great harbour called Puerto Marina. The Parque de la Paloma and Castillo de Colomares are also worth seeing. If you’re looking to change things up a bit this is the right place for you – there’s a theme park called Tivoli World and entry is just €16. A particular highlight is a trip up the Teleférico Benalmádena, a lift which leads to wonderful views.
I’m going to share with you first with an important fact: Cádiz is by far the oldest city in Europe! It’s definitely worth taking the time to explore the Old Town and have a walk along the promenade, which is an amazing place to watch some beautiful sunsets. When you’re in the city you should visit the cathedral, the Castillo de Santa Catalina, the town hall, the Falla Theatre and the Iglesia de Santa Cruz. The Castillo San Sébastian should also be on your list of things to see, as well as the city gates. From the Torre Tavira you’ll get stunning views over the city and the sea. A particular highlight in Cádiz is the carnival in February which is something the Andalusians associate with the joy of celebrating and vitality!
The Roman bridge is the most famous landmark of Córdoba and should definitely be on your list. From the former fortress tower (Torre de la Calahorra) you’ll be able to enjoy great views of the bridge and the rest of the city. You should also visit the Mezquita cathedral, an enormous mosque from the former caliphate city. The Museo de Julio Romero de Torres and the Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba is another tip! You can’t end a visit to Córdoba without having been in the Calleja de las Flores, a small side street which is just filled to the brim with flowers! Córdoba is especially pretty during the Patios Festival, where locals compete to create the prettiest patios and courtyards. It’s simply stunning!
Estepona also has a lot on offer. In the Old Town, or Centro Histórico, there are plenty of beautiful alleyways with houses that are decked out with all kinds of cute flower pots. One of these pretty streets is the Plaza don Marco. The marina, along with the adjacent Paseo Martimo de Estepona is by all means worth seeing. Next to the Plaza de Flora is the Selwo Aventura, a spacious zoo and another great tip!
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory just north east of Tarifa, the most southerly point of Spain, and is a tourist attraction for Andalusian holiday makers. The official language here is English, but the majority of the 30,000 inhabitants speak Spanish too. The sovereign territory (which is only 6.5km²!) is most famous for its macaques, the only wild monkey population in Europe! The monkeys live up on the Rock of Gibraltar and originally come from Morocco. Other sights are above all the central cathedral square with its Roman Catholic church and the large harbour around which the Old Town was built up. Don’t travel here by car, as the border controls are often very strict and you’ll more than likely be waiting a long time. Instead, it’s better to drive to the border and go further on foot. Gibraltar can be explored well when going on foot, and this destination is ideal for a day trip.
Being in the Top 3 sights of Spain, the Alhambra is a must-see when you visit Spain. This gorgeous palace is so popular that you really should buy your tickets online before you travel to Granada. Another thing, make sure to make your way to the Alhambra at 8 in the morning… sorry, but the lines can get super long. You can spend around 6 hours in the palace to properly see everything. After that, you can take a relaxing stroll through the city and maybe take a look at the Palacio de Generalife, the cathedral and the Albaicín quarter. If you purchase the Tourist Ticket Bono Turístico Granada you can use the tourist buses for 30% less. And with this one, the entry to the Alhambra is also included. The tickets costs around €30. What adds to the chilled out flair are the young people everywhere.A third of Granada’s population are students – which come as no surprise, as its university is the third biggest in Spain. Can you picture it?
Huelva is less than 50km away from the Portuguese border and is home to 150,000 people. Somewhat separated from the tourist route there aren’t a lot of sights here. However like Cádiz it’s one of the oldest cities in Europe, and it’s where Columbus set sail on his journey to India – and ended up discovering America instead! There are 120 kilometres of beaches around Huelva, the prettiest ones being El Rompido and Isla Canela. Particularly impressive are the untouched sand dune landscapes of the Coto de Doñana National Park. Another highlight just north of Huelva is the Rio Tinto, a red river which winds its way down to the sea.
90km east from Córdoba and 80km north of Granada is Jaén, notable for the Castillo de Santa Catalina and its Arabic influences which can be seen in the Old Town and the public baths. From the Castillo you’ll have a great view of what makes Jaén famous – its olive trees. There are incredible nature reserves in the surrounding area, namely Sierra Magina and Sierra Andajur.
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez is famous in particular for being the birthplace of cherry, known in Spanish as jerez or vino jerez. If you’re paying this town a visit you should definitely go and see the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. In the morning you can watch dressage demonstrations and you can also take a look around the museum and the stables. Horse lovers should definitely visit Jerez in May when the Feria de Caballo – there are horse shows and competitions, flamenco performances and a very special atmosphere! In the centre of Jerez there are also beautiful squares such as the one next to Iglesia del Carmen, the cathedral, and one next to Puerta de Rota. The Festival de Jerez is celebrated at the end of February – it’s a two week flamenco festival with plenty of artists.
Do you just think of ice cream when you hear the word Málaga? We should definitely change that, because in this wonderful city there’s plenty to see! Next to the birthplace and museum of the famous painter Pablo Picasso, it’s worth having a look down the narrow side streets. There you’ll be very likely to meet a few beautiful flamenco dancers. The Alcazaba fortress with its wonderful terraces and waterworks is also worth taking the time to visit. You should also view the Catedrale de la Encarnación and the La Malagueta bullfighting arena – not to see a fight, but just to admire the architecture. It’s certainly impressive, with the arena being able to seat up to 14,000 people! Take pleasant little break in the Jardin Botánico-Histórico La Conception or in the Paseo del Parque. Paseo de la Farola is another fantastic place right next to the water. Last but not least, you should take a detour to the Santuario de la Victoria church and take a look at the inside. You can also explore Málaga with a free audio guide, which can be hired from the tourist information centre at Plaza de la Marina.
Marbella is without a doubt the luxury seaside resort of Spain and as such the Spanish counterpart to the French city of St. Tropez. Marbella is a glamorous resort town, known for being a celebrity magnet and seducing holiday makers. The ‘little white town’ lies on the Costa del Sol and has two beaches altogether, Playa de la Bajadilla and Playa de Fontanilla. You’ll have the chance to catch a glimpse of a few celebrities at the Puerto Banús marina. In the Old Town there’s plenty of cute little side streets with cafés and bars. On the Avenida del Mar there are sculptures from Salvador Dalí every couple of metres – be sure to check out Plaza de Salvador Dalí too! Avenida del Mar leads directly to the Paseo Maritimo promenade, and for 6km you can stroll along the beach and enjoy the views of the sea. You’ll also find a few cafés, restaurants and shops here. At the end of Paseo Maritimo you’ll reach the harbour Puerto Banús, the meeting point for the rich and beautiful. If you want to float amongst the clouds you’ll be able to do just that at La Cabane, Purobeach or Ocean Club Marbella where you can chill out on the sky beds and go for a dip in the designer pools. At Plaza de los Naranjos you’ll be able to see where the square gets its name from – there’s plenty of orange trees where you can take a break from the summer sun in the shade beneath and sit down in one of the cafés with a café con leche.
50km east of Málaga is the cute little town of Nerja. From Balcón Europea you’ll have a fantastic view of the beaches and the mountains of the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama. The town also harbours an impressive cave system called Cueva de Nerja. This is the third most popular attraction across the whole of Spain after the Prado in Madrid and the Alhambra in Granada. In the 4,800 metre-long cave tunnels there’s often cave paintings to admire, however only a part of this system is open to the public. Every year in July an extraordinary music festival takes place inside!
For many, Ronda is the highlight of their trip to Andalusia. It’s located in a mountainous region and is well-suited for hiking and trekking. The 90 metre-deep gorge of El Tajo divides the city, with the two halves connected only by the Puente Nuevo bridge – when in the Old Town you should definitely visit that and the numerous palaces. Another recommendation from me is to plan a visit to the Arab baths at the bottom of the gorge. At Casa del Moro the steps lead down from the cliffs to the bottom of El Tajo. If you follow the path from Plaza María Auxiliadora you’ll get great views once you reach the vantage point. The bullfighting arena (Plaza de Torros) is the oldest in Spain and the only one with seats that are completely sheltered, and there’s also a museum called Museo Taurino which will give you an insight into the history of bullfighting in Spain.
With 700,000 inhabitants Seville is the largest city in Andalusia. In order to properly see the city you should plan to spend at least a few days here. As well as the famous and gorgeous Plaza de España and the Santa María de la Sede cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), you should also have a look at the Metrolpol Parasol (or Las Setas) which is located at Plaza de la Encarnación. This wooden construction is especially beautiful at night when it’s lit up! The Alcazár fortress is worth visiting too as the building is a remarkable piece of architecture. If you’ve got a little more time and want to mix things up a bit, you can spend a day at Isla Mágica, Spain’s biggest theme park. The entry fee for adults is currently at €29. The historic quarter (or barrio) of Santa Cruz is perfect for a good wander about, a bit of sightseeing and snapping a few photos. Seville’s bullfighting arena is called Maestranza de Caballería and boasts some impressive architecture.
Tarifa – just another 14km until Africa!
Tarifa is one of the world capitals of surfing. As well as kite and wind surfing you can also go on a whale watching tour – due to the fact that the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet here there’s a particularly high number of whale and dolphin species. Over 200 species of birds come here to rest as they migrate which makes for a fantastic spectacle! Playa Bolonia isn’t too far away – it’s the most beautiful bay with a fine sandy beach that stretches out as far as the eye can see. Tarifa is the most southerly town on the European mainland and you can quite easily get one of the ferries to Morocco. From Plazuela del Viento you’ll have a great view of the African coast. You can find more information about a city break in Africa towards the end of this article.
For lots of Andalusian holiday makers Torremolinos is a real insiders tip. As well as its beautiful beach and great photo opportunities Torremolinos offers plenty of fun and variety – Aqualand and Crocodile Parque are good examples of places to go. You should also visit the Jardin Botánico Molino de Inca, a gorgeous botanical garden!
Zahara de los Atunes
The small coastal town on the Costa de la Luz is not just known for being the centre of tuna fishing, but also for its brilliantly white sandy beaches and azure waters. This place is often considered an insider’s tip and has been named one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. Until today this town has remained relatively small so it’s mainly the reserve of the locals. The small town centre is very pretty and there’s plenty of little shops and bars.
Just a small hop to Africa
Trips to Africa are possible from the harbour towns of Tarifa and Algeciras. Here you can take a ferry in the morning and easily return that evening. In both towns there is a transfer to Tangier which boasts a very colourful market. There’s also a ferry that departs from Algeciras to Ceuta, which is where you’ll find the Mediterranean Maritime Park designed by the famous artist from the Canary Islands, César Manrique. As well as artificially installed waterfalls, lakes and palm trees you should have a look at the old royal town walls. There’s also the chance of spotting some whales, dolphins or turtles!
Extraordinary experiences in Andalusia
Andalusia offers the ideal opportunities for adventurous excursions. You could first of all book a rafting tour from €35 per person. For the ultimate feeling of freedom you could even experience paragliding! As well as a 3 day trip where you can enjoy the views with an experienced paraglider there’s something for beginners too – prices for a tandem flight (with an instructor) start from €85. Going for a ride on horseback is another popular activity. Jerez for example has a lot on offer when it comes to horse riding. Climbing and diving are very popular in Andalusia. It’s also possible to go kite surfing at many of the coastal towns in Andalusia – Tarifa is particularly famous for this. Why not make your trip really special and take a ride in a hot air balloon above Gaudix, Granada, Seville or Ronda?
Wowzers, Andalusia really does has a lot on offer! One holiday there just isn’t enough…but I’ll definitely be back more often. Have you already been to Andalusia? Send me some more tips and tricks in the comments section! Which beach do you think is the prettiest of all, and did you get the chance to see whales and dolphins during your trip? And was it worth queueing for the Alhambra in Granada?
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