The Best of Andalucia

October 18, 2021

Andalucia is a destination for everyone! Enjoy amazing Moorish architecture, cheap tapas, endless beaches and beautiful nature. Don’t be surprised if you see Flamenco dancers and Spanish guitarists giving world class performances on the streets!

Next to the famous cities in Andalucia, such as Sevilla, Córdoba, Málaga, and Granada, there’s the Caminito del Rey-hike, the Sierra Nevada, the Doñana marches, and the must visit Rock of Gibraltar.

When we travel we prefer a combination of nature, mild weather and culture during our vacations. For us Andalucía was just the perfect destination to spend a week.

I hope find our ‘best of Andalucia’ recommendations (in no particular order of importance) both informative and enjoyable to read!

Alhambra, Granada

Beautiful Nasrid Palace mirrored in water at the Alhambra, the best of Andalucia.
Nasrid Palace, Alhambra

This is probably the most famous place in Andalucía, if not Spain, and for good reason! It is a palace and fortress complex mostly dating from the late Middle Ages, when Granada was the last Islamic Emirate in Spain.

The Nasrid dynasty ruled Granada, until the armies of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered Granada in 1492. But the Nasrids left behind a wonderful fort-palace, with unique architecture, perhaps even unrivaled in the Muslim world.

The ‘Nasrid Palaces’ are therefore the absolute highlight of the Alhambra. Just look at the architecture, whether it is the Court of the Lions or the Court of the Myrtles. Simply stunning.

We intentionally visited the Alhambra late in the afternoon (16:30 entry) to avoid the blazing Andalusian sun.

Tip: Photos of the palace bathed in the magic of late-afternoon light are truly special!

Next to the Nasrid Palaces you will find the Generalife summer palace and gardens. It is a 15-20 minute walk from the Nasrid Palaces, and it is included in your ticket. Strolling through the palace and the gardens is like walking through paradise!

The fountain courtyard at the Generalife bathed in late afternoon sun is one of the best of Andalucia.
Fountain Courtyard, Generalife, Alhambra

If you exit the gardens before closing time (around in 19:45 in October) you’ll get great sunset vistas over the Alhambra complex and the city of Granada.

The Alhambra is the one absolute best of Andalucía that you shouldn’t miss! We spent so much time in the Alhambra that we barely had time left for the rest of the city!

You can find more information about ticket prices here or below:

Mezquita, Córdoba

White and terra colored arches inside the Mezquita, Cordoba.
Mezquita, Cordoba

You’ve probably seen a photo of the Mezquita, with its white-and-terra-colored arches, and thought, ‘oh, that doesn’t look so interesting…’ – at least we did. Boy, were we wrong! The ‘Mosque-Cathedral’ of Córdoba is unique in its sort. It has definitely earned its spot in our best of Andalucia recommendations!

Inside the building you will find a mihrab, a semicircular niche in a wall that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca (the direction in which Muslims pray), as well as a formidable Christian altar. Do not miss this unique building…

Tip: The Mezquita closes between 14:00 and 16:00 in October. The staff members efficiently whisk the remaining people out of the building from around 13:55. The 20-30 minutes before closing time is probably among the quietest times to visit the Mezquita!

Looking for a snack or lunch nearby? Exit the Mezquita courtyard through the gate on the eastside, and pop into Bar Santos. Their thick wedges Tortilla de Patatas is definitely the best we’ve had in Spain!

Gardens of the Alcazar, Córdoba

The beautiful gardens of the Christian Monarchs are well worth a visit. Visit the fortress or stroll around in the gardens and soak up the pleasant atmosphere.

It was here where Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand met with Christopher Columbus for the first time to discuss a trade route to India. Especially for the Alcazar gardens you will have to get your ticket online.

Cathedral of Sevilla

Image of rooftop and spindly towers of the Sevilla Cathedral.
Cathedral of Sevilla

Included in our best of Andalucia places is the Cathedral of Sevilla. This jaw dropping Gothic church is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world! Add to that the iconic Giralda bell tower, and the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The Cathedral is a place you really cannot miss on your Andalucía trip!

In Spain you sometimes need to pay to enter cathedrals and churches, and since this is a popular tourist destination, the queues can be quite long! It really pays off to buy the tickets online in advance.

Tip: you can even buy a ticket 15 minutes in advance while you are waiting at the back of the long queue.

Take some time just to wander around the cathedral and look at the different chapels, the choir, and of course the majestic tomb of Columbus.

Then walk to the back (on the left side behind the choir) to ascend the 104 m. Giralda belltower (originally built as a minaret). Amazingly, this does not involve stairs! The tower contains a total of 35 (!) ramps winding around the vaulted chambers at the tower’s core.

Real Alcazár, Sevilla

Architecture at Courtyard of the Real Alcazar in Seville.
Real Alcazar, Seville

Castilian Christians built the palace in the 14th century on the ruins on an earlier Islamic fortress, and yet, the architecture looks remarkably similar to other Moorish (Islamic) buildings in Andalucía. How is this possible?

The Christian conquerors of Andalucía appreciated the Moorish architecture so much that they incorporated many elements in their own constructions—creating the Mudéjar style.

The ‘Patio de los Doncellas’ is one of the many highlights in the Alcazar itself. It is very reminiscent of the Nasrid Palaces in the Alhambra.

Surrounded and interspersed by beautiful galleries, the gardens of the Alcazar are one-of-a-kind and should certainly not be missed. Or so the location scouts of Game of Thrones thought, when they decided to film parts of the series (the location Dorne) in these same gardens!

Málaga

Shadows and sun on steps at the Roman Amphitheater in Malaga.
Roman Amphitheater, Malaga

Among the famous cities of Andalucía, Málaga is for most people perhaps a distant fourth (after the Golden Trio of Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada).

This is Málaga’s luck as well as misfortune! In any other region, Málaga would be a huge tourist attraction in itself, as the city is lovely, and much more dynamic than others!

If you arrive by car, park at the Muello Uno parking, and you’ll be right at the harbor. The area is now a pedestrianized harbor front area, with lots of restaurants and shops, ending at the lighthouse and Malagueta beach. And if you feel cultural, the Centre Pompidou is also located here! This is one of the European branches of the famous Paris museum. You’ll recognize it immediately by the huge colored cube on top of the roof!

From the harbor front, cross the road to enter the long-stretched Málaga city park.The city center, with its majestic Cathedral, ancient Roman amphitheater and the Málaga museum, is right behind the park! Everything within minutes of walking distance – it couldn’t be easier!

Rock of Gibraltar

The British still own the ‘The Rock’, and visiting it is somewhat surreal! First, you cross the Spanish-Gibraltar border, after which you might have to wait for some time for a plane landing or taking off on the runway which you need to cross in order to reach the main town.

When the runway is free, you find your way into Gibraltar through the tightly-packed streets and you’re suddenly in Britain! Shop at British chainstores such as Boots and Marks and Spencer, or take your pick of the several British pubs serving Cornish pies, fish and chips, and bangers and mash.

But besides its oddly-located ‘Britishness’, The Rock is a natural marvel in itself. Take the cable car up, or, if the cable car is closed for maintenance join one of the many tours in minibuses—it’s really worth it!

The views over the Bay of Algeciras and the Strait of Gibraltar are splendid. On clear days you can see the Moroccan coast, the city of Tangiers, and if you’re really lucky (we were not!) the peaks of the Atlas Mountains!

There is quite a lot to see at the Upper Rock nature reserve. We particularly enjoyed the gorgeous light show playing off against St Michael’s Cave’s striking interior. The endless Great Siege tunnels, hollowed out over the years, are very impressive as well! By the way, be careful of the monkeys that hang around on the rock— they seem cuddly and cute, but they regularly bite tourists!

Ronda

Striking view of the Puente Nuevo bridge connecting two halves of Ronda.
Puente Nuevo, Ronda

One of the best of Andalucia! With the Guadalevín river running in a canyon deep below the city, dividing it in two, the city of Ronda is really one of a kind.

Gaze at the houses and buildings perched atop the 120-meter-deep canyon, and marvel at the Puente Nuevo (new bridge) which connects the two halves of the city.

Walking around the old city and exploring the small white-colored streets is a real treat! Stop every now and again for some fresh orange juice with some tapas, or just a simple cup of coffee.

Make sure to walk through the Cuenca gardens (Jardines de Cuenca) which provide excellent views of the canyons and the bridges crossing it. You’ll find the entrance on the left right after crossing the Puente Viejo (old bridge) from the south. Also don’t miss the city walls, mostly on the east side of the old town. They provide good views over the surrounding countryside, and are really worth a stop!

Did you enjoy this post about the best of Andalucia? For a more ‘off the beaten track’ travel experience, check out Northern Pakistan written by Arjen as well.

Sincerely,

Arjen

Arjen aims to visit every country in the world (currently at around 85).  His wife thinks he is a walking GPS! As an avid traveler, Arjen has successfully arranged tours for family and friends around Europe, Morocco, China and Pakistan.  When he’s not wrestling with world affairs he loves diving, traveling and reading in no particular order.

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