Places to visit in Andalucia
Make the most of your time
Distinctive attractions create a wonderful kaleidoscope of places to visit in Andalucia. Fast trains link its beguiling cities: riverside Seville, famed for flamenco, festivals and fine food; exotic Cordoba and Granada, their past Moorish eminence reflected in ravishing architecture; rough-edged, ancient Cadiz; and Picasso's birthplace Malaga, now a modern art mecca. Roads wind up to mountain hideaways in the stunning Sierra Nevada and the Granada altiplano, from where fantastic walking, biking and horse-riding trails snake off into heart-stopping wilderness. Tempting trails cross Almeria's desert too, where rich unique flora and fauna contrasts with stark arid beauty.
Andalucia’s easternmost province arguably has the best climate in Europe – 300 days of sunshine a year. It's ideal for winter walking and fantastic empty beaches. The Tabernas desert was setting for many “Spaghetti Westerns” – and the Nijar National Park in Cabo de Gata, a stunning land and marine park. Almeria City offers some excellent museums and a strong Arabic vibe.
Cradled in a mountain bowl, the bustling old market town of Aracena is a whitewashed wonder overseen by a medieval church and ruined castle. Other sights include the Gruta de las Maravillas – a network of limestone caves and tunnels within the castle hill – plus a museum dedicated to the area's famous jamon (ham)! There's plenty of good places to eat too.
Cabo de Gata
Europe's driest place still boasts over 1,000 plant and animal species – a starkly beautiful slice of Almeria dotted with whitewashed pueblos amid cacti-strewn plains and rugged hills that stood in for the Wild West in the 'Spaghetti Westerns'. Check out old gold mining memories around Rodalquilar – or bag a wide sandy beach all to yourself.
Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city is an atmospheric 4,000-year-old rough diamond, set on a sliver of land fringed by some of Europe's best city beaches. Its gaze has historically focused oceanward rather than towards Spain, bringing in Caribbean influences with Moorish. Today, Cadiz wears its history lightly amid faded buildings, alive with the sounds of hedonistic living for now.
Cordoba was the major city not just of Moorish Al-Andalus but the whole Iberian Peninsula, while the glorious Mezquita was once among the world's most important mosques. Marvel at it still today, alongside the Alcazar palace-fortress and its gardens, plus the Roman Bridge – then enjoy its lovely intimate vibe and windy cobbled streets. Cordoba is also famed for its flower-filled patios – which compete for the coveted “best patio” prize each May.
Doñana National Park
Western Europe's largest road-free region is a 540 sq km haunting haven of quiet and far horizons. Its wildlife is staggering: huge flocks of flamingos star in a twitchers' paradise, while deer and boar flit through woods – stalked by the rare Iberian lynx. Arrive by boat from earthy sherry-making Sanlucar on the other side of an estuary famed for its succulent langostinos.
Nestled in the foothills of the stunning Sierra Nevada, Granada is best known for the Alhambra – a spectacular complex of Moorish palaces, pools and patios overlooking the city. The Albaicin is arguably Spain's finest Moorish quarter, dotted with carmens - hillside houses with walled gardens. And in this city, every drink comes with a free tapa!
Properly called Jerez de la Frontera, this lively town could laim to be Andalucia's spiritual capital. It's HQ of the region's horse culture, a key point on the famed sherry making triangle – and claims to be the cradle of flamenco, whatever Seville says. Skip that argument, and just enjoy its pleasant bustle, relaxed history and beautiful back street restaurants.
The ancient terraced slopes of Las Alpujarras were made by 8th century Berbers. Today they are an unforgettable backdrop for farmstays, walking and cycling through Sierra Nevada foothills and gorges. Little museums in the lovely main village Bubion delve past lives, while nearby Trevélez claims to be Spain's highest village (1,476m) – and home to its finest jamón serrano.
White towns, wild ravines and lovely villages like Antequera – the 'Florence of Andalucia' – backdrop a city that has reinvented itself as a cultural and foodie beacon. The Picasso Museum celebrates Malaga's most famous son, augmented by the new outpost of Paris's Pompidou Centre. Gourmands will love the beachfront seafood restaurants. Head uphill to the Gibralfaro Castle and the Alcazaba for the best views of the city – and the sunsets.
Seville proudly flaunts Spanish clichés – but for real. The whitewashed, Moorish buildings, streets fragranced with orange blossom, the exquisite Moorish Alcazar palace, the sounds of flamenco from shuttered rooms, superb tapas bars on narrow lanes, plus year-round sunshine. Come in spring for the solemnly beautiful Semana Santa (Holy Week) or the joyous Feria de Abril (April Fair).
Sierra de Grazalema National Park
Andalucia's first national park features spectacular limestone cliffs and gorges such as the Garganta Verde, where a griffon vulture colony is framed by 400m rock walls. Mesmerising cave systems stretch 4km into the earth. High rainfall promotes staggering lushness, with over 1,300 plant species. Walkers can explore forests of rare Spanish fir or scale peaks like the 1,654m El Torreó.
Iberia's highest peak – the 3,478m Mulhacen – is just one of many 3,000m+ mountains in this walking, biking, horse-riding and winter skiing mecca, dotted with alpine lakes and dramatic gorges. Its magical villages are the highest in Spain, while wildlife includes Ibex and eagles in its eponymous National Park. Mountainside observatories nod to its spectacular starry skies.
Travel times in Andalucia
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Andalucia.
- Seville – Cordoba: 45 mins by train
- Seville – Cadiz: 1 ½ hours by train
- Cadiz – Sanlucar: 1 ½ hours by bus
- Cadiz – El Puerto: 45 minutes by boat
- Cordoba – Granada: 2 ½ hours by bus or train
- Beas – Granada (Sierra Nevada): 5 hours on foot
- Puente Palo Loop (Las Alpujarras): 4 hours on foot