Andalusia is quintessentially Spanish. From rolling hills and twisting rivers to charming cobblestone towns, Andalusia is the beating heart of Spain. Each Andalusian city is unique with so much to offer.
The whole area was under Moorish rule from the 8th-15th centuries, a legacy that shows in its architecture, including such world-famous landmarks as Granada’s Alhambra fortress palace, the Alcázar castle in Seville, the capital city, as well as Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral.
The personality of each Andalusian city is distinct; the history of Granada and Cordoba, the pure seductive charm of Seville, the natural beauty of Ronda, the desert of Almeria, and the cosmopolitan attraction of Marbella and Malaga. The contrast of gothic churches and bustling bar-filled plazas is at the heart of its history.
I suggest embarking on an Andalucia road trip to see each Andalusian city and then decide for yourself!
Andalusia at a Glance
- Area: 33,822 mi²
- Capital: Seville
- Population: 8.427 million (2019) Eurostat
- Climate: Mediterranean mild winters, hot summers
- Average temp: average daily high 75F
Want to know which Andalusian city best suits you? Here’s some information to help you decide!
Tucked away on Spain’s southeastern coast, Almeria is one of Andalusia’s secret gems; it’s the driest place in Europe and contains the continent’s only desert. The city itself is less crowded than many of the other Andalusian cities, with a long stretch of beautiful sandy beaches. The Alcazaba is an imposing Moorish fortress overlooking the city. The fortified, 16th-century Almería Cathedral has a Gothic ribbed ceiling.
If you have time to visit, make your way to Playa de Los Genoveses, one of the most unspoiled and beautiful beaches in Spain. Just along the coast, you’ll find the weird and wonderful rock formations and sea caves around Los Escullos, perfect for kayaking or paddle boarding on a calm day. The water is crystal clear and turquoise and the sea life, all the better to watch abundant sea life.
Called a “mini Hollywood,” films and TV series have been made in Almería since the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was chosen as a shooting location for spaghetti westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and hit films like Laurence of Arabia, and Cleopatra. In the town square, you’ll see cowboy stunt shows and can-can dancers, and you can step along the boardwalk or cool off in the cells at the town jail.
Nature enthusiasts can venture out into the wild at Tabernas or the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. Considered by many to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in western Europe
Surrounded by the sea on three sides, the winding cobbled streets of Cádiz are steeped in thousands of years of history. Cadiz was originally founded by the Phoenicians with archeological remains dating back to as early as the 12th century BC. It is also notable that Christopher Columbus famously set sail from Cadiz on two of his voyages to the New World. Once the home of the Spanish Navy, the port boomed in the 16th century as a base for exploration and trade and in the 18th century, Cadiz became Spain’s main trading hub with the Americas.
Plazas lined with tall whitewashed houses, the faded and slightly crumbling charm of Cadiz is caused by the effect the sea air has on its white stone buildings. Cheerful taverns overflowing with lively patrons, this ancient port town is a fabulous city for simply wandering the grand plazas and narrow back streets. The iconic Torre Tavira was traditionally used for spotting ships out on the sea and can be climbed for a birds-eye view over the city. Also not to be missed is the domed, 18th-century Cádiz Cathedral, featuring baroque and neoclassical elements.
The birthplace of Picasso, Malaga is a large and bustling seaport, but also a charming and historic city.
Locals and visitors alike travel to Malaga for galleries, restaurants, and frenetic and nightlife such as the wild Feria de Malaga rocking the city with music and color.
Even though he never painted there, Picasso is a great source of pride for the city, and the Museo Picasso houses 204 of his works.
Nerja is a resort town along southern Spain’s Costa del Sol. Its seafront promenade, Balcón de Europa, offers magnificent panoramic views of Mediterranean beaches (the prettiest on this coast) and surrounding cliffs. It’s known for nearby Cueva de Nerja, an extensive cave system with ancient stalactites, stalagmites, and paleolithic paintings.
Marbella is a beautiful Mediterranean resort city on Spain’s Costa del Sol with the towering Sierra Blanca Mountains as its backdrop. The area is known for miles of golden sand beaches, a variety of nightclubs and bars, upscale boutiques, and marinas filled with luxury yachts. Eating tapas and sipping sangria are popular pastimes in the lovely flower-strewn old town squares.
More charming than next door Malaga, Marbella has a lovely partially walled old town where you can still find traditional tapas bars and an attractive central plaza overflowing with flowers.
Marbella also has three pristine beaches and a bustling boardwalk lined with a variety of eateries with spectacular views.
The nightlife in Marbella, the best on the Costa, is one of its biggest draws. Plaza Puente de Ronda in the old town has the best bars and clubs.
Cordoba is a beautiful Andalusian city rich in Moorish architecture. The magnificent Mezquita mosque-cathedral will mesmerize you with its polished marble floor and iconic red and cream pillars and arches.
Originally a mosque, the structure originated over a thousand years ago and underwent numerous remodels before being consecrated as a cathedral by the conquistadors who freed Spain from the rule of the Moors in 1248. The result is a stunning fusion of Renaissance and Moorish that blends to create a fascinating finished product.
The symmetrical gardens of the Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos with majestic palms and cypress trees are a great place for a leisurely stroll. For the best view of the old town, head to the 1st-century Puente Romano; wander through the old Jewish quarter past the whitewashed houses with bougainvillea and geraniums dripping from window boxes; don’t miss the iconic bell tower of the Mezquita.
Precipitously perched on the edge of the escarpment of El Tajo Gorge, surrounded by dramatic craggy mountains, magical Ronda is best seen from one of the lookout points (“miradors”) that line the steep walls of the gorge. The El Tajo Gorge separates the city’s circa-15th-century new town from its old town, dating to Moorish rule.
In addition to Ronda’s 700-year occupation by the Moors, there is also a history of dramatic clashes of rebels and guerrillas. You have probably seen photos of the amazing, arched 18th-century stone bridge, Puente Nuevo, which spans the gorge and offers its own views of the area, but also prisoners were sometimes thrown from the bridge to their deaths on the limestone rocks below.
Exploring Granada is a magical experience. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it’s an intoxicating fusion of Medieval and Islamic architecture dating to 700 years ago, gypsy-style Flamenco dancing, hilly cobblestone streets that are laid out exactly as they were in medieval times, and dine-in restaurants that have been carved out of caves.
Granada contains one of the finest examples of medieval architecture, dating to the Moorish occupation – the spectacular Alhambra. This sprawling hilltop fortress (it’s actually a city) encompasses royal palaces with Moorish symmetry, flowering courtyards, smooth stone arches, scenic overlooks, and reflecting pools and fountains – all connected by labyrinths of pathways. One can easily imagine what life as a Sultan might have been like here.
2 Caminito del Rey
Disclaimer: This one is not a city, but is definitely a place not to be missed. Aka “The Kings Path,” the Caminito del Rey was once known as the most dangerous hike in the world. The series of walkways are pinned along the 1000-foot steep walls of a narrow gorge over the Guadalhorce River in the Andalusia region of Spain.
The walkway had fallen into serious disrepair – but that did not stop people from exploring it, including having to shimmy across pipes and “walk the plank” where bridges no longer existed. Due to deaths and injuries, the walkway was closed in 2005. After numerous repairs and an entirely new boardwalk along the cliffs built above the old ones, the Caminito del Rey was reopened in 2015 and is now very safe.
The views along the jaw-dropping path are spectacular, and made the hike in sweltering heat worth the effort (as long as you don’t have vertigo)!
Seville is arguably the most irresistible city in Andalusian city, and one of the most important cities in Spain.
The Alcazar of Seville is a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally developed as a fort in 913, it was later revamped for Christian king Peter of Castile. Beautifully restored, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use, and the upper chambers are still used by the Spanish royal family as their official residence while in Seville.
The Alcazar royal palace complex is a breathtaking spectacle. The Mudéjar architecture is the perfect fusion of decorative Islamic-styled motifs with patterns of Christian styles. Intricate azulejos ceramic tiles adorn the walls and ceilings of the palace, and the immaculately designed tropical gardens are a sight to behold, complete with labyrinths, fountains, palm trees, roses, and orange trees.
Most recently, the Alcazar and its exquisite gardens were featured in the filming location for the Kingdom of Dorne in the hit TV series Game of Thrones.
Similarly, the Plaza de Espana in Seville has been used as a filming location in hits such as Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars. Bright tiles lining the canal pay homage to all of Spain’s regions.
Highly recommended is to just wander through the tiny winding Barrio Santa Cruz, past Baroque churches, medieval townhomes, and an unending supply of tapas bars – in fact, the city claims to have invented the tapas culture here.
Also in the old town are the Gothic Cathedral and Giralda Tower. Designed to express power, this cathedral is the largest in the world. The Giralda Tower is adjacent to the Cathedral and you can climb the 36 levels of the tower for an incredible view of the city and the inner workings of the bell chamber. Be aware, that even though you have to purchase a timed ticket, it is jammed with tourists on the top level.
For a different birds-eye view, head to the Centro quarter where you’ll find the very modern Metropol Parasol (aka “the Mushroom of Seville”), the largest wooden structure in the world. This enormous waffled wood can be climbed to access the 85-foot top viewing platform where you can not only admire the architecture from above but the views over the Seville cityscape.
What to Eat in Andalusia
- Gambas fritas – fried shrimp (my personal favorite)
- Jamón Ibérico – Iberian ham
- Churros (donuts) with chocolate dip
- Cola de toro – chunks of bull tail
- Gazpacho – cold vegetable soup
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Visit Andalusia during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.
She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.
Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.