- Kate Lockyear
10 MUST-SEE PLACES IN ANDALUCÍA
Updated: Jan 8
Andalucía is the southernmost autonomous community of mainland Spain and is a stunning world of contrasts with an interesting history. Whether you prefer lazing on a sandy beach or skiing in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada; strolling through the shopping districts of a big city or exploring the narrow streets of a traditional white-washed village, Andalucía has it all.
I lived here during my year abroad so I have a lot of things to say about it! Let’s start with the Alhambra, a palace and fortress named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its oldest parts date back to as early as the 9th Century. A lot of the monument is a great example of the Islamic architecture brought to the region by the Muslim presence (8th-15th Century). Its name actually derives from Arabic, meaning “the red one”. You have to book a specific time slot to see the Nasrid Palaces but, with your ticket, you can see the rest of the complex (including the beautiful Generalife gardens) outside of this time. Visit the winding streets of the Albaicín area to continue your journey through the city’s Moorish history, or see the cave houses that line the hillside location of the Gitano district, Sacromonte. Heading more central, Granada Cathedral’s imposing presence stands tall amidst the cafes, bars and shops that line the city’s squares. Other notable mentions include: the García Lorca Park and House-Museum, flamenco shows at Le chien andalou and the Bohemian Jazz Café.
Seville is Andalucía’s capital and largest city so has more of a metropolitan feel, although it still carries a lot of history in its streets. It also boasts UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including its Cathedral and the Alcázar Palace complex. The latter was built by Castilian Christians for Christian King Peter of Castile on the site of an Abbadid Muslim alcázar, which was destroyed in 1248 after the Christian conquest of the city. It is a mix of architectural styles and the colours and patterns are breathtaking. A trip to the Plaza de España is also essential. You can hire a boat to row along the moat and can sit on the painted ceramic benches which represent all the provinces of Spain. Even an aimless wander around the city will lead you to charming squares, parks, and an abundance of orange trees.
The city of Córdoba has a traditional and laid-back feel and is the location of the famous Mezquita (another World Heritage Site!). The Mezquita is a Mosque-Cathedral and a literal representation of the different religions which resided in the area. The city’s Jewish quarter is also well worth a visit; with its white-washed streets and pink flowers in blue pots, you will feel as though you are walking through a postcard. Cross the Guadalquivir river on the Puente romano de Córdoba, which featured in Game of Thrones as the Long Bridge of Volantis, or have a spot of lunch under a parasol in the striking Plaza de la Corredera.
Is there anything better than a lively city which also has BEACHES? Málaga has just that. It is a vibrant cosmopolitan city with a plethora of shops, bars and restaurants. It also has museums and must-see monuments, like the Alcazaba (which dates back to the 11th Century) and the Gibralfaro, the top of which offers panoramic views across the bustling city, the rugged mountains and the glistening Mediterranean Sea. The Teatro Romano based at the foot of the Alcazaba is also a great place to visit, and it usually has street performers nearby which add to the fun feel of the place. Same goes for the port which is home to museums, restaurants, and a captivating walk down to the lighthouse.
The city of Cádiz is also situated by the sea, westward along the coast from Málaga. A spectacular 360 view is offered from the top of Torre Tavira. Due to its location, the city has beautiful beaches, like la Playa la Caleta, and an array of restaurants which look out onto the sapphire waters. Barrio de Pópulo is the oldest part of the city where the Cathedral and Teatro Romano are nestled and the narrow streets are home to numerous tapas bars. Parks, museums and a historic castle also make a visit to Cádiz definitely worthwhile.
This city, inland and west of Málaga, lies on a mountaintop, positioned over a deep gorge. Ronda’s famous Puente Nuevo (over 200 years old, so not that new) crosses the ravine, connecting the Moorish old town to the new town (dating back to the 15th Century so, again, not that new!). Ronda is known to be the birthplace of the problematic and fiercely contested tradition of bullfighting, and its bullring dates back to 1785. If, understandably, this is not your thing, Ronda has plenty more to offer, including breathtaking views across the valley and the Guadalevín river beneath, busy squares, the interesting Bandit Museum, the Arab Walls and the Mondragón Palace.
7. Las Alpujarras
This collection of quaint white-washed villages nestled in the Sierra Nevada make a stark change from southern Spain’s busy cities. The average altitude in the region is 4,000ft above sea level and the winding trails are perfect for avid hikers. The farms of the area receive water from the melting snow above and the villages themselves become a magical snowy haven in the colder months. The views from such a height are incredible and the greenery stands out from the harsher and drier landscapes below. Las Alpujarras are home to their own local cuisine and festivals, including the Mauraca, a Chestnut Festival held on the night of Halloween or the first few nights of November in several villages spanning the region.
8. La Axarquía
La Axarquía is a comarca which covers part of the Costa del Sol and inland Andalucía, east of Málaga. Its capital is Vélez-Málaga, a sleepy town untouched by tourism with a hill-top Muslim castle which stood as a point of defense all those years ago. The top of the castle allows you to see from the mountains to the sea. From this point, other villages emerged when the population expanded. Villages like Frigiliana and Cómpeta are beautiful and traditionally Andalucían. You can walk through the cobbled streets, finding restaurants with amazing food, shops with handmade goodies and compelling views around every corner. Walking tours and horse trekking are also popular in the area. Heading towards the coast, you find towns such as Nerja. A popular tourist destination due to its cluster of beaches, turquoise waters and fun nightlife. A tour of the Nerja Caves is an essential addition to your to-do list. You can literally walk through history, learning about the Palaeolithic era and the Neanderthal people who lived there and left cave paintings that are believed to date back 42,000 years!
Known as the desert of Spain, this province is home to Europe's driest area and was therefore an ideal filming location for many Western films in the 1960s. Sets were built near the Tabernas Desert to replicate Western towns and feature in films such as The Good, the Bad And the Ugly. If you wish to cool down, somewhere like Playa Cabo de Gata on the coast is perfect. The contrast between the brown jagged rocks and the deep blue sea is unforgettable. Just take note that there are no places to eat so make sure you pack plenty of water, food- and a parasol. There also aren’t any toilets so you really are one with nature, so to speak! If you are after an isolated beach away from tourists, then this place is for you.
10. Setenil de las Bodegas