Andalucía has many hot spots that are worth a visit, but it can be difficult to plan your itinerary if time is short. After more than 8 years (and counting) of living in this beautiful part of Spain, I have put together the 5 magical places I believe you should absolutely aim to visit during your time here.
This beautiful city is characterized by stunning buildings and monuments, a great atmosphere and some of the best tapas bars. The impressive cathedral with its Giralda tower (once a minaret) is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. The inside choir, Christopher Columbus’ tomb (supposedly with his remains, although this is disputed) and a climb up the Giralda tower to appreciate the views of the city make this site well worth a visit. Opposite the cathedral is the old Alcázar, a beautifully constructed castle / palace with big gardens to spend several hours marveling at the sheer size of the place and imagining what things were like in the old times. Head further into the Barrio Santa Cruz with its narrow winding streets, where it is easy to get lost, bump into beautiful crafts shops and idyllic small squares to enjoy some real tapas. Finish off the day with a visit to the Plaza de España, a magnificent site once built for the 1929 Expo and with colourful tiles representing each province of the country.
This city is home to what many call “the most beautiful building in the world”: the legendary Alhambra palace. Built at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the snow-covered mountain tops provide a romantic backdrop to the scene. A visit to the Alhambra will keep you entertained for hours, with its different splendid palaces and the Generalife, the Alhambra’s gardens. A stroll along the Albayzín, the old Islamic quarters of the city, is a great opportunity to experience the bohemian atmosphere of the city and allows for some beautiful views of the Alhambra. On your way to the cathedral and Capilla Real, the burial place of the Reyes Católicos Isabella and Fernando, stop at some of the markets or shops where an amazing selection of colourful Maroccan merchandise is for sale, and treat yourself to some unique gifts. Lastly try and book a visit to one of the Arabic baths and a massage for a relaxing end to the day!
3. El Puerto de Santa María
This beautiful town on the Costa de la Luz sees its number of inhabitants multiply every year from 90.000 in winter to 250.000 in summer for a reason: El Puerto is the perfect place to holiday with its beautiful sand beaches, its many excellent bars and restaurants, its vibrant nightlife and the friendly people. The vast majority of its tourists are Spanish, which means the city is a very authentic Spanish town, not (yet) infested by the foreign tourism market and therefore a perfect place to pick up or practice some Spanish. The old Moorish castle San Marcos, where Cristopher Columbus lived just before he set sail to the Americas from El Puerto, provides a great insight into the areas’ past. The many different bodegas (wine cellars) in the town give more information on the sherry making trade, which originated from the sherry triangle Jerez – El Puerto de Santa María – Sanlúcar. El Puerto furthermore makes a great “base” to explore other parts of the area, as it is well connected to other cities by train, bus and ferry. The beaches and the different restaurants allow for some great chill out time, maybe with a fresh fish for lunch and a glass of local wine?
The “oldest continuously inhabited European city”, located on a peninsula in the bay of Cádiz, is surrounded by sea on nearly all sides and connected to the mainland by only a small strip of land. The city was once scattered with old watchtowers and the tallest remaining one, the Torre Tavira, gives an excellent insight into the city’s history and also has a cámera oscura to project panoramic views of the city onto a big disc. Cádiz is also a lovely town to stroll around and to spend a relaxing day. It has many different beaches, with its most well-known beach, la Caleta, showing a remarkable resemblance to la Havana, the capital of Cuba. Different scenes from the James Bond film Die Another Day were therefore recorded on this beach when it was impossible to do so in Havana itself.
Situated in the province of Málaga, Ronda is a spectacular town situated at the top of a 100 metre deep gorge, which separates the old from the new part of the town. It is possible to walk down to the bottom of the gorge to appreciate the beauty of the gorge itself and the impressive Puente Nuevo bridge that goes across. The Casa del Rey Moro has gardens that can be visited and gives entrance to La Mina, an old stairway leading down to the river at the bottom of the gorge. These steps allowed Ronda to keep up their water supply when under siege and also provided a secret entrance into and exit out of the city. There are furthermore many different bars and restaurants that have stunning views of the gorge or the area around Ronda.
Andalucía has many fabulous sites and cities worth a visit, but these are the ones that in my personal opinion give the best and most authentic feel of Spanish culture.