Andalucia in Southern Spain presumably needs no introduction, A destination that is on many travelers’ radar had long been on my bucket list too, but I had never imagined myself spending more than two weeks. Now having lived two months in Andalucia, I can attest that you could easily spend months and find yourself craving for more. It is a fascinating region and needs plenty of time to fully appreciate.
Not surprisingly, it becomes a real challenge to fit all Andalucia has to offer (many of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites) in a few days or weeks of vacation. How many days or nights should I stay in Sevilla? Should I allow more time for Granada or Sevilla? Is Alhambra or the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla worth visiting? Just a few of the questions that may come up while planning a trip to Andalucia. So, this post is here to simplify your decision-making process for your Andalucia itinerary. But before jumping over to my personal tips, I’d like to draw the bigger picture for clarity.
We spent exactly eight weeks in Andalucia, six of those we were based in a town on Costa del Sol, called Torremolinos, near Malaga. From our base here we traveled to Malaga, Mijas, Fuengirola, Gibraltar, Cordoba, Ronda, and Granada. We split the remaining two weeks between Jerez de la Frontera and Tarifa. From Jerez, we visited Sevilla and Cadiz on day trips. So, one thing we had for sure: time and flexibility. Well, that makes two.
For a grand loop like this map, you would need two weeks proper. If you have less time, that’s why possibly you are reading this post, here are my quick tips to help you decide:
- Walk in the pages of a fairy tale in Granada (minimum 2 days, better 3)
- Discover the Tomb of Christopher Columbus in Sevilla (1 day for major attractions sufficient)
- Trace the footsteps of Hemingway in Ronda (half-day with an overnight stay)
Nice to visit
- Discover Mecca (Cordoba) in Spain (a half or a full day without overnight)
- Indulge yourself in Sherry wine, tapas, and flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera (1 day with overnight)
- Swim in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on the same day in Tarifa (as long as you can).
- Take a step into history in Gibraltar, UK (a minimum of 4 hours)
- Mijas and other white villages
- Malaga & Costa del Sol
- Bullfighting shows
- Horse dance show at the Royal Riding School, Jerez de la Frontera
- Bear in mind that Andalucia is always busy. Weatherwise, the best season would be between March – June, and September – November.
- Buy tickets online ahead of time. We bought Alhambra tickets 10 days prior to our visit in November 2019. The line for Alcazar in Sevilla was quick-moving and Cathedral had no waiting time though.
Don’t forget to check out the calendar of festivals and carnivals before you go. Some of the highlights are:
April – Feria de Abril in Sevilla
May – Fiesta Los Patios in Cordoba
February – Cadiz Carnival in Cadiz
June – Music and Dance Festival in Granada (at the Alhamra Palace)
December – Zambombas in Jerez de la Frontera
The most beautiful city in Andalucia is in our humble opinion, Granada. The city has a captivating charm, set aside the stunning Alhambra. Visiting Granada is like walking in the pages of a fairy tale, a dream!
The country’s crown jewel, the Alhambra Palace will cost you a minimum of half-day. a piece of the Orient in the Occident and an earthly paradise behind strong walls. It’s best to stay in a hotel in the Albayzín district (full of wonderful medieval buildings, with views across to the Alhambra), which puts you within walking distance (or a short bus ride) from the Alhambra.
Remember to buy Alhambra tickets in advance online here at the official site: https://tickets.alhambra-patronato.es/en/. The official Alhambra General ticket costs 14 EUR (at the time of writing in 2022) and is available to be booked 3 months in advance. The general ticket includes the perfectly manicured Generalife and Gardens, Alcazaba Fortress, Nasrid Palaces (must see). If day time ticket for Nasrid Palaces is not available, try to get one for nighttime. It’s so beautiful, you should not leave Granada without seeing it. Be aware: when you Google for Alhambra tickets online, the top results will bring you to the websites of overpriced guided tours.
You can begin your walking tour of Alhambra either at Torre de Granada (free entrance/exit gate) or Paseo de Triestes (entry/exit with ticket only). If you can’t score a ticket for Alhambra, you can still explore the admission-free areas of the complex (check this guide out for this purpose: https://www.lovegranada.com/alhambra/free/).
Besides Alhambra, be sure to get lost in the alleyways of Granada and see real Flamenco in one of the peñas. Peña La Platería in Albayzin district has flamenco nights every Thursday. Back in 2019, the entrance fee was 12 EUR including a glass of sangria. The show was amazingly performed by two singers, one guitarist, and one dancer. This peña has an adjacent bar, we wouldn’t recommend eating there though (except for cold cuts & cheese). To compensate for inadequate food quality, you can enjoy fantastic views of Alhambra from the top of the building.
|Granada literally means “pomegranate” in Spanish, and is the symbol of the city.
Although we liked Jerez de la Frontera more than Sevilla, we understand it’s probably just us. Sevilla is a nice European city, and if you base yourself here you could visit Cordoba and Ronda on day trips easily, and then still enjoy the nightlife of Sevilla.
In Sevilla, don’t miss the gigantic Cathedral. If there is one cathedral you need to visit, it’s Catedral de Sevilla, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sevilla’s massive cathedral is home to Christopher Colombus’s tomb as well.
You would need a full day for the main attractions in Sevilla (the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla, the gigantic Gothic Cathedral, Plaza de Espana), and indeed the city is compact and all doable in a day. If you want to base yourself here and do day trips, add more days accordingly to your Andalucia itinerary.
We couldn’t visit all the white villages in Andalucia, but Ronda is a must. We recommend coming in the late afternoon, staying overnight, and leaving by lunch the next day before the day-trippers arrive. By spending a romantic night in Ronda, you can best enjoy the town and avoid the day-trippers. It is a charming town with plenty to offer for a day.
If you are short on time and debating to skip a place on your Andalucia itinerary, this could be Cordoba. Though nice, the aforementioned cities are nicer. Cordoba has the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral), but I was personally underwhelmed.
Cordoba is an easy day trip from Sevilla or could be visited en route from Granada to Sevilla. A half-day would allow you enough time for visiting the mosque and a quick tour of the town, or a full day if you want to take it very slowly. No need to stay overnight, and again if Cordoba is out of your way, feel free to save it for another time.
Jerez de la Frontera
For an authentic Andalucian experience, head over to Jerez de la Frontera and indulge yourself in Sherry wine, tapas, and flamenco. Jerez is easily reachable from Sevilla by train (55 mins, about 10 EUR pp/way), so it makes for a great day trip (or a base as in our case).
Besides sherry wine and flamenco, it has a beautiful quaint old town with a very well preserved Moorish Alcazar from the 11th century. You will be visiting this place only with a fraction of tourists found elsewhere in Andalucia, and in our opinion, it’s an unmissable destination on any Andalucian itinerary. Make sure to stay overnight and relax in an Arab bath.
If you are visiting Andalucia in December, don’t miss out on the fantastic Zambombas, a unique opportunity of partying with locals! The so-called “Zambomba”s are held from Friday to Sunday in December, and generally free of admission, you pay for what you consume. It can be in the form of a street party or staged in bars or event venues (as in this video). Check out the event calendar at the official site: https://www.jerezsinfronteras.es/zambombas-jerezanas-93338/
Tarifa is the southernmost point of continental Europe where you can see the mountains and city lights across the water in Morocco. Tarifa is not overdeveloped as the resort towns on the Costa del Sol. No high-rise buildings, no beachfront souvenir shops, bars, or restaurants side by side, but instead pure nature. A haven for outdoor sports and nature lovers with plenty of activities on offer, such as kite surfing, windsurfing, hiking, mountain biking, scuba diving, horse riding, skateboarding, whale watching.
In December, it wasn’t the right time for watersport activities, yet we enjoyed having the gorgeous beaches and hiking trails virtually to ourselves (save a few people, dogs, and plenty of birds). We had hard times deciding on which direction to go hiking on a given day, along the Atlantic Ocean, or the Mediterranean Sea? No matter which direction you pick, head straight to Tarifa for a relaxing beach holiday.
Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, is really interesting and worthwhile if you have no visa issues. You’ll need 4-6 hours to visit ‘the Rock’ of Gibraltar. While you can take the cable car or a taxi from the town to the summit of the Rock, the best way to explore the Upper Rock Nature Reserve is on foot. It’s easy to find the pedestrian path. You’ll walk past all the attractions like the WWII Tunnels, and the wild apes of Gibraltar: Barbary macaques. Be aware: they are cheeky!
Enjoy the panoramic views as you climb to the summit, where O’Hara’s Battery is located. The artillery battery has probably one of the best views in Gibraltar along with interesting history. We didn’t know what to expect from a visit to ‘the Rock’, but it was surprisingly worth it.
We visited Cadiz en route to Tarifa coming from Jerez. Nothing special here in Europe’s oldest city. Jerez is much more authentic. Cadiz is famous for its Carnaval, which might make a stop worthwhile, but otherwise, don’t waste your time.
Mijas had no wow effect on us, but still, it was a nice day out with the white sea of houses, on one hand, the blue sea of Mediterranean on the other, a maze of cute little streets, opportunity to rock climb, and the last remaining donkey taxis complete with a number plate.
Malaga & Costa del Sol
We spent most of our time in this region of Andalucia, but if you’re a first-timer, rest assured you won’t miss much by skipping this area on your Andalucia itinerary.
If you are flying in/out of Málaga, half-day would give you a taste of the gastronomic capital of Andalucia. But again, focus on splitting the majority of your time between Granada and Sevilla. Trust me these are the two cities you would enjoy the most.
|Andalucia is home to cork oak trees and you’ll find everywhere souvenirs made out of cork.
Of course, there is a lot more to Andalucia than mentioned above. Did you know you can even go skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia? Such an insanely diverse region it is. So, depending on your time and interests you may want to allot more time for a place. Are you a rock climber? Then you would want to visit Mijas and Ronda and possibly spend more time in the natural parks. Are you a wind-/kite surfer? Tarifa is your place. Whatever your preferences are, don’t try to cover too much ground much too thinly and end up seeing next-to-nothing.
Please bear in mind that by no means I am an expert on the aforementioned places, but I am a seasoned traveler who has set foot on six continents and visited countless cities, palaces, world wonders, whatsoever. Your personal preferences might be different than mine, so take my advice with caution and feel free to shoot any questions you might have.