Southern Spain

Highlights of Southern Spain from a Local Guide


If you’re planning your Southern Spain itinerary, you’re probably wondering where to spend the most time, what cities to visit, and which ones to skip.

There is so much to see in this part of the country that it can feel pretty overwhelming trying to cram the highlights into a single trip to Spain.

In case you’re looking for advice from a local, you came to the right place. I have been living in Southern Spain for over three years now and have visited all the key locations and attractions it has to offer, most of them more than once.

As such, I have plenty of personal experience with the choices available and which ones are worth your time and those you should probably skip. Most importantly, I will also share some common issues you might have when visiting these places.

I have prepared this practical guide to help you plan your Southern Spain trip and also to manage your expectations about how much time you need to spend in each city, and how to prepare for the trip.

In this article, I will focus on the highlights which are known also as the ‘Andalusian golden triangle’: the cities of Granada, Cordoba, and Seville for your travel to Spain.

At the end of this Spain article you will also find some bonus travel tips for extra travel destinations, should you have more time to explore beyond the highlights while you are on the Iberian peninsula.

Highlights of Southern Spain

Granada

I have to start this list with my favorite city in all of Spain – Granada.

alhambra granada
Photo Credit: Lucia Pollo

Granada is an absolute tourist hot spot in Spain, especially in the summer months, but it gets pretty busy even in the off-season period. The reason?

The ancient Moorish palace complex of Alhambra, which attracts millions of visitors each year. It’s a large historical complex with an Alcazaba fortress and the gardens of Generalife attached to it.

The palace grounds consist of several locations, the most famous ones being the courtyard of the Lions, and the Palace of Charles V. Some of the locations like the Palace of Charles V and the main courtyard between the Nazaries Palace and the Alcazaba can be visited free of charge anytime.

If you’re planning to visit the Alhambra, I strongly suggest getting your tickets as soon as possible as they tend to sell out weeks in advance, and you might struggle to get them on short notice even in off-season months (I couldn’t get a ticket in December as they were sold out for a week ahead).

In addition to this beautiful historic location, you can also explore the old town stretching at the foothills of Alhambra, called Albaicin. It’s a maze of narrow cobbled roads leading up to the hills, offering gorgeous views of the main landmark, and some pretty spectacular locations to enjoy a meal with a glass of tinto de verano. While on the topic of food, Granada is also famous for keeping up with the tradition of offering free tapas with every drink ordered.

Another great location within reach of Alhambra is the Carmen de los Martires, a lush well-maintained garden with a manor house, panoramic views of the city, and resident peacocks running around. If you want to experience flamenco performances, you can head to the district of Sacromonte, where they perform traditional flamenco dances in the famous cave houses and tavernas. This will help you embrace the culture of Spain.

Seville

Seville (or Sevilla in Spanish) is the capital of the autonomous Spanish region of Andalusia and known for the Royal Alcazar of Seville. The royal palace counts itself amongst the oldest actively used royal residences in the world.

The Alcazar is a maze of stunning courtyards, water features, and architectural wonders, all complete with immaculate gardens. If it looks familiar it’s probably because it has been extensively used as a filming location for the Game of Thrones series.

If you’re planning to explore the Royal Alcazar, just as I suggested earlier, it’s best to get your tickets as soon as possible as it’s a very popular and busy place. Get your tickets for the first available slot in the morning to be able to enjoy the surroundings in relative peace and without the scorching heat in the summer.

In addition to the Alcazar, another highlight of Seville is the Cathedral, the final resting place of Christopher Columbus (or so they claim), with its Giralda tower that’s well worth the climb (no stairs, just an elevated platform leading up to the top!).

A few of the lesser-known spots that are worth your time are also the Palacio de las Dueñas, and the Casa de Pilatos, both great examples of Andalusian architecture. One of the newer architectural wonders that still divides opinions is the Setas de Sevilla (Seville’s Mushrooms), which is a large wooden structure towering above the old town. You will either love it or hate it.

My favorite part in Seville was the old town, where you can get lost in a maze of narrow streets and do a bit of restaurant hopping to taste different tapas and jamon varieties. A 2-Day Itinerary for Seville may seem short but will allow you to get a good feel of the authentic culture and vibes that this particular city has to offer you.

Cordoba

Cordoba Cathedral
Photo Credit: Lucia Pollo

The highlight of a trip to Cordoba is a visit to the Mezquita Cathedral, an old Islamic mosque converted into a Catholic Cathedral in the 13th century.

The result is a unique contrast of two religious influences translated into a wonder of architecture, with the oldest parts of the building dating back to 748 – 786. The entrance to the Cathedral is through a traditional Andalusian-style courtyard covered with blossoming orange trees.

Another historic location that’s well worth your time is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, with its beautiful gardens dating back to the medieval 10th century. There, you can admire a variety of plants and trees, stunning water features, and shaded pathways that offer a welcome break from the summer heat.

Palacio de Viana is one of the lesser-known spots in the city, and it may not look like much from the outside, but wait till you walk it and admire one of its 12 pretty courtyards with immaculately displayed plants and beautiful gardens.

If you have some spare time left, exploring the small narrow streets of the old town, and enjoying a cup of tea in a local teteria might be the perfect way to end your trip to Cordoba.

Bonus Tips for Other Spain Destinations

If you want some extra destinations to add to your trip itinerary, here are my picks:

For Spain Beach Holiday – Nerja

If you want some sun and sand, Nerja is a lesser-known and frequented destination on Costa del Sol, that offers a bit more authentic way to enjoy a sunny holiday. It is loved by local travelers, but also British expats.

Known for the ‘Balcony of Europe’ viewing platform, pretty natural-looking beaches, and beautiful surroundings which are also ideal for hiking. There is also a famous cave just outside of Nerja, and within 15 minutes you can drive to the pretty village of Frigiliana (more on that below).

For Spanish Wine Enthusiasts – Jerez de la Frontera

Jerez is located halfway between Seville and Cadiz and is part of the Sherry Triangle. In Jerez, you can spend your whole time discovering the local Bodegas and having a tasting tour, visiting a local museum dedicated to its history, or venturing to explore the local wineries.

Jerez has also an impressive Alcazar (an old fortress) and a Cathedral.

For water sports Enthusiasts – Tarifa

Love to spend some time in the water? In that case, head to Tarifa, where you can witness the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet at one spot. Tarifa is known as the surfer’s paradise but is frequented by windsurfers and kite surfers too. It’s a typical coastal town that’s not too flashy but feels much more authentic compared to other destinations on Costa del Sol.

From Tarifa, you can also book a dolphin or whale sightseeing boat trip, or do a day trip to Tangier in Morocco with a ferry.

For Pueblo Blanco Experience – Frigiliana

If you would love to visit one of Spain’s famous Andalusian white villages, Frigiliana is as pretty as they get. Set in the hills above Nerja, Frigiliana may be small, but it makes up for it with its pretty cobblestone streets decorated with plants and flowers, and stunning views of the coastline.

Keep in mind that the streets and views can be enjoyed after a bit of a climb in the village, so avoid visiting mid-day in the summer during the biggest heat.

Ronda Andalusia
Photo Credit: Lucia Pollo

I hope you found lots of ideas for your trip to Southern Spain! No matter how many days you get to enjoy it there, I’m sure you will love everything it has to offer.

This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Lucia Pollo

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