Things to Do in Andalucia
Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente dating back to AD 600, the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the Western world. Learn about its rich history while taking in the 850 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.
Built on a hill overlooking Granada and set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada) is a sprawling complex of intricately decorated palaces, pristine gardens, and a once-mighty fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed during the Nasrid Dynasty and later partially destroyed and rebuilt by King Charles V. With its mix of Renaissance and Moorish architecture, the Alhambra Palace is the most sought-after attraction for visitors to Granada, sitting high on most must-see lists for Andalucia and Spain as a whole.
Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.
Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore. It’s not the only impressive structure here, either, as the beach is bookended to the north and south by two fortresses, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina.
Perched on El Tajo canyon, Ronda is set on one of Spain’s most dramatic landscapes and possesses a rich history documented by ancient rock paintings, towering stone bridges, and 14th-century ruins. Today, the city’s dramatic cliffs, local wineries, and rustic charm make it an ideal mountain getaway or day trip destination.
The 13th-century Generalife served as a summer retreat for Nasrid kings when they needed a break from palace affairs. From its perch on Cerro del Sol (Hill of the Sun), the series of terraces, promenades, and gardens spread across 74 landscaped acres (30 hectares) of the Alhambra complex afford some of the best views over Granada.
Wandering the miniature streets of Cádiz’s El Populo neighorbood, it would be easy to never realize that tucked behind the seemingly old buildings is a much, much older structure: the world’s second largest Roman theater. In fact, no one realized this until 1980, when a fire prompted the ancient theater’s discovery.
The Roman Theatre of Cádiz (Teatro Romano de Cádiz), which was likely built during the 1st century BC, fit some 20,000 spectators in its day. Since then, it was built over by a fortress, and later by more recent buildings, hence why it has since remained so very secret. Fortunately, part of the theater has now been excavated, with certain portions, including an interpretation center, open to the public. Though it is still being excavated, much of theater will remain unearthed given the buildings that sit atop it.
The world’s largest Gothic cathedral, built atop the remains of a mosque, the Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede) features a spectacular gold altarpiece in its main altar depicting 36 scenes from the life of Christ, as well as the tomb of Christopher Columbus, works by Goya and Murillo, and the dramatic Giralda Tower.
Designed for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, Seville’s grandiose Plaza de España is a semicircular public square brimming with brick and tile fountains, canals, and foot bridges, giving it the nickname Venice of Seville. Renaissance and neo-Moorish towers sit at either end of the plaza, which is situated within Maria Luisa Park.
While in Cadiz, a trip toward the sea can offer more than just pretty views. Indeed, if you go to the northwestern border of the island-like southern city, you’ll happen upon one of its favorite treasures, Genovés Park (Parque Genovés). Created in the 19th century, the seaside green getaway wasn’t always so green, though: it once went by the name of Parsley Promenade given its sparse vegetation. But these days the garden serves as a botanical wonderland filled with over 100 species of trees and shrubs.
Strolling down its paths lined by fancily manicured greenery, you can escape the city and catch glimpses of the sea. Children will appreciate the man-made lake, which features dinosaur statues poking out of its waters, and a waterfall, which can be climbed atop, or even explored below by walking through its grotto. Whether you wish to sip on a coffee at the garden’s café, or prefer to find a quiet bench to relax on in the shade, the park is an enjoyable Cadiz stop that is worth a wander.
More Things to Do in Andalucia
Located within the mountains of Almeria in Spain sits Europe’s only semi-desert, a surreal landscape of arid slopes, dry river beds and ravines known as the Tabernas Desert (Desierto de Tabernas). While the name of the desert might not strike many as familiar, the landscapes probably will; this area is a Hollywood favorite — it’s been featured in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Lawrence of Arabia" and the Clint Eastwood "Dollars" trilogy.
Movie buffs can walk in the footsteps of famous actors in the film villages of Fort Bravo, Mini Hollywood and Western Leone, some of the more than a dozen villages built in the desert for filming purposes. Visitors will also find hiking trails, ruined hilltop castles and plenty of stunning desert views.
One of Andalucia’s top attractions, El Caminito del Rey is a narrow hiking path known for its nearly 2-mile (3-km) stretch of man-made boardwalks and glass footbridges that hug the sides of sheer cliffs and hang over river gorges. The roughly 3-hour hike takes you on paths 350 feet above the Guadalhorce River, offering stunning views of the Gaitanes Canyon (Desfiladero de los Gaitanes).
Córdoba, which was once considered the most populous city in the world, was once home to a thriving Jewish community, and now its ancient neighborhood of white buildings is considered one of the most famousjuderías (Jewish quarters) in Spain. Wander the area’s narrow lanes and visit its famous synagogue and souks.
Museo Picasso Málaga, situated in the city of the master’s birth, showcases a collection of more than 200 pieces donated to the museum by Picasso’s family. While the Blue and Rose periods are missing, the collection highlights the artist’s personal side, with works he painted for his family or kept for himself.
Spanish architect Joaquín Rucoba built Málaga’s neo-Mudéjar bullring in 1874. Entrepreneur and former president of Málaga Football Club, Fernando Puche Dona, owns it today. The arcaded stadium has capacity for 14,000 spectators, with stables and training grounds for the horses, corrals for the bulls, and a mini-hospital.
Get to know the essence of Cadiz during a wander through one of its most beloved old quarter neighborhoods, La Viña. The name, which means “the vine,” was inspired by its previous life when it served as land for vineyards. That was, of course, before buildings cropped up to accommodate the city’s population, which grew due to increasing trade with the Americas in the 18th century.
Since its vineyard days, this area has been known as a fishermen neighborhood given its easy access to the sea via La Caleta Beach. It should come as no surprise, then, that this is the ideal place in town to sample some of Cadiz’s best seafood, particularly pescaito frito, a dish of fried local fish for which Southern Spain is famous. Apart from tapas hopping — particularly along the main drag Calle de la Palma — La Viña is also ripe with flamenco bars, and is the epicenter of Carnival celebrations, arguably the city’s most important festival. At the end of the day, be sure to take a break from getting lost in the barrio’s streets to make a sunset visit to the beach and neighboring San Sebastian Castle.
Centuries ago, when Spain was under Muslim rule, Arab baths could be found in locations throughout the south. These hammams are said to have served as places of purification, hygiene and relaxation. Though few remain, you can still get a feel—in more ways than one—for what these tranquil getaways were like by experiencing the Hammam Al Ándalus in Málaga.
Located in a historic building just off Martyers Square and next to an old Mudejar-towered church, this hammam—or Arab bath—features Moorish-inspired architecture. Think details such as horseshoe-shaped arches, colorful tiled walls, and ethereal lighting created by star-shaped skylights in the overhead dome.
As is tradition, the Hammam Al ndalus has cold, warm and hot baths, as well as a steam room, and rest room, where you can relax and sip on traditional mint tea. Lasting 1.5 hours, the sessions allow guests to experience the various pools when not enjoying their massage. The massages themselves can be customized to last 30 minutes (rather than 15), and to include the use of a hot stone and traditional Arabic glove (called kessa) for rubbing soap and red grape into the skin. You can also pick from a selection of essential oils aimed to relax and moisturize.
Santa Cruz is Seville’s historic Jewish Quarter, a barrio filled with whitewashed buildings and some of the city’s most popular sights, including Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral, and the Real Alcázar. Meander down streets, stopping in bodegas and art galleries to enjoy the cultural and architectural richness of this barrio.
One of Málaga’s most popular attractions, the Alcazaba is an atmospheric Moorish palace and fortress with ornamental gardens. Take in panoramic views of the city as you marvel at the ingenious design tricks the Moors used to protect their stronghold.
Several bridges traverse the Guadalquivir River as it weaves through Cordoba, but one really stands out: the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano). Anchored by Calahorra Tower to the south and Puerta del Puente to the north, this bridge was originally built in the 1st century BC. Highlights of the structure include the statue of San Rafael at its mid-point.
Located in the heart of Córdoba’s Jewish Quarter, and just blocks away from the Mezquita, the Córdoba Synagogue (Sinagoga de Córdoba) is the Juderia's (Jewish Quarter’s) main attraction and is a one-of-a-kind site in the Andalusia region. Built in the 14th century, the small synagogue houses a courtyard, prayer room, and women's gallery.
The old Moorish town of Ronda teeters precariously atop the El Tajo Gorge, which historically served as a daunting obstacle for approaching enemies. Water from the Guadalevín River and melting snow flowing down from the Sierra de las Nieves eroded the gorge, and Ronda is one of the few towns in the world to be split in two by a ravine such as this.
During a visit to Granada in 1526, King Charles V (Carlos V) chose the Alhambra as the site of his future royal residence. The Palace of Charles V (Palacio de Caros V) stands in stark contrast to the style of the surrounding Moorish Alhambra. It is notable for its 2-level columned circular courtyard and surrounding square structure.
The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is a major feat of 18th-century engineering uniting Ronda’s old and new towns over El Tajo Gorge, the sheer limestone ravine that descends 390 feet (120 meters) to the craggy bed of the Guadalevín River. Spanish architect José Martín de Aldehuela designed the bridge, constructed between 1759 and 1793.
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