Andalucia travel guide

Spain’s region of Andalucia is composed of eight provinces, stretching from the south-east to the south-west of the country, each one named for its capital city: Cadiz, Cordoba, Jaen, Huelva, Almeria, Malaga, Granada and Seville. Andalucia is the southernmost region of continental Europe; it is the largest region in Spain, and has the largest population, most of it concentrated along the coast and in the Guadalquivir valley. While its once-beautiful coastline has been largely massacred by often uncontrolled property speculation and intensive agriculture (la “plasticultura”), with a few exceptions, inland, and often still quite close to the coast, Andalucia remains a magnificent region of hills, plains and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Between the Sierra Nevada and the coast lie the Alpujarras, with some of the richest cultural heritage in Spain. The high Alpujarras and the Sierra Nevada offer great opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities, specially in Spring and Autumn when the rest of Europe feels distinctly cooler. The average temperature in Andalucia in summer is 36°C (97 °F). These scorching temperatures are not meant to explore cities but April and May are lovely months to visit Andalucia and October and November are very pleasant too.

Travel guide Andalucia Spain

Map of Andalucia

Northern and eastern Andalucia is sparsely populated, many parts being characterized today by endless olive groves, largely a result of EU subsidies. Other parts, however, are dry and virtual semi-desert. Just inland from the port of Almeria lies the Desierto de Tabernas, the only area in Europe officially designated as a desert.   The most fertile part of Andalucia is the central valley of the river Guadalquivir which, flowing through Sevilla, reaches the Atlantic coast west of the port city of Cadiz. Though the flow of the river is very seasonal, the Guadalquivir and its tributaries sustain agricultural activity throughout the area, including the production of Sherry, which comes from the area around Jerez de la Frontera..

But perhaps the most unique feature of this enchanting region are the remnants of its Moorish past. The Moors were a mixture of Berbers and Arabs who crossed into Spain from North Africa by the Straits of Gibraltar and occupied the peninsula – which they called al Andalus – for more than seven centuries, dating from 710 when they first landed in Tarifa. Within a mere four years they had virtually conquered the entire country, although they soon withdrew to the southern part of the peninsula, where they established, in the towns of Cordoba, Seville and Granada, one of the most sophisticated civilizations of the Middle Ages. The great Moorish heritage of Andalucia survives to this day in many Alcazars and other buildings, but most famously in the Mesquita at Cordoba and the Alhambra at Granada, among the most visited historic monuments in Europe.

Once Spain´s poorest region, Andalucia – and specifically the provinces of Malaga, Granada and Seville – is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, thanks to its sandy beaches, beautiful countryside, spectacular mountain ranges, fabulous monuments and high-spirited people who live life to the full and are well known for their exuberance, warmth and hospitality. Andalusia may be the poorest region in Spain economically, but it’s the richest in terms of culture, places to visit and things to do. It is the most stereotypically Spanish region, with glorious sunshine most of the year; bullfighting, tapas and flamenco at every turn. If you choose just one region to visit in Spain, make this it! There’s no doubt about it – Andalucia is the perfect venue for your holiday, with its reliable sun, beautiful beaches, tasty tapas, and amazing history and culture; whether for a city break exploring monuments and experiencing flamenco rhythms, a visit to a white village, or to get swept up in the colorful fiestas and fascinating festivals. Southern Spain is a destination you will never forget and you’ll want to come back again and again.

The mix of Roman, Moorish and Spanish history, combined with the great food culture and its excellent climate makes this area of Spain so popular with tourists and travelers.

Some basic facts about Spain’s region of Andalucia

Andalucia Highlights

  • The Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra is a Moorish fortress complex, with a number of builds of immense beauty and gardens like you won’t see anywhere else.
  • The Cathedral and Alcazar in Seville are the best sights in Seville, and they are side by side. The Cathedral is huge and marries Christian and Moorish designs to spectacular effect.
  • The bridge at Ronda. Ronda is built over a ravine and the view from the bridge is exceptional. Getting to Ronda can be quite difficult, so if you’re staying on the Costa del Sol, you may want to consider this Guided Tour of Ronda.
  • Everyone these days is talking about Osuna and its use as a filming location in Game of Thrones.
  • The Mosque in Cordoba. The biggest mosque in Spain, it is the highlight of any trip to Cordoba.
  • Free tapas in Granada. Granada is famous for its bars, where they serve a morsel of food with every drink.
  • Flamenco in Seville, the home of Spain’s most distinctive art form. It isn’t all about the dancing – the masterful guitar playing and passionate vocals should stir the emotions.
  • Sherry in Jerez. Jerez invented sherry and a guided tour of one of the many bodegas(wine cellars) is the single most important thing to do in Andalusia. Read more about Sherry Bodegas in Jerez.
  • Bullfighting in Seville, though not to everyone’s taste.
  • The wine-growing and ham-producing region of Alpujarras. A short drive from Granada, this mountainous collection of villages is perfect for hiking or sampling the best ham in the country.
  • Fried fish in Cadiz. The ‘gaditanos’ (inhabitants of Cadiz) invented fried fish long before the British caught on.

Sports

During winter, the main sport are skiing and snowboarding, and the perfect place to practice them is Sierra Nevada. The ski station is located 33km away from the city of Grenada and its magnificent monuments. Most of its 85km of slopes begin at Sierra Nevada’s second highest peak, the Veleta. The Pradollano ski station can be visited both on weekend and during holidays, due to the amount of services it offers, besides having top-quality equipment and facilities.

Golf courses for all tastes

Andalucia is the Autonomous Community of Spain with the most golf courses on its territory, both for professional golf experts and fans, as well as beginners. The Costa del Sol has been nicknamed the Costa del Golf and is home to the most golf courses in Andalucia. Its year-round good climate is a great pull for lovers of this sport.

Beach time

Most people come to Andalucia for their holidays because of the superb weather and the excellent beaches which are a big draw, along with the delicious, reasonably-priced food, especially seafood and “jamon iberico” (cured ham) and friendly people who love nothing more than a fiesta. Thanks to the reliable sunshine and warm temperatures, much of life is lived outdoors.

Andalucia has 800 km of coastline, with something for everyone. It features two seas – the wilder Atlantic coast, known as the Costa de la Luz, which stretches from the Portuguese border in the west to Gibraltar; and the Mediterranean, which includes the hugely popular Costa del Sol, from Gibraltar to Nerja, as well as the less developed Costa Tropical, which is Granada province´s coastline, and the practically deserted Costa de Almeria to the east. One of the best features of Andalucia´s beaches, apart from the soft sand and clear waters, are the “chiringuitos”, beach bars selling fresh fish, salads and cold drinks. Just wander up the beach in your swimming costume, sit down in the shade and tuck in – dress code is extremely informal, while the food is usually fresh and delicious.

A wide-ranging and varied museum offering

Andalucia has a wide-ranging and varied museum offering. In the city of Malaga, you can visit over 30 museums just in the historic center. The Picasso Museum is the most famous. The Pompidou Museum is one of the most recent ones. It is at Malaga’s new Muelle Uno, a leisure area very popular with locals and tourists. The Carmen Thyssen Museum and the Museum of Wine also stand out.

Other interesting museums in Andalucia are the Bandolero Museum and the Bullfighting Museum in Ronda, the Puppet Museum in Cadiz, the Contemporary Museum of the Spanish Etching in Marbella. The Museum of Huelva with its room dedicated to architecture, Museo de Huelva with rooms dedicated to archaeology, fine art and ethnology is another center of cultural interest in Andalucia.

Adventure Parks

Enjoying adventure parks like children and with children is another reason to visit Andalucia in winter. Selwo Aventuras in Estepona, Selwo Marina in Benalmádena, the emblematic Tivoli World also in Benalmádena or the Parks dedicated to film and the wild west in Almería are sufficient options to visit in Andalucia in winter.

For the Foodie in You

Another great reason for visiting Andalucia is, without a doubt, the delicious gastronomy of the region. Each of the eight provinces offer great sensory experiences to those willing to try new things. Discover the typical dishes of each one of the Andalucian cities and towns and let your senses experience the great diversity of flavors and scents that are offered to them.

Life is relaxed in Andalucia – there is no rush to do anything. You can eat breakfast till 12, and have lunch at 4 if you fancy. Night time is when things get going – don´t bother going out before 9 to eat, or 11 to a bar. Up till the small hours? No worries – you can have a long lie-in the next day. One of the best, and most important, pastimes in Andalucia is gastronomy. It is considered essential to social and cultural life; recipes and produce are discussed with as much seriousness as sport and politics – the quality of a jamon is equally important as the players in a football team. Any village, town or city will have a variety of bars with a wide choice of tapas, from the traditional to the avant-garde, and moving from one of these bars to another to try different dishes – the tapeo – is part of life in Andalucia.

Wine treasures: fine wines and red wines

If you still do not know these wines, you have no idea of what you have been missing. Great quality red wines are manufactured in Andalucia. They are increasingly in more demand not only inside of Spain but in the international market. An example is the case of Ronda, a unique place within the Spanish wine industry. Its rather continental weather and the fact that it is surrounded by various national parks, makes this small region with 21 boutique wineries one of the certificates of origin with more projection in all of Spain.

Family Travel

If you have children, few places are more welcoming than Andalucia. The Spanish adore children, and you can take them to restaurants without being frowned on by staff and fellow diners, who are more likely to make a big fuss of them. In Andalucia, children are not expected to sit quietly – they can run around and play, especially if you´re eating outside, which adds to the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. In terms of keeping kids entertained, besides the endless beaches, there are various waterparks, zoos and theme parks around the region. During the summer months, almost every town has an open-air public pool, often with both a children´s pool and an adult pool, and sometimes with a bar for snacks and cold drinks.

Transportation

Travelling to Andalucia couldn´t be easier, with five airports to choose from: Seville, Malaga (extremely busy, as it´s a hugely popular holiday destination), Granada, Almeria and Jerez. If you are concerned about your carbon footprint, you can take the high-speed train, or AVE, from Madrid or Barcelona, to Seville, Cordoba or Malaga.

Fiesta! (Spring Time)

Not a day passes in Andalucia without some city, town or village celebrating a fiesta. These inevitably involve dressing up, dancing, singing, drinking, eating, and generally having a good time. They range from “romerias” pilgrimages, where the faithful carry an effigy across the countryside to a shrine, to full-on ferias with all-night partying and Sevillana dancing. Semana Santa is the most important of these, celebrated in every town across Andalucia, with the most important processions being in Seville and Malaga. Every day for a week, the members of religious brotherhoods parade effigies of the Virgin Mary and Jesus throughout the region’s towns and cities, accompanied by brass bands playing somber music. It’s a spectacle that’s well worth seeing.

Jerez’s Feria del Caballo: In early May the gorgeous city of Jerez de la Frontera holds one of Andalusia’s best festivals. Although somewhat overshadowed by Seville’s annual blow-out, the Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair). Beautiful Andalusian horses carry their elegantly-clad riders around the fairground, giving the festival a charmingly rustic atmosphere.

Seville’s Feria de Abril: Exactly two weeks after the end of Semana Santa, Seville launches itself into a week of non-stop partying with its annual Feria de Abril (April Fair). This is the largest of Andalusia’s annual ferias, with about 1,000 casetas (marquee tents) for eating, drinking and dancing located on a sanded fairground on the outskirts of the city’s historic center. Although most of these are invitation-only, there are several casetas open to the public. Prestigious bullfights are also held during the fair.

Córdoba’s Fiesta de los Patios: Nowhere are Andalusia’s spring colors more beautifully put on display than in Córdoba during the month of May. The Fiesta de los Patios, as its name suggests, is a two week-long celebration of the flower-filled courtyards of houses in the oldest neighborhoods. Normally, there are around 50 such spaces to visit every year for free and at the end of the fiesta, Córdoba’s town council awards a prize to the prettiest patio.

White Villages and Parks

Andalucia is still known largely as a sun-and-sand holiday destination, but don´t make the mistake of thinking that its attractions are limited to its extensive coastline. As well as Andalucia’s fascinating cities, the region is sprinkled with tiny unspoiled villages and whitewashed towns, the famous pueblos blancos, which tourists often overlook, even though they are of easy access, such as Casares, Gaucin and Frijiliana. Andalucia is a region of startling contrasts and great charm.

Inland, you will find stunning national parks, full of animals such as lynx, deer, wild boar and wolves. Andalucia is a popular bird-watching destination (Doñana National Park), with rare breeds such as imperial eagles and black vultures, as well as flamingos, storks and golden orioles being among the attractions. Sports enthusiasts are well catered for, with numerous golf courses, hiking trails, and skiing in the Sierra Nevada, while one of the best ways to cover the spectacular mountain terrain is on horseback.

Moors and Romans-Archeological sites of great interest

What many visitors to Andalucia don´t realize is that it has a long and colorful past, stretching back to the Phoenicians in the second century BC, then the Romans, followed by 600 years of Moorish rule. Andalucia´s Moorish history provides many of the most fascinating and impressive monuments in the region.

The Moors built a host of amazing mosques, forts and palaces, from the Giralda in Seville, originally the tower of a mosque, to the Mezquita in Cordoba, and of course the Alhambra in Granada. But as well as these famous monuments in Andalucia´s atmospheric cities, you can spot strategically located hilltop castles all over Andalucia´s landscape, perched protectively above towns with their long, impregnable walls still intact nearly 1000 years after they were built.

For Roman sites, the ancient Roman city of Acinipo in Ronda, Baelo Claudio in the coastal city of Tarifa in Cádiz, the roman city of Itálica in the Sevillian municipality of Santiponce. Visiting Andalucia enables you to take a tour of the history of different civilizations. You can start with cave paintings, such as those of La Pileta in Malaga.

Arts and crafts 

Another reason to visit Andalucia is to buy original pottery, leather, plant fibers, silver filigree, wrought iron, wood. Filigree work in silver was practiced by the Moors of Spain during the Middle Ages with great skill, and was introduced by them and established all over the Iberian Peninsula. Embossed leather goes back to the time when Southern Spain was known as Al-Andalus. This technique was first brought by Muslims, and has been kept alive through direct transmission in the main cities of the South of Spain, especially in Cordoba.

Flamenco

Andalucia is also famous for flamenco, the passionate foot-stomping gypsy art form that encompasses singing, dancing and guitar playing. Any visitor to the region shouldn´t miss a performance – the color and raw emotion are unforgettable.

Great value for your money

Andalucia is a land of culture, history, holiday, nature and very good food. You will visit from impressive monuments to a natural environment full of contrasts, will live through the popular only celebrations and will taste very tasty products. In Andalucia you can enjoy everything what offers you without nor starting of the budget resigning to the quality.

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Audrey De Monte

About Audrey De Monte

Born in New York City, raised in Western Africa, I have studied, lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and North America), and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Travel has shaped my life, who I am, how I look at the world and continues to be my biggest teacher. Together with my native Italian husband, we speak 5 languages. Western Europe is my backyard, in particular Spain, France, Germany, and Italy—countries where I have spent my life, since early childhood, visiting family, friends, studying, living and working.