Flamenco dancers performing

Andalusia is quintessential Spain. Here you can hit all the highlights, from sherry tasting in the bodegas of Jerez and seafood feasting in Cádiz to flamenco dancing in the bars of Seville and sunbathing on the beaches of the Costa del Sol. Don’t ignore the interior, where deep valleys lead up to snow-capped peaks, tiny white villages cling to steep slopes, and you’ll find two of Spain’s finest buildings: Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita.

The best places to visit in Andalusia

Seville

Seville, Andalusia

Legend has it that Seville was founded by the Greek hero Hercules

Narrowing down where to go in Andalusia is tough, but Seville should be a stop on any itinerary. The Andalusian capital is simply fabulous, from its pavement terraces where you can sip juice freshly squeezed from local oranges, right up to its towering Giralda bell tower, where you can gaze down over it all – and perhaps pick your next tapas spot. Seville rewards the wanderers, those who plunge into the Barrio Santa Cruz to follow their nose or the music to cafés and tapas bars, and find themselves still dancing well past midnight. Do make time, though, for the cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic church and home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Stay in the heart of it all at the opulent Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Seville or the superb value AC Hotel Cuidad de Sevilla.

Granada

At the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains and packed with Moorish influence, Granada is an atmospheric city in which you can easily lose yourself. Abandon fixed plans in favour of a stroll through the old Moorish quarter of Albaicín and the Romani barrio of Sacromonte, passing fountains and hidden guitar shops, perhaps even stopping for a soak at the hammam. You can’t miss the hilltop Alhambra, both for its imposing position above the city and its exceptional Moorish architecture. Stay at the glorious Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula, Autograph Collection, in the heart of the historic centre.

Córdoba

Most people know Córdoba for its incredible 1200-year-old Mezquita – and the building is indeed a feast for the eyes – but there is much more to Andalusia’s northernmost city than just the mosque itself. Base yourself at the stylish AC Hotel Cordoba and allow a couple of hours to explore the Mezquita’s terracotta-and-cream striped interior, before heading out into the Judería quarter to winkle out extravagant plant-filled patios and atmospheric tapas bars. Be warned: this is a hard city to leave.

Cádiz

Catedral de Cádiz

Cádiz cathedral is especially resplendent on sunny days

A perfect natural harbour made Cádiz an early port – in fact, the city claims to be the oldest in Europe. Time here is best spent simply soaking up the atmosphere by slipping into a seat outside a laid-back café or bar and watching the world pass by. You’re never more than a few blocks from the sea, so menus are seafood-focused, and the proximity to Jerez means sherry is the aperitivo of choice. Cádiz is an easy day trip from Seville, so if you’re staying at Hotel Alfonso XIII, it’s just an hour-long drive to this brilliant city.

Jerez

Jerez is the city of sherry, giving its name to the drink and remaining the centre of its production to this day. Sherry bodegas line the streets here and a pleasant few days can be spent touring them and tasting their wares. You’ll also find Renaissance and Baroque churches and palaces, plus the world-famous Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, where you can watch teams of horses dancing in truly captivating style. Jerez is a great day trip option from the Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Seville or the superb value AC Hotel Cuidad de Sevilla.

Málaga

Andalusia’s second city, the gateway to the Costa del Sol, Málaga rewards travellers who take the time to explore it beyond the beaches and bars. You’ll find a magnificent Moorish fortress, a vast archaeological collection and a museum dedicated to the town’s most celebrated son, Pablo Picasso. There’s also a branch of the Pompidou Centre, which houses modern art, and one of the finest botanical gardens in all of Spain. Stay at the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio for spectacular views of the city’s ancient port.

What to eat and drink in Andalusia

Tapas

Tapas, Spain

Sampling a variety of tapas is a must-do when in Spain

Spanish food is known for its small plates, or tapas, a concept that originated in Andalusia, and every city is packed with great places to eat them. Classic dishes to look out for include olives (aceitunas), garlic prawns (gambas al ajillo) and Spanish omelette (tortilla Española). You’ll also generally find bread (pan) served with ham (jamón) and various cheeses (quesos), including manchego. In Seville try Bodeguita Romero, in Granada Bodegas Castañeda, and in Córdoba Moriles Ribera.

Chocolate con churros

Churros dipped in chocolate

Churros dipped in chocolate is one of Spain's great indulgences

If you love dessert, of all the Andalusian dishes to try, churros are sure to be your favourite. These long, fried doughnuts are served dusted in sugar and with a thick hot chocolate to dip them in. Watch them being made at Churros Plaza de Jerez, an unassuming but very popular kiosk just outside the main market in Jerez, or at Los Especiales in Seville.

Sherry

No visit to Andalusia is complete without getting to know its most famous drinks export, sherry. Forget what you think you know about sweet, syrupy Christmas tipples and go on a tasting spree in the so-called Sherry Triangle. This area between the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María is packed with bodegas offering tastings and tours, on which you’ll soon discover that sherry comes in many forms, from a dry, light fino through to the serious sugar hit of Pedro Ximénez. Bodegas Osborne in Puerto de Santa María and Bodegas Lustau in Jerez are two of the best places to get your sherry education.

Orange juice

Seville oranges

Oranges are the joyous iconic fruit of Seville

The streets of Seville are packed with oranges, and if the heat of the city doesn’t work up a thirst, their sweet, tangy smell is sure to. Settle in on any streetside terrace, order a glass of freshly squeezed juice, and prepare to be forever disappointed by the supermarket juice back at home.

Top things to do in Andalusia

Costa de la Luz

A beautiful corner of the Costa de la Luz

One of the best things to do in Andalusia is to hit the beach. Not for nothing is the southern Spanish coastline known for its holiday resorts, and there are plenty of sandy strands to stretch out on, from the unmissable Atlantic-facing beache of Isla Cristina in the west to the Mediterranean beaches of Almería in the east. Those of the Costa de la Luz, close to the Portuguese border, are generally the quietest (and ideal for watersports) while those of the Costa del Sol are most popular, especially around the resorts of Torremolinos and Fuengirola. The coolest resort is Marbella, where you’ll find gorgeous sandy beaches and luxurious hotels, including Marriott’s Marbella Beach Resort.

There are interesting things to do in each of the main cities. Andalusia was once the heartland of Moorish Spain, leaving an incredible architectural legacy to discover here, from the Alhambra in Granada to the Mezquita in Córdoba. In Seville you can even bathe in Mudéjar style at the Aire Ancient Baths, enjoying a hammam-style scrub down before relaxing in soothing warm waters. Finally, don’t miss the Pueblos Blancos (or “white towns”) of the interior, including Ronda, perched above a deep gorge in the mountains above Málaga, and Arcos de la Frontera, atop a limestone ridge in the province of Cádiz.

Hidden gems in Andalusia

The Parque Nacional de Doñana

The Parque Nacional de Doñana is one of Europe's most important wetland reserves

One of Andalusia’s most exciting things to do is a tour in the Coto de Doñana national park, Spain’s largest wildlife reserve and one of Europe’s most important wetlands. This is the estuary of the Guadalquivir river and its rich deposits of silt and barely emerged sandbanks make ideal conditions for migrating birds. Join a guided tour from El Rocio, where the streets are made of sand, heading out into the forest and the marshes to spot birds including herons, flamingos and even Spanish imperial eagles. On your return, wander the Wild West-like town of El Rocio, where many of the locals use horses in place of cars.

For more alternative things to do, go inland to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and Sierra Morena. Here you’ll find numerous walking trails, especially in the beautiful Alpujarras, where rolling hills run down from the Sierra Nevada to the Mediterranean and you’ll still see Berber architecture in the villages (more commonly seen in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco). There’s excellent birdwatching here too, as well as superb local jamón serrano (a dry-cured ham). Back on the coast, Cabo de Gata natural park is a protected area of ochre-coloured volcanic rockscapes and deserted sandy beaches.

Go deeper

When it comes to seeking out the best places to eat in Andalusia. It’s always worth asking the locals, or just following the crowds – even if where they’re heading doesn't look particularly special. It’s often the least impressive-looking places that serve the best food, including seaside kiosks or places around the market that appear at first glance to be little more than a hole in the wall. Don’t expect them to be busy before about 2pm for lunch and 9pm for dinner – the locals eat late in Andalusia, and it’s best to join them.





Published: July 25, 2022

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