Andalucia in Spain’s most southern region. Where the Moors ruled for 700 years, leaving behind a rich architectural and cultural history. Seville’s Royal Alcazar, Cordaba’s Mequista, and The Alhambra in Granada. A Trifecta of the greatest Moorish-Spanish gems. All amazing places to visit in Andalucia!
Plus, the region features amazing beaches, beautiful hilltop towns, and the warmest European winters. And for foodies like me, Andalucía is the birthplace of tapas. Visit Andalucía and you’ll find yourself in undeniable foodie heaven.
This region of Spain is unquestionably a must-visit. Here’s a look at some of the best places to visit in Andalucía.
The Alhambra not only tops my list of best places to visit in Andalucia, I feel that it’s the greatest single site in Spain.
Built on a hill overlooking the city, The Alhambra is a complex of fortresses, palaces, churches, and gardens. Construction began in the 13th century by the ruling Moors, with various additions over the centuries that followed. The centerpiece is the Nasrid Palace with its intricate design and decoration.
Courtyard of the Lions in the Nasrid Palace
The Alhambra is such a vast complex, any visitor should set aside several hours to adequately explore it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed here, so I would recommend dividing up your visit if you have that luxury. I visited on two separate days, exploring different sections for several hours each day.
The Albaicin is the old Arab quarter of Granada, located on hill adjacent to the Alhambra. The whole district has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find a maze of narrow alleys, white-washed houses, churches, historic sites like ancient baths and the remnants of former city walls, and amazing views of the Alhambra across the way.
Places to visit in Andalucia - The Albaicin
The Tapas Route
Free tapas with a drink is a Spanish tradition alive and well in Granada. More than any other city in Spain, you can expect a free tapa when you order a drink in many Granada tapas bars. My Airbnb host provided a whole list of such bars throughout central Granada – a collection called The Tapas Route.
The free tapa are generally small but always delicious. And the more alcohol you order, the more tapas you get. 3 drinks, 3 tapa. In some bars, you can choose your tapa, while in others you get what you are served. It’s a fun tradition and a highlight of eating in Granada.
The Royal Alcazar
The Royal Alcazar tops the Seville section of best places to visit in Andalucía. Alcazar is the Arabic word for Palace, and the Royal Alcazar still functions as the Spanish Royal Family’s Palace in Seville. Members of the Family stay in its upper apartments while in town.
The beginnings of the Alcazar date to the 12th century. Its construction was directed by both Moorish and Spanish rulers over the centuries that followed, with the early Spanish Kings choosing to continue building in a Moorish style. Consequently, like the Alhambra, many parts of the interior still feature intricate Moorish architecture, courtyards, and decorations.
The domed ceiling in the Hall of the Ambassadors
The Royal Alcazar also features an impressive variety of gardens that stretch for acres behind the main buildings. A long two-story highly-decorated viewing balcony divides the gardens in half.
The Seville Cathedral
The Seville Cathedral, the world’s fourth largest Gothic cathedral, is located just a few steps from the Alcazar. Like many of the best sites in Andalucía, it demonstrates a wonderful combination of both Moorish and traditional European influences.
Initially a 12th century mosque, it was then “christianized”, and the huge cathedral was constructed on top during the Gothic middle ages – flying buttresses, gargoyles, and all.
This evolution of styles is evident through the building. This certainly makes it not only one of world’s largest, but maybe the world’s most unique Gothic cathedral, too.
Seville’s Tapas Bars
Seville has around 3000 tapas bars making it one of the epicenters for Spanish tapas. Unlike Granada, don’t expect a free tapa with your drink. But, as with most things, you get what you pay for. I felt that the variety and quality of the tapas were much better in Seville.
A tapa of grilled squid atop pea puree
Two people can easily make a full meal out of 3-5 tapa, and they are quite inexpensive. Larger portions of the individual tapas (called raciones) are available too. But for me, the joy of eating tapas is sampling all the different small plates. I easily tried over 100 different tapas during two weeks spent in Seville.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, also known as the Mesquita, is the third member of Andalucía’s architectural trifecta that I referred to earlier. Like the Seville Cathedral, it was once a mosque – originally constructed in the 8th century. And similarly, it was turned into something Catholic through the Middle Ages. A huge vaulted nave now sits in the center of the building.
Fortunately, the Spanish rulers kept the red and white arches of the original prayer hall which surrounds the central nave on all four sides. Walking through the Mesquita is one of the most visually striking experiences that you can have in Andalucia.
The Roman Bridge
Cordaba is also home to a unique Roman bridge. It crosses the Guadalquivir river, just below the Mesquita (the Guadalquivir also passes through Seville further downstream). This entire historic center of Cordoba, including the bridge, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The bridge was first built by the Romans in the 1st century BC, though mostly reconstructed to its current form by the Moors in the 8th century. It is now a pedestrian-only bridge and offers great views of the Mesquita and historic Cordoba.
The White Villages of Andalucia
Any one of these 20 White Villages, located in the mountainous area between Seville and Malaga, could be included in a list of the best places to visit in Andalucía. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just include two.
Ronda is the largest and the most famous of Andalucía’s White Villages. But it’s not the white-washed town that is Ronda’s chief claim to fame. Ronda is cut in half by a deep narrow gorge, and the bridge that connects Ronda’s two halves is the main reason people flock to visit. The New Bridge or Puenta Neuvo was completed in 1793 and is certainly one of the most famous bridges in all of Europe.
Ronda in Andalucía
You can either enjoy the bridge by walking across and looking down into the gorge, or by seeking out viewpoints along various trails through the gorge on either side.
Sentinel de Las Bodegas
One of the most unique White Villages is Sentinel de las Bodegas, only a 30 minute drive from Ronda. Most of this village is built directly into the surrounding hillsides. In ancient times, natural caves lining the village’s river were inhabited. With time, these natural caves were converted into more extensive living quarters. And eventually an entire town sprung up, blending in with the natural environment.
And on some streets, the rocky hills literally seem to spill down from above.
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez de la Frontera is a relatively small city about an hour south of Seville by train. And while not as well known as some of the other sites in this post, it needs to be included in this list of best places to visit in Andalucía for three reasons: Sherry, Flamenco, and Horses.
Sherry is a fortified wine grown from white grapes specific to this region of Andalucía. In fact, the name Sherry is the anglicized version of Jerez. Touring a Sherry-producing bodegas in Jerez is the Sherry equivalent of touring a winery in Tuscany or Napa. It’s the ideal way for a sherry novice to learn about the region’s favorite drink. Diez-Merito is one of the smaller bodegas in Jerez, and offers a more personalized tour compared to the popular yet touristy Bodegas Tio Pepe.
Jerez is also famous for its Tabancos. These are bars that feature sherry as the drink of choice. Chances are that your sherry will be poured from one of the big sherry barrels lined up behind the bar. And since this is Andalucia, you can order from a variety of tapas as well while drinking sherry in a Tabanco.
While Flamenco can be heard when walking the streets of most of Andalusia’s cities, Jerez is considered the birthplace for this art form. Flamenco is the folk music of southern Spain. It combines passionate, soulful singing, guitar, clapping, and dance. What better place to take in a performance than where it originated…in Jerez.