Andalucia Holiday Planning Guide
A region of geographic contrasts, Andalucía is home to ancient cities, sun-warmed beaches, intriguing deserts, and dramatic mountains. Spanning almost the entire southern section of Spain, it boasts a rich Moorish heritage that endowed it with numerous outstanding examples of Islamic architecture. Today, it’s a popular vacation destination for European tourists drawn to the modern resorts of Costa del Sol, but these beachside hotel complexes don’t overshadow Andalucía’s fascinating history. Numerous secluded corners of the coast remain unblemished by crowds, while farther inland, in cozy villages frozen in time, the local bar is the center of all activity and farmers are the unofficial tour guides. All in all, a trip to Andalucía can be as diverse, adventurous, or relaxing as you choose.
Places to Visit in AndaluciaCosta del Sol
: The “Sunny Coast,” Costa del Sol boasts some of Europe’s best beach resorts, which stretch for 150 km (93 mi) along the Mediterranean. Seville
: The heart of southern Spain, Seville is rich in Moorish heritage, has Flamenco music pouring from its many bars, and boasts one of the country’s most impressive cathedrals. Costa de la Luz
: A windsurfer’s paradise, Costa de la Luz is the ideal Andalucia holiday destination for those who enjoy golden sands, seaside resorts, and world-class golf courses. Granada
: Home to the breathtaking Alhambra palace, Granada also features a tapas-loving nightlife and narrow streets winding through hilly “gypsy” quarters. Malaga
Malaga sits at the center of Costa del Sol, offering easy access to the region’s many attractions as well as a splendid and charming city center of its own. Marbella
: A swanky cosmopolitan resort town on the celebrated Costa del Sol, Marbella offers elegance alongside well-preserved historical landmarks. Cordoba
: A former capital for both the Moorish Kingdom and the Roman Empire, Cordoba is home to the stunning Great Mosque-Cathedral and is best visited during the flower festival in May. Benalmadena
: Combining mountains, beaches, and whitewashed villages, Benalmadena offers the best of Andalucia tourism. Fuengirola
: Long, white, sandy beaches lined with restaurants and stores make Fuengirola a veritable “Sunshine Playground.” Ronda
: Divided by the Guadalevin River producing a deep gorge, Ronda is renowned for its large, ancient bridge overlooking the scenic countryside.Tarifa
: Europe’s southernmost point, Tarifa offers some of Andalucia’s best windsurfing along the Strait of Gibraltar.Jerez De La Frontera
: Famous for flamenco and sherry production, Jerez De La Frontera offers charming solitude for your Andalucia itinerary.Mijas
: Located in the heart of Costa del Sol, Mijas boasts a whitewashed hillside village, a seaside resort, and the biggest golf course in Spain. Almeria
: Meaning “Mirror of the Sea,” Almeria offers splendid beaches just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park.Cadiz
: Said to be one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Cadiz features massive stone walls surrounding a well-preserved old town and a cathedral with stunning views of the city. Torremolinos
: Originally a small fishing village, Torremolinos draws thousands of visitors with its sunny beach resorts and renowned cuisine in the Carihuela quarter.
Things to Do in Andalucia
Popular Andalucia Tourist AttractionsAlhambra
: A Moorish palace featuring exquisite architecture, lush gardens, and stunning views of Granada and the surrounding mountains, Alhambra is a must-see Andalucia tourist attraction.Royal Alcázar of Seville
: The oldest royal palace still in operation in Europe, Seville’s Alcazar also represents one of Andalucia’s most stunning examples of Moorish architecture. Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
: A massive Moorish mosque later repurposed as a cathedral during the Catholic Reconquest of Spain, Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba remains one of the most striking buildings in Andalucia. Plaza de Espana
: Built for the 1929 Latin American Expo, Seville’s Plaza de Espana features impressive Renaissance Revival architecture depicting scenes from Spain’s various regions. Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla)
: Formerly a mosque, the immense Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla) is one of Europe's largest Gothic cathedrals and the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.Torre Giralda
: Soaring above Seville’s large cathedral, this erstwhile minaret offers sweeping views of the city. Generalife
: Adjacent to Alhambra is the summer palace and gardens of Generalife, built in the 14th century for the Nasrid Emirs. Barrio Santa Cruz
: Behind Seville’s famous cathedral is the old Jewish quarter of Barrio Santa Cruz, a winding labyrinth of narrow streets lined with museums, restaurants, and shops. Mirador de San Nicolas
: Make your way to Granada’s highest point for unbeatable views of the city and the famous Alhambra.Albayzin
: Lose yourself in time in the old Moorish neighborhood of Albayzin, a World Heritage Site since 1984.
Planning an Andalucia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Andalucia with Kids
It’s easy to fill your family's Andalucia itinerary, from marveling at inimitable World Heritage Sites to soaking up the sun at one of the region’s various world-class beaches. For those who prefer the former, then Seville
is the best place to start. With dozens of museums, galleries, and cultural sites, the city is an ideal place to get a feeling for the Andalusian way of life. Seville is also ideally located for day trips to places like Ronda
, and Jerez De La Frontera
--towns whose impressive historical sights are sure to compel children's imaginations.
For a more relaxing beach holiday, start your trip in Malaga
. Costa del Sol beaches such as Playa La Carihuela
and Playa de Burriana
are only a short distance away and offer a calm respite from the city. Budding art fans visiting the city shouldn’t miss Museo Picasso Malaga
and Museo Casa Natal de Picasso
, the famed artist’s birth house.
Things to Do in Andalucia with Kids
Andalucia’s tourist attractions cover a wide range, so plan your trip with your children's interests in mind. Some of the top sights, such as Alhambra
, Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla)
and Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
, are certain to impress visitors of all ages. Balance trips to cultural attractions with some fun diversions. In Seville
, for example, check out Parque Isla Magica
, a 16th-century themed amusement park with roller coasters, water rides, and the largest virtual reality theater in the world. After taking in the main sights of Granada
, learn about various aspects of science at Science Park (Parque de las Ciencias)
, or head into the country for a river adventure at Rafting SaltaRios
Tips for a Family Vacation in Andalucia
Families planning an Andalucia vacation should remember some practical information to make their time more enjoyable. As Spain's southernmost region, Andalucia generally stays very warm, which means that summers can be terribly hot, especially in the inland cities. Carry plenty of water and slather on the sunscreen while sightseeing. It is also important to beware of pickpockets and scam artists. While Andalucia is generally safe for tourists, theft is common near popular attractions. Keep personal belongings close and avoid people on the street offering “gifts” or services.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Andalucia
Cuisine of Andalucia
As one of the largest regions in Spain, Andalucia boasts an extensive and varied cuisine. Moving from one tapa bar to the next to sample the local flavors is an Andalucia attraction in and of itself, as well as a community tradition. Andalusian cuisine is distinguished by its rural and coastal qualities, making use of abundant quantities of locally sourced produce, olive oil, and seafood. Perhaps the most internationally renowned Andalusian dish is gazpacho, a cold tomato soup usually eaten to counteract blistering heat in the summer. Variations of this popular dish include “ajoblanco,” gazpacho’s white cousin, and “salmorejo,” a thicker soup served with hard-boiled egg and serrano ham that is popular in Cordoba
Due to the large amount of olive oil produced in Andalucia, fried foods are common throughout the region. Some typical dishes include “pescadito frito” (fried fish), “puntillitas” (fried baby squid), and “flamenquin” (sliced serrano ham wrapped in pork loin, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried). Sample these delicacies on your tour of Andalucia and wash them down with a glass of local wine or some world-famous sherry (“jerez”) from Jerez De La Frontera
Travelers in Granada
should note that when ordering a drink from a bar it is customary to receive a tapas plate free of charge, which is sometimes pre-selected and sometimes chosen by the customer. This time-honored tradition is specific to this city and its surroundings, and should not be expected everywhere.
Shopping in Andalucia
Andalucia offers great shopping, from large department stores in its major cities to local specialty shops across the region. Malls and shopping centers are referred to in Andalucia as “centros comerciales,” which have grown in number over the past several decades to accommodate the needs of tourists. These are mostly found along the coast. Popular gift items and specialty products include fine wine, sherry, olive oil, and Andalusian sweets. Consider adding Chiclana de la Frontera
to your Andalucia itinerary for its popular open air market, held on Tuesdays. Visitors should also note that most businesses close in the afternoon between approximately 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. for the traditional “siesta.”
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Andalucia
History of Andalucia
Visiting the top Andalucia tourist attractions, you cannot help but delve into the rich and incredible history of southern Spain. A gateway between Europe and Africa and positioned along both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Andalucia has been an attractive settlement for millennia. Some of the earliest human activity in Andalucia can be found at Fundación Cueva de Nerja
, while evidence of the Roman Empire's presence can be seen at the impressive Archaeological Ensemble of Baelo Claudia
The richest period in Andalucia’s history began with the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711, and the establishment of “Al-Andalus,” the region’s namesake. Cordoba
became the capital, and the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
(at the time, of course, simply a mosque) was erected. This period also saw the development of the majestic Alhambra
and Royal Alcázar of Seville
. Al-Andalus remained prosperous and powerful until the Christian Reconquest (“Reconquista”) between the 12th and 15th centuries drove the Moors away, reclaiming Andalucia.
The Kingdom of Castile was established with the legendary marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who took up residency in Seville
. In 1492, Isabella famously authorized the colonial expeditions of Christopher Columbus, which led the new empire into an age of economic and political prosperity. Hordes of gold from the New World passed through Andalucia, some of which still adorns its cathedrals. The decline of the Spanish Empire saw the eventual decline of Andalucia’s prosperity, and nowadays the region remains a land of farmers and tradesmen.
Landscape of Andalucia
Andalucia’s geography is very diverse, consisting of large mountain ranges, far-reaching valleys, and an exquisite Mediterranean coastline. Granada
is a great place to get a feel for Andalucia’s varied landscape: a mere 40 km (25 mi) in one direction will bring travelers to the snow-capped peaks of Sierra Nevada National Park
, while the beaches of Motril
and the “Costa Tropical” are only 70 km (44 mi) in another direction. Nature-lovers should hike along the national park's barren mountains and check out the unique plant and animal life, making sure to stop at the popular and picturesque Las Alpujarras
. In Almeria
, Cabo de Gata - Nijar Natural Park
is a popular Andalucia tourist attraction for those seeking natural coastal beauty including arid desert, volcanic mountains, and even a coral reef for snorkeling.
Holidays & Festivals in Andalucia
As Spain’s most populated region, Andalucia is home to some of the country’s most well-known holidays and festivals. The undisputed star of Andalusian holidays is the “Semana Santa” (Holy Week) celebrations and processions, which occur the week leading up to Easter across the region. Traditionally one of the country’s most religious regions, Andalucia’s Semana Santa is unparalleled, particularly in Seville
. Expect thousands to line the streets to watch dedicated penitents carry elaborate, gold-studded floats depicting biblical figures through the streets. The holiday reaches its climax during the night before Good Friday, when the ever-popular, tear-inducing Virgin Mary of Triana makes her yearly appearance.
Shortly after Semana Santa, Seville hosts the popular “Feria de Abril,” a street festival celebrating Andalusian folklore, flamenco, food, and music. A similar celebration takes place in Malaga in August. In May, Cordoba
welcomes thousands of visitors to its May Crosses festival, with its elaborately decorated patios and extraordinary floral arrangements. Finally, if you’ve planned an Andalucia holiday during the winter months, don’t miss the carnival in Cadiz
, one of the country’s biggest and most popular festivals.
Andalucia Travel Tips
Climate of Andalucia
Andalucia has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The region’s “low” areas, such as the coastline, boast more than 300 days of sun per year. Summer temperatures in the large coastal cities are generally in the comfortable high 20s C (low 80s F). Inland, temperatures often climb into the mid-30s C (mid-90s F) in the summer, making spring and fall the ideal seasons to visit cities like Seville
, and Granada
Transportation in Andalucia
Most travelers elect to experience their Andalucia tour by car or train. If you’re planning to cover a lot of ground, including hard-to-reach destinations and natural parks, then the former is a great option, with car rentals easy to find in major cities. Highways in Andalucia are marked as “autopistas,” and expressways are marked as “autovias.” If you plan to visit only the region’s large cities, then the train service, run by RENFE, is top-notch. High-speed trains, known as AVE trains, run frequently between Andalucia’s major cities. It is recommended to buy tickets online if traveling by rail.
Language of Andalucia
Andalusians primarily speak the country’s national language: Castilian Spanish. However, the southern dialect is distinct from the Spanish of Castile or Madrid and is often referred to as Andalusian Spanish. The linguistic differences are subtle, but sure to a native speaker.