Andalusia, the heart and soul of Spain, has much to offer visitors to Southern Spain, from flamenco, Moorish architecture, and great food. Tapas, or small plated meals, originated in Andalusia as a free accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage at a bar, but are now offered as a meal of sampling and sharing with friends. Bars in Granada have held on to tradition and still offer free tapas with a drink. Andalusia has characteristically warm welcoming people, a relaxed atmosphere, and is known for its Pueblos Blancos (white washed towns) which make for a great European destination. If you are planning on travelling to this southern region the highlights are: Sevilla, the birthplace of Flamenco; Granada, with the Moorish Fortress known as the Alhambra; Córdoba, which has the church turned mosque turned church called the Mesquita; Rhonda, with the arched bridge over a deep ravine; and then the port cities of Cadiz and Málaga.
Here is a ten day itinerary for the best of Andalusia. There is so much to see in the region, so I had to narrow down the itinerary to the best of Andalusia for history and culture. Three cities for overnight stays, Sevilla, Granada, and Málaga, are included in the itinerary as are a few day trips.
Transportation: All of the cities and locations in the itinerary are accessible by train and bus. Travel by train is far nicer than by bus, and you can get relatively cheap tickets for travel between all the cities if you book in advance (roughly 10 euros in advance versus 40 euros if last minute). As an alternative, you can rent a car for the entire ten days, but most of the cities are very walkable, and you would not need a car once you get to these destinations.
Day 1: Sevilla
Sevilla, the birthplace of flamenco, gives the visitor a feel for traditional Spain.This quintessentially picturesque city has many tiled buildings, intricate ornate interiors, and horse-drawn carriage rides in plazas bustling with life.
Arrive in the evening and get settled into your lodging. Take a walk along the beautiful Guadalquivir River which traverses through the city, separating the Triana neighborhood from the more historic sites in the center. The most scenic part of the river walk is between the two bridges, Puente de Sal Telmo and Puente de Triana (also called “Puente de Isabel”). Don’t miss walking by the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold). You may want to browse in Ceramica Santa Ana, a tile store. After your walk treat yourself to a leisurely paella meal at Victoria 8 (Calle Victoria, 8). While paella is better known in the Valencia region, Victoria 8 does an amazing job with paella and it’s a great way to kick off your Spanish vacation.
Day 2: Sevilla
Start your morning with a free walking tour , which will give you an understanding of the layout and history of the city. The tour ends at Plaza de España, a beautiful municipal building with an ornately tiled plaza. Both were built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Fun fact: if you have seen the 2012 Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Dictator, this is the setting for the palace scenes. You can easily spend an hour here walking around and taking photos of the building and grounds. While in the area, walk through the Parque de Maria Luisa and Plaza de las Americas both of which are beautiful.
After viewing the tiles in Plaza de Espana, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Orizo (Calle San Fernando, 41, 41004 Sevilla, Spain). It is across from an old factory building that is now part of the University of Sevilla.
Enjoy some down-time before a late-evening dinner, keeping in mind that the Spaniards eat dinner around 9:00 pm. Start your evening by walking around Las Setas de Sevilla, a huge wooden structure that resembles a mushroom. I recommend dinner at Becerrita (Calle Recaredo, 9) before heading to La Carboneria (Calle Céspedes, 21, A,) for a flamenco show. Flamenco can be found in the rear covered terraza and is free when you order a drink.
Day 3: Day trip to Cadiz
Take a morning train to Cadiz, roughly an hour south of Sevilla, and one of Europe’s oldest cities. Cadiz is a port city on the Costa del Luz (“Coast of Light”), which is the part of Andalusia that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Grab a coffee and some fresh produce from Mercado Central (Plaza de la Libertad) and take a walk around the city, which has a great tourist center and well-marked trails through the downtown area. Don’t miss the Cathedral, including its crypt in the basement, located in the aptly named Plaza de la Catedral. I would recommend climbing the belltower of the Cathedral and then making your way over to Torre Tavira (Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10) for a 360 degree view of the city.
If the weather is nice, you may enjoy going to the beach at Playa de la Caleta, which is located between a castle and a fort. For those with an adventurous side: you can jump off the bridge of the fort into the water!
After relaxing at the beach, get some lunch from Casa Manteca (Calle Corralón de los Carros, 66). It has a very authentic feel, fully-stocked with hundred year old bottles of sherry and eclectic photos of bullfighters on the walls. I personally loved their cheese (“Queso” in Spanish). Take a late afternoon train back to Sevilla.
Upon your return to Sevilla, relax and get ready for a tapas tour in the center area. I recommend starting at Bar Alfalfa, then continuing to El Garlochi, Los Coloniales, El Rinconcillo, and Taberna Manolo Cateca. None of these tapas restaurants are more than a ten minute walk from each other.
The restaurant at Bar Alfalfa (Calle Candilejo, 1) has great outdoor and indoor seating. I suggest that you try the bruschetta con salmorejo. Next stop is the unique bar, El Garlochí (Calle Boteros, 26), which is dedicated to a year-long celebration of Semana Santa (‘Holy Week’), and is completely decked out in statues, paintings, candles and other religious memorabilia. Some visitors may find El Garlochí to be creepy, but most find it interesting and certainly memorable. When heading to Los Coloniales (Plaza Cristo de Burgos, 19), be aware of which address you are using because there is also a place called Taberna Coloniales. At Los Coloniales, I recommend the roquefort cheese with raspberries and the Chorizo a la Asturiana. Take a three minute, three block walk to the next stop, El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40). This restaurant/bar was opened in 1670 before America was a country! When I was there, the proprietors were into their 8th generation of ownership. I highly recommend the ortiguillas fritas and olives. Our last stop is Taberna Manolo Cateca (Calle Sta. María de Gracia, 13) for a glass of sherry from this local tavern. Before heading home, I suggest walking through Plaza Salvador, where many young people enjoy botellón (the colloquial word for drinking in the street) and people flow out of the restaurants and bars that surround this lively plaza. It is interesting to see how the locals socialize.
Day 4: Sevilla
Start your morning at the Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic Church and the third largest Cathedral in the world. As with most of Andalusia, this Cathedral and later the Alcázar of Sevilla has switched hands between Muslim and Christian rule, and much of the architecture reflects the different times of rule. Many famous people are buried here, including Christopher Columbus and his son, Ferdinand. Make your way up the sloping ramps of the tower, Giralda, which was once the minaret when this site was a mosque. Ramps were built instead of stairs, so horseback riders can easily ascend to the top. Enjoy your exit from the Cathedral through the Patio de Naranjos (Patio of Oranges), which is a beautiful creation.
Take a one minute stroll to the Alcázar of Seville, a Moorish royal palace and fortress. It has extensive fountain-filled gardens, ornate arches and tiles. This is where Game of Thrones filled The Water Gardens and Sunspear, the seat of House Martell in Dorne. You might compare it to the Alhambra in Granada, although the Alhambra is more impressive.
Treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch at Casa Robles (Calle Álvarez Quintero, 58) near the Cathedral. After lunch, I recommend getting lost in some of the center streets. For those who want to relax, consider booking an appointment (in advance) at Aire Ancient Bath House (Calle Aire, 15) an Arab spa housed in an historic mudéjar-style palace. The lighting, soft music and scent of jasmine will make this massage a mystical and memorable experience.
In the evening try a tapas tour in the Triana neighborhood. Betis Street, which overlooks the Guadalquivir River, is known for its nightlife although it may cater to a younger crowd. The three restaurants Taberna Sol y Sombra (Calle Castilla, 147), Blanca Paloma (Calle San Jacinto, 49), and Vega 10 (Calle Rosario Vega, 10) all offer great dining options in the area. After sampling your fair share of tapas, head to Casa Anselmo (Calle Pagés del Corro, 49) which provides live music, mostly flamenco shows, with your choice of beverage. If you are interested in getting up and dancing, the lively bar Lo Nuestro (Calle Betis, 31) has live music and the crowd does flamenco dancing. Keep in mind that the Spainiards eat dinner around 9:00 pm, so many of these bars will not have many patrons until well after that.
Day 5: Granada
Granada is the impressive former Moorish stronghold on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains known for the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex that is a UNESCO world heritage site. Catch an early morning train to Granada. Get settled into your accommodations and regroup before heading out to the Albayzin neighborhood. The Albayzin, which is an ancient Moorish village, is now a world heritage site. The winding streets with various vendors may remind you of a medina in Morocco. I highly recommend stopping in at least one of the many artisan shops and then getting tea at one of the teterias.
Begin your tour of Albayzin at the Albaicín district with its narrow streets and small houses reflective of its Medieval Moorish past, and then explore the smaller Realejo or Jewish quarter. There are a number of restaurants centered around the Campo del Príncipe, which is a good spot to use for navigation. Get some churros con chocolate from the local favorite, Café Fútbol (Plaza de Mariana Pineda, 6). After your sweet treat head to the Cathedral of Granada (Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5) and Royal Chapel, which is the burial place for Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Spend an hour or so looking at the Cathedral and Chapel. The 5 euro entrance comes with an audio guide. After exploring the Cathedral, grab a pick- me-up from Mercado San Agustín (Plaza de San Agustín), a 3 minute walk from the Cathedral. Mercado San Agustín has many stalls which sell tapas, and you can also find fresh produce and hams.
For those who want a little more history and culture, you can stop into the Centro Jose Guerrero, Centro Federico Garcia Lorca, or Huerta de San Vicente (Federico Garcia Lorca’s house and gardens). Make your way to Mirador San Nicolás for beautiful sunset views of the Alhambra. I recommend getting dinner in the area to complete a memorable tour.
Day 6: Granada
Make reservations in advance for a timed ticket to see the extensive Alhambra, and you might want to visit the remains of the Generalife. This will end up being a half day tour to explore the magnificent fortress and all it has to offer as well as the beautiful gardens. The Alhambra was built in AD 889 on the remains of a Roman fortress. It was renovated by the Moors in the mid 13th century, and then went on to house the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. This is the site in which they gave endorsement for Christopher Columbus’ expedition. The Generalife, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus.
The Parador de San Francisco is one of the few places near the Alhambra that serves food. If you are ready for a break and a meal or snack after touring Alhambra and the adjacent grounds, I would suggest that you visit the beautiful Parador hotel.
After your time in the Alhambra, I would recommend walking along the River Darro. You will pass by many churches and 17th century stone bridges. Afterwards, you might want to explore the Albaicín neighborhood, above the River. Don’t miss Calle Caldereria Nueva with its many artisan shops, tetarias (teashop), and hookah lounges. I would recommend stopping at one of the tea parlors for a break from window shopping and store browsing.
In the evening, make it to the Barrio del Sacromonte, the old Gitano (Gipsy) neighborhood to explore the many cavernous Flamenco shows. Cueva de la Faraona (Calle Santo Sepulcro del Sacromonte, 51), Zambra María la Canastera (Camino del Sacromonte, 89), Cueva de la Rocio (Camino del Sacromonte, 70) or Venta El Gallo (Barranco de los Negros, 5,) all provide interesting music in the area.
Day 7: Málaga
Málaga is a relatively small port city, which can mostly be toured in a day. The main streets are beautiful, marble and clean! Who has marble streets? I chose the last three days in Málaga as a stepping stone to get to other locations, and to have a manageable homebase.Málagat is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso and its place on the art and culture scene is on the rise. Located in the Costa Del Sol, Málaga is the gateway to many beach communities such as Marbella, Nerja, and Fuengirola.
If you are using public transit, you can take the train or bus from Granada to Málaga. I recommend starting your visit with a walk to Calle Molina Larios, as the streets are marble-lined, and this is the central walkway through the downtown shopping district. Walk through Plaza Constitution and make sure you go all the way to Plaza de La Merced. The Picasso Museum is here, which cannot compare to the Museums in Madrid, but it is worth a visit.
Get a cup of coffee and people-watch at Café Central (Plaza de la Constitución, 11). Postcards naming and describing their various coffees, depending on the espresso-to-milk ratio, are a cool remembrance. Walk by the Cathedral, colloquially called “La Maquita” which means the one-armed lady. Legend has it that at the time the church was being constructed, the Queen could either finish the other steeple or fund the explorations of Christopher Columbus, and thus the second steeple on this church was never completed. In the same plaza as the Cathedral is a restaurant called “Cheers,” and Spain had their own spin-off of the Boston landmark pub.
After working up an appetite, head out east for a late lunch at Chiringuito El Tintero. A chiringuito is a small waterfront eating-place which may range from a tiki bar to a full-service restaurant. Most of the chiringuitos I have tried in Málaga buy freshly-caught fish from local fishermen which are then cooked on pitfire in the sand. One of the best-known local restaurants is called El Tintero (Av. Salvador Allende, 340), which is a large restaurant with abundant patio seating located in El Palo, a fishermen’s town just east of Málaga. Customers order “auction style,” where waiters walk around calling out the dishes that they have in their hand. Customers then flag the waiter down to get that dish. I would recommend the well-known Málaga dish espeto, consisting of sardines cooked by a fire in the sand. Enjoy the nearby beach. Chiringuito Baños del Carmen/El Balneario (Calle Bolivia, 26,) is also highly recommended and is a slightly more upscale alternative to El Tintero.
On your return, enjoy a stroll around the port and the Paseo del Parque. The port was completely industrial until the city renovated it into a chic shopping and eating district in 2011. Paseo del Parque, which is a pretty tree-enclosed waterfront walkway which is also scenic . This walkway is also scenic along the city side, with views of gardens and the town hall.
In the evening get some tapas in the center of the city. There are many fine choices and one that comes to mind is called Pepa y Pepe (Calle Calderería, 9).
Day 8: Day trip to Ronda + sentinel de las bodegas + el pimpi
This is the only day trip for which I would suggest renting a car, but if you choose to take public transit you may want to skip Sentenil De las Bodegas.
Start your morning in Sentenil de las Bodegas. Houses in this iconic town were uniquely constructed within rock overhangs overlooking the Rio Guadalporcún. The name Setenil is believed to originate in the latin septem nihil (‘seven times nothing’) and it references the seven sieges that were needed for the Christian forces to conquer this city from the Moors in the 15th century.
If you opt to visit Sentenil de las Bodegas, your next stop should be Ronda. For those using public transportation, you can skip Sentenil de las Bodegas and take a bus from Málaga directly to Ronda. Ronda is a mountaintop city featuring a dramatic gorge with a beautiful bridge running through it.
Check out the three bridges, Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo or “New Bridge” which was actually built in the 1700’s and which is the most dramatic. When you tour the city, I would recommend walking around the patio of The Hotel Parador, which has great views of the mountains, and then see Puente Nuevo. Try the restaurant bar El Lechuguita (Calle Virgen de los Remedios, 35), a local gem which offers inexpensive and traditional tapas, with a surprising view of Puente Nuevo. Also in Ronda is the cavernous and historic Bull Ring at Plaza de Toros de Ronda. The city is home to the Romeros, a famous bullfighting family, who are referenced in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises. For those who are looking to get their heart rate going, you can hike down to the scenic viewpoint at La Hoya Del Tajo, which provides beautiful views of the gorge(ous) city. Be warned that the slope of the terrain is quite steep.
Head back to Málaga and regroup at your lodging before setting out to dinner. Enjoy a late meal at El Pimpi (Calle Granada, 62, 29015) which is a fun place to “see and be seen.” Andalusia is known for its fried fish (pescaditos fritos), and I suggest that you try the fried fish platter. If you are outside on the patio, you can see the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and above it a Moorish fortress, Alcazaba. I recommend getting a bottle of the sweet wine to share for the table.
Day 9: Day trip to Córdoba
Córdoba is a beautiful city located one hour and fifteen minutes north of Málaga. Every spring, Córdoba bursts into fragrant bloom with the famous Feria de los Patios Festival, and the month of May brings the “Battle of the Flowers,” in which labyrinth-like streets with white washed homes compete for the most beautiful flower boxes. The main attraction in Córdoba is the Mesquita, which is a uniquely ornate building that is both a Mosque and a Cathedral, drawing to life the back and forth rulership between the Islamic Moors and the Christians. The entire tour will take a few hours.
Get some lunch at either Taberna Salinas (Calle Tundidores, 3) or Taberna San Miguel Casa El Pisto (Plaza de San Miguel, 1). Spend some time strolling around the city center and exploring the sights and sounds of Córdoba.
Return to Málaga to get a late dinner at Chiringuito Gutierrez Playa (C/ Pacífico, 29). This is located near the beautiful Parque del Oeste and Chuiringuito, along with most other restaurants, is located on the beach. After dinner, if you are looking for a treat, take a ten minute walk to get ice cream from the Málagano favorite, Heladería Inma (Calle Moreti, 15).
Day 10: Málaga
Start your morning with a hike to the Alcazaba, a fortress built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th century. There are magnificent views of the city, the sea and the beaches from the top! If you are looking for a coffee break, walk to the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro. In Spain, a parador is a state run hotel located in castles or fortresses. After your hike head out to the airport, to the end of your fun-filled vacation in Andalusia!