Updated Nov. 21
Do you eat tapas? Have you heard of flamingo dance? Want to visit one the oldest cities in the world? Then the Spanish region of Andalusia or Andalucía is something for you, and it’s perfect for a 2-3 week road trip.
The regions’ capital Seville is one of the cities I recommend in Top 10 destinations in 2018 for the cultural explorer! But there is so much more to see in this mountainous region with unique architecture, great food, cool beaches and so much history!
If they didn’t park their cars everywhere, were so loud, and only eat dinner, when I’m asleep – this could be my favourite country…
So buckle up for a complete roadtrip itinerary through Andalucia:
I will recommend this itinerary for your big Andalusia road trip:
MALAGA → GRANADA → CORDOBA → CARMONA → SEVILLE → JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA WITH SANLUCAR & DONANA NATIONAL PARK → CADIZ → VEJER DE LA FRONTERA → TARIFA & BOLONIA GIBRALTAR → RONDA → MALAGA
I recommend staying overnight in Seville, Granada, Jerez and Ronda – at least.
You can drive on the coast back to Malaga from Ronda instead of in the mountains, but there can be a lot of mass tourism traffic. Some of the distances can be done by train or by bus, and we took the train from Malaga to Seville to borrow a friend’s car there, but I would recommend a car for the majority of the time. It will give you less freedom to stop at a great beach or a white town. Fly to Malaga as it’s cheapest (from Europe). Rent a car! Drive!
My husband studied in Seville, so the year before we got married, he took me on a grand tour. We spend about 2-3 weeks. The distances are not too long, so you can stay where you like a few days. The entire route is about 920 km, and it takes you by at least 3 UNESCO sites. I revisited several of the sites years later with my sister and dad on a second, but smaller roadtrip.
The name Andalucia probably comes from Al-Andalus. To really appreciate the sights, it’s good to have a crash course in the history of the region. So fasten your seat belt:
First came the Phoenicians, then the Carthagians, then the Romans, then different Romans, Then the Visigoths, then the Byzantines, then Islamic rule for 800(!) years under both the Umayyad Dynasty and Izirids, then the Crown of Castille took it back – hence the Reconquista (back to Christianity, although that’s not where it started). And it’s pretty much been Catholic since then…
Andalucia can thank the Islamic rulers for their thriving tourism today, that’s for sure. They gave the region it’s own unique architecture and atmosphere, that I really like. And oranges!
But let’s travel deeper! First stop:
Many travellers just pass through Malaga on their way to the coast or elsewhere in Andalucia, but it’s a nice little town on Costa del Sol. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world. Almost 3,000 years ago the most important Mediterranean civilisations found in Malaga an exceptional place in which to establish trade routes, thanks to the strategic location of its port.
SIGHTS IN MALAGA
Pablo Picasso was born in this small city, and there is of course a Museo Picasso. In the cellar are ruins from the Phoenicians so you get 2 for 1. There’s also a sculpture of the Danish fairytale writer H.C. Andersen, since he loved the city, when he travelled in the 19th century. I recommend eating at Mesón Mariano for a quiet Spanish place.
In Malaga, you’ll find ruins left by many of the former rulers – like a Roman theatre. The theatre lies at the foot of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Fortress. The Castle built in 929 by the Caliph of Cordoba on a site previously built on by the Phoenicians. The Moors left the spectacular El Castillo de Gibralfaro from the 14th century. Also the Alcazaba is so cool – it was built as a defense against pirates. This area has seen many wars and battles, so read up on your Spanish history!
Stay in Malaga for a few days. We didn’t get our luggage on arrival, so we had to stay an extra night in Malaga to wait for it.
From Malaga you can take the train, but you can see more with a car. Although the trainride is extremely beautiful. On the way to Granada stop by the Nerja Caves.
5 kilometers of cave and one of the biggest attraction in Spain, so try to catch them. Although, I’ve seen so many caves by now, I’m not that excited. But I should be. Earth spent 800.000 years making the stalactites and ‘mites for you.
You finally begin your roadtrip and leave Malaga with the ocean behind you, and head northwest. The road passing Nerja Caves takes around 1.45 h.
Granada is only a medium size city, but there’s of course a lot of tourists, because of the Alhambra. It was the last city in Andalucia to be taken back by the Spanish re-conquistadors and the city dates back from 1013. The city had a silk market, that brought prosperity and international trade.
Legends have it the city was founded by Noah, or Hercules or at least some ancient people… It was most likely a tribe and then the Romans elaborated on it. The Moors invaded in 711, and later the founder of the Ziri dynasty made Granada an independent kingdom in 1013. This dynasty reigned until the Nasrid Dynasty began, which built the Alhambra. They reigned until 1492, when the troops of the Catholic Monarchs conquered the last Muslim city in the Iberian Peninsula and Boabdil, the last Nasrid king, surrendered. (I love the name Boabdil!)
SIGHTS IN GRANADA
The Cathedral is the 4th largest in the world and started out as Gothic one, but ended up as a Renaissance piece. An icon to the city, it’s built by Queen Isabella I on the site of a mosque in 1523 after the re-conquest. This is also where Los Reyes Catholics are buried – pay extra to see that! Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand II of Aragon unified Spain and fought for the Catholic faith.
Also trace the silk road history and see the old Arabic bathhouse from the 11th century with atmospheric stonecarvings. Other sights in Granade include the Capilla Real, Basilica de San Juan de Dios, the Albayzin and the Monasterio de San Jeronimo. Keep out for the many festivals – including a tangofestival.
And of course, this is where the UNESCO-site Alhambra are, which are one of my Top 10 UNESCO sites in Europe. You might know it from Game Of Thrones. Alhambra is not only a must-see in Andalucia, but in Spain.
The Moorish palace with intricate world class craftmanship and blooming gardens is stunningly beautiful and historically interesting. I don’t need anything else. Remember to buy tickets beforehand. Get all the info you need on Heaven on earth in enchanting Alhambra. You get a great view of this monument from Mirador de San Nicolas in the Arabic quarter Albayzin.
If you have extra time go north and visit Jaen on the way to Córdoba. But otherwise it’s time to go west. The road will take a little over 2h. With extra time on this route, you can stop at Antequera to squeeze in some more World Heritage.
Córdoba is one of the oldest cities, and was both the capital of the Roman province in Spain and also in the caliphate of the Umayyads. This 1000-year old city’s center is a World Heritage site. Also the Roman philosopher Seneca was born here… uuuuhhh…
SIGHTS IN CÓRDOBA
The Mosque-Cathedral or the Mezquita-Cathedral is the absolute highlight. There’s enough for a entire post. It’s a mosque turned Cathedral, which creates a unique blend that just fasinates me, and a place where you can really appreciate the different architectural aims.
I almost started crying, when I entered the hypostyle hall. In general, that’s how I felt about the Moorish architecture contrasted to the Christian: The first one so serene, quiet and beautiful, and the second one kind of the same, but also with mankind suppose to feel humble and scared. I prefer the Moorish style!
But there’s more to see: the Alcazar Fortress, the grand Roman Bridge and Bridge Gate and a Jewish Quarter. I just love these cities that have a mish-mash of cultures and rulers. They are the most interesting destinations. Close to Cordoba is en excavated old palace city Medina Azahara, that is also a World Heritage Site.
ALMODÒVAR DEL RIO
From Córdoba you can also take a day trip to the photogenic Castillo Almodóvar Del Rio or The Round Castle. It’s only half an hour outside the city.
Previously a Roman fort, the current structure is of Moorish origin from the year 760. So cool! And of course GOT also went here – it’s House Tyrell’s home Highgarden and also parts of Castely rock of House Lannister.
About 30 mins. from Seville, there is a palace city known for wine and olive oil. Yes please!
The Moors built a walled around the Andalusian village along with palaces and fountains. You can still see the old gates and walls. Also check out the Roman amphitheatre and Necropolis, a burial site from 1. century. Otherwise it’s pretty quiet, which is nice before arriving in Seville…
By now, you feel pretty relaxed and a little bit Spanish. Turn the wheels southeast for Seville – a 1.5h drive to one something very exciting.
Seville is the main city in Andalucia and used to be a port trading with the Americas. So this was a hot spot! In more than one sense: Seville is also known as the frying pan of Spain, so be careful when it’s hot! Every April there’s a fair in Seville. Yes, more festivals. Stay here a couple of nights – at least.
This city is so interesting and full of history, that it has its own post: Seville – the cultural frying pan of Spain!
Seville was the most important visit for our roadtrip, since this is where my husband use to study Spanish in his younger days. We stayed at his friend’s apartment on the other side of the river and borrowed her car to take one part of the trip and then took buses for other parts of the trip. Again, we only did the roadtrip in this way, because we wanted to spend more time with her and we could borrow a car so we went back to Seville two times.
It can be difficult to leave Seville, but other goods things are ahead. Like sherry! So get in the car and move on! After travelling westwards, you are now heading south and towards the water and the cool breezes.
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
Jerez is a nice little town with some fine aristocratic palaces, but that’s not why you’re here. Not the fine horses either or the flamenco. This is where you drink Sherry!
The excellence of their wine making goes way back and was well known when the Catholic Monarchs ruled Andalucia.
SANLÚCAR DE BARRAMEDA
Sanlúcar is famous for the Manzanilla Sherry. I hadn’t tried before we came. If you think you know what Sherry is, you’re wrong. After a glass of cold Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda you’ll never be the sameú
The beach and the harbour are small, but nice, and you can sit by the water see the sun setting while eating a good meal. Apparently the city have a horse race on the beach every year, but we almost didn’t see any people. We didn’t spend the night here, but did drink sherry.
DOÑANA NATIONAL PARK
You take the boat from Sanlúcar out to this large National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site (giving up counting them?). The park is named after a daughter of a princess – Dona Ana de Mendoza- who lived here 400 years ago.
It’s home to five threatened bird species, and you are almost sure to flamingos – remember to bring a zoom. It was my first flamingos, so pretty exciting.
The park is also home to 3 endangered animals: the lynx, an eagle and a tortoise. You can book several different tours when visiting. Read more on the National park here.
Where the old world ends, and the adventures of the new one begin: Cadiz. Cadiz is where the big explorers left for the unknown world from the once giant empire of Spain. Looking out at the vast Atlantic Ocean and imagine the excitement and fear, they must have felt.
Columbus chose this city as his departing point for his second trip to the New World making Cadiz the port to The Indies. And making it rich which can still be seen in the architecture.
The city itself is not the highlight on this trip – even though it’s at the site of one of the oldest cities in the world. But it has the usual Andalusian sights: a cathedral, city gates and so on. You know it by now… It also has a museum with Phoenicians artefacts. We didn’t go.
But was is really special here is the great tasting seafood and the beaches. We found one full of stone potholes with almost no people. There are plenty of nice beaches, but the water was cold, since it’s not the Mediterranean. Every year Cadiz holds a huge carnival. Yes, more festivals.
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA
Vejer is one of the typical white villages in the mountains, that you’ll see on this trip. From Cadiz and all the way over its a road of white villages, which you also can plan after. But I don’t think you need to see them all. But you need to see at least one in your life!
TARIFA & BOLONIA
Surf’s up! Between Cadiz and Tarifa, there are a high amount of surf beaches. If you google Tarifa, you get watersport ads. We stayed one night in a little surfer’s hut, but we don’t ride any waves, so I can’t remember which one.
Tarifa is the southern most city in Europe, which means it’s also close to Africa with only 13 km apart! There is a great viewing point Faro de Punta de Tarifa – from where you can clearly see Africa – in good weather, that is. Even better, near Tarifa you can make a quick stop and take a swim. A beach with a view to Africa is my kind of beach!
Non-surfer travellers can head to one of the few cultural sights: Castillo de Guzman el Bueno. No, I’m not tired of castles yet.
Guzmán apparently was governor, when in 1294, the castle was besieged, but Guzman held it. Even though the attackers threatened to kill his son, whom they held captive. Not sure if that’s heroic…
3-400 years later the castle was used to keep pirates out. Berber pirates, which I guess is the descendants of the Berbers I met in Morocco.
A large rock That’s Gibraltar. It’s not really a part of Andalucia, but British.
You’ll find monkeys, tourists and a few workers on this strange island. It has a long history and still belongs to UK, which is so weird. It even has its own flag and airport! But really not that interesting to see…
But actually Gibraltar also have it’s own World Heritage Site: Gorham’s Cave Complex telling of the Neanderthals.
From here is north again to Ronda about 2h drive. It might seem like a detour and you can leave it out of the itinerary, but it a very special place. and you don’t have to stay long.
Ronda is famous for 1 thing! A bridge. The bridge is one the highlights of this roadtrip. It looks old, but it’s not really that old. The gorge dividing the city into two is 150 metres deep and the Puento Nuevo is the newest one of the 3 bridges across. It began in 1759 and took 34 years. Behind the small niche was once a prison. During the Spanish civil war, both sides threw people of the bridge.
Ronda is small, but quite nice with a great public park with a view over the valley. The city also has a historic part with a medieval feeling, Arabian baths and a bull ring. We found a large playground with the most fantastic view of the valley.
You should have 2 nights here. We only stayed 1 night here, but I clearly remember our stay. It was such a dramatic place.
BACK IN MALAGA
And so, after touring the beautiful and exciting cultural melting pot of Andalucia, you return to Malaga for some shopping of sherry and more sherry – and then it’s over. The day before we left, there was a festival just outside town. So make sure to keep an eye out for events.
Weather: Seville and Andalucia is not called the frying pan for no reason. In the summer months of June, July and August in can be too hot to enjoy anything. Try reaching the shoulder season.
Traffic: The south coast can have a lot of traffic in the summer months
Tourism: Small towns like Tarifa or sights like Alhambra quickly fill up, so book in advance if you can and want to stay at the good places.
Dining: In Andalucia as in Spain they eat extremely late (for a Dane anyway). A large meal in the afternoon (close to my dinnertime) and then tapas in the late evening (when I usually go to bed) with a glass of cava or a beer.
Read more on all the Andalusian sight’s in the official tourist site.
If you like me love the cultural mix, try visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
What’s your favourite place in Spain?
I visited Spain in 74, while on tour of Europe. Loved it! This post brought back memories. As for the sherry, a friend introduced me to it in more recent times, and yes, an entirely new version of sherry, magical.
Glad to hear. That’s the thing about travel. You look forward to it, you enjoy it and for the rest of your life you can think back upon it. Let’s drink a sherry to that!
You have done a really good job covering all of the best places in Andalucia. This spring, we are planning a month in Malaga and a month in Cadiz. Thanks for the introduction.
Hi. Thanks. Wow, that sounds like a lot of time. Then you can also see all the smaller places. And more importantly: have time to sit with a glass of cool sherry and a tapas. Safe travels.
One of the cities with historic significance in my bucket list.
Thanks for providing such a wonderful article !! . Have been very curious to visit architectural marvel of our past.
Had an opportunity to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site HAMPI – The forgotten empire of 14th century.
Sharing my thoughts about it below-
Thanks! Wow, I would really like to visit Hampi. You take great pictures.