11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Andalusia
Andalusia is the Spain of the imagination, a dreamy, sun-kissed land where passion, poetry, and drama collide. Fearless matadors, fabulous festivals, and foot-stomping flamenco symbolize this emblematic region. Whispering the legacy of a bygone era, crumbling Moorish castles and old Jewish quarters have a subtle seduction. Ancient mosques and synagogues were replaced with Christian churches after the Reconquest, but the romance of the past remains. Look for swirling Arabesque patterns in Islamic architecture and listen for melancholy notes of Gypsy soul in the strumming of Spanish guitar. Stroll the enchanting cobblestone streets and bask in courtyards filled with fragrant orange trees. Andalusia is a place of contrasts: snowcapped mountains, lush green river valleys, and wild gorges - stunning backdrops for amazing sights. From the glorious cathedral of Seville to the magnificent Alhambra palaces in Granada and the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Andalusia has some of the most thrilling monuments in the world.
1 Seville: A Quintessential Andalusian City
Romantic, dazzling, and sensual, Seville is the quintessential Andalusian city. Colorful religious festivals and the famous flamenco dance are ingrained in its distinct culture. Visitors are delighted by the city's traditional ambience. Quaint cobblestone streets and elegant plazas are lined with lovely architecture. At night, the historic center is illuminated by old-fashioned street lamps, which gives it a special ambience.
The most important monument in Seville is the cathedral, which was converted from the Great Mosque and is the grandest Gothic church in the Christendom. Another Moorish architectural relic is the Alcazar with its dazzling Mudéjar decor and lavish gardens, complete with flowing fountains and sweet-scented orange trees. Another must-see sight is the Barrio Santa Cruz with its winding alleys and picturesque courtyards. This medieval quarter was the old Jewish district and is now the most charming and touristy area of Seville. On a sunny afternoon or balmy evening, visit the Parque de María Luisa and relax at the Plaza de España or enjoy a leisurely boat ride through the park's canal.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Seville
2 Granada: Last Stronghold of the Moors
When the Moors arrived from the deserts of North Africa in the 13th century, they were awestruck by the lush landscape of Granada. At the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, abundant water from the Río Darro ensured rich vegetation and agriculture. The Moors built the remarkable hilltop fortress of the Alhambra here, and overflowing fountains were placed all over the grounds as a symbol of wealth. A masterpiece of Islamic design, the Alhambra is resplendent with gorgeous landscaping, rose gardens, and water lanes. Granada continued to flourish as a Moorish city until the 15th century. When the Catholic Monarchs reconquered the city in 1491, Granada was the only remaining stronghold of Moorish rule in Andalusia. It is said that the last Sultan Boabdil wept when taking in his final glimpse of the beautiful landscape.
The Alhambra along with the Albaicín district (the old Islamic town) are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their cultural and historic value. To delve deeper into the city's Arabic heritage, visit the Alcaicería, the colorful Arab Spice Market, and then get a pampering spa treatment at the Hammam Al Andalus, traditional Arab Baths. Other must-see sights include the Renaissance Cathedral and the adjoining Capillo Real where the Catholic Monarchs are buried. High on the list of top experiences is watching authentic flamenco performed by locals in a Gypsy cave on the Sacromonte.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Granada
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3 The Great Mosque of Córdoba: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
In the 10th century, Córdoba was the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba, the Moorish kingdom that governed much of the Iberian Peninsula. While Paris and Rome were in the Dark Ages, Córdoba was the most important city in Europe. The city was a center of civilization where great scholars Maimonides (a Jewish philosopher) and Averroes (a Muslim philosopher) shared their ideas, and a place where the people of three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, lived in harmony.
The must-see sight of Córdoba is its UNESCO-listed Great Mosque with its breathtaking interior, a forest of Islamic arches and columns. Known as La Mezquita, this monument is one of the most magnificent Islamic buildings ever constructed. Surrounding the Mezquita are Córdoba's historic quarters. The Judería (the old Jewish quarter) is an especially atmospheric neighborhood of narrow pedestrian streets, peaceful courtyards, and whitewashed houses adorned with flowers. This district is famous for its lovely patios, and many residents decorate them with colorful potted flowers. During May, the entire town of Córdoba comes to life for the Concurso de Patios, a lively festival with a competition for the most beautiful patio.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cordoba
4 The Drama of Andalusia in Ronda
In a spine-tingling setting, Ronda stuns visitors with it dramatic views and wild scenery. Built above a steep ravine, this spectacular town is a characteristic Pueblo Blanco with whitewashed houses clinging to the cliff top. Proud of its traditional Andalusian culture, Ronda has the second oldest bullring in Spain. The Plaza de Toros is still used for the Feria Goyesca, a bullfighting event that is full of pageantry. The Goyaesque festival features a classic bullfight and a parade of people wearing costumes of the 18th century, the era of Francisco de la Goya.
Ronda is a lovely town full of Old World charm. Tourists will enjoy exploring the picturesque streets of La Cuidad, Ronda's historic Moorish town. On sunny days, the town's parks are the ideal place to stroll tree-lined paths and relax in the shade. The Alameda del Tajo and Alameda de José Antonio parks both offer panoramic views of the landscape. To discover another angle of Ronda's heritage, check out the Museum of Bandits, which illustrates the history of those daring anti-heros of the region.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ronda
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5 Marbella's Beaches
Marbella is a glamorous seaside resort along the Costa del Sol. The picturesque whitewashed town lies close to fantastic sandy beaches and lovely palm-lined promenades. As a fashionable vacation town, Marbella has plenty of golf courses and private clubs that cater to an upscale clientele. Yet Marbella is more than just a beach destination, it also has interesting monuments and excellent art museums. The historic center, Casco Antiguo, is an enchanting old Moorish village with many wonderful surprises hidden among the cobblestone streets. Tourists will enjoy discovering the exquisite little churches dating from the 16th century and the quiet courtyards with relaxing outdoor cafés. The Plaza de los Naranjos (Plaza of Oranges) is filled with restaurant terraces and aromatic orange trees. For a fashionable dining scene, head to Puerto Banús, a port filled with fancy yachts. For beachside restaurants, try the Playa de Alicante beach. Balance time spent sunbathing and relaxing with cultural attractions like the Spanish Contemporary Engravings Museum, which displays works by Goya, Picasso, Miró, and Dalí.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Marbella
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6 Andalusian Traditions in Jerez de la Frontera
Proud of its heritage, Jerez de la Frontera ( 35 kilometers from Cádiz) is an aristocratic town with a refined ambience. The town is most famous for its Andalusian pedigree horses and draws many visitors who come to see the traditional equestrian shows. The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian Riding School) in an elegant building on the Avenida de Duque de Abrantes, stages the popular show titled Cómo Bailan los Caballos Andaluces (How Andalusian Horses Dance). The Jerez Horse Fair is held annually in May at the Gonzalo Hontoria Fairgrounds. This 500-year-old custom showcases the town's prestigious pedigreed horses. Visitors will appreciate the food stands offering tapas, and families will enjoy the children's amusement park at this lively event.
Jerez de la Frontera is also known for the traditional Andalusian art of flamenco dancing and cante jondo (deep song). Cante jondo is a dramatic and evocative style of Gypsy singing. The Centro Andaluz de Documentación del Flamenco, found at Plaza San Juan, is housed in the Palacio de Pemartin. This beautiful 18th-century mansion is worth a visit just to admire its exquisite architecture, particularly the lovely Baroque-Rococo courtyard. Visitors can watch videos about the various forms of flamenco and tour the gallery that displays objects related to the art of flamenco. Other highlights are the educational presentations about historical figures of flamenco singing, guitar, and dance. Be sure to see Juan Valdés' painting Tríptico de la Soleá. At the end of February and early March, the annual Festival de Jerez stages traditional as well as avant-garde flamenco performances of an exceptional caliber at the Teatro Villamarta and other venues.
7 The Ancient Port Town of Malaga
Malaga is an ancient Mediterranean port town and has the weathered fortresses to prove it. Standing on a hilltop overlooking the bay, the old Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro castles watch over the harbor action and offer stunning coastal views. Malaga is an anomaly on the Costa del Sol among the endless stretch of beach resorts because it is a real working city. Those seeking a simple beach vacation should stick to the nearby beaches, but travelers interested in culture will enjoy Malaga. This pleasant seaside town has fascinating ancient ruins, beautiful gardens, and a fantastic Picasso Museum as well as several other excellent museums. The city's historic center is also a delightful area with its charming Old World ambience. While exploring the narrow pedestrian streets, visitors will find inviting little boutiques and plazas filled with the terraces of tapas restaurants. For a delicious seafood meal, take a leisurely stroll along the harbor and try one of the waterside restaurants.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Malaga
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8 Renaissance Architecture in Úbeda
Amid picturesque olive plantations, the town of Úbeda along the Guadalquivir River is renowned for its Renaissance architecture. Because of the town's harmonious architectural unity, it has earned the name of the "Andalusian Salamanca," a Spanish city famous for its beautiful historic buildings. The central feature of Úbeda is the long Plaza de Vázquez Molina, surrounded by remarkable Renaissance buildings. A top attraction is the 16th-century Church of El Salvador on the northeast side of the square. The church features a richly sculpted facade with two round towers. The interior is noteworthy for the Capilla Mayor, a semicircular chapel with an impressive dome, superb choir screen, and a retablo with a carved Transfiguration by Alonso Berruguete. The sacristy, by Vandelvira, is equally magnificent.
Near Úbeda is the lovely little town of Cazorla, dominated by its ancient castle. Cazorla is the main town of the Sierra de Cazorla and is a good base for nature walks or climbs into the Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla.
9 Historic Monuments and Old World Charm in Baeza
The historic town of Baeza is found in the Guadalquivir Valley among the foothills of the Loma de Ubeda, surrounded by olive groves and fields of corn. Baeza has an ancient Roman, Moorish, and Christian heritage and has retained its Old World charm. In the 16th century, Baeza became an important trading center and university town. The town's prosperity is seen in the handsome old houses and noble mansions. The spacious Paseo de la Constitución in the center of Baeza is lined with impressive 17th-century mansions. The Plaza de los Leones at the west end of the Paseo de la Constitución was named after the fountain in the center of the square that incorporates four figures of lions from the Roman site of Cástulo.
10 The Pueblos Blancos (Whitewashed Villages)
The Pueblos Blancos are enchanting, off-the-beaten-track tourist destinations in the rolling hills of Las Alpujarras, Sierra de Grazalema, and Sierra Nevada nature parks. Driving is the only way to arrive at these remote villages, but it's worth making the detour or even a full itinerary through the countryside. The picturesque hilltop villages are scattered all over Andalusia's unspoiled natural landscape with wonderful views of the snowcapped mountains and lush green valleys. The villages are characterized by their quaint whitewashed houses clustered into the hillsides, influenced by the simple Berber aesthetic of the Moors who came from North Africa. Adding to the charm are the colorful potted flowers, narrow cobblestone lanes, and lovely little churches. The gateway to the Pueblos Blancos is Arcos de la Frontera with its glowing white buildings arranged in a semicircle on a cliff top. Ronda is the most dramatic Pueblo Blanco, famous for bullfighting as well as stunning scenery. The village of Grazalema is nestled in a valley and surrounded by gorgeous hiking trails.
Jaen lies at the foot of the Sierra de Jabalcuz and Sierra de la Pandera mountains, where the rolling hills are covered with expansive olive groves. The province of Jaén is one of the largest olive-growing areas in the world. Steeped in history, Jaen originated as a walled Carthaginian town, and during Roman times was an area of silver mining. In the Moorish era, Jaen was capital of the Islamic Kingdom of Jayyan, which was reconquered by Christian armies in 1492. The most important site of Jaén is the Castillo de Santa Catalina, standing majestically on a spectacular, rocky hilltop. This old Moorish stronghold was captured in 1246 by King Ferdinand III. Beautifully renovated, the castle has been converted into a luxury hotel, the Parador Jaen Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina. The hotel rooms are decorated in traditional Andalusian style and offer panoramic views of the landscape. The impressive Arabic-style dining room serves authentic regional cuisine featuring specialties such as Pipirrana (mixed vegetable salad) and Ensalada de Perdiz (partridge salad).