Just a few hours south of the tourist-laden capital of Madrid lies Andalusia (Andalucía in Spanish), the southernmost region of Spain. It is a haven for those looking for a slower-paced vacation and is packed with sights, smells, and tastes all its own. The area has seen a host of cultural influences as control of the region passed through the hands of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Jews, Romani, Muslim Moors, and finally the Christian Castilians during the Reconquista that unified the diverse territories of Spain and established the Spanish language as its official lingua franca. Many of the distinctive cultural elements associated with the country of Spain have their origins in the south, such as bullfighting, flamenco, and the Hispano-Moorish architecture style.
The area surrounding the region’s capital city of Seville is the hottest in Europe, with temperatures in the summer sometimes sustaining 35° C (95° F) until close to midnight. Andalusia is the only European region with both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines – 500 miles of them, to be precise! This gives you no choice but to live like the Spaniards do and stay outside in the streets of a white-washed town (famous hilltop pueblas blancas), drinking sangria made with freshly picked oranges until the early morning hours. With its ornate mosques-turned-cathedrals, 350 miles of sandy beaches, flowering orange blossoms, more tapas than you can ever taste in one trip, and pop-up flamenco performances in the street, a trip to southern Spain is the perfect way to indulge your senses and revitalize your spirit.
- Ski one day, swim the next
From October to May, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. Stay in the nearby bohemian city of Granada, which is nestled in the foothills of the mountain range. During your day trips up to the mountains, you can also find hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, rafting, horseback riding, and, if you’re looking carefully, you may even find a Spanish ibex, boar, or wildcat! Be sure to save some energy for your nights in Granada, which has lively nightlife due to its large population of students and serves free tapas (small appetizers) with each drink.
Granada is also home to the famous Alhambra Palace, which can be described as part-palace, part-garden, and part-fortress (yes, it’s a three-part attraction!). Book tickets in advance and make sure to get the package which includes the stunningly intricate Nasrid Palace.
From Granada, you can also take a day trip to Córdoba, known for the Mezquita, a mosque which was turned into a cathedral, with hundreds of burnt-orange-and-white-striped columns.
Ready to trade the mountain air for sea spray? Just a few hours’ journey by train and you’ll find yourself in Pablo Picasso (and Antonio Banderas’) birthplace: Malaga. After all those mountain activities, you’ve earned a rest on the famous beaches of the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun), where the temperature is famously stable and inhabitants spend evenings outside drinking and eating on terrazas all year round.
- You can pretend you’re in Sunspear from Game of Thrones
Andalusia’s capital is Seville (Sevilla), home to the world’s largest Gothic cathedral as well as the Real Alcazar, a Moorish palace and gardens that appeared in Game of Thrones. The Real Alcazar and the streets of Seville are lined with orange trees of the bitter Seville Orange, most commonly used in marmalade.
Another Game of Thrones filming location for Season 5 is the city of Osuna, which is a convenient day trip from Seville. You can sign up for a guided tour of the filming locations, or visit the following locations which were used to represent Sunspear:
- The University of Osuna
- La Colegiata de Osuna
- Canteras de Osuna
- Bullring in Osuna (which was the Great Pit of Daznak)
- You can inhabit the longest continually inhabited city
Cádiz was founded over three millennia ago by Phoenician sailors and is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Western Europe. This patchwork city of pastel and white-washed buildings juts out into the Atlantic and is famous for supposedly having invented fried fish long before the English paired it up with chips. If your itinerary doesn’t allow you to inhabit Cádiz for the night, it’s an easy day trip from Seville or Jerez de la Frontera via the train or by car.
- Taste some sherry and sing your heart out
Jerez de la Frontera is a small city in the “sherry triangle” of the southwest that is known for its fortified sherry wine. Visit a tabanco to be served wine directly from the barrel and wander through ancient Moorish fortresses and palaces. If the urge to express your admiration through song strikes you, don’t fight it. Jerez de la Frontera is the birthplace of flamenco singing, originating with the Andalusian gypsies (flamencos). Flamenco cantos (songs) are the opera of Spain, known as profound, oftentimes tragic, and deeply emotional songs. Paired with an afternoon sherry tasting, there’s nothing like baroque architecture and song to reignite your passion for life.
- See two seas at once
Spain’s southernmost city is Tarifa, a city that almost touches Morocco, and it is the point where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet. Sea-related activities available here include whale watching and various water sports such as windsurfing. This is also the perfect place to take a quick trip to Morocco. Tangiers is just a half-hour boat ride from Tarifa, a no-hassle way to add another whole continent to your travel experience.
Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the following useful links to plan everything beforehand, so that you have plenty of time for wandering and taking afternoon siestas.
- The CityMapper app aggregates transportation information, including up-to-date arrival and departure times. CityMapper and Google Maps both allow you to save maps offline, which is always a good idea when service can get spotty in small, remote towns.
- Andulcia.org is the region’s official tourism website, but there’s also useful information on Andulacia.com. Make sure to check their calendar of events to see if there are any special festivals happening while you’re there.
- Start brushing up on Spanish with a convenient mobile app for language learning like Lingvist to make asking for directions easier and memorable interactions with locals possible. While you’re there, use Google Translate for quick translations, including audio translations. You can even download the Spanish dictionary offline.
- Plan your train trips using SpainRail.com (also known as Renfe), which includes the high-speed AVE train. Train timetables are generally available around 60 days in advance and get more expensive the longer you wait. Certain trains may also sell out, so purchase your tickets as soon as possible. You can also use an international train travel website like Omio or RailEurope, which accept all major credit cards and can display prices in whatever currency you prefer.