The southern region of Spain is a lovely fusion of culture, architecture, and natural beauty. Colorful fiestas with loud locals in flamenco dresses dancing and drinking along the streets, pilgrimages where large statues of praised saints are carried for miles followed by decorated horses, tractors, and devoted people. A varied landscape of rolling hills, steep peaks, desert land, pine forests, flat land, virgin beaches, and steep cliffs all spotted with charming white villages, olive oil farms, rice fields, and historic cities dating back to the Moors and the Roman times.
What is there not to like about Andalusia?
To give you a better insight into the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty this region has to offer, these are the 15 best places to visit in Andalusia.
In the heart of one of Spain’s most popular charter destinations, Costa del Sol, you find the city of Malaga which also is the capital of the Province of Malaga. A quaint and historically rich city that has the privilege of laying right on the coast with easy access to breathtaking beaches.
While visiting Malaga you should make time to wander the streets in the old town, eat tapas, and drink local wine. Yet, there are a few sights that shouldn’t be missed.
First of all, you should pay a visit to the Alcazaba, Malaga’s landmark, a Moorish fortress sitting on a hilltop overlooking the city. This is the best-preserved of all the Moorish fortresses in the country. While you are there it is perfect to head over to the nearby Castillo de Gibralfaro, also from Moorish times.
Just behind the outer walls of Alcazaba, you will find the Roman Theatre which was in use until the year 200. Dominating the old part of the city, the beautifully decorated Malaga Cathedral dates back to the end of the 1700s.
As the center of Costa del Sol, there are some incredible day trips from Malaga to epic hiking routes, refreshing rivers, ravines, and white villages that you should check out if you have enough time.
Traveling in the heat of August you might coincide with the Feria of Malaga and party in the streets like a local!
How to get there: There are daily direct flights from all over Europe to Malaga Airport. The city is also easily reached by bus or train from most major cities in Spain and smaller places in Andalusia.
Where to stay: Malaga (and the rest of Costa del Sol) is suffering from overtourism in the summer months. One way to avoid contributing to this, except for traveling in the shoulder and low season (September-May), is to stay only at hotels. There are lots of Airbnb’s in Malaga, but unfortunately, its popularity has created a difficult situation for the locals. First of all, rental prices have gone up to a level where locals can’t afford to rent, and second, landlords don’t want to rent out long term to locals anymore. Why? Because they earn more renting out short-term on Airbnb over the summer months than what they get on a whole year on long term rental. It’s simple math.
A good option is to stay central at Ibis Malaga Centro Ciudad.
2. El Chorro
Have you heard about the most dangerous hike in the world? It used to be El Caminito del Rey, hanging on a 400-meter-high cliff wall along the Gaitanes Gorge before it was closed, rebuilt, and reopened in 2015. You can still see the old path right beneath the new, wooden path. Today, it is mandatory to wear a helmet to do the walk and you need to book tickets in advance.
This is just one of several outdoor activities you can do in El Chorro. There are plenty of hiking opportunities, like the Arab Stairway, and it’s a haven for rock climbers. And did I mention El Chorro Lakes? The blinding turquoise lakes wrapped in a deep green pine forest is a popular spot for swimming, kayaking, and cliff jumping in the summer months.
El Chorro village is pretty small and doesn’t have much to it other than the surrounding nature scene and activities.
How to get there: The easiest way to get to El Chorro is by car. This will also give you the most flexibility to move around to the lakes and the different hiking trails. However, there is a train station in the village that commutes with Malaga.
Where to stay: There is a hotel in El Chorro, Complejo Turistico La Garganta, which is pretty nice. Otherwise, renting a rural apartment in the outskirts of the village is a great option if you have a car and don’t want to stay at the nearby campgrounds.
3. Grazalema National Park
In the heart of Grazalema National Park, you find the little white village Grazalema. This is a hiking hotspot and the busy village houses large numbers of visitors with one thing in common. To explore the surrounding hiking trails of Sierra de Grazalema.
There are a few free trails you can do, whereof Simoncón (1569m) and El Reloj (1535) are quite spectacular. You can do both peaks on a day trip, though they are poorly marked. I recommend you walk back where you came from if you get lost.
Grazalema National Park also has quite a few hikes that require a permit and a guide as they run through a part of the Sierra de Grazalema that has been declared as Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Among the most beautiful you find El Torreón (1647m), which is the highest peak in Sierra de Grazalema, La Garganta Verde a 400-meter-deep canyon trail, and El Pinsapar which takes you through a forest of unique Fir trees that can only be found in this area.
If you happen to be there in September, you might be lucky and experience the deer’s rutting spectacle. This is when the male deer try to attract the female deer while keeping off the other males. The shouting is incredible to listen to through the descending sunset and into the night. There are organized tours that take you to places where you can listen to this incredible sound of nature without disturbing the animals.
How to get there: There are buses to Grazalema from major cities like Seville and Malaga, though the easiest way to get around is by car.
Where to stay: Hospederia Casa de las Piedras is a good place to stay in the heart of Grazalema.
4. Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve
In the Province of Almería, there is a true hidden gem. A hostile volcanic area home to the only desert in Spain, breathtaking virgin beaches, steep cliffs, and a hippie community. You are in Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve.
With a few central villages to visit, like San Jose which is the starting point of the coastal hiking trail running past several beaches you can otherwise only reach by boat. First stop is the immense Genoveses Beach before it continues along steep cliffs looking straight down at the Mediterranean Sea, winding its way along the coastline down to unimaginable beach strips and up again for breathtaking views until you find yourself at the mesmerizing desert beach, Monsul.
Another village further east is Las Negras. The small town has gotten its place on the map because of the nearby hippie community in Cala de San Pedro. The bay can only be reached by boat or a one-hour hike across sun-kissed hills. Cala de San Pedro beach is probably the only beach in Spain where it is “allowed” to camp and in the summer months backpackers and Spanish alike looking for a time-out get together and enjoy the chilled atmosphere.
The most popular beach in Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve is Los Muertos Beach, which actually means “Beach of the Dead” in Spanish. The beach got its name from the steep hike to get down there. The walk down to the beach takes approximately 15-20 minutes and the reward is a white pebbled beach meeting deep turquoise water.
The main beaches, Los Genoveses, Monsul, and Los Muertos all have parking with a fee in the busy summer months. Outside of peak season, it is free.
How to get there: To get to Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve you can either take a bus from Almeria to San Jose, Las Negras or Cabo de Gata, though the easiest way to get around is by car.
Where to stay: Los Escullos Camping is a large campground in the peaceful area of Los Escullos, between San Jose and Las Negras. You need a car to stay here. In San Jose, Hotel Atalaya is a good value for money hotel well situated in the center.
It would be something totally wrong if the capital of Andalusia, Seville, didn’t make it to the list of the best places to visit in Andalusia. The cultural city has a whole different vibe to it than anywhere else in Spain. Busy street cafes buzzing with life as loud locals are having tapas and drinks while excited tourists are snapping photos of the surrounding historical buildings.
In the heart of the city, you find the cathedral and the iconic bell tower La Giralda. Take a stroll in the gardens of Real Alcazar before venturing to the impressive Plaza de España, also called Little Venice as a small canal goes along the impressive curved structure. You can get a rowboat through the canal. On the exterior of the palace, there are colorful tiled benches, popular for resting and people watching. Each bench represents one of the 41 provinces in Spain. Next to Plaza de España you can stroll through the largest park in Seville, the Maria Luisa Park.
If you happen to be in Seville during the Easter week you will witness the biggest celebration of Semana Santa in the whole of Spain, with large parades of people carrying statues of different Saints day and night. Two weeks later, the Feria de Abril takes place, which is a unique Fiesta where the locals dress up in Flamenco dresses and dance all night in the Feria area. This is the largest feria in Spain.
How to get there: Seville has an international airport with more and more international flight connections. It also has a good train and bus connection to the rest of Spain.
Less visited by tourists, Cadiz is definitely worthy of the list of the best places to visit in Andalusia. The small seaside city, with its 100+ watchtowers, is the capital of the Province of Cadiz, home to some of the most beautiful white sanded beaches in Spain as it stretches all the way to Tarifa.
Have a drink at a bar in front of the majestic Cadiz Cathedral, a combination of baroque, neoclassical and rococo styles. Stroll through the Genoves Park and take the walk out to the Castle of San Sebastian, which is pretty much an island connected with a walkway.
In February you can dress up creatively and party in the streets with the locals at their annual Cadiz Carnival.
How to get there: Cadiz doesn’t have its own airport, but Jerez airport is only 30 minutes away and serves both national and international flights. Additionally, Seville airport is only 1 hour and 20 minutes away by car and there are direct trains and buses from the airport too.
Ronda is a must-visit while in Andalusia. The elevated city sits dramatically on top of El Tajo Gorge and is connected with two bridges, whereof Puente Nuevo is the most photographed site in Ronda. The city offers incredible views of the surrounding countryside and the short hike down to the gorge is astounding.
While Ronda itself has a lot of beauty, you should make the trip to Setenil de Las Bodegas and Zahara de la Sierra, both impressive mountain villages nearby.
Setenil de las Bodegas is incredibly built inside the rock and you won’t believe it unless you visit. There is not much to do in the village other than walking around the village, which takes about 10 minutes and walks above the village for the views, which takes about half an hour. Anyway, this is a place worth seeing.
Zahara de la Sierra on the other hand, is guarded by an ancient watchtower. Walking up to it is worth it if solely for the breathtaking views of the turquoise lake and surrounding countryside below the village.
There are tours from Ronda to both villages or you can drive yourself.
How to get to Ronda: There are buses from both Seville and Malaga to Ronda. Otherwise, it is a beautiful scenic drive by car or motorbike.
Where to Stay in Ronda: Stay at Casa Palacio Villa Zambra for the best views of Puente Nuevo.
8. Cazorla Natural Park
For nature and wildlife lovers, Cazorla Natural Park in the Province of Jaén is a true paradise. Nestled in the mountains you find the small village of Cazorla which is a good base for several hiking routes in the area. This is one of the few Natural Parks in Spain where you are almost guaranteed to see more than one kind of wildlife during your stay. Deer, wild boar, fox, mouflons, and mountain goats frequent the trails of this lush green scenery.
How to get there: The easiest way to reach Cazorla Natural Park is without a doubt by car as it gives you the flexibility to get to the different hiking trails. However, there are buses to Cazorla both from Jaén and Granada.
Where to stay: Stay at Hotel Villa de Cazorla.
Castril is a hidden gem in the Province of Granada. The tiny white village sits on the top of a rock overlooking endless countryside and mountains on all sides. The most popular attraction is Cerrada del Rio Trail. It goes from the village through a small gorge and is absolutely astounding with refreshing waterholes, a hanging bridge, and a cave tunnel along the way. The walk only takes about half an hour one way and is fairly easy.
Make sure you walk the steep, narrow streets in the village through whitewashed houses and up to the old fortress Castillo de Castril.
The surrounding area belongs to Castril Natural Park where you can enjoy several artificial lakes, wildlife, and memorable hiking routes.
How to get there: There are buses to Castril from Jaén and Granada, though the easiest is to drive a car to get the most out of the surrounding area during your stay.
Where to stay: Stay rural at El Geco Verde.
Another iconic city in Andalusia is Cordoba, renowned as a major Islamic center in the middle ages, it is the capital city of the Province of Cordoba. The most popular tourist attraction is the incredible Mosque of Cordoba. Get lost in time in El Patio de Los Naranjos and see the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos. Outside the gardens, walking to the river, you can cross the old Roman Bridge to the Calahorra Tower.
You can also visit the old Medina Azahara which was built in the mid-1800s. The site has been restored beautifully and is well worth the visit.
If you happen to be in Cordoba at the end of May, you get to celebrate the Feria of Cordoba.
How to get there: The closest international airports are Seville and Malaga. There are also daily trains and buses. It is also easy to get to Cordoba by car.
Where to stay: Stay at Hotel Maestre.
11. Nerja and Maro
If you are looking for the clearest turquoise water in costa del Sol, you have to go to Nerja and Maro. These beaches are incredible and perfect for water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboard. The rocky coastline connecting the beaches are full of hippie coves, caves, and waterfalls.
Just above Nerja is one of the most visited cave systems in Spain. You can take a 45-minute tour of the caves. Other caves contain nearly 600 rock paintings, some of them estimated to be more than 40,000 years old, but these are not open to the public.
Above the caves you find the white village of Frigiliana looking down on Nerja. The hillside town has mesmerizing views and streets are full of restaurants, bars and boutiques.
How to get there: The closest international airport is in Malaga only an hour away. You can easily take the bus to Nerja or a rental car if you want more freedom to get around.
12. Sierra Nevada National Park
Sierra Nevada is mostly known for being the southernmost ski resort in Europe, situated in the Province of Granada. Day-trippers and weekend trippers from all of Andalusia take advantage of the proximity of the slopes throughout the winter months.
The little town is great to visit both in summer and winter, and the Sierra Nevada National Park is so much more than just skiing. Home to the highest peak in mainland Spain, Mulhacen, among other breathtaking trails, the National Park is popular all year round as hikers explore every corner of its greatness.
How to get there: There are buses from Malaga and Granada to Sierra Nevada. For different hiking trails, you will find bus services to the nearest towns, though they are not frequent. For the best travel experience around the National Park, rent a car.
Where to stay: Apartahotel Trevenque is a reasonably priced and well-situated apartment hotel in the center of Sierra Nevada.
13. Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park
Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park is situated in the heart of the Province of Malaga and home to the largest population of mountain goats in Andalusia and a few challenging hiking trails. The highest peak is Torrecilla (1919m), which is the second-highest peak in Malaga (La Maroma being the highest with 2069m). Another popular hike is La Concha which takes you out on a steep ridge with mesmerizing coastal views of the coastal town of Marbella.
There are quite a few white villages spotted around the Natural Park. Ojén, the village of lemons, and Istán are both starting points of numerous hiking trails. They are great stopovers if you want to experience Spanish village life. Istán Lake is a must if you happen to be around, ask the locals in the village for directions as it is a bit difficult to find the way.
How to get there: The best way to get around in Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park is by car as villages are scattered and public transport is infrequent.
Where to stay: Stay in Refugio de Juanar for a nature experience, the hotel is situated in the Natural Park at the starting point of several trails, among them, La Concha. In Istán, stay at Hotel Rural Los Jarales.
14. El Torcal de Antequera Nature Reserve
With some of the most astounding karst landscapes in Europe, El Torcal de Antequera Nature Reserve is a great day trip from Malaga or the nearby village Antequera. There are two walking routes through the park, one green and one yellow. The green trail takes about 45 minutes to walk while the yellow one takes 2 hours. If you choose to walk from the lower parking lot, you can add 2 more hours to walk up to the start of the trails. There is a shuttle bus that takes passengers up and down between the lower car park and the upper one where the trails start.
Apart from impressive rock formations and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, you are highly likely to see mountain goats. With some luck, you can observe them up close.
Remember, these are wild animals, so don’t try to pet them, take selfies with them or feed them. It is just as important to take all rubbish with you, including food rests when you leave the park so you don’t affect the fauna or the wildlife that are natural to the area.
How to get there: The only way to reach El Torcal de Antequera Nature Reserve is by car. It is only half an hour from Antequera, so you could take a taxi or an Uber from there if you don’t have a rental car. Antequera is easily reached by train or by bus.
Where to stay: Stay at Hotel Mesón El Número Uno in Antequera.
Granada is the capital of the Province of Granada and another great evidence of Moorish occupation, the Alhambra being the most magnificent. The palace and its gardens were built by the Nasrids during the 1200s and 1300s and today it’s the most visited site in Granada. As entry tickets are popular, I advise you to book in advance through their official website. The Alhambra with its gardens deserves a good few hours to explore in its full. You can also get a guided tour to learn more about the history of this place.
Back in Granada, head to the Arab quarter where you see evidence of the Moors settlement in every corner. Visit Spain’s second-largest cathedral, built on top of Granada’s Mosque back in the 16th century. The massive building stands next to the Royal Chapel, another historical building. Granada also gives you an insight in a real hammam from old times. The Bañuelo is one of the only surviving baths left.
Only a 20 minutes’ walk or a short bus drive outside the city center you get to Granada Charterhouse, a monastery constructed right after the city was reclaimed.
How to get there: The closest international airports to Granada are Malaga airport and Almería airport, both about 1 hour and 30 minutes’ drive away. There are buses if you don’t have a car.
Where to stay: Stay at Abadía Hotel in the city center.
By Linn Haglund
Linn is originally Norwegian and has traveled extensively and lived abroad after finishing her studies in Tourism and Communication. She has lived a total of 7+ years in Andalusia in Southern Spain and traveled the region extensively. Her love for travel made her aware of all the negative consequences tourism can have on people, wildlife, and the environment. As a result, she started the travel blog Brainy Backpackers to help others travel more responsibly so they don’t have to regret anything when they get back home. You can tag along and learn more about responsible travel on her Facebook page and Pinterest.