I get so tired of all the guides online waxing poetic about each and every destination possible. It makes it sound like even the shittiest village is worth spending a week in! To save you the trouble of weeding through low-quality recommendations, we visited Andalusia’s top destinations to give you an honest review of each one, so you can plan your own trip and gauge which ones are worth visiting for you and which ones not so much.
While none of the eight places below were a complete flop, the level of satisfaction was definitely on a spectrum. Once you get a sense of the general idea behind a place, make sure to head over to our guides for each location. Then, you are ready to start booking your hotels and buying those plane tickets!
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The town itself has literally one attraction, but if you add the perfect turquoise color of the sea in these parts and like a nice hike, it isn‘t half bad to base yourself here for a beach and hike vacation. Or, head a few miles inland, up into the mountains, and base yourself in an unexpectedly fantastic village called Frigiliana.
Balcon de Europa
See the top sight: Balcon de Europa. A busy plaza on the tip of a rock jutting out into the sea. Many restaurants and a good coastal view. Come more for the atmosphere and a night out, there are better viewpoints in the area.
Vigía De Cerro Gordo
To stare out into the distance and really be impressed, go to Vigía De Cerro Gordo Tower Viewpoint. It’s a 15–20 minute drive out of town, but you can park right next to the Restaurante Mirador de Cerro Gordo that is literally steps away from the lookout spots, so it is an easy endeavor. Closer to Nerja, Maro Tower Viewpoint also gives you great views, though the walk there is a longer one.
Best beaches in Nerja
El Salón and Carabeillo will be the best beaches directly in Nerja town, but for a more serene, natural beach, head out east beyond Maro. Playa de las Alberquillas and Cala del Cañuelo are some of the most beautiful natural beaches that also have great snorkeling. The beach options are unlimited, we recommend getting your car, taking a drive along the coast and seeing what treasures you find.
The top place to visit in Nerja isn’t in Nerja at all: Frigiliana village. Located in the mountains behind Nerja, though only 4 miles (6 km) away, it’s like a hidden Spanish dreamland. Since it is stacked up on a slope, you get incredible views of the coast from just about every tidy, flower-lined street. Plus, the best hikes start right in the village.
Higueron River Hike
One of the hikes you should strongly consider is the Higueron River Hike, a perfect 3-hour (6 mile/10 km) loop hike that takes you not only through the river bed, but also along an irrigation channel that might get your heart pumping. There are many more hikes in the area that would be worthwhile to check out, too.
Listen. It’s a good place to go if you have a lot of time for Andalusia and have seen every other place there. It has amazing restaurants and a whole bunch of places to see that are nice, but not fantastic. But don’t choose it on purpose as the sole place to see. Compared to everywhere else in Andalusia, it falls a little flat. It doesn’t have the magic.
There’s a busy international airport, which is why that many people make their way there in the first place. So read our guide to Malaga, because sometimes you just have to go to Malaga and you should make the most of it if you do.
The Malaga Cathedral is nicknamed “La Manquita”, meaning “the one-armed woman”, because it’s missing one of its towers. Funds ran out when they were building the cathedral and it was never finished. You can see the pillars where the tower was supposed to be erected from the rooftop of the cathedral. If you don’t mind climbing up a narrow, spiraling stairway, the rooftop tour does give you some great views of the city and is worth it. The inside of the cathedral is nothing special.
Malaga’s palace (Alcazaba) is the best preserved in all of Spain. You can walk around the gardens and courtyards with fountains. No more than an hour is needed here.
Castillo de Gibralfaro
Up on a hill above the Old Town is the Moorish castle called Castillo de Gibralfaro, originally built to protect the palace below it. The hike up takes about 30 minutes and can be strenuous, especially if you are visiting in the summer. In that case, I’d recommend getting a taxi up the hill to save yourself a heat stroke. The views past the Hotel Parador make for a great sunset spot.
Muelle Uno promenade
With Malaga being a coastal city, you can expect it to have an area to walk by the sea. The Muelle Uno is now a modern, pretty fancy promenade full of shops and restaurants and frequent evening events. Look out for the colorful glass cube – it’s part of the Centre Pompidou underneath. Recommended for art enthusiasts.
Restaurants in Malaga
There are many great restaurants that deserve a visit, from the plain but fun El Tintero to no less than 5 Michelin establishments, you won’t be leaving Malaga disappointed in the food department. Our full guide includes our top spots for brunch, tapas, seafood and coffee.
It might sound big based on its reputation, but it’s actually a mini city! I’d honestly just come here as a day trip and then get moving on to another place when you’re done. Because there is so much to see in Andalusia and in Cordoba, there really isn’t. That said, it is worth visiting if you have the time.
Our top tips for Andalusia: 🌳 The best of nature: Caminito del Rey suspended hike 🍲 For the foodies: The top restaurants are in Malaga 🏰 Top palace: Sevilla’s Alcazar 🔝 Unexpected highlight: Gibraltar
Cathedral in Cordoba
The main sight is the mosque-cathedral, which is literally that. It is pretty crazy to walk through this structure and see the mosque parts glued onto cathedral parts seamlessly and it all kind of working together. The hundreds of columns prevent it from feeling huge inside, since everywhere you look you just see columns and candy cane striped arches. That being said, I think it says a lot that the Christians left it without change for 300 years and just called it a church, since the structure is so impressive they didn’t want to destroy it. Even then, they just popped a church structure in the middle and left the rest alone.
See the courtyards. They are colorful and charming and I say that as a man that has no problem with his masculinity. The Festival of the Courtyards (“Patios”) of Cordoba in May each year has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO. The Viana Palace has 12 unique courtyards like the courtyard of silence or the courtyard of cats that can be visited year-round and are an easy way to get your courtyard fix without too much street wandering.
If, on the other hand, you like to wander, the Calleja de las Flores is not called Flower Alley for nothing. The Jewish Quarter is also a maze of tiny streets just calling you to get lost in them. Don’t forget to look down, as the cobblestone you are walking on is made of pebbles from the river and you will be amazed by the work that had to go into the designs.
The Roman bridge is a big, fat bridge with 16 arches, about 820 feet (250 m) long. You can catch a nice sunset from it, and the bridge itself is nice to look at especially at night when it is lit up. Even though it is technically a bridge that the Romans built, most of what you can see today is the work of the Arabs in the 8th century when they reconstructed it.
The Royal Palace, Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, isn’t one of the most stunning in Andalusia, but it is worth a look and a walk around the pretty gardens if you are in town anyway. The problem is that the palaces in Andalusia are just so cool that in comparison, this one might not be the most impressive. If you don’t plan on visiting many (or any) others though, you could quite possibly be blown away. So this is not to say that Cordoba’s Alcazar is ugly.
Most importantly, read about the iffy registration process you need to go through in order to access the palace area. It is literally mentioned almost nowhere and people end up trying to register while standing in line at the entrance, and it can be a royal pain. Some even get turned away.
A tiny town perched up on a limestone rock formation, made famous by a spectacular bridge over the gorge in the middle of it. Views for days and a chill atmosphere.
Overall, I was expecting a lot from Ronda and was left underwhelmed. That was highly influenced by our bad restaurant experiences. So my top tip for Ronda: Beware of the crappy restaurants! For some reason, this was our worst dining experience in Andalusia. Imagine wanting to just have a coffee (probably bad, as it is everywhere in Spain) somewhere and being repeatedly refused because you weren’t ordering a meal. In an otherwise empty establishment!
Read our full Ronda guide for top tips and head out on a day trip.
Everyone flocks here to see the New Bridge (Puente Nuevo) and they are right, it’s worth flocking to. It’s called “new” because the one it replaced fell like a deck of cards after only six years. That’s what you get when you are hasty and build a bridge in eight months.
Since looking at a bridge is a tricky thing to do while standing on the bridge itself, you will want to walk down into the gorge to get the best pics (and good old views with your own eyes). The top spot to see the Puente Nuevo from is down a path that starts right near a viewpoint in the Old Town called Mirador de María Auxiliadora (ask Google, he knows where it is). From there, start walking down the steps and enjoy.
Then see the bridge from the other side from Mirador de Adehuela or the terraced garden called Jardines De Cuenca. Because there really isn’t that much to do in Ronda but look at the bridge and take in the views.
The Arab Baths are the best preserved of this type in all of Andalusia. A short but informative tour, you will be done in 30 minutes. It’s interesting to see how the baths were used with the three rooms each having a distinct purpose.
Bullfighting in Ronda
The bullfighting arena at Plaza de Toros is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. It was here that, in the 18th century, a matador named Pedro Romero got into the arena with a bull on foot, not horseback. This arena, along with the one in Sevilla, is the oldest in the world. It’s pretty nice with two stories, and the tour they do is worth it. Bullfights do still happen here, but I have a whole big, strong opinion on those (spoiler: bullfighting is not my cup of tea).
Stroll down Calle Virgen de la Paz all the way down to Alameda del Tajo to stand on the balconies over the cliffs, for yet another fab view.
Hotels in Ronda
If you do decide to stay the night, make sure to take in the sunset. One of the best spots to stare at it from is a park called Paseo de Blas Infante, with an Ernest Hemingway statue and lots of stray cats. You will almost forget the crappy restaurants in Ronda while there.
Quintessentially Andalusian, this city is a must-visit for every first-time visitor. But I was surprised by how little there is to see. Even though there is one main sight (the palace), it is worth going there. Depending on how high your expectations are, you may or may not think “I took all this time to drive here and that’s all there is?!” With that in mind, know that you don’t need to stay more than a night unless you don’t know what to do with your time and like to either sit at restaurants all day or are especially fond of flamenco.
The Alhambra here is the largest fortress complex in Andalusia and it is world-famous for a reason. You will spend at least 4 hours walking around the huge area, it’s a city in itself. You must have a time slot reservation for some of the areas and the system has bugs, so double and triple check your reservation. Otherwise, you might end up with a time slot for 4 months later than your visit like we did. Have your passport on you because the number will be checked (it is on the reservation). Details about how to make a reservation are in our full Granada post.
Sacromonte and Albaicín
The Sacromonte and Albaicín neighborhoods on a hill across from the Alhambra for an authentic experience. Not only do you get the best views of the palace—Mirador de San Nicolás at sunset is top notch but full of tourists—but it´s also where you’ll find the best flamenco cuevas.
Walk the narrow streets of Alcaicería market, the former Moorish silk market, where you can get everything from clothes to tea and spices.
The tour at the bullfighting arena is good, interactive even (do you want to dress like a matador?). We did a tour at one of the oldest arenas in the world in Ronda and that might’ve been a little better though.
Tip: Stay at Palacete 1620, Premium Suites, a renovated 400-year-old house turned into amazingly comfortable apartments with staff that treat you like royalty.
The smallish capital of Andalusia will make you want to give it a hug. If it’s your first stop, you’ll get whiplash not knowing where to look first. Great for a weekend break, just ideally not in the height of summer, when temperatures soar to an unbearable 100ºF (37ºC) on a daily basis. We visited in May and still had to run to our car to take air-conditioned breaks. See our full article on Seville for details.
The palace (Alcazar) and its gardens are my favorites in Andalusia. That’s saying a lot, because the palaces, mostly constructed by the Moors, are all pretty fantastic. The sheer number of tiles and gold used in the interior will make your eyes fall out of your head. Awe-inspiring and definitely worth your time. If you add the immaculate gardens, this stop will take up at least 3 hours of your time.
The Sevilla Cathedral used to be a mosque and is now the largest Gothic church in the world. The bell tower, La Giralda, used to be a minaret, which is why it’s so tall. You can take a tour and walk up it for some great views.
Christopher Columbus‘ tomb is in the cathedral too. It actually holds the explorer’s remains, even though the Dominican Republic claims otherwise.
Parque de María Luisa
The incredible Parque de María Luisa with the kind of kitschy but still fabulous Plaza de España. Rowboats included (that’s pushing it over the kitschy limit for me). It´s a huge complex with fountains, impressive buildings and tiles galore, originally built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. That main, half-circle building on the plaza is the former Andalusia building of the expo.
Take a walk up on the strange and wonderful wooden structure Las Setas (mushrooms). Possibly the largest wooden structure in the world, it caused quite the commotion when it was first being built. Who can blame them – a very modern, very untraditional wooden thing that towers over the historical buildings in the middle of Sevilla’s Old Town? But even the locals now mostly love it. Make sure to visit in the evening when the light show makes it extra impressive.
Tip: The Hotel Casa Del Poeta is the place you want to stay while in Seville if you want to spoil yourself a little.
2. Caminito del Rey and El Torcal
One of the best places to see in all of Andalusia, Caminito del Rey was one of my top two destinations in the region (the other being Gibraltar), and for sure the best natural spot to visit in southern Spain. Take a hat and sunscreen, it gets HOT!
It’s a combination of nature and adrenalin. You’ll be going on a series of walkways bolted into the rock face 330 feet (100 m) above the gorge floor! The views are incredible and the fun is nonstop. And sometimes it’s scary and that’s also fun if you ask me! Caminito del Rey is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an experience. You feel a little better when you see the original path right under the new one they built in 2015. You would not want to be on the old one. Neither did those that fell to their death from it before it was repaired.
- Be sure to make a reservation as far in advance as you can, and I mean months in advance. Even during covid, we booked 3 months before our trip and were lucky to get a spot. You can only visit with a guide, though the one we got was impossibly slow and we couldn’t understand a word he was saying, so we ditched our group and it was the best decision.
- If you didn’t manage to get a reservation, get there early in the morning and hope for the best.
- The drive there from Cordoba is beautiful, too.
- Beware that the entrance is a 20-minute walk from the parking lot and you have to get to the start before your reserved time slot. The parking lot itself can be tricky to find (type Aparcamiento Caminito del Rey into Google maps, not just Caminito del Rey).
- The entire walk takes about 2.5 hours and is mostly flat except for the final descent. You get a shuttle form the end back to the parking lot at the end.
Combine the Caminito del Rey with El Torcal for a full day trip. El Torcal is a nature reserve in the Sierra del Torcal mountain range. It’s a karst landscape that is pretty impressive unless you are from a country with many karst landscapes, in which case it won’t blow your mind. Still a nice trip though and those of you without much karst experience might even feel like you’ve landed on another planet.
There are three main hiking routes here and they are all easy. There isn’t much elevation and unless it is muddy, the terrain won’t give you much trouble, aside from a rock here and a step there. The green route will only take you 45 minutes, so you can get some karst landscape in even if you’re short on time. The yellow and orange routes take 2 and 4 hours respectively.
If you have no time or desire to walk, just head over to the visitor’s center and take in the views from the viewpoint just past it. There is a restaurant there too if you want to get a snack before driving onwards.
Not technically part of Spain, this British Oversees Territory was an unexpected highlight of our trip! Maybe it was all the craziness of Spain, where nobody is ever in a hurry or trying to adhere to any kind of rules really. Maybe it was the ease of understanding everything since all the signs are in English, or the fish and chips after a week of tapas and paella. But we enjoyed ourselves and I dare say you will too.
The city isn’t big, but it feels big. You don’t feel like there is nothing to see, it’s very cosmopolitan and the tourist infrastructure is awesome.
Hotels in Gibraltar
You can spend all day in Gibraltar, so go ahead and book that hotel. It’s like the UK but with awesome weather, plus a huge rock with views to Africa. You will see the typical red phone booths and English police uniforms, it’s just bizarre.
The Rock of Gibraltar
Take the cable car up the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s only a six-minute ride, but then you can spend 4 hours walking around up there no problem. Unless it’s cloudy or overcast, you can see all the way to Morocco. It’s a dramatic, the cliff just falls into the sea beneath you. You might even hope for a great rainstorm that would emphasize just how dramatic this place can be!
If you like big ships, you’ll be like a kid in a candy store. Dozens of container transporters and cruise ships dock in Gibraltar, and seeing them from the Rock is extra cool!
Restaurants in Gibraltar
There are so many restaurants to choose form, including great tapas bars that do fish and chips at the same time. My favorite was Jury’s Café and Wine Bar.
You can’t not enjoy yourself in Andalusia. By going in with your expectations managed, hopefully in part due to our little guide, you will for sure have a great vacation. And, if you want to venture beyond the south, why not head up north to the fantastic Barcelona or get your beach on in Mallorca?
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