Southern Spain is known for beautiful beaches, hilly terrain, and yellow farmlands dotted with deep green almond trees and olive groves. The region, known as Andalusia (or Andalucía) was under Moorish rule from the 8th-15th centuries. This legacy shows in the architecture and culture of the area. From tapas and wine to suntans and sunsets, read on to explore the highlights of Andalusia, Spain.
What to do in Andalusia, Spain
Fill up on local flavor with tapas tour
The best way to immerse yourself in a local culture is with food. Whether you enjoy cooking classes or food tours, Spain has a lot to offer. Taking an organized food tour gives you a chance to eat like a local while learning firsthand about the city. We enjoyed a wonderful evening tapas tour with We Love Málaga and met some really nice people from around Europe. Our guide, Victor, shared the local perspective on everything from soccer to politics while stuffing us with tapas and wine of all kinds!
Walk through the old town
Old town Málaga has loads of restaurants, cafes, and shopping to keep you entertained. Try the churros and chocolate while you sit down for a cup of coffee. Spanish churros are not doughy and cinnamon and sugar coated like you might be used to. The churros are very light and uncoated. That is until you dunk them in a cup of thick hot chocolate anyways.
Dig your toes in the sand
The beaches of Andalusia feature soft sand, topless women, and hustlers selling sunglasses, towels, hats, and jewelry. There are many restaurants on the beaches where you can get reasonably priced food and or a cold drink.
Enjoy the sunset from the paths leading up to Castillo Gibralfaro
From the castle walls, you’ll see sweeping views of the ocean and city. Look down upon the bullfighting ring, out over the port, and see the sun setting in the hills. It is absolutely breathtaking.
Take a scenic day trip around Andalusia, Spain
Rent a car and navigate the hilly interior of Andalusia. You’ll see deep green almond trees and olive groves dotting the yellow countryside underneath the bright blue sky.
Visit the hillside town of Ronda. The area features a Roman aqueduct, talented street musicians, and several bodegas (wineries).
From Ronda, head south towards Marbella and take in the Mediterranean style villas on the hillsides, miles of stunning coastline, and stop for lunch along the beach.
The drive from Málaga to Granada sweeps east along the coast and turns up into the hills. The entire route is filled with huge bridges, long tunnels, and sweeping views. The cliffs and bridges made my heart race!
Once you reach Granada, the Moorish influence is hard to ignore. The city almost feels like Morocco or Turkey with all of the hookah bars, craft markets, and stylish architecture.
Watch the sunset from Albaicín
Gather in the square or grab a table at one of the terraced restaurants and watch the Alhambra glow red as the sun sets behind the old center of the Nasrid Kingdom.
Sample tapas as you pub crawl
Tapas in Granada are the tapas we’ve all read about. They’re snacks provided by bars to keep you from getting too drunk while you sip on Spanish wines or guzzle local beers. Thanks to the local university and tourism, Granada is one of the few places in Spain where the tapas are still free! Stop into a bar, order a drink (with or without alcohol) for about 2 to 3 euros and they’ll bring you a tapa to enjoy. Most commonly the tapas we received were a slice of bread topped with a slice of cured meat. Another popular offering was the Spanish omelet, think of an egg and potato omelet.
Our favorite spot was Sitarilla. Described as your grandmothers cooking, they served the best food. We wanted to try a few more dishes at this bar, so we ordered from the menu, and were shocked when our tapas came out and covered the entire table. Word to the wise, if it is not the complimentary tapa, it is not small. You can judge the likely size of the dish based off of the price. We should have known that the 16 euro meatballs could feed an entire village! They were so good, we happily took on the challenge.
The reason Granada is known worldwide is the Alhambra. The giant palace and fortress complex was the final stronghold of the Nasrid dynasty in Spain until 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs, Isabell I and Ferdinand II defeated Granada and ended all Islamic rule on the Iberian peninsula. The Alhambra spans 100,000 square meters and features palaces, gardens, a military zone, and several towers. It takes several hours to explore. You’ll want to purchase tickets at least two months prior to your visit as the palaces have scheduled entry that sells out quickly.
Where to stay in Andalusia, Spain
Gran Hotel Miramar in Málaga
The Gran Hotel Miramar was voted as the number one hotel in Spain last year, and it has to be based on the architecture and location. The beautiful property is nestled across the street from the beach and just a 15-minute walk to the action of Old Town. I will admit that from a service and room standpoint, I’m not sure what all of the fuss is about. Our room was nice, but quite small, and the service left something to be desired for a 5-star hotel. Try and get a good deal on price, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this property plenty!
Hotel Palacio Ines in Granada
This hotel was perfect for us. The price was very reasonable, we had a great view, and the location was perfect for two reasons:
- We were in the center of the action.
- We were at the bottom of the hills.
You won’t realize it until you arrive, but the hilly old city can be exhausting on a hot summer day. Luckily, we didn’t have to truck up the hill too often as Palacio Santa Ines Hotel sits at the base of the hill between Albaicín and the Alhambra. The staff were very friendly and helpful in providing recommendations and printing our palace tickets as well as arranging parking. I’d definitely recommend this hotel.
Discover Andalusia, Spain Tips:
- Buy Alhambra tickets well in advance. They are typically sold out for about two months into the future.
- Tapas in Granada are free. Just order a drink and wait.
- Some rental car locations in Spain require an International driver’s license. Plan ahead and visit AAA to get one.
- Locals do not drink sangria. It is just for locals and is priced accordingly. Try tinto verano as a less expensive but equally delicious refreshment. It is red wine with sparkling lemonade.
- Ask for the bill when you’re ready to leave a restaurant. You’ll be waiting a while if you don’t ask 🙂
Check out more of my European Adventures!