Spain’s Andalusia region is literally and figuratively one of the hottest regions of Europe. Coveted for its position as a gateway between Africa and Europe, it has a long history of conquests, which include the Romans, the Byzantine and a long 700-year-old rule by the Moors, which left an indelible mark on the region’s architecture, art, gastronomy, culture and language. Andalusia is still coveted today for its 900 kilometers of pristine coastline, its active nightlife, its tapas culture, its breathtaking natural wonders and its history, of course.
Walking is the easiest way to explore the Albaicín, a charming UNESCO World Heritage site neighbourhood that’s managed to retain its old Moorish layout. It is rich in winding alleys, impeccably maintained traditional houses and breathtaking views overlooking the Alhambra complex. Don’t miss the Carrera del Darro, Albacín oldest street, and the Church of San Nicolas. The steep climb to the church will reward with the best views of Alhambra.
This area located towards the northern part of the Albaicín is famous for its caves carved during the Moorish rule and inhabited by gypsies. It’s the spot to go for a Flamenco show.
If you can only do one thing in Granada, it would definitely have to be visiting the Red Fortress or Alhambra complex of palaces and fortresses. The central Palacio Nazaríes is the highlight of the Alhambra complex with its rectangular pool, lovely courtyard and large ensemble of rooms. The adjacent Patio de Los Leones is built using the Golden Ratio and demonstrates the perfect geometry of Islamic architecture. The patio’s centerpiece is the 11th century fountain and its 11 marble lions.
The Alcaiceria Market
Originally established during the Moorish rule, this market still thrives today. Dive deep into its alley to veer away from the tourist traps and closer to its treasures.
Catedral de Granada
Completed in 1561 on the site of a mosque, this is the 4th largest Cathedral in the world and a fine example of the Spanish Renaissance and Gothic styles.
Arabic Baths or bañuelo
A visit to the remarkably well-kept Arabic baths and their lovely Arabic-style arcades is a must, especially since this is one of the last remaining baths in Spain.
Huerta de San Vincente (Casa Federico García Lorca)
The famous writer spent his summers writing some of his masterpieces in this house between 1926 and 1936.
Spend a few hours wandering around Granada’s most important museum and admiring its art that speaks to the history of the city.
Sierra Nevada National Park
This is the largest national park in Spain and Europe’s southernmost ski resort. Whether you’re a n amateur or serious hikers, the Sierra Nevada National Park has 20 mountains to explore as well as gorgeous lakes and forest areas.
Seville’s most famous attraction is the incomparable Alcázar, a Moorish fort turned royal palace that’s still in use today. It’s one of the best examples of mudéjar architecture in Spain with its pretty tile work as well and intricate ornamental details. Make sure to visit the gardens while you’re there.
Sevilles’s Las Setas (or the Mushrooms) were built in an effort to rejuvenate Plaza de la Encarnación. They have become quite the attraction and contain museums, stores and a winding walkway on the last floor with stunning views of the city.
Triana and the Mercado de Triana
Seville’s gypsy neighbourhood is worth a visit for its colourful architecture, traditional ceramics and the Mercado de Triana, a lively market with beautiful stalls and a few tapas eateries.
Catedral de Sevilla and La Giralda
Seville’s Cathedral is the largest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It started as a mosque, which was converted to a church after the Reconquista. It houses the tomb of Columbus. The trek to the top of its minaret or La Giralda, is well worth it and you’ll be rewarded by magnificent views of the city.
The Museum of Fine Arts of Seville
Open since 1840, Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes is one of Spain’s most important art museums and explores the city’s artists from the 17th century until today.
Flamenco Museum of Seville
If you’re a flamenco fan, you’re in the right city and this museum is a must visit. Explore flamenco’s history through paintings, photos and fashion and stay for a show.
Andalucian Museum of Contemporary Art
Housed in a former monastery, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo opened its doors in 1990 with a mission to provide the local artist community with a space for the “research, conservation and promotion of contemporary art”.
Parque Maria Luisa and Plaza de España
Although this doesn’t qualify as a trek in nature, it definitely qualifies as a communion. The lush greenery of this botanical garden is wondrous any time of year. Take a stroll along the pathways and sit to admire the many ponds, plants, trees and ornate pavilion that surround the gorgeous Plaza de España.
Mezquita de Córdoba
Córdoba’s most important monument is the Mezquita de Córdoba, a most astounding and unique cathedral that has retained all the Moorish details of its past as a mosque. The famous and stunning hall with red and white double arches granite is unforgettable.
Built by the Romans in the 1st century BC and renovated several times by several conquistadors since, this stone bridge runs across the Guadalquivir River.
Castle of the Christian Kings
The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos may look sober and serious on the outside but its interior is exquisite with its beautiful gardens and fountains built in the Mudejar style. It once housed the largest library in the West.
Although not in Córdoba proper, Medina Asahara is definitely worth a visit. Construction on this Moorish medieval city started in 940 and it was once the capital of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).
One of the best of its kind in Spain, the Museo Arquelógico is located in a beautiful Renaissance mansion and features Roman, Iberian, Muslim and Visigothic artifacts with one floor dedicated to the Roman collection and another to the Moorish one.
Palacio de Viana
“5 centuries, 12 courtyards and countless sensations” is the Palacio de Viana slogan. Famous for its many courtyards, the building is unique in the proliferation of its many open spaces inhabited by plants and flowers. A feast for the senses!
When in Andalusia, make sure to catch one or several flamenco shows. The passionate dance, song and music spectacle originated in the region about 200 years ago and is still very popular today with tourists and locals alike.
Tapas are also said to have originated in the south of Spain. These small dishes are very popular everywhere nowadays but they are still associated mostly with the Spanish peninsula and Andalusia is no exception.
Planning a road trip in Andalusia? We’ve already planned it for you!
Cover photo: Catedral de Sevilla | Credit © Disenoideas Hopkins