Creating a Southern Spain itinerary can be challenging when taking into consideration how much this vibrant region has to offer. Most of the popular images of Spain come from Souther Spain: flamenco dancers, bullfighters, gazpacho, sangria, and beaches of Costa del Sol. Andalusia, in particular, the country’s southernmost region, represents many of the iconic cultural elements that make Spain stand out from the rest of Europe. The distinctly Andalusian way of life can be discovered in cities like Seville, Cordoba, and Granada, as well as smaller towns like Cadiz and Ronda. It this post, I will guide you through Andalusia’s must-sees with a day trip to Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
THE ESSENTIAL SOUTHERN SPAIN ITINERARY ( WITH GIBRALTAR) – WHAT TO SEE IN TWO WEEKS
Andalusia was calling my name ever since I stumbled upon colorful pictures of Plaza de Espania in Seville. When I looked into other locations in the region, I realized it was packed with unique attractions. I decided to travel in November to use the lowest possible amount of American Airlines miles to buy plane tickets. At this time of year, you can also take advantage of low rates of accommodation in Southern Spain. We flew to Madrid, rented a car there, and continued south.
Why take a road trip to Southern Spain
Southern Spain is a perfect road trip destination. Most locations in Andalusia are only a 2-4 hour drive apart, but you will not get bored even in between them. The region will capture your soul with its beauty and pleasant weather all year round. You will get to enjoy stunning Moorish architecture, and rich history of melting cultures, In one small area you will find World Heritage Sites, white-washed villages, and deep-rooted traditions of flamenco and bullfighting. You will not find another region in Europe with such a defined culture. If you prefer beaches, the famous areas of Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz will satisfy your needs. Here, you will find 10 top beaches in Andalusia.
Moorish Influence in Andalusia
The Moors were North Africans who conquered the Iberian Peninsula beginning in the 700s. They controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years. They brought with them the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East. Elements of Moorish architecture include a variety of arches, intricate calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tilework. The Moors made the region their home for eight centuries and permanently marked it with their cultural legacy. The signs of their presence are visible in famous Andalusian monuments such as the Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
Map of Southern Spain and its major attractions
This Southern Spain road trip does not require a lot of driving. In two weeks, you will be able to visit all the major attractions and take your time to enjoy the charm of the region. As you can see on the map, the major part of the suggested Southern Spain itinerary follows the coastal areas not far from Africa. No wonder that the weather stays pleasant there most of the year.
Southern Spain Itinerary
This route includes a day trip to Gibraltar, which is not a part of Spain. I decided to visit it since it was on the way from Tarifa to the next attraction, stunning Ronda, Spain. I wanted to see this one of a kind territory, but if you are low on time, keep going without stopping there.
Cordoba, Spain – 2 days
Cordoba is one of Andalusia’s most colorful cities known for its fabulous flowered patios, vibrant flamenco scene, and fascinating architecture. The old town grabs you on the spot with its undeniable charm.
What to do in Cordoba, Spain
Take a stroll to Calleja de las Flores and walk around the old town to spot fantastic Andalusian patios and flower-decorated streets
If you are looking for the unique Andalusian atmosphere, Calleja de las Flores delivers. This amazing narrow street has all the classic features of Cordoba and the region in general. It impresses with its white walls, small balconies, and hundreds of blue flowerpots with beautiful blossoming geraniums and petunias! Keep your eyes open for more charming places like that, including many private patios open to visitors. You do not have to visit during the Patio Festival of Cordoba to enjoy them. I found plenty of gorgeous ones in November.
Visit the Great Mosque of Cordoba
The Great Mosque of Cordoba is one of the oldest structures still standing from the Muslim times. Today, it is a hybrid structure, a cathedral within a mosque. It reflects a harmonious past when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in peace. Learn about fascination history and more details about the mosque here. I took advantage of free admission early in the morning, from 8:30 to 9:30. During the free admission, some sections are closed off, but you can still see everything very well and take pictures through the bars. This option definitely beats its alternative, dealing with crowds.
Visit the Alcazar of Christian Monarch and its beautiful gardens
The Alcazar (castle) of Cordoba served both as a fortress and a palace. It is a perfect illustration of the development of Cordoban architecture through the ages. The gardens house a great variety of vegetation, several pools, and fountains. Look there for the Promenade of the kings, where several sculptures are representing different monarchs. Learn more here.
Take a walk across Roman Bridge of Cordoba
The Roman Bridge is the best spot to take in the vista of the old town. The bridge is pedestrian-only and very well preserved. It delivers many outstanding photo opportunities. The defensive tower is located at the end of the bridge. Visit the bridge for the magnificent sunset!
More of what to see and do in Cordoba, here.
Seville, Spain – 4 days
Seville was my favorite stop on the Southern Spain itinerary. This vibrant city lures its visitors with its major attractions like Alcazar Seville, the Gothic Seville Cathedral, and Plaza de Espana. It also challenges visitors with a controversial modern structure, Metropol Parasol – I loved it! The traditional bullfighting arena, Plaza de Toros, invites tourists to learn about this deeply rooted Spanish sport. But there is more to Seville than its landmarks – the city’s unique and colorful flavor created by a mix of Christian, Arabic, and Jewish cultures – so fascinating, you would not want to leave!
What to do in Seville, Spain
Visit Alcazar Seville
Known as the Royal Alcazar, the palace served originally as Moorish fort built in the 10th century by the first Muslim ruler of Andalusia. With the start of the Christian era in Seville, the Alcazar was converted into the residence of the Christian monarchs. Located in the heart of Seville, the complex stands as one of the oldest palaces still in use in the world. It represents the best example of the Mudejar (partly Gothic, partly Islamic) style of architecture in Spain. Read more about its history here.
Visit Seville Cathedral
The magnificent Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in the world and third largest church overall in Europe. The official name is Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See. It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the adjoining Alcazar palace complex. Read more about the cathedral here.
Plaza de Espania
Plaza de Espana was initially designed and built as the ultimate symbol and the most ambitious project of the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. Located a little farther from the main tourist areas of Seville Cathedral and Alcazar Seville, the plaza is full of life and a delight to explore. You can have lunch there, soak up the sun, and enjoy street performers. Families with children love coming there. Learn more about Plaza de Espana here.
EXPLORE METROPOL PARASOL (ALSO CALLED SEVILLE MUSHROOM, SEVILLE PARASOL, AND SETAS DE SEVILLA)
Seville Parasol took me by surprise, but I loved it! Even though, in theory, it seems out of place, it adds to Seville’s irresistible charm. The wooden mushroom is located at La Encarnación square deep in the old quarter of Seville. Despite being gigantic, it creates a cozy oasis-like atmosphere and delivered much-needed shade during hot summer months. It looks like a vast playground, and it practically serves as one. Make sure to buy the tickets to walk on it. Come for the sunset!
Read more: How To Visit Seville.
Cadiz, Spain – 1 day
Cadiz is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. Situated on a narrow slice of land surrounded by the sea, it delivers attractive vistas and well-preserved historical landmarks. Cadiz’s most famous beach, Playa de La Caleta, is right by the old town. Get there an hour before sundown and wait for the sunset.
Here you will find the best things to do in Cadiz.
Tarifa, Spain -1 day
Tarifa is located in the southernmost point of continental Europe, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. This is also one of the narrowest parts of the Strait of Gibraltar. Only14 kilometers of the sea separate if from Africa. Located at the southernmost end of the Iberian Peninsula, it attracts one of the wind sports fans from around the world.
Tarifa attracts visitors with its famous attractive beaches. You will find there area’s most spectacular stretches of sand, from dunes to cozy coves. Read here about all the things to do in Tarifa.
Gibraltar – British Overseas Territory – 1 day
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Just like Tarifa, it occupies part of the Strait of Gibraltar. It is bordered by Spain from the North. You will have to go through passport control to enter it. Important to know, many Spaniards commute there for work. Try to not be at the border at rush hour. The territory has its own currency, the Gibraltar pound, but credit cards are widely accepted, so no need to have it if visiting for a day. Gibraltar’s economy is based mostly on tourism, online gambling, and financial services. It also serves as a port for ship refueling, which gives a city an industrial feel. Gibraltar is not nearly as charming as Spanish cities of Andalusia.
The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar, 426 m (1,398 ft) high, dominates the views of the city. You can reach it by cable car or on foot. We decided to climb it. It was a long and steep climb, but very interesting. Most of the Rock’s upper area belongs to the nature reserve, which is home to around 300 Barbary macaques. At the top, you will find a large viewing area and restaurants.
Monkeys of Gibraltar
Without a doubt, monkeys draw a lot of interest to Gibraltar. Originally from Morocco, the Barbary macaque population holds the only wild monkey population in Europe. Although most Barbary monkey populations in Africa declined due to hunting and deforestation, the Gibraltar population is doing well. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops occupy the upper rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve.
Ronda, Spain – 1 day
Put Ronda on your Southern Spain itinerary if you want to get a taste of Andalusia’s of the famous whitewashed towns (Pueblos Blancos). If you only have time to visit one of them, go to Ronda. Surrounded by pristine mountain scenery, the city delivers dramatic views over a deep canyon. The old section impresses with the narrow streets among whitewashed buildings and its main attraction, Puente Nuevo bridge. Read here how to visit Ronda.
Nerja, Spain – 2 days
Nerja, Spain does not offer many must-sees but delivers on beauty and charm. This typical Andalusian white village, overlooking the attractive rocky coastline, is a delight to all senses. Think narrow streets, whitewashed houses, iron balconies, local and international cuisine, the fresh air, incredible sea views, and of course, the beaches. The beaches of Nerja can satisfy any taste with stretches of sand, rocky coves, and towering cliffs. Here is what you need to know about holidays to Costa del Sol’s most charming town, Nerja.
Granada, Spain – 2 days
Granada should be one of the top destinations on your Southern Spain itinerary. The city is well known for its single monument, the Alhambra, a walled fortress housing magnificent 13th- to 15th-century Moorish palaces and gardens. But there is more to see and do there. In Granda, Islamic architecture and Arab-flavoured street life go hand in hand with monumental churches, old-school tapas bars, and counterculture graffiti art. Make sure to explore this vibrant melting pot of cultures.
Visit the Alhambra
The Alhambra, an astonishing palace complex, can impress anyone with its Islamic decor and landscaped gardens. Recognizes as one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture, it draws visitors from all over the world. Make your reservations well in advance and devote an entire day to visit it. The complex is massive! I suggest taking a guided tour to see all its major attractions which are easy to miss if you do it on your own.
In 1984, the Alhambra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with two other related sites in Granada: the Albaicin and the Generalife Garden. The Alhambra complex contained numerous other structures, perhaps the most famous of which was the Patio of the Lions. This courtyard’s name came from the central fountain, which is surrounded by twelve lions that spewed jets of water.
Explore the Generalife – ‘garden of the architect’
Another stunning attraction of Granada is The Generalife, located on the hill Cerro del Sol, adjacent to the Alhambra. Originally it was most probably an architect’s house that later passed to the royal family and was remodeled. The Generalife consists of a series of extensive gardens, where every corner holds a novelty and a pleasant surprise for the eyes.
Take a tour of the Granada Cathedral
Plans for the construction of the Granada Cathedral were put in place immediately after the city was returned to Christian rule in 1492. The first stone of the Cathedral of Granada was laid in 1523 on the site of the ancient mosque. It took 180 years to complete the work. The Cathedral of Granada has impressive facades and a stunning interior with a grand altar and several chapels. It is the 4th largest Cathedral in the world.
Get the feel of Granada’s neighborhoods
The mix of cultures is perhaps more visible in Granda than in other Andalusia’s cities. Put some time aside to explore them. Here is the list of the most exciting neighborhoods in Granda. Here are the fifteen best things to do in Granada.