From the rugged stretches of the Desierto Tabernas to the sun-dappled beaches of the Costa del Sol, Spain’s Andalusia region is a fiesta of cultural and natural delights.
The southernmost region of Spain, Andalusia (Andalucía in Spanish) stretches from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the border with Portugal in the west. Best associated with swishes of flamenco dresses, the strum of guitars and villages perched on craggy hilltops, Andalusia is where Moorish fortresses, sandy beaches and historic cities all vie for attention. Here are some of the best places in Andalusia to visit by train.
A lively port city, Almería is known for its dazzling coastline and, in contrast, great mountain wilderness. The city centre is sprinkled with palm-fringed plazas, churches, museums, tapas bars and, while not as celebrated as Granada’s Alhambra, a magnificent Moorish fortress called the Alcazaba. The city’s beaches are wonderfully pristine, with the most unspoilt stretches located around Cabo de Gata Natural Park. This natural wonderland is easily reached by bus from Almeria city centre in 1 hr 30 mins. Almería is also gateway to Desierto Tabernas, Europe’s only desert, 35 mins from Almería by bus or a 1 hr 30 mins cycle.
Visitors from around the world flock to Córdoba’s most famous monument, the red and white arched Mezquita, a symbol of the city’s rich past as the former capital of Islamic Spain. Another one of Córdoba’s cultural wonders is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a medieval fortress known for its lush gardens and courtyards. Wander around the city’s UNESCO-listed old town and its old Jewish quarter where the Calleja de las Flores (little street of flowers) is a rainbow of colour all year round. More Córdoba colour awaits in May when the Fiesta de los Patios celebrates spring with elaborately decorated courtyards filled with flowers.
Granada, sprawled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is a city where Islamic architecture and churches stand together alongside traditional tapas bars, counterculture graffiti and bohemian boutiques. Of all Granada’s beautiful sights, the Alhambra is its most famous. Built between the 8th and 15th centuries, this Moorish palace sits at the top of the Darro Valley and houses some of the world’s most impressive Islamic art. Explore Granada’s old Arabic quarter, the Albaicín, that stretches up the hillside opposite the Alhambra and Sacromonte, Granada’s Roma quarter nestled in the cacti-coated hillside above Albaicín.
One of many sun-drenched cities along Andalusia’s Costa del Sol, Málaga brims with history and culture, having firmly shaken off its former reputation as just party gateway to Spain’s sunshine coast. Birth city of Pablo Picasso, visit Málaga’s Museo Picasso which houses a permanent collection of over 200 of the artist’s works. Málaga also boasts a Moorish fortress, the Alcazaba, built in the 8th century. For a true taste of the city, head to the Ataranzas Market, which sees local people and tourists alike enjoying the colours and smells of stalls selling meats, cheeses, bread, local sherries and honey.
Perched across two sides of the 100m-deep El Tajo gorge, Ronda boasts a history as dramatic as its landscape. Once home to outlaws and bandits, this spectacular city now sees countless tourists flocking to its Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), which links the city’s two halves, the old Moorish town and the newer, El Mercadillo. Visit the Palacio de Mondragón built in 1314, home to a museum with gorgeous gardens and wander around the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, Ronda’s most picturesque square. For more spectacular landscapes, head to the terraced Jardines de Cuenca along the side of the Tajo Gorge.
Seville, capital of Andalusia, is a heady blend of medieval alleys, flamenco clubs and tapas taverns, an energetic city that captures all the flair of the Spanish South. Visit Seville in spring for its two biggest festivals: Semana Santa de Sevilla and Feria de Abril. This is also the best time to see Seville in full bloom, when its streets are filled with the scent of jasmine and orange blossoms. Seville’s rich Moorish history is evident in its opulent monuments, including the UNESCO-listed cathedral and Real Alcázar. Of all the places to visit in Seville, make time to wander around Triana, a neighbourhood known for its flamenco, tapas and ceramics.
You may also enjoy reading our blog on best places to visit in Spain by train.
Image credits top to bottom: Parque Natural Cabo de Gata Flickr Commons (cropped and enhanced) ©Oliver, Cordoba courtyard Flickr Commons (cropped) ©Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie, the Alhambra iStock ©WillSelarep, Traditional flamenco dresses in Malaga iStock ©Jorisvo, Old city of Ronda iStock ©MarquesPhotography, Seville Cathedral iStock ©Tao_Shen
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