When thinking of a trip to Spain, the first cities that come to mind are Madrid and Barcelona. While these two magnificent cities are must-see destinations for visitors to this beautiful country in southwestern Europe, there are numerous other extraordinary cities to visit all across the Iberian Peninsula. Of all the other regions in Spain, the most historically and culturally important is the autonomous community of Andalucía (Andalusia) in the southwestern portion of the country. Home to the oldest cities in Spain and the birthplace of Flamenco, Andalucía is a destination full of enchantment and extraordinary beauty.
Here’s an informative travel guide to introduce visitors to five of the most important cities along with the very best in attractions, dining and lodging.
Andalucía is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. Situated in the southwestern section of the country, the region consists of eight provinces, each with a capital city. Featuring ancient Moorish and Roman architecture and world-class beaches, Andalucía is a year-round destination, experiencing the warmest temperatures in the country, peaking in July and August. The wettest month is March, with an average rainfall of 3.5 inches. Most of the coastal cities of Andalucía lie along the Mediterranean Sea and are part of the Spanish Riviera.
Entry Requirements Into Spain
All U.S. citizens must posses a passport that’s valid for at least three months beyond the planned date of departure. American visitors staying less than 90 days are not required to obtain a tourist visa. More information can be found via the U.S. Department of State’s website on U.S. Passports and International Travel.
Although no vaccinations are required to enter Spain, American visitors, particularly those with chronic diseases, should visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for more information.
All U.S. citizens age 18 years old or older who plan on driving in Spain must obtain an international driving permit prior to arrival in the country. International driving permits can be purchased through AAA or the National Automobile Club. Like the United States, driving in Spain is on the right-hand side. Drivers must obey all driving laws and pay particular attention to pedestrians and street signs. The official tourism portal of Spain offers practical information for driving in the country. Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism also provides information on all gas stations in the country.
Renfre operates a number of Media Distancia (medium distance) routes connecting important Andalucian cities. Routes include Málaga-Córdoba-Sevilla and Sevilla-Granada-Almería. The largest cities like Sevilla, Málaga and Granada offer public bus and rail services within each respective city, in addition to other cities in Andalucía.
Málaga Airport (AGP), otherwise known as Aeropuerto de Málaga- Costa del Sol, is the primary airport serving Andalucía. An estimated 85 percent of all international travelers to Andalucia will arrive here, the fourth busiest airport in Spain. Among the major airline carriers with flights to Málaga are British Airways, Delta, Lufthansa and SAS Scandinavian. Upon arrival, travelers have a number of ground transportation options, including taxis, public transportation and car rentals from companies like Alamo and Avis.
The other major airport in Andalucia is Seville Airport (SVQ), otherwise known as San Pablo Airport and Aeropuerto de Sevilla in Spanish. Although Seville is the largest city in Andalucía, its airport ranks far behind Malaga in overall passenger traffic. A public bus service to city center, taxis, car rentals and hotel shuttles are among the ground transportation options available at Seville Airport.
Other smaller airports also serve Andalucía, including Jerez (XRY) Federico García Lorca Airport (GRX) serving Granada and Gibraltar International Airport (GIB).
As in other parts of Europe, train service is very efficient in Spain with arrivals and departures almost always on time. Spain’s national railway service is Renfre Operadora (Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles) and serves every major destination in the country. Visitors traveling from France or other European countries can easily reach Madrid or Barcelona via high-speed rail service before continuing on to Andalucía. The estimated time between Madrid and Seville is 2.5 hours. American travelers can purchase advance tickets and rail passes through reliable sources like RailEurope and Eurail, or directly through Renfe.
Andalucia has an extensive network of highways (autovías) and European routes (E-road) connecting the region’s principal cities. Among the important routes are A-92, E-05, A-, A-45 and A-381.
There are several fascinating cities to visit throughout Andalucía. The following are five of the most popular destinations, highlighting important points of interest, along with recommendations for top-rated overnight accommodations and the best restaurants for exceptional Spanish cuisine and other fine dishes.
Founded by the Phoenicians in the year 1100 B.C., Cádizis the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and the oldest city in Western Europe. The ancient city’s setting on a thin peninsula overlooking the Bay of Cádiz in southwestern Spain made it an ideal spot as a seaport. The capital of Cádiz Province is home to a number of historic sites and buildings, including Castillo San Sebastián, Torre Tavira, Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir and the Cádiz Cathedral. Cádiz is also acclaimed for hosting one of the world’s best carnival festivals.
The capital of the Córdoba Province, this historically important city was once the world’s largest city. Located 140 km northeast of Seville (Sevilla), Córdoba is best known for its historic city center, one of the largest in the country. At one time, the city was home to more than 300 mosques and other historical structures including Roman monuments and palaces. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Center and includes the magnificent Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, now home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Córdoba.
Nestled within the base of Spain’s Sierra Nevada and at the confluence of four rivers, Granada is also the capital of the province of the same name. The city’s most famous attraction is Alhambra, an Islamic palace built during the ninth century and one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture. There are several other very important points of interest in Granada, including Catedral de Granada, the seat of the Archdiocese of Granada and Capilla Real de Granada (Royal Chapel of Granada), a mausoleum housing the Catholic Monarchs (Reyes Católicos). The Catholic Monarchs are better known as King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, who ruled Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and the discovery of the New World.
The second largest city in Andalucia, Mólaga lies on a breathtaking stretch along the Mediterranean Sea known as the Costa del Sol. Well known for splendidly warm summers, mild winters and gorgeous beaches, Málaga is also the birthplace of one of the most influential artists in modern history — Pablo Picasso. A museum dedicated to the works of Picasso, Museo Picasso Málaga, is credited towards boosting interest in the city as a major tourist destination, as is Museo Casa Natal (Birthplace Museum) just a short walk away near Plaza de la Merced. Many other important attractions can be found in the city, such as the 11th century fortress La Alcazaba (citadel), Castillo de Gibrafaro, Catedral de la Encarnacíon and the first century Teatro Romano, the oldest structure in the city.
The capital and largest city of Andalucía, Sevilla is also the cultural heartbeat of southern Spain. Stunning Moorish architecture can be found all across the magnificent city and three of its buildings are UNCESCO World Heritage Sites — Archivo de Indias, Real Alcázar de Sevilla and Catedral de Sevilla, third largest church in the world and final resting place for the discoverer of the New World, Christopher Columbus. Sevilla is also one of the world’s most important cities for flamenco, along with Cadíz and Jerez de la Frontera, and is the setting for a number of tablaos (Flamenco shows), other flamenco venues and tapas bars. Sevilla was host to the first official football (soccer) game in Spain, and Sevilla FC is the oldest club in the country and was once considered the world’s best football club in 2006 and 2007.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.