Ready to unlock a spectacular vacation destination? The South of Spain is often overlooked in favor of more popular destinations such as Madrid and Barcelona, but that really shouldn’t be the case. Southern Spain, namely the region of Andalusia, is incredibly captivating and offers experiences for every type of traveler to enjoy.
From the dazzling shores of Costa del Sol to the enchanting allure of Spanish cities steeped in history, a Southern Spain vacation promises unforgettable memories. This Spanish region has hosted many empires and cultures throughout thousands of years, creating a unique blend of architecture, food, and culture unlike anywhere else.
This past year, my husband and I embarked on a road trip throughout the region, starting in Madrid. Seville absolutely captured my heart, but I was also to revisit old favorites like Marbella and Málaga.
The region combines traditional Spanish, Roman, Moorish, and Arab influences. It is known for industries such as wine and sherry production, bullfighting, and flamenco dancing, as well as famous landmarks like the Alhambra in Granada and the Royal Alcázar of Seville.
Continue reading to discover the best places to visit in Southern Spain. I’ll cover the most popular destinations as well as some hidden gems and what you can and should do when you visit Southern Spain.
What We Cover
- TL;DR – Best Things to Do in Southern Spain
- Best & Fun Things to Do in Southern Spain
- 1. Enjoy Sun-soaked Adventures along the Costa del Sol
- 2. Be mesmerized by the amazing architecture in Seville
- 3. Visit the Alhambra in Granada
- 4. Have a drink in Jerez de la Frontera
- 5. Visit the magical historic city of Ronda
- 6. Adventure through Sierra Nevada National Park
- 7. Lounge on Cádiz’s radiant La Caleta Beach
- 8. Discover the amazing landscapes of Doñana National Park
- 9. Visit the birthplace of Pablo Picasso – Málaga
- 10. Explore hundreds of years of history in Córdoba
- 5 Day Itinerary For Southern Spain
TL;DR – Best Things to Do in Southern Spain
|Stay at Marriott’s Marbella Beach Resort
|Tour sherry wine cellars in Jerez de la Frontera
|For Adventure Travelers
|Snowboarding through Sierra Nevada National Park
|For History Buffs
|Visit the Royal Alcázar in Seville
|For Solo Travelers
|Evening wine tasting in Córdoba
|For Budget Travelers
|Eat your way through Cádiz
Best & Fun Things to Do in Southern Spain
1. Enjoy Sun-soaked Adventures along the Costa del Sol
My favorite part of Southern Spain has to be the captivating Costa del Sol. This stretch of the Spanish southern coast on the Mediterranean Sea spans the Andalusia region from Sotogrande in the west to Nerja in the east. The largest city on the Costa del Sol is Málaga, which also has a large airport.
The Costa del Sol has the best beach towns and the most incredible sandy beaches that you can find in Spain. While there are many gorgeous beach towns, my favorite one is Marbella. Its whitewashed houses, lively tapas bars, and charming cobblestone streets are perfect for slow travel and exploring.
The biggest draw of Costa del Sol is the endless golden beaches. Some of the best beaches here include Playa Burriana and Playa de Maro in Nerja, Playa del Castillo in Fuengirola, and Playa Artola in Marbella. You could also opt for outdoor adventure tours that don’t involve the beach, such as canyoning or off-roading.
Stay at Marriott’s Marbella Beach Resort for an epic, family-friendly vacation. This resort features two outdoor swimming pools, an indoor pool, multiple restaurant options, and a prime beachfront location! The resort often organizes cultural events, like live flamenco performances and paella-making classes, for an authentic Spanish experience.
2. Be mesmerized by the amazing architecture in Seville
Seville is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen. It is a stunning mix of modern and ancient design that seamlessly incorporates both Spanish and Moorish architecture. From the historic old Jewish quarter to the Royal Alcázar, every corner of the city has something beautiful to look at.
The Royal Alcázar is absolutely something you can’t miss. Book your ticket in advance, as it is the most popular attraction in Seville and sells out quickly. The palace dates back to the 10th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For a more modern architectural wonder, be sure to visit the Setas de Sevilla (“Mushrooms of Seville”) and enjoy the stunning views from the top of the structure!
Another gorgeous place to check out in Seville is Casa de Pilatos. This stunning 15th-century palace features a mind-blowing collection of ancient Roman art, lovely gardens and courtyards, and a unique architectural style that mixes Mudejar-Gothic and Renaissance design.
Located in the western part of Southern Spain, Seville can easily be combined into a road trip with Southern Portugal and Gibraltar. The stunning Melia Sevilla is a landmark hotel in the heart of Seville. Guests can enjoy the hotel’s gorgeous pool, incredible views, and a convenient location right next to Plaza España.
3. Visit the Alhambra in Granada
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the heritage-rich city of Granada is an incredible place to visit to learn about Spain’s fascinating history. From the centuries-old Alhambra to the mystical Generalife Gardens, Granada is one of Spain’s most beautiful towns and a must-see on any trip to Southern Spain.
The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited monuments in Spain, is the main landmark of the old town of Granada and holds over 700 years of history. It is an incredibly preserved Moorish palace and just absolutely stunning. Near the former royal residence, you can also visit the Generalife Gardens and the Nasrid Palaces.
After a day of touring this historic city, settle in for an authentic flamenco show at El Templo del Flamenco. Attending a Flamenco show is definitely a must when in the South of Spain – the incredible song and dance performance was one of my favorite experiences! The El Templo del Flamenco show also includes a two- or five-course dinner.
Granada has some of the best hotels in Spain, such as the incredible Barceló Granada Congress. It could also be a great day trip from Malaga.
Trains from Malaga to Granada leave several times per day and take less than 1.5 hours. Check Omio for the best train and bus options to fit your schedule.
4. Have a drink in Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez de la Frontera, or simply Jerez, is a small landlocked town known for its incredible wineries and horse shows. To the west of the city center is the Old Quarter, where you can find the city’s oldest landmarks, such as the Alcazar de Jerez de la Frontera, the 17th-century Cathedral of Jerez de la Frontera, and Iglesia de San Miguel.
If your group is of drinking age, I highly recommend doing a winery tour in this city. Jerez is known for its Sherry production, so check out wineries such as Tio Pepe, Bodegas Fundador, and Álvaro Domecq. These wine tastings are both fun and educational – it’s a great way to learn about the city, and the wine makes a great gift or souvenir.
Another spot not to miss during your visit to Jerez is the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. It is one of the “Big Four” most prestigious riding academies in the world and is dedicated to preserving equestrian art and history. This guided tour takes visitors to the saddlery, stables, the school’s beautiful gardens, and the carriage museum.
Jerez is close to two other towns on this list. It’s just half an hour from Cádiz, and about an hour from Seville. The travel time is worth it to see this beautiful hidden gem of a city.
For a mix of fun and relaxation, book your stay at the Barceló Montecastillo Golf. This resort features two swimming pools, a playground, and an elegant restaurant. Guests can also enjoy a round of golf at the on-property 18-hole golf course for an additional fee.
See Related: Best Cities in Europe to Visit
5. Visit the magical historic city of Ronda
The small mountaintop city of Ronda can be hard to point out on a map, but its breathtaking views and old town, which dates back to the Moorish empire, make for an incredible day trip from Málaga or Seville. The city is divided into the old town, which is a remnant of the Moorish empire, and the “new” town, which dates back to the 15th century.
The most stunning landmark in Ronda is the Puente Nuevo. This stone bridge was built between 1751 and 1793 and crosses high above the Guadalevín River.
Nearby is the Puente Viejo, where you can enjoy beautiful views of the city above the river. Not far from Puente Viejo is the Arab Baths Archaeological Site, which dates back to the 13th century.
Visitors should also stop by the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda. Ronda is credited as being the birthplace of modern bullfighting. The Plaza de Toros features an excellent museum of the history of bullfighting, along with some pretty interesting artifacts and displays.
6. Adventure through Sierra Nevada National Park
The Sierra Nevada mountain range is one of Spain’s most picturesque locations and includes the highest peak in continental Spain. Sierra Nevada National Park allows visitors to enjoy this beautiful area year-round with various hiking trails and activities for the entire family to enjoy.
Adventure lovers can enjoy Sierra Nevada National Park’s 25 official footpaths, 13 cycling routes, and over 90 kilometers (56 miles) of rivers and streams. Winter is also a magical time to visit, with activities like snowshoeing tours and ski or snowboarding lessons to dabble in.
Within the national park are several gorgeous little mountain towns to visit. Spain’s tourism board recommends visiting Sierra Nevada National Park by car in order to visit some of these beautiful towns, like Barranco del Poqueira.
Granada is only a short drive to Sierra Nevada National Park. If you don’t plan to rent a car, there are several tours available from Granada, like this small group 4WD tour or this guided hike through Los Cahorros de Monachil Canyon.
7. Lounge on Cádiz’s radiant La Caleta Beach
Soak up the sun on Spain’s southern coast in Cádiz! This sunny port town is the perfect getaway for those looking for beautiful beaches, fun tourist attractions, phenomenal tapas bars, and historical hidden gems. It’s just an hour from Seville, and makes for one of the best day trips if you’re spending time in the city.
Start your time in Cádiz with a visit to the historic center. Here, you’ll find gorgeous churches and castles, like the Catedral de la Santa Cruz de Cádiz and Castillo de Santa Catalina.
The construction of this church took more than 100 years and features two bell towers – one of which you can climb to to enjoy gorgeous views of the old town and the Atlantic Ocean. Consider this walking tour to learn more about Cádiz’s history.
The best beach is La Caleta, which sits just in front of the old town. It is the absolute best place in the city to watch the sunset. After the sun goes down, enjoy some drinks and tapas in the town.
The Tapería of Columela and La Tapería del Lulu are two of the most-loved tapas bars in Cádiz. Or, enjoy this three-hour tapas tour through the city with a local guide. The Hotel Cádiz Bahía is the best place to stay in Cádiz and features an amazing infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
See Related: Cheap Places to Visit in Europe
8. Discover the amazing landscapes of Doñana National Park
Southern Spain is not just about the beautiful beaches, terrific tapas, and stunning architecture. Some of the best National Parks in Spain can be found in this gorgeous region, and you’ll want to make time to see them. While Sierra Nevada National Park near Granada offers tons of activities, Doñana National Park is made for nature lovers.
Doñana National Park, just outside of Seville, is famous for its wetlands, pine forests, and coastal sand dunes. There’s a remarkable variety of wildlife, including flamingos, eagles, lynx, and wild horses. The marshlands of the park also serve as a breeding and wintering site for thousands of migrating European and African birds.
Within Doñana National Park is the charming small city of El Rocío. Be sure to check out the Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Rocío. This church is free to visit and features the most ornate golden altar.
This park is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its vast diversity in landscapes and being home to five endangered bird species. The park can easily be enjoyed on a guided all-day tour starting from Seville.
9. Visit the birthplace of Pablo Picasso – Málaga
Málaga is one of the largest and most beautiful cities to visit in Southern Spain. This seaside city sees an average of 300 days of sunshine every year, so there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy good weather during your time here.
With a mix of modern and ancient architecture, fabulous restaurants, and multiple sandy beaches, Málaga is a place to be enjoyed by all. It is a hub for arts and culture – with art museums like CAC Málaga, Colección del Museo Ruso, Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, and Museo Picasso. Málaga is, after all, the birthplace of artistic genius Pablo Picasso.
Other top attractions in Malaga include the Alcazaba, Roman Theater, Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga, and Castillo de Gibralfaro. In between all the sightseeing and touring, stop by the Mercado Central de Atarazanas to indulge in the most delicious and authentic Andalusian cuisine you’ll find.
The best place to stay in Málaga is the AC Hotel Málaga Palacio. It’s centrally located so you won’t waste any time on your trip, and features impressive views of the city center, Málaga Cathedral, and Paseo del Parque.
10. Explore hundreds of years of history in Córdoba
The vibrant city of Córdoba has been an important location for thousands of years. It was both a key city of the Roman Empire and an Islamic center during the Middle Ages. Influences from all of these cultures, religions, and empires have shaped Córdoba into a fascinating place to visit for history buffs.
If there’s only one thing not to miss in Córdoba, it is the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as La Mezquita. The church was originally built as a mosque in the year 784 and is absolutely stunning.
In the 13th century, the mosque was converted into a Catholic church, with a Renaissance-style nave added in the 1600s. You’ll definitely want to set aside time for a guided tour of La Mezquita to learn more about its long history. This tour will also take visitors around Córdoba’s famed Jewish Quarter to visit the Synagogue and Arabic market.
Wind down by strolling through the iconic Calleja de las Flores, a popular tourist street with walls adorned in potted flowers, followed by an evening wine tasting. Stay at the NH Collection Amistad Córdoba, an 18th-century mansion in the city’s lively center.
5 Day Itinerary For Southern Spain
|Tapas at the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, visit Alcazaba, Roman Theater, and Catedral de la Encarnación
|Alhambra, Generalife Gardens, Flamenco Show
|Pool and beach time, explore Downtown Marbella, dinner on Marbella oceanfront
|Sierra Nevada Mountains
|Hiking or 4WD tour in Sierra Nevada National Park, stop at Ronda
|Royal Alcazar, Casa de Pilatos, Setas de Sevilla