Every time I visit southern Spain it makes me question my life choices — specifically, why I haven’t moved here. I’m always blown away by the rich history, sprawling beaches, brightly-colored flowers– as well as the nightlife, Sangria, and Iberian ham!
I visited Malaga last spring with a buddy. My flight arrived at 11:00 p.m. — which worked out well, as it was prime time for going out and grabbing some food and drinks! In my opinion, the most fun thing to do in Malaga is wander around and take in the vibrant beach city life. The sprawling plazas are impressive, as are the numerous little plazas lined with flowering trees and outdoor cafes. We spent a lot of time eating tapas, hanging out on beach, and just soaking in the sun and relaxed vibe. I will note that this is where I decided I needed to sign up for Lime scooters (or any of the other brands). They’re all over the place, and a great way to check out the beachfront without walking several kilometers.
The Alcazaba fortress is well worth a visit, as is the cafe terrace when you reach the top. I snacked on an egg/potato quiche dish (tapas sized, naturally). We also explored the Castillo Gibralfaro, which offers great views of the harbor — and I accepted the offer! The Roman amphitheater is worth a quick stop, as well (still, if I had a dollar for every Roman amphitheater I’ve visited, I could upgrade to WordPress Business).
One place I must recommend is Antigua Casa de Guardia – a traditional bar from the mid 1800’s with barrels of various local sweet wines stuck in the walls. They had seafood tapas, and chalked up your order using actual chalk where you stand at the bar. This was an awesome find!
I also recommend Casa Lola — a modern version of the same thing. We ate a bunch of Iberian ham here for a very late night snack.
I took a day trip to Granada and can offer this bit of advice — go for more than a day! It’s a spectacular city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains with rich culture and plenty to do and see.
Alhambra — If you can only see one thing in Granada, go see this! Book in advance, as spaces fill up quickly. If you don’t book in advance (like me), ask around at travel agencies if you can slip in on one of their tours. I took a tour with 6thrills, which still had a spot available for a guided tour that afternoon. The guide was engaging, friendly, and informative. In addition to the main tour, be sure to also go check out the Generalife palace and gardens! For a great view of Alhambra (ala below), go to the Mirador San Nicolas — it’s a beautiful walk up a hill through scenic, winding streets until you get to the spot. The cathedral, Madraza cultural center, and surrounding old city is also a great spot to spend an afternoon.
For me, the highlight of Cordoba was the Mosque-Cathedral! It’s a Moorish architectural masterpiece that started as a mosque (Syrian Omayyad-style design) and later became a cathedral. The influences from the different eras are stark and make this complex truly fascinating from a religious, historical, and architectural perspective!
The Alcazar was closed when I went there, but I’ve heard it’s also very impressive, so I can probably safely recommend it still! As with elsewhere in this region, it’s great to explore the alleyways and narrow, flower-lined streets, stopping for the occasional tapas and sangria!
Crossing the massive Roman bridge, we walked to the fairgrounds and were lucky enough to be there during the Feria de Cordoba festival. It was hot as blazes but most people were wearing traditional colorful attire and partying on the fairgrounds, which was transformed into a massive tent city sprawling as far as the eye can see, with each tent capable of holding hundreds of people. Needless to say, dancing and partying goes around the clock!
Sevilla is another absolutely must-see city! I stayed in a little apartment downtown above a bodega. Be sure to check out the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla — another magnificent palace with Moorish architecture, gorgeous tapestries, and intricate Islamic-era calligraphy, as well as symmetrically styled rooms.
We also visited the visually stunning Plaza de Espagna, and the adjacent park, before heading to the super impressive Seville Cathedral — a UNESCO world heritage site. As with the Cordoba cathedral, it started out as a mosque. Among other claims to fame, Christopher Columbus is buried there.
Pro Tip: The streets are super narrow in much of the downtown area — I’d be careful driving around. If you have a rental car, park in a garage and scoot or Uber around downtown.
We happened to be there in early May, when the Festival of April was still going on. In addition to other festivities, there were daily bullfights in the traditional bull ring. For those who are interested, you can order advance tickets online here. They ask if you want seats in the sun or shade. Shade is more expensive, but it’s worth it! If you go for the “sun” option, I cannot emphasize this enough: wear plenty of sunscreen, get a hat, bring plenty of water and buy the cushions they sell for a Euro or two… it will prevent you from baking on the hot stone seats!
In the evening we went to the Triana region of Seville and watched several flamenco dancers at a traditional tapas restaurant. (I think it was T de Triana or nearby) It got a bit crowded with tourists as the night went on, but was still an excellent way to see some great live performances and have dinner in a scenic, no-frills bodega setting along the river. A perfect way to spend the evening!