• Leslie

The Most Beautiful Towns, Cities, and Destinations in Andalusia Spain

Updated: May 21


the colorful old Jewish Quarter in Cordoba
the colorful old Jewish Quarter in Cordoba


Here's my guide to the most beautiful cities, towns, and must see attractions in Andalusia, the sunny and sensual region of southern Spain. Andalusia is rich in historic sites, cultural heritage, and appealingly diverse landscapes. It's a romantic blend of must see hotspots, tiny whitewashed hill towns, glamorous Mediterranean resorts, and natural wonders.


There's a million reasons to visit Andalusia. But the glory of Andalusia is in its architectural amalgam of cultures. More than a millennium has passed since Andalusia led the world in scholarship and art under the Moors, who took control in 711. Their reign ended in 1492 after Christian crusaders rolled down from the north, in the Reconquista.


Surprisingly, the Moors’ art was respected and embraced by their conquerors. A large number of Andalusia's glorious fortified palaces and cathedrals incorporated Moorish design. You can visit the Royal Alcazar in sultry Seville, gaze in awe at the mighty Alhambra in Granada, and see the stunning Mezquita in Cordoba.





Aside from these three must visit cities, Andalusia is also brimming with pristine white pueblo villages. The Route of the White Hill Towns (Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos) is Andalusia's "charm bracelet" of cute villages perched in the Sierras. These milk white villages are spectral at night, brilliant against the reddish cliffs, and bathed by both Mediterranean and Atlantic light.


These authentic Moorish villages will give you a taste of a wonderfully untouched Spanish culture. They're a perfect mini break or weekend getaway from Andalusia's fascinating main cities.


Let's take a tour of the most beautiful places and points of interest in southern Spain. If you're planning a road trip or itinerary, this Spain guide will help you pick the towns, cities, and attractions you want to add to your bucket list for Andalusia.



Barrio Santa Cruz in Seville
Barrio Santa Cruz in Seville


27 Most Beautiful Towns and Cities in Southern Spain


1. Seville


Historic Seville is Andalusia's exquisite capital. Seville is known for its architectural flourishes, flamenco, and tapas. Seville's top attractions are Seville Cathedral and the Royal Alcazar.


The Royal Alcazar is one of the world's greatest cultural treasures, a centuries old complex of palaces and fortifications, lovely courtyards, and extensive water gardens bursting with orange, purple, and green colors. It's a breathtaking 10th century palace that King Pedro the Cruel gave a 14th century Mudejar facelift.


Inside, the highlights are the Hall of the Ambassadors, the Courtyard of the Maidens, the Courtyard of the Dolls, and the Hall of Tapestries in the Gothic Palace. The Ambassador’s Hall, or Throne Room, is the big showstopper. It’s nicknamed the "Half Orange" Room, in honor of its gilded cedar domed ceiling.


READ: Complete Guide to the Royal Alcazar





Seville Cathedral is a massive Gothic affair. It's the largest cathedral in the world. In 1492, after vanquishing the Moors in the Reconquista, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella began work in earnest on a Gothic style cathedral. They wanted a showy display of Seville’s wealth, power, and influence.


There are 15 doors on the cathedral’s four facades and each one features a unique relief or carving. The nave is the longest in the world. The glittering altar is elaborately detailed and finished in gold leaf. Along the sides, you can explore 80 chapels and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.



Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral

Plaza de Espana
Plaza de Espana


Don't miss Seville's best neighborhood, Barrio Santa Cruz. There, you can wander, sip cocktails, and have dinner. It's a popular district within the city -- a maze of tangled cobbled streets with elegant palazzos, intricate grillwork, and tile covered patios. Some streets are so impossibly narrow, they're called "kissing lanes." There are also orange trees everywhere.


The Plaza de Espana is another of Seville's most famous landmarks. It was built to host the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. The plaza has a fetching mix of Baroque, Renaissance Revival, and Moorish Revival styles.


The highlight is the Spanish Pavilion, a sweeping half circle structure with rose gold brick buildings. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, admiring the square, and the strolling afterward in the adjacent Maria Louisa Park.


READ: 3 Day Itinerary for Seville



the Roman Bridge and Mezquita in Cordoba
the Roman Bridge and Mezquita in Cordoba


2. Cordoba


Cordoba is an exotic stone paved city with both a Roman and Moorish past. Cordoba is a natural film set, it's just so beautiful. Cordoba has an authentic Spanish vibe with fewer tourists than Seville or Granada.


Most people come just for Cordoba's #1 site: the magnificent Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Dating from the 10th century, it's a UNESCO site and one of the world's most well-preserved Islamic buildings. The courtyard is free to visit. And you can climb the minaret for views.


In the 16th century, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella converted the interior of the mosque into a cathedral, calling it the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption. I expected the combination to be discordant and perplexing. But I found it a fascinating place, a snapshot of the sophisticated dual culture that once existed in Spain.





You walk into the Mezquita from a courtyard of orange trees via the Porte de las Palmas. You're immediately amidst an overpowering forest of 1,000 candy cane horseshoe arches made of granite, onyx, jasper, and marble. A highlight is the Mihrab, or high altar. It's a prayer niche covered in an intricate design of gold leaf and mosaic fragments.


The Renaissance cathedral is built right in the center, sharing marble and space with the Islamic arches. The soaring vaulted ceilings are stunning. Be sure to go up the minaret for spectacular views of Cordoba. You buy tickets for the tower at a separate ticket booth below the bell tower.


But there's so much more to Cordoba than the Mezquita. Just downhill from the Mezquita is the Guadalquivir River. Stroll across the stunning Roman Bridge, both a UNESCO site and a Game of Thrones filming location.



flowers in Cordoba
flowers in Cordoba


Amble around the narrow languid streets of the charming old Jewish Quarter, with its brilliantly white walls and delicate filigreed window grills. Skip the Instagram popular Calleja de las Flores, or just stroll by. It's overrated and crammed with tourists. There are beautiful flowers and patios everywhere in Cordoba.


Go into the Jewish synagogue. Say hello to the nearby statue of Maimonides, an influential medieval Jewish philosopher. Visit the beautiful Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. This Alcazar can't hold a candle to Seville's UNESCO-listed Royal Alcazar, but I thought it was still worth a visit.


READ: Cordoba's UNESCO-listed Roman Bridge



the Albayzin neighborhood of Granada
the Albayzin neighborhood of Granada


3. Granada


Granada will sweep you away with its authentic Spanish vibe and dazzling attractions. Lorded over by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s an absolutely beautiful ancient city with historic architecture. For its size, it's surprisingly cosmopolitan.


Granada boasts many atmospheric neighborhoods, each with an earthy distinct character. It’s home to the mighty Alhambra, a Moroccan souk, a massive cathedral, flamenco music, and — perhaps best of all — free tapas.


Start your day at Granada's marquis site, the UNESCO-listed Alhambra, which takes more than half a day at a bare minimum. The Alhambra is one of the most popular and best sites in southern Spain, and even in the world. In fact, you might want to split your visit to the Alhambra in two, with separate morning and evening visits.


READ: Must See Sites In Granada



the Alhambra
the Alhambra


The Alhambra stands on a stunning piece of real estate, high on Sabika Hill, with panoramic views over Granada and the beautiful countryside. The Alhambra is a tranquil place with burbling fountains and beautiful mosaics.


The highlights of the Alhambra are the Alcazaba, the Charles V Palace, and the jaw dropping Nasrid Palace. The Nasrid Palace is the world's finest example of the refined, intricate, and elegant architectural style of the Moorish civilization.


The Court of the Myrtles, the Hall of the Ambassadors, and the Hall of the Two Sisters are a succession of intricate tile work, honeycomb cupolas, and cursive script. The wonder of wonders is the Court of the Lions, named for the antique fountain of 12 lions in the center. Around the edge runs an arcade of arches supported by white marble columns.





When you’re done with the lavish palaces, head over to the beautiful Generalife for its soothing water gardens.


READ: Guide to Visiting the Alhambra


Later, wander around and explore the old Arab neighborhood of the Albaicin, or Albayzin. Built on a steep hill, it’s an ancient area with tight tangled winding streets and a bohemian feel. The lively place was declared a UNESCO site in 1984.


The main drags in the Albaicin, which both run parallel to the River Darro, are Paseo de los Tristes and Carrera del Darro. Amidst a jasmine scented breeze, you’ll find restaurants, cafes, tapas bars, and even street performers. You can enjoy a sunset view at Mirador San Nicolás.



pretty house in the Albayzin
pretty house in the Albayzin


While in Granada, you also need to visit the ornate late Gothic tombs of the ambitious dynasty-builders Ferdinand and Isabella. They reigned over the Christianization of Granada and the exploration of the "new" Americas. In the sacristy hangs Queen Isabella's personal art collection.


10 minutes away, visit Granada Cathedral in Granada's historic center. The cathedral is the second largest cathedral in Spain after Seville Cathedral and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The edifice is a mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles. Inside, there’s a towering interior, a grand altar, and side chapels.


Don't miss Granada's otherworldly barrio of Sacromonte, home to Granada’s Roma community. Time stands still in this unusual rustic quarter of Granada. For centuries, Sacromonte was the home of gypsies, bohemians, artists, and foreign refuges. Sacramonte also sports one of the most mesmerizing views of the Alhambra.



the new bridge in Ronda
the new bridge in Ronda


4. Ronda


Ronda is Andalusia's third most visited city. It's not so much a white pueblo town as a sophisticated city. Ronda has a dramatic setting. It's perched on a mountainous gash, 1000 feet above the plain below. Ronda is synonymous with its dramatic 18th century bridge, the Puente Nuevo.


The famed bridge connects the old and newish parts of the town over the 328 feet El Tajo gorge. There's a staircase leading to the floor of the gorge, for a different viewing perspective.


Ronda is also famed as the birthplace of bullfighting. The city’s Plaza de Toros is one of Ronda’s most popular attractions, thanks to its beautiful architecture. The bullring is ringed with double rows of columns, lending it a Neo-Classical look.



pretty street in the white pueblo town of Ronda
pretty street in the white pueblo town of Ronda

bullring in Ronda
bullring in Ronda


If you want to delve more deeply into Spain's bullfighting culture, head to the Museum of Bullfighting. You'll even find some sketches depicting the "art" (not sport) of bullfighting by Francisco Goya, the renowned Spanish artist.


READ: Goya's Mysterious Black Paintings at Madrid's Prado Museum


Aside from the bridge, Ronda itself is beautiful -- plenty of cozy town squares, cobblestone alleys, balconies everywhere, and lovely architecture. You can visit the Mondragon Palace and the Arabic Baths, if you're feeling ambitious.


Ronda is best experienced as more than a day trip. By day, it's crowded with day trippers. But by night, the crowds subside and you can reclaim the pretty village. Check into the Hotel San Gabriel for a weekend and nibble some nouveau tapas at Traga Tapas.


town of Carmona outside Seville
town of Carmona outside Seville


5. Carmona


Romantic Carmona is a gem of a clifftop Andalusian town. It's an ancient Roman fortified city loaded with ancient Roman ruins and three Moorish fortresses. You enter via the splendid 9th century Puerta de Sevilla, or Seville Gate, and are surrounded by noble palaces and majestic churches at every turn.


Carmona is, above all, a village of Baroque churches. The town's must see sites are the 15th century Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla, the Church of San Pedro, and the Plaza San Fernando. Climb the Torre del Oro at the Alcazar for stunning views.


When you're done wandering through the incredibly picturesque old town, head to

the Roman burial ground, Necropolis Romana, which is a must see site in Carmona. Many of the tombs were built right into the rock and you can even enter some. It's only open until 3:00 pm, so keep that in mind on your day trip explorations.



beautiful street in Osuna
beautiful street in Osuna


6. Osuna


The ducal town of Osuna surprised me. I visited the village for its dashing bullring, which is one of Andalusia's Game of Thrones filming locations.


But Osuna itself was beyond adorable, a charming white pueblo village with a rich architectural and cultural heritage. There's row upon row of white stucco homes and streets dotted with orange trees. Osuna's a vertitable art gallery, with myriad Renaissance and Baroque churches.


UNESCO lists Osuna's main drag, the Calle San Pedro, as the second most beautiful street in Europe. Here, with an eye toward social climbing, Osuna's wealthy dukes vied to create the most exquisite palaces. The street would be more appealing, however, if it was pedestrianized. Osuna was declared a Historic-Artistic site in 1967.


For the full scoop on the town, here's my complete guide to visiting Osuna.



main square in Antequera
main square in Antequera


7. Antequera


The Spanish-Baroque town of Antequera is fittingly dubbed the "Florence of Andalusia." Antequera is a hidden gem in Andalusia. You'll have the place mostly to yourself, which is a singular joy in southern Spain.


If you're day tripping, there's a lot to do. Park your car on the outskirts of town and walk up Calle Don Infante. Antequera boasts an impressive Moorish Alcazaba, almost like a mini Alhambra. It also has a lovely Renaissance church and a stunning medieval and baroque historical core. You'll have an eyeful of swoonful scenery.



alcazaba of Antequera
alcazaba of Antequera

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor
Real Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor


Antequera's ancient megaliths/dolmens are outside the old town. You'll see signs. The dolmens date from the Bronze Age and are among the oldest things on the planet. They are essentially Spain's Stonehenge.


The dolmens are ancient burial grounds that were declared a UNESCO site in 2016. They're one of the most remarkable engineering and architectural works of European prehistory and an important example of European Megalthism.


For more details and information, check out my two guides to visiting the town of Antequera and to Antequera's UNESCO dolmens.



sugar cube homes in the pretty hilltop village of Frigiliana
sugar cube homes in the pretty hilltop village of Frigiliana


8. Frigiliana


Nothing prepares you for the stunning beauty of Frigiliana, a patch of snow in the Sierras. In Frigiliana, everything is beautiful in a way that it almost never is. Frigiliana is a spotless, secluded, perfectly coifed cliff town dressed in blue and white, with flowing orange and purple vines and potted blood red geraniums.


The Spanish tourist board voted Frigiliana the prettiest village in Andalusia, and you can immediately see why. There are no must see sites or grand monuments in Frigiliana.


Frigiliana's subdued main attractions are its cobbled pedestrianized streets with whitewashed houses with colorful doors. There is a pathway through the middle of the village called the Calle Real. But you must stray off the path and investigate all the nooks and cranies.



pretty street in Frigiliana
pretty street in Frigiliana

For even better views, hike up to the ruins of the 16th century Castle of Izar. From the old town, you climb up long flights of steps, narrow paths, and gravel tracks to the site of the old castle overlooking the white village and the Mediterranean sea. You'll also find signs warning you to be careful of rogue donkeys who might bite.

READ: Complete Guide to Frigiliana



view of Nerja from the Balcony of Europe
view of Nerja from the Balcony of Europe


9. Nerja


Just down the road from Frigiliana is the pretty and laid back resort town of Nerja. At the top of the Costa del Sol, Nerja has a natural majesty. It also has 10 miles of powdery sand beaches.


Despite tourism on the Costa del Sol, the city center retains much of its historic village charm. Calle Almirante Ferrandiz is Nerja's restaurant row. Try Pulguilla, Patanegra 57, or Mo Gastro Tapas.


The heart of Nerja is its beautiful Balcon de Europa, a palm-lined round promontory built on the foundations of an old fort. The Balcony of Europe juts out like a natural pier and offers panoramic views of the cobalt blue sea and honey colored coast. Just steps away is the Church of El Salvador, also clad in white.


The soft, calm sway of the Mediterranean Sea swells into Nerja's renowned caves. Just 2.5 miles from Nerja, the Nerja Caves are a major attraction in southern Spain. They are home to natural wonders and the world's tallest stalagmite.



the pretty white pueblo town of Arcos de la Frontera
the pretty white pueblo town of Arcos de la Frontera


10. Arcos de la Frontera


While there are dozens of gorgeous white pueblos in Andalusia, Arcos de la Frontera is a knockout. It's considered the "Queen of Pueblos Blancos," appearing like a white ship on a blue-green sea. The late Spanish novelist J. M. Ruiz Azorin claimed Arcos was ''the most beautiful in all Spain." If you want to explore the white pueblos on your southern Spain road trip, Arcos makes the perfect base.


Don't drive into Arcos if you're visiting by car. The old town streets are impossibly narrow, one way, and may morph into stairways. The houses are scrupulously blanched to perfection, devoid of decoration, and packed together.


As you can tell from its high perch, Arcos was a key defensive spot during the Moorish-Christian conflict. The ''de la Frontera'' nomenclature indicates that Arcos (and other white pueblos) once marked the frontiers of Christian territory.



the Church of San Pedro in Arcos de la Frontera
the Church of San Pedro in Arcos de la Frontera


Arcos' main square, the the Plaza de Cabildo, used to double as a bullring. Take a look at the 15th century magic circle with constellations embedded in the stone pavement. This was the spot where priest-exorcists would cleanse babies of evil spirits before their baptisms.


Be sure to visit the 15th century Moorish-inspired Church of Santa Maria and the towering Church of San Pedro, a fixture on the town’s landscape. If you're feeling dauntless, you can ask permission to climb the ladder to the rooftop of San Pedro.



pretty lane in Jerez de la Frontera
pretty lane in Jerez de la Frontera


11. Jerez de la Frontera


Just a few miles from the Atlantic, Jerez de la Frontera isn't as gorgeous as its cohort Arcos de la Frontera. But, nonetheless, the gracious town is worth visiting. Jerez is known as the capital of sherry and for its dancing horses. The town was named the European Wine City of 2014.


While strolling the old Moorish quarter, be sure to tour the beautiful Cathedral of San Salvador, the Alcazar, and the Santa Dominga Convent. If you want to sample the sherry wines (too sweet for me), try Bodega Luis Perez or Bodega Lustau. If you don't like sherry, you can explore the Archaeological Museum.


Jerez also boasts the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Several times a week you can take in a the famous Jerez horse show, also aptly referred to as a "ballet." It's best to book tickets online in advance. If you start early, it's possible (though not advisable) to see both Arcos and Jerez in one day.



Vejer de la Frontera
Vejer de la Frontera


12. Vejer de la Frontera


Situated on a commanding bluff overlooking the Barbate River, Vejer de la Frontera is incredibly picturesque -- bright, colorful, and cheerful. It's impossible to resist driving the side road snaking up to Vejer.


Within the town, the narrow steep streets run through banks of stark white houses whose Arabic origins are evident everywhere. Vejer is a Moorish town with graceful concessions to 21st century Spain.


It 1805, Lord Nelson defeated the Spanish and French fleets off Cape Trafalgar. This Atlantic proximity gives Vejer both a distinctive white town atmosphere and strong westerly winds sweeping over its walls and monuments.



Vejer de la Frontera
Vejer de la Frontera

Arco de la Monjas
Arco de la Monjas


At the center of the town, a walled enclosure with four Arabic horseshoe gates contains the 16th century church of San Salvador, built over a mosque. Nearby is a Moorish castle and the Palace of the Marques de Tamaron.


Close to the ramparts, near the Paseo de las Corbijadas, is the well-conserved Jewish Quarter. The area within the ramparts includes many small shops, cafes, and is best seen on foot. The town has magnificent vistas in all directions from its walls.


If you want to splurge, Vejer has a reasonably priced Michelin restaurant, El Jardin del Califa. It's housed in a 16th century building that feels like a castle dungeon. It also has a pretty patio garden worthy of a caliphate.



beautiful town of Cadiz
beautiful town of Cadiz


13. Cadiz


Cadiz is one of Europe's most ancient cities. If you're craving a restorative view of the sea, sparkling Cadiz fits the bill beautifully. It's an underrated Andalusian town, located on a thin peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.


Cadiz is an old port city. With its rich history and beautiful coastal vibe, Cadiz makes a unique and lovely day trip from Seville. And, with so much to see and do, it's an ideal place for a leisurely weekend break.


The tourist office offers maps with the free walking tours of Cadiz. There are 4 thematic routes taking approximately an hour each. Each route is replicated on the sidewalk and color coded.



view from Cadiz Cathedral
view from Cadiz Cathedral


Cadiz was home to legendary civilizations, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Moors. You'll see evidence of each society as you take the walking tours.


Visit Cadiz Cathedral, where you can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city. Walk to the Plaza San Antonio to view the lovely architecture flanking the square and inspect the Church of San Antonio with its twin towers. In the Plaza de San Juan de Dios, you'll see the majestic Town Hall.



flower-lined street in Estepona
flower-lined street in Estepona


14. Estepona


Estepona is a hidden gem on the Costa del Sol, often overlooked by nearby (and much more glitzy) Marbella. Locally, it's dubbed the "Garden of the Costa del Sol."


Estepona has a beautiful old quarter with pretty cobbled lanes and a profusion of flower pots. Plaza de la Flores is the central square, lined with orange trees and cafes. And you can visit the Orchid Gardens, housed in a building with three glass domes. Aside from flowers, you can follow the route of street murals, where hum drum buildings sport artistic masterpieces.


Estepona also has a fine beach, Playa Rada, that's less crowded than other Costa del Sol beaches. The town also has some culinary cred. You'll find fresh seafood galore.



cityscape of Malaga Spain
cityscape of Malaga


15. Malaga


Malaga is the 6th largest city in Spain. Malaga has long been a vacation spot for sun lovers in search of an affordable beach getaways. The metropolis is part of the country’s touri