Spain has always been a popular backpacking destination. The world does not need another article labouring how great it is to eat churros in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, nor one marvelling at the enormity of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. It would seem, though, that the north of the country gets all the glory. Sure, La Alhambra is up there on many bucket lists, and the Costa del Sol is inundated with pasty, sun-starved British holidaymakers year after year, but the whole region is littered with historical, colourful, fascinating cities with so much to offer; cities in which you can really enjoy an authentic Spanish experience. Read on to discover just a few of the best spots and sights not to be left out of your trip to Andalucía!
Cádiz – Casco Antiguo
Situated in the southwest corner of Spain, Cádiz is important to Spanish history; not only is it where Columbus set off on two of his voyages to Latin America, it is also where the 1812 Spanish Constitution was signed. Andalucia’s Moorish past is obvious when strolling through the city’s archways and narrow cobbled streets reminiscent of Arabic medinas, which of course makes for rather picturesque settings. The beauty of Cádiz however, lies in its beaches, which have somehow thus far managed to escape the attention of those sun-starved holidaymakers previously mentioned- perhaps due to the lack of flights into Jerez airport. The prettiest beach of all is La Caleta, which sits between the Castle of Santa Catalina and the Castle of San Sebastián, and was the location used for Halle Berry’s iconic scene in Die Another Day.
Running the stretch alongside La Caleta in the new part of the city are the beaches of Playa Victoria and Santa María; a surfer’s paradise. If you’re already a pro you can rent a board from one of the many surf shops lining the seafront, or if not you can pay for a course, such as the one offered at Hopupu Surf. Their particular deal consists of a 10 hour course for €100 and they also offer paddle boarding and bodyboarding!
Other popular beaches away from the city centre in the province of Cádiz include Playa Bolonia, El Palmar and Tarifa- where you can even see Africa in the distance!
Carnival of Cádiz
Although the city isn’t famed for its wild nightlife, it is without doubt the best location in Spain to find yourself in to experience carnival during February. For one week, the city’s population doubles (or maybe triples?) as the seven day party takes over. The city is decorated with characters and cartoons recognisable to both children and adults and there are shows put on for kids during the day as well as stalls selling candyfloss and popcorn. At night the atmosphere switches as hordes of drunk partygoers dressed up as priests, cavewomen and pirates fill the various plazas. Make sure to find yourself an outfit beforehand!
You haven’t fully appreciated Andalusian culture until you’ve been to a flamenco show. Every Friday night in Cádiz, locals head down to ‘La Peña Flamenca La Perla de Cádiz’ located just next to Santa María beach in the new town to watch flamenco performances over wine and camarones (shrimps). Flamenco isn’t for everybody, but it’s what gaditanos grow up with; it’s in their blood, and witnessing the passion and intensity of their dancing and singing is an experience in itself!
Jerez de la Frontera
Just half an hour away by train from Cádiz, there is only one real reason to visit Jerez: the sherry. The drink was born in here and its name derives from the word ‘Xeres’ (pronounced ‘Sheres’); Jerez’s former name under the Moors. You can visit the wine cellars of Tio Pepe or simply enjoy a glass out in one of the town’s peaceful squares.
Despite making a song and dance in the introduction about ignoring generic attractions in Andalucia and digging a little deeper, no guide to the region would be complete without including Granada and La Alhambra. From the early 8th century until the late 15th century, Andalucía was part of Al-Andalus -a Muslim empire which occupied large parts of Spain and Portugal. As previously mentioned, the Moors have left their mark on many aspects of Andalucían life, including its cuisine, art, heavy influences on the Spanish language and most obviously the region’s architecture. Alongside La Mezquita in Córdoba, La Alhambra is the most impressive demonstration of this. Now known as an Arab palace, it actually used to be a whole city, complete with hospitals and a university. Tours are long but worth it to see all the detailed mosaic patterns which decorate each room, some of which are now used for weddings – if you can afford it!
Granada was also the last city that the Moors lost to the Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabella in 1492, and still has a large Muslim population today. The centre is full of Moroccan restaurants and little shops selling shisha pipes and other authentic North African goods, although it does feel somewhat of a tourist trap.
What is more, Granada is one of the most popular destinations for Erasmus students, making it a truly international city!
Vejer de la Frontera
In keeping with the theme of Andalucia’s Moorish history, another way to appreciate its lasting impact is a visit to one of los pueblos blancos (white towns), for example Vejer de la Frontera. Located in the province of Cádiz, it feels much more like you are tracing the streets of Morocco than Spain, once again due to the numerous narrow cobbled streets separated by archways.
If you visit Vejer in late spring, or indeed any other region in Andalucia, be sure to take part in Las Ferias de Primavera (spring festivals). Very much a family occasion, in the case of Vejer, there is a fair with lots of food and lots of alcohol to take advantage of while basking in the spring sunshine!
Saving the best till last, Sevilla is nothing if not easy on the eye. Maybe it’s the sunshine, but everything is so brightly and beautifully coloured it seems almost magical. From street lamps to water fountains, Sevilla is stylish. Just like Granada, it has a very studenty vibe with a good variety of bars, clubs and restaurents, especially in Plaza de la Alfalfa, but also a great deal of history as proven by La Giralda, the bell tower of the city’s cathedral where Christopher Columbus’ tomb lies.
Another great aspect of Sevilla is its cycling culture- bicycles are the healthiest, greenest and most convenient way of getting around!
This list definitely lacks other must-see spots around Andalucía, including the Mosque of Córdoba, the city of Almería and the town of Ronda, but hopefully these tips will provide you with some inspiration and ideas on how to spend your time in Andalucia, whether it be a weekend break, family holiday or three month backpacking tour!