Who hasn’t heard of Seville, Córdoba, and Granada, the jewels of southern Spain? These three incredibly beautiful cities are a perfect example of the Spanish and the Arab cultures coming together. The Moors ruled the whole region of Andalusia for 500 years. All three cities were extremely important in what was then Al Andalus. Consequently, its rulers spared no expense in showcasing their importance. Fortunately, many important sites from that period are in perfect shape. What’s more, all three cities have such cultural value that UNESCO included them in its list of World Heritage Sites. So if you are visiting Spain for the first time, this Andalusia (Andalucia) itinerary is perfect for you. There is no doubt that Seville, Córdoba, and Granada are the best Spain has to offer.
Seville, Córdoba or Granada – How to Choose?
This Andalusia Itinerary is for anyone who wants to visit these three beautiful cities. However, you need enough time to do so. Generally speaking, one week should be enough to rush through the three. If you have less than 5 days, it’s better to visit only 2 cities; such as Seville and Granada, or Seville and Córdoba. Seville is the grandest of them all. Thus, if you have less than 3 days, you should only visit the Andalusian capital. Córdoba should be your choice if you are into cute Spanish courtyards. Choose Granada if you are into Moorish architecture. Of course, the Alhambra in Granada will definitely blow you away. Additionally, the Granadinos are arguably Spain’s most hospitable people. In most restaurants, you get free tapas with every drink!
Traveling between Seville, Córdoba and Granada
It is very easy to travel between the three cities. You can do so either by train, bus, or private car. Our choice of transport is the train. Its ecological footprint is lower, and to us, it’s the most comfortable way of traveling. Numerous daily trains connect Seville and Córdoba. While the fast ones take some 45 minutes, the slow ones take about 1 hour and 20 minutes. From Seville to Granada, there are fewer daily trains, and the journey takes between 2.5 and 3 hours on a fast train and 4 hours on a regular one. There are even fewer daily trains from Córdoba to Granada, which take 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes.
The capital of Andalusia, Seville, is fascinating. It was very important during Al Andalus when it was the capital of the Seville Taifa. Christopher Columbus himself departed from here in his 1492 trip towards America. The city even managed to impose a monopoly on all trans-Atlantic trade into Spain, entering its so-called Golden Age. After a few centuries of decline, Seville came back to the world’s spotlight in 1929 when it hosted the grand Ibero-American Exposition. The World Expo took place in Seville in 1992. Today it is Spain’s fourth-largest city, dotted with historical sites. In fact, there are so many things to see that not even a week may be enough for everything.
As mentioned above, there are tones of things to see in Seville, so any Andalusia itinerary must include this outstanding city. We suggest you reserve 1 or 2 days for its massive old town. Its epicenter and the city’s most famous landmark is the famous Seville Cathedral. This gothic church used to be a mosque, and its iconic Giralda tower is a remnant of those times. Next to it, the Real Alcázar has a similar story: a former Muslim fort converted into a royal palace. Next to the River Guadalquivir, you should not miss the beautiful Torre del Oro from the 13th century. About 1 kilometer south of the Old Town, you’ll find the impressive Plaza de España and the adjacent Maria Luisa Park. This wonderful green oasis is the home of loads of tree species and some outstanding museums.
Other Places to See in Seville
Renaissance and baroque palaces pack Seville’s center. The most important ones are the General Archive of the Indies, the Palace of San Telmo (seat of the Andalusian government), and the Royal Tobacco Factory, (Dean’s office of the University of Seville). Another church you should not miss is the tiny Basílica de la Macarena. It houses Seville’s most important religious treasure, the Macarena Virgin of Hope. There are several cool neighborhoods where you can truly experience the history and culture of the city: Santa Cruz is the old Jewish quarter full of history; Triana, across the river, is home to a large flamenco scene. Finally, if you are into modern architecture, you’ll love the Setas de Sevilla and the the Expo Area. The city’s coolest museum, the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, should be on your list too.
Where to Stay in Seville
The best location to stay in Seville is undoubtedly in or around the old town. We stayed at the wonderful Exe Sevilla Macarena, which is a great base to discover the city. Our large and comfortable room overlooked the old town, and they even arranged a bike rental for us. If you want to stay in a real Andalusian patio, then your best choice is the luxury Casa del Poeta. Located just a step away from the Cathedral, this fabulous hotel is a calm respite from Seville’s bustling center. If you rather stay in the authentic Triana, choose Zenit Sevilla. They offer spacious rooms and views of Sevilla’s old town. If you can spare a few more Euros, stay in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, one of the world’s best hotels.
Córdoba’s history is long and rich. The city was originally Roman, then Visigoth, and then Arab. It was the capital of the Córdoba Caliphate and the capital in exile of the enormous Umayyad Caliphate. During those times, Córdoba was one of the leading centers of education in the entire world. It was so important that it became the largest city in all of Europe. Córdoba’s center point, the Mosque-Cathedral, is one of the most outstanding examples of Moorish architecture. The city never fully recovered after the Reconquista, and today it is only Spain’s twelfth largest city.
Though there are plenty of things to see in Córdoba, its most important site is by far the Mosque-Cathedral. The Mezquita dates back to the late 8th century and occupies the site of an older demolished Christian church. After the Reconquista, it was converted into a Catholic church and still operates as the Cathedral of Córdoba. Its most famous feature is the grand hypostyle room with 856 white and red columns. There is nothing in the world quite like it! Another important site close to the Mezquita is the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos. This medieval fortress was the main residence of the Spanish kings. You shouldn’t leave Córdoba without crossing its famous Roman Bridge from the 1st century BC. Go in the afternoon for killer sunsets.
Other Places to See in Córdoba
Córdoba’s gorgeous whitewashed patios full of flower pots are famous all around the world. In fact, beautiful squares, ancient churches, and houses with patios pack the whole area around the Mezquita. One of its most interesting neighborhoods is again the Jewish Quarter. However, there are more interesting sites outside of the Old Town. Though the Roman Temple is basically a handful of columns, it is one of the city’s oldest structures. The temple is between two beautiful squares you should not miss: the Plaza de las Tendillas and the Plaza de la Corredera. If you have extra time, spend half a day in the nearby Medina Azahara, a former fortified Moorish palace.
Where to Stay in Córdoba
Córdoba is not a big city, and most of its landmarks are inside or close to the Old Town. We stayed at the chic El Antiguo Convento, a real convent turned into a hotel. It has great rooms, a professional staff, and an unbeatable location. Thank you! For us, being just a step away from the Mezquita was a blessing, since we could avoid the crowds. Nevertheless, stay in the Hotel Boutique Caireles right in front of the Mezquita if you wish to be as central as possible. It’s not a quiet area, but you’ll have direct views of the building. For a touch of elegance, stay directly on the Plaza de las Tendillas in the H10 Palacio Colomera. Finally, if you are crazy about views, stay across the river at the Hesperia Córdoba. The city will be under your feet.
There is nothing in the whole world like Granada. The longest Moorish stronghold on Spanish soil (over 750 years!!), has preserved its distinguished oriental character until today. Granada was the seat of the Royal Nasrid family until the Spanish Kings conquered it again in 1492 (Reconquista). It has somewhat lost importance since then, but luckily it has preserved most of its historical sites. Unlike Seville and Córdoba, Granada is hilly. Four rivers and several hills perfectly interact with the architecture and give Granada a particular microclimate. The Alhambra, one of the most beautiful examples of Islamic art in the world, overlooks the city.
If there is one landmark that you should not miss in Granada, it is certainly the Alhambra. The original structure dates back to the 9th century, though the modern-day look is the result of a 13th-century reconstruction. You’ll love its beautiful gardens, intimate patios, and lavishly decorated chambers. The Generalife, the former recreation area of the Muslim Kings, is on top of a hill across the Alhambra. Granada’s nicest gardens are here. You have two must-see places down in the city center. The renaissance Cathedral of Granada is an impressive 16ty century church. The attached Royal Chapel of Granada is the resting place of many Spanish Kings.
Other Places to See in Granada
Covered streets and cute little squares pack the area that surrounds the cathedral in the Old Town. Two very interesting neighborhoods to explore are Albaicín, with its white houses and narrow alleys, and Sacromonte with cave houses. Albaicín is the old Muslim neighborhood full of Arabic shops and restaurants, charming gardens, and gorgeous views of the Alhambra. On the other hand, Sacromonte is famous for its countless caves built inside a hill. You’ll find flamenco shows here. Downtown Granada has a plethora of beautiful historical churches. Other than the cathedral, the most interesting ones are the San Jeronimo Monastery and the Basilica San Juan de Dios. For those of you into science and modern architecture, a visit to the Parque de las Ciencias is a must.
Where to Stay in Granada
In Granada, you should either stay in the old town or the Albaicín neighborhood. We stayed at the lovely Rosa D’Oro right under the Alhambra. We loved its 16th-century architecture (it’ used to be a Franciscan convent) and direct views over the Alhambra. Another great option in the same neighborhood is the Palacio de Santa Inés, also with direct views of the Alhambra. If you prefer staying in the middle of the action, the gorgeous Eurostars Catedral is right in front of the cathedral. If you want to pamper yourself, and you should, stay at the Eurostars Gran Via. Even if you don’t sleep here, go for a drink at the hotel bar. You won’t forget the views.