Traveling through southern Spain is an adventure you won’t soon forget, as the region is rich in culture and beautiful sights. The cities of southern Spain will enchant you, while the beaches offer a relaxing place to unwind. From the historical towns to the scenic hiking trails, there is something here for everyone.
There is so much to see and do, and as an Andalusian, I couldn’t help but share the ultimate itinerary for southern Spain to ensure you don’t miss any of it.
I’ll give you my tips for getting around, where to stay, and the best places to visit in the south of Spain. So, keep reading to learn where to start your journey!
GUIDE FOR VISITING SOUTHERN sPAIN
To help you make the most of your visit to southern Spain, I’ll cover a few topics in this guide:
Best cities in southern Spain
Andalusia may be known for its rural landscapes and pristine beaches, but it’s also home to some of the best cities in southern Spain. You could easily spend a full day in any of these cities, so I encourage you to check them all out below!
1. Granada, one of the most beautiful cities in southern Spain
Granada is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in the south of Spain. This university city is well known for its great atmosphere, which attracts people from all over the country and the world. So, if you’re looking to have some fun in southern Spain, this is the city to visit!
The most popular attraction in Granada is the Alhambra, one of the top attractions in Spain. The Alhambra is a monument to the power and wealth of the Nasrid Kingdom, which ruled over the city until its surrender in 1492.
Here, you can see the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba, the Generalife Gardens, and the Partal, making this a must-see in southern Spain. Of course, it’s a wildly popular attraction, especially in peak season, so I recommend buying your ticket months in advance.
Besides the Alhambra, you should also see the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel, the final resting place for King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabel I. Just before dusk, go up to the Mirador de San Nicolás to see the breathtaking sunset over the city.
- Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Casa Morisca is the best hotel in southern Spain if you want to stay in Granada. This noble residence dates back to the late 15th century and offers impressive views of the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens.
2. Seville, one of the best places to visit in the south of Spain
Seville is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, so if you visit the south of the country, you must see it!
First, the Giralda is a majestic Almohad Tower atop the Cathedral, which is more than 800 years old. Along with the Real Alcázar and the Cathedral of Santa María de la Sede, they’re the three most important monuments in Seville. To see them and learn all about their historical significance, do this guided tour with admission tickets, one of the best things to do in southern Spain.
Another reason to put Seville on your southern Spain itinerary is so you can see its Plaza de España. It’s worth visiting this historic center on foot so you can pass through La Iglesia del Divino Salvador, the Plaza Nueva, the Puerta de Jerez, or the Royal Tobacco Factory.
Then, visit the Triana neighborhood to immerse yourself in the culture of Seville, which centers around artisans, singers, and dancers. In fact, seeing a flamenco show in Seville is one of the most enjoyable things to do in southern Spain. For a romantic date, don’t miss this boat trip on the Guadalquivir River.
- Recommended accommodation: El Rey Moro Hotel Boutique is a charming hotel in southern Spain. The renovated 16th-century manor house is right in the city center.
3. Córdoba, the most historical city in southern Spain
Córdoba is a gorgeous city and another must-see on your tour through the south of Spain. Its magical atmosphere is characterized by flower-adorned patios, Roman remains, and an ornate Mosque-Cathedral.
The latter is one of the most visited monuments in the country and a top attraction in southern Spain. Construction on the Mosque began in the 8th century, and it became the second-largest mosque in the world. During the reign of King Ferdinand II, in the 13th century, it was transformed into a Catholic cathedral. If you want to witness the long history of this Mosque-Cathedral, this guided tour is the best option.
Moreover, if you’re interested in the Hispano-Muslim legacy of Al-Andalus, the Medina-Azahara is another essential site to visit. This fortified palace dates back to Abderraman III, who sought to build a city on the outskirts of Córdoba between 936 and 976.
It’s easy to see why Córdoba is one of the best places to visit if you want to learn more about the culture and history of southern Spain. I suggest going in May when you can enjoy the Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba (Courtyards Festival of Cordoba), listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2018.
- Recommended accommodation: The last time we traveled to southern Spain, we stayed at the Hospes Palacio del Bailio in Córdoba, a luxurious place with gardens, elegant décor, and a spa.
4. Cádiz, an enchanting city in southern Spain to spend your holiday
Cádiz is another amazing city in southern Spain, and a great starting point for exploring its province, as there are lots of things to do here.
One of the most recognizable places in this city is its promenade, which is often compared to the famous boardwalk in Havana. What makes the promenade in Cádiz stand out is its impressive cathedral.
It’s also worth visiting the Tavira Tower, the Camera Obscura, the Castle of Santa Catalina, and the Monument to the Constitution of 1812. It’s also a good idea to take this free tour, which begins at the central Plaza de San Juan de Dios.
Finally, you can’t leave Cádiz without taking a stroll along La Caleta Beach, one of the best beaches in southern Spain.
- Recommended accommodation: You’ll feel right at home in the Tandem Torres de Cádiz Suites, which feature amenities like a beautiful patio and a swimming pool.
5. Marbella, a city in the south of Spain with lots of style
Situated along the southern coast of Spain and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Marbella is a lovely vacation town.
For those who like to party, Marbella is one of the best beach towns in southern Spain. Of course, I recommend taking a break from the yachts and parties to stroll down Avenida del Mar, where you’ll see ten replicated sculptures by Salvador Dalí. Then, walk along the Paseo Marítimo (boardwalk) and visit the beach.
Another important place you should visit in Marbella is the Plaza de los Naranjos, home to Town Hall, the Santiago Hermitage, and the Casa del Corregidor. You also must visit Old Town, one of the best places to see in southern Spain. Check out this free guided tour to see everything and learn more about Marbella’s Arab past.
- Recommended accommodation: The Iberostar Selection Marbella Coral Beach is one of the best all-inclusive hotels in Spain and a great value for the money. Besides its themed rooms, the hotel has a pool, gym, beach club, and two restaurants specializing in Mediterranean and Andalusian cuisine.
Best beaches in southern Spain
Some of the best beaches in Spain are in the south of the peninsula, so you’re in luck. Of course, they’re all very different, so to help you choose which ones to visit, here are the five best beach towns in southern Spain:
1. Los Muertos Beach, one of the best beaches in southern Spain
Los Muertos Beach, in the province of Almería, is one of the most beautiful beaches in southern Spain that you must see. What makes this one of the best beaches is its over half-mile-long coastline and its crystalline water.
Another way to enjoy Los Muertos is by taking this boat tour, which sails along the shore and also goes past Cala del Corral, Playa de las Salinicas, Puente Romano Beach, Cala Sorbas, and Cala Castillo, among others. It’s one of the best things to do in southern Spain, and you’ll get to see the pretty villages while enjoying the Mediterranean Sea.
- Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Senderos in Agua Amarga is very good. It’s in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park and has an indoor pool and solarium.
2. Bolonia Beach, a natural, wild beach in the south of Spain
For a more rustic beach in the south of Spain, visit Bolonia Beach. Its pristine landscape looks almost untouched, with white sand, dunes, and crystal clear water. It’s no surprise that thousands of visitors come here every year to enjoy its natural beauty.
The shoreline stretches nearly 2.5 miles, and it’s next to the ancient Roman city of Baelo Claudia, home to the best-preserved Roman forum in Hispania. Along with Bolonia Beach, this old city is one of southern Spain’s hidden gems, so don’t miss it!
Finally, if you’re in Cádiz and don’t have a way to get to Bolonia, this private day trip to Gibraltar and Bolonia is an easy way to see both areas.
- Recommended accommodation: The best option is the Miramar Apartments right next to Bolonia Beach, and about a half-mile from the dunes. Among the facilities here are a garden and a terrace overlooking the pool and sea.
3. Zahara de los Atunes Beach, another unique beach in the south of Spain
Speaking of Cádiz, it’s close to another beach in southern Spain: Zahara de los Atunes. It’s characterized by its virgin fine sand, crystal-clear waters, and bright sunshine.
The ambiance here is phenomenal, especially in the summer, so it’s the perfect place for a vacation in the south of Spain. Zahara de los Atunes has over three miles of coastline, as well as lifeguards, showers, bathrooms, and hammocks. It’s one of the best places to visit in southern Spain as a family since there are attractions for all ages, from the beach bars to the abandoned steamboat that dates back to 1902.
- Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Playa de Plata is just 820 feet from Zahara de los Atunes Beach, and it has a gym, a garden, and a shared lounge.
4. Mónsul Beach, a volcanic beach in the south of Spain
Over in Almería, Mónsul Beach is smaller than the beaches in Cádiz (it’s about 985 feet long), but it’s one of the most beautiful spots on the southern coast of Spain.
This natural, virgin beach is the perfect place to go with friends or family, and, for me, it’s the best beach in southern Spain. Moreover, it’s in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, so be sure to bring everything you’ll need for the day since there aren’t any modern amenities.
For something different, take this tour in a 4×4, which travels along several beaches in Almería, including Mónsul, as well as the Rodalquilar gold mine area.
- Recommended accommodation: El Dorado Cabo de Gata is in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, just a five-minute walk from San José Beach. Plus, it has an outdoor pool and beautiful sea views.
5. Matalascañas Beach, one of the most beautiful places on the south coast of Spain
Last but not least, Matalascañas Beach in Huelva is another one of the best beaches in southern Spain. The 3.1-mile beach is known for its eco-friendly commitment and conservation efforts, which earned it 16 consecutive Blue Flags between 1994 and 2009.
While Matalascañas is becoming more popular, it’s not yet overcrowded, so it’s the perfect place to add to your southern Spain itinerary if you want some peace and quiet. Don’t worry about being bored though, as there are all kinds of activities here, including paddleboats, beach bars, and a 2.5-mile boardwalk. To round out your day, this sunset horseback ride is an adventure you won’t regret.
- Recommended accommodation: The On Hotels Oceanfront resort faces Matalascañas Beach, so it’s the ideal place to relax. The hotel is designed for adults and features an outdoor and indoor pool, a sun terrace, a bar, and a trendy à la carte restaurant specializing in Japanese cuisine.
Best places to visit in southern Spain for nature
Several of Spain’s national parks are located in the southern part of the country. Visit these lush natural sites to discover amazing landscapes, unique flora and fauna, and some of the best hiking in southern Spain.
1. Doñana National Park, a must-see in southern Spain
Of all the natural places to visit in southern Spain, one of the best is Doñana National Park. The Government of Spain defines it as “a mosaic of ecosystems that harbor a unique biodiversity in Europe.”
Several rare species live here, including the Iberian lynx, the spur-thighed tortoise, and the Imperial eagle. This large wetland is located halfway between the southern Spain provinces of Huelva and Seville, very close to Africa. Because of this privileged geographical location, the park is rich in biological diversity.
The best way to see the park’s beaches, dunes, forests, and marshes is to take this guided tour in a 4×4. Be sure to bring your camera, because this is one of the highlights of southern Spain that you’ll want to capture!
- Recommended accommodation: Macia Doñana, in the charming fishing village of Sanlúcar, is a pleasant hotel with a large outdoor pool and a solarium.
2. Sierra Nevada National Park, a beautiful place to ski in the south of Spain
If you like to ski and visit southern Spain in the winter, you’re in luck. Sierra Nevada National Park, in the province of Granada, is one of the most important ski resorts in the country.
Even if you don’t ski, there are other things to do here, like this snowshoe tour. You can also go stargazing, paragliding, or hiking on one of the trails leading to the summit of Veleta and Mulhacén (the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula.)
The best way to learn about this natural attraction in southern Spain is to go to the El Dornajo interpretation center in the town of Güejar Sierra. You’ll be able to discover more about the history, ethnography, and environmental traditions of this area, like its snowfield manufacturing.
Sierra Nevada National Park has been a declared Biosphere Reserve since 1986, so it’s well worth visiting, as are the nearby towns of Güejar and Pinos Genil.
- Recommended accommodation: No matter the season, the Melia Sierra Nevada is a great option. It has a modern spa, ski lodge-style rooms, and it’s just 330 feet from the slopes.
3. Torcal de Antequera Natural Area, the best place in southern Spain for hiking
The Torcal de Antequera Natural Area is a unique region in southern Spain and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016.
If you’ll be in the province of Málaga, you must add this place to your southern Spain travel itinerary. The limestone structures of this park date back over 200 million years and give the area an otherworldly atmosphere. You can even find prehistoric caves and abysses throughout the environment.
The routes through the park are colored-coded and free for anybody to access. That said, this guided hike will safely take you through the area and help you learn more about the flora and fauna you’ll see there.
Another option is this guided tour of Torcal and the Dolmens of Antequera, an interesting journey through Andalusian prehistory. During the tour, you’ll see the caves of the El Romeral tholos, an impressive stone structure from the late Neolithic era.
- Recommended accommodation: The DWO Convento la Magdalena is an incredible resort with a pool, a hot tub, a sauna, and a Turkish bath, so you can pamper yourself after your southern Spain hiking.
4. Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park
In the northwest of the province of Jaén, you’ll find the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park, the perfect place to go hiking in southern Spain.
Spanning 530,000 acres, it’s the largest protected area in Spain and the second in Europe. Moreover, it’s been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1983 and Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) since 1987.
Adding this place to your south of Spain travel itinerary will make you feel like you’re stepping into a nature documentary. Among the species you’ll see here, keep an eye out for the Golden eagle and the Griffon vulture.
You can explore this rugged area by yourself or sign up for one of the two tours offered here. One goes through the Poyos de la Mesa viewpoint and Nava de San Pedro mountainside. The other travels through the Borosa River valley and the Cerrada de Elías gorge. Both of these southern Spain tours are amazing, so there’s no wrong choice.
- Recommended accommodation: Book a room at the Coto del Valle de Cazorla, where you can enjoy the views from an Andalusian patio. The resort also has an outdoor pool, a rustic lounge, gardens, and a spa with a thermal pool, hot tub, flotation tank, Turkish bath, and sauna.
5. Caminito del Rey (part of Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park)
The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park, also known as Garganta del Chorro, is one of the absolute best places to visit in the south of Spain.
Part of what makes it spectacular is the Caminito del Rey, one of the best hiking routes in Spain. This walkway is built into the rock face of the canyon, and parts of it are barely three feet wide. Not only that, but the walkway is suspended nearly 330 feet above the river, so it’s quite the experience.
The path was built for the Chorro Hydroelectric Society, for better access between the waterfalls. King Alfonso XIII himself inaugurated the structure by traveling to the area in 1921 from the Conde del Guadalhorce Dam. He had no choice but to travel along this walkway, hence its name, Caminito del Rey (the King’s Pathway.)
The Junta de Andalucía declared this place a Natural Area in 1989, and today, it costs about 10€ (USD 10.50) to enter. General admission, which you can buy here, includes all the safety gear you need to take the tour. If you prefer to go with a guide, this half-day excursion includes access to the walkway and a visit to the Gaitanes Gorge and the King’s Armchair. Plus, you’ll get to learn more about the history and geology of the area from a knowledgeable guide.
- Recommended accommodation: Located 0.2 miles from the Caminito del Rey, La Posada del Conde sits in the Gaitanes Gorge, between the Conde del Guadalhorce and Guadalteba dams.
Best towns in southern Spain
The south of the peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful villages and towns in Spain. Plan your route through the best of southern Spain’s white villages or the other small towns I recommend below.
1. Ronda, one of the most beautiful towns in southern Spain
Your itinerary for southern Spain should include Ronda, especially if you’re passing through Málaga. Often called the “dream city” of Andalusia, Ronda is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the country.
When you go here, you must visit the Plaza de España, the Ernest Hemingway Walk, and the Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge.”) The latter grants you the most amazing views of the Tajo de Ronda, an impressive 490-foot-deep gorge with “hanging houses” built into the cliff. Along with the Mondragón Palace and the Arab Baths, it’s among the best places to visit in the south of Spain.
With this free tour, you can get to know these incredible sites, and a local guide will tell you all about the history of Ronda. You’ll also see the stately homes of Tenorio Street, the Don Bosco House-Museum, and the Plaza de María Auxiliadora.
- Recommended accommodation: First, the Catalonia Ronda is an elegant hotel with a rooftop terrace and an infinity pool. Another great option is the Parador de Ronda in the city’s old Town Hall. It’s one of the best paradores in Spain and offers beautiful views of the Ronda Gorge and the New Bridge.
2. Vejer de la Frontera and the white villages of southern Spain
Between the southern Spain provinces of Málaga and Cádiz, you’ll find Vejer de la Frontera, the most beautiful and famous of Spain’s White Villages and a declared Historic Site.
A gorgeous town with a National Beautification Award, Vejer de la Frontera is a special place with a rich Arab heritage. This legacy is reflected in the town’s architecture and urban planning, particularly in its Jewish Quarter. This free tour (in Spanish) will introduce you to iconic sites like the 16th-century Church of the Divine Savior, the remains of the old walls of Vejer de la Frontera, the medieval castle, and Calle de la Corredera.
You can even add some other white villages to your southern Spain itinerary by taking this excursion, which goes to Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema, and Ubrique.
- Recommended accommodation: The Casa Shelly Hospedería in Vejer de la Frontera is a welcoming place with an ideal location, so you can easily get to the most important parts of town.
3. Baños de la Encina, a charming town in southern Spain
Baños de la Encina is a charming, small city in southern Spain that’s famous for its castle with 14 towers, which has been meticulously preserved since the 12th century.
The Baroque Tabernacle is another worthy attraction in this town and a crown jewel of 17th-century Andalusian cabinetry. That said, Baños de la Encina is home to other southern Spain monuments, including the 17th-century Hermitage of Jesus del Llano, the 18th-century Santo Cristo Windmill, and the 15th-century San Mateo Church. You can learn all about these beautiful sites on this guided tour.
- Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Palacio Guzmanes is one of the best hotels in southern Spain, right in Baños de la Encina. It’s in a historic 17th-century building and has an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a solarium.
4. Úbeda and Baeza, two more towns in southern Spain you must see
In Jaén, near Baños de la Encina, you’ll find Úbeda and Baeza, two more towns you must add to your itinerary for southern Spain.
The two towns, which together have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are rich in art, history, and beauty. Úbeda‘s Santa Clara Convent is a declared National Monument, while its bullring was built on an old convent, so they’re two sites you can’t miss.
This free tour (in Spanish) will take you on a guided walk through the historic center, where you’ll hear the legends behind the stone streets, churches, and mansions of Úbeda. You’ll also visit the Plaza Vázquez de Molina, a prized example of Renaissance architecture in Spain, as well as the Plaza del Mercado, where the old Town Hall is located.
Next on this south of Spain tour is Baeza, where you’ll be transported to medieval times. This historic town is home to one of the province’s two Cathedrals, as well as the Renaissance-style Town Hall. The best way to see both Baeza and Úbeda is with this excursion, which grants you access to the most iconic monuments.
- Recommended accommodation: The Hotel Don Juan Boutique is very good, and has an outdoor pool, a terrace, and a bar. It’s in Úbeda, so its location is perfect for those who want to get to know this town.
5. Mojácar, a great place for a holiday in southern Spain
Mojácar, in the province of Almería, is one of the top destinations for a southern Spain vacation. The town is divided between Mojácar Pueblo and the more touristy Mojácar Playa. While the coastal area of Mojácar is worth visiting, here we’ll focus on the other part of town.
Since 2013, Mojácar has been recognized as part of the network of Spain’s most beautiful towns. For me, one of the top attractions in southern Spain is right here, at the Plaza del Parterre. It’s surrounded by arches and stone columns, reflecting its former days as an Arab necropolis.
Some other places you must visit here include the Town Hall Square, the famous Fuente Mora, and the Mirador del Castillo, which offers stunning views of the sea. Also, don’t leave without strolling through Old Town and the Barrio del Arrabal, Mojácar’s picturesque Jewish Quarter that dates back to the 17th century.
- Recommended accommodation: The boutique-style Hotel Mamabels is a charming hotel in southern Spain, decorated with original artwork and offering panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Map of southern Spain
I’ve given you quite a few attractions and cities in southern Spain, so I hope you found a few places you’d like to visit! Here, I’m leaving you a map of southern Spain, so you can easily locate the sites you’re most interested in seeing.
Tips for your southern Spain itinerary
I’ve given you a lot of places to visit, so don’t worry about adding them all to your southern Spain itinerary at once. Andalusia has eight provinces, each with its own villages, cities, and natural areas, so rather than rushing to see everything immediately, consider taking several trips.
Take a look at my map of southern Spain and put together a logical route that will accommodate your specific travel dates. Keep in mind that the capital cities will require more time than smaller towns.
Whichever sites you choose, be mindful of your time and the season of your visit. Some places can become quite crowded, especially in the summer or during the holidays, so it may be difficult to book a hotel or reserve a table at a restaurant. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the rich gastronomy of southern Spain!
Best time to visit the south of Spain
The best time to visit southern Spain depends on what you want to do. Unless you plan on skiing in the Sierra Nevada or taking a winter trip, I recommend visiting between March and October. That said, keep in mind that the summer weather in southern Spain can get steamy, reaching temperatures of 86°F or above.
For those who want to plan their trip around festivals and holidays in southern Spain, April is the best month to visit Seville. May is a great time to visit Córdoba since it’s when the Courtyard Festival takes place. August, while hot, is when the famous Feria de Málaga occurs.
For a southern Spain beach trip, specifically in Huelva, June is the prime time. Cádiz is also gorgeous during the summer.
Moving into autumn, September is still warm and pleasant, so it’s a great month to enjoy the south coast of Spain, especially Almería and Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. If you go later in the season, Jaén is the best place to visit in southern Spain. The temperatures stay mild, so you can enjoy Úbeda, Baeza, Baños de la Encina, and the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park.
How to get around the south of Spain
There are four domestic airports in southern Spain: Almería, Córdoba, Granada-Jaén, and Jerez de la Frontera. You can also find international airports in Málaga and Seville, so it’s relatively easy to find flights to southern Spain. Of course, I recommend reading our guide with tips for finding cheap flights so you can save as much as possible.
Moreover, traveling to southern Spain from Madrid and other Spanish cities is quite easy. Most of the provincial capitals are well-connected via a network of train and bus routes (you can get a 10€ discount here.)
For those who prefer to do their south of Spain tour without having to drive, don’t worry. As I said, the provincial capitals are connected by several train and bus routes, so you can get around without any problems.
With that, you have everything you need to organize your perfect itinerary for southern Spain. If you have any questions, leave me a comment below, and I’ll be happy to answer. Until then, have a wonderful time in the south of Spain!