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Things to Do in Andalucia

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El Arenal District
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Snuggled up against the Guadalqivir River’s east bank and set amidst some of Seville’s most storied streets, you’ll wander upon El Arenal. Its name (arena means sand in Spanish) tells the story of its past, when, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the sandy-banked neighborhood was used as Seville’s port, making it one of the most important port cities in the world. From its shore, boats set off west for the New World, or east for spices, and returned with grand treasures.

These days, the neighborhood, which sits within the city's historic quarter, is especially known for its residents' passion for bullfighting and also religion. Their faithfulness is evident in the abundance of Arenal brotherhoods, whose devotion can be seen during Holy Week each year, when Seville’s Catholicism comes to life in colorful processions that take over the city streets.

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Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs (Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos)
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Córdoba doesn't just have a Grand Mosque, but also a palace: the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Once the site of a Visigoth fortress, it was ultimately rebuilt to house the caliphs of Córdoba, before being taken over by the Christians. Once in their hands, the palace was famously home to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel for eight years during the Spanish Inquisition. During that time, it was even visited by Christopher Columbus, who came to explain plans for his westward journey to the Catholic Kings.

The palace has gone through various rounds of re-buildings and modifications, with today's structure maintaining little of the Moorish one that stood before it. Even so, the present-day Alcázar still has a Moorish flavor, given the Múdejar style of design and architecture implemented under King Alfonso XI.

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Córdoba Synagogue (Sinagoga de Córdoba)
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Located in the heart of Córdoba's Jewish Quarter, and just blocks away from the Mezquita, sits one of Spain's most unique connections to the past: the Synagogue of Córdoba.

Constructed in the 14th century, Córdoba's synagogue is the Judería's (Jewish Quarter's) main attraction and is one-of-a-kind in the Andalucía region. This is because, while the Jewish community once played a very key role on the Iberian Peninsula -- especially during the Moorish Caliphate -- much of Jewish culture was eradicated and expelled in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. As a result, Córdoba's synagogue and two others in the city of Toledo remain as the only lasting structures of their kind from pre-Inquisition Spain.

The small Córdoba synagogue houses a courtyard, prayer room and women's gallery. With a humble brick exterior, the small interior features walls with intricate Hebrew inscriptions, scalloped archways and Mudéjar plasterwork.

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General Archive of the Indies (Archivo General de Indias)
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There was a time after Spain’s first journeys to the Americas that Seville served as one of the most important commercial cities and ports in Europe. For that reason, in 1572, this Renaissance-style building — now called the General Archive of the Indies — was erected, with the goal of serving as a merchant’s exchange.

Come 1785, when Seville’s role as a trade hub fizzled out, the grand building was finally converted into a space meant to unify all the country’s documentation related to its overseas empires in the Americas. These days, this includes 9 kilometers of shelving with over 43,000 volumes and 80 million pages, and is composed of documents such as exchanges between Christopher Columbus and the Spanish King and Queen, as well as other writings by explorers. Though the extent of what visitors can actually view is quite limited, entrance to the building is free, and therefore worth a quick wander, especially since it’s located right next to the main cathedral.

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Seville Bullring (Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza de Cabellería de Sevilla)
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Seville's bullring - or the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Cabellería de Sevilla, to give it its due - is the oldest in Spain. It was here that the corrida, or bullfight, moved from horseback to foot, and many of the cherished theatrical traditions of the matador evolved. The building was completed in the late 18th century and is a yellow-and-white baroque beauty. It's easy to imagine Bizet's Carmen meeting her passionate end here. During the Feria de Abril, a week-long celebration of all things Seville, the season's most prestigious fights are held. Every afternoon, crowds pack the Plaza de Toros (or 'the Cathedral' as the locals call it) to see man take on bull.
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Seville Church of Santa Ana (Iglesia de Santa Ana)
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The Church of Santa Ana is the oldest church in Seville. Located in the Triana neighborhood, the 13th-century church is home to impressive sculptures, paintings, jewelry and religious processional items, many of which are displayed throughout the interior chapels. Master Castilian stonemasons and Muslim master builders worked on the church, whose remarkable interior features columns topped by corbels decorated with castles, vine leaves, lions and human heads. Admire a conglomeration of architecture with a step inside the originally Gothic church and its Baroque-style reconstruction, added after an earthquake in the 17th century.

You can visit the church as part of a guided bike tour of Seville's highlights, which includes stops at San Jorge Castle and the Jewish Quarter, as well as souvenir photos.

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Basílca de la Macarena
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The chief attraction of the Basilica Macarena is La Macarena, or "the Virgin of Hope," a 17th century wooden sculpture of Christ's mother mourning his death (complete with tears). She's the patron saint of bullfighters, friend to gypsies and star of the Semana Santa parade held in Seville every Easter.

When she passes by in the parade, songs are sung to her beauty and rose petals strewn in her path. In a small museum adjoining the basilica, you can see some of the Virgin's parade array, along with bullfighting relics.

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Malaga Alcazaba
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If you’re in Malaga, chances are you’ve not missed the town’s citadel towering in the center of the city. Known as the Alcazaba de Malaga, and built around the middle of the 11th century to act as a palace to the region’s governors, today the Alcazaba receives visitors year-round and is noted for its impressive gardens and panoramic views of both the city and the sea.

La Alcazaba was built atop the vestiges of an old Roman fortress, and the proof of this is most evident in the Puerta de las Columnas gate (gate of the columns). Its name, in fact, refers and pays homage to the pre-existing roman structure used to help build the palace as it stands today. This gate and another lay before visitors on their way up to the structure which is actually two distinct architectural pieces: Alcazaba itself, and Gibralfaro Castle. Inside, you’ll see some of the noted gardens, fountains and towers in traditional Moorish design before entering the main lobby of the palace.

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More Things to Do in Andalucia

Museum of Fine Arts of Seville (Museo de Bellas Artes)

Museum of Fine Arts of Seville (Museo de Bellas Artes)

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If you can't make it to Madrid's Prado, then consider Seville's Museum of Fine Arts your second-best option. Hailed as having one of the most impressive art collections outside of the capital, the museum is well worth the stop, and for more than just the artwork.

The Museo de Bellas Artes (as it is called in Spanish) dates back to the 1830s, and is situated in what used to be a 16th-century convent. Within its walls, explore works – largely religious in subject matter – dating from the Gothic period to the 20th century, and by greats like Murillo, Zurburán and even El Greco. Beyond just paintings, you'll also find other items on display, ranging from sculptures to ceramics and furniture.

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Aire Ancient Baths Sevilla

Aire Ancient Baths Sevilla

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Hidden among the Santa Cruz neighborhood's maze of streets, you'll find – if you're looking carefully -- Aire de Sevilla. This spa-like oasis located in the heart of Seville captures the magic of an old-world hammam, allowing the visitor to journey into the past, and also to relax.

The building itself dates back to the 16th century, when it was constructed as a mansion by a viceroy from the Indies. Since then, the structure has been transformed into a hammam – the type of Arab bath once so common in Spain's south -- transporting you to another time with its tranquil pools, hypnotic music, and historical setting of brick-vaulted ceilings dimly lit by Moroccan-style lanterns. During your two-hour visit, you'll be able to alternate between Aire de Sevilla's pools, of which there are several. Wash away the day's heat and wallow in relaxation while taking dips in the cool-, warm- and hot-water baths.

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Magic Island Park (Parque Isla Magica)

Magic Island Park (Parque Isla Magica)

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Isla Magica (Magic Island) is a theme park with a twist. It's all based around 16th century Spain, with the emphasis on exploration. Lots of galleons, pirates, jungles and lots of adventure. It's big - the park is set on the site of the 1992 Expo and split into a number of different themed sections. In the Amazonia section you can get the heart pumping with the famous El Jaguar roller coaster and a waterfall ride. In the Gateway to the Americas section there's a 'water coaster' and a Navigator's school. There's also a Mayan world, a section for the little ones, cinemas and virtual shows, and a planetarium.
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Triana Bridge (Puente de Isabel II)

Triana Bridge (Puente de Isabel II)

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Málaga Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano de Málaga)

Málaga Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano de Málaga)

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Sitting underneath the Alcazaba (fortified citadel), the Roman theater is Málaga’s oldest monument and was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was at the cultural heart of the city for 300 years until the Moors began to plunder the stone to build the Alcazaba between the eighth and 11th centuries; Roman columns taken from the theater can clearly be seen in the Puerta de las Columnas (gate of the columns) at the entrance to the citadel. The theater was abandoned, buried and forgotten for centuries before finally being rediscovered in 1951 during a civic construction project.

After decades of restoration work, the theater stands proud once more; it measures 102 ft (31 m) across and 52 (16 m) in height; the stage, orchestra pit, entrance gateways and crescent-shaped, tiered auditorium – which seats 220 spectators – have all been carefully resurrected. It was re-opened in 2011 and entrance is through an Interpretation Center.

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Monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas (Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas)

Monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas (Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas)

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Built in the 15th century, this honey-colored stone monastery was frequently visited by Christopher Columbus. In fact, he was buried here for a number of years. With a deep religious history, the site now houses the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, a center for local contemporary art.

First a chapel and monastery, it evolved into barracks after a Napoleonic invasion and later became a ceramics factory before finally being established as a national monument and museum. The grounds include a dramatic entrance gate, expansive gardens, a lake, tower, and many outdoor patios. It was extensively restored in preparation for the Seville Expo in 1992, but historical remnants of each stage of its past can still be found. The art museum’s permanent collection includes works from artists such as Luis Gordillo, Candida Hofer, and Louise Bourgeois and focuses on Andalusian creativity. Various workshops, concerts, and temporary exhibitions are also held here year-round.

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Royal Tobacco Factory (Real Fábrica de Tabacos)

Royal Tobacco Factory (Real Fábrica de Tabacos)

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To look up - and up - at the Real Fábrica de Tabacos is to get a sense of the scale of Seville's tobacco industry in the 18th century. This is one of the largest buildings in Spain (only El Escorial tops it in terms of surface area). It's used as a university building now, but you can still walk around it.

The reason most people visit is to get a vision of Bizet's doomed heroine, Carmen. This building is where she worked and these doors are where she lounged, fresh from rolling cigars on her thighs, to ensnare her lovers.

Carmen's wraith may be compelling, but the wraiths of the real cigar workers - nearly all of them women - also clamor for attention, as do the colonially themed bas-reliefs on the outside of the building.

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Malaga Cathedral (Cathedral de la Encarnación)

Malaga Cathedral (Cathedral de la Encarnación)

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Málaga’s gleaming white-stone cathedral was built over many years on the former site of a mosque after Isabella and Ferdinand had expelled the Moors from Andalusia in the 1480s. All that is now left of the mosque is the pretty Patio de los Naranjos, still filled with sweet-smelling orange trees. The cathedral is affectionately known locally as La Manquita (the one-armed lady) as it only has one – granted very elaborate and Baroque – bell tower.

The original architect of the cathedral was Diego de Siloe and construction began in 1528; it continued slowly over the next two and a half centuries and this can clearly be seen in the mish-mash of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture on the façade. The architecture José Martín de Aldehuela, who built the Puente Nuevo in Ronda, also had a hand in finishing this cathedral.

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Plaza Nueva

Plaza Nueva

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As Granada’s oldest city square, Plaza Nueva has long been at the center of local life and its strategic location at the foot of the Alhambra palace means many tourists will pass through on their way to the city’s top attraction. Laid out in the early Christian era, the square was built over the Darro River and once served as an arena for sporting tournaments and bullfights, as well as public executions.

Today, the bustling plaza is best known for its abundance of stylish bars and tapas restaurants, coming alive in the evening hours when both locals and tourists congregate on the lamp-lit terraces. There’s more to Plaza Nueva than its nightlife though and the elegant square is also home to a number of striking landmarks, including the 16th-century Royal Chancellery and Mudejar-style Church of Santa Ana, both the work of Renaissance architect Diego de Siloé, and the House of Pisa, which now houses the Juan de Dios Museum.

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Plaza de la Merced

Plaza de la Merced

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Picasso’s birthplace is located on the elegant Plaza de la Merced barely 200 yards (180 m) from the awesome Museo Picasso Malaga, which holds over 150 of his artworks. Standing at the end of Calle Alcazabilla, the sweeping square is dominated by an obelisk honoring General Torrijos, an aristocratic revolutionary who fought against French invasion of Spain and was publically executed here for his pains in 1831.

This bourgeois, tree-fringed piazza was once site of Málaga’s main produce market and is today lined with smart, shuttered and balconied townhouses, cafés and top-end restaurants. It lies at the very heart of the city and each night locals gather here to promenade and chat in the tapas bars. The last Sunday of the month sees Málaga’s main craft market held in the square, where local delicacies such as Serrano ham and tortilla are also on sale.

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Roman Bridge (Puente Romano)

Roman Bridge (Puente Romano)

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