Six essential highlights of Southern Spain

June 11, 2024

Is paella, flamenco dancing, and beautiful architecture calling your name? If so, it’s time to book your ticket to one of our favourite European countries. While one week is not nearly enough time to explore it all, we’ve gathered our hottest tips on some things you should see, do, eat, and experience in Southern Spain.

1: Explore the vibrant city of Madrid

Before heading due south, take the opportunity to kick your trip off in Madrid. It’s one of those bustling, lively cities that you can explore for days and still not see everything. Visit Plaza Mayor, the grand central square in the city’s heart, take a tour of the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Spanish Royal family (psst: buy tickets in advance), enjoy the incredible artwork at the Prado Museum, and pop over to Mercado San Miguel, a covered market where you’ll find the tastiest seafood, creamy cheeses, and refreshing spritzes. Drooling yet?

Take in a pretty sunset over the Royal Palace of Madrid and La Almudena Cathedral in central Spain before heading south

See it for yourself on: Best of Southern Spain

2: Indulge in tiny plates and sweet sangria

Spain is all about tapas and, honestly, it’s the best way to enjoy a meal with others or on your own. Tapas are small plates that let you order multiple dishes to try a bit of everything without getting too full. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t offer croquettes, ceviche, or paella. Yum!

Whatever you do, don’t forget to order a glass of cava—one of Spain’s most famous sparkling wines. Or, for a mere €3 (or $3.25 USD) head to Los Manueles in Granada and order the White Sangria for a truly sweet experience.

Hot tip: The food is fresh and delicious but keep in mind, the Spanish tend to eat late and take their time. Dinner typically starts around 9pm, but you can find places that open slightly earlier, and can last for several hours.

Close up look at an icy blood orange coloured cava cocktail made famous in Spain

Taste it for yourself on: Hiking Southern Spain

3: Take a guided tour of Alhambra

About a 10 minute bus ride from the centre of Granada sits one of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture. A palace and fortress, the Alhambra, is impeccably preserved for a place that began in 1238. Covering an enormous 26 acres with endless history at every corner, we highly recommend taking a guided tour to get the most out of your visit. The detailed stories and beautiful architecture will capture your attention for the whole three hour walking tour. Plus, you’ll get treated to the most stunning views of the city.

Before your visit, consider picking up a copy of Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra, a collection of essays and stories inspired by his 3-month stay at the site.

Interior look at reflective pool in an inner courtyard of the famed Alhambra fortress in Granada, Spain

See it for yourself on: Classic Spain

4: Enjoy a traditional flamenco performance in Seville

As you explore the streets of Southern Spain, you’ll see flamenco in high-traffic areas, but it’s not the same as a live show. Flamenco dancing is a Spanish art form that involves guitar playing, singing, and clapping of hands. The dancing is quite emotional and you can see it emanating through the dancers facial expressions and movements.

A live show typically lasts about an hour and you’ll want to get there early to snag a front row seat. While there are no bad seats, sitting up front allows you a close-up look at the dancer's swiftly moving feet—blink and you’ll miss it!

Looking down from a traveller's perspective at an intense live flamenco performance by four women in a town square in Seville, Spain

Try it for yourself on: Journeys: Discover Spain

5: Revel in Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba's history

Situated between Granada and Seville sits Córdoba. With lots of little cobblestone streets to wander and blossom-filled courtyards, this is the spot for art and history lovers. You can’t come to Córdoba without paying a visit to Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. With a history dating back all the way to the mid-6th century, the architecture evokes all of the different cultures that came to worship here. Discover the fascinating history of the creation of the mosque and the development of the cathedral.

An interior look at the many overhead striped terracota-coloured arches at Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, a historic mosque and cathedral

See it for yourself on: Journeys: Iconic Portugal & Spain

6: Get to know Gaudi in Barcelona

A trip to Spain is not complete without a stop in Barcelona. Take in Antoni Gaudi’s beautiful Sagrada Familia church, and even if you don’t go inside, the outside is just as breathtaking. You’ll find even more of Gaudi’s incredible work by heading to Park Güell where you can wander about his colourful mosaics and enjoy the city views. To visit both of these spectacular sites, be sure to purchase your tickets in advance.

If you’ve got several days in Barcelona, check out Las Ramblas, a 1.2km (less than a mile) street filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment. You could spend hours strolling through the Picasso museum which has nearly 4,000 works of art. Walk the streets and admire the wavy architecture of Casa Batlló. And of course, stroll through Barri Gòtic where the narrow streets and the calm squares are home to the history of central Barcelona.

Looking down at Gaudi's famous gingerbread and whipped topping gatehouse at the entrance to Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain

Explore it for yourself on: Best of Southern Spain

Originally published on Dec 6, 2023.

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