The ultimate guide to the best cities in Southern Spain
Southern Spain has established itself as one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe, with people taking on trips from all over the world.
It’s not just the sandy beaches and scrumptious cuisine that lures people in. Even those who aren’t the sun-lounging kind feel the magic pull towards the Spanish south.
What makes Andalusia so inviting is the fact that you always have a choice of coastal holiday vibes or inland adventures.
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Even if you’re far from the busy cities along the coast, where beach-goers crowd the paseo Maritimo during the summer, you’ll always find views of the sea inland.
And this is exactly what makes some of the best cities in southern Spain so exciting – more often than not, you’ll find yourself enjoying the best of two worlds.
Top Best Cities in Southern Spain
Short Cultural Background about Southern Spain
There truly is no best time of year to visit Spain – especially the south.
When the people of most European countries are getting out their winter parkas, the people of Andalusia are just about ready to trade their t-shirt for a hoodie, their sun hat for a scarf.
Though most people associate Spain with summer holidays, there are plenty of reasons to visit the colorful cities in Andalusia during the spring, autumn, or winter season too.
If you’re worried this might make you miss out on all the fiestas the Spanish are famous for, no need – there are plenty of festivos on the cultural agenda all year round.
There’s the Ronda Romantica feria in May, for example – a reenactment of Malaga’s romantic period set against the backdrop of the dramatic mountain city of Ronda.
If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you might also want to come in January, when the children excitedly await the reyes magos, the three kings, who bring their Christmas presents.
As you can see there is always a good excuse for a trip to Spain – whether you’re looking for culinary discoveries, mountain adventures, or beach vibes – you can find it here in the south.
And if you are planning to visit Andalucia in winter, know that this might be the best time to do it since the weather is just perfect and the cities are not crowded.
Best Cities in Southern Spain
One of the best cities in southern Spain is definitely Malaga – which works out great seeing as this is where you’ll most likely land.
Malaga airport is just a ten-minute drive from the city center, so whether you’re staying there or further down the coast, be sure to build a visit into your itinerary.
With an unbeatable selection of museums and restaurants, the famous Feria de Malaga in August, and plenty of beaches for you to hit, it’s no wonder the city has become so popular.
Where to stay in Malaga:
As one of the most beloved cities in southern Spain, Ronda prides itself on cultural offerings for all types of holidaymakers: from honeymooners to whole families, solo travelers, and groups of friends.
Home to El Tajo, a deep and beautiful gorge dividing the city, you can enjoy some of the most spectacular views in Andalusia from here.
This truly historic city has maintained its authenticity and makes you feel as though you have traveled back in time.
Once a year – in May, to be exact – you can relive the region’s romantic era during the Ronda Romantica festivities, which means that the whole town is in traditional costume.
Surrounded by lush natural parks and wonderful hiking trails, Ronda is also a great choice for those looking to disconnect from it all.
At the end of October there the Wine and Chestnut Festival which is part of the best Southern Spain Halloween traditions.
Related articles: Best Hiking Trails near Malaga
Where to stay in Ronda:
- Luxury: Parador de Ronda, Ronda
- Mid-Range: Hotel Don Miguel, Ronda
- Budget: Hotel Soho Boutique Palacio San Gabriel, Ronda
Currently, working on your list of places to visit in Spain? There are three fabulous reasons why Marbella should absolutely make the list.
For one, the location is perfect. It’s nestled right between the charming beach town of Estepona, and the sand dunes of Cabopino, one of the best beaches on the coast.
Secondly, it’s a shopper’s and a foodie’s paradise: full of fun little boutiques, innovative restaurants, and funky little cafés.
And thirdly, it’s a great place for celebrity sightings: from the Obamas to Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria, they’ve all been here and some have even settled. Marbella is by far one of the best cities in Southern Spain.
Where to stay in Marbella:
- Luxury: GRAN HOTEL GUADALPIN BANUS
- Mid-Range: VIME La Reserva de Marbella
- Budget: Senator Marbella Spa Hotel
One of the cities to visit in Spain is of course Seville. You cannot possibly boast about having been to Andalusia without visiting its capital.
This is the perfect place for those who love the big city life and to spend their day out sightseeing and learning about culture – and there’s plenty of that in Seville.
If you’ve always wanted to catch an authentic Flamenco show and learn more about the style Andalusia is known for, namely, Sevillanas here’s your chance.
It’s also a real mecca for pop-culture fans. Thanks to the city’s idyllic backdrop, TV series and movies such as Game of Thrones and Star Wars have been shot here.
Related articles: Easter in Seville – Here’s how they celebrate it
- Luxury: Barceló Sevilla Renacimiento, Sevilla
- Mid-Range: Palacio Pinello, Sevilla
- Budget: Hotel Alcántara, Sevilla
Any list of cool cities to visit in Andalusia, not including Granada, was obviously put together by someone who doesn’t have the first clue about the best cities in southern Spain.
Granada is truly one of a kinda perfect fusion of Spanish and Arab elements present not only in the city’s remarkable architecture (Alhambra, Generalife, Albayzín) but its shops and cuisine.
This is one of those dream places to go – whether you’re looking for a cultural or culinary fix, a shopping spree, or a dive into nature via the Sierra Nevada and El Negratin.
It’s also a great location from which to commence on a little road trip – heading up towards Cazorla, Jaén, and Úbeda, or down towards Malaga, Estepona and Tarifa.
Where to stay in Granada:
- Luxury: Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula, Autograph Collection
- Mid-Range: Eurostars Puerta Real
- Budget: Room Mate Leo
6. Jerez de la Frontera
A top city to visit in Spain, especially if you’re a fan of Sherry and Formula 1, is Jerez de la Frontera, just a half-hour drive from Cadiz.
We highly recommend spending a night here, so you can truly aprovechar from what this city has to offer – and trust us when we say this is one for the travel bucket list.
Why? Because here you will get a real insight into the traditional bodegas and their Sherry, as well as the art of Flamenco, the city being recognized as the Andalusian Centre of Flamenco.
If you are a fan of horses, you will also want to visit the prestigious Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian art to catch a marvelous show and come face to face with a Carthusian horse.
Related articles: Things to do in Jerez, Spain
Where to stay in Jerez:
- Luxury: Hotel Casa Palacio María Luisa, Jerez de la Frontera
- Mid-Range:Hotel Soho Boutique Jerez & Spa, Jerez de la Frontera
- Budget: Hotel Doña Blanca, Jerez de la Frontera
For many, a very particular vision pops to mind when they think of southern Spain cities: hidden courtyards and patios full of potted plants decorating the walls and floors.
If you’re a plant-nut longing to see some of the most beautiful courtyards in the best cities in southern Spain, then you can’t go wrong with starting your journey in Córdoba.
Head there in May for the Feria de Los Patios for the ultimate showcase of plant-rich patios, then spend the rest of your stay exploring the Alcazar, the Mosque-Cathedral of Malaga, and more.
And for one last kick of flowery delights, head to the old town and walk through the Calleja de las Flores – a street full of flowers, prettier than you could have ever imagined.
Where to stay in Córdoba:
- Luxury: Hospes Palacio del Bailio, Córdoba
- Mid-Range: Soho Boutique Córdoba
- Budget: Casa Turística Patio Cordobes
It’s not just that Cádiz happens to be one of the best cities in southern Spain – it’s also one of the most attractive regions of Andalusia, and its incredible light is only one of many reasons why.
The city itself, in all its historic glory, is one of the most iconic places in the south of Spain, especially when it comes to the annual carnival celebrations.
El Carnaval de Cádiz is known all over Spain – it stands at the center of this celebration, the way the city of Köln does in Germany.
The region is also extremely popular among surfers and other water sport enthusiasts with its sandy beaches, strong winds, and the Atlantic ocean.
Where to stay in Cádiz:
- Luxury: Senator Cádiz Spa Hotel
- Mid-Range: Tandem Palacio Veedor de Galeras Suites
- Budget: Extraordinario Piso Junto Playa Y En Pleno Centro
Looking for a fun city to visit? Then check out Estepona, a small little city located between San Pedro and Casares, the white mountain village famous for its views and homemade wine.
Estepona is a real beach town with great chiringuitos such as Palm Beach, and further outside of town, Sonora.
Having undergone a bit of a facelift in recent years, it is now home to some amazing street art gracing multiple-story buildings, the Orquidario, and hundreds of potted plants.
Though the city’s aesthetic is still typically Andalusian, the general vibe here is quite international, being one of many coastal tourist places that turns tourists into residents.
Where to stay in Estepona:
- Luxury: Elba Estepona Gran Hotel & Thalasso Spa
- Mid-Range: H10 Estepona Palace
- Budget: ApartaUnMomento y Disfruta
The Costa del Sol is full of lovely little towns and cities that beg to be visited for a day or two – or even a whole week.
Nerja is the kind of city you will happily spend a week holidaying in because it offers the perfect medley of vacation classics: the best beaches, a fantastic location, and lots of great restaurants.
What more could you want? How about mysterious caves? Or a big, open plaza atop the Balcon de Europa with meditative views over the Mediterranean sea? It’s all right here in Nerja.
Where to stay in Nerja:
- Luxury: La Puerta de Nerja Hostal Boutique-Adults Only, Nerja
- Mid-Range: Carmen Rooms
- Budget: Apartamentos Plaza Cavana 5, Nerja
When people discuss the Spanish pueblos de encanto, there’s one that will always come up in the conversation: Frigiliana.
Frigiliana, Spain is a typical white village in the mountains of Malaga, encompassed by the natural park Sierras de Almijara, Tejeda y Alhama.
With views of the Mediterranean sea and just a short drive from Nerja, where there are plenty of beaches to enjoy for lounging, swimming, or water sports, Frigiliana makes for a perfect holiday spot.
Related articles: 20 Best Day Trips From Malaga in 2021
Where to stay in Frigiliana:
- Luxury: Hacienda Vistamar
- Mid-Range: Hotel Rural los Caracoles, Frigiliana
- Budget: Hotel Rural Almazara, Frigiliana
Underrated Cities in Southern Spain
Chances are you will have heard of most of the cities we listed for you above. But don’t forget there are more cities in Spain to visit, some of which are rather underrated.
Here are a few gems you should definitely make the time for!
12. Villanueva de la Concepción
If you’ve been hiking El Torcal for the entire day, you’ll be happy to know that there is a nice little city awaiting you at the foot of this national park: Villanueva de la Concepción.
Here you can replenish your energies with a menu del dia or a little tapa and a cold glass of cerveza before making your way back to your hotel in the evening.
Related articles: 17 Best Hiking Trails near Malaga
Where to stay in Villanueva de la Concepción:
13. La Herradura
One of the best places to visit in Spain – especially if you’re a fan of nice beaches – is La Herradura, the shore 70km west of Malaga named after its horseshoe shape.
Plan your trip around La Virgen del Carmen – the Queen of the Sea – which sees fleets of little fisher boats lighting up the Mediterranean at night, as they carry her statue out into the sea.
Where to stay in La Herradura:
- Luxury: Beautiful House with splendid sea views
- Mid-Range: La Caleta Bay, La Herradura
- Budget: H Boutique Peña Parda, La Herradura
After exploring some of Andalusia’s fun cities to visit, take a break in Archidona where you can walk the wetlands of Las Lagunas de Archidona.
If you’re up for it, you could also take on the hike up towards el monte de los enamorados.
Related articles: 20 Best Day Trips From Malaga in 2021
Where to stay in Archidona:
- Luxury: Cortijo Sabila, Villanueva del Rosario
- Mid-Range: Cortijo Fuente de Alonso Gomez
- Budget: Escua
The Alpujarras region in the mountains of Granada is an absolute must when holidaying in Andalusia, especially during the spring and fall season, when you truly get to appreciate the environment.
This is where you’ll find Bubión, one of the three villages – the others being Capileira and Pampaneira – declared a Conjunto Historico Artistico due to their artistic, historical heritage.
Where to stay in Bubíon:
- Luxury: Puerta Bubión Apartamentos
- Mid-Range: Cortijo en Bubion “Casa Ibero”
- Budget: Apartamentos Turísticos Rural Los Tinaos
16. Priego de Córdoba
There are so many natural springs to be found around Priego de Córdoba, it has been dubbed “City of the Water”. But it could just as well have been named “City of Olives”.
As it turns out, the olive oil you’ll taste here is unlike any other oil you’ve tasted before – it has even been given its own denominational label.
For a taste of the prize-winning oil, be sure to take a bottle of Venta del Barón home as a tasty souvenir. It was named the best olive oil in the world for three consecutive years.
Related articles: Córdoba
Where to stay in Priego de Córdoba:
Without a doubt, one of the best cities in southern Spain is Cazorla – a fairytale-esque place at the foot of the Sierra de Cazorla, a magical mountain and forest environment.
This is the place you should head to if you’re in need of some time away in nature or to play GeoCaching with friends.
Where to stay in Cazorla:
- Luxury: Coto del Valle de Cazorla
- Mid-Range: Villa Turística de Cazorla
- Budget: Hotel Sierra de Cazorla & SPA 3*
If you’re headed to Granada on a weekend trip, don’t forget to make a stop in Almuñecar – especially if you want to get some beach time in before getting lost in the Alhambra.
Almuñecar is known for its lovely beaches, charming old town, and many tapas bars, so be sure to treat yourself to this beach city vibe for an afternoon.
Where to stay in Almuñecar:
What to eat in Southern Spain
Spain’s cuisine is already a thing in and of itself. When it comes to traditional Andalusia cuisine, though, every food lover out there heavy breathes.
Indeed, the combination of extraordinarily fresh ingredients, Moorish, Sephardic, and Phoenician influences, as well as the vast diversity, put Andalusian cuisine among the best in Europe.
You can’t get by holidaying in some of the best cities in southern Spain, without trying some true culinary classics including:
- Gazpacho – one of Andalucia’s most famous dish
- Berenjenas con miel
- Chipirones – Cadiz
- Salmorejo – Cordoba
- Paella, Gambas al pil-pil – Malaga
- Cazon en Adobo, Mantecadas -Seville
- Patatas a lo pobre, Ajoblanco – Granada
Map of Best Cities in Southern Spain
Short FAQ about the best Cities in Southern Spain
What is the most southern city in Spain?
The most southern city in Spain would be Tarifa. Tarifa is the ultimate surfer’s paradise on the coast of Cádiz.
When should I visit southern Spain?
There’s never really a bad time to visit southern Spain! Just keep in mind you’ll usually get some rain during the Easter season, and scorching temperatures between July and August.
Where are the white towns in Spain?
There are many white towns in Spain. In Andalusia you will find Frigiliana in the Malaga region, and Casares and Manilva near Estepona.
Hola, I’m Paulina! Together with my team, we are passionate about Southern Spain. Here we share all you need to know for great times in Southern Spain with the best places to visit, stay and, of course, the best food to eat.
Let’s dive in and explore Southern Spain’s outdoors, food and culture con pasión!