OK. I’m warning you. This post is REALLY long. I just have toooo many pictures to show you!!!
I know you’ll probably be a little overwhelmed by pictures and random information and my emotional descriptions, but if you’re not planning on visiting, I think you can just go straight for the pictures. I will totally forgive you for that. If you are planning on going though, I think it’s worth reading. I have lots of inspiring pictures and tips for the future traveler!
So last year at around this time of the year (early September), hubs and I took a trip to the South of Spain. My husband’s amazing co-workers had pretty much mapped out exactly where they thought we should go, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I added a couple of things to our trip itinerary that I really wanted to see, but it was pretty perfect otherwise.
As you can see, this was a short and jam-packed trip – 4 cities (Seville, Cordoba, Granada & Ronda) in 6 days! In hindsight, I’d say another day would’ve been nice, but we were so excited about being there that we had a ton of energy to explore at all hours of the day!
Day 1 – Land in Seville
Day 2 – Seville
- Visit Alcazar
Day 3 – Visit Cordoba (day trip) by train from Seville.
- Cathedral of Cordoba/Mezquita
- Roman Bridge with views of Mezquita
Day 4 – Drive to Granada in the morning, passing through Cordoba
- Stop at Madinat Al Zahra (outside of Cordoba) on the way to Granada
- Tour of Nasrid Palace in the Al Hambra @ 10:30 PM, Granada
Day 5 – Spend the morning in Granada and drive to Ronda via coastline
- Tour of Al Hambra @ 8:30 AM through the Justice Gates to avoid crowds, Granada
- Tour of Nasrid Palace @ 1:30 PM, Granada
- Drive to Ronda via coastline
Day 6 – Drive back to Seville in the afternoon and fly out!
- Visit Puente Nuevo, Ronda
FYI – We are huge fans of TripAdvisor and get most of our hotel, restaurant and attractions recommendations from there.
We rented a car when we were ready to leave Seville (on Day 4), which was a brilliant decision – driving was super easy and convenient – and this is kind of a rough sketch of the route that we took. We pretty much used Google Maps to map out most of our drive, and we had a Nav system in our car that we used as a back up. We had a cell phone plan from England that also worked in Spain. It was so worth investing in (and cheap!) so try to get a SIM card once you land in Europe!
IMPORTANT NOTE: We took the long way to Granada from Cordoba because of construction at the time. I think that the N-432 is now construction-free so you can take that instead!
This particular route to Ronda from Granada (below) was originally a mistake… but an incredibly awesome mistake. We had planned on taking a highway up to Ronda from Malaga, but realized a little too late that we overshot our drive. We decided to take a highway up from Marbella instead, and it was by far the best decision we made all trip long. It was the most BEAUTIFUL drive I’ve ever been on. We were on top of mountains with the most stunning views of the sea. I highly recommend taking this route and/or making this very same mistake!
My Travel Essentials & Tips
- BUY YOUR TICKETS FOR TOURIST ATTRACTIONS A MONTH OR TWO BEFORE YOU GO. I can’t stress this enough. I bought mine a couple of months in advance because I was so worried about not getting to visit some of these places during our short trip. Tickets to some of these places sell out fast! It’s also SO much easier to plan your trip and you won’t get stuck in any lines if you buy them before. The only place we didn’t buy tickets for was the Alcazar in Seville, and that’s because it was low season and it wasn’t totally necessary.
- Check timings and opening days of the sites you want to visit well in advance. Some of these places close on random weekdays, so that they can stay open for weekend traffic. CHECK the schedules online!
You will definitely need…
- A SIM card. So much easier than trying to find Wifi. It’s also a great excuse to IG and Snap everything you see too!
- Good walking shoes. I walked my TOMS to death.
- A comfortable purse or backpack if you have quite a bit of gear. I used this beauty backpack instead of a purse while walking around with my heavy-duty camera. So much better than putting all of the weight on one shoulder…
- Sunnies, a hat and sunscreen especially if you go in the summer. It’s HOT during the summer. Hotter than I expected and I live in Saudi Arabia… Be prepared.
Cities & Attractions
I really wanted to see Spain’s Islamic history. The idea that I could see well-preserved Islamic architecture in a European context was so intriguing. I mean, I’ve seen Istanbul’s mosques and architecture as well, but this empire was built by the North African Muslims. A whole new ball game.
This trip was a ridiculous stimulation of my decorating senses. The architecture of every Cathedral and Palace was beyond stunning. It was inspiring to see how much these Caliph’s cared for the little details, and how focused they were on creating beauty in and outside their residences. I think we could learn a thing or two from them…
I was also obsessed with the Spanish culture of eating, resting and taking your time to soak it all in. I loved seeing people hang out at restaurants for hours, enjoying and appreciating every single minute of their time. Totally my kind of life.
Anyways, since I enjoyed this trip so much and was clearly so impacted by it (I’m very emotional about it), I wanted to share details and pictures. I still love looking back at them, and I really think that they will inspire you too.
If you haven’t been, I seriously recommend going. Now.
So the rest of this post will be full of pictures and a few details here and there for the people who want to visit. I can’t do justice to these places by trying to describe them all, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
We spent most of our time in Seville, and mostly because we were told that it was easier to take a day trip to Cordoba by train. I think there were definite pros to this, and it also helped us get excited about the rest of our trip.
Alcazar of Seville
We visited the Alcazar of Seville, a gorgeous royal palace and a UNESCO World Heritage site, on our first day there. While the architecture in this building is quite similar to what you would see in the Al Hambra in Granada as well, this place is SO much nicer to visit. It’s not as crowded, and you can truly appreciate the beauty of this palace in peace and quiet.
One thing I loved about all of the historical sites in Southern Spain was that there was no clear distinction between indoor and outdoor living. Gardens and fountains were as much a part of the inside of your home as they were on the outside.
You can see from the pictures that the indoor spaces echo some of the very same features you have in the garden. So pretty!
Honestly, I’m torn about whether this was a good day trip or not.
I think that if you’re driving, and plan on visiting just the Cathedral, then staying in Cordoba is not necessary. I really wanted to see Madinat Al Zahra, which is a few miles outside of the city, so it might have been better for us to spend the night there so that we could spend a day at the Cathedral and the next day at Madinat Al Zahra. It was convenient either way though!
Cathedral of Cordoba/Mezquita
The architecture inside and outside this Cathedral is amazing. I seriously have no words to describe it.
Cathedral… mosque… say whaaa? I loved seeing how both spaces for different faiths coexist in one building. Incredibly inspiring at times like these actually…
This is what all the streets looked like in Cordoba… Yeah. Amazing. Besides looking so quaint, they also sell a lot of small items for tourists, and being the tourist that I am, I picked up some pretty doorknobs for my home.
On our way to Granada, we decided to take a detour through Cordoba to see Madinat Al-Zahra.
Not many people have heard of this historical site, and that’s probably because it’s currently not really much to look at. It was built by the Caliph of Cordoba, Abd-ar-Rahman, starting in 936. He wanted it to not only be a palace, but also the hub for administration and government for the empire.
Unfortunately, like I said, it’s not really much to look at right now, but it looks like they’re trying to restore various parts of it. The museum, that sits at the base of the site, is not only a beautiful building, but also provides resources on the history of the site. I highly recommend stopping by the museum and watching the video that they play at their theater before visiting the site.
I’ve learned since that the architects who built this museum, Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, designed this building so that it would sit below ground so as to not obstruct the views of Madinat Al-Zahra. It’s essentially an underground museum!
We decided to act as an archaeologist would: not building the new structure, but finding it below ground, as if the passage of time had been concealed all this time. (Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos)
However, it was sad to see that so much of the detailing on these arches had disappeared over time.
Before we took our trip, I had read a lot of reviews that recommended that one visit the Nasrid Palace in the Al Hambra at night AND in the morning. I highly recommend doing this as well – it was beautiful at both times of the day, but pretty magical at night.
I also suggest taking the last tour of the Nasrid Palace in the PM. I was able to get some very nice pictures with no one in them for that reason. I made sure I was at the back of that pack!
The court of the lions was probably my favorite part of the tour, and a definite must-see.
And then in the morning! So worth visiting both times, right?
And then here is the court of lions in the morning as well…
And then there were the gardens…
This was the last city on our trip, and I definitely wouldn’t change that. Ronda is more of a relaxation spot, and the drive there was just stunning!
These were the views from our “wrong route.”
And then this was the view from our hotel… Which, by the way, was beautifully styled as well.
What our dining experience was like at our hotel…
I mean this place was remote enough that I was able to take this shot at night with a tripod and 30 second exposure…
Yep. That’s the Milky Way…
And then the next day, I hiked down a cliff so that I could see this…
I know… I’m telling you. I have run out of words to describe these places.
And then on our way out of Ronda to Seville, we drove by this gorgeousness…
OK. I’m done! I’m done!
See – now wasn’t that worth it?