If you close your eyes and think of Spain, you probably see flamenco dancers, wandering cobbled stone streets in search of a tapas joint that catches your eye, secluded beaches, warm weather, etc. essentially what you are picturing is southern Spain.
The south of Spain is in a way the soul of the country. It is home to a great number of the country’s most magical sites: the Grand Mosque of Córdoba, the Alhambra of Granada, Doñana national park … the list goes on and on. It is also the birthplace of bullfighting, flamenco, and tapas, and if we include Valencia in the region paella as well. And if all this weren’t enough, you also have the Mediterranean coast of Spain, to enjoy, with its golden sand and clear warm water.
It’s hard to define exactly what constitutes the imaginary region of “southern Spain” but in our case, we are including the regions of Extremadura, Andalucía, Murcía, and Valencia, maybe even some southern bits of Castilla la Mancha.
What follows is an introduction to this huge area in Spain. This post is useful as a first guide to draft your travel plan in southern Spain. You will find more detailed recommendations and information in each of our city or attraction guides. We hope you enjoy your travel planning!
One of the defining characteristics of Southern Spain is the lasting and evident influence of the Moorish occupation. The cuisine, the architecture, the culture, the traditions, everything still carries a “Moorish” tinge.
Another giant influence on the region is the weather. It can get sweltering hot in the south of Spain in the summer months and the pace of daily life is greatly affected by this fact: late dinners, towns shutting down after lunch, the famous siesta, etc. but it also affects the general vibe. It is hard to describe but everything feels more intense and sensual in southern Spain, especially in summer.
Within this made up the region of southern Spain, Andaluía is perhaps the most well-known portion. Andalucía is home to major touristic cities like Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Ronda, Cádiz, and Málaga. Here is where the Moorish influence is most evident, it’s almost in the air. The Mezquita of Córdoba, The Alhambra of Granada, the Giralda of Seville, are all relics from this bygone era in the history of Spain.
Valencia has a unique blend of typically southern Spain vibes with a dollop of Catalonian influence. In Valencia, you will find things like the Fallas, which feel very Andalusian, and also things like the City of Arts and sciences which feels much more like Barcelona. Valencia is also the birthplace of Paella and the site of the Tomatina (the tomato war held in Buñol).
Extremadura is a region comprised by two provinces: Cáceres and Badajoz. Cáceres is also the name of the main city of the Province. Cáceres is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, similar in some ways to Toledo. The province of Badajoz is home to Mérida, the site of one of the most impressive Roman ruins sites in Spain, and Trujillo, a charming little town from where many of the famous Spanish explorers were born. Extremeño cuisine is also very well known because of the quality and deliciousness of the meat from the region. The best Iberico ham in the country is from Extremadura, and that’s saying something.
Múrcia is the most typically overlooked of the region we are going to cover, which the people of Múrcia appreciate. Múrcia is also the name of the capital of the region. The historic city center of the city of Murcia is gorgeous and features some of the most amazing tapas places you will ever experience. Murcia also has some of the best beaches in the country, in particular, the Mar Menor features some of the most tropical-feeling beaches on the peninsula. But Murcia is quite happy to remain a secret.
Southern Spain enjoys a surprising variety of climates:
This is obviously the predominant climate of the southern coasts of Spain and on the Mediterranean coast. Some large cities such as Mallorca, Valencia, or Barcelona also have this climate.
Its winters are mild and its summers hot. Average annual temperatures are usually between 16 and 18 degrees. In summers they can shoot up to 35 degrees and in places like Seville they can even get up into the 40s. This climate has little and irregular rainfall.
These weather patterns are typical climate of the high country areas above 1000/1200 m. This climate is found in The Picos de Europa, the Pyrenees, and Sierra Nevada, a mountainous region in Granada. In these areas, the temperatures range from cold or very cold and get milder in the summer. In the winter months, temperatures hover around zero degrees, and in summer temperatures usually do not exceed 20 degrees, and precipitations are abundant.
Yes, there is subtropical weather in southern Spain. This climate can be found in Malaga, Granada, and Almería. It is characterized by warm temperatures throughout the year. Temperatures rarely dip below 15 degrees. Summers tend to have very high temperatures, above 25 degrees, and rain is usually scarce.
If you haven’t chosen one city in which to spend your vacation and your looking for the best way of exploring the southernmost region of Spain, your best option is probably starting in Seville and making your way through the region.
First off, fly into Madrid. From there you can catch an AVE (Spain’s high-speed train) in be in Seville in under 3 hours. Seville is an amazing city and is worth spending a couple of days exploring. Seville is also the capital of Andalucia and is therefore very well connected to the other major cities of the south. From Seville, you can take the AVE to Cádiz, Córdoga, Granada, and Málaga.
If you want to check out Valencia from Seville, which is a bit further away, Seville also has an airport that will get you there in no time, or you can always just rent a car and get ready for the road trip of a lifetime.
Seville is the capital of Andalusia and its largest city. Seville is a busy city with a long storied history. It is situated in the fertile valley of the Guadalquivir river, which curves past the city and is navigable for some 56 miles down to its mouth at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in the province of Cádiz. It is famous for the amazing relics left behind from the Al-Andalus era, its many colorful festivals, and the bubbling nightlife.
Granada is magical, simply put. Few places in Spain are as beautiful and enjoy the same architectural splendour. The entire city has been declared a national monument. Granada is located at the of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, creating a spectacular and impressive backdrop.
It is also the capital of the province and is divided by Darro the river which runs underground through the city center. On the one bank, we find the Albaicin, the city’s oldest quarter; and on the other, the imposing Alhambra.
Córdoba, home of the famous Mezquita, is located at the foot of the Sierra de Córdoba mountain range, on the North bank of a sharp bend in the Guadalquivir river.
The city still maintains a very strong Moorish character, it is one of the most interesting cities not only in the region of Andalusia, but in all of Spain.
Valencia is the capital of the province of the same name and the third-largest city in Spain is situated on the Turia river. Valencia is a university town, filled with culture. It is also home to the famous city of the arts and sciences, the site of the Fallas festival and the birthplace of Paella. It has a lot going for it. Valencia is also very interesting because of the melding of
Catalonian and Andalusian culture in the same place, creating a unique “Valenciano” vibe.
Cáceres is the capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura in southwestern Spain. Cáceres, similar to Toledo or Segovia is famous because of its historic city center. The historic city center is a series of old medieval ruins city and inevitably transports you back in time. Cáceres’ city center is so spectacular and well preserved in fact that it was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.
Alhambra of Granada: Located on the Sabika hill, the Alhambra is a Moorish palatial complex. Al-hambra means “the Red Castle” because of the redness of its exterior walls. The complex consists of a palace, citadel, and fortress. It was home to the Nazaries Sultans, high ranked public servants, court jesters, and high ranked soldiers until the mid-XIV century
The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of Spanish culture. The Alhambra attracts a whooping two million visitors per year.
The Great Cordoba Mosque is one of Spain´s most important landmarks, and one of the most unique places in the world. It is a spectacular and fascinating piece of Muslim art that was created over several eras of the Moorish occupation of the Peninsula. The Cordoba Mosque was named a UNESCO World heritage building in 1984. It was the principal mosque of western Islam and is the largest and most beautiful mosque.
Doñana National Park. Andalusia has some truly breathtaking natural gems, none more spectacular however than the Doñana national park. This unique national park is located mainly in the province of Huelva, though parts spill over into Cádiz and Seville as well. Doñana is one of Spain’s 15 national parks and one of the most unique natural environments in the world. The park spans over 543 square kilometers and contains several different and distinct ecosystems within. Marshes, streams, sand dunes, Mediterranean forest, all can be found within the same park.
The City of arts of Valencia is a large complex dedicated, as the name indicates to the arts and sciences. It features several ultra-modern buildings and structures, each specializing in something different: performing arts, botany, marine biology, etc. It was built on what was once the riverbed of the Turia River which was drained and rerouted after a catastrophic flood in 1957. Perhaps the most famous part of the City of Arts is the breathtaking aquarium housed within the l’Oceanografic building.