Andalucía, there is a reason it is one of the most popular regions with visitors who travel to Spain.
It has everything: beautiful beaches, some of Spain’s most picturesque towns and cities, the highest mountains on the mainland of Spain, architecture that dates back to Spain’s Moorish years, and additionally, is still a great travel bargain.
But because of all of this, Andalucía has a dark side. It has become too popular.
Tourists flock to there on follow-the-flag like tours. And therefore it can be hard to escape the crowds and hordes of tourists who are only spending a few hours in each city.
But with a little creativity and a little planning (and perhaps some help from me), you can live that sweet Andaluz dream without bumping into (too many of) these cookie-cutter tour packages.
Here are some of the tips I often give my clients who are planning trips to this region:
1. Buy your Alhambra ticket for the earliest entry time
I’ve been to the Alhambra well over a dozen times. That is what happens when you live in Granada. And that is where I still always take visiting family and friends. The Alhambra is a treasure. A beautiful Moorish fairy tale palace with tile work and intricate carvings for days. That right there makes it incredibly popular with visitors, making it one of Spain’s “must-dos.” It is no real secret that you need to buy your tickets for this months in advance, especially during high season. But in this case not only do the early ticket buyers get the prize, but the early risers do too.
The Alhambra is least crowded during the mid-week and at the first entry time (8:30am) to the Nazrid Palaces. I’ve dragged many of my friends and family up that hill before sunrise (don’t worry, there’s a bus too if you do not feel like walking in the dark and the cold), and usually, they grumble along the way. But when we enter the Nazrid Palaces and see how few people are there yet, and how we can get photographs without anyone in the frame, they quickly admit that the pain was worth it. Not to mention that the morning light makes for a beautiful time at the Alhambra. So don’t drink too many cañas or glasses of wine the night before, and make your Granada plans around an early morning Alhambra visit.
Another of my favorite Alhambra tips and tricks is to also consider a night visit. If your itinerary will allow for time to go twice: once during the day and once at night, you will see the Alhambra in two very different ways. The ambiance in the Nazrid Palaces is fantastic at night, under the Granada stars.
2. Consider visiting some lesser known towns in Andalucia
Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla… those are the region’s showpieces. And again, with good reason. These cities are not only historic and beautiful, but they have so much to see and do. And while I absolute recommend visiting them, I also recommend not limiting yourself to them. Andalucia has many other towns off-the-beaten-path. Towns that the day trips don’t go to. Towns that are so picturesque and so purely Spanish and Andaluz that they will give you a glimpse into the real Spain, away from the packaged tour groups.
I don’t want to give away all of the secrets here (but am happy to if we work together to plan your trip to Spain), but some of my favorites are Úbeda and Baeza, both in the lesser trodden province of Jaén, Jerez de la Frontera for sherry tastings, and Orgiva, a beautiful little town tucked away in Granada’s Alpujarra. There are so many more, and so many that are not even on the map!
3. Avoid the Costa del Sol during the summer months
Planning on visiting Estepona in August? So is half the population of Spain as well as most of Northern Europe. There are certainly smaller coastal towns that I like a lot but in May, September, and October. The more popular beach towns in the summer are so overrun with visitors that it is nearly impossible to enjoy a peaceful day by the sea. Plus the prices are jacked up so high.
And forget about speaking Spanish or eating any of Spain’s best cuisine in these parts. Here it’s all English (or German, or Swedish, or Norwegian) and fish and chips. Spain has some beautiful beaches, no doubt, but the Costa del Sol during August is best avoided.
4. Rent a car to get off the beaten path
I’ve talked a lot about how wonderful it is to get off the beaten path in Spain. The issue is, many of Spain’s most charming towns are not accessible by public transportation. Or if they are, the bus schedule is infrequent and you are at the mercy of that. An Andaluz road trip is dreamy. Most of the roads are well maintained, and driving in Spain is a breeze. While petrol is not cheap, renting a car is. I do love a good road trip with friends to split the costs, but even as a solo traveler, having a car for a few days is affordable.
I know how I just advised avoiding most of the Costa del Sol during the summer. But with a car, it is still possible to find uncrowded little places. I’m not going to publicize those, though (but of course I will tell you if I build an itinerary for you), so it’s up to you to road trip away and find your secret coastal spots.
PS- Make sure you have an international drivers license. While the rental companies will rent a car to you with a valid non-Spain issued license, if the police pull you over, you can run into trouble without an international license.
5. Cover less ground
Andalucía is huge, it is Spain’s largest autonomous region. That means that getting around takes time. Sure you can rush your way through the “highlights” in a week, but you’d be spending more time on the bus, train, or in the car than actually seeing much of anything. Keeping in mind too that Spanish culture tends to be a bit more relaxed than many cultures. Therefore, if you’re rushing around to try to squeeze in as much as possible, you are not truly experiencing the Spanish way of life.
If you only have a week focus on one to two places maximum. To get off the beaten path a little, even with limited time, consider renting a car for a day trip out of one of your base cites. Moving around too much takes way too much time. Andalucía occupies nearly 35000 square miles. Getting from one end to another is not a short journey. Remember that less is more and that you are coming to Spain to actually see Spain.
If you follow my advice, I can just about promise an amazing time in Andalucía.
Want more insider tips? Looking for a handcrafted itinerary to Andalcía (or anywhere in Spain) that correctly takes your timeframe as well as budget and preferences into account? I can help! Simply fill out this form to get started or reach out to me through my contact form.
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.