Holiday Travel: Andalusia, Spain
Arts & Culture
November and December are, around the world, a time of celebration, tradition and gathering. When is the right time to book your winter holiday trip? The earlier, the better. And before you ask, yes, places do remain open in these colder months! My recommendation for this year’s holiday destination is Andalusia, Spain! The Andalusia region of Spain is a gorgeous option if you’re looking to get away for the holidays. Not only does it offer stunning countryside views and marvelous architecture, but Spain is also boasting free train transport for the remainder of 2023! There is no time like the present to make your dreams of sipping cava in a whitewashed restaurants on a cobblestone street into a reality! Below I’ll dive into a few of my favorite experiences from my winter holiday trip to Spain!
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Things to do in Andalusia, Spain
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of See began in the 12th century as a mosque. The cathedral as it stands today was constructed atop and around the existing mosque structure in 1248, and boasts the longest nave of any Cathedral in Spain. Where the famous Giralda Tower sits was once the minaret tower of the old mosque. The tower was built atop the existing foundation of the minaret, and you can still see where the minaret foundation ends and the medieval era and then renaissance era portions of the tower begin. If you’re able, I recommend the hike up the tower to see views of Seville and the Cathedral from a completely unique perspective. Of the medieval towers I’ve climbed in my travels, I can honestly say that the Giralda is the least claustrophobia-inducing, especially because I was there during the sparsely crowded off-season. You can visit the cathedral from 11am - 7pm, Monday through Friday, and 2:30pm - 7pm on Sundays. I recommend buying tickets online.
The Royal Alcazar is, to this day, the official residence of the Spanish crown in the Andalusian capital of Seville. Upon visiting the Palace, the considerable influences from across the centuries and cultures that have had a hand in the area's history will amaze you. The Alcazar includes six enchanting courtyards and numerous gardens. Centuries of extensions have built the Palace up to now, consisting of six individual palaces, some of which you may recognize from the Game of Thrones tv series! I especially love the Grotto Gallery, which has a 12th century military defense origin, but was renovated for enjoyment of the gardens in the 16th century; you can walk all along the second story of the gallery for spectacular views of the gardens and palaces. For me, the architectural style is reminiscent of a fairy tale mermaid castle (reason enough to visit the magical complex of palaces and gardens). You can visit the Royal Alcazar de Seville daily from 9:30am - 5pm, and general admission is €13.50; tickets can be bought in advance online! If you would prefer a guided tour of the extensive grounds and palaces, you can book a group tour with an art historian through an advisor! The Royal Alcazar is truly one of the most enchanting sights in Seville and certainly worth a visit.
If you’re searching for views of the Guadalquivir river and Seville, then an excursion up the Torre del Oro will not disappoint! The tower’s origins date back to the 13th century as a prison and watchtower, but you’ll now find a maritime museum including numerous artifacts from Spain’s Golden Age of Exploration and naval significance to enjoy. The museum is open for visits Monday through Friday 9:30am - 6:45pm and weekends 10:30am - 6:45pm. General admission to the tower and museum is €3, discounted to €1.50 for students, children under 14 and seniors.
Plaza de España
Plaza de Espana, an extension of the beautiful Maria Luisa Park, was built in 1929 in Renaissance style. The goal of the project was to symbolize peace with Spain’s colonies. Spain’s 52 provinces are represented throughout the square with benches and azulejo mosaics. The Plaza and park are fantastic places to find flamenco dancers representing their culture through this artistic display of dance. The square is open all day and is free to enjoy. I recommend visiting early in the morning or during sunset to experience the unique tile in the morning or evening sun.
Take a cooking class
One of my favorite experiences in Seville was a paella cooking class! We participated in this cultural and culinary adventure on Thanksgiving and boy was it the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had (sorry mom). A cooking class is a great way to get familiar with the culture of wherever you are visiting. Gastronomy is representative and influenced by the historical and physical landscape of a place. Especially if you are a solo traveler from the United States and find yourself alone for Thanksgiving, a cooking class may be the perfect way to celebrate this American holiday! My fantastic class in Spain was guided by Taller Andaluz de Cocina and offered gluten-free and vegetarian options!
Christmas Lights & Markets
From late November to early January every year, an eruption of light transforms Seville. During November, more than 250 streets are strung up with unique light motifs that are lit during a celebration on the last Friday of November. During this jubilee you can also enjoy concerts and Christmas markets among the light shows.
Castillo de Gibralfaro & Alcazaba
Crowning Mount Gibralfaro, the Castillo de Gibralfo has stood since the 14th century, built as an additional defense to the older Alcazaba (citadel) on the mountain. The Arab influence in Southern Spain is especially apparent in the Alcazaba, where sumptuous archways and gardens can be found all throughout the old citadel. The hike up to these magnificent monuments offers dazzling views of Malaga and the Alboran Sea. In these cooler months, citrus trees have burst into full production and offer sweet smelling blooms or brightly colored fruits. At the base of Gibralfo there is also a Roman theater - free to visit! The monuments are open daily from 9am - 6pm and combined general admission is €5.50, discounted to €2.50 for students and seniors.
The heart of Malaga is the Catedral de la Encarnación. Built in Renaissance style between the 16th and 18th centuries, the massive cathedral is home to splendid stained glass, colorful organs, intricate columns and tremendous doors. The Cathedral offers rooftop tours where you can admire the ornate facade, stained glass, and one and only bell tower. While the Cathedral was originally designed for two bell towers, only one was completed. The story goes that funds for the second tower were donated to support the American Revolution. The Cathedral is open for visits Monday through Friday 10am - 7pm, Saturdays 10am - 6pm, and Sundays 2pm - 6pm. If you would like to conquer the rooftop, then you can book tickets for tours every hour from 11am - 6pm Monday through Saturday or 4pm - 6pm Sundays.
Plaza de la Constitución
Similar to Seville, Malaga offers gorgeous Christmas lights throughout the old town, also starting the last Friday of November. The epicenter of these celebrations is the Plaza de la Constitución. Nightly singing, dancing, and all-around partying happens every night on the plaza starting at 6:30pm and ending at midnight!
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Charming Provincial Towns that May Not Be On Your Radar (Yet!).
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Spain.