3 Days in Andalucía
Andalucía - what a place. Having started learning Spanish at the age of 11 and having fallen completely in love with the language and culture by 15, it was somewhere I'd wanted to visit for such a long time and when I finally got the chance to go in 2017 to visit a friend who was there on her year abroad, it did not disappoint. I was only able to spend 3 full days there but in that time, I experienced a magical taste of la buena vida and Spain's rich culture (which is really prominent within the region of Andalucía), as well as some fantastic food.
In terms of practicalities, I was staying with Zoë in Huelva and so had no accommodation costs, but if you're looking to stay in one of the big cities like Seville, there are options available to suit any budget from hostels to high-end hotels. Travel-wise, I flew from London Stansted to Seville (about £100 for a return, though this was late October/early November and pre-Covid) and then took a coach from there to Huelva (<20€) which took about an hour. If you're looking to go to Huelva then you can also fly into somewhere like Faro in Portugal, as this is also only a 1.5-hour journey by bus.
Huelva is perfect for anyone who wants to avoid the tourist scene in Spain, especially if you have some Spanish-speaking skills that you're keen to practice. In terms of things to do, there's actually not a lot but it's a beautiful place to wander around, sit with a coffee and read on the Plaza de las Monjas: an introvert's paradise! It's pretty quiet, which I loved - I went during my reading week during the first term of my second year at uni, at which point I was already feeling pretty overwhelmed, so it was exactly what I needed. The food was also amazing - churros and chocolate, tapas, helados (ice creams), and some thoroughly decent coffee: it was Spanish food heaven, and because Huelva doesn't get many tourists at all (there's literally a total of one shop that sells postcards), you know it's what the locals will be eating too!
The Huelva Museum and Gallery is also worth a wander around if you're interested, which houses some fascinating artefacts from Spain's Roman period among others, as well as both some contemporary and more traditional fine art. It's free to go inside and makes for a pretty relaxed morning or afternoon, especially if you need a bit of space, plus it's only a 5-minute walk from central Huelva so if you need to round off the trip with a coffee, then you're sorted.
One of my absolute highlights, however, was our trip to Punta Umbría, about a 1/2-hour trip from Huelva on the Costa de la Luz. The beach is everything you want it to be: quiet, littered with nothing but seashells, and the sunset we caught was one of the most breathtaking I've ever seen, hands down: this is one you absolutely should not miss out on. It's very accessible by bus: there's one that goes from Huelva bus station about once every hour, and the beach is only about 15 minutes walk from where the bus stops.
Seville is an astounding city. It's colourful and rich in history and culture, and you probably won't want to leave! We only had one day there which isn't enough time to do everything, but it was certainly enough time to know that I definitely need to go back as soon as I get the chance.
The Real Alcázar
Andalucía has some incredible Islamic architecture on offer, a prime example of which is the Real Alcázar. It's a beautiful place to be, even in autumn and winter. The gardens are amazingly extensive and have some beautiful water features and an amazing array of tropical plants within the high walls that will make you feel like you're in paradise, even when not everything is in bloom. The fact that it's still in use as a royal residence makes it the oldest functioning royal home in Europe; there's actually been a fort on the site since 913 AD then over the centuries it was developed into a palace, most notably with the addition of the Palacio de Don Pedro in the 14th century. The Alcázar has been used in various films and television series, most famously acting as the setting for Dorne in Game of Thrones.
The building is beautifully colourful and open, with some gorgeous examples of typical patterned tiles in several places, as well as multiple enclosed courtyards and water features which give it that unmatched exotic feel. There are audio guides and guided tours available for a small extra fee, but we decided to do it without. I don’t think our experience was at all negatively affected by that at all, though given how big the site is, it’s probably a good idea to get a map if you don’t have a guide. Entrance tickets include access to all of the open areas of the building and all of the gardens, where you can keep a lookout for the famous peacocks!
Plaza de España
One of Seville's other main attractions is the Plaza de España. Constructed in the early 20th century, it was originally built to showcase a group of industry and technology exhibitions as part of the 1929 World’s Fair, and has since been used as a location for several films, including Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Around the edge, there are stunning mosaic alcoves depicting each individual province of Spain, and gorgeously-patterned bridges (representing the historic kingdoms of Spain) over the water that encircles the main part of the plaza, which you can even take a boat out on. The buildings are now used by the government, but there are also museums that contain artefacts from the city’s archaeological collection, including Roman mosaics.
It's an absolutely stunning construction to look at. It’s vibrant and colourful and walking around it, you constantly notice more and more of the details. If you want to see it all from a slightly different angle, as well as the aforementioned possibility of a boat ride, you can also take a horse-drawn carriage past it and around the next-door Parque de Maria Luisa. You might even see flamenco musicians and dancers performing - a fairly frequent sight on the Plaza de España.
El Museo del Baile Flamenco
A flamenco show is pretty much essential when in Andalucía, and El Museo del Baile Flamenco is an excellent place to start. As well as watching a show, you could also book a museum tour, check out their bar, or even take a class yourself! The show was absolutely fantastic, and both of us just loved it - the dancers and musicians are so talented. My top tip would be to get there in plenty of time to get good seats as it can be a little crowded (shows often sell out).
Tips for visiting Andalucía
Go outside of the summer months. Aside from the fact that summer in Andalucía can reach some crazily high temperatures, it’s actually just as beautiful at other times of the year. We were there in late October/early November, and it was still 25°C and glorious sunshine! This also helps to combat over-tourism which is a real issue in many Spanish cities, especially during the summer.
Take time to wander around and admire everything. Walk between your activities instead of taking public transport or a taxi if you can – especially if you only have a day it will help you get to know the place you're visiting much better, and you may even stumble across something you didn’t expect to!
Take a reusable water bottle with you as it can get pretty hot, even in the winter months.
Try to learn a bit of Spanish. Obviously, it's respectful anyway wherever you're going to learn a bit of the language, but as much as many Spaniards will probably speak English, this won't necessarily be the case if you're heading outside of the more touristy areas.
If I were to go back I would...
Spend a lot more time in Seville. Our 1 day was amazing but definitely not enough!
Go to the Alhambra. Like Islamic architecture? Sure, the Alcázar de Sevilla is amazing but there's no denying that the Alhambra is the absolute pinnacle of it all.
Visit the Gran Mezquita de Córdoba. Córdoba is home to the Great Mosque but one with a twist: there's also a Christian cathedral inside! It's one of Spain's most iconic landmarks and holds so much fascinating history within its walls.
Wander the white-washed streets of Ronda. Sounds pretty idyllic, plus they have an impressive bridge over El Tajo gorge and the famous Baños Árabes: the (mostly intact) ruins of Ronda's 13th-century Arab Baths.
Explore the Phoenician ruins of Gadir in Cádiz.
Try locally-made wines in the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez is famously a principal producer of Spanish sherry and is also a centre for culture, including Andalucían horses and flamenco.
3 days in Andalucía were definitely not enough, but they've certainly acted as an amazing source of inspiration for my future trips, and hopefully for yours too. Happy travelling, amigos!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas. None of the links in this post are affiliate links or part of paid advertisements.
Huge thanks again to the lovely Zoë for putting me up and being my adventure buddy- you're such a blessing my pal.