Are you planning to visit Southern Spain? The chances are that you’ve already seen all the highlights it has to offer, and now you’re in for a bit more authentic Southern Spain itinerary that will allow you discover more of the hidden gems largely untouched by mass tourism.
If that’s the case, you’re in the right place! I’ve been living on Costa del Sol for over three years now and made it my mission to discover everything it has to offer, including more of those lesser known destinations and local gems.
In this article, I will offer a very simple itinerary that will allow you to explore some of these local gems on three different trip lengths – 7 days, 5 days and 3 days. Below the overview for each itinerary, followed by more details on each of the towns and places.
Read below the suggestions from our guest writer, Lucia, a Slovak expat living in the region.
Southern Spain Itineraries: Off the Beaten Path Tips
Before we get into the off the beaten path tips, let’s just established what are the absolute highlights of Andalusia that should not be missed.
In my opinion, they are these:
- The Alhambra in Granada, with Generalife Gardens and the Granada Cathedral
- The Mezequita Cathedral in Cordoba, with Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos
- Castillo Gibralfaro, Alcazaba and the Picasso Museum in Malaga
- The Royal Alcazar, Cathedral and Giralda Tower in Seville (among many other things)
- Puente Nuevo and the Bull Ring in Ronda
Granada, Seville and Cordoba are often called the Andalusian triangle, as they are the most important historical cities in Southern Spain. They are also relatively close to each other, so you can do them all within one 3 to 5 day trip.
But let’s get into the more interesting stuff.
Here are my top picks for lesser known destinations that are well worth visiting (some of them you may be already familiar with).
Itinerary for 7 Days
- Alhama de Granada
- Setenil de las Bodegas
Itinerary for 5 Days
- Alhama de Granada
- Setenil de las Bodegas
Itinerary for 3 Days
- Alhama de Granada
Southern Spain Itineraries: What to See
Nerja is a unique spot on Costa del Sol as it provides a completely different backdrop to what you expect. All in one place, you get pristine natural looking beaches hugged by the mountainous range right behind it, and framed by steep rocks on the side.
Nerja is known for its observation deck called the Balcony of Europe, but also for the stunning caves located just on the edge of the town.
Nerja still has an old town where you can wander and find restaurants with superb views of the coastline. If you want to have a bit more active trip, there are lots of beautiful hiking routes available in the area, and its also known for a variety of water sports you can do in here.
Nerja is also very close to Malaga and its international airport, so it might be the perfect starting point for your exploration of Southern Spain.
Get a taste of Pueblo Blanco (white village) in this picturesque hillside village above the town of Nerja (about 15 mins drive from Nerja).
Frigilliana was declared the prettiest white village in Andalusia for a number of years, and the local residents take great pride in maintaining the pristine streets and character of the town.
The old part of Frigiliana stretches up in the hills and it is a maze of white washed homes with cobblestone roads, pretty painted windows and doors, and beautifully decorated with plants everywhere you look.
If that’s not enough to draw you in, it also has some of the most spectacular views of the coastline I’ve seen.
While Frigiliana is getting more and more popular every year, you won’t find as huge crowds here as you would expect in the bigger cities in Andalusia.
To explore the town in the summer, I highly recommend getting there early in the morning so you don’t climb the hills in the village in the scorching sun.
Almuñécar is a coastal town in the municipality of Granada, which also offers plenty of opportunities for those who like to do some hiking. Among other things, Almuñécar is known for the beautiful old castle (Castillo de San Miguel), Caves of Seven Palaces and even a botanical park.
Almuñécar is a good mix for beach holiday, combined with interesting places to see and options to explore the nature around.
Alhama de Granada
Not to be confused with Alhambra, Alhama is a small village in the Granada municipality known for the thermal baths after which it has been named.
You can take a dip in the natural baths (for free too!) and continue exploring the views by taking a hike to the Marona (the highest mountain in Malaga), with the hiking trail staring only 15km from the town.
In Alhama, you can take a stroll through the pretty streets of the old town, explore the local churches and most imporatnaly sample some tapas! All of that without huge crowds and with spectacular views to enjoy!
Setenil de las Bodegas
One of the smallest and possibly most unique places on my list – Setenil is a tiny village not far from Ronda, so if you’re making a trip there it’s worth taking a few hour stop over in Setenil.
Setenil is famous for its homes and restaurants built into a massive rock formation hanging over them, and provides a pretty spectacular way to enjoy your lunch.
As you sit under this enormous pieces of rock hanging over you, you can watch the birds that are nesting there bring food to their offsprings, and tourists passing by with awe on their faces. As you head inside the restaurants, you are basically entering a cave carved into solid rock, and can witness the passage of time engraved in the walls everywhere.
While it’s a pretty spectacular place to visit, you won’t need more than half a day to see it as the whole spectacle is concentrated on two main roads in the village.
A word of warning, the restaurants under the rocks have terraces spreading out on the main road, but surprisingly the road is still used by cars, so keep your eyes open and be careful when you’re there.
Benalmadena is one of the typical Costa del Sol resortswith cheesy tourist restaurants on the promenade, street vendors offering their goods to anyone passing by, and a bit of a bad name as tourist hotspot.
But what I would suggest is to look at what you can find around Benalmadena, and there is plenty! Just the old town in the hills, Benalmadena Pueblo, is one of the most beautiful villages and its still relatively peaceful compared to the coastal areas.
Walk to the Parque Murillo to enjoy stunning views of the coastline, or better yet, venture out to the edge of the village where you will find a huge Buddha temple with a viewing platform. Right next to it is a Butterfly Park, where you can walk amongs hundreds of butterflies and witness them hatching in their small nursery.
If you walk down from Benalmadena Pueblo, among the houses and vegetation you will find the towers of a castle peaking out. That’s the monument to honour the travels of Christopher Columbus called Castillo Colomares, which is well worth visiting.
If you fancy a change of scenery, you can go down towards the coast to take a walk through the award winning Benalmadena Marina, or take a stroll to the next door town of Torremolinos.
This may be somewhat biased addition to the list, but my current residence town deserve a little mention in here too. Fuengirola is home to a large Nordic expat community and boasts one of the longest stretches of sandy beach on Costa del Sol. The 7 km beach is lined with well maintained coastal promenade suitable for strolling, and it stretches from Sohail Castle all the way to the borders with Benalmadena.
If you’re traveling with kids, they will love a visit to the local Bioparc, which is not a typical ZOO, but feels like a lush rainforest in the middle of the city, where the animals live in much more natural environment without high fences and beautifully thought out and green surroundings. The park is part of a breeding and preservation program and has its own restaurant with a huge plagyround attached to it.
If you’re looking to spend at least part of your trip on a beach, Fuengirola is a great choice as it last 4.5 miles (7 km) of sandy beach with well serviced facilities, restaurants and shops right on the main road, so you won’t struggle to find a spot to sunbathe, or to eat.
So there you have it, my picks for a more authentic way to explore the South of Spain. I would love to hear if anyone of these tick your boxes and whether you will be adding them to your own itinerary – leave a comment below and let me know.
Southern Spain Travel Tips
- The best time to travel to Southern Spain is Spring and Fall. Indeed, the months of April, May, June, September, October, and November offer the best weather and temperatures’ averages. Summer temperatures can scorching hot, even reaching over 104°F (40°C) in parts of Western Andaluci like near Seville and Cordoba. Cities by the Mediterranean Sea like Malaga, Cadiz, Huelva, or Almeria, will always enjoy light seabreeze.
- If you are traveling in summer, check out out list of hot cloth recommendations.
- Get a copy of Lonely Planet Travel Guide and an English-Spanish Phrasebook.
- The region tends to get crowded during the peak season, so make sure to book ahead to secure a place where to stay in Souther Spain.
Guest Post Author
Lucia is a Slovak expat living in Southern Spain. On her blog Viva la Vita she shares her discoveries about beautiful locations, hidden gems and authentic experiences from Costa del Sol and beyond.
Have you been on to Southern Spain? What’s your experience? Please share with us in the Comments section! Looking for another European destination, check out our other Europe travel blog posts below:
Stay tuned for more adventures
from our travel around the world!
This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you. Our opinions are our own and are not impacted by these partnerships.
ZeWanderingFrogs.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.