10 Days in Spain

May 27 – June 5, 2022

Spain had been on the top of our travel list since we moved to London, but there were SO many places we wanted to visit that we could never seem to make a decision on where to start. Our one-year anniversary felt like the perfect opportunity to take enough time off to go to multiple cities on the same trip, especially after we realized that our wedding anniversary, June 5, coincided with the two extra bank holidays the UK had this year to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. (Side note: although it was super fun to be in London to see all the street decorations and commemorative celebrations leading up to the Jubilee, we had zero desire to be in the city for the crowds, parades, and traffic during the actual festivities.)

We spent a few days in Madrid at the beginning and end of our trip and then spent the rest of our time in Andalusia, the southernmost and most populous of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. The region has a rich culture and fascinating history, and many classically “Spanish” cultural phenomena (e.g., flamenco, bullfighting, tapas, sherry) are primarily Andalusian in origin. We absolutely loved every place we visited and could have spent much more time in each city, but I’m really glad we were able to experience a diverse mix of activities, foods, and landscapes during our 10-day trip. Our first trip to Spain made us even more eager to continue exploring the beautiful, friendly, and historic country and we now have even more Spanish cities at the top of our bucket list.

As in my previous posts about longer trips to Italy in 2019 and Greece in 2021, I’ve included an itinerary with details about each leg of our trip, as well as separate sections at the end of the post with the specific restaurants and activities we enjoyed in each city. If you’re planning a trip to Spain, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations.

Itinerary

  • Days 1 & 2 – Madrid
    • I hadn’t quite figured out which cities we were going to visit when I booked our flights, so I decided to make it easy (and cheap) by flying in and out of Madrid. As the second-largest city in the EU and the capital of Spain, there were tons of flight options from London and easy/frequent train routes to all the major cities in Spain. We arrived in Madrid late on a Friday night and it was nearly midnight by the time we arrived at the beautiful and centrally located Hotel Villa Real, so we just ordered room service and went to bed.
    • Although I didn’t want to pack a ton of pre-planned activities into this trip, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit three of the most famous art museums in the world. Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of Art”, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2021, is comprised of the Museo del Prado (pre-20th-century art), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (20th-century modern art), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (an eclectic mix of historical, modern, and contemporary art). All three museums are located in the city center on the Paseo del Prado and skip-the-line access with the GetYourGuide Madrid Art Walk Pass made it easy to knock out highlights from all three in one day. We started at the Thyssen, which was probably my favorite since it featured a wider variety of well-known artists from around the world compared to the other two museums. The Prado was absolutely beautiful and had an extremely impressive collection of European art, but it primarily featured Spanish artists and Italian masters that all kind of blended together after a while. I ended up going to the Reina Sofia on my own while Andy went back to the hotel for a nap, which was probably for the best since neither one of us is a huge fan of modern art. I enjoyed seeing the phenomenal collections from Spain’s greatest 20th-century masters, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso (whose gigantic Guernica was definitely the highlight of the museum), but didn’t get too much out of the other exhibitions.
    • After a long afternoon of looking at art, we were both ready to unwind and focus on our real priorities for the trip: food and wine. We met up for a drink at the Mercado de San Miguel, a historic covered market near the Plaza Mayor that is now home to a gourmet food hall with 30+ food and wine vendors, before embarking on a self-designed “tapas crawl” at a variety of restaurants across town. We had 1-2 drinks at each bar, some of which served free tapas with each drink purchase—this is less common in Madrid than in other parts of Spain, though, so we ordered at least one larger dish at each restaurant to ensure we actually had something more substantial than olives and croquettes for dinner. Standouts from our crawl included Bodega El Maño, Roostiq, and Tasca Celso y Manolo.
    • We spent a lazy Sunday morning enjoying room-service breakfast and walking around Parque del Buen Retiro, a gorgeous park in the city center and one of the largest in Madrid, before heading to Estación de Madrid Atocha. Madrid’s largest railway station contains a stunning, gigantic (40,000+ sq ft) covered tropical garden, which was a particularly beautiful way to catch a train to Seville.
  • Days 3 & 4 – Seville
    • It took a little less than 2.5 hours to get to Seville, the capital of and largest city in Andalusia, from Madrid and we quickly fell in love with the beautiful architecture and history of its old town that includes three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Real Alcázar palace complex, the Catedral de Sevilla (Seville Cathedral) and its Giralda tower, and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies). We stayed just steps away from the cathedral at the fantastic Hotel Doña María, and so we started our afternoon with a few cocktails at its phenomenal rooftop pool and bar before an excellent dinner at Lalola de Javi Abascal.
    • We started off our only full day in Spain’s fourth-largest city at the Real Alcázar of Seville, a palace built by Castilian Christians on the site of a former Abbadid Muslim residential fortress after the Reconquista of the city in 1248. The ornately decorated palace and its extensive gardens were truly one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited, and Andy particularly enjoyed the palace’s connection to Game of Thrones (it was the set for House Martell’s Water Gardens of Dorne) and the resident flock of peacocks. We spent the next few hours making our way through some of the other sightseeing highlights, including Plaza de España, a stunning square of Art Deco-style buildings in the Parque de María Luisa, and the Torre del Oro, a 12-sided watchtower on the Guadalquivir River built by the Almohad Caliphate at the turn of the 13th century.
    • Last but certainly not least, we went to the Catedral de Sevilla, the fourth-largest church in the world. The cathedral was built to demonstrate the city’s wealth and certainly accomplished its goal—the Gothic cathedral contains 80 chapels and is essentially covered in gold leaf from floor to ceiling. Several elements from the original mosque remain, including the minaret now known as La Giralda. The Renaissance-style belfry and the rotating sculpture of a woman carrying a flag pole known as the Giraldillo (weather vane) were both added to the top of the tower in the 16th century, bringing its height to just over 104 meters. We made our way to the top of the tower via a series of 35 ramps that snake around the tower’s core and the views from the top were absolutely worth the climb. Once we spotted our hotel rooftop, though, we couldn’t resist spending the rest of the afternoon laying out by the pool with a few cocktails before capping off the picture-perfect day with a fantastic dinner at Castizo.
  • Days 5 & 6 – Cádiz
    • The next morning we took a train to Cádiz, an ancient port city in southwestern Spain situated on a narrow peninsula surrounded by the sea. Cádiz was founded by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe, and today is a charming city full of exotic plants and massive trees (allegedly brought back from the Americas by Christopher Columbus) with one of the most important harbors in Spain. We stayed at Hotel Cádiz Paseo del Mar, which was across the street from one of the best beaches in Cadìz. We spent the entire afternoon on Playa de la Victoria enjoying the sunshine, white-sand beaches, and clear-blue water…as well as a few drinks from Chiringuito El Potito, a casual restaurant and beach bar that was just steps away from our lounge chairs. After getting (more than) enough sun, we had a fantastic dinner at Contraseña, a lovely little restaurant in the beautiful Plaza de la Candelaria in the old town.
    • The original plan for Wednesday was to start the day with a sherry tasting (ambitious, I know). However, picking up our rental car at Jerez Airport ended up being quite the adventure and we completely missed our tour and tasting. I’m not a huge fan of fortified wines and therefore I wasn’t too disappointed, but it definitely would have been ideal to have at least visited one winery in the “Sherry Triangle”, the Denominación de Origen (Designation of Origin) for sherry production that’s bound by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. We decided to make the most of it and still at least drive through the other two towns.
    • Our first stop was El Puerto de Santa María, a charming beach town steeped in history—it’s actually the port from which Christopher Columbus departed on his first voyage to the Americas. Today, El Puerto is primarily a tourist destination known for its sherry factories and beaches, including Playa de Valdelagrana, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain. We had breakfast and went to Castillo de San Marcos, a medieval castle built on the site of a mosque, before stopping by the beach. We then made our way to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a slightly smaller town located at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River opposite the stunning Doñana National Park. We spent some time walking around the old town and then had a fantastic lunch at Barbiana, which was highly recommended by one of my Spanish colleagues. After lunch, we decided to head back to Cádiz and get some more beach time in before a fantastic dinner at Restaurante El Faro de Cádiz.
  • Day 7 – Ronda
    • We were sad to leave Cádiz but extremely excited about the road trip to Ronda, so we left the city bright and early to ensure we could take our time with the drive. We were quickly surrounded by the rolling hills of Andalusia almost as soon as we left the seaside and I honestly wasn’t prepared for how beautiful the countryside would be—including the fields of sunflowers blooming all around us. It took about an hour to get to Arcos de la Frontera, one of Andalusia’s most iconic pueblos blancos (white villages), a tiny village with whitewashed houses and ancient stone walls that stop abruptly at the edge of a 150-meter-high limestone cliff overlooking the river Guadalete. We stopped by Golosierra Productos Típicos to buy some vinegars and other local specialty foods before making the uphill trek to Basílica Menor de Santa María de la Asunción in the heart of the old town. This beautiful Gothic church was built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the remains of a mosque facing the Plaza del Cabildo, the central square flanked by Castillo de Arcos (a medieval castle of Moorish origin) and the Mirador de la Peña (one of the most dramatic viewpoints). The city and its Roman and Moorish origins were extremely well preserved, but it was also a great place for buying souvenirs and treats, including Arab-influenced candies sold by cloistered nuns at the Convento de las Mercedarias Descalzas.
    • As we left Arcos, the surrounding countryside transitioned from Los Alcornocales Natural Park, which contains one of the largest and best-preserved populations of cork oaks and laurel forests in Europe, to the mountainous Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. We made it to Ronda in time for a wonderful lunch at Tragata and then spent a lovely afternoon exploring this ancient city set dramatically divided across El Tajo de Ronda, a deep gorge carrying the Guadalevín River and separating the 15th-century “new town” from the Moorish-built La Ciudad. Ronda has a lot of history for a relatively small city, but it is perhaps best known for being the home of one of Spain’s oldest and most legendary schools of bullfighting, which grew even more famous after Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles both spent significant time in the city and prominently featured Ronda and its bullfighting traditions in their writing. Ronda’s Romero family played an outsized role in the development of modern Spanish bullfighting and its transition to a true art form, including the use of the muleta (cape) and a specific sword designed for the kill, and helped establish Ronda as one of the most important bullfighting hubs in the country. Although we didn’t tour the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, we did walk by it and the giant bull statue dominating the entrance.
    • We stayed a few miles outside of Ronda at Hotel LA Cortijo Organic, a five-bedroom boutique hotel in a beautifully restored 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by olive groves, fruit trees, vineyards, and wild lavender within the picturesque Llano de la Cruz valley. The hotel is part of the much larger LA Cortijo Organic estate, which produces high-end, 100%-organic olive oil and is partially owned (and fully designed) by an incredibly famous and prolific French architect and industrial designer named Philippe Starck. Everyone at the property was name-dropping the designer left and right, but I had personally never heard of him prior to our visit—after doing some research, though, he has a pretty insane résumé that includes designing everything from Parisian nightclubs and hotels to a $150-million yacht for Steve Jobs to the original “ghost chair”.
    • Spain produces almost half the world’s olive oil and one of the main reasons we came to Ronda was for oleotourism. We booked a 1-hour tour of the LA Cortijo Organic estate and although I thought we knew quite a bit about olive oil already from the time we’ve spent in Italy and Greece, we actually learned a lot about olive oil production and classification, especially during the excellent tasting at the end. After the tasting, we ended up staying for dinner and had an extremely romantic and private dinner on the terrace as the sun set behind the Sierra de Grazalema. It was truly one of the most charming and special travel experiences we’ve had to date, and I definitely wish we could have spent several more nights here.
  • Days 8 & 9 – Granada
    • The next morning, we enjoyed a fantastic, farm-fresh breakfast at LA Cortijo Organic before heading to Granada for the last (new) stop of our trip. It took ~2 hours for us to get to Granada, a uniquely beautiful and historic city that sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s known for its extremely well-preserved medieval architecture dating back to the Muslim occupation and the Moorish influence on the city was definitely much more visible than in other parts of Andalusia, which makes sense given that Granada was the last city for Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon to conquer at the end of the Reconquista in 1482. It took ten years for them to defeat the last Muslim ruler in Iberia, but just three months later, Queen Isabella met with Christopher Columbus in Granada and agreed to sponsor his expedition to the “East Indies”.
    • After arriving in Granada in mid-afternoon and returning our rental car, we dropped off our bags at the Catalonia Granada and headed out to explore the city. We had a fantastic lunch at a very authentic Moroccan restaurant and teahouse, Tetería Restaurante Kasbah, in the heart of the bustling Albaicín neighborhood. The Albaicín was the old Arab quarter of the city and it has retained much of its medieval street plan from the Islamic period, as well as a beautiful mix of Moorish, Mudéjar, and Renaissance architectural influences. Most of the city’s historic monuments and buildings are in the Albaicín and we had a great afternoon walking around the beautiful (but very hilly) neighborhood to see its historic carmens (traditional, freestanding houses with whitewashed walls and private gardens), 11th- and 14th-century city walls, and Islamic-era monuments. We rounded out the day with a spa experience and massages at Hammam Al Àndalus, the most authentic Arab bathhouse in Granada, and a wonderful dinner at Atelier Casa de Comida.
    • We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning and just barely had time to grab coffee before making our way to the most iconic monument in the city: the Alhambra. Situated on an outcrop of the Sierra Nevadas that looms high above Granada, the Alhambra palace complex is one of the most famous and best-preserved Islamic historical palaces in the world. It was originally a fortress, but the most notable parts of the complex were constructed during the 13th century when the Nasrids transformed it into a palatine city. I booked a phenomenal tour guide through Airbnb Experiences, which was incredibly helpful because the complex was absolutely gigantic. Nacho showed us all the key highlights and provided just the right amount of historical background and architectural context. Everything was so beautiful, especially the wildly intricate geometric patterns and Arabic decorative motifs, but the honeycomb-like muqarnas adorning the vaulted ceilings were particularly captivating.
  • Days 9 & 10 – Madrid
    • After a 3.5-hour train ride back north to Madrid, we arrived at NH Collection Madrid Palacio de Tepa, a phenomenal hotel located in a restored 19th-century palace near Puerta del Sol, just before sunset. I had made reservations for dinner and a flamenco show at Corral de la Morería well in advance, and this incredible experience on our last night ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip. The food and wine were incredible and we were both absolutely mesmerized throughout the entire show. It was truly the perfect way to commemorate the end of our once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Food & Drink

  • Madrid
    • Corral de la Morería | Tablao Flamenco: One of the oldest tablaos (venues where flamenco shows are performed) in Madrid and one of the most renowned in the world, Corral de la Morería is also home to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Our meal was absolutely fantastic, but the show was the real gem. I wasn’t familiar with flamenco whatsoever prior to our experience and I think my jaw was on the floor the entire time. It was truly one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing performances I’ve ever witnessed.
    • Mercado de San Miguel: Just steps away from the Plaza Mayor, this covered market was a wholesale food market in the early 20th century before it reopened as a “gourmet tapas market” with 30+ food and wine vendors in 2009. We ended up coming here two separate times because there were so many fantastic options to try out.
    • Bodega de los Secretos: Despite being a <10-minute walk from the Prado, Bodega de los Secretos is hidden away in a maze of 17th-century underground wine cellars on a nondescript side street. The private alcoves are definitely romantic, but the best part about the underground location was escaping the scorching heat. We went here for lunch and had a really nice meal that was perfectly paired with regional wines.
    • Tapas: On our first night in Madrid, we went on a self-designed “tapas crawl” and had 1-2 tapas dishes with a drink or two at a variety of restaurants across town. For a full list of recommended tapas restaurants, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations. Our favorites included:
      • Taberna La Dolores: A charming, old-school tavern that opened in 1908 and is known for its blue-and-white-tiled exterior. Just a few blocks away from the Prado and other museums, this would also be a good place for a midday snack.
      • Roostiq: Although this was the most modern and upscale tapas restaurant we went to on our crawl, it was also one of the best. Located in the Chueca district, Roostiq is known for combining upscale wine and cocktails with traditional dishes…and it definitely works. I particularly enjoyed pairing a potato-and-truffle omelet with a glass of Champagne.
      • Tasca Celso y Manolo: Beautifully decorated with a vintage bar and a retro-chic, understated vibe, Celso y Manolo serves modernized classics like eel croquettes, octopus salad, tomato “steak”, and squid sandwiches. Everything was incredibly delicious and the staff was super friendly.
      • Bodega El Maño: This long-standing, industrially designed tavern was another one of our favorites. The traditional dishes were all very well executed and paired with a short-but-excellent list of Spanish wines and beers.
      • Casa Labra: Located close to the Puerta del Sol, this no-frills eatery opened its doors in 1860 and is famous for being the site where Spain’s oldest political party was founded in 1879. There aren’t many tables, but the counter service at the bar is probably the better option, anyway, for ordering traditional dishes like cod croquettes and fried cod (basically, you’re going to eat cod here).
    • Hola Madrid: We went to this super cute café and specialty coffee roaster for a quick breakfast before a long day of sightseeing. In addition to fantastic coffee, they also had a good selection of pastries and other breakfast foods for takeaway.
  • Seville
    • Lalola de Javi Abascal: Our dinner at this Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand was one of the most interesting culinary experiences we had in Spain. We both ordered the traditional tasting menu, which featured Iberian pork from the Sierra de Huelva in every single dish—even the desserts. It was more pork than I’ve probably eaten in the past five years combined, but honestly, everything was truly amazing and so creative. Our server was also extremely friendly and we had a lot of fun talking to him about his experiences in Seville. Antigua Abacería de San Lorenzo: This crowded, nondescript restaurant was the definition of the “real deal”. The owner initially opened his shop as an abacería (which is kind of like a wine store with some quick food), but they now operate a full-day restaurant that serves some of the best tapas in town. Our favorite dish involved sardines served in tomato gazpacho, which sounds disgusting but was absolutely out of this world. 10/10 recommend. Castizo: Despite its contemporary decor and open-kitchen concept, Castizo served typical Sevillano tapas with high-quality, local ingredients and a stellar wine list. Menu standouts included a spider crab omelet and shrimp ceviche in a cherry gazpacho. Bodega Gongora: We randomly walked into this traditional, family-run bodeguita in the heart of Seville and ended up having a fantastic (and extremely cheap) lunch. It was the perfect place to escape the crowds and unwind between sightseeing stops. Hotel Doña Maria: Our hotel was located in a former palace in the city center and had incredible views of the cathedral from its rooftop terrace. Although the rooftop pool is reserved for guests, the terrace bar is open to the public and has surprisingly good cocktails in addition to some of the best views of La Giralda in the city.
    • Virgin Coffee: Seville’s first micro-roaster opened in 2015 in the shadow of Las Setas, and this tiny coffee shop is only open 6-7 hours a day. It was well worth the visit, though—the barista who served us was absolutely lovely and made one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had in a while.
  • Cádiz
    • Contraseña: We had a lovely dinner at Contraseña on our first night in Cadìz, including a series of appetizers that were among the best dishes we had on the entire trip. A husband-and-wife team runs this fantastic and creative restaurant located on the Plaza de la Candelaria, one of the oldest and most beautiful squares in the city.
    • Restaurante El Faro de Cádiz: One of the most famous and popular tapas restaurants in Cádiz’s old town, El Faro (“The Lighthouse”) has been run by the Córdoba family since 1946. It had a very old-school, traditional vibe and the service was nearly as good as the seafood-heavy (and extremely inexpensive) tasting menu.
    • Chiringuito El Potito: This casual seafood restaurant on Playa de la Victoria had a surprisingly good menu with quite a few options for freshly caught fish. It also had a fantastic beach bar, so we made quite a few visits during the two lazy days we spent on the beach.
  • Ronda
    • Tragata: Tragata is the more affordably priced and informal tapas restaurant from the chef that runs the two-starred Bardal, but it was really a phenomenal restaurant in its own right. We had a long lunch here and thoroughly enjoyed every dish we tried. It has a really cool vibe, too, and felt a lot more like a place you’d find in a big city vs. a tiny, sleepy town in the Andalusian countryside.
    • Cortijo LA Organic: Although we didn’t plan on spending nearly all our time in Ronda at the Cortijo LA Organic estate, it was so beautiful and uniquely charming that we truly didn’t want to leave. The greenhouse tasting room offers a simple yet elegant selection of wines, tapas, and preserves to enjoy on the terrace with views of the Serranía de Ronda and the Sierra de Grazalema. We had a picture-perfect night watching the sun set behind the mountains as we enjoyed a delicious meal prepared exclusively with ingredients either grown in the estate’s organic garden or from local producers.
  • Granada
    • Atelier Casa de Comida: Another Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, this modern and innovative restaurant was located a bit outside of the main tourist zone in Granada, which was a pleasant break from the busyness of the city center. We enjoyed their lovely tasting menu focused on contemporary versions of Andalusian classics (e.g., pork-stuffed squid, which basically sums up Andalusia in a nutshell), as well as their excellent wine list.
    • Tinta Fina: We took a break from the heat to have a few drinks at this sophisticated bar and restaurant known for its mix of Japanese-inspired and seafood dishes and ended up watching Nadal win a heated semi-final round at the French Open, which was a super fun experience.
    • Tetería Restaurante Kasbah: Our phenomenal private guide for the Alhambra recommended this gem in the heart of the Albaicín neighborhood. In addition to serving authentic Moroccan dishes and teas, it also had a great selection of fresh juices, which was a refreshing change of pace.
    • Perspectives – Café & Honest Food: Fantastic (and tiny) coffee shop that also offered several excellent options for takeaway breakfast.

Activities & Attractions

  • Madrid
    • Museo Nacional del Prado: The Prado Museum is Spain’s primary national art museum, featuring pre-20th-century art and the single best collection of Spanish art in the world. The elegant building on the Paseo del Prado has been a public art museum since 1819 and is based on the former Spanish Royal Collection curated by the Habsburg and Bourbon monarchs who ruled Spain from the 16th to 19th centuries. Although it is perhaps most famous for being home to numerous masterpieces by Spanish artists like Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez, the Prado also contains important works from other European masters, including Raphael, El Greco, Rubens, Titian, and Albrecht Dürer. It is the largest of Madrid’s three art museums, and we definitely spent more time here than in the other two combined.
    • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía: Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art is located in a building that was originally an 18th-century hospital and is now home to one of the largest museums for contemporary and modern art in the world. Reina Sofía primarily features works from Spanish artists, including extraordinary collections of Spain’s greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. I’m honestly not a huge fan of modern art, but it was well worth a quick visit to this museum to view its most famous masterpiece—Picasso’s Guernica. The gigantic grey, black, and white oil painting portraying the suffering and chaos of war was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government in 1937 to raise awareness of the Spanish Civil War and is now one of Picasso’s best-known works.
    • Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza: The third museum in Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art might have been my favorite. The core collection was originally owned by a German-Hungarian baron who held a competition to house the collection after he unsuccessfully sought permission to enlarge his museum in Switzerland. The collection is somewhat eclectic and incredibly varied, which made for a much more interesting experience. The purpose-built museum essentially fills in the historical gaps of the collections held by the Prado and Reina Sofia, including works from Monet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, and Caravaggio.
    • Parque del Buen Retiro: El Retiro is one of the largest parks in Madrid, and recently became part of a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site with the museums of Paseo del Prado. The park was established in the 1630s for the Spanish monarchy and became a public park in the late 19th century when Queen Isabella II was overthrown. Today, El Retiro is truly the “green heart” of the city, and its many monuments, statues, and fountains have established it as sort of an open-air sculpture museum. One of the most beautiful buildings in the park is the Palacio de Cristal, a glass pavilion inspired by London’s Crystal Palace, and it was also a particularly lovely place to relax for a few minutes during a busy day of sightseeing.
    • Plaza Mayor: Originally a city market at the center of Old Madrid, the Plaza Mayor is one of the primary public spaces in the city along with the Puerta del Sol, another famous plaza that is only a few blocks away. Interestingly, the plaza is enclosed by four uniformly designed three-story residential buildings with ten different entrances, which makes it perfect for hosting markets (including Madrid’s primary Christmas market), festivals, and other events throughout the year.
    • Fuente de Cibeles: La Cibeles is a neoclassical fountain at the center of the Plaza de Cibeles that has become one of the most notable icons of the city. The beautiful white marble sculptural group in the center of the fountain features the earth and fertility deity Cybele driving a chariot pulled by two lions, representing Atalanta and Hippomenes, and it is traditionally where Real Madrid C.F. celebrates its victories…this was particularly relevant after Real Madrid won the European Cup during our stay in Spain.
  • Seville
    • Real Alcázar: The Royal Alcázar of Seville is a palace built on the site of an Abbadid Muslim alcazar (residential fortress) after the Christian conquest of Seville in 1248. The ornately decorated palace is a preeminent example of the Mudéjar style of ornamentation and decoration, which is a beautiful derivation of the motifs, patterns, and designs used in Islamic Iberia, and although the areas open to the public are mainly empty, the upper floors of the palace are still occupied by the royal family when they visit Seville. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is plenty of history associated with the palace, but it’s perhaps equally as famous in modern times for its use as a set in Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones (as House Martell’s Water Gardens of Dorne). The tiled palace and its extensive gardens are truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. To avoid extremely long lines, I highly recommend booking tickets in advance for €14 on the official website.
    • Catedral de Sevilla (Seville Cathedral) and Giralda: The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (St. Mary of the See Cathedral), better known as the Catedral de Sevilla, was built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the former site of the city’s mosque. It’s one of the largest cathedrals in the world and lavishly decorated…it’s basically dripping in gold. There are several important historical figures buried in the royal chapel, including Ferdinand III of Castile (the primary conqueror of the Muslim-ruled kingdom of Al-Andalus) and Christopher Columbus. However, the most notable part of the cathedral is its bell tower, La Giralda, which was originally built in the 12th century as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville during the reign of the Almohad dynasty and then was converted into a belfry after Seville was recaptured by Christians in 1248. We bought skip-the-line tickets on Get Your Guide for ~$15, which made the hour or so that we spent taking in the views of the city from the top of La Giralda and perusing the cathedral well worth our while.
    • Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies): The third component of Seville’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is the repository of archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Asia located at the 16th-century merchants’ exchange building. There was a huge restoration project underway while we were in town so we didn’t take the time to go inside, but the building itself was absolutely gorgeous.
    • Plaza de España: The stunning square of buildings in the Parque de María Luisa (María Luisa Park) was built to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits at the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair of 1929. The half-circle of buildings surrounding the square feature a unique blend of Art Deco and Neo-Mudéjar styles, including some of the most beautiful painted tilework in the city outside of the Real Alcázar. My favorite parts were the tiled alcoves built around the plaza that each represent a different province of Spain.
    • Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold): This dodecagonal (12-sided) military watchtower was erected in the early 13th century by the Almohad Caliphate to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir River. Today, it’s one of the most iconic symbols of the city and a worthwhile stop during a walk along the river.
  • Cadìz
    • Playa de la Victoria: Our hotel was across the street from one of the best beaches in Cadìz and the white sand and clear-blue waters looked so appealing that we canceled most of our sightseeing plans to just relax on the beach. The area in front of Chiringuito El Potito, a casual restaurant and beach bar, had dozens of lounge chairs and umbrellas available to rent by the day, which made things even more convenient.
    • Catedral de Cádiz: This baroque-style cathedral was built in the 18th and 19th centuries, making it relatively “new” as cathedrals go, but it was still incredibly beautiful. The gigantic dome dominated the city skyline and the surrounding palm trees and oceanic background made it a particularly lovely landmark.
    • Plaza de Candelaria: One of the oldest squares in Cádiz, and definitely one of the most beautiful. It’s really more like a small, well-landscaped park than a traditional plaza, which makes it the perfect place to just sit and enjoy the beauty of the old town as the sun sets before heading to one of the surrounding bars or restaurants.
  • Ronda
    • Cortijo LA Organic: I strongly recommend staying at the boutique hotel on this property, but anyone spending time in Ronda should at least visit the LA Organic Experience estate for a 1-hour guided tour of the farm, which has been beautifully landscaped to blend the rustic scenery and historic property (including a gorgeous, 19th-century private chapel) with its current purpose as a 100%-organic olive oil farm and production site, along with a huge garden and a few random art installations. The tasting at the end of the tour was fantastic and we bought quite a few bottles of their high-end olive oils before enjoying a phenomenal private dinner overlooking the valley. The estate will likely be even more of a tourism destination when LA Almazara by Starck, an absolutely over-the-top mill, monument, and museum (it’s truly one of the craziest-looking building designs I’ve ever seen), opens up in 2023.
    • Puente Nuevo: The 18th-century Puente Nuevo is both the newest and tallest of the three bridges spanning the 120-meter-deep El Tajo gorge, and the solid blocks of stone shaped in a series of arches make it one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. It also offers one of the best views in the entire city.
    • Puerta de Almocábar: Ronda’s extensive system of murallas (walls) was originally constructed during Moorish rule in the 13th century. They built their biggest fortress at Almocabar, which is now home to the best preserved and most impressive ancient city gate.
    • Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda: Ronda’s Real Maestranza de Caballería is the oldest and most noble order of horsemanship in Spain. The brotherhood of knights created in the 16th century to defend the city eventually evolved into what is now the oldest riding school in the country and one of Spain’s most famous ‘schools’ of bullfighting. The Plaza de Toros opened in 1785 and although it no longer hosts as many large bullfights, the Museo Taurino contains many of the most important bullfighting regalia and artifacts from the last two centuries and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in bullfighting.
  • Granada
    • Alhambra: The imposing palace and fortress complex looming high above Granada is one of the most famous and best-preserved Islamic monuments in the world…and it’s also one of the most uniquely beautiful palaces I’ve ever visited. The most visible parts of the complex were constructed during the 13th century by the Nasrids, the final and longest reigning Muslim dynasty in the Iberian peninsula, who transformed a former fortress into a palatine city with a stunning array of palaces and gardens. We could have easily spent all day exploring the iconic Alcázar Fortress, the Generalife Gardens, and the intricate geometric kaleidoscope of the Nasrid Palaces covered in carved stucco, brightly colored mosaic tilework, and Quranic inscriptions, so I’m very grateful that we booked a tour guide through Airbnb Experiences who was able to provide context for what we were seeing and help us focus on the highlights. The entire complex was an ethereal maze of art, history, and architectural beauty, and it is truly something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
    • Hammam Al Àndalus: Located at the foothills of the Alhambra complex, Hammam Al Àndalus is the most authentic Arab bath house in Granada. The supremely tranquil spa is beautifully decorated with intricate mosaic tiles, and we spent an incredibly relaxing afternoon moving through the various pools—warm, hot, then ice-cold—and drinking tea before our massages.
    • Catedral de Granada: Granada’s cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Incarnation, was built over the Nasrid Great Mosque in the city center after the reconquest of Granada. Its black-and-white tiled nave is uniquely beautiful, and the Chapel of the Trinity has a marvelous collection of paintings by El Greco and other Spanish masters. The entry fee for the cathedral alone is just €5, but there are also lots of options for combined tickets with other Granada churches and monuments.

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