Andalucia short city guide: Seville, Málaga, Granada, Córdoba. How do the cities compare to each other?

Andalucia is a fascinating region in Europe filled with history and good food, pleasant cities and a friendly climate. The main draw for cultural visitors are the cities. Some of them belong to the largest in Spain. Especially if you are short on time, you want to know which has the most to offer and what to expect depending on your preferences. I am going to give a brief overview of the cities from a backpacker’s perspective comparing the four cities in different categories.

Size

  1. Seville: 4th largest city in Spain. ~ 700,000 inhabitants
  2. Málaga:  6th largest city in Spain. ~ 570,000 inhabitants
  3. Córdoba: ~ 330,000 inhabitants
  4. Granada: ~ 230,000 inhabitants

Importance

All of the cities have a lot of contemporary and historical significance.

  • Seville: Capital of Andalucia.
  • Málaga: One of the most important airports in Spain. Start-off point for package tourism. Port.
  • Córdoba: Capital of Al-Andalus and the Emirate and Califate of Córdoba (711-1236)
  • Granada: Last outpost of the Moorish rulers in Spain. The Emirate of Granada fell in 1492.

Transport and airports

  1. Málaga: Main gateway to Andalucia. 4th busiest airport in Spain. Served by a lot of carriers. The airport is well connected to the city by train and bus. The bus terminal and main train station are not too far from the center. High-speed AVE trains run from the city.
  2. Seville: Second most important airport in Andalucia. Served by a number of cheap carriers and some other European airlines as Lufthansa or British Airways. The bus terminal is conveniently located close to the historical center, the train station is a bit further away, but not too much. Connected to the AVE network.
  3. Córdoba: Tiny airport of almost no significance. Bus and train station are within reasonable walking distance from the center. AVE trains serve the city.
  4. Granada: Third most important airport in Andalucia, passenger numbers and connections are rapidly growing. The train station is a bit outside of the center, no AVE trains. The main bus terminal is located even further out and you need to take a local bus to get to the center. Or the tram which is scheduled to be opened any time soon.

Main tourist draws

Each of the cities deserves a visit and besides the main draw there a always lots of churches and lovely old town centers. They all have a large cathedral and a fortress in common, mostly known as Alcazaba or Alcázar.

  • Seville: The largest historical center in Spain, the 3rd largest in Europe. A lot to explore. Single buildings which blow your mind: The huge cathedral. And the Alcázar.
  • Córdoba: The central building is the impressive Mezquita, the mosque-cathedral with its distinctive red-white arches. Lovely old town, especially the Jewish quarter with its narrow alleys.
  • Granada: Of course – the Alhambra palace. The old Moorish quarter of Albaicín should also be on your agenda.
  • Málaga: It has a nice historical center as well, as it has a cathedral and a fortress, but after all the sightseeing it’s the beach and the harbourfront that set it apart.

Prices

All of Andalucia is comparatively cheap, especially if you come from more expensive parts of Europe like the UK or Scandinavia. Entrance to main tourist sites is often around 10 Euro. You can find hostel private rooms for 35 to 50 Euro a night, dorm beds between 12 and 20 Euro. Food is very cheap. Unlike in Italy the coffee is even about 1 Euro (or 1.20) when you sit down in a cafe. Tapas are sometimes free with an alcoholic drink, if not expect to pay 2 Euros for each in average. The difference between the cities is marginal:

  1. Córdoba (cheapest)
  2. Granada
  3. Seville
  4. Málaga (most expensive)

Other tourists

You will quickly notice that you won’t be alone and sometimes other tourists can be quite annoying, especially if they come in large groups or with large noises.

  1. Seville: Crowded, but a good a mix of Spanish and international tourists from all age groups.
  2. Granada: Expect lots of tour groups and pushing in the Alhambra. Many international tourists from overseas, mostly middle-aged or older people. In the rest of the city it is not too bad.
  3. Málaga: Not the average culturally interested old folks. Lots of beach goers. Many British, often bachelor groups, drunk and make a lot of noise.
  4. Córdoba: Average age: 30 to 40, however no 30 or 40 year old people there. Only large groups of retiree package tourists and school groups with young students forced to visit cultural sights. Many French, some Italians, Austrian, Germans. Being stuck behind or even in a group in the narrow alleys makes walking a pain sometimes.

Essential tip

  • Seville: Visit the Cathedral on Sunday. You avoid the queues and even if you don’t attend the mass, you can walk around in some parts for free.
  • Córdoba: Steer clear of tour groups and if you notice some groups clogging a path, try to go there later.
  • Granada: Book your tickets to the Alhambra some weeks in advance, otherwise you won’t probably see the Nazrid Palaces inside.
  • Málaga: Have some delicious Málaga ice-cream with raisins soaked in Málaga wine. It was invented in Casa Mira in the pedestrian zone, but is available in many ice-cream parlors around town.
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The Introvert Backpacker: Tips on Selecting Accommodation, Transport and Travel Companions.

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How do you imagine the average backpacking traveler? Maybe young, adventurous, athletic, outgoing, brave, spontaneous? Indeed, many surely are, but even if you are not it does not make that style of travel impossible. Some would actually be surprised how many introvert backpackers there are. You just don’t happen to always run into them because they often prefer to be alone and you won’t see where they are hiding.

What are introverts?

There are some misunderstandings. It is not that introverts do not like people. Sometimes people are surprised to hear I’d describe myself as an introvert. I can converse smoothly and am genuinely interested in other people. It is only that I need a lot of time alone to reflect and recharge. Extroverts feel drained and bored when they are alone for too long, introverts get drained by to much social interaction without a break.

Some people say introverts are aloof, awkward and should better socialize to become normal. This is ignorant and there has been a lot of literature discussing the specifics and needs of introverts in recent years. On the other hand many introverts perceive extroverts as shallow and bubbly talking machines that lack any depth. That is not nice either, and in many cases not true. I am very glad that I have extroverts as well as introverts among my friends.

However it seems backpacking comes more natural to extraverts. Introverts have some different needs. I started backpacking fifteen years ago and I would like to share some experiences and elaborate on some specifics.

Travel mates

Whether you go alone, with close friends or your loved one – all is actually fine. It often depends on the circumstances whom you are taking with you or not. I have done all of it and it all has its advantages.

Going alone is the easiest in the sense that you are not dependent on someone else to make the decision to start traveling. If no one else is willing to travel with you or has neither time nor money, you can always travel alone. Going alone takes the most courage however. The good things are: You will probably have a lot of me-time, you are not responsible to anyone and can do what ever you want.

It can be very lonely at times as you may not make friends as easily as an extrovert and prefer close long-term friends who are just not here. Keeping in touch via internet can help. Don’t rely too much on that. Sometimes just be brave, get out and in touch with other travelers around you. It may be challenging at first, but you can get used to meeting strangers and it helps you later in life. I had some of my best encounters with locals and other travelers when backpacking alone when I was forced to get out of my shell like asking others if they wanted to share a taxi or a room in an expensive region. Once the ice is broken, you can find new friends and get to know interesting people.

If your partner or a close friend wants to join you backpacking – perfect! You both understand your respective needs. There is someone to talk to, but you don’t have to listen to shallow stories from babbling strangers. You won’t feel alone. Be careful however whom you take with you. As introverts you probably spend a lot of time together in nature or closed spaces, and if you are incompatible with each other, it can cause a lot of trouble for both. I would strongly recommend to only take someone with whom you have already spent a lot of time together like sharing an apartment or going on a short-term holiday together.

Something the introvert backpacker should not do is traveling in groups. All the different people, too many opportunities for get-togethers and the lacking decisiveness of large groups will drive you mad. I would say groups of two to four people are okay. If there are more, there is a great danger that your needs as an individual will be neglected – everything will turn on the group and how to do things together.

Accommodation

One simple rule: Private rooms. Backpackers are notorious for sleeping in hostels, and hostels are notorious for offering dormitories. While hostels and guesthouses are usually great also for introverts, you should never fall for the trap of sleeping in a dorm bed. The money you save won’t probably compensate for all the inconvenience caused. You could as well just sleep in the streets with the noises and all the people watching. Many backpacker places offer private rooms as well as dorms. Shared bathrooms are a matter of taste, I don’t mind them.

Of course, private rooms are more expensive. Especially when traveling alone, a single room is often hard to find and more than twice or three times as expensive. However think of all the money you save compared to extroverts: You won’t need to spend as much on socializing in bars, clubs, nightlife, expensive restaurants. My priorities are clear: I prefer a safe space to retreat especially in noisy and crowded cities to any luxury restaurant or bar there was in the world. No matter how small, cramped or simple the room is – at least it is your own personal space.

My preferred accommodation places are guesthouses or small hotels with some communal areas. If you feel like seeing people, you get into the lounge and meet other people or just sit and read a book, maybe someone else initiates a conversation. And if you feel like being alone, you just go up to your room. Family, business or resort hotels are places that are usually more expensive and places where solo traveller feel awkward among other groups or at the breakfast buffet.

Kereta Api

Transport

With local transport you often do not have a choice. If you have then it is mostly a matter of time, comfort and money. However there are some things to consider when traveling as an introvert.

Take for instance long-distance night buses. Sometimes there is a choice to take a ten hour bus ride by daytime or at night. Many guides recommend taking the night bus as you don’t waste a day and save money on accommodation. I would say: this is a trap, take the daytime bus instead. Going by daytime your journey is enclosed by two safe hotel stays at night in your own space.

If you go at night, you will have to spend the first day somewhere in public spaces. Usually check-out in hotels is at 10 AM or noon. How do you spend the rest of your day until the night bus leaves? You have to be in public all day long. Yes, cafes and parks will do for a while, but from noon to 10 PM it can be a veeeery long time. After that you have to spend the night in a noisy uncomfortable bus with complete strangers. No private space either. Many introverts do not sleep well in such an environment. You arrive in the morning, completely destroyed longing for a place to sleep. Well, many hotels don’t allow an early check-in and you wait until 2 PM, again without four walls around a space for yourself. And well, how much can you enjoy such a day where you saved on accommodation but are completely exhausted?

The night transport rule of course does not only apply to buses. The same is true for flights, boats, or trains at night.

If you are exhausted or have just had a long flight, I often just prefer to take a taxi instead of public transport. After recharging and some alone-time, going by buses or trains within a city is usually okay. Remember that private transport in form of taxis and rikshaws can sometimes have the disadvantage of a talkative driver whereas in buses you are left alone.

Resume

Let us conclude: Avoid traveling in groups, dorm rooms or night buses. This is my first article on traveling for introverts. I am open to suggestions and comments. If you like any other subject concerning backpacking for introverts to be covered, just leave a comment.