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.

My second Córdoba. Mein zweites Córdoba. Mi segunda Córdoba.

I’ve been to Córdoba five years ago, meeting distant family members living there. This time I am back – however I am not going to visit Argentina’s second largest city again, but we take the bus from Seville to visit the Spanish version of Córdoba, the smaller yet original one. Somehow I always imagined Andalucia to be a mountainous region. This may be true for Granada and the southern parts. Seville, Córdoba, and large parts of the Guadalquivir river plains are pretty flat or just a slight bit hilly.

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Immediately we notice the difference to Seville. While Seville is a big metropolis melting together historical sights and city life, things in Córdoba are pretty much separated. City and university life take part in different areas and the historical center is exclusively a tourist spot, indeed a very touristy one. From the beginning we struggle to make our way to the narrow alleys stuck behind large package tourist groups.

The average age of tourists in Córdoba is about my age, however we hardly see any tourists aged 30 or 40. Either they are old people on a package tour or student groups forced to visit cultural heritage sites. The large majority of them speak French. First we were a bit sad as we missed the festival of the patios by one day, but the guy from our hotel told us the city was even more crowded with even more old people who wanted to see all the patios with the same flowers in the same flower pots everywhere. So maybe we should feel lucky instead.

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By coincident we stumble upon the Jewish heritage of the city. In the tiny alleys in the former Jewish quarter we discover the bust of Maimonides, one of the most important medieval Jewish philosophers and scholars who was born in Córdoba. We also visit the Synagogue, one of the oldest and one of only three remaining historical synagogues in Spain. There is a very interesting museum nearby which covers the history of Sephardic culture, the inquisition and prosecution of Jews in Islamic and Catholic spain.

Córdoba once was the most important city in Spain as it was the seat of the Califate and the Emirate of Córdoba, an Islamic state which ruled large parts of the Iberian peninsula. And this was the time when the largest parts of the famous and incredibly huge Mezquita Mosque Cathedral were built. First a Visigothic church, it has been converted into a mosque by the Islamic conquerers and later made the Cathedral of Córdoba after the city had been reconquered by Christians. It is such an interesting mix of styles from different periods and religions and one of the most iconic symbols of the former Moorish rule of spain. It is no surprise it is heavily visited and most tourists gather like vultures around places like the Mihrab, the prayer niche which actually faces south and not towards Mecca (as it is falsely claimed in many publications and TV documentaries). Like in Seville, our time in Córdoba is limited, but there would be still much more to see and to appreciate.

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Vor fünf Jahren war ich schon einmal in Córdoba, um entfernte Verwandte zu besuchen, die dort leben. Jetzt bin ich zurück – aber dieses Mal nicht in der zweitgrößten Stadt Argentiniens, sondern wir fahren mit dem Bus von Sevilla in die spanische Ausgabe von Córdoba. Etwas kleiner, aber dafür das Original. Irgendwie habe ich mir Andalusien immer sehr bergig vorgestellt. Das trifft vielleicht auf Granada und die südlichen Teile zu, aber Sevilla, Córdoba und große Teile der Guadalquivir-Ebene sind in Wirklichkeit ziemlich flach oder maximal leicht hügelig.

Uns fällt sofort der Unterschied zu Sevilla auf. Während in der Metropole Sevilla die historischen Sehenswürdigkeiten und das Stadtleben miteinander verschmelzen, ist in Córdoba alles ziemlich getrennt. Das Stadt- und Universitätsleben spielt sich in anderen Stadtteilen ab. Die Altstadt Córdobas ist ausschließlich den Touristen vorbehalten. Und es gibt hier wirklich sehr viele Touristen. Von Anfang an kämpfen wir damit, uns den Weg durch die engen Gassen zwischen oder hinter riesigen Pauschalreisegruppen freizuschlagen.

Im Durchschnitt sind die Touristen hier so alt wie ich, allerdings sieht man kaum Menschen im Alter von 30 oder 40. Entweder sind es ältere Menschen auf einer Gruppenreise oder Schülergruppen, die zum Besuch historischer Sehenswürdigkeiten gezwungen werden. Die Mehrzahl spricht französisch. Wir waren erst ein wenig traurig, denn wir haben das Festival der Patios um einen Tag verpasst, aber in unserem Hotel wurde uns dann erzählt, dass die Stadt an jenen Tagen noch viel voller als sonst war mit noch viel mehr älteren Leuten, die sich die Innenhöfe mit dem immer gleichen Blumen in den immer gleichen Blumentöpfen ansehen wollten. Wir sollten uns also eher glücklich schätzen.

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Eher zufällig stolpern wir über das jüdische Erbe der Stadt. In den engen Gässchen des ehemaligen jüdischen Viertels entdecken wir die Büste von Maimonides, einem der bedeutendsten jüdischen Philosophen und Gelehrten des Mittelalters. Er wurde in Córdoba geboren. Wir besuchen auch die Synagoge, eine der ältesten und nur eine von drei noch erhaltenen historischen Synagogen in Spanien. Ganz in der Nähe gibt es ein sehr interessantes Museum über die Geschichte der sephardischen Kultur, Inquisition und die Judenverfolgung unter islamischer und katholischer Herrschaft.

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Córdoba war einst die bedeutendste Stadt Spaniens, denn sie war Sitz des Emirats und des Kalifats con Córdoba, einem islamischen Staat, der weite Teile der iberischen Halbinsel beherrschte. Und zu dieser Zeit wurden große Teile der berühmten und beeindruckend großen Mezquita Moschee-Kathedrale erbaut. Zunächst als westgotische Kirche errichtet, wurde sie nach der islamischen Eroberung zu einer Moschee umgebaut, um nach der christlichen Reconquista zur Kathedrale Córdobas zu werden. Die Kombination der Stile aus unterschiedlichen Epochen und Religionen ist faszinierend und die Mezquita ist eines der Wahrzeichen der einstigen maurischen Herrschaft Spaniens. Wenig überraschend ist die Mezquita enorm gut besucht und viele Touristen lauern wie die Aasgeier im Gebäude herum, um einen guten Fotoplatz zu finden, wie zum Beispiel am Mihrab, der Gebetsnische, die nach Süden ausgerichtet ist und nicht nach Mekka (wie oft fälschlich in Reiseführern oder TV-Dokumentationen behauptet wird). Ebenso wie in Sevilla ist unsere Reisezeit in Córdoba begrenzt, obwohl es noch so viel mehr zu sehen und bewundern gäbe.

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