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.


  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


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.


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.

Alhambra. الحمراء

When I was a kid, I associated the name Alhambra with a small cinema in my hometown. I did not know it was a historical place. It just sounded exotic like Sindbad or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The cinema has been closed a long time ago, but I am now about to see the original Alhambra. It is the castle in the city of Granada which was the last stronghold of the Islamic rule in medieval Spain. The name comes from the Arabic language and means something like “the red” and the city’s name Granada has a similar meaning. It probably refers to the color of the fortress. It was not until 1492 when the Moorish ruler of Granada Boabdil surrendered to the Catholic kings of Isabella and Ferdinand completing the Christian Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula. Shortly after Christopher Columbus could start his expedition with the support of Queen Isabella and changed world history.


It’s not only its importance in history but also the sheer size, the beautiful location sitting over the city in front of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains , and the lavish decor of the palace which is makes it so special. It actually means you have to reserve entrance tickets quite some time before your visit which we luckily had done in advance. You get a special time slot of 30 minutes when you can enter the palace of the Nasrid palaces with the Lion Court which is at the heart of the Alhambra. In the other parts the entry is not handled as strict. The Alcazaba forms the fortress and the oldest part. From here the views over the city are fantastic. Opposite to the main palaces there is the garden palace of Generalife (no, it’s not the name of an insurance). Not bad, but infested with large slow-moving tour groups admiring the flowers.

It is said you have to see the Alhambra from the inside and from afar. The best place to do this is on a lookout in the cute historic quarter of Albaícin. At it’s lower parts there are kebab stands and carpet shops, as you get up, it becomes more relaxed. So there is a lot more than the Alhambra to see in Granada, for instance the mighty rennaissance cathedral shining white and bright inside. And also as a city Granada feels good – quite urban but still small enough to not feel lost and overwhelmed. Again I wish we had stayed longer.


Als Kind habe ich den Namen Alhambra mit einem kleinen Kino in meiner Heimatstadt verbunden. Ich wusste nicht, dass es sich auf einen historischen Ort bezieht. Es klang halt einfach nur exotisch, so wie Sindbad oder Ali Baba und die vierzig Räuber. Das Kino ist schon seit langem geschlossen, aber ich werde mir jetzt die richtige Alhambra ansehen. Es ist eine Festung in der Stadt Granada, die die letzte Bastion der islamischen Herrschaft im mittelalterlichen Spanien war. Der Name leitet sich aus dem Arabischen ab und bedeutet so viel wie “die Rote” und der Name der Stadt Granada kommt ebenso von der roten Farbe. Beides bezieht sich vermutlich auf die Farbe der Mauern der Alhambra. Erst 1492 übergab der maurische Herrscher Boabdil den katholischen Königen Isabella und Ferdinand die Stadt, um damit die christliche Reconquista der iberischen Halbinsel zu vollenden. Kurz danach legte Christoph Kolumbus zu seiner von König Isabella unterstützen Expedition ab, um damit die Weltgeschichte zu verändern.


Nicht nur die Geschichte macht die Alhambra so bedeutend, sondern auch ihre schiere Größe, ihre wundervolle Lage vor den schneebedeckten Bergen der Sierra Nevada auf einem Hügel über der Stadt thronend und natürlich ihr verschwenderisches Dekor im Inneren der Paläste. Daher muss man die Eintrittskarten lange vor dem Besuch in Granada reservieren, was wir glücklicherweise getan haben. In einem Zeitfenster von 30 Minuten erhält man Einlass zu den Nasridenpalästen mit dem Löwenhof als Herz der Alhambra. In anderen Teilen der Alhambra wird der Einlass nicht ganz so streng geregelt. Die Alcazaba ist der älteste Teil und stellt eine Festung dar. Von hier aus hat man einen guten Ausblick über die Stadt. Gegenüber den Nasridenpalästen befindet sich der Gartenpalast Generalife (nein, es ist nicht der Name einer Versicherung). Eigentlich ganz hübsch, aber verseucht mit sich langsam fortbewegenden riesigen Reisegruppen, die die Blumen bestaunen.

Man sagt, man sollte die Alhambra von innen und von weitem bewundern. Am besten kann man das von einem Aussichtspunkt im beschaulichen historischen Viertel Albaicín tun. Am unteren Ende der Gegend gibt es viele Döner- und Teppichläden, weiter oben wird es ruhiger. Es gibt also viel mehr als nur die Alhambra in Granada, beispielsweise die mächtige Renaissancekathedrale, die innen weiß und hell strahlt. Die Stadt strahlt im Allgemeinen ein angenehmes Gefühl aus – irgendwie großstädtisch, aber immer noch klein genug, um sich nicht verloren und überwältigt zu fühlen. Wieder einmal hätte ich mir gewünscht, dass wir noch länger hätten bleiben können.