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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Picasso and Málaga Ice Cream. Picasso und Málaga-Eis. Picasso y Helado Málaga.

What do Pablo Picasso and Málaga ice cream have in common? – Yes, they both come from Málaga. Actually we chose Málaga as the end point for our Andalucia trip because of its forth busiest airport in Spain with convenient connections and of course for a dip in the sea. However the city is again a nice surprise. It has so much more to offer. A vibrant center with a lovely urban life and some historic sights as well like the Alcazaba fortress and a Roman theatre.

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Yet the first thing I crave for is ice cream. We head to Casa Mira whose owner claims to have invented the Málaga ice cream flavor in the 1970s. It is one of my favorites and contains raisins soaked in Málaga wine. And there is a Picasso museum and his birthhouse. His statue looks as if I am disturbing the old man a little. Close to the birthhouse there is a nice square with colorful plants and trees, again like in Sevilla the blue Jacaranda trees give the public places in Andalucia in spring a nice optical flavor.

Of course Málaga has a large port and a waterfront which does not look that Spanish anymore as there are lots of American fast food chains and many British tourists with flip flops and bathing attire. There is also a Centre Pompidou close to the sea, a colorful glass cube rivaling its cousin in Paris.

Despite all the sightseeing we don’t forget the beach. I had low expectations for the city beach, but the Malagueta beach is not too bad and not as crowded as I thought. I really enjoy the sun and the atmosphere. Some boys play a soccer match. However the water is freezing cold. I wonder what’s wrong with the metabolism of those teenagers who manage to stay in the water for quite a while. In the evening we take advantage of the nice cafes in the city and we even find some vegetarian restaurants. Again I could have stayed much longer.

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Was haben Pablo Picasso und Malaga-Eis gemeinsam? Richtig, beide kommen aus Málaga. Eigentlich haben wir uns für Málaga als Endpunkt unserer Andalusienreise entschieden, weil die Stadt den viertgrößten Flughafen Spaniens mit günstigen Flugverbindungen hat und weil wir hier gerne ins Wasser springen wollen. Aber wieder einmal ist die Stadt selbst eine nette Überraschung. Sie hat wirklich viel zu bieten, eine lebhafte Altstadt, Großstadtleben und historische Sehenswürdigkeiten wie die Alcazaba-Festung und ein römisches Amphitheater.

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Aber das erste, was ich unbedingt tun muss, ist Eis zu essen. Wir steuern das Casa Mira an, von dessem Besitzer gesagt wird, dass er in den 1970er Jahren das originale Malaga-Eis erfunden hat. Das ist eine meiner Lieblingssorten. Malaga-Eis enthält Rosinen, die in Malagawein eingelegt wurden. Und es gibt hier auch ein Picasso-Museum und sein Geburtshaus. Auf der Statue sieht der alte Mann so aus, als ob ich ihn wirklich etwas unangenehm belästigen würde. Nahe des Geburtshaus gibt es einen schönen Platz, der wie in Sevilla von bunten Pflanzen und den blau blühenden Palisanderholzbäumen gesäumt ist.

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Natürlich hat Málaga auch einen großen Hafen und eine Hafenpromenade, die gar nicht mehr so spanisch wirkt, denn es gibt hier viele US-amerikanische Fastfood-Ketten und etliche britische Touristen in Flipflops und Badeoutfit. Hier steht auch das Centre Pompidou, ein bunter Glaskasten, der einem Cousin in Paris Konkurrenz macht.

Neben all dem Sightseeing vernachlässigen wir natürlich nicht den Strand. Ich habe vom Stadtstrand nicht wirklich viel erwartet, aber eigentlich ist der Malagueta-Strand gar nicht schlecht und auch nicht so überfüllt wie befürchtet. Ich genieße die Sonne und die gute Stimmung am Strand. Ein paar Jungs spielen Fußball. Das Wasser ist allerdings eisig kalt. Ich frage mich echt, was mit dem Stoffwechsel der Teenager nicht stimmt, dass sie es so lange in diesem kalten Wasser aushalten. Am Abend nutzen wir die große Auswahl an Cafes und finden auch ein paar vegetarische Restaurants. Wieder einmal wäre ich gerne länger geblieben.

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