Some people instantly think about Barcelona, Madrid or Ibiza when they think about Spain, but Southern Spain has its own flair, food and sights that you should explore, too! Seville and Malaga are probably two of the most popular cities in the area, but there’s so much more to see. Make the most of your stay, and plan your vacation right with help from a Vacation travel agent. For a little inspiration, here are some of our favorite towns to visit when traveling around Southern Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. Consider adding these places to your customized itinerary for your family vacation, honeymoon or fun couple’s getaway. You’ll thank us later.
Toledo: Visit Historic Fort and Go Shopping for Sweets and Swords
Once the capital of Spain, Toledo is an ancient walled city set atop a picturesque gorge overlooking the Río Tajo (Tajo River). It was known as the ‘city of three cultures’ in the Middle Ages because the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted here, and the evidence of their places of worship still exist today. For a small entrance fee, be sure to visit the Cathedral of Toledo with its gothic architecture dating back to the 13th century. The inside of the cathedral will take your breath away. The beautiful columns, masterfully carved Renaissance stalls and stained glass is considered one of the grandest works of art in Christendom.
Another grand fixture high above the city is Alcazar – an old Roman fort transformed into a Moorish fortress built. Add this historic site to your itinerary. Today, the fortress is now home to a military museum with uniforms and medals on display to capture Spain’s rich history.
Don’t leave Toledo without going to Venta de Dulces to buy some Covent sweets, such as Nuns’ cookies, usually made at one of the convents where cloistered nuns live. Locals buy the sweet treats as a way to help support the local nuns, and you can too! It can be a little tricky to find, but if you ask around and look for signs, you’ll eventually find it. Knowing some Spanish will make your purchase easier, but no worries if you don’t, you can walk away with a sampler box of different types of cookies for a few dollars.
And if you’re looking for a nice set of cutlery, go shopping for it in Toledo, known for its steel and metalwork. So, if you have an interest in swords or want to purchase an excellent set of steak knives, you may be able to find just what you’re looking for here.
Ronda: Explore Plaza de Toros, Arab Baths and Cuenca Gardens
Said to be the birthplace of modern bullfighting, this ancient town is surrounded by the Tajo gorge and connected on three sides by bridges. One of Vacation’s expert travel agents can help arrange a tour of Plaza de Toros de Rondo for you. Built in 1785, it is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain and it has an attached museum with exhibits, including some of Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s bullfighting paintings.
While visiting Ronda, the Arab Baths – claimed to be the best preserved in Spain – are worth checking out. They were built at the end of the 13th century and the large cauldron used to heat the Bath’s water is still visible today. Be sure to look up as the star-shaped vents in the roof were modeled after the ceiling of the world-renowned bathhouse at the Alhambra in Granada.
After a stroll around the baths, take a stroll through the Cuenca Gardens with a series of terraces, located on the side of the Tajo Gorge. The views are fantastic and give you a unique and differing perspective of the city. Grab your phone to take a few Instagram-worthy shots while you’re here.
Feeling a little adventurous? Take an ATV tour of Ronda and the surrounding area. This is not only fun for adults, but your kids will love it too! Your guide will not only take you through the city, but you’ll get to travel along old trade routes lined with chestnut trees, vineyards and olive groves. And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to hop off your ATV to take a few photos and capture Rondo’s natural beauty.
Granada: Explore Alhambra, a Film Location for a Few Game of Thrones Scenes
This town is best known for Alhambra, a UNESCO Heritage site. This palace sits upon the original structure built around 800 A.D., and then renovated and rebuilt starting in the 1300s. The history and beauty of this palace is remarkable with tales of an era when sultans, queens and concubines had their rightful place. We recommend a full day for visitors to explore the palace to marvel at its intricate architecture and carefully manicured gardens with fountains and pools – all are worth the visit.
Before you visit Alhambra, buy your tickets as soon as you have booked your flights. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed into the site each day, and it’s not uncommon for tickets to sell out months in advance. We also recommend you pay the extra money for a guided tour to get the most out of your time here. Once your tour is complete, make your way to Granada’s downtown area to grab a bite to eat and shop for some authentic souvenirs.
Gibraltar: Multiple Ways to See a World-Renown British Territory and Natural Beauty
If you’re visiting Southern Spain and looking for a change in scenery, we recommend spending an afternoon in Gibraltar. Known for its famous “Rock,” Gibraltar is a British territory with a few fun things visitors should to check out. But first, there are many ways to reach the top of the rock. You can take a tour or purchase a special "Cable Car and Nature Reserve" ticket that includes: entrance to the cave, the Great Siege Tunnels, the City Under Siege exhibit, the Moorish Castle and the famous Apes' Den. Beware of the monkeys here. Many people will try and get up close and personal with them, but they’ve been known to snatch purses or other personal possessions in no time! So, keep your valuables locked up or better yet… enjoy the monkeys from afar.
When you’re done exploring the Rock of Gibraltar, spend some time strolling through the streets to take a look at the architecture of the British territory. Don’t leave here without finding a local pub to grab a pint and meal, get a bite to eat of authentic fish and chips from a local pub.
Traveling from Spain? We recommend parking your car in Spain in a public parking garage, and then, you can walk across the border to avoid traffic. You don’t need a car because you can hop on a bus that will take you from the border crossing to downtown (or vice versa). And don’t forget your passport because you’ll need it to enter into Gibraltar.
Tangier, Morocco: Experience a Different Culture Through the Eyes of a Reputable Guide
If you’re planning a vacation to Southern Spain, one of Vacation’s travel specialists can help you plan a few days to visit Morocco, too! From Spain or Gibraltar, you can take a 30-60-minute water taxi ride to Tangier, Morocco, depending on where you’re coming from. Be prepared to embrace the culture and traditions that extend far beyond the expansive, ornate palaces owned by famous sheiks, the Muslim call to prayer, and the famous Casbah. Before visiting, we recommend you hire a reputable guide before traveling to this amazing country. Unfortunately, there have been situations when local taxi drivers have taken advantage of tourists by pretending to be tour guides. So, lock down a good tour guide before you go! Once you have a guide, you will be able to easily enjoy this city. Most guides will take you on an organized route through Tangier, giving tourists the opportunity to see the city’s natural beauty and man-made attractions.
Visit the Cape Spartel Lighthouse for a stunning view where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Take a break to relax and order some delicious mint tea at Café Cape Spartel, located at the lighthouse. For an immersive experience, travelers can experience local traditions and performers, such as snake charmers and belly dancers. And you can’t leave Tangier without a photo riding a camel for a small tip.
One place that you should add to your list is a stop in Casbah, a walled city built in the 15th century. As you stroll through the narrow streets, this city (in so many ways) remains the same. Some homes don’t have running water, and residents must retrieve water from nearby wells or other shared sources. And a stop in a bakery is like a flashback in time because local bakers still bake bread in an old stone oven. For a small price, try the bread with a little camel butter. Yum! The Casbah is full of local merchants selling and waiting to barter on handmade leather items, silver and much more! And if you’re hungry… find a restaurant that serves traditional chicken tagine served with rice, fresh olives and lemons. It’s the perfect way to wrap up your trip in Morocco.
Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan an unforgettable multi-stop tour through Southern Spain to Morocco? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent to customize an itinerary you’re gonna love.