Winter destination spots in Spain
The only season I will advise you not to come to Spain for a vacation (except if you are heading to northern Spain) is in the summer. In the summer every vacation spot in Spain is crowded, overpriced and unbearably hot. Trying to enjoy the visiting cultural sights is a challenge in 45-degree weather, and the beaches are so crowded that you have to step over heads and towels to fight for your spot on the burning sand.
Now that we have settled that, let's turn to the other seasons. Spring and fall are by far the best times to visit, but there are also some great options for a winter vacation.
Where to go for a winter getaway in Spain
Take a cultural tour of Andalucia
The winter is a perfect time to take a tour of the biggest cultural gems in Spain. There are fewer crowds visiting, and the climate in Andalucia is pleasant.
Start with Seville, a city that tends to slip from a late summer to a lazy fall and back into early spring skipping winter all-together. Most people melt in the summer in Seville with temperatures soaring to 45+ degrees, but in the winter the temperatures rarely dip below 20.
You may head to Seville because of the balmy temperatures in the winter, but once there you will realize you have stumbled onto one of the most stunning treasures in Spain. Seville is a city to fall in love with and a city to fall in love in. Seville is a place taken directly out of fairy tales from far away lands. You will discover a palace built by Arabic Sultans for their harams, streets filled with orange trees that seem to carry the scent of oranges even when the trees aren’t in blossom and irresistible narrow cobblestone streets.
Visit the Alcazar: See the Al Andalus as it was in its full glory. An enchanting palace with endless gardens and water fountains.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of Seville I can’t imagine finding a more romantic setting for a horse-drawn carriage ride than the streets of Seville.
Take a walk around Plaza Espana- The immensity and design of this famous Plaza will be forever etched in your memory.
Rent a bike in Maria Luisa park—One of the loveliest parks in Europe, Maria Luisa is full of palms and orange trees, elms and Mediterranean pines, flower beds, tiled benches, ponds and pavilions.
For more information on Seville: Top 7 things to do and see in Seville
On your way to Cordoba stop in Carmona: Walk back in time in Carmona
The Andalucian theme continues as you head to Cordoba. In the 10th century, Cordoba was a powerful European capital. It surpassed both Rome and Paris in academic, architecture and artistic achievements. The Islamic influence is still strongly felt in Cordoba, and its most important buildings are from around the 10th century when this was an Islamic state. An example of this influence is in the Mesquite (mosque) which is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.
Cordoba in its heyday was not just an Islamic stronghold, it was an example of 3 distinct cultures (Islam, Jewish and Christian) living together in tolerance and harmony. Take a stroll through the Jewish quarter of the city to get a feel this culture coming through. You will be greeted with whitewashed houses, quaint plazas and flower-filled patios.
Other sights to see in Cordoba:
Synagogue of Cordoba: One of the most significant synagogues in all of Spain
Palacio de Viana: 5 Centuries, 12 courtyards and 100’s or stories to be told
Arabic baths: The largest Arabic baths in Europe will transport you to the splendour of the Al Andalus kingdom.
Royal stables: See where Filipe II started a pure thoroughbred breed of Spanish horse - The Andalusian. Few horses have had more elegant stables.
After visiting Seville and Cordoba, you will think that everything you see after them will surely only be a disappointment—that is when you head to Granada.
The Alhambra in Granada is the king of palaces. After visiting 100’s of palaces throughout Spain, I have to say that this one stands out far and above all the others. It is hard to describe the impression that you have as you stand overlooking Granada, with the majestic Alhambra twinkling in the twilight and the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind.
The Alhambra is much more than just a palace, it was a city built within the palace walls. As the official page of the Alhambra puts it “The Alhambra was a palace, a fortress and a citadel; the residence of the Nasrid Sultans and top government officials, court servants and the royal guard.”
As the Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain you can’t buy your tickets at the door, you need to book in advance.
Alhambra: Alhambra ticket information
I asked Nicola Toner from www.granadafoodtourco.com for some suggestions of what else to do in winter in Granada and she told me first things first, get some energy by having a few tapas at Diamantes, an emblematic bar on Calle Navas. Nicola suggested trying the bacalao (cod) tapa.
Nicola then suggests that you head to the Nevada shopping complex, to make sure you get a bit of shopping time in the middle of your cultural tour.
And finally, Nicola said, “Climb to the top of Albeycin and admire the view of the Alhambra with snowy Sierra Nevada's highest peak, Mulhacen, in the background while enjoying a drink.” The best place to get this amazing view, and your epic photo of Granada, is at the Mirador San Nicholas.
Head to the beach
Spain has 8000 km of coastline, so there is no shortage of beaches to choose from. The question is which beach to head to for a winter getaway. Just remember Spain is not a tropical destination. Having said that the winters here, especially on the coasts, are quite mild. If you are a Canadian, you can even brave the water for a dip.
If you are heading for a beach in the winter, you should avoid the top ½ of the country (Galicia, Asturias and Basque country) as you can’t expect anything in the way of sunshine in those areas. They are beautiful, but best to save the northern beaches for the spring or even summer.
Turquoise waters, whitewashed villages and green valleys are what you will find along the Costa Blanca. Costa Blanca has 200 km of coastline, so the only challenge will be to discover which is your favourite stretch of beach. The top towns I would recommend for a winter vacation along the Costa Blanca are: Javea, Gandia, Calpe and Denia. These all cater to tourism and have an abundance of places to visit as well as long sandy beaches to enjoy taking your morning stroll or sitting out and getting some sun. The one place that I DON’T recommend is Benidorm. It is a party town that is more British than Spanish, the streets smell of old beer and last nights party.
Costa Del Sol
The Costa Del Sol has the longest beach season in Spain. The weather here stays warm long after other areas to the north are gripped in winter. Even in the coldest months, the temperatures here rarely dip below 20.
The Costa Del Sol also has 22 blue flag beaches—blue flag represent the highest standard of hygiene, cleanliness and public facilities.
Golf: With over 70 golf courses along the Costa Del Sol you might want to swing over to one of the courses for a game.
Luxury in Marbella
For decades Marbella has been famous for attracting the rich and famous. If you want to rub shoulders with the wealthy, this is the town to go to. There is a huge nightlife in Marbella, lots of opportunities to see and be seen.
Puerto Banus has a luxury marina that attracts yachts of all shapes and sizes. The parking near the port is reserved for those who keep their yachts in the port, so if you are into cars you will see your share of high-end luxury and sports car.
The stores in and around Puerto Banus are all high end and have some of the biggest names in fashion. Looking at a price tag might make your head spin. But if you have a few extra Euros to throw around the boutiques in and around Puerto Banus will help you take the cash off your hands in no time.
My personal favourite winter go-to beaches are along the Atlantic coast. The beaches of Huelva are long, open, clean and seem to stretch on forever. These are beaches that are perfect for taking long walks, collecting shells and breathing in fresh sea air.
My favourite beaches are Mazagon and Matalacanas. But both of these towns all but close down in the winter. I would suggest staying in Islantilla, a new resort town right along the border of Portugal. The beach along Islantilla is also lovely, although I would still take the time to rent a car and head to Mazagon for at least one day.
For detailed information on the beaches of Huelva, see my article here: The Best Beaches in all of Spain.
If you want guaranteed sunshine with temperatures above 30, there are always the Canary Islands. These islands have the same temperature year round as they are off the coast of the southern border of Morroco. If your style of vacation is warm sand, palm trees and a cool ocean breeze, the Canary islands are where you will want to go.
The most visited island is Tenerife, which is famous for its black sand beaches. It also has some white sand beaches if you don’t take to the black sand. Tenerife also has the highest mountain in Spain, El Teide.
Perhaps the only negative is that the Canary Islands are a two-hour flight from mainland Spain.
Have you been to Spain in the winter? If you have a winter get-away recommendation that I haven't covered here, I would love to hear your comments.