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Updated: 10th August 2023
Southern Spain brags plenty: granite-coloured beaches lapped by warm Mediterranean waters, storied cities influenced by Islamic architecture, tucked-away tranquil villages and breathtaking gorges punctuated by cliff-hugging hiking routes. While you’ll never fit everything into one visit, a one week Andalucia road trip through the Province of Málaga and nearby will introduce you to many of the region’s highlights and hidden gems.
In this Andalucia road trip itinerary, I’ve focused on some of the major sights and less visited spots around Malaga, with a detour to Granada for the show-stopping Alhambra. Having lived in the city for three months last year for my Spanish course, I promise you it’s one attraction you can’t skip.
Of course, there are also plenty of fantastic places in Andalucia that I haven’t included, such as Seville or Cordoba’s trio of World Heritage Sites. But these are great spots for a standalone city break, hence why on this whirlwind itinerary, you’ll make the most of having a rental car to see some of the less obvious options instead. Or, if time allows, make it a two-week trip using my additional suggestions below.
Why rent a car in Malaga to explore independently
Malaga Airport is the fourth busiest in Spain. It even has inter-continental flights, making it the best gateway to southern Spain and, in particular, the region of Andalucia. While Seville also has an airport, it’s smaller, and flights are more limited. Hence why starting your Andalucia road trip here makes sense. When it comes to booking a Malaga airport car rental, it’s usually best to skip the broker and reserve direct to secure the best price – and with Malaga Airport being larger than Seville, there are generally more choices and deals to be found here.
Of course, if you’re planning to just enjoy a city break in Malaga or a weekend in Seville, then hiring a car is perhaps not needed. You might also think a car isn’t required because Spain has Europe’s most extensive high-speed network. But for this itinerary which includes some of Spain’s hidden gems across the Malaga province, a car will not only help you make the most of your time but also allow you to reach small villages and more remote beaches rarely serviced by buses, let alone have a train station.
Tip: Download the Telpark app to find and pay for parking spaces in the major cities.
One week Andalucia itinerary starting and ending in Malaga
After landing at Malaga Airport and collecting your rental car, it’s time to hit the road – I propose finishing your visit in Malaga instead, so there’s no last-minute rush – and heading straight to the beach to wash off the flight in those alluring warm waters.
Day one: Malaga to Nerja
Driving time: Around one hour
Tracking the coast east, you’ll find a bevvy of beautiful bays and beaches to relax on as you head to spend the night in Nerja, a coastal resort city backed by verdant mountains. There are some great (but sometimes busy) beaches in the city itself, so I’d propose stopping at one or two of the attractions and beaches en route, such as Playa las Dunas. Just be aware that the beaches on this stretch of coast are slightly greyer in colour than those in west Andalucia.
Day two: White Villages (or Serra Nevada) and Granada
Driving time: Around 90-120 minutes depending on detours
After breakfast in Nerja overlooking the ocean, it’s time to continue your one week Andalucia road trip inland to the grand city of Granada.
But first, pick your detour. You could either visit the Serra Nevada, an impressive mountain range with tiny villages and winter skiing options just outside Granada or stop at one of the Pueblos Blancos instead. These small, whitewashed villages characterise the region, and there are a couple nearby, such as Frigiliana.
After enjoying lunch in the mountains or a small village, continue to Granada, one of the best cities to visit in Spain for food. Here, park up the car and enjoy a drink-laden dinner, as in most bars, you’ll be served delicious free tapas with every beverage. Honestly, while living here, I often didn’t even buy dinner but filled up on these. Have an evening walk around the city in the cooler air, but plan for an early start to tour the Alhambra.
Day three: Granada
Driving time: Around 75 minutes
If there is one thing you must do during an Andalucia road trip, it’s visit the vast palaces and gardens of the Alhambra complex. Be sure to book your tickets in advance (either with a guide or read up on the history of the Alhambra before your visit) as they often sell out, and aim for one of the first timed entrances of the day. These Islamic palaces are ornate, intricate and unforgettable. Afterwards, take a stroll around the Albaicín neighbourhood, where the Muslim influence remains on show, before enjoying a typical lunch.
You could then either spend another night in Granada before setting off early to the Caminito del Rey or drive to the small, laid-back and charming town of Antequera for a night to see a slightly slower-paced part of Malaga province.
Day four: Caminito del Rey, Setenil de las Bodegas and Ronda
Driving time: Around two hours
Another attraction you’ll need to book in advance, the Caminito del Rey, is certainly not for those with a fear of heights. This impressive gorge is hugged by a walking trail which clings to the edge of the gorge, with bridges crossing the sparkling waters below. The nearly 8-kilometre route could be rushed in a couple of hours, but allow a bit longer to really make the most of the dizzying views.
Next up, it’s back in the car, as your Andalucia road trip brings you for a late lunch in Setenil de las Bodegas – or perhaps you’d prefer to stop in a nearby vineyard for lunch instead? Either way, this hidden gem of Europe is well worth visiting; the most fascinating feature is the whitewashed homes which are underneath a giant rock slap – it’s quite something!
After a few hours exploring, head to Ronda for sunset to snap some photos of the famous Puente Nuevo bridge before dinner.
Day five: Ronda and the Costa del Sol
Driving time: Around 75-minutes
Ronda is an absolute beauty, and there are a fair few attractions here to explore – such as the bridge and the Arabic Baths. But by now, you’ll likely be ready to head back to the coast, and the gorgeous beaches of the Costa del Sol are only around one hour away.
Drive south, perhaps stopping at the blue-painted village of Júzcar en route, and you’ll arrive at Marbella, a popular holiday resort which could be an excellent late lunch option – although personally, I’d suggest not staying here and heading slightly further along the coast for more peaceful experience around Playa del Chaparral or Playa de Carvajal.
Day six: Costa Del Sol and Malaga
Driving time: Around 90-minutes, including detours
After a lazy day at the beach, it’s time to start the drive back to Malaga to end your one week Andalucia road trip. Absolutely try and stop on the way at the whimsical Colomares Monument near Benalmádena, a peculiarly shaped castle dedicated to Christopher Columbus.
If you have an early flight the next day, I’d suggest returning to Malaga a bit earlier so you can explore the city a little today instead.
Day seven: Malaga and depature
Spend your last day exploring Malaga Old Town and the city’s highlights before your departure. Be sure to visit the 11th-century Moorish Alcazaba, the Teatro Romano de Málaga, or, if you’re an art fan, the Picasso Museum, home to a vast collection of his work.
Other places to visit in Andalucia and Malaga with a car
If you’re lucky enough to have another week for your vacation or would prefer to chop and change some of these destinations, you have plenty of other options to choose from.
There are so many things to do in Seville that I always suggest making it a three-day city break minimum, hence not including it in this Andalucia itinerary. With palaces aplenty, one of the most impressive and largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, flamenco shows, and some of the most beautiful Islamic (Moorish) architecture in the country, such as the Royal Alcázar of Seville, this is a city that sizzles both in attractions and climate.
Gibraltar is an oddity. A tiny British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of Spain, it’s quite a novelty to pay a visit and be transported to an English-speaking corner of the Iberian peninsula. The main attraction is the giant Rock of Gibraltar that dominates the landscape – just be careful of the monkeys on the climb up!
Arguably one of the most underrated cities in Europe, Cordoba is home to a trio of Unesco-listed sights, including the unique Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. This magnificent building was saved from destruction, unlike many of Spain’s Mosques from the Moorish period, and now blends two religions and architectural designs into one.
Ayamonte and on to the Algarve
From Seville, it’s not far to drive to Portugal. Just be sure to ensure your car rental covers driving abroad, and then you’re free to head to any of the best places to visit in the Algarve. Stop at the Spanish border town of Ayamonte on the way (book a meal at LPA restaurant, it’s one of my favourites) and then explore the rocky bays and cliffs of Lagos’ Ponta da Piedade, enjoy some surf on the west coast, or hike along one of the most breathtaking cliff-top trails in the world, the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail.
However you choose to spend your one week Andalucia road trip, you really can’t go wrong. There are so many inviting beaches, villages and towns to explore that become reachable by a rental car that you’ll be in for a delicious treat on any detour you take.