Granada's Alhambra palace // © 2017 Keryn Means
Feature image (above): Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda // © 2017 Getty Images
Spain has many locations worthy of a road trip, but one of the best is the Andalusia region, especially for those short on time. With a weeklong itinerary, families can cover up to four cities at a brisk pace, affording them the opportunity to see Moorish architecture and design, devour tapas and enjoy quality time driving through the Spanish countryside.
Andalusia, in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, is an autonomous community in Spain. (It’s kind of like an independent state; there are 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities in Spain.) A road trip through the region is ideal throughout the year, as Andalusia’s capital, Seville, has the highest average temperature in mainland Spain. While it can get hot in the summer months, spring and fall are perfect for exploring with family members who may be more affected by extreme temperatures, such as young children and grandparents.
The easiest starting point for an Andalusian road trip is Madrid. Families can fly in to Adolfo Suarez Madrid–Barajas Airport, recover from jet lag for a day or two, then hit the road. Let clients know that they can pick up a vehicle from the airport through most international rental-car agencies, such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz and Europcar, but that they’ll pay extra for an automatic transmission, as manual is the norm in Europe. Car seats and booster seats are available at an added price and should be reserved in advance. Reserving a GPS is highly recommended, as well.
(A note about rental cars in Europe: While it is easy to rent a car as a U.S. citizen in most European countries, an international license is sometimes required. Adults can get an international license at most AAA locations. Simply bring a passport photo and the application fee. This license is in multiple languages and is valid for up to one year.)
Seville is the first major stop on any Andalusian road trip. The city’s main attractions are the Seville Cathedral and the Alcazar of Seville royal palace, both of which can be seen in less than two days. Kids will love climbing to the top of the cathedral via ramps that riders on horses once used. The palace rivals many in Europe and tends to be less crowded. Families in need of more space should rent an apartment just outside the historic city center. Stick to areas around parks to give children downtime and to be close to restaurants. Late-night tapas bars throughout Spain are great for parents after they put kids to bed.
Next up on the journey is Ronda. This often-overlooked hill town is a lovely overnight stop and can serve as a spot to rest and relax for a day or two if a family’s itinerary allows. It is home to the impressive Plaza de Toros bullring, where families can take a tour even when there aren’t tournaments. More impressive, though, are the views from the Puente Nuevo bridge that connects the two sections of the city. Clients can hike to the bottom of the bridge or explore the town’s history by visiting La Casa del Rey Moro palace and the Arab Baths. Accommodations in Ronda run from budget to luxury, but for a quick stop, I recommend Hotel Catalonia Reina Victoria Wellness & Spa. Families booking a suite will have access to the spa amenities, which can come in handy after all of that driving. There is also a restaurant, a pool and a playground on-site, as well as sweeping views of the valley below.
Last on any family road trip through Andalusia is Granada. This is where the main attraction — the Alhambra palace and fortress complex, the site that comes to mind for many when they think of Andalusia — can be experienced. The Alhambra’s name comes from the Arabic "al-qalaa al-hamra," which means “the red castle.”
Note: While visitors must get a timed ticket for the Alhambra (tickets also include the Generalife palace and estate, which I recommend touring), they are free to wander the grounds with their ticket throughout the day. The timed part only applies to when they are allowed to enter the Nasrid Palaces within the Alhambra compound. This is solely for crowd control purposes, as this is the most popular part of the property. While the Alhambra is the main attraction in Granada, there are plenty of other spots to explore, including the many small and winding streets of the historic Albayzin neighborhood, which is also the perfect location for guests to rent an apartment when visiting the area for two or more days.
After a whirlwind road trip through Andalusia, suggest that families return to Madrid for further exploration. The Royal Palace of Madrid is worth a morning tour, as is a stop in one of the many parks and at the Museo Nacional del Prado.