View of Grenada from the Alhambra in Spain during winter

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Most people choose to visit Spain in the summer. This time of year is popular because the weather is hot and all the tourist sites are open. However, this means most of the sites and towns of Spain are overflowing with visitors.

Visiting Spain in the winter is an entirely different experience. It’s cool, but not as cold as northern Europe. And the big benefit is there’s space to walk through the old streets of Grenada and admire the paintings of the Prado in Madrid without the crowds.

In addition, the locals are happier to chat because the pace of life is slower and less frantic. For these reasons, I think winter is the best time of year to visit Spain.

Escaping the North

Metro in Madrid Spain
Metro in Madrid. Image from Canva

One thing that constantly surprises me when travelling is how kind people can be. On my last morning in Madrid, I was trying to get to the bus station, feeling very sick and running on four hours of sleep.

I got off at the wrong stop and was led back to the station by a kind security guard, who took pity on me and my terrible Spanish. Then, when I was trying to find the right metro connection, an elderly Spanish man decided to take me under his wing and walked me all the way to the right platform.

People always talk about how terrible the world has become, and how no one smiles at anyone on the bus or stops to help elderly ladies across the road. And yes, the headlines are awful, and there’s still war and illness and tragic accidents. But there’s still so much kindness in the world; you just have to look a little harder for it.

Exploring the South

One of Southern Spain's famous swinging bridges in the Sierra Nevada
One of Southern Spain’s famous swinging bridges in the Sierra Nevada. Photo by Lucy Arundell

I was relieved when the bus pulled up at the Grenada station. The north of Spain was cold and wet and I was desperate for any small glimmer of sunlight. Grenada quickly became my favourite Spanish city. It’s small, hemmed in by mountains to the north and south, and the Moorish Alhambra stands over the city like a silent guardian.

I met a German girl in the hostel where I was staying who was also a solo traveller. We spent evenings together with other travellers in the hostel kitchen, swapping stories and laughing about mistakes made on trains and in restaurants in Spain.

On my first morning in the city, I took the twenty-minute climb up to the Alhambra as fog sat heavily in the valley. It was colder than I expected and the palace complex looked ghostly in the morning light.

The Alhambra was built in the 9th century when the Islamic empire stretched all the way to the Pyrenees mountains. It’s an incredible example of Moorish art and architecture, with hundreds of rooms displaying intricate carvings and some of the most detailed geometry I’ve seen.

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The next day I went for a hike in the Sierra Nevada, walking across deep ravines on the famous swinging bridges, and climbing the lower hills to get a view of the range. There was already snow on the top peaks, but the trees still had their leaves in the valley where it was hard to believe it was December.

There was hardly anyone else on the trails, and I felt like I might bump into a lost shepherd from the 18th century. Olive groves covered the lower hills and friendly cats basked in the afternoon sun along the main road.

As I waited for the bus back to Grenada, I watched locals unhurriedly going about their day. Kids were running across the roads and families were arriving at the local bar for an afternoon drink.

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On Flamenco

Flamenco dancers in Seville
Flamenco dancers in Sevilla. Image from Canva

In Sevilla, the fan whirred overhead, and a small red light shone from a framed painting above the stage. The “stage” was just a small wooden corner of a crowded bar, ready to host the dance Spain is famous for: flamenco.

The crowd waits with bated breath as the lights turn off and the guitarist starts strumming. It’s an eerie song that comes from the singer, a tale of lost homelands and a life spent on the move. The flamenco dancer stands abruptly as if she hears a secret tune only she can understand.

Her dancing is passionate, aggressive and perfectly in time with the music. By the end, her long black hair had escaped her hairband and sweat shined on her forehead. She was incredible, and we found out later she was only 17. She started learning flamenco from her mother when she was six.

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I spent the rest of the night with some friends from the hostel, going in and out of Sevilla’s many bars. It was a Spanish national holiday and the streets were packed. We elbow our way into a local tapas restaurant, found on the recommendation of someone who works at the hostel.

The one friend who knows Spanish starts ordering rapid-fire at the bar. We drank big glasses of red wine and tasted fried croquetas and plates of jamon while standing against the wall, competing with the rest of the locals to hear each other. It was the perfect ending to my time in Spain.

A busy tapas bar in Grenada Spain
A busy tapas bar in Grenada. Photo by Lucy Arundell

If you go:

Do book ahead for the Alhambra. In winter it’s possible to get a ticket with a few days’ notice, but in summer you’ll need to book at least a few weeks in advance.

Don’t miss out on the national parks. The south of Spain is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country- the Sierra Nevada range is just one example. Many hiking trails are accessible from major towns by local buses.

Do eat like the locals. Tapas restaurants are the best place to taste authentic Spanish cooking. But don’t go early- the Spanish don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10 pm and many places don’t open until then.

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Author Bio: I’m Lucy Arundell, a twenty-something Australian obsessed with exploring, adventuring, and everything in between. I have a degree in communications and international studies and have spent time working in print and radio. I love hiking, reading, and convincing my friends to come travelling with me.

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