I have planned a two weeks in Spain road trip since October 2015. In between then and now we have welcomed Ilinca in our lives. Thus, I adjusted for a 10 days Andalusia road trip with a toddler itinerary. We toured the region in a circle on the route Malaga-Granada-Cordoba-Seville-Cadiz-Malaga. Although thoroughly planned, we were not ready for everything this trip brought. It took me a couple of weeks upon our return to let all impressions sink in and understand how much I actually enjoyed it and how much it has enriched us. Several articles on amazing Andalusia, its culture and sights, will follow. This is the warm account of our sejour, focusing on our experience road tripping with a toddler in Southern Spain and on how to best organize such an undertaking.
Notes: 1. This article contains a few friendly affiliate links and banners. Should you make a purchase through any of them, we get a small commission at no extra cost for you. 2. This article covers a trip for which we have fully paid ourselves. While I will provide first-hand accounts and reviews of our experiences, these are meant as advice for our readers looking for tips and inspiration for their own travels.
Before we start, check-out here the LIVE NOMADIC MONDAY PRESENTATION VIDEO for this article.
Andalusia – a great region to travel with an 18-months old toddler
We could not have asked for a better region for our first road trip with Ilinca. With an amazing history and culinary tradition to appeal to the culture addicts in us, Andalusia is still one of those rare places that are just touristic enough. The infrastructure and the services are there, but tourism is not as massive as to be disruptive to the local way of life.
Additionally, Spaniards have something akin to a cult for children and family in general. In honesty, I was pre-warned about it by Giles Tremlett’s book “Ghosts of Spain”, an invaluable cultural aid and companion in our travels. Just how right he was I learned on the spot. Everywhere we went we were greeted like royalty and given immediate priority, with people fussing over the toddler and her every need. Be it hotels, shops, restaurants, or museums everybody went out of their way to make our (and mostly the baby’s) stay comfortable. And for this, I am truly grateful as there were times when we were asking ourselves whether we should not take a break from it all and crash in the hotel room. More about this below.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler – practical considerations
When it comes to adjusting itineraries to fit a toddler’s routine, we got about half of the things right from the beginning. The rest we had to adjust, improvise, and most importantly learn as we went along. We definitely underestimated the effort needed to pack/unpack a toddler’s life every other day and seriously consider staying in one location and doing day trips for our next venture. This was not possible in the case of Andalusia, however.
As no parent has time for long reads, I’ll keep this brief and to the point.
- Time of travel – we went for the first week of June, which inland was already too hot (38C). A couple of weeks earlier would have been better.
- Flying in/out – the earlier in the day, the better. I wish we had this option.
- Itinerary – we planned ahead for a one-day driving/one-day sightseeing schedule and tried to cover average distances no longer than 150 km in one go. This worked very well as it allowed us to still do a bit of sightseeing in the morning before driving to the next destination. We also planned ahead such as to alternate sightseeing/relaxation locations.
- Stops – we did not get this one completely right, as we underestimated the effect that frequent location changes have on the baby. In retrospect, I would reduce the number of stops from 5 to 4 and allow one-day recovery time upon arrival.
- Schedule – We did the mistake of assuming our toddler’s routine will remain fairly unchanged during the trip. This cost us the visit to the Alhambra, as we booked a tour at 8.30 AM. An early riser (6 AM), Ilinca suddenly slept in until 9-10 AM. She correspondingly was up much later in the evenings.
- Accommodation – only about half of the hotels we booked provided entertainment options for children (playground, swimming pool, etc). Having these available is so crucial, as it helps get the children in the right mood in the morning and to unwind in the evening. We definitely underestimated their importance. If you’re heading there, make sure to look into this list of all-inclusive Spanish family resorts.
- Meals – While our toddler’s sleeping routine changed, her eating schedule did not. She still expected her dinner around 7 PM, which in Spain is a bit difficult to organize as most restaurants open for dinner around 8-8.30 PM A lot of our time was wasted trying to find a suitable place to eat. Restaurant meals also got expensive, as more often than not we had to order several dishes to find one that Ilinca liked. We ended up just consuming the ones she did not like. The best solution for this problem is to find hotels that offer both breakfast and dinner buffets. In these instances, having taken care of a hungry toddler, we still could go out for a nice evening walk afterward.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler day 0/arrival – renting a car in Malaga
Our trip was designed such that we took a direct flight from Vienna to Malaga around 2 PM and planned to have dinner and put Ilinca to sleep in Malaga airport upon arrival, before picking up our rental (8 PM) and driving the 125 km to Granada the same evening.
We booked our rental online from Europcar, which we have used for years for their promptness and flawless service all over Europe. While this might be a one-time personal experience, we were on for a very rough start in Malaga for which we were completely unprepared. Everybody was as polite as possible and tried to accommodate our problems, but the overall outcome was not a very pleasant one. We appreciated the apologies phone call the next day but would have been much more grateful if, for example, they drove us to the departure terminal at the end of our trip, rather than snap at us for parking in the wrong spot at drop off.
Car rental offices are inside the arrivals terminal, which means in theory you should pick up your rental before leaving the airport terminal. With your boarding pass, you are still able to access the rental desks from the outside rentals garage if necessary.
We checked in with the clerks in the terminal as we were early and wanted to go outside and grab a bite to eat. They ensured us that we could get our contract and keys at the office in the garage as well. Two hours later as we went to pick up the car (this is a 10-15 minutes walk with your luggage and baby in tow), we were sent from the garage desk back inside the terminal as although our contract was downstairs, the keys were upstairs. Following a 45 minutes wait for the contract and keys (although we had previously checked-in with them and they knew we were coming back in 2 hours), we learned that the law in Spain stipulates you are responsible for installing your own child seat in the rental car. As the child seat we got was extremely old fashioned, Sinan tried for another 45 minutes to install it in the twilight darkness of the garage with very general instructions from the clerk who was supposed to assist us, but who in the end admitted he is himself not so sure how it is supposed to work.
Take-home message: You are legally supposed to install your own car seat in any rental in Spain, so ask ahead for instructions (they do have an online youtube video they played for us after one hour or so) such that you can prepare yourself. If at all possible, I would strongly recommend bringing your own car child seat along.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler days 1/2 – beautiful Granada and the Alhambra disaster
Having left Malaga airport three hours later than expected, with Ilinca finally asleep in my arms (Sinan only figured out the car seat in daylight the next day), we were very excitedly awaiting our private group tour of the Alhambra at 8.30 AM the next morning. This was something we booked last minute as the regular tickets were already sold out by the time we added Granada to our itinerary (original plan was to skip it altogether). Unfortunately, at our free-parking, great value for money hotel outside the city (Hotel Las Terazzas), the included breakfast we had booked and paid for consisted of a piece of cake and a coffee. Period. So off to the Alhambra it was, with a hungry toddler and two already tired parents who at least got their caffeine fix. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide, an amazingly friendly driver for hotel transfer, and a more than accommodating tour operator, but this was simply the wrong time and place for us. The link to the very well organized Alhambra tour we booked is this one.
Alhambra, palace and fortress of the last flourishing Islamic caliphate of Al Andalus and later seat of the Catholic Monarchs, can definitely be successfully enjoyed with children. Toddlers need to be carried in appropriate systems and strollers are not allowed in several parts of the complex. This all would have worked just fine, having had the opportunity to walk at our own pace. As much as I enjoy a good tour guide under toddler-free circumstances, we spent about an hour going through the Nasrid Palaces, which was about as long as Ilinca’s patience could be stretched. By this time we were all getting very hungry and tired. As opposed to regular tickets which are valid for the whole day and only stipulate the entry time to the Nasrid Palaces, group tickets are only valid for a limited time and with the group. As neither coming back later in the day, nor continuing on our own at a faster pace was possible, we sadly aborted, went back to the hotel, and got a much-needed lunch and sleep.
Take-home message: Visiting Alhambra, or any other highly touristic sight in Andalusia (like the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba or its namesake in Seville), with a toddler should only be attempted at one’s own pace and if enough time is allocated to the visit (a full day).
However, adding Granada to our itinerary was an inspired move as we fully enjoyed walking around the city center (downtown Granada) and the old Albayzin quarter. While the latter is suitable for an evening walk when everybody heads to Mirador San Nicolas for sunset pictures with the Alhambra, the former is amazing early mornings. We ended up spending the best of our second day in downtown Granada before driving to our accommodation in Cordoba.
For culture aficionados, factor in a stop at the Granada Cathedral built-in beautiful Spanish Renaissance style. The royal tombs of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I and Ferdinand are found in an adjacent chapel with its own entry. Granada was the Moors’ last stronghold in Andalusia and its atmosphere beautifully blends the charm of a historic European city with a rich Moorish heritage.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler days 2/3 – I left my heart in Cordoba
It was in Cordoba that we hit a jackpot in terms of accommodation. Situated outside the city center in a beautiful residential area, the Hotel Abetos del Maestre Escuela offers a welcoming atmosphere, a great breakfast buffet, decent dinner, as well as several entertainment options for little humans.
The city itself is a true gem easily explored in a day if one skips the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. If in Granada the historical sights felt more like statements to be acknowledged on the background of a lively metropolis, Cordoba is stepping back in time at its purest.
We started our visit at the iconic Mezquita, the great mosque that embodied the power of Al-Andalus before being reconsecrated in the 16th century when a cathedral was built in its precinct. This monument can easily be visited with toddlers. There are no waiting lines, strollers are allowed inside, and truth be told Ilinca enjoyed the cool air while her parents marveled at the interplay of architectural styles. The cathedral itself has an open-air inner courtyard called the Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of the orange trees), which we loved so much as these trees and their ripe fruit are to be enjoyed everywhere in the region.
We randomly walked the narrow streets with white-washed houses and flower pots, ate our first paella at a patio restaurant somewhere, and slowly made our way towards Casa Andalusi, a small gem of a museum. This patio house recreates a typical 12th-century Andalusian house with Islamic furniture and decorations. It also houses and explains an Islamic paper factory, providing insights into the process that allowed the flourishing of culture in this part of the world at the time. The umbrous patios with water fountains were thoroughly enjoyed by our toddler during the visit.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler – SEVILLE
Andalusia road trip with a toddler day 4 – authentic Triana
Our next stop was Seville, the region’s biggest and most well-known city. We were extremely happy at Hotel Monte Triana, where we could have both breakfast and dinner and a playground was available across the street. Having a toddler always has us exploring the local neighborhood for playgrounds and supermarkets, which allowed for some high-quality time spent in Seville’s Triana. We browsed ceramic workshops, local markets and restaurants, and tried to communicate with the locals through gestures and a very rudimentary Spanish knowledge on my side. Ilinca made good friends at the Casa Cuesta restaurant, where we always got the VIP treatment. It was here that we enjoyed the best tapas of our stay in Spain.
Take-home message: Families with toddlers can make more out of their time in less touristic, authentic locations.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler day 5 – multi-facet Seville
Crossing the Triana bridge the next morning, we were in for a longer walk than initially planned. In a day, we could only cover the basic sights such as the Cathedral, the Parque Maria Luisa and Plaza de Espana, the Metropol Parasol, and the barrio Santa Cruz. With its elegant streets, romantic squares lined with orange trees, glimpses of tiled patios, and the spirit of flamenco in the air, Seville used to be the center of the world at the height of the Spanish colonial period – a city that has much to offer and is ideal for a weekend city break or a 3 days itinerary.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler days 6-8 – enjoy the seaside and the ocean near Cadiz
We have included a seaside relaxation window in our itinerary that for us did not work very well due to weather conditions. This was planned to happen near Cadiz, at the Barcelo Costa Ballena Golf and Spa Resort. As the weather was very windy here and the water still cold this time of the year, we ended up making the most out of their breakfast/dinner buffets, playground, and exploring the beautiful city of Cadiz. It would have been much better to book time at the seaside in the proximity of Malaga and allocate extra days to our stays in either Granada or Seville instead. The time spent here will, nevertheless, always be precious to us as it involved Ilinca’s (and mine) first encounter with the ocean. And that memory is priceless.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler day 9 – Malaga mon amour
It was on the last day of our trip that we got to enjoy Moorish architecture at its best – in the less crowded, almost overlooked Alcazaba fortress of Malaga. There were no waiting lines and an elevator took us up to the fortress, where we had much more flexibility than at the Alhambra. Granted, the architectural details are not as impressive, but we enjoyed the calm of the magnificent gardens and the sunset views over the harbor almost undisturbed. While the length of the entire fortress can be walked, it is not possible to do that with a stroller.
Back to the city, we were positively enchanted with its modern streets and atmosphere, as well as the multitude of dining options. Worth mentioning is D’Platos, which serves modern reinterpretations of Andalusian cuisine in an elegant, child-friendly ambiance. We even went in search of specialty coffee and discovered Santa Canela Cafe, where we also had some seriously amazing home-baked cakes. The culture addict in me would have loved to explore Malaga’s Picasso heritage while there, but Ilinca preferred to chase pigeons in the port so that’s what we did.
Take-home message: The region around Malaga is better suited for a seaside stay early in the season, while the city itself offers ample opportunities for cultural family travelers.
Andalusia road trip with a toddler – final conclusions
I am not sure how this entire article will come across. While parents might understand the joy of chasing pigeons and having cake with your kid instead of sightseeing, it was for us a completely different experience. Having read for years about the history of Andalusia and its cultural importance, the bookworm in me would have liked, maybe, to spend more time exploring the region’s cultural legacy. But nothing parallels sharing Ilinca’s first ice cream ever on the stairs of the Mezquita or trying on her new sunglasses in the garden of Seville’s cathedral. Traveling with a toddler has taught us to slow down and enjoy a city’s atmosphere more than before, to adopt local habits such as the lunchtime siesta, to focus more on finding the right place to stay at every location, and to always cover one stop less than originally planned.
I hope this article will be a source of inspiration for all families who plan to travel to the region! You can always contact us for its personalized version, and please share your experiences with us in the comments! We would love to hear from you!