Last updated on May 18, 2023 by Wandering our World
Famed for its Flamenco dancing, sunny weather, world-class wines, whitewashed towns, and distinctive culture, Andalusia is one of the most vibrant and exciting parts of Spain to visit, and two of its top cities are Cordoba and Granada.
With UNESCO World Heritage Sites, delicious food, traditional Mudejar architecture, and beautiful surrounding scenery, both of these cities are fabulous places to visit and can work well for couples, families, groups of friends, or solo adventurers.
Ideally, it’s best to visit both of them, along with other nearby cities, like Seville, to enjoy the deepest and most memorable Andalusian experiences. Especially because Cordoba and Granada are actually very different…
For example Granada has more things to do, has a livelier nightlife scene and you can get free tapas (more on that later…) in many of the bars! Simply put, for most people Granada will be the best choice.
But Cordoba is pretty special too. It’s a stunning city with a great food scene, warmer temperatures and a more laid-back feel.
So, which one should you choose? Which city has the best family attractions, which is cheaper, best for day trips, couples and more?
We’ll be answering all of those questions, and several others, in the guide below, putting Cordoba and Granada side-by-side in several key areas to once and for all figure out which city is the best for you. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Has The Best Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Cordoba vs Granada
Cordoba: A Quick Overview
Cordoba is a large Spanish city in the central-northern part of the Andalusia region, built on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.
With a population of around 325,000 people, Cordoba ranks as the third-biggest city in Andalusia and the 11th largest in all of Spain. But, despite its large population, it’s often described as quite a quiet and very laid-back location.
People have been living in the area around Cordoba for thousands of years, but the city wasn’t officially founded until the 2nd century, BC.
It was the Ancient Romans who laid the foundations for Cordoba, but the city, like many others in the region fell under Muslim control in the 8th century, going on to build the city’s most iconic monument: the Mezquita, or Great Mosque.
Christians later drove the Muslims out of the city and converted the mosque into a cathedral, as well as making various other alterations and additions to the city as the centuries went by.
This interesting, multicultural past has given Cordoba a great range of well-preserved landmarks, from a Roman mausoleum to Islamic minarets and Christian churches.
Thanks to its impressive array of structures, along with other attractions like museums, parks, and gardens, Cordoba has emerged as a very popular day trip destination for Spaniards and foreign tourists alike.
As previously mentioned, it’s a very laid-back, chilled-out place that’s easy to explore and ideal for a relaxing getaway, far from the crowds and hustle of busier cities.
Granada: A Quick Overview
Granada is a city in the southeast part of Andalusia. It’s the capital city of the province of Granada, and is situated beside the towering Sierra Nevada mountain range, at a point where four rivers – the Darro, Genil, Monachil, and Beiro – all meet.
It has a population of more than 230,000 people, but feels busier and livelier than Cordoba, with a higher population density.
As with Cordoba, archaeologist and historians have found traces of human life in the area around Granada going back thousands of years.
The origins of the city itself are unclear, but we do know that the Romans made a colony in the area back in the 1st century, BC. The city was later controlled by Muslims and became a focal point for the Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus area.
Granada was actually the last part of the Muslim-ruled area to fall as the Christians “reconquered” Spain and drove the Moors out, but not before they had built the city’s most-visited and best-known landmark: the stunning Alhambra citadel.
Fortunately, this was preserved by the Christians, who added to the city with their own churches and chapels.
Nowadays, Granada is seen as a highly touristy location, drawing in travelers from far and wide.
It’s mostly-associated with the Alhambra – which ranks alongside Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Madrid’s Royal Palace among the most-visited landmarks in Spain – but also has many other attractions, from visits to the Royal Chapel to skiing and hiking in the mountains.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Next, let’s talk about attractions and things to do in both of these beautiful Andalusian locations.
Of course, to anyone familiar with the region, the key landmarks of Alhambra and the Mezquita require no introduction, as they’re both very famous, and many people specifically head to Granada or Cordoba purely to visit these two legendary places.
But there are many other things to see and experience in Granada and Cordoba, in addition to their best-known sights.
Both cities have many other well-preserved buildings and eclectic architectural styles to appreciate as you roam around, along with boutiques to browse, museums to explore, parks and gardens to admire, and so on.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the main activities you can expect to find in both Cordoba and Granada, highlighting some of the key differences between them and finding out which city has more to offer.
Cordoba: The Activities
As previously stated, many people flock to Cordoba to see the world-famous Mezquita, also known as the Great Mosque or Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba.
Work began on this breathtaking structure back in the 8th century, but it was adjusted and expanded in many ways by both Muslims and Christians, right up to the 16th century.
The Mezquita’s incredible story has resulted in one of the most unique landmarks in all of Spain, with a truly fascinating blend of Christian and Islamic architecture and design elements.
It’s a true sight to behold, and it’s easy to spend several hours or even a full-day simply walking around and taking it all in, feeling the echoes of the building’s past and imagining all it has seen.
Beyond the Mezquita, there’s more to see around Cordoba. The Jewish quarter is definitely worth checking out, with its medieval streets and 14th century synagogue.
There are also several Roman remnants to be found, like the Roman Bridge – standing for over 2,000 years – and other Moorish landmarks, like the Mills of the Guadalquivir and Minaret of San Juan.
There are also beautiful sculptures to spot as you tour the city – many travelers like to try to find all ten statues of the Archangel Raphael, the city’s guardian – and Cordoba is a very scenic place for long walks.
It also has some charming gardens and parks, like the Jardines de la Agricultura, along with a few museums focusing on fine art and archaeological artifacts.
Granada: The Activities
While Cordoba has the Mezquita, Granada has the Alhambra. This is an extraordinary Islamic palace-fortress complex which sits on the Sabika hill, overlooking the city below.
Construction began in the 13th century, but continued for many years, and the site was even chosen by Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, as their Royal Court, in the 15th century.
The Alhambra is so vast that it functioned as a self-contained city during its heyday, complete with all the amenities required by its inhabitants.
And, as a royal city, its design is sublime, with multiple palaces, grand courtyards, intricate domes, painted ceilings, and gorgeous gardens – it takes more time to see than the Mezquita and is arguably much more impressive.
Once you’ve appreciated the Alhambra, you can enjoy all the rest this city has to offer, like its fabulous Albaicin quarter, with its wonderful, whitewashed homes mixed in among trees and greenery.
The Cathedral of Cordoba (formerly a mosque) is another special sight, along with the stunning Isabelline Royal Chapel, where the aforementioned Catholic Monarchs are buried.
The Sacromonte Romani neighborhood is equally worthy of attention, along with the Generalife summer palace.
And the city has multiple museums, including an archaeological museum and another dedicated to the torture devices used in the Spanish Inquisition. Plus, with its mountainous location, Granada is a top spot for hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing in winter.
Overall, in terms of the number and range of activities, it’s Granada that stands out. Not only does it have the Alhambra, but it’s also ideal for outdoor activities, while also boasting many other key landmarks.
Cordoba has lovely buildings and ancient ruins to admire, in addition to its Mezquita, but is more of a day-trip destination than somewhere to spend several nights or more.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Parties, bars, and clubs are all big parts of the typical Spanish lifestyle, and many people in this part of the world love to stay out late, spending time snacking on tapas, drinking, and dancing.
So if you love nightlife, you’ll certainly find a few ways to spend your time after-hours in Cordoba or Granada. However, one city has a much better nightlife scene than the other.
In Cordoba, there are a few nightclubs and several bars to visit where you can enjoy a relaxing drink among the locals.
However, since this city is such a popular day-trip destination, it can feel quite quiet in the evenings, and most people will be heading home to bed well before the early hours.
In Granada, it’s a totally different story. This city really comes alive in the evenings, with locals hitting up the various tapas bars before moving on to cocktail spots and clubs to dance the night away.
Thanks to its large university, there’s a big student population in Granada, so you shouldn’t have any trouble at all finding great places to party, all the way into the next morning.
With a much wider range of nightlife options and more places staying open late, Granada is definitely the better city for evening entertainment.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
Since Granada and Cordoba are right in the heart of Andalusia, conveniently connected to many other super cities.
So it’s a great idea to include a day trip in your travel itinerary, leaving these cities behind for a little while to see some other places before you head home. But which city has the best day trip potential?
If you’re starting off in Cordoba, you can consider day trips to nearby historic sites and ruins like Medina Azahara or Almodovar del Rio.
There are also some of the famous Andalusian whitewashed towns within easy reach, like charming Zuheros and Ronda. Jaen is another possible option, renowned for its excellent olive oil and medieval castle.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in Granda, there are even more fabulous day trips to consider, especially for nature lovers.
The Sierra Nevada mountains are right next door, and Granada is much closer to the coast than Cordoba, so you can head to beach towns like Salobrena or Motril or major coastal cities, like Almeria and Malaga, which both have plenty of things to do.
Overall, both cities can work well for day trips, but Granada’s location and better transport links make it the superior choice.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Before you leave Spain behind and head for home, you may like to buy some mementos of your visit or a few gifts to share with loved ones when you get back, and there’s plenty of room for souvenir shopping in both Cordoba and Granada.
Cordoba is particularly good for traditional hand-made crafts and gifts. There are lots of traditional little stores lining the streets of the historic center and Jewish quarter, perfect for picking up locally-made silver or leather goods.
Big brand are found along Gondomar Street, while Cordoba also has a few big malls, like Zoco and La Sierra.
Over in Granada, travelers can find plenty of pleasant places to shop in the scenic Albaicin quarter, and there are some special Moorish-style and African-themed souvenirs to pick up.
Head to Calle Reyes Católicos for big-brand stores, Calle Calderería Nueva for crafts and ceramics, or Alcaiceria for tapestries, fashion, and fabrics.
Both cities can appeal to shopaholics, but there are more stores and markets to be found in Granada, with a more diverse selection of items to buy.
Which Has The Best Food?
Spanish cuisine is always delicious, and the Andalusia region is famed for its regional specialties, like gazpacho soup, fine wines, and incredible tapas.
You’re guaranteed to eat well in both Cordoba and Granada, but, once again, one city has a slight advantage over the other.
In Cordoba, travelers can choose from plenty of fun tapas bars and cozy restaurants. It’s not as touristy as Granada, so food is generally cheaper here, and it’s easy to find traditional local dishes, like salmorejo – a variety of gazpacho.
All-in-all, the culinary scene of Cordoba is simple and enjoyable, but not quite as deep and diverse as other Andalusian cities.
Granada, meanwhile, is renowned across the region for its food, and it has one special advantage over many other Spanish cities: free tapas. Yes, as long as you order a drink in most Granada bars, you’ll also be given a little plate of tapas to eat along with it!
There are also plenty of great restaurants and a diverse selection of menus to go along with that terrific tapas scene.
Overall, it’s once again Granada that claims the crown in this culinary category. After all, who can say no to free tapas?
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Planning an Andalusian adventure as a family? If so, Cordoba and Granada should absolutely feature on your list of potential destinations and places to stay. But which one has more appeal for children?
Well, in Cordoba, kids of all ages can marvel at the magnificent Mezquita, and many will also enjoy seeing the cities other historic landmarks, like the Roman Bridge and Alcazar.
Children can also have fun at the city’s Botanic Gardens and parks, but you won’t find too many locations that are specifically child-oriented in Cordoba.
Over in Granada, the Alhambra is obviously the first place to visit, and kids can also have a lot of fun seeing the cathedral, Royal Chapel, and other landmarks.
The Granada Science Park is another fun place to explore with little ones or older kids, with various interactive exhibits. Granada also has an aquarium, a water park just outside the city, and hiking areas nearby.
Overall, Cordoba may be a good choice if you have older kids looking for a laid-back break, but Granada is definitely the best option for most families, with more things to do and typical family attractions.
Which Is Better For Couples?
When it comes to romantic escapes, the choice between Cordoba and Granada may be a slightly trickier one to make, and there are arguments to be made in favor of both of these cities.
Cordoba has the benefit of being quieter and calmer, with less of a touristic feel and more of that off-the-beaten-path vibe, which can help to make the place feel more romantic and secret.
It’s also really easy to walk around and has some fabulous landmarks. Overall, it’s a fine choice for couples who want a brief, relaxing stay.
There’s more to do in Granada, and it’s arguably more impressive from a visual standpoint, thanks to its grand palaces and the magical mountainous surroundings.
The tapas scene is super fun for couples to enjoy, and active pairs can spend time out of the city among the mountains.
Overall, Granada will probably have more appeal to the majority of couples, and it’s better if you plan to stay for more than just a night or two.
It’s also got great day trip potential and works well for couples who are planning a more extended exploration of the Andalusia region.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
How about backpackers and budget travelers? Well, if you’re planning your trip based purely on budget, Cordoba is the cheaper destination.
It’s easy to find low-cost places to stay and cheap food in Cordoba. It’s also considered more authentic than Granada. However, after a day or two, you might have seen all this city has to offer.
However Granada has better connections with other cities, lots of outdoor potential with the mountains and hiking trails nearby, a lively nightlife scene for backpackers who like to party, and super fun tapas culture, giving you a perfect way to mingle with locals.
That’s why, overall, Granada wins once again.
Which Is Cheaper?
Last but not least, we need to talk about costs. Money is a significant factor for a lot of travelers, and we’re glad to report that the Andalusia area isn’t too expensive, especially when compared to Spain’s biggest cities, like Barcelona and Madrid.
In terms of affordability, Cordoba is the cheaper of the two cities. Hotels and food are generally less expensive here, so it’s pretty easy to plan a budget-friendly stay.
However, the price difference isn’t very large when compared to Granada, and Granada is actually easier to get to, with an international airport just outside the city. So you might spend less getting there than you would when going to Cordoba.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Situated in the centre of Córdoba, Hotel Boutique Suite Generis is a modern, clean hotel with excellent service. All of which has given it an almost perfect rating on booking.com. See photos and rates!
Luxury: For something very unique, consider a stay at Hospes Palacio del Bailio. This 5-star hotel occupies a 16th-Century palace in the heart of Cordoba’s ancient city and is a gorgeous fusion of past and present. Complete with spa and swimming pool, this is one hotel stay you won’t forget. See photos and rates!
Budget: Sercotel Granada Suites is a gorgeous little hotel with self-contained studio. The price is fantastic, especially due to the location, but the real star of the shop is the spectacular rooftop swimming pool with city views. See photos and rates!
Luxury: If you’re looking to be pampered on holiday then consider staying at the five-star Seda Club Hotel. Set in the center of Granada with two swimming pools, a spa and world-class service, a stay here will be as memorable as it is relaxing. See photos and rates!
Which Has The Best Weather?
Southern Spain is known for its high temperatures and long, sunny days, and given that Cordoba and Granada are reasonably close together, there isn’t a huge difference in terms of their weather conditions. With that said, one city is notably hotter than the other during summer.
Given that Granada is further south, you might assume that it gets higher temperatures. However, in reality, it’s actually Cordoba, with its inland, low-lying location, that is warmer throughout the year.
For example, average highs in summer for Cordoba can reach around 98°F (37°C), while Granada has highs of around 93°F (34°C).
Clearly, they’re both very hot in summer and have almost identical levels of sunshine and precipitation throughout the year, but Cordoba can be almost unbearable during its hottest days, with even the locals desperate to get off the streets and into a cool, air-conditioned store or tapas bar to cool down.
For the most comfortable conditions, it’s best to visit both of these cities in the shoulder months, either side of summer – May and September.
If you have to visit in the middle of summer, Granada will be a little more bearable.
Cordoba vs Granada: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, this comparison has clearly shown that, for most travelers, Granada is the better city to visit.
Granada has more attractions and activities, including more things for families and children, along with a more dynamic nightlife scene, easier access to the beach, and arguably Spain’s greatest landmark in the form of the Alhambra.
Still, even though it’s a little lacking in certain areas, Cordoba is still a terrific spot to see on a day trip or over a weekend.
The Mezquita is awe-inspiring, and Cordoba’s laid-back vibes will appeal to those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
So, if you’re able, try to see both, but if you can only see one, head to Granada.