Almería is Spain’s sunniest city and is right on the Mediterranean at the eastern edge of Andalusia. The rural landscapes around Almería are arid and dusty, and this is part of the fun of the place: Europe’s only real desert is here, and was chosen as a shooting location for several spaghetti westerns in the 60s and 70s.
You can venture out into the wild at Tabernas or the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, or relax on a different kind of sand at one of the many Blue Flag beaches minutes from the city. In the centre you can stride along the ramparts at a vast Islamic fortress, try proper Andalusian tapas and go underground to see the city’s Civil War bunkers.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Almería:
1. La Alcazaba
The walls and towers that guardthe slopes above Almería are part of Europe’s largest Muslim castle.
It was built during the 10th century by Abd-ar-Rahman III, the Caliph of Cordoba.
At this time Almería was one of Spain’s main trading hubs, and merchants from as far afield as Syria would call in.
La Alcazaba was originally a citadel, so you’ll see where Muslim soldiers and their servants would have lived.
The inner enclosure was served by a system of cisterns in case of sieges, and these are still intact to this day.
Also part of the complex is a later Christian fortress, built to withstand artillery at the advent of gunpowder.
2. Cabo de Gata
East of Almería is this natural park that making up an entire cape and the rocky volcanic landscapes within.
With less than 200mm of rainfall a year, this is Europe’s only subtropical desert, but what will amaze you is just how much there is to see and do: You could climb the highest summit, El Fraile, a long extinct volcano that crests at 500 metres and has supreme views of the sea and coastal settlements.
There are also abandoned mining villages in the park, as well as secluded beaches that you can have almost to yourself.
There are signs of natural life all around too, especially on the salt flats near the headland, where thousands of greater flamingos congregate.
3. Museo Refugio de la Guerra Civil
Nine metres below the streets of central Almería is a network of tunnels built in 1936 at the onset of the Spanish Civil War.
Of the original 4.5 kilometres, one has been retoed and it runs underneath Paseo de Almería, the city’s main shopping precinct.
In groups of 25 at a time you’ll make your way down 50 steps beneath the city.
Before you enter the tunnel you’ll get the background on the war with the help of a brief video that also details the 1937 bombardment of Almería by the Germans.
Your tour will take you past a pantry, living quarters and even a surgery room down there.
4. Mini Hollywood
You can live out your western fantasies at this attraction not far from the town of Tabernas, just north of Almería.
Mini Hollywood has a set built for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, For a Few Dollars More in 1965, and was used again for the other classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly a year later.
After shooting was wrapped up, the extras pooled together to buy the set and preserve it as an attraction.
In the town square you’ll see cowboy stunt shows and can-can dancers, and you can step along the boardwalk or cool off in the cells at the town jail.
5. Central Almería
For high-street shopping and the city’s Central Market Paseo de Almería is the main commercial artery, where branches of brands like Zara and Mango are broken up by cafes with outdoor seating beneath rows of artfully pruned ficuses.
To stroll like a local there’s the Rambla de Belén, a refined walkway with palms, fountains and densely-packed lime trees to provide respite from the sun in summer.
Both of these routes lead to the Mediterranean, and a short walk along the water will get you to the beachfront promenade, always full of activity in summer.
6. Almería Cathedral
This powerful-looking cathedral is from the mid-16th century, replacing a predecessor wiped out by an earthquake in 1522.
It was built at a time when the Mediterranean coast was under constant threat from North African Barbary pirate raids, which explains the defensive high walls and absence of openings on the facade.
The building blends gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical elements thanks to additions made over the centuries, and is listed in Spain as a historic-artistic monument.
Inside, one of the oldest features is the choir, with 75 seats carved from walnut over three years from 1558 to 1561.
Also take a look at the Chapel of Santo Cristo for its stunning alabaster tomb of Bishop Fernandez de Villalán, dating to 1560.
7. Proper tapas
Bar snacks like these are typically Andalusian.
To do it the local way drop into a local bar like Puga on Calle Jovellanos, which has been in business since 1870.
When you order a beer or soft drink you can pick up a tapa to go with it from the bar, and you’ll only pay for the beverage.
Tapas here will be little dishes like Chérigan, toasted bread with aioli and anything from cured ham, omelette, cheese, mackerel or tuna on top.
8. Museum of Almería
The Province of Almería has had a busy history when you see that the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors have all occupied this nook of Spain in their time.
And that’s before we count the Copper Age and Bronze Age civilisations based in Almería’s hinterland.
You can bone up on this 5,000 year-old society at the museum and see the ceramics that they made.
From the Roman era there are intact amphorae, a mosaic and a striking marble statue of the god, Bacchus.
Islamic times are represented by tomb inscriptions, tableware, calligraphy and much more.
The museum has been nominated for multiple awards after its ultra-modern update in the mid-noughties.
9. Central Market
Set at the upper end of Paseo de Almería the city’s central market was revamped in 2012 and is easily the best place to do your food shopping.
On the ground floor you’ll find stall after stall of farm fresh vegetables and fruit.
Some stalls are worth seeing out of pure curiosity, such as the fishmongers with creatures you may never have seen on a counter before.
One of the delights of Spanish markets is the ham stalls where you can buy Spain’ famous jamón Ibérico.
Here the jamonero will draw on years of experience, using a razor-sharp blade to cut wafer-thin slices of ham (the thinner the better!).
10. Los Millares
This prehistoric town 17 kilometres up from Almería is still being excavated despite being discovered in 1891, by accident when the railway was being built.
Around 1000 people lived here between 3200 and 2300 BC. And what has been recovered is pretty astounding.
There are three sets of stone walls around the complex, the largest of which is about 300 metres and guarded at intervals by bastions.
Inside are fragments of dwellings, the remains of copper works, as well as burial mounds, a couple of which you’ll be able to crouch down and enter.
11. Centro Andaluz de la Fotografía
This centre belongs to the Andalusian Ministry of Culture and was established in 1992.
It’s a free attraction open seven days a week, promoting photography and audiovisual art in a lovely old hall.
There a host workshop and programs going on all the time, but for most people a visit entails a quick tour of the temporary galleries.
In the past some of photography’s big-hitters like Larry Fink have been featured here, so if you’re a fan of the art-form you should definitely pop in.
12. Plaza de la Virgen del Mar
This peaceful little square in the old-town is well worth the search.
It’s presided over by the Sanctuary Church of Virgen del Mar, once part of a Dominican convent.
The colourful Chapel of the Virgin inside boasts fabulous 15th-century decoration, while the facade was updated in the 1700s and is in the baroque style.
The square is in shade for a lot of the day and you can park yourself on one of the benches, appreciating the delicate old fountain, topiaried ficuses and the ambience of Almería’s old city.
13. Casa del Cine
All those stars of the silver screen that came to town to shoot spaghetti westerns in the 60s and 70s needed a place to stay, and here it is.
Casa del Cine is a handsome whitewashed mansion that welcomed the likes of Clint Eastwood and Brigitte Bardot in the evenings after they returned from the badlands of the Tabernas Desert.
Another guest here was John Lennon, who shot “How I Won the War” close by in 1966. Lennon had a place in Almería’s heart as you’ll tell from his statue in Plaza de las Flores.
14. Roquetas de Mar
For beach-time a daytrip to this resort west of Almería is in order.
There are five Blue Flag beaches right around Roquetas de Mar, including the one on the main drag next to the resort’s housing developments.
This beach is a very broad strip of flaxen sand lapped by small waves and equipped with sun loungers and parasols.
Also built-up is Playa de Aguadulce, a little narrower built bordered by a promenade with palms and sublime views up to the rugged litoral hills around the coast.
Playa de Serena on the other hand is a huge sandy beach with acres of room to stretch out in.
15. Semana Santa
The processions on the streets of Almería during holy week have “National Tourist Interest” designation in Spain.
It’s a memorable spectacle, as 26 Catholic brotherhoods file through the city in candle-lit parades the week before Easter.
The idea of hooded penitents carrying floats depicting the Passion and Virgin Mary may seem antiquated, but in Almería it’s actually gaining popularity as new generations for brotherhoods to take part.
Every day up to Easter Sunday another as many as three groups take their turn carrying figures that can be more than a hundred years old and are festooned with gold and silver.