Founded by the Romans, built up as a flourishing European capital under the Muslims, and ultimately taken by the Catholics: Córdoba's past is as layered with history as the city's sights themselves. From the Mezquita (mosque-cathedral), to the Alcázar palace visited by Columbus, and one of the only surviving pre-inquisition synagogues, there's so much to see and learn in the southern Spanish city.
Day 1: A journey through history
Begin your trip with a morning stroll along the Guadalquiver River, where you can relish in views seen by centuries of Cordoban citizens, starting with the Romans. As founders of the city, they built the Puente Romano, or Roman Bridge -- constructed in the 1st century BC -- which crosses the river just south of the Mezquita.
Spend the rest of your morning at the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, where you can meander through the palace grounds -- once home to the Muslim Caliphates, then to the Catholic royals -- and its gardens, interiors, and even tower-topped walls.
Spend the second half of your day getting to know the Judería, or Jewish Quarter, to better grasp Córdoba's diverse history. Visit the Córdoba synagogue -- one of only three that survived the Inquisition -- and peruse the jewelers and silversmith shops that are so quintessential of the historic neighborhood. Also in the area (if you have time) check out the cylindrical Roman mausoleum, which dates back to the 1st century and is located just outside the western border of the Judería on Paseo de la Victoria.
Day 2: From palace patios to mosque-turned-churches
Start your day early by heading to the north side of the historic quarter to the Viana Palace, which opens at 9am. Your early arrival will be rewarded with minimal crowds as you wander its 12 patios and treasure-filled interior. While in the area, zigzag your way toward City Hall to see the neighboring Roman Temple. Likely built as a tribute to Augustus Cesar, the marble-made structure, with its towering columns, dates back to the 1st century AD.
Now for what will likely be the highlight of your Córdoba adventure: The Mezquita, or Grand Mosque. To get there, weave your way toward the center of the city to the Mezquita's Patio de los Naranjos, where you can purchase your ticket and enter to see one of Islam's most impressive mosques. Of course, it's more than just a mosque, as it's more accurately a church-turned-mosque-turned-cathedral. Witness the layers of history as you pass under the Mezquita's striped horseshoe arches, marvel at the central Renaissance nave, and admire the gold-gilded mihrab -- considered one of the finest Muslim prayer niches in the world.
Day 3: Day trips from Córdoba
Use your third day to visit one of Andalucia's other historic cities, Seville or Granada -- each different but well worth a visit in their own right. Situated just 40 minutes southwest by high-speed train, you can be wandering the labyrinth streets of Seville in no time (or travel by bus, which will take just over 2 hours, or by car, about 1 hour and 45 minutes). While there, check out the world's largest Gothic cathedral, yet another, even bigger palace (the Alcázar de Sevilla), and cover still more ground with a leisurely horse-drawn carriage tour around town.
While farther away -- 2 hours by car and 3 by bus -- Granada is undoubtedly one of Spain's most impressive destinations, especially because of its Moorish palace, the Alhambra (be sure to book your tickets in advance). After visiting the palace, scale the hillside streets of the Albaicín neighborhood, soaking up views of the Alhambra around every turn.