In recent years, Spain’s Pueblos Blancos or White Villages, have exploded in popularity. These quaint small towns are known as such because their buildings are all painted white. Though there are more than a dozen towns that can be considered to be part of Andalusia’s Pueblos Blancos, Arcos de la Frontera is arguably the most popular.
Arcos sits atop a cliff which overlooks the Guadalete River. Its picturesque streets and the sweeping views of the surrounding valley bring visitors to the area in droves. It’s the perfect introduction to the Pueblos Blancos because its popularity means an increase in tourist accommodations and infrastructure. If you’re wondering what makes it worth a visit, here’s what to expect when visiting Arcos de la Frontera.
How to get there
Arcos isn’t the easiest place in the world to visit, which is probably why so many people opt to go there on a day trip from Jerez or Sevilla. The downside of this is that you’re on a time-crunch after spending a dizzying amount of time driving on the winding roads through the mountains to get there. By bus, Arcos has a direct connection from Jerez or Sevilla with Jerez being the shortest route, clocking in at around an hour. The bus to Sevilla takes around two hours. Anything longer than that makes a day trip more of a hassle than it should be, and probably makes an overnight stop more advantageous. If you’re coming from anywhere else, day tours will be limited and ground transport will require multiple conenctions, so you’re better off finding a private transfer service to take you to Arcos.
Things to do in Arcos de la Frontera
The great thing about Arcos is that it’s a beautiful and relaxed place to spend a few days, especially if you have the chance to see it when the buses full of people on day trips are not clogging up its tiny streets. In the center of Arcos, you’ll find the Plaza del Cabildo where the Basilica Menor de Santa Maria is located. Full disclosure: the plaza is also a parking lot. From the plaza viewpoint, you can get great views of the valley and the river though it can get quite crowded during peak hours.
For a few bucks, you can visit the interior of the basilica and the tower is optional for an additional fee. On the one hand, you’re already high atop a cliff so the view from the church tower is not significantly higher. On the other, you will have plenty of time to make the climb the tower if you so choose. It’s really not such a big place with much do to. To the east of the plaza, the hotel Parador also boasts spectacular views from its terrace. If you’re not a guest, you can still enjoy it by passing some time and having a drink or two.
To the west of the plaza, there is an imposing castle that can be seen for miles all around. This is the Castillo de los Duques de Arcos. Unfortunately, this is privately owned and closed to visitors. However, the owners open it up to the public four days out of the year. You can write or stop by the Tourist Office to find the dates, but your visit must be booked directly with the owners and not through the city of Arcos. The Tourist Office has some small displays and exhibits about the city’s history, so it’s not a bad place to stop if you happen to pass it. You can also catch some local exhibits at the Palacio de Mayorazgo, a modest former 19th century palace.
Another excellent viewpoint in Arcos is the Mirador de Abades. It gives you a better view of how the river winds on both sides of the cliff. If you’ve made it that far, you’re also halfway to the Barrio Bajo. It’s a steep walk down with great views and cute little residential streets. The walk can take you past the Mirador Pena Vieja which faces the north, so you can get a closer look at the valley from that side. As you get closer to the lower neighborhood, you’ll notice that it’s mostly residential with a few squares where locals hang out.
If you did walk to Barrio Bajo from city center, I don’t recommend taking the same route back. It will be uncomfortably and relentlessly steep. You can take a bus back into the city which drops you off in front of the Semana Santa Monument. Though this monument looks like it’s dedicated to the KKK, the statues actually represent traditional cloaks worn during Holy Week processions.
Around the city, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to work out your legs, either wandering the cobblestone streets among the white houses or in nature. Arcos has a large park in the center of the city called El Paseo which has some trails that can take you up and down the nearby hills.
Eating and drinking in Arcos
Unlike most cities in the south of Spain, Arcos has become so popular that you can actually find great restaurants still open during what is traditionally the afternoon siesta. Though touristy, you can find excellent Spanish food just a few steps from the Plaza del Cabildo. Meson los Murales offers an incredible array of tapas as well as well-curated set menus. Some days, their outdoor seating becomes lively with music and dancing when the locals stop by for a drink.
La Carcel is another renowned tapas spot in town, which can serve as a launch pad before going out for the night or simply your entire night out. Just across the way is Taberna Jovenes Flamencos. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch some live music at the traditional Andalusian restaurant. Before you leave Arcos, make sure you try their bollos, which is a sort of traditional spiced donut that is a gastronomic staple of the area.
As you might imagine, the nightlife in Arcos de la Frontera is limited. Most people’s night out ends up being wherever they eat dinner, which is why many of these restaurants double as bars and are open relatively late. The few nightlife spots where people can go on the weekend for a late night include Bar Alcaravan, Bar Castro, and Pub Gotham, which is Batman-themed as the name suggests.
Arcos is a great southern Spanish town to visit if you’re not looking to drown in tourist attractions and just have a laid back vacation somewhere that’s quite small but legitimately beautiful.