One of the most impressive of all the famous pueblos blancos of Spain, the classic white town of Arcos de la Frontera Spain features a commanding hilltop location and fascinating maze of narrow, whitewashed alleys. Located strategically about halfway between the coast and the bulk of the other white towns, Arcos is also conveniently close to the fabulous hiking of the incredibly scenic Parque Natural Sierra de la Grazalema.
It is uniquely split into the Old Town up top and the New Town down below, with steep cliffs dropping down to the Guadalete River that surrounds the town on three sides. Thanks to its wonderful historic attractions, beautiful setting and fantastic traditional parador, Arcos de la Frontera was declared a Spanish national historic and artistic monument in 1962.
Along with all the obvious Moorish attractions, Arcos actually also features fascinating archaeological discoveries from a long list of occupiers, going back as far as the Neolithic and Bronze Age, leading up and through the Phoenicians and Romans.
Things to Do in Arcos de la Frontera Map
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15 Things to Do in Arcos de la Frontera
Check Out the Plaza del Cabildo
An amazing viewpoint (Mirador del Cono) looking out over the Rio Guadalete from the top of a 150-metre cliff, on a clear day you can see the Sierra de Dos Hermanas and Sierra de la Sal, as well as the ocean to the west.
Unfortunately, as soon as you turn around you will also see the parking lot that takes up 90% of the area around this awesome mirador. Needs must, I suppose, although I would in no way suggest you brave the narrow streets and even narrower arches you will have to navigate to make it this far – then hope to find a spot.
On the bright side, there is a 17th century Town Hall, medieval castle and a nice church on this overly functional square and you will find the tourist office in the same building.
Marvel at Basilica Menor de Santa Maria de la Asuncion
Located right on Plaza del Cabildo, this 13th century Santa Maria de la Asuncion Gothic-Baroque church built by King Alfonso X on the ruins of a former mosque has a very impressive entrance. The church took several centuries to fully complete but was classified as a national monument in 1931. Inside the church you’ll find a series of beautiful frescoes, a famous painting of San Cristóbal and a superb gold altarpiece.
The neoclassical tower, on the other hand, is relatively new as the original tower collapsed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. It costs €4 to enter and about halfway up you get an interesting glimpse into the inner workings of the clock, then from the top you get outstanding views of the square, city and castle.
Scope Out the Castillo de Arcos de le Frontera
On the third side of the Plaza del Cabildo is the Arcos de la Frontera Castle. Originally a Moorish military alcázar in the 11th century, the current castle was built on the ruins and took several centuries to complete (finished in the 15th century), eventually becoming the residence of the Ponce de León family.
Today, you cannot go inside this privately-owned residence but you can still admire the Duke of Arcos shields on the outside and the 4 towers standing at attention at each corner.
Have a Drink with a View at the Parador Arcos de la Frontera
The final Plaza del Cabildo highlight (unless you count that really rare parking spot you found that one time) is the amazing Parador Arcos de la Frontera.
Located in a beautiful old building with a classic courtyard, it has tremendous views over the Rio Guadalete and lower town of Arcos de la Frontera. There is an excellent restaurant and immaculate, traditional rooms. And despite the luxury, it actually isn’t as expensive as you’d expect.
Watch Cars Drive Through Callejón de las Monjas
The tiny “Alley of the Nuns” is… just… barely wide enough for (some) cars, although you can certainly tell the locals (cruising through like it’s completely normal) from the tourists (carefully creeping along with one eye focused apprehensively on their folded-in mirrors).
In 1699, the flying buttresses were built across the alley to the Convento de la Encarnación in order to reinforce the slowly collapsing church. Mission accomplished, and it’s understandable that at the time they wouldn’t have had any reason to wonder if they had left enough room for a Toyota Yaris driven by a hesitant tourist.
Find the Calle Cuna and Calle Maldonado
Both of these pretty little streets are narrow, picturesque and lined with palacios and wrought-iron window grates.
Calle Cuna (Crib Street) was named for the orphan’s shelter that once resided there. You can even find a reproduction of the street in Barcelona’s Poble Espanyol.
Wander the Calle Nueva
This lovely street decorated with colourful pots was formerly the castle moat but transitioned to something drier after the Lisbon earthquake when the walls collapsed and blocked the moat. The best way to approach it is to turn off the main road just before the square.
Follow Along the Rio Guadalete
There are several easy paths along both banks of the Guadalete River running through orange and olive groves and providing some very nice angles of Arcos de la Frontera. You can start anywhere between the south edge of town and the reservoir.
Marvel at the Views from Mirador de Abades and Mirador Peña Vieja
These two spectacular viewpoints in the southeast part of town are close to each other but face opposite directions. Mirador de Abades (Abbott’s Lookout) faces south over the lower town, river and countryside.
The Mirador Peña Vieja (Old Rock Viewpoint) faces north over a different part of the lower town, a different part of the river and some different countryside.
Relax at the Lago de Arcos
Just northeast of Arcos de la Frontera this nice reservoir, also known as the Cola de Embalse de Arcos Natural Area, is a popular hangout area in summer and important stopping place for migratory birds in winter. During the warmer seasons you can enjoy a decent-sized beach, protected swimming area and the wide range of watersports available at the Arcos Nautical Club including kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, boating and even water skiing.
Pass by the Convent of the Barefoot Mercedarian Order
Officially the Convento de las Mercedarias Descalzas, this working 17th century convent is located on the Plazuela de la Botica and is the only remaining cloistered convent in Arcos de la Frontera. In the past, the nuns would repair any type of clothing except men’s pants, for obvious reasons (too tantalizing, clearly).
They will no longer fix that hole in the socks you wore out touring the pueblos blancos but you can purchase some sweets and treats that are made on-site and sold through a revolving compartment like you’re picking up a valuable bank drop. Their candy is also sold in some of the shops around town and there is a nice terrace restaurant located across the square.
Check Out the Iglesia de San Pedro
The Baroque bell tower at St. Peter’s Church gives the one on Plaza del Cabildo a run for its money in both size and style. The church was built on the foundations of an Almohad fortress and features a strange mix of styles.
Its main claim to fame is the beautiful 16th century altarpiece, one of the most impressive in Andalusia, but the small interior also boasts an interesting baptismal chapel, choir and chapel of Virgen del los Remedios.
Get Cultural at the Olivares Veas Theatre
This classic theatre was originally built in 1910 based on the design of José Olivares Veas but was later restored in the early 90’s, eventually being inaugurated by none other than Queen Sofia in 1994. It is definitely the best place in town to see shows and check out cultural exhibits.
Try to Find the Ventanas con Orejas
The “Windows with Ears” are just some odd windows with tiny holes that allowed people inside to see what was happening outside without being seen. Yes, very much like a peephole. But this looks cooler, you’ll see.
Note: the location on the map is approximate but they are located somewhere along Calle Nuñez del Prado.
San Agustin Church
Starting out as a convent in the 16th century, then transitioning to a monastery and eventually abandoned in the 19th century, San Agustin church is still worth a look. Its Statue of Jesus is still used in religious processions.
History of Arcos de la Frontera
Starting out as Colonia Arcensium under the Romans, then Medina Arkosh under the Moors and eventually Arcos de la Frontera after the Christians took over, it spent several centuries as the main border frontier between the Christians and Muslims (hence the “de la Frontera”).
It was a Moorish taifa (Muslim principality) from the early 11th century until King Alfonso X “The Wise” of Castile expelled the Moors in 1264 and built the huge Gothic cathedral, presumably to show them definitively who was boss.
In the 18th century, the town supported the cause of Philip V in the War of Succession, for which the king awarded it the title of “noble and most faithful town’.
Festivals and Events in Arcos de la Frontera
The Carnival de Arcos takes place the second week of February.
Semana Santa is as big in Arcos de la Frontera as you would expect of a historic Spanish town and, in fact, they put on such a good show that it has been classified as a fiesta of National Tourist Interest. Every Easter Sunday since 1784 the Toro del Aleluya (Bull of the Hallelujah) is held, their version of the running of the bulls.
The Día del Caballo (Day of the Horse) takes place in April as well, featuring a wide range of equestrian activities and events.
The Feria de San Miguel Patrón de Arcos takes place in September along with the Pilgrimage of the Holy Christ of El Romeral.
Where to Eat: Best Arcos de la Frontera Restaurants
Arcos de la Frontera is known for its sausage and gazpacho serrano, a thick, tomato-based soup with serrano chiles that is served cold. Both of these can be found in most local restaurants.
As for specific restaurants, you can check out the tapas bars along Calle Dean Espinosa or Callejon de las Monjas.
You will find good value tapas at Mesón el Patio, a dark place near the Santa Maria church.
Bar Alcaraván is literally located inside a cave on Calle Nueva and El Convento offers fine dining in a 17th century palace (specializing in game dishes).
Of course, the Parador Hotel on Plaza del Cabildo has the best views in town and is a good place for food or drink (or both).
Where to Stay: Best Arcos de la Frontera Hotels
Arcos de la Frontera Parador
The luxurious Arcos de la Frontera Parador is the top choice in town, featuring terraces with sweeping views as well as interior courtyards to cool down on those hot days.
Enjoy the historical setting while relaxing in rooms with all the modern conveniences. Its on-site restaurant is excellent as well.
Parking is limited so if you have a car contact the Parador ahead of time.
Casa Campana is in a beautiful 500-year-old building and features an outstanding rooftop terrace with views over the town, the perfect place to enjoy your breakfast before you start exploring. Casa Campana is a perfect mid-range choice and the well-equipped apartments come with a kitchenette.
El Convento is, not surprisingly, a former convent. It has a sun terrace and balconies in each room, as well as a friendly bar with more great views. It is conveniently located close to restaurants and all the main tourist sites and the friendly staff can answer all your questions.
How to Get to Arcos de la Frontera
Arcos de la Frontera is easily accessible by car from several main centres in Andalusia. However, the only simple bus route is to and from Cádiz, with Comes buses doing the route a few times a day, taking a little over an hour. Most other places can be reached by bus, too, as long as you’re willing to switch at least once.
Arcos de la Frontera is easily accessible from Seville, Cádiz, Malaga, Gibraltar, Córdoba and Granada, each of which have international airports. With so many great towns and villages in the area we highly recommend renting a car for at least a few days to cover more ground and set your own schedule. We find Discover Cars usually have the best deals in the area.
Nearby Main Centres by Car:
Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera: 65 km / 40 min
Seville to Arcos de la Frontera: 120 km / 75 min
Gibraltar to Arcos de la Frontera: 140 km / 1.5 hrs
Malaga to Arcos de la Frontera: 175 km / 2.25 hrs
Córdoba to Arcos de la Frontera: 190 km / 2.5 hrs
Granada to Arcos de la Frontera: 230 km / 2.75 hrs
Nearby pueblos blancos:
Villamartín to Arcos de la Frontera: 25 km / 20 min
Jerez de la Frontera to Arcos de la Frontera: 35 km / 30 min
Medina-Sidonia to Arcos de la Frontera: 40 km / 35 min
Algodonales to Arcos de la Frontera: 50 km / 40 min
Villaluenga del Rosario: 50 km / 45 min
Grazalema to Arcos de la Frontera: 50 km / 50 min
Zahara de la Sierra to Arcos de la Frontera: 55 km / 50 min
Olvera to Arcos de la Frontera: 70 km / 1 hr
Setenil de las Bodegas to Arcos de la Frontera: 75 km / 1 hr
Ronda to Arcos de la Frontera: 85 km / 75 min
Vejer de la Frontera to Arcos de la Frontera: 100 km / 1 hr
Casares to Arcos de la Frontera: 170 km / 1.75 hrs
Parking in Arcos de la Frontera
The most central parking area is in Plaza del Cabildo but the struggles of getting there, finding a spot and then somehow getting back out again all looked pretty horrible to us. You are better off either going with the spacious Paseo Andalucía lot, driving a little farther up to Plaza de España or just watching for a spot along the road on the outskirts of town.
All of those are around 10-15 minutes on foot to the centre. If you make it up to Plaza de España, there is also a microbus that runs into the old town (and back) every half-hour.
When to Visit: Arcos de la Frontera Weather
Andalusia gets very hot in summer, which is good for beaches and water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing. At least it almost never rains. July and August are the hottest (35C+) but June and September also regularly see 30C+ temperatures.
Winters are relatively mild with daily high and low averages ranging from about 4C to 15C but there is a lot more rain at this time, starting in November and continuing right into April.
The best times to visit Arcos de la Frontera are in spring and fall, with May and October both boasting perfect 20-25C daytime highs and much less rain than the winter months.
Other Pueblos Blancos (White Villages)
There are enough other pueblos blancos in the area to keep you busy for weeks:
Villamartín is another relatively large white town that is spread out across both sides of a tall hill. It has the obligatory whitewashed buildings and some architectural highlights including Topete Mansion and Matrera Castle.
Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry and flamenco capital of Andalusia. So if those are things you are into, Jerez is a must-see. If not, well, it’s still a very beautiful place (and much larger than most other towns on this list).
Medina-Sidonia is the oldest pueblo blanco and features an understated elegance perched atop a hill not far from Cádiz.
Algodonales boasts an impressive location next to the Sierra de Lijar mountains and is famous for a) having the largest hang-gliding school in Andalucia and b) making great guitars. I kid you not.
Tiny Villaluenga del Rosario has an awesome little bull ring and fantastic cheese.
Grazalema is known for its many amazing hiking areas.
Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.
Olvera has some of the best viewpoints in the area from its impressive castle.
Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.
Ronda is both the largest town in the region and the crown jewel of the pueblos blancos with its stunning El Tajo gorge and fabulous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).
Of all the amazing white villages we visited, Vejer de la Frontera was our favourite. Great vibe, beautiful place and the nicest main square in Andalusia.
Pretty Casares is close to the Costa del Sol and is considered the gateway to the white villages. It also features a photogenic castle atop a rocky outcropping, a griffon vulture colony and a fun via ferrata.
For an overview of our white villages road trip, check out 12 Spectacular Pueblos Blancos in Andalucia
Cities Near Arcos de la Frontera
Although it lacks the one big, incredible site of the other major Andalusian cities, Cádiz was among our favourite cities in Andalusia for its beaches, atmosphere and old town ambience. With balmy weather (even by Andalusian standards) and perfect for wandering, Cádiz is the kind of place where the days slide by and you’ll always wish you could stay a bit longer.
Classic Seville is one of the gems of Spain, with a beautifully walkable old town, many amazing churches and, of course, the world-famous Real Alcazar. Hopeless romantics will also love the street and balcony that inspired Romeo and Juliet.
Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville
A somewhat bizarre bit of Britain dropped right on the edge of Spain, Gibraltar has some pretty compelling sites (i.e. Rock of Gibraltar) and historic WWII attractions. The border crossing is straightforward and Gibraltar is easily visited on a day trip, although the sites are pretty spread out so if you want to see everything it wouldn’t hurt to stay a couple of nights.
Malaga has a lot of international flights and is a common entrance point to Andalusia. Mainly known as a transport hub and beach/party town, we found Malaga to be a pleasant surprise. It has some nice old streets, good pedestrian areas and the Alcazaba, a phenomenal ancient medieval Moorish fortress that is comparable to the big attractions in Seville, Granada and Córdoba.
Check out The 14 Best Things to Do in Malaga
Much smaller and more manageable than Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, cute Córdoba has the world-famous mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, which is definitely worth the visit alone. There is also a fascinating Jewish quarter, vibrant old town and impressive bridge (that also featured in Game of Thrones). It is less than 2 hours from Seville by car, roughly 2.5 hours by bus and just 40 minutes by high-speed train.
Comparing Granada and Seville is like comparing apples and oranges (both excellent but could probably use a wash first). Granada’s central area isn’t quite as perfect as the one in Seville, or compact as Córdoba, but it has some fascinatingly gritty neighbourhoods and a long list of awesome viewpoints. And, of course, the Alhambra, which just might be the coolest historic site I’ve ever visited.
For more ideas, see The 17 Best Things to Do in Granada
Arcos de la Frontera Summary
Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz is one of the most famous pueblos blancos in the province, if not all of Andalusia. With a glorious hilltop location and an evocative name backed up by the many photogenic arches hidden among its narrow, cobblestoned streets, Arcos checks almost all the boxes for an introduction to the pueblos blancos of Andalusia.
Throw in its close proximity to the sea and popular cities of Cádiz and Seville and it’s easy to see why people who are tight on time often make Arcos de la Frontera the one white village they visit.
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