Huelva tucked in the South-west corner of Spain has been called the “Secret Coast” by Huelva tourism, popular with nature lovers and foodies Huelva is otherwise not on the radar of most other holiday-makers. The lesser-known status, beaches, amazing food and natural parks is the appeal of Huelva, and what makes Huelva worth a visit.
Check out the top things to do in Huelva!
I happened across Huelva really by chance. With direct flights starting up from Dresden, Germany, where we were living, to Faro in Portugal I cast a net to find a home exchange opportunity within a few hours from the airport. A family in Huelva with 2 children of a similar age were our match and we were introduced to the gastronomic delights, beautiful beaches and hospitality of the region.
With locals to advise me I got to experience the best things to do and what to see in Huelva, top attractions, the best beaches, hidden gems and of course the best local food to eat.
WHERE IS HUELVA?
Huelva is the name of the city and the surrounding province with Andalusia being the region (also home to beautiful Seville). Sitting on the confluence of the Odiel and Tinto rivers Huelva is an active port. The industrial port means Huelva is far down the list of beautiful cities in Spain but the charming cobbled old town and beauty of the surrounding province with its beaches and natural parks make up for the aesthetics of the centre.
Sitting on the Costa de la Luz, the “Coast of light” the sparkling waters and wide clean beaches will have you coming back.
Huelva can be reached from either Seville airport to the North East or Faro Airport across in Portugal to the West.
WHAT TO DO IN HUELVA?
- Where to see Flamingo in Huelva
- Wildlife and Bird spotting at Donana National Park
- Christopher Columbus sites in Huelva
- What to Eat in Huelva
- Wharf walk in Huelva
- The best beaches in Huelva
- Daytrip from Huelva to Portugal
NATURAL AREA MARISMAS DEL ODIEL
Across the river from the town of Huelva you will find the Natural Park of Marisa del Odiel. This is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Salt plains indicate Human input in this area and somehow the balance has been achieved that still along the bird life to thrive, so much so that the park has been granted Biosphere reserve status by UNESCO. At the entrance to the park, you will find the small visitors centre with an exhibition about the park itself (all in Spanish but easy to interpret the visual media), friendly staff then showed us the best places to see Flamingo and other seabirds.
We look a 10minute walk to one of the observation huts, we had borrowed binoculars from our home exchange family, we were able to stand in the shade and watch the Flamingo move across the marsh in unison heads coming up and down as they walked and fed in the shallow water. I had never seen Flamingo in the wild and had never had a particular interest in these birds but seeing them in nature, with their bright pink under feathers and moving with such grace, hardly rippling the water with each step, it was a very memorable moment, we loved it so much we even went back the following day to watch them a bit more.
DONANA NATIONAL PARK
The largest Nature reserve in the area is Parque Nacional de Donana, due to forest fires we didn’t make it there. a 20-minute drive from Huelva town and 1 hour from Seville. Donana is made up of marsh, lagoon, river and beach, there is a wide Variety of animal life in Donana. Many migratory birds nest here or stop on the journey between Europe and Africa. It is a great place to see flamingo and it is also possible to see lynx, deer and wild boar. Since the park is so large it is recommended to join a tour which should be arranged ahead of time
ON THE TRAIL OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Many of Huelvas attractions are focused on Christopher Columbus. Huelva is also the place where Christopher Columbus or Cristóbal Colón (as he is known in Spain) planned his trip to the Americas. There is a monument to Christopher Columbus in the old town on Plaza de la Monjas.
The La Rabida Monastery is where Christopher Columbus resided in 1490 while he was waiting for financial backing for his plans to discover the new world. There is a museum which gives information on the voyage to the new world as well as the life of Christopher Columbus. The Monastery is surrounded by beautiful botanical gardens with exotic plant specimens and a manmade lake.
At Muelle de las Carabelas (Wharf of the Caravels) you can see replicas of the 3 ships which discovered America moored in the sand. The Niña, Pinta and Santa María were built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery. Most people are surprised how small the ships are, it is possible to board the ships and there is a small museum and video display.
HUELVA GASTRONOMIC CAPITAL OF SPAIN
Huelva is also known for its food and is the Gastronomic capital of Spain in 2017. Sitting on the coast of course seafood such as clams, white prawns, seabass and cuttlefish feature heavily on menus. Look out for these regional specialities, guisos marineros de rape (monkfish stews), corvina (sea bass), adobos de pescado (marinated fish), pez espada (swordfish), chocos fritos (fried cuttlefish), fideos con caballa (noodles and mackerel), raya en pimentón (skate in paprika), salmorejo (Andalucian tomato and bread soup).
If you don’t want to leave the beach you can enjoy fresh seafood, cold beer and cocktails at the many “Chiringuitos” along the coast, kids will love being able to dine with their feet in the sand.
A must try while you are in Huelva is the Iberian ham, dried and cured for more than a year, it has an earthy flavour. The locals are very passionate about the ham and you can find it in many stores and restaurants, there was whole counter dedicated to it even just at the local supermarket.
MUELLE DEL TINTO
The Muelle del Tinto pier is over 1km long and was built in the 1870’s at a wharf to allow shipping of the minerals which were being mined in the area. Over the last few decades the pier has been rehabilitated and declared a monument of cultural significance. Now it is not in commercial use, but visitors can walk, bike or fish on the wharf and it serves as an extension of the waterfront promenade area.
HUELVA BEACHES TO VISIT
Huelva is a popular area for Spanish tourists to visit but with its lack of high rise resorts the British and European package tourists have not ventured into this area. This makes it a great place to visit for those that like a more laid-back holiday and dare I say it “like a local” experiences.
Don’t get me wrong, the best beaches in Huelva can get busy in the Summer when the locals escape to the seaside for the weekend. But with 120km of wide sandy coast line it is easy to find quiet beach and a patch of sand to call your own.
The sea temperature is a few degrees warmer than the chilly Algarve coast in nearby Portugal and more refreshing than the Mediterranean which gets too warm for my liking in mid-summer.Here are my top picks for the best beaches in Huelva:
Playa de la Ria
Playa El Portil
Playa de la Bota
Playa de la Mata Negra and Los Enebrales
Playa El Espigon
Playa San Miguel
Playa El Rompido
Playa la Fletcha
Playa de Rompeculos
Punta Umbria, the largest seaside town on the coast of Huelva is popular in the summer months with visitors from the nearby inland towns and Seville. The beach here sits on a peninsula and the sea extends up into the estuary. The blue flag beach has fine clean sand. There are restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.
PLAYA DE LA RÍA
On the other side of the small peninsula is Playa De La Ria, this is an estuary beach and good for small children especially if it windy on the main beach. Be cautious though as on an outgoing tide there will be a strong current where the water deepens.
PLAYA EL PORTIL
At only 40m wide Playa El Portil is one of the narrowest beaches in the area however it makes up for it in length at 3.6km long. The beach has all the usual facilities you will need such as cafes, toilets, showers and lifeguard patrols.
PLAYA DE LA BOTA
Playa de La Bota can be one of the busiest beaches in the summer since it is one of the easiest to access from Huelva. The beach is accessed via the biking and walking paths that run parallel to it. It has cafes, lifeguards, showers and toilets. There can be strong currents here, so children should swim between the flags.
PLAYA DE LA MATA NEGRA (LEADING ONTO LOS ENEBRALES)
Mata Negra BEACH is one of the quietest beaches in this area since it doesn’t have facilities like the other beaches, it is reached through the Los Enebrales Natural park, stick to the boardwalk as there are endangered fauna here.
PLAYA EL ESPIGON
El Espigon beach is access through the Las Marismas del Odiel wetland area, head to the information centre and then keep driving straight for another 15-20 minutes. There are several access points to the beach, there are no facilities here, you won’t have the beach to yourself in the summer, but it is relatively quiet.
PLAYA SAN MIGUEL
Further west you will find the sandy estuary beaches of the Rio Piedras protected by a long sand spit. Perfect for water sports or paddling with children.
PLAYA EL ROMPIDO
El Rompido is an urban beach with 1km of golden sand. There are showers, toilets and lifeguards with cafes and restaurants found in the nearby township.
PLAYA LA FLECHA
La Flecha is a beach on the sand spit opposite the town of El Rompido. You can catch a small ferry called a ‘Flechamar Dos’ from the Marina in El Rompido. When you disembark on the spit walk across boardwalk #3 which will take you to the ocean side. ‘Flechamar Uno’ takes visitors to a quieter section of the beach but with a longer walk across the dunes. Take plenty of water and food and be sure to check the Ferry times for the return trip.
PLAYA DE ROMPECULOS
Sitting on the edge of the Donana National park Play de Rompeculos is accessed via a gentle boardwalk when the cliffs that tower about the beach part. Secluded and clean it is a beautiful stretch of beach.
VISIT PORTUGAL FROM HUELVA
It is easy to jump in the car and head across to Portugal for a daytrip from Huelva. A visit to Tavira with its white washed houses, cobbled streets and Moorish architecture gives a good taste of Portugal. Take the short boat ride to Tavira Island a long sandspit which shelters the city from the sea. Beach side restaurants overlooking the fine white sand beach and serving traditional Portuguese seafood dishes make a perfect spot for a long lunch.
So with beaches, historical landmarks, amazing food, fun things to do for free and with family Huelva won’t remain a secret for long. Have you had a holiday in Huelva? Please let me know in the comments.
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