One of our favourite places in Spain to visit is Granada and its crown jewel The Alhambra.
Granada is located in Southern Spain (Andalusia). This is one of those places that seem to have it all; the looks, the food (delicious tapas!) , and the sense of fun. Its vibrant energy is worthy of stopping over for more than a day to visit the Alhambra. If you truly explore the city, you will be left with a lasting impression of a beautiful Arab infused Granada that goes hand in hand with monumental churches, streets packed with eclectic tapas bars, teterias, and flamenco clubs.
The Alhambra is breath-taking complex which includes palaces and gardens that hold a rich legacy of the Moorish culture. It is widely present nowadays on science (medicine, maths, astronomy, botanics, engineering) and culture (architecture, language and food). We love this rich culture of stunning colorful tiles with complicated mathematical patterns; fountains with running water and beautiful gardens filled with oranges, roses and myrtles.
We would like to share with you some tips for visiting this stunning place.
When to visit
It can certainly be visited during all four season; however the most popular times are spring because of the pleasantly mild weather. Also many local festivities taking place such as Las Cruces de Mayo or Corpus Christi. In autumn you can find less crowds but still enjoy some warm weather. Nonetheless, winter should not scare you away from Granada because it is not cold enough to spoil any sightseeing. Admittedly, the worst months would be in July and August due to the scorching temperatures reaching 35 to 40 degrees Celsius.
Must see attractions
1. The crown Jewel of Granada: The Alhambra
It is a palace and fortress complex comprises of the 13th century fortress of Alcazaba; The royal Nasrid palace; The Generalife; the luxurious royal gardens and sultans´ summer palace where you are enveloped by the smells of Jasmine and myrtle. Finally the 16th century Renaissance palace of Charles V Palace; the Alhambra Museum and the Mosque baths which actually have free admission.
As the most popular attraction in Granada it is generally overcrowded. Try to come early in the morning and be prepared to wander around for 2 to 4 hours. Additionally, it is highly recommended to book your ticket ahead of time in order to avoid disappointment of not getting in or paying higher prices than you should.
Where and when to buy your tickets
You can easily buy your ticket on the very informative official bilingual online website up to 3 months ahead of time. There are youth, disability, senior discounts which can be applied. Children under 12 are free but you have to show proof of age since they will only give you the ticket in person at the ticket office. In addition, it is very important to pay attention to the type of ticket you are buying because some tickets do not include the entrance to the must see Nasrid Palace. Moreover, be aware that your designated hour printed on your ticket to visit the Nasrid Palace must be strictly adhered to or else you will lose your time slot and you do not want to miss seeing this exquisite example of Moorish architecture.
There are many ways to get to the Alhambra; they even have an exclusive Alhambra bus which leaves regularly from Plaza Nueva , next to the Cathedral. However you can also walk there in about 30 minutes if you brave the steep uphill. Although a much easier recommended walk is a stroll down the hill known as the Cuesta del rey chico or more commonly referred to as the Cuesta del chino. This is a delightful walk down a winding dirt and cobblestone path that leads you to the Carrera del Darro; one of the oldest streets in Albaicín, which runs along the picturesque river Darro. You can continue your walk and turn right to visit more of the must see Arab quarter of the Albaicin; or turn left and head back to Plaza Nueva and visit the Cathedral; and other important monuments in the center of Granada.
2. The Old Arab quarter: Albaicin
Albaicin one of Granada’s oldest neighborhoods is where the moors built their first fortress; various mosques and where they took refuge until they were forced out in 1609. It is the perfect place for those who want to enjoy shaded parks; and a relaxed pace of life while sipping a lemonade in a café like a local; or drinking a tea in their many famed teahouses sprinkled all over the neighborhood. An excellent one where you can soak in the views of the Alhambra from their second story terrace is the Abaco Te teahouse; where you can find aromatic teas, Moorish pastries, pancakes and other light refreshments and to top it off; free internet.
3. Moorish baths
Another typical Arab custom to try out is the Moorish bath house; a well known one is the Hammam Al Andalus baths due to its traditional and almost mystical ambience. Here you can enjoy cold, tepid and hot baths surrounded by marble pavements and mosaic wall décor. Reservations are a must.
A hidden part of the Arabic tradition is the Arabic baths pictured here. It’s a unique culture experience. If you visit the Southern region of Spain this is truly a hidden gem of Granada. You can find locals that visit the baths weekly as well as visitor who want to experience the culture.
4. Enjoy the tapas
Afterwards, if you feel like joining the locals and going for a free tapa included with your drink; you should try out the Plaza Ailatar and look for the Bar Aliatar Los Caracoles. It is famous for its small side dish of snails cooked with garlic served for free with your wine, beer or soft drink.
In Granada it is recommended you do a tapa route than have an actual sit down meal. It is truly a unique experience as an American to ask for a drink and out of nowhere you get a delicious slice of omelet, little stew dish, a mini sandwich or other filling creative tapas completely for free. It is important to note that this is a gift from the bar therefore it is not well looked upon if you request a specific tapa you have set your eye on, so just eat what you get.
You cannot miss stopping at the famous San Nicolas view point where anybody who is anybody; including many US president have stopped to take their selfie of the Alhambra in the background.
5. The Gypsy quarter: Sacromonte and flamenco shows
Another emblematic neighborhood is the Sacromonte (meaning Sacred Mountain) where the Gypsy people first carved their hillside cave dwellings a few centuries ago. Many generations of famous flamenco dancers, guitarists and singers have emerged from here. It is a lively artistic quarter famous for its night life. To enjoy a flamenco show in one of the many small hillside caves called zambras please do your research in advance because many are overpriced tourist traps where you can be charged over 15 Euros for a small beer or watered down sherry.
Some famous zambras that are well worth it are El Rocio, one of the first Zambra clubs. A big plus is the outdoor terrace looking out to the Alhambra and the delicious Salmorejo they serve. Additionally one zambra you might remember from watching on Anthony Bourdains show Parts Unknown, Zambra Maria La Canastera. Is also one of the oldest flamenco clubs in Granada named after the iconic dancer Maria Cortes Heredia.
If you love travelling in Spain, we are sure that your will enjoy this post about Galicia.