Granada is one of the most famous cities in Spain. It is mostly known for the Alhambra Complex, a palace, and fortress built by Muslims. It is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the most beautiful places in the world. But beyond Alhambra, Granada has much more to offer. The Cathedral, the old Muslim Quarter, and the Royal Chapel. Come and discover things to do in Granada.
Our first impression of Granada wasn’t charming. We couldn’t find parking, and it is pretty challenging to drive, making it very difficult to visit. Plus, we didn’t feel the same cool vibe of Malaga or Cordoba. And on top of it, the first meal was pretty bad… which was really unlucky because this is a fine city to eat in! On the plus side, things only got better from that! Once we got to the historic neighborhoods, we were charmed. And Alhambra is simply out of this world! Besides the mandatory Alhambra visit, you can go to the cathedral and walk through the different shopping streets, have a day trip to the Sierra Nevada, or go hiking in Los Cahorros! There are plenty of fun things to do in Granada!
When is the best time to visit Granada?
We visited Granada in August, so it was very hot (not very wise of us), during daytime temperature can reach 35º to 37º. In Summer, it is almost compulsory to bring walking shoes, you are going to walk a lot, and it is worth it.
Although we went in the Summer, we believe it’s the worst time to visit Andalucia and Granada. It’s way too hot! If you can go during Spring (or Autumn) when it’s nice and warm, you’ll surely find smaller queues in Alhambra.
Even in winter, it’s never too cold in Andalusia, and it doesn’t rain that much. Plus, if you are close to the Sierra Nevada, you can also make a ski trip!
Best Things to do in Granada
It is very easy to fall in love with Alhambra and its story. As Washington Irving said “For my part, I gave myself up, during my sojourn in the Alhambra, to all the romantic and fabulous traditions connected with the pile. I lived in the midst of an Arabian tale, and shut my eyes, as much as possible, to everything that called me back to every-day life; and if there is any country in Europe where one can do so, it is in poor, wild, legendary, proud-spirited, romantic Spain; where the old magnificent barbaric spirit still contends against the utilitarianism of modern civilization”.
Washington Irving was an American writer and US ambassador to Spain. He was very passionate about Alhambra and spent 3 months in the palace, where he was inspired to write his “Tales of Alhambra”.
It is fair to say we liked Alhambra, we liked it a lot! The views, the gardens, and the design details are breathtaking. The monumental complex is divided into four areas: Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, Partal, and Generalife. Be aware that there is a specific time slot to visit Nasrid Palaces and Generalife. You will need a full day to visit Alhambra without rushing it. And you really shouldn’t, it’s not like you will find many things better to do than appreciating Alhambra.
Visiting Spain? Check the 50 things you need to know before traveling to Spain!
How to buy tickets for the Alhambra?
The worst part of Alhambra was the queues. We arrived at 10.00 a.m., after the big hike to get to the entrance, there was already a queue of 40 meters. It didn’t look too much, but we had to wait nearly 2 hours, under the hot Spanish sun, without shades and a prolonged queue. Things were a bit disorganized.
When it was our time to buy the tickets, there were only two left (yes, the last two!) for the Nasrid palace, which was at 7 p.m. For the Generalife, we got tickets at 2 p.m., so we were fortunate. Do yourself a favor and buy your tickets online!
Don’t risk being left out or waiting hours in the queue. Alhambra is immersed in history and architectonic details. It would have been great to do a guided tour so we could have them explained to us. It is well worth doing a guided tour.
Alhambra means “the red one” because of the reddish tones of the castle. It is surrounded by mountains and forests, giving it a fantastic setting. The construction of the palace and fortress started with Muhammad I al-Ahmar in 1238, and over the years were added palaces and gardens. Only in 1492 was Alhambra surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs.
Alhambra is primarily known for its architecture: 13 towers, column arcades, fountains with running water, Arab inscriptions imprinted on the walls, tile mosaics, and carved stucco work. We had already gone to Cordoba’s Mosque, so we expected it to have the same WOW factor as the mosque with its columns and highness.
In Alhambra, it is a different kind of awesomeness. The WOW factor is found in the small details. This is what makes Alhambra striking.
Generalife (“the architect garden”) was constructed to be the recreation area of the Sultans and Kings of Granada. Generalife is impressive for its gardens and different fountains and polls. Water is everywhere, connected with water channels running through the floor and stairs.
One of the most striking features is the Patio of Acequia and its stunning view from the royal chambers.
Remember that you have an entry hour.
The construction of the complex of three palaces was done in different periods: Mexuar Palace, Comares Palace, and Palace of the lions.
While walking through the different palaces, you will find beautiful tiles with diverse patterns and colors, carved stucco walls and ceilings, Arabic calligraphy of poetry, and Koranic text on the walls. The patios are fantastic, with white marble and different pools and fountains. The most striking is the Patio de Arraynes and Patio de los leones. It is impressive to see the connections between the fountains and their irrigation systems.
Don’t forget that you have a scheduled time to visit.
One of the oldest parts of Alhambra and the military area of the complex. It has many towers and a garden, but the best part of the Alcazaba is Torre de la Vela, which has a stunning view of the city of Granada. Overall, it wasn’t imposing when compared to the rest of Alhambra and other Alcazabas, particularly Malaga’s Alcazaba. It’s an interesting part of Alhambra, but not what makes it unforgettable.
Palace of D. Carlos V
Inside the palace, you will find the museum of Alhambra, a museum of fine arts and temporary exhibitions. It has a different style from the rest (it was built after the Reconquista). The palace walls have large sculpted rectangular stones that poke out of the façade. Indoors you can find a columned arcade surrounding an open patio.
Albayzín is the old Arab quarter, the streets are very narrow and small, with typical houses with a strong Moorish influence. It was classified as a World Heritage Site along with Alhambra. It is a nice experience to explore the different streets and drink tea in the Moorish tea houses and restaurants. Don’t miss Calderería street, which has plenty of craft shops, making it a great opportunity to buy some souvenirs.
Book a guided tour through Albayzín
Mirador of San Nicolas
Since our visit to the Nasrid Palaces was only at 7 p.m., we had time to go to the Mirador and the small church of San Nicolas. From the Mirador, you can glance at all the majestic of Alhambra and the city of Granada. It is quite a climb to get there, but it is worth it. This is probably the best angle to see Alhambra from afar, and at sunset, the view is breathtaking.
Cathedral of Granada
Granada’s Cathedral is a bit different from many others in Spain, mainly because its construction started much later, only in the 16th century. You must remember that Granada only became part of Castille in 1492 – it was the last Muslim bastion in the Iberian Peninsula.
Granada Cathedral was constructed under several architectonical styles and took about 200 years to be finished. Despite being packed between very narrow streets and difficult to appreciate, it’s quite a marvelous work of art and one of the best things to do in Granada.
You can also book a guided tour to the Cathedral
The Royal Chapel or ‘Capilla Real’
Despite being located right next to the Grand Cathedral, this chapel is a different attraction, one that you need a separate ticket to enter. The royal chapel is the mausoleum of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella. You can also find a selection of art objects that belonged to Queen Isabella. You should note that the posterior kings were buried in the monastery El Escorial close to Madrid.
You can also book a guided tour to the Chapel
Day trip to the Sierra Nevada
Granada has so many things to do, particularly in Alhambra, that sometimes we forget that the city is right at the edge of the Sierra Nevada. And if you are there, you might as well visit it. During Summer it’s a nice picnic, hiking and sightseeing destination, but in Winter you can go skiing!
Veleta, the main ski resort in the Sierra Nevada, is considered the most southerly ski resort in Europe. In fact, it’s so much in the South that you can even see Africa from the top of Veleta. Plus, it’s only 32km or about 50 minutes from Granada.
Book a 4×4 tour through the Sierra Nevada
Hiking Los Cahorros trail
The Los Cahorros trail crosses the Los Cahorros gorge located in the lower hills of the Sierra Nevada in Monachil, only a few minutes away from Granada. If you enjoy taking short hikes, this one is perfect. It has hanging bridges and goes along a beautiful narrow gorge. Plus, it isn’t that long, so it’s suitable for the entire family!
We have covered this hike in another post, so if you want to learn more about it, click here!
Where to stay in Granada?
Granada is a big city, with almost 1 million inhabitants, so you want to stay close to the action. It’s also a very difficult place to find parking spots and a nightmare to navigate due to traffic. All this means that choosing the right hotel may help you have a nice experience in Granada.
We have gathered a few of our favorite options here. They all have private parking in case you came by car, reasonably and are perfectly located so you don’t have to walk too much to get to the best attractions in Granada.
- Hotel Granada Center– Located within walking distance from the center and also easily accessed from the motorways.
- Hotel Saray– Also very well located, only 10 minutes from the action. It comes with a nice price particularly if you think that it has a pool for those hot Spanish Summers.
- Room Mate Leo– This hotel has a typical Andalusian courtyard, and it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular with couples. It’s only 250 meters from the tapas streets.
6 thoughts on “7 Fun Things to do in Granada, Spain”
I was there in March and I just loved this place. Got there early to beat the crowd! Just amazing!
Wise! We didn’t plan ahead and… well, you read it 🙂 It turned out OK
The architecture looks stunning! Good to know you can buy tickets online, I’d hate to have to stand out in the sun for 2 hours.
It’s funny to come across your article as I just started planning my trip to Spain in March & was just reading about Alhambra. The grounds look amazing, I’m definitely putting this on my list. I’ve visited Granada in Nicaragua which is named after Granada in Spain so I’m interested in that connection too. Cheers 🙂
If you are going to Andalusia, Granada is mandatory 🙂
Wow, the architecture of this place looks absolutely stunning. I can see why it was a finalist in the new 7 wonder of the world contest! I’ve heard lots of great things about Granada too, which is another reason to visit here…maybe not during the summer though, from what you’re saying 😉
Comments are closed.