Our first impression of Granada wasn’t very pleasant. 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! 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 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’s 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 Andalusia and Granada. It’s way too hot! If you have the opportunity to go during Spring (or Autumn) when it’s nice and warm and you’ll surely find smaller ques in Alhambra.
Even in winter, it’s never too cold in Andalusia and it doesn’t rain that much. Plus, you are close to the Sierra Nevada, maybe you can make a ski trip too!
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 in 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 are going to find many things better to do than appreciating Alhambra.
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 very slow 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, and it 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 nor waiting hours in the queue. The tickets cost 14€, and they only accept cash in the ticket office. Alhambra is immersed in history and architectonic details, it would have been great doing a guided tour so we could have them explained to us. But it’s considerably more expensive. It depends on the day but you should expect it to be between 30 and 40 Euros. Maybe next time 🙂
Alhambra means “the red one” because of the reddish tones of the castle. It is surrounded by mountains and forest, giving it a fantastic setting. The construction of the palace and fortress started with Muhammad I al-Ahmar in 1238, along the years was added palaces and gardens. Only in 1492, the Alhambra was surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs.
Alhambra is primarily known for its architecture: 13 towers, column arcades, fountains with running water, Arab inscriptions imprinted in the walls, tile mosaics, and carved stucco work. We had already gone to Cordoba’s Mosque, so we were expecting it to have the same WOW factor of 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.
Tip: Remember that you have an entry hour.
The construction of the complex of three palaces was done in different periods: Mexuar Palace, Comares Palace, 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 in 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.
Tip: don’t forget that you have a scheduled time to visit.
One of the oldest parts in the 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 lt wasn’t very impressive 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.
Palacio De 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 drinking 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.
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.
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.
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 all the family!
We have covered this hike in another post, so if you want to learn more about it, click here!
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 need to 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.
- Ticket: € 5:
- Timetable: Monday to Saturday: 10:00 – 18:30 while Sundays and public holidays: 15:00 – 17:45;
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.
- Entrance: € 5
- Timetable: Monday – Saturday: 10:15 – 18:30 while Sundays 11:00 – 18:00
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. With more than 10 000 reviews and 8.7 average, it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular!
- Hotel Saray – Also very well located at 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.
- Hesperia Granada – This hotel comes with a typical Andalusian courtyard and it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular with couples. It’s only 200 meters from the tapas streets and 5 minutes from the amazing Albaycin district.