The Moorish Jewel at the foothills of Sierra Nevada
Finally reaching one of the most spectacular cities in Spain, Granada and it’s most precious sight, the Alhambra. Coming here from Malaga was easy, in fact we decided to get the hotel in Granada instead of Malaga in order to have the most of the day for visiting Granada before heading back to Malaga and make our way back home. Unfortunately this time, we really run short of time to visit such impressive city. Quite severely to be honest, plus the bad luck with the pouring rain later in the afternoon that made us retreat from continuing any sightseeing. Not to worry much, I know I will return and enjoy it bigger time soon.
Although not a big city, it’s packed with places to visit, not to mention these sights are located on each hill of the city, making it pretty hard and tiring if you want to get on foot, or even using the public transportation, as it all takes longer than originally expected. If you have a rental car instead, then you will be much better off saving you lots of time. Still no matter whether you have your own transport or not, you should at least plan 2 full days in here. An entire weekend would be ideal.
One of the main reasons to come to Granada is actually quite self-explained. The world renowned complex of palaces within the castle and fort of Alhambra. This unique, greatest Moorish piece of architecture is listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1984, and one of the most celebrated and finest tourist destination in the whole of Spain. Entering through its doors is like appearing anywhere in Morocco, especially Marrakech, Fez or Meknes. Luxurious courtyards, gardens with ponds, fountains, sculptures and statues perfectly designed; impressive palaces and buildings so incredibly well decorated and all so impressive and painstakingly restored. Lets not forget it was here from where the Sultanate of Granada was governed, one of the most powerful back in the days of the Muslim occupation of Spain.
You need to remember to book in advance the tickets for Alhambra. Basically, anyone can queue and get entry for the day, but the main sight within the Alhambra are the Nazaries Palaces. These can ONLY be visited by booking tickets for a fixed time, and even they will release some limited tickets on the day for those with no access to a computer nor internet, that will not secure you the entrance at all. Instead, save yourself the hassle by booking online here.
Walking through the city, although straightforward, it can lead to getting confused or even lost for few moments especially in the Albayzin neighbourhood, where the streets are very narrow and labyrinthine. Hard is also to start describing each of the countless historical buildings, palaces, churches, monasteries and squares everywhere you walk. I’ll try my best to keep it tidy with the most important in the section below.
Taking some notes about food, this is the same as for Malaga and pretty much anywhere in Spain to be honest. You are never too far away from a bar serving a great “Menu del Dia”, this is, a menu generally served Monday through Friday only during lunchtime that includes a starter, a main course, desert, drink and bread for really good prices. More traditional and local incredible places especialises in regional dishes, with excellent meats and very fair prices. As for night time, there are countless bars serving great tapas with fine wines and beers. That’s one of the best choices anyone could do rather than stick to a restaurant. In the other hand, all the usually fast food chains do exist, however don’t expect these to be in every corner like many other European cities, nor the city centre. These are mostly located well outside of the city and within shopping centres.
For more information about the city visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Granada
- Alhambra An UNESCO World Heritage Site listed. No visit to Granada can miss out on one of the greatest places on earth like this. Please remember to book the tickets in advance, here the link again to the website. Sights within includes Alcazaba, Nazaries Palaces, The Generalife Gardens and the Palace of Charles V. The best views over the city and the whole Alhambra itself are from the Generalife Palace and Gardens. Even if you are tired already after the visit to the palaces, you must save energy to reach this point.
- Albayzin The Muslim neighbourhood and one of the oldest quarters in the city, north of the Alhambra palace and hill. Great architecture of many influences are perfectly blended together. The main sights around are Plaza San Nicolas for a great viewpoint, San Joseph Church, the New Mosque, Plaza Larga and Carrera del Darro among plenty other buildings in narrow, maze streets mostly still enclosed by the walls especially the northwest quarter.
- Plaza Nueva In between the Alhambra hill and the Albayzin, separating both. The main sights around include the Royal Chancellery, the Hose of Pisa and Santa Ana Church.
- Gran Via de Colon The main thoroughfare of the city, aligned with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings. It splits the old town in two major quadrants, the Albayzin at the east, and the west side. Starts at the major Square Isabel la Catolica, very near Plaza Nueva, and terminates north at the park Jardines del Triunfo.
- Cathedral Located between Gran Via and Bib-Rambla. One of the latest cathedrals to be built in Spain, dating from the 16th century. Open from 10.45am to 13.30pm and 16.00pm to 20.00pm. 4 Euros to enter.
- Bib-Rambla Square The heart of the city, just by the west side of the Cathedral. Plenty of beautiful buildings surrounding it and the streets all around, lots of bars, restaurants and shops.
- Alcaiceria It was the old silk market in the Moorish times, located right next to Bib Rambla and the Cathedral.
While there is an international airport, Federico Garcia Lorca Granada-Jaen; the routes offered are quite limited, and very costly to be honest. No low-cost airlines operate here, hence your best bet will be Malaga airport offering one of the greatest choices of destinations of any airport in Spain. It is 130 kilometres between both cities.
Coming overland from anywhere in Spain is easy now that the high-speed railway network is so greatly expanded in the country. Distances are shorter than ever and so the travel times. Therefore a quick trip to Malaga, Seville, Madrid and the Mediterranean Coast. Long distance buses in the other hand would be a great option should you have the time. At a fraction of the price compared to the train, is a very enjoyable way to admire the landscapes too.
In the city itself, everything is pretty compact but distances can be long because of the many hills in the city like the Albayzin or Alhambra. The best way to explore and go from one place to another is by walking, out of question, but personally do not attempt to reach the Alhambra or Albayzin by walking. This can ruin your day. Instead, take the minibus 32 from Plaza Nueva which will drop you right by the entrance of the Alhambra, saving you from a lengthily climb and exhausted especially during the summer months.
Granada has pretty much all the hotel chains in the world, and a great choice, but it’s wise to book well in advance. As one of the major tourist destinations in Spain, specially for weekend trips; hotels can get booked-out soon, or the remaining rooms quoting seriously higher prices. Having a look at some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers is the best way to start. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.
We selected the Andalucia Center Hotel; for the great deal we got and the location. Easy to walk to the old town in around 15 minutes, very comfortable rooms and quiet at night since it’s outside the city centre itself. This is very important to consider as Granada is very well known for being a party city. Friendly staff, helpful and a nice breakfast included, we could not ask for more.