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ANDALUSIA, Things to do in Granada

ANDALUSIA, Things to do in Granada

Imagine visiting the town that was the most populated in Europe seven centuries ago, or stepping into the palace of The Arabian Nights whose walls are still echoing with stories of princesses… Or better yet – travel to Andalusia! But first, read about things to do in Granada with everything you need to know.

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View of Alhambra from Casa de Chapiz

GRANADA

Granada was inhabited from prehistoric times. Romans colonized the city that was later conquered by the Moors in the 8th century. Arabs stayed here for seven centuries and gave the city its name. This is the last Moorish town that stood until the 15th century after other parts of Andalusia fell under Christians. When Cordoba fell in 1236, a lot of artists, scientists, traders moved here from the former capital. Granada continued to grow under the Nasrid dynasty from the 13th century who developed silk industry and trade routes for Sudan gold.

While typing these lines, I am wondering how it will all fit into a single post on things to do in Granada! But, let’s start from the beginning.

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Gran Via Street on the left

I came here from Malaga by bus (a lot of olives orchards along the way). The ride takes about an hour and a half, the ticket is 14 Euros, and there are numerous departures to choose from. It’s easy to take public transportation (line No. 33) from the bus station. Once you reach the Cathedral and the Plaza Isabel la Catholica, you are all set.

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Traditional artisan neighborhood

TIP: Public transportation card can be bought or recharged at the machines in Gran Via Street which also operate in English. A single ride will otherwise cost you 1,40 Euros.

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Andalusian detail

ALHAMBRA SPAIN

‘Al hambra’ means red in Arabic, hence the name of the palace due to the golden and reddish gleam of its stones. The castle covers the whole Sabica hill. Alhambra complex was firstly built for military purposes, which is why it’s the fort – ‘alcazaba’, the palace – ‘alcazar’, and the small town – ‘madina’, at the same time. The fortress dates back to the 9th century, even though it was not used by monarchs until the 13th.

It was built by the Moorish Nasrid dynasty who ruled the city from 1238 to the arrival of Catholics in 1492. Alhambra was then turned into the Christian court. The place was seriously neglected during the 18th and the 19th century, so much so that Napoleon troops used it as military barracks, and it was widely inhabited by thieves and baggers. Never the less, Alhambra was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, and nowadays every 30 minutes another 300 tourists come in to admire it.

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Through Generalife windows

To come to Granada and not to visit Alhambra is just not an option! Alhambra is usually the reason why people come here in the first place. It is the most important among things to do in Granada. Three million visitors pass through its gates every year. This is why you have to be prepared.

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Summer palace in Generalife

Tickets are sold online by the Alhambra Office, they cost 14 Euros and that is the only way to enter the Nasrid Palace (and to see the Patio of the Lions, for instance).

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View of Nasrid palace from Alcazar

TIP: Tickets are sold online and are available three months in advance. If you try to get it a month before your trip, it might happen that dates you had in mind are just not available any more, even if you stay in Granada for 10 days and more.

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Inside the court

Here is what happened to me. I took the airplane ticket and booked most of the accommodation in Andalusia (a month before the trip), only to realize that there are no available entries to Alhambra until the end of September! A thought to postpone the whole journey for October rushed through my mind, but then I remembered that I saw the so-called Granada Card somewhere, that offered ‘more entrees’ and ‘skip the line’ service.

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The famous Patio of the Lions

True, it was three times more expensive than the actual ticket, but it included other museums, monasteries and Moorish houses’ fees, along with 9 bus rides and one tourist train ride to Albaicin. I bought it right then and there (online, for 45 Euros), and even then I only had two entry options for the date I was planning to visit (at 14 and 14,30h). And let me say it again – it was the whole month prior to my journey to Andalusia!

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Elegant columns

TIP: You can either print your Granada Card and take it with you or store it on your mobile. The important thing is that the barcode is available to be scanned at the entrance.

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You have to be in awe

Alhambra can be reached by foot (a bit far from the center), or by C30 and C32 buses and taxies. The entrance itself is about 30 minutes away from the Nasrid Palace, so try to come earlier than the time you have booked, since that time refers to the palace access.

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Perfect view of the ‘lions’

Bear in mind that Alhambra is not just one palace, it is a vast castle complex with palaces, fortresses, gardens, and courtyards. The estimated time of the visit is three hours. (It took me six!)

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Decorated arches

TIP: Let’s say that your ticket is booked for the 14h entry. In that case, consider being there at 10 am, because you can spend hours visiting other parts of Alhambra before reaching the Nasrid Palace.

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Albaicin on the opposite hill

It’s hard to choose between the view of Alhambra up close like this, and from the Mirador de San Nicolas in Albaicin on the opposite hill, with Sierra Nevada mountain peaks in the background. It’s also not easy to guess at which part of the complex you are at the moment, even more so when you enter the very halls of the Nasrid Palace.

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Windows overlooking the garden

Maps and audio-guides that are available at the entrance for six Euros, do make it a bit easier, though. Still, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and the time you need to see it all.

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Typical architecture in Alhambra

TIP: Bring a bottle of water and bear in mind that toilets and machines for coffee and snacks are only available at two points in the palace. It’s also good to have some change.

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Charming gardens

Whether you are in the Hall of the Two Sisters or the Hall of the Kings, the Golden Room or the Patio of the Lions, you will be in awe by the mastery of craftsmen who turned these arches and ceilings into a true work of art. So many details, tiles with numerous patterns (I took so many photos of tiles!), typical Arabian windows, greenery and fountains.

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Spectacular tiles

Given that I traveled a lot through the Arab countries, it was immediately clear to me why fertile soil, lots of greenery, and so much water was in the focus here.

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Another gorgeous view

Then you remember the symmetry the architects used 7 centuries ago or façade reflections in small ponds for getting the impression of a much larger space. Even a laic like me is aware of the grandeur of the castle before me! Also, it’s not that hard to spot different styles once you enter the Carlos V palace who added this building to the complex after Alhambra was conquered by the Christians.

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Carlos V Palace

When strolling around the Generalife gardens where Moorish rulers came to find some peace outside the Alhambra court, you can easily picture some sultan sitting here at dusk on the balcony overlooking the palace, with characteristic breeze and purl of water in the background. If you can forget about the crowd of tourists, there will only be two distinctive sounds to admire – birds and water.

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Generalife garden fountain

The harmony in every detail has to leave you in awe. No wonder that there were so many romantic and tragic stories that were whispered here since the scenery is just perfect. They say that there were times when sultana was meeting the knight from the rival family under the old cypress tree in Generalife. When the sultan found out, the whole knight’s family was killed… The cypress is still there.

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Romantic surroundings

ALBAICIN GRANADA

The Albaicin neighborhood is the oldest in Granada. There was the Moorish court with heavy fortification on the hill in the 11th century, that is long gone. Only a few remains can be seen, among others the Elvira Gate. This is where more than 30 mosques stood once, that were later either demolished or turned into churches. There are only a few bell-towers (that used to be minarets) or writings in Arabic to remind us of the town long gone.

When it comes to things to do in Granada, make sure to spend at least one whole day in Albaicin. From the city center and Plaza Nueva you can walk along Paseo de los Tristes, the cobbled street next to the river at the very foot of the Alhambra, and then just turn left and up to where ever it pleases you.

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View of Albaicin from the Alhambra

You will get into the maze of narrow passages where three people would not be able to pass at the same time, that is – without scratching the white-washed walls of tall houses on both sides.

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Characteristic small crossroads

The curvy narrow path will take you to one side and the other, up and down, until you definitely lose any sense of direction. But don’t worry, that’s one of the reasons you came here – to get lost a few times.

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Narrow passageway

The whole neighborhood goes up and down with all the houses painted in white. From time to time you go out to a somewhat wider square with cute tapas bars in the shade. You will often admire the view of the city on one side, and while there will be three or four small narrow streets going out of the square with no way to guess where they might lead to.

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Charming square

(This is going to get especially interesting about ten days later after I get to the ‘pueblo blanco’ of Arcos de la Frontera, all white and narrow!)

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Cobbled streets

I went to Albaicin every day at least for a short while during my stay in Granada. Even now I can’t really decide whether I like the neighborhood better in the morning or in the evening, at dawn or when the sun sets, coloring the sky in red (against the white-washed houses).

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Panorama of the city

TIP: Tapas bars are frequent around the Plaza Nueva and the Cathedral with terraces outside. But if it’s not too far, make sure to go for some tapas and a glass of wine to Albaicin bars.

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Things to do in Granada – try some tapas

Besides the fact that you are supposed to get lost in those curvy streets, here are few other things to do here. A must-see and another thing to do in Granada is a visit to the Plaza de San Nicolas with the church of the same name in the middle. This is also the Mirador or the viewpoint with maybe the most impressive view of Alhambra.

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Beautiful view from the Mirador

Visit also the old Arabic bath called El Banyo – with pebbles in the floor and stars in the ceiling, and the Zafra House – typical Andalusian villa with patio and a pond.

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The Arab bath

(No wonder that the whole Albaicin was declared the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.)

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Casa de Chapiz with the Andalusian pond

There will be a nice view of Alhambra from the Casa del Chapiz, another beautiful Moorish villa with a vast courtyard and lavish greenery. There is also a small statue of a local Rom in front of the Casa. And if you turn right, you will get to Romany neighborhood of – Sacromonte.

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Lavish gardens of the Casa

SACROMONTE GRANADA

The neighborhood is named “the holy hill” because of few relics that were found here and preserved in the monastery on the top. It’s renowned for the white-washed caves that were once carved by Moors to get somewhat cooler rooms. When they were banished, Romany people settled here to stay.

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Narrow street

A walk through Sacromonte will reward you with a nice view of Alhambra on the opposite hill. You will pass by the white-washed houses with ‘zambras’ or flamenco caves where this traditional type of Romany flamenco is performed.

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Alhambra on the other side

Alejandro from the Tourist Information Center explained that Sacromonte in Granada is the very place to see zambra flamenco show. Because, the typical tablao flamenco can be found anywhere in Andalusia, especially if visiting Sevilla.

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White-washed houses

TIP: Browse around the Tourism Organization of Granada site before you go, just to get an idea of what there is to see here. 

It didn’t take him a lot of convincing, I was on my way to one of the Sacromonte restaurants that same night for ‘dinner and the show’ – in the cave.

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Dinner in the white cave

We had the traditional ‘salmorejo’ soup (made of tomato with chunks of veggies and ham), the Orata fish and ‘flan de la casa’ (vanilla cream with caramel and berries), and a glass of white wine. (The price for the flamenco show is about 30 Euros, with dinner it’s 60.)

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Flamenco show

And then, at the cave next door – the explosion of bright lights awaits, of loud music, ‘Ole!’ shouts, and dancers who were to crush the floor with their heels.

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Zambra dancer

Sad tones were sung in the background, we were sipping ‘sangrias’ and looking into colorful skirts flashing before our eyes. The atmosphere will take you to some other dimension, you will forget where you are!

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Romany dance in Sacromonte

Still, the highlight of the evening was when Mari who lives in Albaicin came with us on our way back to the city, taking us for a midnight stroll through narrow streets of the neighborhood, all the way to the Plaza de San Nicolas. People were still gathering here around the two musicians whose voices echoed in the dark, with the magnificent night view of the Alhambra.

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Night view of Alhambra

CATHEDRAL AND ROYAL CHAPEL

The Cathedral of Granada was built at the very center of the former Muslim quarter in 1523, at the place where the mosque once stood. It is decorated with high ceilings, rich columns and organs, and it was built in the Renaissance style.

There is also the Royal Chapel around the corner which was ordered by monarchs Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon after they conquered this part of Andalusia. Given that it was not finished before they both died, monarchs were firstly buried in the Alhambra, before their remains were finally moved here, under the imposing tombstones.

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Gate on the Gran Via Street

When you go down from Albaicin, chances are that you will get into the Calle Elvira. If you like Oriental cuisine or its textile and souvenirs, this is the place to be. Next to the Moroccan restaurant with shisha, there is the Syrian fast food and the place to try the Lebanese specialties.

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Cathedral square

Never the less, in one of the local places, I also found coffee to go and churros with chocolate (for 2 Euros). A must-have and very high on the things-to-do-in-Granada list!

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One of the things to do in Granada

Not very far from here on a five-minute-walk or so, there is another, they say – the oldest monument from the Moorish times, at the very center of the city. It’s called Corral del Carbon. Built in the 14th century, it served as an inn for merchants and a storage for their goods.

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Corral del Carbon entrance

TIP: When you pass by specialized shops that sell the famous Spanish ham, check if they also sell sandwiches (‘bocadillos’) or ‘empanadas’. Because this will be a great way to try some of the best ‘jamon iberico’ (Iberian ham) for four or five Euros.

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‘Bocadillos’ with Spanish ham

It’s easy to get to the Gran Via Street from here, and when you turn left – the impressive façade of the Royal Chapel will appear before you. Audio-guides are available in several languages.

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Delicious ’empanada’

I have to admit that the monarchs’ tombstone looks pretty impressive, while believers will also be able to find a short prayer to read here.

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Entrance to the Royal Chapel

Unlike the Chapel, the Cathedral seems enormous. There will always be information displayed outside giving you the time of the service and when tourist visits are allowed. Just sit on one of the benches and enjoy the view of those high white ceilings.

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Imposing Cathedral ceiling

I managed to visit one more Christian building – the Monastery of San Jeronimo.

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San Jeronimo Monastery

Even though I literally ran through its corridors (it was closing in less than 30 minutes), the decorative ceiling and its beautiful courtyard were well worth visiting.

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Lovely courtyard

(Let me just remind you – I didn’t have to pay for any tickets for the places mentioned above, because they were all included in the Granada Card.)

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Such a decorative ceiling

I passed by one of the churches on the way to the monastery. Next to it, one of the nuns was selling local pastry through the open doors. My plan was to come back when I finish my visit and to purchase some of those delights. Never the less, not only that it closed in the meantime, but I was no longer able to recognize the door after being shut!

Next: CHARMING CORDOBA

The full ANDALUSIA series

 

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24 comments on “ANDALUSIA, Things to do in Granada

  1. That’s an amazing and full of information article! I discovered I have missed some places and that means i’ll have to come back to Andalusia one day. Thanks! 🙂

    1. I wouldn’t mind going back someday either, even though I’ve seen all this. 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by.

  2. I can see why so many people visiting Granada make time to explore Alhambra. That’s incredible! I’m not sure what fascinates me more: the architecture or the history. And I’m totally envious that you had dinner in the white cave and that you saw the dancing in the adjacent cave. How cool!

    1. I know exactly what you mean, I’m also fascinated by Alhambra’s architecture and history. There are also numerous stories from the time of the sultans back in days when Alhambra was a busy court. That’s another reason that makes the place so fairy-tale-like.
      Thank you, Patricia. 🙂

    2. You’ve certainly covered many wonderful places to see in Granada, and I don’t know how you’d choose if you were limited on time! I’d definitely want to see Alhambra and the Albaicin neighborhood. And try Some Of the churros with chocolate, too. I love all the different building Styles and the beautiful mosaic tiles, the graceful arches, and the timelessness of Granada!

      1. I actually organized my trip pretty well, knowing how many days I’m going to spend in a particular town and what I must see there. Everything beyond the bucket list was a bonus. 😀
        Yep, Granada is surely a city to get lost in, not just in its streets, but in time as well. <3

  3. I drove to the Alhambra back in 2011 from malaga in 2011 and had a fantastic day out checking out the palace, gardens and amazing views. however i didnt have enough time to go into granada itself and looks like i have missed out on a bit. hoping to be back in this area soon for another road tripping session and this time i will get into the city.

    1. I know a lot of people who came to Granada just for a day, and it was usually because of the Alhambra. But if you really want to see the city – and believe me, there is so much more to see here – one day is not enough. That’s the time to spend at the Alhambra alone, and that’s it. You experienced it yourself.
      Next time, plan two or three more days. 🙂

  4. Granada is one of our all time favourites in Spain. We visited very early in our travels. And it stuck with us. We loved that view of Alhambra from everywhere in the city. Especially at sunset from San Nicolas. The stonework at Alhambra always looked like stone lace. Beautiful and intricate. And so very big to explore. We actually rushed through the Generalife gardens because we spent so much time exploring the nooks and crannies of the palace. So good that you found a way to visit with the Granada Card. We only had two days. I can see that we need to go back to see all that we missed.

    1. So true, Alhambra is visible almost where ever you go in the city. It’s lovely when it happens – you visit something and look around, and there it is again, up on the hill. 🙂

  5. So much to see and not enough time. Thank you for the handy guide. I’ve always wanted to visit Alhambra, good to know that you can book tickets in advance and that there’s still a way to get in even if I forget to book ahead! The food looks amazing! I can’t wait to try a bocadillo and/or Empanada. or both! sangria and dancing and a cave? It sounds like the best time ever! Thanks for sharing!

    1. The best way is to book in advance. Given that the Alhambra Office allows you to do that three months ahead, you should definitely do it in order to avoid any potential trouble with the entry.
      Zambra flamenco in the caves of Sacromonte really is a true experience. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I would love to Visit Granada, for Alhambra alone, but your other tips looks Amazing too. I loved eating my way through Bocadillos and Empanadas – you can eat so cheaply in Spain!

    1. It would be a pity not to spend a few hours in Albaicin neighborhood, even though the Alhambra is a must. I strongly believe that one should spend at least 3 days in Granada.
      I also loved empanadas. Given that Spanish don’t usually speak English, I often ended up buying empanadas not really knowing what’s inside. 😀 They were delicious every time though. 😛

  7. I loved Granada! I had Similar experience with the alhambra tickets only the granada card was sold out too. I had to join a tour. Then the time i booked changed. It was stressful but all worked out in the end. I Didn’t watch flamenco in the caves and am kicking myself after reading this

    1. Oh, I know how stressful it can be. 😀 So glad it worked out in the end.
      I did enjoy that flamenco. It even makes me a bit proud to have watched it right there on Sacromonte hill. 🙂
      Thanks, Sherianne.

  8. This post makes me longing for spain! Although the churros look so good, i know that I’d enjoy the bocadillos with this fantastic ham much more. Granada has been on my list forever – I’m very much into moorish architecture and decor. But from your pix, i can see that there is so much more to explore. wonderful post!

    1. If you are into Moorish architecture Andalusia will be the perfect place for you! Make sure to browse around the whole blog section, since there will be more from this Spanish province – namely from Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla, Cadiz, Arcos de la Frontera and Ronda. And they are all abundant in Moorish legacy. 🙂
      Thank you so much. 🙂

  9. That’s such comprehensive coverage of Granada. We went on a day trip so we missed the neighborhoods, Aljambra at night, the Cathedral, and even all of the details of Alhambra!

  10. Done most of these. I can imagine the panic about the entry to Alhambra. Tickets are almost always sold out. Luckily we stood in queue for a couple of hours and were the last ones to get entry that day. Great pictures.

    1. I can’t imagine queuing in front the Nasrid Palace without the actual ticket. You were really lucky to get in eventually. 🙂
      So glad you like the photos, thanks.

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