Mystic and sublime Southern Spain
This incredible Andalusian, Moorish city manages to capture the hearts (and stomachs) of all who visit. The unique architecture and enchanting, maze-like passageways help make Granada a must-visit when in Southern Spain.
- Alhambra & Generalife
- Passeo de los Tristes
- Sunset on the San Miguel lookout
- Sacromonte neighborhood (buy art and ceramics here)
- Alcaicera market
The bus from the airport to the center of town is only 2.90 euro, a steal, and incredibly convenient and easy to locate. Granada is definitely best explored on foot, so we set out to walk through the city, hoping to explore and get a sense of what the city has to offer. Our hostel was within a jumbled maze of boutiques- where you can find decent leather products and souvenirs that really embrace the Moorish heritage of southern Spain. Relatively close to Morocco, Granada is a great place to buy Middle Eastern style goods (funky pants and skirts, etc.)
Eating & Drinking
As per Granada tradition, one can meander into any tapas bar and get a free tapa with the price of a drink. Our favorite establishments for a tradition many lament is disappearing everywhere in Spain (with the exception of Granada) were La Taverna Riviera and La Bella y Bestia, both offering pretty filling tapas and a strong glass of sangria for 2 euro and 2.50 euro each, respectively. Two tapas and two drinks was enough for lunch any day! At riviera, the highlights were the spicy chorizo, the octopus legs, and the fried eggplant (if you’re vegetarian).
The Cathedral: the fourth biggest cathedral in all of Europe, with grandiose altars and stunningly embellished alcoves. The audioguide given to every visitor is extremely confusing and laughably bad. It details different dates and names with no explanation of significance, and is never quite clear with what and where the object it discusses is, so listen to the guide with a grain of salt, possibly take the time to google some information beforehand if you’re a history buff and just walk around to take the cathedral in.
The Realojos area is hipster and artsy, with intricate graffiti and a short walk from Granada’s main “riverside” (more like a trickle than a stream with a bridge over it,” a lively street stretching from Plaza Nueva down through the Passeo de los Tristes. This is a good route through which to get your first glimpses of the Alhambra, peeking out from behind trees, to sit for a tapa and people watch or start exploring the long, winded paths of the Albaycin.
Climbing up the cobbled paths of the Albacin leads to a festive plaza called San Nicholas, which also offers the best view of the Alhambra you can possibly get. Locals hang off the ledge and drink some beers and wine, watching the sunset on the most popular attraction in all of Spain. Built in 1238, the Alhmabra is named for the red sand of the mountain it sits on. Granada is divided into several “hills”- the Albaycin, the Alhambra and the Sacromonte. Scared of his own people, Muhammed Al-Ahmar built the Alhambra back when the Moors ruled Andalusia, and even cut down all the trees to keep the building secure from a sneak attack. The Alhambra is a growing architectural masterpiece, as after the expulsion of the Moors in 1492, Catholic Kings continued to expand the complex and continue building within the fortress walls, which is why the Charles V palace sticks out with its’ baroque style. Walking a little further south brings you to the San Miguel lookout, one of the best vantage points for watching the sunset, avoiding the crowds and catching a glimpse of all the church spires and Moorish cupolas peeking out from the Granada skyline.
A restaurant we absolutely adored is called Botanico, and is located not far from the Cathedral. Everything on their menu sounds fresh and healthy, their outdoor seating is perfect for people watching, and they offer quite a few hearty vegetarian options (which is hard to find in Spain, and sometimes your digestive system needs a break). We ordered the vegetarian risotto and eggplant crumble, both incredibly delicious, filling and only 13 euro each. After dinner, our waiter who was just the nicest, coolest guy took one look at us and said “I think you two need some shots.” It was just perfectly timed. Only minutes before Ashley had received some bad news about her visa to the US being delayed and that there were problems she had to somehow fix all the way from Spain. So yes, dealing with the U.S. government’s bullshit does require a drink. After the first fiery drink of some liquor “typical to the North” (we still don’t know what it is) he listened to our story and offered us a second one as well. Walking home we became quite tipsy. With the two shots, it was definitely one of our most memorable meals, and I’ll never forget this well-timed act of kindness.
Tip: Take a free walking tour with Feel the City as opposed to Walk In Granada. I listened in for a few stops on the Feel the City tour, and the guide was infinitely better and more exciting than ours.
Afterwards, I let myself wander around the Albacin and Sacromonte areas, past hilly cobblestones and lavish carmenes. A Casa Carmene is an old, rustic house for the wealthy in Granada. It typically has a garden with grape vines and fruit trees as well as a high wall to separate it from the street (making it difficult to see inside most of them). The word comes from Arabic karm meaning vine. A beautiful carmene I visited that had some really nice views of the Alhambra (and was free) was the Casa Museo Max Moreau, the home of Belgian-born artist Max Moreau. His elegant home is the perfect example of a Casa Carmene, with a serene fountain in the middle of the patio, spectacular views of the Alhambra and lots of greenery all over
Continuing onto the Sacromonte neighborhood, located on yet another hill, is a must for lovers of flamenco and caves. Here, the Roma (gypsy) community thrives and live in unique homes of whitewashed caves. Strolling along the Camino del Sacromonte can grant you a glimpse, as is walking into different types of artistic shops or stopping by in the evening to watch zambra, a flamenco variation with a more Oriental feel in which the singer also dances or a traditional flamenco show inside the caves.
A fun market to wander around in the city center is the Alcaicera, an extremely vibrant and crowded marketplace that is home to dozens of vendors, and lasted from the 15th to 19th centuries until it was set on fire and completely destroyed by a store that sold matches (oh the days before electricity). Completely rebuilt, it is much smaller than the original and roomier for the shops (imagine 200 vendors used to sell within these narrow blocks).
Next, the crown jewel of Granada, the Alhambra. It really speaks for itself as the most monumental and impressive tourist attraction in Granada and in Spain, so I won’t waste time on telling you why you should go, but rather that you must and here are some tips for when you do.
*BOOK IN ADVANCE*
This cannot be more emphasized. Time slots fill up really fast. I have heard of tons of people getting to Granada and being unable to see the Alhambra. Entrance is only 15 euro, but make sure to book a week or two in advance. We booked a week in advance and there were only two time slots left, so we chose the 6:00 pm time. The time slot is ONLY for the Charles V palace. The ticket itself gets you into any other part of the Alhambra- Generalife or the Alcazar walls, but the palace must be entered at the time it says on your ticket so don’t miss your slot!
Devote at least four hours of your day to this attraction. It is huge and you want to make sure you have enough time to take everything in. The walk up is extremely steep and takes 30 minutes at least, so if you factor in an hour just to get there, you definitely want to leave three for the attraction itself.
Water, water, water.
Granada is hot and being on top of a hill makes life even hotter. Bring a liter of water to avoid dehydration. On our way down, a lady accompanied by family fainted, probably from dehydration, and started seizing. Ashley called for an ambulance and we waited until it came to take her away, so this is a caution story to be ultra ultra careful and not to physically strain yourself. You might want to consider touring the Alhambra much earlier, at around an 8 to 10 am time slot, to feel some cooler breezes.
Fun Fact: Life in the Alhambra was often so hectic, that the royal family built Generalife in order to be able to get away from it all and relax in a tranquil setting. While the world may appear like it's the combination of general and life to Americans (which often confuses tourists), in reality it is derived from Arabic Jannat al-'Arīf, literally, "Architect's Garden."
More food recommendations: don’t leave without trying the piononos, a thin layer of pastry rolled into a cylinder,drenched in honey and crowned with toasted cream. They are extremely common in Andalusia and a delicious, quick bite. Our favorite place to eat them was a small stand across the street from the Plaza Nueva called Croissanteria La Blanca Paloma. For breakfast or lunch, a popular Andalusian meal is a tostada, a big hunk of bread topped with cheeses, ham, eggplant, whatever you can think of. The best tostadas, affordably priced and featuring a good glimpse of the Alhambra can be found at Cafe 4 Gatos, absolutely huge and freshly baked on their own home-made ciabatta bread, these tostadas are truly filling.