“If there were a beauty contest lining up all the towns and cities of Spain, Granada would surely be declared the fairest of them all – it’s a heart-stealer.” The Cities Book - Lonely Planet
Named after the ambrosial pomegranate, Granada is an enchanting city with a fascinating history. Located in Spain’s Andalusia region, it flaunts its authentic Spanish charm in the form of ancient fortresses, picturesque abodes, pretty fountains and flowery patios. We spent 2 days there on our Spanish trip. As we were travelling with our children, these are family-friendly things to do in Granada . However, you can follow these recommendations even if you don’t have kids with you.
“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.” - Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra.
Spain had been on my bucket list for a long while. The iconic Alhambra was one of the main reasons why. Although, it deserves a post of its own, I will include it here for now. One of the most magnificent royal complexes I have ever seen, it is a fortified Moorish city (within a city) built in the 13th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Perched high above Granada, overlooking the old Arab quarter, the Alhambra is set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains - which were topped with snow when we were there. The sprawling complex encompasses multiple palaces and towers, set among landscaped gardens. The name Alhambra, meaning “the red” is believed to refer to the reddish colour of the outer walls.
We spent half a day exploring this ancient walled city. There is much to see there. Some of the main highlights are the Nasrid palaces, the Generalife Gardens, and the Alcazaba. You will need a ticket to visit these areas, and book a time slot to visit the Nasrid palaces. The tickets get sold out months beforehand so buy them well in advance. If you are too late, you can still see other parts of Alhambra for free, although I wouldn’t recommend missing the main highlights.
The Nasrid Palaces consist of three opulent palaces which served as the residences of the kings of Granada. Featuring intricate décor, artwork and architecture, they are interspersed with spacious courtyards incorporating garden and water features.
The lush Generalife Gardens and palace served as a recreational place for the rulers of Granada when they wanted to get away from the official affairs of the palace.
The Alcazaba was the military area comprising towers and ramparts. There are birds-eye views from the top.
Among all the Moorish architecture, is the Charles V Palace, which was built in the Renaissance style and comprises a circle within a square, surrounded by pillars. It also houses a museum showcasing some of the best surviving Moorish art from the Alhambra.
Albaicin is the city's old Moorish district. The atmospheric neighbourhood is built on a steep incline and is famous for its labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, traditional white houses, plazas with restaurants and tablao flamencos (places where flamenco shows are performed). It is also a UNESCO area. A walk through this area will give you a good feel of what the city was like once upon a time.
You can also see the ruins of the 11th-century Arab Baths which were once the oldest and largest baths in Spain, and the Paseo de los Tristes (Promenade of the Sad), which was thus named because funeral processions used to pass through the area on their way to the Alhambra cemetery.
There is a lively market at Plaza Larga every morning, where fruit, vegetables and clothing are sold. The next few attractions are in the Albaicin area too.
Most people flock to the San Nicolas viewpoint to get the best views of the Alhambra complex, especially at sunset. Facing the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens, the views are certainly remarkable, but the San Nicolas viewpoint can become very crowded and noisy.
The Grand Mosque of Granada (Mezquita) near the San Nicolas viewpoint will give you equally panoramic views without the crowds and the noise. It was opened in 2003 - the first and only mosque to open in Granada after the Muslims lost Spain in the 15th century. The mosque consists of a prayer hall, serene gardens with fountains and a centre for Islamic studies.
The Granada Cathedral is the second largest cathedral in Spain (after Seville) and the fourth largest in the world. Construction began in 1518 and, like the Sagrada Familia, it is still not complete. It was built by Queen Isabella, who along with her husband, King Ferdinand, spearheaded the final defeat of the Moors. They are buried in the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), a short walk away.
Opposite the Royal Chapel, is the Palacio de la Madraza, which was originally an Islamic School founded by Yusuf I, the Sultan of Granada, in 1349. Inside, you can see some remnants of the original madraza as well as a fusion of architectural styles.
Plaza Nueva (New Square) is ironically, the oldest square in Granada. Centrally located between the new and old areas of Granada, it was once a venue for tournaments, bullfights and public executions. Today it has many restaurants, sidewalk cafes and hotels. We enjoyed delicious paellas and churros there, while we watched the cosmopolitan crowds pass by.
The Alcaicería Market in Granada looks as though popped straight out of the Arabian nights. The original silk market which was built in the 15th century, was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century. It is now a souk selling souvenirs, ornaments and spices inter alia. Be prepared to bargain if you want to buy something.
Granada is a great city for walking but if you don’t feel like walking or if you have kids with you, then read on. While other cities have hop-on hop-off buses, Granada has a hop-on hop-off train. Especially designed for Granada, the trains have hybrid electric engines with reduced gas emissions. They have a day route and a night route, and audio guides in 12 languages. If you don’t feel like walking then the train will give you a good basic overview of the city.
Sacromonte is the old gypsy neighbourhood of Granada, dating back to the 15th century. It is known for its Sacromonte Cave Houses which provided shelter to the Spanish gypsies from the weather as well as religious and ethnic persecution. Many of Granada's best flamenco tablaos can be found here.
If you have more time in Granada, you can do a day trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains too.
Tip: I used Rick Steves comprehensive tips in Best of Spain as a guideline when visiting Granada.
Centro - for location
Albaicin - for atmosphere
Sacromonte - if you want to stay in a cave
Ronda - for budget accommodation
If you need to leave your luggage somewhere so that you can explore the city - because you are too early to check in to your accommodation, or you are just visiting Granada for the day, then this is what you can do. The train station at Granada does not have luggage storage facilities but I discovered another facility on Tripadvisor. There is a small Russian supermarket called Gastronom near the station that stores luggage for a fee. We left ours there for a few hours. You can find them at Av. de Andaluces, 12, 18014 Granada.
“Granada; more dazzling than the flower and more flavourful than the fruit it is named after...”. Alexandre Dumas.
Have you been there? What are your favourite things to do in Granada ?
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See our highlights of Granada here.