Once you’ve been to Granada it’s hard not to fall in love with the south of Spain. Some of the best architecture is found in this region of the country and its rich history is still very present all over the city. Last spring, I took the train from Madrid to meet a friend from back home and his family for the weekend. The train takes about four hours. It had been fourteen years since I had visited Granada and I was excited to get back.
The Alhambra is the main reason why people visit this city. It’s full of so much beauty and history, I sometimes still can’t believe that it’s even real. There is so much to see here and the details and amount of work that went into this building is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Before the Christian Kings (los Reyes Católicos) Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille, Spain was ruled by Muslims. In 1492, the Christian Kings conquered Granada, ending the Islamic rule in Spain. The Alhambra was originally built as a fortress and later converted into a palace and has influenced many people over the years, including Washing Irving who lived and worked in the Alhambra while writing his book, Tales of the Alhambra.
Tips for visiting the Alhambra
- Book your ticket in advance. The second you know you’re going to Granada, book your tickets. Your ticket will have a time to enter the main building (Generalife) and they are very strict about that. I bought the general entrance ticket, without a guided tour but there are plenty of guided and non-guided tours to choose from depending on what you want to get out of your day.
- Get to the Alhambra early. If you book a ticket for later in the day, get there a few hours early to explore the rest of the grounds. The man at the entrance wasn’t the nicest to me when he saw I only had an hour before my scheduled time telling me that I should have arrived earlier. Lesson learned. If you have an earlier entrance time, stay after to explore the rest of the grounds. Be prepared to spend a good portion of your day here.
- Take the bus to the top! I didn’t realize how much of a workout I was in for before starting my walk to the top. It also didn’t help that it was over 100° the entire weekend either. I recommend paying a couple euros and taking the bus since you will be spending most of the day on your feet already.
If you enjoy walking and don’t mind some steep hills, take advantage of a free walking tour. Before arriving, I signed up to go on a free tour with Walk in Granada and selected the Albayzin Tour. They offer two other free tours to select from as well. It’s a great way to see the city and for very little money. Be sure to sign up online ahead of time especially during the busy season to secure your spot and don’t forget to tip your guide at the end.
Just outside of the city center there are some lookouts that give you amazing views of the city. The two with the best views are Mirador de San Cristobal and Mirador San Nicolás. Mirador San Nicolás is the more popular of the two, filled with tourists searching for the best place to take pictures of the Alhambra and locals socializing and selling hand made works of art and souvenirs.
The tapas scene in Granada is like any other city in Spain. The streets are full of locals and tourists during lunch time and late at night. It’s best to go with a few friends to share the tapas. In Granada, you need to pay for your tapa which is what makes it different from other parts of Spain where the tapa is included with your drink. You have way more options to choose from and it makes for a great experience.
Cacho & Pepe is a great little take away Italian restaurant. The staff was super friendly and was more than happy to explain the menu and give me some recommendations.
For breakfast, go to either Café Baraka or Café 4 Gatos. Café Baraka is a great open air cafe with simple, yet delicious food and drinks. I went for breakfast and got my usual café con leche, orange juice and tostada con tomate. You’re sure to build up your appetite going to Café 4 Gatos as it’s all uphill. Try something different and get the tostada con tomate with blue cheese while sitting outside in the morning sun. Don’t forget the café con leche!
Granada is such a busy city, with its street vendors and tapas scene, it’s easy to get lost in all the hustle and bustle. For me, one of the best things when traveling is to walk through the empty streets early in the morning, before all the locals and tourist start their day.
My last morning, I was able to get an early start which gave me the chance to explore a different side of Granada, the quiet side. Everything looks so different with less people around and you get a chance to appreciate your surroundings and really get to know a city. I think it’s important to always take your time in a city. The feeling of being rushed and getting everything done that you want to see, sometimes takes away from the experience. Nos vemos pronto, Granada.