That Granada is one of the most beautiful cities in the world is proved by the millions of tourists who visit it every year. So whoever steps foot in this city for the first time has a lot to discover, and «repeat offenders» will also find reasons to return.
Granada is made up of far more than just a Moorish citadel dipped in a modern Christian coating. Legendary cultures collide in this Andalucían city, throwing out a nebulous mix of bohemians, poets, business people, artists and musicians. Here are some ideas on where to go.
1- Alhambra and Generalife Palaces
Alhambra is more than a just a palace; it is an entire walled city within the city of Granada. There are royal apartments, forts, gardens, pavilions, barracks. All this surrounded by an impressive wall.
It was so called because of its reddish walls (in Arabic, («qa’lat al-Hamra’» means Red Castle). It is located on top of the hill al-Sabika, on the left bank of the river Darro, to the west of the city of Granada and in front of the neighbourhoods of the Albaicin.
It is the most visited monument in Spain, with three million visitors every year, 8,500 every day and 300 every half hour.
Tickets sell out quickly so to avoid disappointment it pays to book ahead, either online or by phone. Note that when you buy a ticket you’ll be given a time to enter the Palacios Nazaríes, admission to which is strictly controlled.
It was founded in 1238, during the reign of the Nasrid dynasty.
With more than 2 km of walls and up to 32 towers, today of the 7 palaces, only 3 can be visited.
The Generalife Palace was the country house of the Sultans. It became a leisure place for the kings of Granada when they wanted to get away from the official affairs of the palace.
They used to go there to relax, enjoy poetry, listen to music and belly dancers… of course!
They spent the day with their friends and then returned at sunset to the Alhambra, the Sultans never slept, for security reasons.
A soothing ensemble of pathways, patios, pools, fountains, trees and, in season, flowers of every imaginable hue, it takes its name from the Arabic jinan al-‘arif, meaning ‘the overseer’s gardens’.
Their showpiece palaces, the 14th-century Palacios Nazaríes, are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe and, together with the gorgeous Generalife gardens, form the Alhambra’s great headline act.
2-Tapas and drinks
Are you a foodie? Is food one of your top interests when traveling?
Granada is by far one of the most interesting places to eat in Spain.
The mix of Spanish and Moorish cuisine is evident in some of the city’s most popular dishes and pastries, and going for a tea is nearly as popular as going for a beer.
Tapas started as a bite to go with your drink, but they have evolved into a whole way of eating, a culture of food in itself. More than a type of food in special, it’s about finger food or small portions to share with your friends and family. And since a varity of tapas is ordered at each stop, it’s the perfect way to taste many different specialties and enjoy the wealth of the local cooking.
But. What is a tapa?
A tapa is invariably a small dish of something edible. It may be a smaller version (normally a quarter version) of something else on the menu or it may be sold exclusively as tapas. The tapas may or may not be free. Unfortunately the days of free tapas are over in much of Spain. If the tapas is given to you without you having asked for it, it will be free. In Granada, most of tapas are free of charge.
If you are invited to «go for tapas,» you’ll be visiting lots of bars and probably only taking a single tapas in each. If you are unfamiliar with the city you are in, you may be apprehensive about moving on from a bar you have found that you like, for fear of not finding another one as good. In which case, you may want to take a Tapas Tour in Granada instead. Led by a local expert, you will be taken to a number of tapas bars, sampling a dish and a drink in each one!
3-Albayzin. The old Muslim district
El Albaicín is the old Moorish quarter of the city. It’s located on a hill facing the The Alhambra. The district is like a different world within Granada.
This is due to the strong Muslim influence in this area. It was the place where the first Siri court was built in the eleventh century.
With its neat narrow lanes and well-kept traditional houses, the area has retained its old charm and is the ideal place to discover Moorish architecture. Albaicín is especially famous for its dramatic views overlooking the Alhambra.
The Church of San Nicolás is well worth the steep hike through the Albaicin to marvel at the view of the Alhambra and the Generalife with the Sierra nevada in the background.
The city descended from Saint Nicholas to the banks of the River Darro. The Albaycin featured luxurious Carmenes and public baths.
This is a district to explore. Walk through all its narrow streets and discover things that you cannot find in a guide book. No visit to the Albaycin can be complete without seeing the district from the Alhambra.
The Albaycin is a neighbourhood where you can experience the atmosphere of its bars and terraces, and watch the famouse red sunset over the Alhambra.
A walking tour around the area will also take you through various squares with Mudejar-style churches which used to be mosques during the Muslim period. You will also come across their respective drinking water tanks, such as those at San Cristóbal or San Salvador.
The wall around the Albaicin dates back to the Nazari period, having been built during the latter half of the 14th century to defend the districts located on San Cristobal Hill-
4-Flamenco in Sacromonte Caves
The Sacromonte district is home to Granada’s thriving Roma- Spanish Gypsies community.
After migrating from India in the 14th century, the Gypsy people settled mostly in the Muslim-occupied lands in the south. Under the Muslims, the Gypsies enjoyed relative tolerance. They were traditionally good with crafts and animals.
They created houses by making cave homes in the hills; the Sacromonte district owes its fame to these houses.
This population group of Gitanos has a long-standing tradition with the flamenco, the typical Spanish dance and music. The Gitanos mixed the traditional Spanish flamenco with Arab belly dancing. Many flamenco shows are still frequently held in the cave homes; these bars are also referred to as tablaos. Two popular — or at least well-established — zambra venues are Zambra Cueva del Rocío (Camino del Sacromonte 70) and María la Canastera.
During the day, the Sacromonte district is often deserted, but at night, the quarter comes to life. Despite the fact that the flamenco shows seem somewhat touristic, a visit to one of the flamenco caves is certain worth while during your visit to Granada. A stroll by Sacromonte gives you a stunning view of the city of Granada, such as the Albaicín district and the Alhambra.
To visit the old gypsy area you can begin at Carrera del Darro, continue along Paseo de los Tristes and climb Cuesta de Chapiz. On the right is the Road of Sacromonte, where there are the Flamenco «Zambras» -Caves that preserve an authentic flavour; on the left is the Albayzín. On the border between the two districts, it is obligatory to take snails in the Bar Aliatar.
*Museum «Cuevas del Sacromonte»
The name of the museum already says: «The Caves of Sacromonte». In this museum there are eleven cave houses, where you will find information about the history, traditions and inhabitants of Sacromonte.
5-Walking in Granada: Cathedral and surroundings
Granada invites you for a walk: the first can be a morning tour of Bib-Rambla Square with its flower stalls, Alcaicería Street and Pescadería Square, where you have to enter a spice shop and have a tapa in Cunini to end up in a typical Granada pottery shop.
The Alcaicería market is Granada´s Big Bazaar and the original Moorish silk market. Originally, this was a range of streets between the Plaza Nueva and Plaza Bib-Rambla, filled with Arab silk stalls, spices and other valuable goods. Nowadays, the only remaining part of the bazaar is the Calle Alcaicería. It is an area with a rich history and local culture where interesting and exotic items are still for sale. Think of traditionally painted ceramics, inlaid wood and stained glass lamps. The bazaar of Granada is very touristy and the narrow streets mainly consists of small souvenir and fabric shops.
In the same area, you can visist the Cathedral and the Royal Capel.
The Cathedral is the 16th century located in city center , with half a million visitors a year, and the Royal Chapel, with more than 385,000, are the second most visited places in Granada.
It was Isabel the Catholic herself who decided to build this cathedral over the old main mosque and with the model of Toledo as a reference. It houses the Royal Chapel, where the remains of the Catholic Monarchs, Juana la Loca, Felipe el Hermoso and other royal descendants rest.
Another possibility is to walk along Caldederia street in the lower Albayzin and have a cup of tea or buy some Arabic pastries in one of the small workshop where you can smell honey, almonds, orange blossom water and sesame, those ingredients that transport you to the lavish scenery of the thousand and one night.
Personally, the best way to see Granada for the first time is to take a guided tour With a local guide, the history of the area pulses around you…!