For your visit, you need more than a full day to be able to fully appreciate the city while keeping a pleasantly unhurried pace. Give half a day for Alhambra alone.
Distances are walkable in all cases, but steep climbs abound in Albaicin; taking a bus to the top may be advisable for some.
Don’t miss: Getting to Mirador de San Nicolas, high in Albaicin, for a late-afternoon look at Alhambra from the best vantage point.
Worthy attractions: Alhambra and Generalife; Cathedral; Capilla Real.
Last visit: May 2008.
You may come to Granada with the sole aim of exploring its incomparable jewel of a castle, Alhambra, and that is perfectly fine. If you choose to stay for a while, however, you will discover Moorish heritage aplenty and a city that is fun to explore on its own merits.
Alhambra and Generalife
Built in the 13th century by caliphs of the Nasrid dynasty, Alhambra ♥♥♥ is an incomparable piece of architecture. Modest that they were – plaster, timber, tiles, – the materials were worked in a way to create the caliphs’ idea of paradise on Earth. Very successfully, I should say.
The complex contains the magnificent Nasrid Palace; the mildly curious fortress of Alcazaba; the structurally impressive Palace of Charles V, which houses a couple of museum expositions; a number of smaller attractions, such as Partal and Arab baths; a park; and the resplendent Generalife palace and gardens. All are worth exploring, which means that you are likely to spend upwards of four hours within the walls of the castle.
The Nasrid palace and the Generalife are the most breathtaking, though, with intricate Mudejar ornamentation and magical use of water and light.
Since Generalife palace is a good 10 minutes brisk walk away from the heart of the complex, and the entrance to the Nasrid Palace is at timed intervals, it’s best to have tickets that would allow you to start with Generalife and get you into Nasrid palace a couple of hours later.
You can reach Alhambra by walking up a fairly steep slope from Plaza Nueva. The walk will take 15-20 minutes. Or you can take a bus. Beware, though. Most guidebooks direct you to buses #30 or #32 from Plaza Nueva. In fact, from there, you will have to do almost a full circuit before getting to Alhambra, as the buses descend from it to Plaza Nueva. To get to Alhambra, the best solution is to get on one of these routes at Plaza Isabel la Catolica.
If you are visiting Alhambra with kids, make sure to buy the “Alhambra told to children” illustrated book from any number of souvenir shops in town before going to the castle. Besides being rather interestingly written, the book will allow your kids to engage in a sort of recognition activity – Look at this picture! This is the yard we are in now! – that will keep them interested.
More Things to See
The old city center ♥ is a maze of narrow streets around the cathedral and the pleasant Plaza Bib-Rambla ♥. Some of these streets are no more than pedestrian passages, chock-full of craft and souvenir shops.
The Cathedral ♥, exhibiting elements of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, is a surprisingly bright and airy place, with bleached-stone columns supporting the high ceiling. Its main chapel, circular Capilla Mayor, is resplendent and unconventionally located in a central area of the cathedral, rather than on the side. Capilla Real ♥, next to the cathedral, is primarily famous for the magnificent grille that encloses the high altar, and for the art treasures in its sacristy.
Plaza Nueva ♥♥ is the gateway to both Albaicin and Alhambra. Carrera del Darro ♥ will lead you along Rio Darrio past crumbling bridges and ancient restored façades towards Sacromonte, where local gypsies used to live in the caves in the hillside. In the past, visitors would go there for spontaneous flamenco performances; nowadays, there are many touristy venues in the area offering flamenco shows of varying quality. We have heard from an aspiring dancer that Granada is the place to study the discipline, but we did not go to any of the shows here ourselves.
Along Carrera del Darro, one of the minor attractions is El Bañuelo, 11th-century Arab baths, that we did not find an opportunity to visit.
Albaicin ♥♥ is clinging to the hillside opposite Alhambra. There, you feel closest to Granada’s Moorish heritage, wandering the narrow cobbled alleys and staircases. You’ll walk past old monasteries, churches, and white-washed houses with pretty courtyards. Mirador de San Nicolas ♥♥♥, a square by the eponymous church at a high point, offers unrivaled views of Alhambra.
Places to Eat
For the best churros con chocolate that we ever tried, get a table at Café Bib-Rambla ♥♥ on the square of the same name. We did not sample any other fare at this establishment, but the churros were incredible both times we had them, in 2004 and 2008, which explains our rating.
We also went to one specific restaurant on both of our trips to Granada, first at the concierge’s recommendation and four years later because we remembered it as exceptional. Pilar del Toro ♥♥♥ is located by the Iglesia de Santa Ana at the end of Plaza Nueva. The place opens for dinner only at 8:30pm, which could be a problem with children, but that is the only negative. The food is simply fantastic: Try sopa de esparragos or sopa de ajo for starters; among entrées, rabo de toro (the oxtail) earns only superlatives, while laminas de salmon or solomillo de terne also earn high marks. For dessert, soufle de chocolate and, especially, homemade helados are excellent coda. Good wine selection; very pleasant service. Our damage on the last visit: €143 for a meal for four, including a bottle of wine.
On our first stay in Granada, in 2004, we also had dinner at Mirador De Morayma in Albaicin, with partial views of Alhambra. The records only mention that it was a guidebook recommendation and that the waiters were fairly confused with orders.
The options for a hotel or an apartment are plentiful on major online platforms in a destination as popular as Granada. Any location in the central districts will put you within walking distance to most of the points of interest. Albaicin may be the most atmospheric of all, but will also be the most challenging to navigate for the less athletic.