Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the joy of experiencing new cultures and the excitement of exploring our amazing world.
Granada is certainly one of the most visited destinations in southern Spain and for good reason. Its stunning setting at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains combined with its unique Moorish architecture, and of course, the amazing Alhambra, give visitors plenty to see and do. Our recent visit highlights eight of the must-see sites along with my personal take on this fascinating community.
1. Visit the Alhambra
First and foremost on your visit to Granada should be a visit to the amazing Alhambra. Perched prominently on a hill above the city, it stands as one of the world’s most iconic structures. The complex is quite large and filled with an abundance of historical and architectural sites that will have you in awe of the Moorish craftsmanship and attention to detail. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the Alhambra was started as a small fortress in AD 889 and then rebuilt and enlarged during the 13-century by Nasrid Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar. After the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the Alhambra became the Royal Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
With its royal palaces, stately courts, refreshing reflecting pools, and finely manicured gardens there is plenty to keep visitors focused for at least half a day, so plan accordingly. Be sure to get your tickets well in advance as they are limited and go quickly. Also, consider utilizing the services of a guide to help you tour the Alhambra. There is so much history here and a guide can certainly assist in explaining all of the historical aspects of what you are seeing.
2. Visit the Gardens of the Generalife
The Generalife is the area that contains the gardens of the Alhambra as well as the summer palace. The beautiful gardens together with a number of unique fountains and pools make this an especially colorful and vibrant area to stroll. As you wander the gardens you’ll be presented with stunning views of the Alhambra complex, as well as the Albayzin area of Granada and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
Most visitors tour the Generalife after visiting the main Alhambra complex. To avoid Alhambra overload consider a short break in between visits to the two sites. There are a few restaurants located just outside the Alhambra entrance or bring a few snacks for an impromptu picnic.
3. Wander the Albayzin Neighborhood
The Albayzin is the old Muslim neighborhood where the Moorish population lived after the Christian conquest ended all Islamic rule in 1492. From Plaza Nueva simply head up the hill opposite the Alhambra. The area is known for its narrow cobblestone alleys, white buildings, and unique architecture. Once home to several Mosques, many of them were converted to churches or simply razed. This is a wonderful area to wander, and eventually, you’ll come across one of those amazing views of the Alhambra across the valley. Equally scenic is the view from the Alhambra of this old Arab quarter.
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4. Sunset at the Mirador San Nicolas
Located within the Albayzin area of Granada is the Church of San Nicolas with its vast terrace that offers an unobstructed view of the Alhambra. Crowds gather here nightly to watch the sunset and the lighting of the Alhambra complex. There is probably a no finer view of the Alhambra, positioned across the valley with the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in the background. While the climb to get here can be taxing the area has a number of cafes, bars, and restaurants to help soothe your tired legs. The local bus also stops here and can be picked up in the center of Granada at Plaza Nueva should you wish to avoid the climb.
5. Visit the Cathedral of Granada
Located in the center of Granada off the Gran Via de Colon, the Cathedral of Granada was the first Renaissance church to be built in Spain after the Christian Reconquista. Construction started in 1523 and was on-going for over 180 years until its completion in 1704. As grand as the cathedral is today, it would be even more impressive had its two towers been completed as originally designed. Today, only one stands and even that had to be lowered due to foundation issues. Never-the-less, the cathedral is very impressive and stands as Spain’s second-largest cathedral behind the Cathedral of Seville. The fee to enter the cathedral is a modest 5 euro and the site of its massive pillars, five naves, and the impressive main chapel makes it worth visiting.
6. Visit the Royal Chapel of Granada
Situated adjacent to the cathedral, the Royal Chapel was originally part of the cathedral, but today has a separate entrance. It is notable as the final resting place of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Constructed between 1505 and 1517, Queen Isabella dictated that the chapel be built to house their bodies upon their death. Both Isabella and Ferdinand died before the chapel was completed, and their bodies were temporarily interred in the convent of San Francisco in the Alhambra until completion of the Royal Chapel. The chapel contains the tombs of other notable Spanish royalty as well as a number of works of art. The 5 euro admission fee includes a free audio guide, which we found very helpful. Photos are not allowed inside the Royal Chapel, however, they are allowed in the cathedral.
7. Take a Tapas Tour
The first thing we did upon arriving in Granada was to take a fun and entertaining Tapas Tour. We found this a great way to get our bearings in the city and a wonderful way to have some fun by meeting other travelers. We utilized Granada Tapas Tours, which is owned and operated by Gayle Mackie, a longtime resident of Granada. Our ace guide, Irene, was excellent and took us to some amazing bars and cafes where we sampled a number of local wines and delicious tapas. I highly recommend this as a great introduction to Granada and a wonderful way to learn your way around the city.
8. Shop in the Alcaiceria Market
As you stroll the narrows alleys of the Albayzin you could easily imagine that you were strolling the Grand Bizarre of Marrakesh or Casablanca. Although just a fraction of what it was in its heyday, the Alcaiceria provides an interesting look at the Moorish traditions that dominated Granada in the 15th century. Today it makes for a fun and entertaining shopping experience and offers some traditional Arabic souvenirs including hand-painted ceramics, stained-glass lamps, spices and herbs, and ethnic silk clothing. If you are looking to bring home a few unique souvenirs this is the place to shop. I might add that we managed to get three beautiful stained-glass lamps home without breaking them. Kudos to my wife for her excellent packing skills.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of some of the highlights of Granada. While the Alhambra certainly commands most of the attention of visitors there are plenty of other interesting things to see and do. Plan on at least 2 to 3 days to see everything that Granada has to offer. The city is extremely walkable and its Moorish history, architecture, and rich culture make Granada a must stop on any visit to southern Spain.
© 2019 Bill De Giulio