While most visitors to Spain will understandably opt for a trip to Barcelona or Madrid, they are missing out by not heading south to Spain’s most vibrant city: Granada.
I admit that I’m biased, but take it from someone who’s spent the last year here: Granada is a place you absolutely cannot miss. Home to tapas, flamenco, and centuries of history, the Pomegranate City is one to be felt more so than seen. While it may not offer much in terms of attractions compared to its neighbors, culturally, few places are richer.
Granada’s Main Attractions
Want to get an idea as to how Granada’s culture has been shaped and transformed throughout the centuries? The Alhambra’s got you covered.
Granada was controlled by the Arabians for over 700 years until 1492 when the Christians finally reconquered it. Thus, the city became a key place of convergence of Spanish and Arab culture. The Alhambra is undoubtedly the best showcase of Arab influence in the region. Today, it is – to no one’s surprise – Spain’s most visited monument.
Take a walk through the palaces, admiring the intricate floor-to-ceiling designs. Get lost in the labyrinthine gardens as you breathe in the fresh smell of cypress. Look out over the rolling hills and imagine what it would have felt like to be one of the lucky few to wake up to a view this spectacular every morning. Give yourself at least four hours to see everything, including the Court of the Lions, the Palace of Charles V, and the Alcazaba.
Book your Alhambra tickets as far in advance as possible. In high season (April to June), it’s known to sell out months in advance. You can purchase tickets online, at the Alhambra ticket offices, or at the ticket office in the center of town located in Corral del Carbon. If you can’t book in advance, check with your hotel. They might have a few tickets laying around. You can also line up at the Alhambra before the gates open. In high season, this means you should be lining up by 7 a.m at the latest.
The Albaicin and Sacromonte
In order to become a resident of Granada, you must first pass a test that entails navigating the Albaicin without so much as a glance at your map. (Ha! I wish it were that easy.) Joking aside, the Arab quarter of Granada often gives even lifelong Granainos trouble. My advice is to go without a plan and see where you end up in this dizzying cluster of side streets.
This is where you’ll find shops displaying gorgeous Moroccan scarves, blankets, and decorations. You can try bartering, but I’ve never had any luck. Travelers that want to sit back and relax can do so at one of many hookah bars in the neighborhood.
Within the Albaicin lies a neighborhood that is known as Sacromonte. Historically, this was where Granada’s gypsy population made its home in caves built into the side of the mountain. While gypsies continue to inhabit the area, it’s becoming increasingly common for foreigners to settle in Sacromonte.
Federico García Lorca Park
Federico García Lorca, Spain’s most prolific poet, and playwright, was born in the province of Granada. Assassinated in 1936 due to his political views, Lorca lives on not only in writing but in the beautiful park that now surrounds his family’s summer home, known as la Huerta de San Vicente.
The house is now a museum dedicated to Lorca’s short but influential life. The park surrounding the home is one of few green spaces in Granada. It’s perfect for a walk (dogs are allowed on a leash) or an afternoon picnic.
San Miguel Alto Lookout Point
Skip the overcrowded Mirador de San Nicolas and head up, up, up to San Miguel Alto. It’s quite the hike, but I swear the views are worth it. Unlike San Nicolas, this lookout point is mostly frequented by locals who park themselves on the wall at sunset with a bottle of wine in hand. You know what they say: when in Rome…
Cathedral and Royal Chapel
Granada’s cathedral is impressive, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Seville’s or Barcelona’s. It’s worth a visit, however, the royal chapel is much more interesting if you ask me.
This is where you’ll find the graves of the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. 1492 was a big year for Spain because along with consolidating her empire, Isabella would begin to reap the benefits of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. The Catholic monarchs are among the most important figures in Spain’s history, so it’s not a bad idea to learn a bit about them while you’re in Granada.
Granada’s Best Food & Drink Options
The Alhambra is pretty great, but you know what else is? Free food.
That’s right. In Granada, when you order a drink – alcoholic or a soft drink – you receive a tapa on the house. And we’re not just talking olives, either. If you know where to go, you can eat a proper lunch for no more than three euros. Tapas here are a way of life.
As a vegetarian, my picks for the top tapas bars in Granada are places that serve vegetarian or vegan options:
- La Pajuana
- El Ojú
- El Tablón Verde
- El Pecado
- El Peruano
- Om Kalsoum
- Rosario Varela
For the meat-eaters, some popular choices are:
- Los Manueles
- Los Diamantes
- El Rincón de Rodri
- Bodegas Castañeda
Due to its large student population, Granada’s nightlife is among the best in Spain. Start with some tapas then dance until breakfast at Mae West or Camborio.
Getting Around Granada
Granada is an extremely walkable city. Go by foot whenever possible, but there are buses to connect you with all major tourist attractions should you decide to take them. Bus fare is 1.20 euros.
The Granada Card is a type of tourist pass that gives you access to several monuments as well as public transportation. The card costs 37 euros.
Another option is to take the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus. It stops at all major points of interest and will set you back 7 euros.
Easily the coolest way to visit Granada is by Segway. Play Granada offers tours starting at 20 euros. Find them in Plaza Nueva or at the main bus station.
Places to Stay in Granada
Airbnb is hugely popular in Granada with lots of great accommodation for every price range. The best neighborhoods to look for a place to stay are the Albaicin, where you might be lucky enough to catch views of the Alhambra, or the city center. The Albaicin is technically part of the center, but avoid it if you have mobility issues or if hill climbing in 40-degree heat isn’t exactly your jam.
In addition to Airbnb, I recommend the following accommodation:
- Hotel Melia Granada
- Room Mate Leo
- Makuto Hostel
Don’t Miss Out on Granada’s…
The south of Spain is famous for flamenco and Granada is no exception. Avoid tourist traps that ask you to cough up 50 euros for dinner and a show. Instead, head to one of the following locations for an authentic experience at a much more reasonable price.
- Le Chien Andalou – Get to know your neighbor in this intimate cave setting.
- Peña La Platería – The oldest club for Flamenco aficionados.
- Sacromonte – You’ll often find shows advertised in the caves.
Granada is perfectly nestled between sea and mountain, making it a great jumping-off point for exploring surrounding areas. Depending on your interests and how much time you have, renting a car might be something to consider.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range is located about 45 minutes from Granada and offers skiing in the winter and hiking in the warmer months. One section of Sierra Nevada is known as La Alpujarra. Essentially, it’s a collection of whitewashed villages or pueblos blancos. Here, you can find delights such as handmade rugs, local chocolates, and preserves.
Granada’s beaches tend to be rocky and frankly pale in comparison to other beaches in Spain, but to a Canadian like me, a rocky beach is better than no beach at all! The coast is just a 45-minute drive from Granada. Some beaches to check out are Calabajio (the one sandy beach!) Salobreña, and La Rijana. If you don’t mind a bit of a longer drive, Cabo de Gata in the province of Almería is home to some of the best beaches in the country.
Just outside Granada in the town of Monachil, there is a hiking route called Los Cahorros. It’s an easy hike with several waterfalls to cool off in and Indiana Jones-like rope bridges.
Spanish Things to Know
As with anywhere in the world, before you head to Spain, it’s important to keep in mind that some aspects of their culture might differ from yours:
- Tipping is not expected unless the service was exceptional. Most guests simply round up to the nearest euro.
- The Spanish don’t rush. Accept that things will run slower and people will often show up late. Embrace it rather than getting frustrated about it.
- Granada residents are known for something called malafollá which I would translate as a general unfriendliness. I haven’t found this to be the case most of the time, but people will do things like cut in front of you in line and fail to apologize when they bump into you on the street.
- Spaniards speak bluntly. They don’t hold back when you ask their opinion and they might say things that to a North American seem rude. Don’t worry, when they say: “Oh my god, you look sick,” they’re not insulting you; they’re just genuinely concerned about your well-being.
- Spain is considered a Catholic country but the reality is that there are just as many people who reject the Church as support it. This was largely due to Franco’s use of the Church for his benefit during the dictatorship.
- Spain is an extremely gay-friendly country. Madrid is home to one of the world’s biggest pride festivals and it’s not at all uncommon to see gay and lesbian couples showing affection in public.
From history to art to food, Granada has so much to offer to anyone who’s willing to embrace it. It’s a city that’s seen the clash and coexistence of vastly different cultures that make it the diverse place it is today. For an authentic taste of Spain, make the effort to get to Granada. I promise you won’t regret it.
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