Granada was my personal long-time bucket list place to visit in Spain. This small city in the Southern part of the country got one of the major sights in Spain, it’s a birthplace of Flamenco and is well-known for it’s exceptionally beautiful location next to the snowy mountains. The city is charming, got it’s own style, amazing experiences, beautiful places and rich history.
I have spend 2 days exploring Granada and in this article will give you good enough reasons why you should visit it and how to make the most of your time here!
Here is my list of experiences and places not to miss in Granada!
Alhambra without no means is the most important place and the main reason why everyone goes to Granada. This is monumental complex, located at the hill of Granada with amazing view to the snowy peaks next to the city. This place got a long history as it was one of the major architectural and strategic place for centuries and shows complicated history of the region. Originally built in 9th century as a small fort and military base, Alhambra was renovated and turned into Royal palace in the 14th century, when Granada was under the rule of Muslim emirs of Spain. Later it was partly rebuild in 16th century in Renaissance style.
Currently Alhambra is Spain’s major tourist attraction, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Europe. For sure, the place is super stunning and absolutely worth all the efforts to see it! The architecture, structure and all the story behind it are stunning!
Reserve your tickets to Alhambra well in advance to get there!!!
Alhambra is one of those sites which requires some prior reading and research to make the most of your visit. As the place is big and very popular, the best thing to do while planning your time in Granada is to reserve your tickets to Alhambra well in advance. Some even recommend to do it before buying plane tickets and that’s actually makes sense as tickets are sold out months in advance. You can do it in online at their web site and you have to choose exact time slot for your visit.
Alhambra was build with all the surroundings in mind as a strategic military base and then was turned into Royal palace
To understand the reason of this restrictions it’s important to understand the site itself. Alhambra consists of several parts: Nasrid palaces, Palace of Carlos V, Gardens, Alcazaba (fort) and Generalife. Nasrid palaces are the most famous part and the most popular, but it got limited capacity. Around 6000 people allowed to visit it per day and the demand for visit is higher, especially during top seasons (late spring till autumn). General ticket include entrance to all the places inside Alhambra during the day, but you have to be at Nasrid palace at designated time slot. If you miss it, you won’t be able to get inside. I was there around 5pm and there were long lines to get inside all the time. There is no better time to choose, though i personally prefere to get there at the second half of the day. Morning is also good time and i would suggest to skip middle of the day because of the heat.
Before coming i got no idea that buying a ticket could be a problem and almost have missed visiting Alhambra. But i was lucky as literally 3 days before coming they have released some more tickets and the hotel where i have stayed (Hotel Palacio De Santa Paula – Autograph collection) send me a letter with this great news as they knew that i got no tickets. It wasn’t something that is happening regularly, but in this case it has happened and i was lucky to see Alhambra.
In case you have missed the tickets online there are 4 other options to get to Alhambra:
1. ask your hotel, sometimes they have ickets for their clients
2. you can take a guided group tour, it will be around 50 euro/person
3. hire a private guide, it will be around 300-400 euro for the group
4. in my case some more tickets were released few days before my arrival, so check it from time to time just in case
If nothing works for you, than keep reading, there are many other places to see in Granada and it’s still worth visiting!
The view to Alhambra
Alhambra was build with all the surroundings in mind as a strategic military base and then was turned into Rayal palace. The location is the big part of it’s charm. This view to Alhambra with the snowy peaks (which is probably worth million dollars) is better to be appreciated from the hill next to Alhambra. There are several viewpoints where you can see entire complex. As every view from the top, it requires a bit of climb. The best and most popular place for a great view to Alhambra is Plaza de San Nicolas. It is said to be great sunset point, but if you are interested in photography, better go in the morning for the good light!
This viewpoint is located right next to Mirador de San Nicolas, which is part of the short pilgrimage route inside the city, so it’s worth combining them all together. There are several other monasteries along the way and some other views to Granada from the top.
Albayzin is more local part of the city, which is located on the hill opposite Alhambra. After finishing admiring the views from Plaza de San Nicolas, make sure to check the area around it. It is worth browsing there for an hour just to check pretty streets, white houses decorated with flowers and just get lost a bit to see another side of Granada away from the crowds.
Basilica de San Juan de Dios
Basilica de San Juan de Dios was my personal favourite place to see in Granada. It is located in the old city and not super famous, but for me it was the boldest and most interesting place i saw in Granada.
Basilica de San Juan de Dias is a stunningly beautiful place. It is part of a Hospital, which was founded in 16th century by the Monks of San Jeronimo in benefit of the poor and sick. What makes it special is the way they have organised the visits here. Firstly, you enter from the backside of it and see the room for priests, where they talk with people and change before the ceremonies.
Then you enter Basilica from the side of an Altar! For me it was mind blowing as i usually took this part of churches as restricted ones, but entering in this way was an experience! The Altar itself is absolutely gorgeous! Baroque style, decorated with lots of gold, statues with the special room with the remains of San Juan inside of it. Apart from it, Basilica got stunning ceilings, beautiful statues of Angels and wonderful atmosphere.
The last, but not least: the room inside the Altar is open for visits. I almost have missed the small door which leads you inside the Altar to see the room with the remains. There are 2 small doors from the left and the right side of Altar, so don’t miss it. It was something unbelievable and so unique to get inside an Altar and walk small stairs to get inside room full of golden decorations inside the Altar! Absolutely a place not to miss in Granada! And good news, it is not crowded and calm place, which you can enjoy and feel!
Explore Islamic architecture
Alhambra is not the only place in Granada, where you can see some examples of Islamic art, check beautiful patterns and architecture. There are several other places. Most of them are not as big, but worth checking while browsing around.
Here are some of them:
La puerta de Monaita is the old entrance gate to Alcazaba
Madrasah of Granada is a former Islamic school, which is located next to the main Cathedral
The Corral del Carbón is the former neighbours market with some beautiful elements
Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo is a former palace
El Bañuelo is an old Arab bathes
All of them are located in the city centre and don’t require a lot of time to see, but worth checking as fine examples of what Cordoba looked like before.
Hospital Real (currently University)
If you feel that you want to go a bit off the beaten path in Granada, make sure to check beautiful Hospital Real. Currently this is the property of University, but you can easily walk inside and check 4 beautiful patios inside and see the library. The place is beautiful, historical and real as it is still alife, not just a tourist attraction.
Each major city in Spain got it’s own main cathedral and Granada is not an exclusion. This monumental Gothic style cathedral was build little later than in other cities as it had to wait till the end of Muslim period. Now it occupies the place, which previously was occupied by the main mosque. Apart from it’s architecture, the most interesting part of it is The Chapel of Trinity with the works of El Greco and Josepe de Ribera.
Granada’s old city is it’s main commercial part and the place where some of the main sights are located. You can just browse around for some shopping, which probably will be the main thing to do here. Options include some mass market and luxury brands, local shops and also some oriental styled markets for colourful souvenirs to bring back home with you.
To feel the vibe of the place it’s great to go a bit deeper and search for a local bar to enjoy your good glass of wine. Usually local bars have 3-4 high tables at the streets in front of them, some easy snacks and good wines. Shop around and ask for advice from the bar for the best wine, usually the cheapest option is not the best. For 2-2,5 euro you can have a glass of very good Spanish wine (Rioja red wine was my favourite).
Make sure to keep an eye for small details around you! For instance, pomegranate is the symbol of Granada and you can see it in many places around the city in small elements. You can even make a collection of pictures, which could be a great way to explore the city and notice small details around!
The history of Flamenco was documented only during the last 2 centuries, so there are lots of debates where it came from. One of the versions is that Granada is a birthplace of Flamenco. There are plenty of options to see it, thought mostly they are suited for tourists. The trick is that Flamenco originally is not supposed to be planned, it should be spontaneous and emotional as basically it is the way to express emotions. Strictly speaking, it’s impossible to guarantee authentic Flamenco experience. But as a tourist you can see good performance in one of the theatres, enjoy it together with your dinner or try to find a bar with some shows of passionate artists. If you are lucky, you will se great performances, so it’s worth trying! Cave bars were the most recommended by locals to enjoy Flamenco and have the best experience.
Stay in the former monastery
To make the most of your culture journey to Granada, make sure to check Hotel Palacio De Santa Paula – Autograph collection. This hotel is more than just a place to stay – it’s an experience! Located inside the former monastery it brings you really very special mood and style and could be perfect final touch for your time in Granada.
It is not only a place for sightseeing, it’s your home in Granada and you will call it like this during your stay here
This is not a typical 5-star hotel, obviously, as the space was converted into hotel very carefully, bringing absolutely different level of luxury. You will stay inside the former cell, turned into comfortable room with everything you need inside. You will have a breakfast in the environment of former monastery dinner room with the a-la-carte menu and buffet options. You will enjoy walking around premises of the hotel same as you will do in previous places while exploring. The main difference here that this is not only a place for sightseeing, it’s your home in Granada and you will call it like this during your stay here!
With so much great things to do, you need to make sure that Granada is in your bucket list! It got story, places, experiences and simply beautiful culture destination in Europe!
Disclaimer: My stay in Granada was partly sponsored by Hotel Palacio De Santa Paula – Autograph collection. Still all opinions here are completely mine and i can strongly recommend you not to miss it!