Granada is home to Albaicin and Alhambra and you don’t need any reason more than that to visit this city. It exists in another dimension altogether. Every single time I hear or say the name I just feel this pulse shooting up my spine that lights my head with all the beautiful memories of the city, the breathtaking views, Semana Santa (Easter) processions and the most important, Alhambra.
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I got fascinated by the city when I was younger and read a travelogue about the place and somewhere inside the desire kept kicking to visit and finally when I decided to go to Andalusia it was only for Alhambra and Mezquita cathedral (Córdoba).
Granada offers not only the sprawling palaces of Alhambra and beautiful gardens of Generalife you can also go skiing in Sierra Nevada; the highest mountain range in Spain. The city stands at the foot of this mighty mountain range. No matter what your reason Granada fails to disappoint. Everything about this city is exquisite and beautiful.
I visited Granada during the Easter time and I think it was a good decision because I saw these very ‘Moorish’ towns in a catholic light and the contrast was this beautiful amalgam of two religions living in harmony with all the history in today’s world of intolerance and prejudice.
Granada is a university town and I saw many students around the streets, bars and cafes and a night out is outrageous fun with great food, good drinks and many gay and gay-friendly bars and clubs.
All Things Granada
Granada airport is quite small and it is mainly used for national flights but I think recently a few more international flights but when I was checking direct flights were quite expensive and there were no direct flights from London but Skyscanner is a good start to get an idea. Easyjet is planning on starting flights to Granada in early February 2017. I flew in and out from Malaga airport which is convenient and transport links between cities are very good.
The airport is located outside the city and you can take a bus to the city centre. The journey takes roughly 45 minutes and costs around €3. The busses are not very frequent though and there are only 10 a day. You can check the time table here.
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Bus and Train
Train is not a good option to get to Granada from surrounding cities especially Malaga and Cordoba and you should use the bus. It is also not on the fast line so it will take you ages, a bus is a much better option and my local friend advised the same when I asked him. I bought the tickets from Malaga to Granada by bus through ALSA.
The bus from Malaga airport is slightly more complicated because you need to take the bus from the airport to Malaga bus station and then take a bus from Malaga main bus station to Granada.
The bus station and train station both are fairly central and with good links to the centre of the city through public transport. I got to Granada from Malaga in 2 hours quite conveniently and the bus to Cordoba from Granada was also quite easy and convenient.
Public Transport is quite reliable and frequent and covered under Granada card but honestly, everything is so close you won’t need to use it. There are some lines that run through the old district Albaicin. Taxis are also quite easily available.
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Granada Card & Alhambra Tickets
Granada card is like any other city tourist card and gets you access to a lot of locations with discounts to other locations and free public transport. I ended up buying this card because I didn’t book the tickets to Alhambra early enough. You can purchase the full or basic card and both include access to Alhambra and Generalife. To purchase a Granada card use this link.
Warning: You want to book your ticket to Alhambra as early as possible especially for weekend visits. The ticket has two parts and while the general area can be entered at any time based on the ticket type (morning, afternoon or evening), the entry to Nasrid palaces is only restricted to 30 minutes at the exact time. If you don’t do this you will have to purchase Granada Card which is way more expensive.
You can also arrange for tours but you have to be absolutely sure and be on time because tickets sell like hotcakes and because visitors per day is limited, you cannot just go and buy more tickets. Use this link to purchase tickets and tours.
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Granada has a typical food scene of any city in Andalucía; a great mix of local food with that charming touch of Moorish style. Tapas is quite common and you will find a huge list of places that server great food.
Albaicin has a lot of small cafes tucked in that have amazing balconies and terraces epically at night to enjoy the food with a view of Alhambra and I ate at a few places. Surprisingly snails are quite common here but I didn’t like the way they make it here, French definitely do it better!
At the foot of Albaicin is an endless maze of cafes, restaurants, bars that offer endless options and the places are always full. You get a lot of variety for Tapas. Just a little outside around Plaza de Mariana Paneda, the small twisty, turny streets have some hidden gems. In the evening most of the tapas bars will be full and you will find people eating and drinking on the street.
The custom is to get a small portion of food (tapas) with every drink you get and surprisingly most of the restaurants only offer this style of food and you need to ask them for A la Carte menu. I spent an evening with a friend in La Botilleria and then headed out to the bars on the other side for a good night out.
If you want a magical experience at the cost of some stair climbing Albaicin is your area. The old Moorish quarters still have the same style, balconies, architecture and lifestyle. Perhaps the highlight of my trip was to see the Easter procession from the terrace heading towards the main cathedral with a full moon shining on top of Alhambra. It was so beautiful I just never wanted it to end. Alhambra sat there is an elegant old woman watching its kids acting like adults with a sly sense of amusement that only shows love and care.
For a more practical approach, you can stay around the city centre but I didn’t like the idea, after all, what’s more important than Alhambra in Granada?
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Free Walking Tours
I definitely recommend getting a tour of Granada and the tour I did was Historical tour which shows not only around Albaicin but also the city centre. I definitely recommend getting a tour of Granada and the tour I did was Historical tour which shows not only around Albaicin but also the city centre. You can book it here. The guide was awesome and gave an amazing account of the history and how Granada is today based on that.
The same company offers a Sacromonte tour which is the tour around Roma gypsies and Flamenco. Don’t forget some sturdy shoes because it is a lot of hiking and climbing.
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The birth town of famous writer Fredrico Garcia Lorca, Granada has come a long way from those days to the town which welcomes every sort with open arms. Granada is no Ibiza or Barcelona but you can still have a good time here. The guys here are absolutely gorgeous with that typical Spanish charm and warmth and every single one of them I met has been a pleasure. I am really proud to have made such beautiful in just a few days.
Grindr and Scruff are both quite openly used and while being gay is quite acceptable Andalucía is still relatively conservative so a lot of guys are not out. You will get a good mix of travellers and locals and most guys are friendly. I didn’t see much of a drugs scene so that’s another plus point for Granada and Andalusia in general.
The party scene starts quite late with dinner around 9 or 10pm, bars around 10 to 11 pm and clubs around 1am; pace yourselves accordingly. I went to La Sal one day and Six colours the other day and both were quite nice and friendly and I could walk back home to Albaicin easily at the end. Most of the bars and clubs have mixed crowd but everyone is really friendly and being a university town you will meet people from all corners of Europe and outside. The scene here is clearly expanding and despite Easter weekend, the places were busy.
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Granada can be easily seen and enjoyed in two days but if you want to go skiing you’d need a couple more days ideally. You definitely need to dedicate the first day to Alhambra and to admire the beauty of this place you need a structured plan. The entrance to areas especially Nassrid palaces is restricted between certain times and the daily visit numbers are limited, you don’t want to miss this opportunity coming all this way.
I spent the first half of the day in Alhambra and the second half in Albaicin.
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Alhambra needs no introduction! This beautiful palace and fortress complex was once described by an Arabic poet as “A pearl set in emerald” because of the colour of Nassrid palaces and the surrounding greenery. Alhambra literally means ‘The red one” and comes from Al Hamra in Arabic or Qalat Al Hamra (The red fortresses). The fortress was built on top of the ancient Roman fortress which then fell into ruins. In mid 13th century when the Emir landed here as the capital the last outpost of Moorish empire and the golden days of this beautiful ruby started with a beautiful maze of palaces, gardens and fortifications.
Fun Fact: This is where Ferdinand and Isabel finally gave their go-ahead for Columbus for the expedition which leads to the discovery of America.
A good starting point is Plaza Nueva at the bottom of Albaicin and you can take public transport or taxi all the way to the entrance of this stunning beauty. Take Cuesta de Gomerez all the way up to the entrance. The walk is uphill and will take roughly 20 minutes but I’d recommend taking a bus so you save your energy. Live C3 takes you right to the entrance from Plaza Nueva. You will need to have your ticket on you. I would recommend getting them from the atm machines or the best option is the Tourism office in Plaza del Carmen.
The walk from the main entrance to Nassrid Palaces in about 15 minutes and you go through quite a lot of change in scenery so I would recommend entering at least 30 minutes before your entrance time to Nassrid palaces. I almost ran from the entrance to the queue which forms every 30 minutes.
The staff checked our tickets and led us through from the beautiful corridor. The doors and walls are a piece of art which is so intricate you are scared to touch it. From courtyards to gardens through an intricate maze of rooms and corridors you arrive at the Lions courtyard. I could imagine the Emir with his people sitting and enjoying the evening breeze by the fountain. The beautiful balconies and arches just enhance the beauty and the domed ceilings magnify the rooms despite their size which are surprisingly small especially considering they were built for the kings.
The imagination takes you through some weird and interesting thoughts. I almost felt like I could touch the people through the building. It also brings a certain sense of melancholy for buildings remain and will stay for a lot longer than people. They always turn into dust with some names remaining that does not mean much other than labels of who did what. Depressing thoughts aside, the time spent here is like magic, I felt like I was in a different dimension, oblivious to all the people around me, lost in my thought and when I woke up the dream was over. I sat there to soak in the spring sun and after filling my bottle I wandered around to enjoy Alhambra.
I won’t spoil the fun of discovery for you but if you have the time you can spend the whole day in this massive complex. There are plenty of areas of military importance and palaces from both Christian and Moorish eras but you don’t need to be an expert to figure out which one is which. The intricately designed ones are Moorish and the big blobby ones are from the Christian era. The palace of Carlos V is a good example. It stands almost like a big ugly mole on the face of a beautiful woman, grrrrrrrr!
Walking around the neatly trimmed gardens and fountains, you will get to Generalife which was the summer palace and this exquisite palace with its gardens creates an atmosphere of tranquillity. The gardens and fountains cool the breeze and you feel attached to this striking panorama. The scenes of Albaicin from here and around are so amazing, I could only think about it when I was watching Alhambra from Albaicin in the evening.
I spent a good 5-6 hours in Alhambra and despite my urge to spend the whole time here I was short on time so I took the bus back to Plaza Nueva to start my tour of Albaicin. I really wanted to see the sunset on Alhambra from the other side.
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The old Moorish Quarters of Granada are full of intrigue, mystery and charm. I stayed in Albaicin and the walk up and down from this hilltop paradise opens a new path, a new intrigue every time. I loved getting lost here and finding myself again like some magical journey through the maze of time. The houses are constructed in the same manner and most of the area retains its beautiful structure.
Albaicin didn’t get much attention in the early rule of Moors because it was not the seat of Emir but after they lost the rest of Andalucia, the Emir and nobility descended on this and turned it into the beauty it is today. It truly is marvellous how they dug the wells and supplied water to the top of hills where two grocery bags today can almost break your back.
I stayed close to Plaza San Miguel Bajo which has the San Miguel Bajo church on one side and some cafes and restaurants on the other. I tried a few of the cafes and it was a bit of hit and miss honestly because of the touristy nature of the place. The narrow streets, on the other hand, have clear signs of a lifestyle that’s local and has been there for centuries. Clothes hanging to dry on the balconies, children playing around, the wells almost in working condition and those beautiful pots full of flowers all shout that this isn’t a tourist area alone you just know how to get lost here and you will find it.
Albaicin is full of amazing monuments one more interesting than others but I have mentioned only a few. A few more you will learn and hear about during the walking tour but to see them all requires a few days which unfortunately I didn’t have.
The main points of interest are San Miguel Bajo Church (Iglesia de San Miguel Bajo) and its square which I have already described above. The square also houses Dar Al-Hora Palace which is the last residence of Aixa (Aisha) who was the mother of last Emir of Granada. The small palace is part of Monastery of Santa Isabel la Real but most of the original decoration has been conserved and the central courtyard and its square pool have the typical Nasrid style despite being taken over by the Christian monarchs after Reconquista. It is a small stop and doesn’t take long to see.
From Dar Al Hora Palace you want I walked towards Mirador de San Cristobal which has some amazing panoramic views of the city and from there walked to Plaza Larga. The square has lots of food options or just some coffee or ice cream along with Arco de Pesas. The plaza used to be the heart and soul of Albaicin in 16th century with lots of shops and main market here.
The Arc on the other hand is much older and used to be part of the old Moorish Albaicin and was built for better communication between Albaicin and Alhambra. Its horseshoe arches are gorgeous.
I grabbed some lunch here and headed to Ermita de San Miguel Alto which is a hermitage. It has some great views both of Alhambra and Albaicin but feel free to drop this one of the list if you are short of time. Another point of interest nearby is Ziri Wall.
I walked back to catch the sunset at San Nicholas square and on the way made a brief stop at San Salvador church which was built on the ancient grand mosque of Granada. The bell tower was a conversion of mosque minaret.
Finally arriving at San Nicholas square I made a discovery that makes your heart melt for the people of Granada; The Central Mosque of Granada. After 500 years the Muslims of Granada heard the same Adhan (call to prayer) from the minarets of a mosque facing Alhambra and it all came through with the help of Granada city and its people. This was quite a surprise because even today the people of Granada and around perform baptism with the old blessing, “Here is your child: you gave him to me a Moor, I hand him back a Christian”.
The mosque isn’t accessible during prayer times but you have the best views of Alhambra from here. The square in front of San Nicholas square and church was absolutely jam-packed with tourists and the restaurants with good views were rather touristy and quite full. I sat in the courtyard of the mosque to watch the sunset on this beautiful city and it somehow felt very sad like I am Boabdil (the last Emir) and I am seeing the sunset on this city for the last time but the lights started coming to life and the view just stunned me.
Then I heard the chants and drums of the Easter procession starting in the city and the whole scenario changed. The rose gardens of Alhambra, the full moon on its top, the courtyard of a mosque on top of Albaicin and the drummers walking towards the cathedral, it isn’t really possible to explain the feeling, you can only experience it but it is one of the most cherished moments of my life..
I grabbed some dinner in El Albaicin district and came back to the terrace of my house to feel the night. It was slightly chilly but not uncomfortable. I sat there till the procession ended in the Granada cathedral and the music died down. I went to bed a happy and satisfied man because today I had seen Alhambra and Albhaicin.
After a nice relaxing sleep, I sat in the sun enjoying the views of Granada city centre from the terrace with coffee and toast. I finally picked my tote bag and headed to the city centre leaving my laziness behind for the desire to see Granada was far greater than being a slob.
This day was more about seeing the Christian era and modern Granada and exploring the food and shopping scene of Granada with a good night out. You can add the hammam or Arab baths to this day if you want to relax a bit.
I walked down the steps from Albaicin to reach Plaza Nueva which is probably the most misleading name ever! Plaza Nueva or New Square is the oldest square in Granada and was built in the Christian era and it still is the centre of town. The square was used for bullfights, tournaments and all sort of public events. The Easter procession still goes through here. The square is built on top of the river Darro which still runs underground. Granada has always been full of ingenuity!
There are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars around with added souvenir and tourist-related shops. Day or night, this square is buzzing with happy people especially students. You can also walk to El Albaicin district which has a lot of bars and restaurants right from here to through the narrow streets.
Plaza Isabela la Catolica
Walking from Plaza Nueva to Gran Via to start my tour of the day I came across this smaller square with a very interesting marble statue. It shows Queen Isabel bestowing her permission to Columbus for his journey. The square doesn’t have much other than banks and shiny glass building and a fountain but it leads you to Gran Via de Colon and the main shopping street Calle Reyes Catolicos.
Fun Fact: The locals also call this Columbus square because it was him who was the discoverer. The queen merely provided her with permission. The money part os funny because she was really short after funding the Reconquista wars and borrowed it from a jew who was expelled from Spain a couple of years later without any repayment..
The street opposite the statue is Gran Via and a few buildings later on the left you will arrive at Calle Officios. The queue of tourists waiting to go through the narrow but beautiful door and hoards of them taking pictures just announces you are entering the main area. The street is a wonder and has so many important landmarks you almost get dazzled.
The first one on the left is Madrissa Yousufia or Madrissa Palace. It is also called Madrasah of Granada. It is currently part of University of Granada. The Madrissa used to be an Islamic style mosque school. In the ancient Muslim world, Madrissas used to be the schools and unbeknownst to modern folk that is where most of the Muslim inventions and philosophy comes from. These were not just religious school with theology as main focus.
The building is gorgeous and has the signature Moorish interior with a central courtyard and fountain. Next to the cathedral it does look slightly out of place but then again the area started off as a Muslim area and after the re-conquest, it was turned Catholic…
The central cathedral of Granada is a mammoth and was placed right in the middle of the Muslim area which was turned Christian later. It was originally supposed to be Gothic in style but later turned into Renaissance and 2 centuries later Baroque elements were added to make the interior and exterior more magnificent. It took ages to build this mammoth because of money problems and also because the later kings like Philip II were interested in Madrid as a base rather than sticking to Andalucia.
The square outside is a beautiful place and someone was playing this little drum-like instruments which just made me want to sit there with some ice cream and enjoy the stillness, Granada really knows how to captivate you in each district…
The main street outside the cathedral was full of seats for the Easter procession events and it took some of the view away but after seeing the procession, I was fine with paying this price, it was a one-off experience that I’ll never forget.
Plaza de Bib-Rambla
Located on a few minutes walk this is one of those places that arise mixed feelings. The name means ‘Gate of the River’ because it was originally built on the shore of Darro River which flows underground now. The square has a baroque fountain in the middle and it is another centre of local life. It was used during the Christian era for bullfights which lead to not only the deaths of bulls but p to 40 people in one incident, so glad this barbaric practice in the name of sport has been stopped. Today you will see it as a square where normal urban life goes on with tourists enjoying the sun but this square was used to showcase public punishments in order to purge Spain of Muslims and Jews and as many as a million books, artefacts, manuscripts and other valuable documents burnt in this square and who knows how many secrets were burnt that day. I could see the pain in the eyes of our guide when he told the story, Granada still mourns that day…
The silk market from Moorish times today is AlCaiceria and what used to be the silk and spices market in old times today sells souvenirs. The spicy aroma still wafts through these narrow streets and you could imagine the merchants selling exquisite silks and exotic spices from around the world here while staying in Corral del Carbon. The streets are narrow and cool and the balconies around full of potted flowers that go high up these narrow buildings. It was built in this particular way to prevent thieves from stealing stuff and the whole market could be guarded with a few people on each entrance. The souvenir shops are quite expensive and honestly, I didn’t see anything that looked like it was from Granada but there’s a subtle irony in there.
In old times most of the silk and spices came from the silk route originating in China and looks like that part hasn’t changed at all.
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Corral del Carbón
This beauty is the only building saved in its entirety from Nassrid times and it used to be a market in those days. The facade is signature Moorish design with an arc and rich plaster decoration and walking through the entrance I arrived at the central courtyard.
Because it used to be a central wholesale market, merchants those days kept their stuff here and stayed in the small rooms located on all sides of this courtyard. It is meticulously taken care of so you won’t be able to see all of it but it is a wonder nonetheless and gives you a perfectly preserved picture of the trading life back in the day. There are certain music and flamenco festivals and events that still take place here during different times of the year.
The last part of the day was spent in El Sacromonte. This quarter houses the Roma community of Granada who still live in the caves. This is also the birthplace of flamenco. I went with the tour and the whole experience was quite amazing.
Located on the eastern side of Albaicin, the cave houses are absolutely gorgeous and you can see glimpses on Indian culture in these gorgeous houses. A lot of it is commercial and touristy nowadays and you can have flamenco seating by paying a little but some of it is still in original condition and provides a fascinating view into the lives of gypsies.
Granada is a fascinating mix of Moorish and Christian past and modern present and the people here respect their history without distinction of religion. As much as I loved the idea of spending more time here, I had the Mezquita cathedral waiting in Granada so after some more delicious tapas and a couple of drinks I headed to bed to take my bus next day for Cordoba.
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