Curious travelers will spend days and hours keeping busy with all the things to do in Granada, Spain.
Granada is best known as the home of the Alhambra, one of the most famous fortresses/palaces in the world. However, there is a lot more to this fascinating city than royal palaces.
Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It sits at the confluence of four rivers, the Darro, the Genil, the Monachil, and the Beiro. It can be easily visited via bus from Malaga or Seville. This makes it a perfect day (or overnight) trip for anyone staying in those two cities as they explore Andalucia.
We, of course, recommend spending as much time as possible in every location we write about. Granada is no exception. However, if your time is limited you can see the major sites in Granada in one day. You’ll miss out on tons of local flavor, but it’s still worth visiting if only on a day trip.
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Things to Do In Granada
Below we will talk about visiting the Alhambra, and a multitude of other things to do in Granada.
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The Alhambra and The Palacio de Generalife
What can we really say about the Alhambra that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s one of the most written-about sites in Spain, and the most visited in the country with over two million people flocking to it each year.
Cynical travelers might wonder if this UNESCO heritage site lives up to all the hype. However, as soon as you catch your first glimpse of this palace fortress complex perched hilltop above the city you’ll forget you ever had doubts about making the trek to this Andalusian.
We strongly recommend devoting an entire day to the Alhambra and The Palacio de Generalife. Not only are the grounds massive, covering 142,000 square meters (1,530,000 sq ft), but there is also a great deal to see.
The actual palace, and the main attraction of the complex, had meager beginnings as a small fortress dating back to 889. Eventually, it was renovated and converted into royal residences in the 13th century for the kings of the Nasrid dynasty and later became home to the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella.
When you buy tickets (more on that below) for the complex you’ll be given a designated time to enter the palace. This is meant to alleviate the number of tourists filing into the space at one time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you’ll have a great chance of getting that perfect Instagram shot.
The ornate beauty of the palace demands a lot of attention from its visitors and causes plenty of traffic jams as tourists crane their necks to admire each and every single inch of the opulently decorated walls, arches, colorful ceramics, and carved wooden structures.
The Generalife, which was built in the 13th century, was the summer palace for Nasrid rulers. Entry into the Generalife is included in the ticket price for the Alhambra. It is totally worth devoting an hour or two of exploration toward.
The design of the Generalife is starkly different from the lavish neighboring palace. This comes as no surprise. The compound was meant to serve as a tranquil oasis for kings.
Today the Generalife consists of a network of buildings, patios, pools, and sculpted gardens and groves. As royalty of the past once did, taking a stroll through the Generalife after exiting the overly crowded Alhambra palace will give you a chance to connect with nature, appreciate the stunning surroundings, and admire the view.
Pro Tip For Visiting the Alhambra
Overzealous travelers might be inclined to head straight to the Alhambra. However, we strongly suggest you plan your visit to the Alhambra in advance. The system for purchasing tickets on-site is completely nonsensical and enough to make you feel like you made a grave mistake by not reserving one in advance.
Seriously, we have no idea what rhyme or reason the people running the lines are using and you could, like us, end up standing on line for an hour, while the lucky guy next to you in another line passes through in minutes.
We strongly suggest you buy your tickets to the Alhambra online here or book a three hour guided tour of the Alhambra here well in advance for a stress-free entry.
If you choose to ignore our advice and want to play it by ear, make sure you bring your identification/passport with you as this is, for some unfathomable reason, required to buy a ticket.
Visit Mirador San Nicolás For a View of the Alhambra
The views of Granada and the surrounding area you get from the Alhambra are amazing, but what about views of the Alhambra itself?
Climb up via winding cobblestone streets to this plaza to attain spectacular views of the Alhambra and its stunning perch at the base of the mountain range.
You will find the mirador to be filled with tourists and locals alike, and if you are lucky you will be serenaded by the sounds of locally infused music while you take in the spectacular views.
Wander Around the Albaicín Neighborhood in Granada
On your way down from the mirador you should take some time to explore Albaicin. The Albaicín neighborhood in Granada is the perfect place to lose yourself for a few hours before hitting up your next tapas restaurant. As confusing as the street layout might be there is no need to worry. You’ll never get truly lost in these narrow streets because the neighboring Alhambra is always visible.
Albaicín maintains the layout of Medieval Moorish twisted and narrow cobblestone streets, and wide open plazas. The entire area is rich with old-world charm and is an ideal place to discover the beauties of Moorish architecture.
Places of interest in the neighborhood include the following:
- Church of San Salvador
- Carrera Del Darro
- Plaza Larga
- Taberna 22
You can also take a 2 hour guided walking tour of Albaicín if you really want to delve into the history of this area!
Explore Granada’s Historic Center
Granada’s old town is stunning, filled with historic architecture that will leave most visitors in a bit of awe. We certainly spent many hours just wandering around the streets of the old town, taking in the ambiance and the layers of history that are found basically everywhere you look.
Some of the best sites in the historic center include the Granada Cathedral, the Royal Chapel, the colorful Bib Rambla Square, and Plaza Nueva Square.
Aside from the Alhambra, the stunning Granada Cathedral is one of the top things to see in Granada. This cathedral is the very first Renaissance church in Spain but due to the length of time it took to plan and construct it also has Gothic and Baroque characteristics.
Unlike many cathedrals in Europe, this one is sandwiched in between smaller buildings making it difficult to admire from afar. Nonetheless, the cathedral stands tall and proud next to its more modest neighbors. Some unique aspects of the Granada Cathedral include the fact that it consists of five naves rather than the usual three, so the main chapel is circular.
Additionally, the chapel took over 100 years to build. Crazily, however, to this day it stands incomplete. Of the two planned towers, only one was actually finished.
The interior architecture rivals almost any grand cathedral you might visit in Europe and contains a bounty of artwork, sculptures, and other treasures. There is a €5.00 entry fee, but if you’re an extremely frugal traveler you can visit the cathedral for free on Sundays if you book a ticket in advance here.
Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) Granada
History buffs will want to visit the Royal Chapel of Granada, which is located next to the Granada Cathedral. The chapel, which dates back to the 16th century, is the eternal resting place of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Additionally, the chapel contains plenty of pieces of art to admire once you pay your respects to the royal couple.
There is a €5.00 entry fee but visitors can enter the Royal Chapel of Granada for free on Wednesdays if you book a space in advance here.
Plaza Nueva in Granada – The “New” Square and Its Surroundings
Despite its name Plaza Nueva is the oldest existing square in Granada and is located at the confluence of old town and new town. Originally built as a public space for such morbid events as bullfighting and public executions, among other things, today the square hosts more lively activities such as eating and drinking in one of the many bars and restaurants that surround it.
From Plaza Nueva you can take a bus to the Alhambra or walk up to the Albaicín neighborhood. Or you can hang around and admire some of the stunning buildings in the square like the Iglesia de Santa Ana. This small, yet stunning, brick church dates back to the 16th century. It should definitely be on your list of things to see in Granada.
The Banuelo is an Arab public bathhouse, among the oldest in Spain, that dates 11th Century. Remarkably, the bathhouse was spared by Catholic rule. This is despite the fact that establishments such as these were likened to houses of ill repute.
Travelers on a budget will be pleased to take advantage of the free entry and explore the bathhouse’s courtyard and three bath rooms which were all heated to different degrees (cool, lukewarm, and hot). Among the most memorable aspects of the Banuelo are the Roman and Visigothic columns and the octagonal roof with star-shaped holes which allowed not only light in but also steam out.
Arab Baths – Hammam in Granada
After all the walking you will be doing while ticking off your list of things to do in Granada you will surely end up with some achy muscles. There’s no better way to relax and connect with Granada’s historic roots than by visiting a hammam, or Arab bathhouse.
Guests visiting Granada’s bathhouses can enjoy a day relaxing and cleansing the body and mind. The hammams have a variety of steam rooms, hot spring baths, and therapeutic treatments for guests to partake in.
Hiking in Dehesa del Generalife
After a few days exploring Granada’s sites, you may find yourself craving a bit of nature. If you don’t have enough time to explore the nearby Sierra Nevadas the easily reachable Dehesa del Generalife is perfect for hiking or mountain biking and is located right inside the city.
This massive massive 1,112-acre park is behind the Alhambra, and has two extensive hiking routes and one mountain bike circuit. In addition to beautiful nature, which includes canals and waterfalls, the park affords stunning views of the city and nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.
Enjoy Tapas in Granada
One of our favorite things about visiting Andalucia is the tapas culture. Who doesn’t love drinking the night away while snacking on exceptional little bites of food in a lively bar?
The tapas culture in Granada is likely one of the best in Spain. Rather than ordering and paying for these little plates of food, most authentic bars will bring complementary tapas with each drink. Not only does this make for a super affordable night out since you won’t need to invest in a full meal to curb your hunger, but it also means that, depending on how much you drink, will get to sample a variety of different kinds of tapas, most of which you’ve probably never even had before.
Vegan Tapas in Granada
If you’re vegan and want to take part in the tapas culture of Granada, don’t worry it’s not all chorizo and shellfish. We recommend visiting Bar Poe. Even if you’re not vegan it’s a nice and cozy bar to spend a few hours unwinding after a long day exploring the city.
Bar Poe has a selection of both vegan and non-vegan tapas each night. Unlike most tapas bars in Granada, you do have to pay for these dishes but it’s well worth it as they are super tasty.
Day Trips from Granada
Sierra Nevada – Outdoor Activities Near Granada
If you really want to explore the great outdoors while in Granada, a trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range is an excellent day trip option.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range is less than 20 miles from Granada, and only about an hour by bus or car. Anyone who loves to ski will be happy to know that the range has over a hundred slopes with black, red, blue, downhill, and cross-country skiing options offered 6 months out of the year. In addition to skiing outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy snowboarding, snowshoeing, chair skis, bike skiing, and sleds.
The range also offers plenty of hiking trails in warmer months, and a few fantastic spas for some rest and relaxation. For more information about all of the activities one can partake in the Sierra Nevada mountain range click here.
Want to visit the Sierra Nevada mountain range on a guided day trip from Grenada? This tour will make it super easy!
Salobreña – A Day Trip From Granada
Salobreña is a seaside town located a mere hour’s bus ride from the city and makes for an excellent day trip from Granada.
Anyone craving the sea should head to this gorgeous little beachside town and visit both of its two main sections. The whitewashed old town sits perched hillside and the narrow streets can make for hours of interesting exploration.
Aside from exploring the steep and narrow streets of this charming town, don’t miss out on the 10th-century Nasrid castle called “El Castillo de Salobreña”. Additionally, the town has charming beaches, exceptional Spanish cuisine, plenty of culture to experience, and outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and kite surfing.
Interested? Check out this organized tour that takes you to Salobreña and the surrounding area on a day trip from Granada!
When to Visit Granada
The city of Granada sits some 2,400 feet (730 meters) above sea level, nestled against the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its elevation and location offer Granada a bit of a different climate than most of its neighbors in Andalucia. Summers are a wee bit cooler, winter a good deal colder, and you might even get days upon days of rain here and there.
If you are visiting Granada between December and April make sure to bring some warm clothing, and perhaps an umbrella as well. If you are visiting in the summer months make sure you are applying the necessary amount of sunscreen, as the mountain sun WILL turn you into a crisp if you are not careful.
Now let’s move on to things you will want to do in Granada!
Where to Stay in Granada
Hotel Párraga Siete – One of the Best Boutique Hotels in Granada
If you’re looking for one of the best hotels in Granada look no further than Hotel Parraga Siete. This cozy little hotel offers uniquely decorated rooms at an excellent price.
The staff are super friendly, the breakfast is excellent, and there’s even a funky bar and restaurant on site! Plus, the hotel is located in Old Town Granada just a five-minute walk from the Granada Cathedral.
Best Hostels in Granada
On a budget? Looking for a great hostel in Granada? Look no further than our list of the Best Hostels in Granada
Final Thoughts on Granada
As with most cities in Andalusia, we fell in love with Granada during our week of time there. The city is very walkable and truly does offer days of exploration if you are in the mood. The newer parts of Granada are not as interesting at the historic areas but that hardly matters. We doubt you ill be spending much time outside of the center as a tourist.
So yes, go visit Granada. We highly recommend it. Happy travels all!
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