Just a Pack | June 10th, 2019 | No comments

things to do in Granada, the Alhambra

Inquisitive travelers will spend days and hours keeping busy with all the things to do in Granada. 

Beautiful Granada is best known as the home of the Alhambra, one of the 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, 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, making it a perfect day (or over night) trip for anyone staying in those two cities as they explore Andalusia.

We, of course, recommend spending as much time as possible in every location we write about, and Granada is no exception. However, if you 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. 

Below we will talk about visiting the Alhambra, and a multitude of other things to do in Granada. As always, happy and safe travels all. If you feel we missed something that should definitely be on this list please DO let us know!

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 things to do in Granada, Spain

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 when exploring Granada! 

Things to Do In Granada

The Alhambra and The Palacio de Generalife

things to do in Granada, the Alhambra

What can we really say about the Alhambra that hasn’t been said a million times? Probably not much considering 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. In fact, it’s one of the top ten most visited sites in the world!

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.

Devoting an entire day, or at least a half day, to the Alhambra and The Palacio de Generalife is strongly recommended. 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 main attraction of the complex, had meager beginnings as a small fortress dating back to 889. Eventually, it was renovated and converted into the 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, which we assume 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 at getting that perfectly Instagrammable 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 “must see” sites within the Alhambra palace include the unbelievably ornate Hall of the Two Sisters, where you can see the Patio of the Lions, and the Hall of the Abencerrajes.

The Generalife, which 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 and is completely worth devoting an hour or two of exploration toward.

The design of the Generalife is starkly different from the lavish neighboring palace. No surprise since it was meant to serve as a tranquil oasis for kings to retreat to when in need of peace and rest.

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 on a whim as soon as their suitcase lands safely on their hotel floor. 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

things to do in Granada, 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 as the neighboring Alhambra is always visible to guide the way.

Albaicín maintains the layout of Medieval Moorish twisted and narrow cobble stone 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 in to 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 is 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.

Granada Cathedral

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 however stands incomplete. Of the two planned towers only one was actually finished, and at half the height, due to foundational inadequacies that could not support its weight.

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 was constructed in 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

Plaza Nueva de Granada
PC: Antonio Cantero [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Despite its name Plaza Nueva is the oldest existing square in Granada 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, a small but stunning brick church that was built in the 1500s.

The Bañuelo

banuelo granada
PC: Bañuelo_3640 by Omar Bárcena under CC2.0

The Banuelo is an Arab public bath house, among the oldest in Spain, that dates 11th Century. Remarkably the bathhouse was spared by Catholic rule, 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

hammam arab bathhouse granada
Hammam by -RS- under CC by 2.0

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.

There are a number of hammams in Granada to choose from but the most highly rated is the Granada Hammam al Andalus. You can book a 1.5 hour session here!

Hiking in Dehesa del Generalife

Dehesa del Generalife Park Granada (10)
PC: Giorgiomonteforti [Public domain]
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, that 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 a 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

tapas granada bar poe

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.

Dive into Granada’s Tapas scene with this incredible guided tour!

Day Trips from Granada

Sierra Nevada – Outdoor Activities Near Granada

Sierra Nevada 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 sledges.

The range also offers plenty of hiking trails in warmer months, and a few fantastic spas for some rest and relaxation. Fore more information about all of the activities one can partake in 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

Salobrena - 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 beach side 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!

Where to Stay in Granada

Hotel Párraga Siete – One of the Best Boutique Hotels in Granada

Hotel Parraga Siete Granada - Best boutique hotel 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.

Check Prices!

Best Hostels in Granada

White Nest Hostel Granada Spain

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, on the outskirts of the old city, 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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From the obvious to the not as well known, here are the best things to do in Granada Spain, plus some awesome ideas for day trips in the surrounding area! Spanish Tapas, Alhambra, historic neighborhoods, nearby hiking, and much much more in this guide to Granada! #granada #alhambra #spain #andalucia #europe #travel #europeantravel

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