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There’s a lot to see on a trip to Granada. I spent two days twice visiting the city, the Alhambra, walking its streets. I did it first on a trip to the main cities of Andalusia, and finally on my trip to the Costa del Sol that you can see in this guide.
Granada is one of the cities that most impresses me in my travels through Andalusia. I was able to visit her in both winter and summer. From the two experiences I am going to overturn all my advices to visit her point by point.
Why should I visit Granada?
It’s one of those cities that has a special magic. And for this I believe that several situations are combined: the first thing is that it has a beautiful landscape. I’m talking about a city in the frame of the Sierra Nevada with its snowy peaks. But in detail these are the ones that make Granada unique.
Its diversity of neighbourhoods: in Granada there are several neighbourhoods that have such marked personalities, linked to migratory currents. Walking through neighborhoods at different times of the day can make us look like we’re in different cities. Zaidín, the Albaicín with its views to the Alhambra, the Sacromonte, the Realejo, the Cartuja, are all areas that show the diversity of the city.
Its monuments: I don’t think it’s necessary to present the Alhambra as a jewel of the city and its most imposing monument together with the Generalife garden and the Albaicín. Omnipresent guarding the most strategic point within Granada within the walls, the Alhambra has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. Another imposing jewel is its monumental cathedral, the first in Renaissance style in Spain.
His legacy and past. Granada is a city with a past. But a past that is alive in its gastronomy, culture, books, architecture, and again in its neighborhoods. Above all I am referring to Muslim Granada and the splendour of what was the capital of the Zirí Kingdom of Granada, and later of the Nazarí Kingdom. The trace of that past is what also makes Granada a city with a unique atmosphere.
Your diversified tourist proposal. In addition to monuments and heritage, history and cultural legacy, Granada boasts of its proximity to ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada, its old quarters and the coast of Granada. And in the city, a display of twenty museums and cultural centres.
Granada is a city with all the letters, and an ideal tourist destination to visit in at least two to three days.
How to get to Granada.
On my first visit to Andalusia I made base in the city of Cordoba, and from there I made a bus getaway to Granada in the day. On my second visit I arrive in Granada from the Costa del Sol by rental car. But as there are multiple ways to visit the city and the point of origin I will break down the detail of options:
By bus: this is one of the most practical ways to get to Granada from cities such as Seville, Cordoba or even Malaga, even from cities in Spain such as Madrid is also a valid and recommended means, since as we will see there are no high-speed trains that arrive in Granada. Buses are relatively cheap, fast and safe. For example, from Malaga the bus takes an hour and a half to two hours to get to Granada, and travels with a frequency of 30 minutes for much of the day. From Madrid, it takes between 4 and 5 hours and there is also a reasonable level of frequencies during the day. For bus services to Granada consult the ALSA website where you can also book your ticket and see the timetables.
By car. Renting a car on the Costa del Sol, or in cities like Seville can be a good option. There are many rental car agencies. In my experience, you will find the best price either at Seville airport, or especially at Malaga airport. Here you can rent a car directly from the blog (from where we have already managed more than 1000 bookings in recent months). Of course it has no extra cost for readers and above all, you can access discounts of up to 15% less depending on the dates. On the blog I also made a post with tips for renting a car for the first time.
By train: there are no high-speed trains to Granada. Therefore by train you don’t gain too much time compared to the bus. The train from Madrid to Granada takes about 5.30 hours, while from Seville it takes about four hours as the train makes intermediate stops. To consult train fares and timetables you have to visit the Renfe website.
By Plane: Granada airport is only 12 kilometres from the city. Only airplanes that make internal flight routes arrive in Granada (although there are some flights from other European countries direct to Granada are not very frequent). Therefore if your option is to arrive from another country first you must fly to cities like Madrid or Barcelona and then combine the flight to Granada. Another alternative is to make a flight to Malaga airport, the closest airport to Granada. From Malaga airport there are also direct buses to Granada. You can search for internal flights in Spain here.
Day trip: there are organized excursion services to visit Granada from cities such as Malaga or Seville, as well as from different points of the Costa del Sol (for example from Fuengirola, Benalmádena, Torremolinos or Estepona among others). Especially starting from several cities in Andalusia, these options are available:
Excursions to Granada and the Alhambra from important cities in Andalusia: Excursion to the Alhambra from Seville / Excursion to Granada from Malaga / Excursion to the Alhambra from Malaga / Excursion to Granada from Marbella
Excursions to Granada and the Alhambra from Costa del Sol: Excursion to the Alhambra from Fuengirola / Excursion to the Alhambra from Benalmádena / Excursion to Granada from Torremolinos / Excursion to Granada from Estepona / Excursion to the Alhambra from Nerja / Excursion to the Alhambra from Mijas
Transport services in the city of Granada: within Granada it is possible to hire reliable transport services to get us either from the airport to the city, or between hotels, or even from the hotel to attractions such as the Alhambra. Here you can consult prices and hire services for transfers.
What is the best time to visit Granada?
Granada is very pleasant all year round. However in my summer visit it is inevitable to say that the heat can be a great hot flush. Therefore for better dates there are no like the intermediate seasons, especially in mid-spring and autumn.
Recommendations for accommodation in Granada.
The best located neighborhood: the center, and the surroundings of the Cathedral is the most comfortable and best located neighborhood, almost equidistant to everything more attractive. What I say about “comfortable” refers both to communication by transport, and to the fact that it is the flattest area without unevenness, and therefore less strenuous to walk. Here you can find accommodation in Granada
Staying in the most charming neighbourhood: without hesitation I answer that this neighbourhood is Albaicín. To understand what I mean you can see the post I made with my photos about the Albaicín. It is the historic quarter that also has the best views of the Alhambra, in addition to its unique style, with narrow streets that climb between houses with Arabic-style doors, tea houses, terraces overlooking the Alhambra. This neighbourhood is recognised as a World Heritage Site and its charm is unique not only in Granada but also in Spain. Therefore, in order to experience the city of Granada with intensity, I recommend staying in the Albaicín. Here you can look for accommodation alone in the Albaycín neighbourhood.
See the post of Albaicín, one of the most beautiful old quarters in Spain
Stay in an Airbnb in Granada. They can also try to stay in an apartment through the Airbnb website. If you register with AIRBNB for the first time, you can take advantage of this discount of up to 31 euros for your first booking.
What to see in Granada.
The Alhambra: of course you haven’t been to Granada if you haven’t visited the Alhambra. We all know that this is the reason for Granada’s legendary fame. What attracts, surprises and astonishes every visitor to the Alhambra is the beauty of its palaces, the decorative perfection, and the superlative degree of in the level of artistic expression applied to this complex.
Visit to the Alhambra
First recommendation: it is not advisable to go to the Alhambra without your ticket in advance, for the simple reason that we will either have to board long queues, or because we run the risk of running out of space for the visit. This especially applies to peak summer days, long weekends and holidays. The truth is that the rest of those days there should be no risk of not visiting her. Especially if we consider that it is the second most visited monument in Spain behind the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Here I explain everything about prices and how to buy the early ticket to the Alhambra.
The Alhambra for beginners. The Alhambra is the fortified city and palace that is located within the city of Granada. The walls enclose a set of palaces, gardens and fortress that is something like a city within the city. Although in the times of the Nasrid kingdom it was not exactly a city open to the public, but reserved for the court and the Nasrid king. It is an authentic “luxury city” with style and decoration that reaches the highest level of Andalusian art. In short, it is not a palace, but a set of palaces, it is not a garden, but an extensive complex of gardens, and is therefore much more than a fortification.
The main buildings that are visited in the Alhambra. As I said, several buildings are visited, including the Alcazaba (the fort), the Nasrid Palaces, which in total were six palaces and two palace towers built as the residence of the Nasrid court, the Palace of Charles V (of style and construction after the Nasrid kingdom), the Generalife (the retirement and rest village of the Muslim kings of Granada), and of course the gardens. In addition to the beauty of all these sites within the Alhambra, one of the highlights of the visit will be the tour of the Patio of the Lions.
How long does a visit to the Alhambra take? As a minimum I recommend to dedicate to the visit to the Alhambra about three hours. It is not only a question of visiting the interiors of different palaces, but also of walking a large extension, visiting the gardens, or climbing the towers of the Alcazaba, something that not only takes time, but also deserves it. The visit can be planned including short breaks. In fact there are rest areas, shade and services to make the visit pleasant.
Book a guided tour of the Alhambra. Although I did my visit for free, and you can hire audioguides, it is no less advisable to do a guided tour. For example, you can consult or hire this three-hour guided tour in Spanish of the Alhambra and the Nasrid palaces, which includes the access ticket. There is also the option of a private guided tour for small groups.
More activities in Granada.
Walk the city. A good start might be to book the free tour (cap system) through the city of Granada. What you need to see in the city is this:
Visit the Albaicín district. As I told you, visiting and walking the Albaicín district is essential in a visit to Granada. I remember in my first visit to Granada my feeling when entering this neighborhood and walking it through its streets. It is full of charming corners and has a very unique style. Albaicín means “neighborhood in height” and with a population somewhat apart from the rest of the city, something like a neighborhood with a different style. It is probable that in medieval times it was considered a suburb. It was one of the ancient nuclei of Muslim Granada and a major urban sector in the time of the Nasrids. Today it preserves a large part of the urban fabric of that period: unlike the most central part of Granada, in the Albaicín the streets are narrow, labyrinthine at times.
The type of housing is also unique and is known as the carmen. They are houses separated from the street by high walls, and with small orchards or gardens, many of them conserving their cisterns connected to the canalization system. Since 1994 this neighbourhood has been declared a World Heritage Site together with the Alhambra and the Generalife. It goes without saying that its main street towards the lower part is a combination of shops with a certain charm, with others of souvenirs in the best style tourist theme park.
Visit the Sacromonte district. It is one of the neighborhoods of the district of Albaicín, and neighbor to this neighborhood. It is also in front of the Alhambra. It is very picturesque and quiet, a suburb where the gypsies of Granada live. Among the sites to visit is the Interpretation Centre of the Sacromonte-Museum with caves open to the public that reflect the lifestyle of inhabitants of the neighborhood.
note: there is a two-hour guided tour (always in Spanish) of the neighborhoods of Albaicín and Sacromonte. You can hire him here.
To know the Cathedral. Its full name is “Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada. Once I finish touring my first day in Granada the Alhambra in the morning, the neighborhood Albaicín and Sacromonte, it is the turn to devote to tour the area around the cathedral. Facing the main façade of the cathedral is already an encounter that makes you feel insignificant.
The project of this cathedral begins in the early years of the sixteenth century. And although economic difficulties meant that much of the original project was discarded, the current cathedral is little less than imposing, in addition to being a jewel of the Spanish Renaissance. You can do the visit on your own or hire the guided tour of the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel (lasts almost four hours).
Visit the Science Park of Granada. This interactive museum is one of the main attractions of Granada, especially recommended for those traveling with children. It is the first interactive science in Andalusia and is in the heart of Granada. It has aquariums, planetarium, butterflyarium, permanent and temporary exhibitions. (here you can see the official website)
Visit their museums. The offer of museums in Granada is surprising. There are a variety of proposals and always quality with collections on display of great value. Beginning with the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Memory of Andalusia, or the House-Museum of Federico García Lorca, among others.
Night tour through the mysteries and legends of Granada. By the way, this organized tour is one of the most successful in Granada. It takes about two hours and involves a journey through some of the secrets and legends that can give an even more special touch to our visit to the city. (Here you can see prices and hire the tour)
Excursions from Granada.
If we base a few days in Granada, it is also an opportunity to explore the environment. For example, we will be just a step away from the Costa del Sol, but also a short drive away from exploring the Alpujarra, the historic region of Andalusia south of the Sierra Nevada. For example, visiting the Alpujarra can be a trip in itself to organize for free and exploring over several days. There is also the option of ascending in the Sierra Nevada to the ski resorts. And of course, if it’s our first time in Andalusia, make visits to nearby cities such as Cordoba and its monumental Mosque. Or even reach Seville (a city that I recommend going for at least two days).
Organized excursions from Granada. Finally I wanted to mention alternatives of organized excursions to do in the day from Granada. Between them: Excursion to Caminito del Rey / Excursion to Cordoba / Excursion to Sierra Nevada / Excursion to Alpujarra Granadina
All these last excursions are made during the day.
Finally, do not hesitate to leave any questions in comments that I will answer as soon as possible.
(*) All the images belong to Matías Callone and are under Creative Commons license.
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