My wife and I felt drawn to Spain before we even lived there. Something about the relaxed pace of life, the warm summer nights and the passion of the locals drew us to it. We also needed a break from three years of teaching English in China. So, we vouched to live there as digital nomads for at least half a year. We looked on Airbnb to see where we could find the cheapest place in Spain. And low and behold, it turned out to be the romantic city of Granada. Granada ended up capturing our hearts and filling our lives with memories of a city we’ll never forget. Now, I’m happy to share my list of things to do in Granada.
History of Granada
Granada is located in the Andalusia region of Spain and has a very colorful history. Situated by the Sierra Nevada mountains, it was the capital city of the Al-Andalus region in the 711 A.D. When the Muslim rule of Umayyad Caliphate expanded into Europe with Al Andalus, they found the original city by the base of the mountains very difficult to protect. The then ruler moved it to a higher plain and called it Garnata – which means the “Hill of strangers”. Over time, the city became a very important part of the Al Andalus region.
The Umayyad rule gave way to a Jewish one, back to Berber Muslim rule and finally, a Catholic one. Given its rich and colorful history, it is not surprising to find a rich set of heritage Granada Attractions in and around the city. Time we take you through not just that but the other interesting places to see in Granada.
Things to do in Granada
The Alhambra is one of Spain’s top tourist attractions, visited by millions every year. Therefore, I recommend getting there early if you wish to avoid queues.
We visited the Alhambra Palace three times and each time, we were blown away by how beautiful it is. The main attraction there is the Nasrid Palaces, which is the part that gets incredibly busy. When you buy your Alhambra Tickets, you’ll be allotted entry time. You must queue before and enter at that time, otherwise, they won’t let you into the palaces. Inside you will find some of the most intricate marble carvings I’ve ever seen and these run around the buildings – from floor to ceiling. The fountains are powered by an impressive feat of ancient engineering that draws water from a canal – one whose source is several miles in the hills.
Your ticket will also include a visit to the beautiful Generalife gardens as well as the Alcazaba (citadel), the latter offering some of the best views over the city. If you are already fascinated with this gorgeous place, you should read a detailed guide on the Alhambra.
Granada Cathedral and Royal Chapel
When the Christians entered the city of Granada, they had quite a feat ahead of them. The Alhambra, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world looked down on the city center. They wanted to build a church that rivaled that, and the result was Granada Cathedral.
Both the cathedral itself and the Royal Chapel on the side of the cathedral are adorned by incredibly ornate stonework. The square outside the cathedral doubles up as a gathering place for local events. When I lived there, I saw a festival dedicated to all the Hispanic nations of the world performing here.
Opposite the Royal Chapel, you’ll also find the Alcacería. During Islamic times, this was the city’s Great Bazaar, but it now contains a selection of souvenir shops. This makes it a great place for shopping in Granada. I’ve spent many a day exploring the narrow alleyways of this market to see what they have on offer.
The famous hill that rises over the northeast of Granada is known as the Albaicín. This is a fascinating neighborhood with long twisted alleyways that I loved to explore. Many of these alleyways are so narrow or so steep that one can’t even take cars. It’s a great place to grab Tapas or see a Flamenco show.
It’s also famous for its miradors (viewpoints) which offer panoramic views of the Alhambra and Granada. The most famous of these is Mirador San Nicolas, a square where locals sell souvenirs along the street and can often, be seen playing Flamenco guitar.
However, this isn’t my favorite viewpoint in Granada as you can climb higher. If you head northeast from Mirador San Nicolas, you’ll eventually see a hill with a church rising above you. This is Mirador de San Miguel Alto, and the way up involves climbing around 200 or so concrete steps.
Exhausted from my climb, I remember sitting up there with my legs dangling over the wall with the smell of prickly pear rising in the heat, as all the travelers gazed out at the view below in introspective silence. From here, you can see the ruined fortifications, the Alhambra, the city center, Granada’s surrounding villages, the Sierra Nevada, and some of the other surrounding mountain ranges stretching beyond.
Dobla de Oro
Although the Alhambra is one of the most well-known places in Spain, Granada does have a set of four more local treasures that not as many travelers know about. These are collectively known as the Dobla de Oro, a set of four buildings that also date back to Granada’s Islamic period.
Three of these buildings are situated in the Albaicín. El Bañuelo, some ancient Hammam Baths, are situated just as the base of the Albaicín. Then a short climb up takes you to Casa Horno de Oro, a typical Moorish house. Further up still, you will find the Palacio Dar al-Horra, once home to the mother of Granada’s famous former sultan, Boabdil
You can buy tickets to visit these three buildings together (if you wish) with the Alhambra at the electronic ticket booth in El Bañuelo. The last of the series, the Corral de Carbon, is free for everyone to enter. This used to be an ancient trading shelter and warehouse. I booked a trip to see all of these within an afternoon, and I found them a great incentive not just to explore some of Granada’s heritage, but also to see the Albaicín.
The valley that runs from the city center between The Albaicín and the Alhambra is also home to an idyllic city walk. This walk is short, following the Darro river, running past the ancient Arab baths and plenty of local cafes and bars, where you can stop off for lunch or a drink. If you follow this road far enough, you’ll find yourself in the captivating village of Sacromonte.
Sacromonte is home to the famous ‘Sacromonte Gypsies‘ descended from Romani people, Bohemians and Flemish artists who moved to this area during the 19th century. They came to settle in whitewashed cave houses within the hills. No one really knows who first lived in these gypsy caves, although historians speculate that they used to house the Alhambra’s builders.
We found our way into Sacromonte accidentally when my mother-in-law was visiting us. We’d just climbed Mirador de San Miguel Alto and wondered what was behind the church. The path led us down the hill into Sacromonte village. From a distance was kind of like approaching Hobbiton. We saw the locals peeking out of their little doors – almost as if they were looking out from the face of the hill. As we walked in, a couple of locals came out to greet us. They told us about their lives in the Gypsy Caves and one of them played some Flamenco guitar for us.
Not as many people visit this part of Sacromonte. They typically go to the base of the village, where most of the tourist attractions and Airbnbs are. However, I do recommend going up to see the smaller village and meeting the people there.
Sacromonte Cave Museum is also down the road. It is a fascinating place that details the history and culture of the area. It also has some reconstructed cave houses that show how people used to live then and now in the whitewashed abodes. There are plenty of walking tours in Granada that cover Sacromonte as a part of their program.
Sadly, fewer and fewer places in Spain are serving Spanish tapas the traditional way. However, Granada is one of these places. You simply go up to a tapas bar, order a beer or glass of wine, and you get a small plate of traditional local food. I usually found that three beers and three plates are enough to make a meal.
If you’re like me and don’t mind the idea of tripe, I recommend trying callos—a local tripe and bean stew. Also, be aware that many tapas bars don’t open until eight in the evening, so you may want to grab a snack earlier on.
With its Moorish roots, Granada is one of the best places to see Flamenco shows. You’re spoilt for choice really of where to go, Some of the best places are within Sacromonte or the Albaicín. We really enjoyed El Templo Del Flamenco, where you can get dinner and drinks and then watch the show on a central stage inside a larger cave house.
With such a rich history and culture, it is no wonder that Granada is one of the most amazing places to visit in Spain. These things to do in Granada are only the tip of an iceberg. There is plenty more that you can do here, including signing up for a few day trips. You can head over to Cordoba or even Malaga. There are regular buses from Granada to Malaga, Cordoba and other nearby destinations. I am pretty sure that you are all set to visit here. So, just pin this up to remind you of the key things to see in Granada.
How to get to Granada?
- Granada has its own airport There are regular flights to Granada from various major cities of Europe.
- Malaga has an international airport and is just one and a half hours from Granada. There are various Malaga to Granada buses that leave from the airport itself.
- Granada also, has it own train station that connects all the major Spanish cities including Madrid and Barcelona.
Where to stay in Granada?
- You will find plenty of budget stays in Granada. For those who like a bit of luxury, you can book the various hotels in Granada through the key booking websites. Based on your length of stay and budget, you can pick any one of these.
- It might be a good idea to look for a place in Plaza Nueva in Granada as this is the central historical square of the city. This is where a lot of events like bullfights took place in the past. Now, it is a buzzing hub of historical buildings, hotels, pubs and tapas bars.
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This post and its pictures have been contributed by my guest author - Chris Behrsin. He is a travel writer, fiction writer, freelance copywriter, stock photographer and co-author of the Being a Nomad travel blog. He’s traveled to over 30 countries, enjoys playing the piano when he has access to one, as well as photography, reading, digital art, writing and, of course, traveling. You can connect with him on his blog.