At the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains lies one of Spain's most enchanting cities. Granada offers the chance to see not only some of the most important historical and cultural sites in Spanish history; it's also a joy to explore. The hilltops offer stunning views of the Alhambra at dusk and the whitewashed Albayzín neighborhood, and on a clear day, glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea, just an hour's drive away.
Stay: 3 days
Fast Fact: Granada is the hometown of famous poet Federico García Lorca.
Nearby Destinations: Málaga, Córdoba, Costa del Sol
As the 13th-largest city in Spain, Granada is manageable on foot while the occasional taxi ride is convenient for arriving at the most breathtaking viewpoints. It's also just a short drive from some of Spain's loveliest olive groves, where you can sample some of the freshest olive oil you've ever had.
The area of Granada has been populated since at least 5500 BCE, but beginning in 711 CE, much of the Iberian peninsula was ruled under Muslim caliphates. For many centuries, Granada constituted a relatively unimportant capital in this web of kingdoms — that is, until Christian pushback from the north as part of a campaign called the Reconquista ("Reconquering") toppled the once-formidable Umayyad caliphate in the early 11th century.
At that time, Granada was heavily populated by Jews and was a center of Jewish scholarship and culture. Zawi ibn Ziri as-Sanhaji, a Berber, established the Taifa of Granada in 1013.
Two hundred years later, the region gained greater cultural influence with the rise of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Nasrids would become known for the particular styles of art seen throughout the Alhambra. Construction began on the palace that would come to define the city in the mid-13th century under King Mohammed ibn Yusuf Ben Nasr.
This city, called in the 14th century the "metropolis of Andalusia and the bride of its cities," would witness the final battle in the Catholic Monarchs' campaign to retake the Iberian Peninsula. In 1482, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon launched a series of campaigns to take the city, which was the last remaining Muslim holdout on the peninsula. In 1492, King Boabdil surrendered the Alhambra and the city. Eight hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain had come to an end.
That same year, Jews faced forced conversions, and those who refused either had to flee or faced possible execution. A decade later, the Muslims that remained in the city were also ordered to convert to Christianity or leave.
Today, with the renovation of many of its most important historic sites, Granada has regained some of the cultural vibrancy of that era, if not the diversity. It nonetheless retains some of its Roma heritage in the Sacromonte district, where you can see some incredible flamenco performances.
Top Things to Do
You can't go to Granada without visiting the Alhambra. In fact, it could be said that you can't go to Spain without stopping to see this marvel of Moorish architecture and artistry. Check out our complete guide to the Alhambra.
But visiting the Alhambra takes planning. You can't just show up at the ticket office on the day you want to go. (I've heard of one or two people doing this successfully, but they got in line at 6 a.m. and were, on top of that, very lucky.) You'll want to book your ticket at least a month in advance during the summer months. You can book your ticket here.
I'd also highly recommend doing a tour. You learn a lot more history than with the minimal signage throughout this colossal site, which can be confusing to navigate on your own. In particular, based on my own tours of the site, I'd highly recommend the Viator tours linked below.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, the Albaycín is one of Granada's most historic — and enchanting — neighborhoods. Its whitewashed houses, speckled with touches of blue tile and trim, occupy the slope facing the Alhambra.
Exploring the winding, narrow streets of the Albaycín on foot, while well worth it, is no easy task. For those who don't like climbing steep hills in the sometimes-sweltering Andalusian heat, consider taking a taxi or bus to the Mirador de San Cristobal or the Mirador de San Nicolas, two incredible lookout points, then winding your way down.
The Mirador de San Cristobal offers incredible views of the Alhambra at dusk. The Mirador de San Nicolas, meanwhile, features a small collection of open-air vendors many days of the week. Many fabulous tours of the Albaycín — a highly recommended way to learn the history of this place — start here.
As you walk around you'll see sometimes massive homes with names spelled out in tiles on the sides of them. These are called "cármenes" — large, traditional homes that enclose a garden or orchard within a high wall.
Contained within this district is also the Realejo, the historic Jewish neighborhood, and ancient city walls. You can see them lacing the hills, along with the remains of their older counterparts, replaced with larger enclosures as the city's population expanded.
Sacromonte & Flamenco Shows
Flamenco is a musical style believed to have originated among the Roma people. (While they are commonly known as gypsies, many Roma consider the term offensive.) And in Granada, the traditional neighborhood of the Roma people is Sacromonte. Located just between the Albaycín and the Generalife, a part of the Alhambra compound, Sacromonte is pockmarked with whitewashed houses and traditional cave houses, cut into the land itself.
A "zambra" is a type of flamenco show traditionally held in one of these cave houses. Attending one of these shows is sure to be one of the main highlights of any visit to Granada. The Zambra María la Canastera is one highly recommended option (tickets are 28€ each).
To try your hand at learning flamenco yourself (disclaimer: it takes years of study), try the Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas. It makes for an incredibly fun afternoon, even if you only walk away with a few signature moves.
After a long, hot day of climbing the hills of the Albaycín (or the formidable hill leading up to the Alhambra itself), there's no better way to relax than in a traditional Arab bath.
These "hammams" are steam baths set at different temperatures across a variety of rooms. Combine your visit with a massage, aromatherapy, and tea for a truly relaxing experience that recalls traditional methods of self-care from centuries ago.
You can find a number of incredible options around Granada. One of our favorites is the Hammam Al Ándalus Granada (Calle Santa Ana 16), which offers incredibly luxurious baths right at the foot of the Alhambra. You can book a reservation online.
Centro Federico García Lorca
Federico García Lorca, one of the most formidable Spanish poets of all times, hailed from Granada. Born in 1898 a few miles west of the city, Lorca rose to prominence as part of the Generación del 27 (Generation of '27), an innovative group of writers and artists that included Salvador Dalí.
Lorca was not only interested in surrealism, but he also pioneered a resurgence in interest in the "romance," a traditional Spanish ballad form. Lorca was also an incredible playwright, and founded a group designed to bring theater to the remotest regions of the Iberian Peninsula.
Lorca was murdered in 1936, soon after the start of the Spanish Civil War, by the conservative forces of General Francisco Franco, possibly because of his sexual orientation.
The Centro Federico García Lorca holds special exhibitions and educational activities dedicated to preserving the memory and disseminating the work of this incredible poet, dramaturg, and visual artist.
Address: Plaza de la Romanilla, s/n
Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Closed on Mondays
The downtown center of Granada, just a few steps away from the Albaycín, is a lovely area to explore. Tiled plazas and fountains glimmer beneath swaying palms. There's good food to be had on almost every corner, and great shopping, as well.
If your ears perked up when I said "shopping," you can't miss the Alcaicería, a semi-open-air bazaar that sells everything from spices and souvenirs to Arabic silks. It's a remnant of the Moorish style markets common during Muslim rule. The original market, built in the 15th century, had some 200 shops, and was destroyed by fire in the 19th century. Today's market is smaller but still great fun.
It starts just beyond the Catedral de Granada in a series of narrow, interlocked pedestrian streets. Once you're close, it's hard to miss, but if you're turned around, look for Calle Alcaicería on the map.
Catedral de Granada
At the heart of el Centro neighborhood, just a few blocks from City Hall and the entrance to the Albayzín, stands the imposing chapel where the Catholic Monarchs are buried. Arguably the most famous rulers in Spanish history, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille are also some of the most controversial. They led the final charge of the Reconquista — the retaking of Spain from its Muslim rulers after 800 years of domination. They also oversaw Christopher Columbus's voyage to the Americas.
The figures of these two monarchs are carved in stone over the area where they are interned. The signage within the chapel is reverent toward these rulers, making no reference to the forced conversions and mass expulsions of Jews and Muslims that took place under Isabella and Ferdinand's tutelage, nor of the massacres of Native Americans that Columbus would oversee, bringing back kidnapped individuals to show off in the Spanish royal court.
Still, it's a sobering reminder of how much history can change whom we define as heroes — and at the same time, how little has changed. The displays of royal robes and crowns from the epoch are fascinating, as is the collection of late medieval religious art.
Hours: Monday–Saturday 10:15 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
Admission: 5€ with free audioguide; free for children under 12
Specialties: White chocolate and cauliflower croquetas, merluza (hake)
Address: Calle de la Colcha, 13
Price Point: $$$$
Restaurante Carmela, right at the heart of el Centro, offers the perfect post-Alhambra meal. In fact, it served up one of the most unique and delicious meals I've had in all of Spain.
Let's start with the cauliflower and white chocolate croquetas. Now, I understand your hesitation. But these are surprisingly delicious, and like no flavor you've ever experienced. The croquetas are quite large, and one serving of three is likely enough for a party of four or five.
The restaurant also offers up a wide variety of delicious seafood (try the squid-ink risotto), cheese plates, and snacks to share. Everything I tried here was delicious.
But one meal took the cake. Merluza (called "hake" in English) is already my favorite fish. I eat it as much as I can in Spain because it's nowhere to be found in the United States. It's a fresh, light, and incredibly moist fish. The Restaurante Carmela combines it with a pumpkin cream sauce and a beet foam for one of the most incredible servings of fish I've had in my life.
TL/DR: You absolutely cannot miss the Restaurante Carmela while you're in Granada.
Specialties: Vegetarian food
Address: Plaza de Isabel la Católica, 5
Price Point: $$$$
Vegetarian fare can be hard to find in Spain, so it's a special treat when you can find something that not only has lots of options, but is truly delicious.
Wild Food is a great place for sharing. Offerings vary widely from burrata salads to sushi, and meat-eaters will find their share of options too. But vegetarians and vegans will find a much-needed respite from a diet of patatas bravas and tortilla española.
This restaurant is located right in the heart of Granada, close to the Alhambra and the Albaycín. Even if you're not vegetarian, it's worth a visit.
Sabor a España
Specialties: Dried nuts, fruits, and snacks
Address: Calle Zacatín 16
Price Point: $$$$
If you're looking for some truly delicious snack food, look no further than Sabor a España. All the candied nuts and fruits sold here are roasted in the store, lending them a freshness that will stay delicious for days.
The offerings come in small enough quantities that you can (and should) try several varieties. Among my favorites were the candied pipas (sunflower seeds) and the coconut flakes.
Specialties: Ice cream
Address: Calle Gran Vía de Colón
Price Point: $$$$
As far away as Cuenca, if people hear you're visiting Granada, they tell you to stop by Los Italianos. Once you've tried their ice cream, it's easy to understand why.
This hand-crafted ice cream is offered up in more flavors than you can count, at a highly reasonable price of just a few euro per cone. That's why it's necessary — and highly recommended — that you visit every day around the time that the heat gets intolerable, and try a new flavor.
The lines look long but the staff is incredibly efficient. Anyway, it's well worth the wait.
Featured Place to Stay: Hotel Anacapri
Address: Calle Joaquín Costa 7
Price Point: $$$$
Comfortable rooms (with particularly dreamy pillows!) and a lovely lobby with plenty of space to relax make Hotel Anacapri a pleasant place to stay. But even better is the location. It's half a block away from the Catedral de Granada and the Centro neighborhood. Just a few blocks more in the other direction, and you'll find yourself in the Albaycín, within full view of the Alhambra. Oh, and did I mention it's half a block from Los Italianos ice cream? Book your stay at Hotel Anacapri.
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