Granada oozes Andalusian charm, a huge dose with vibrant, Moorish culture and an artistic hippie vibe. Come see why we think you should spend 3 days in Granada so you can really uncover its secrets.
Granada is a cultural and artistic hub with a generous spirit, from the size of the tapas servings that come free with your drinks to the music that fills the miradors at sunset the city offers visitors so much. Striking Moorish architecture and world-class street art combine to make this our favourite city in the south of Spain.
Granada has embraced its past and resisted change, spending some time here will allow you to appreciate all of its gems.
Planning your visit
How long should you stay in Granada
While it’s possible to visit Granada’s main attraction the Alhambra as a day trip or even a quick whistle stop, this city was our favourite places in all of our five weeks in the south of Spain. With this in mind, I highly recommend you consider spending two nights and three days in this magical spot. Longer if you can!
When is the best time to visit?
The best times to visit Granada is in spring and autumn when the weather is comfortable and the gardens at their prettiest. By contrast, summer is uncomfortably hot, it is the 3rd hottest spot in Spain in August. Winters are cold with snow on the mountains.
We visited in early October to temperatures in the low 30s. Crowds swell from May to September making pre-booking essential. Christmas here while cold is magical with the added attraction of ski fields just a short trip away.
The main areas in Granada
Five main areas make up central Granada:
- Plaza Nueva and Calle Reyes Catolicos – This is the modern centre of the city with shops, bars, restaurants and of course the Cathedral.
- The Albaicin or Arabic Quarter – cobblestone streets and whitewash houses, the Spain of your imagination.
- Realejo – The old Jewish quarter now mainly residential
- La Cruz – if you want to eat like a local this is the place to head.
- Sacromonte – home of the gypsies, caves houses and flamenco culture
What to see in Granada
This is a very small list of the delights of the city. Once you have covered these then find a bar and sit back and watch the world go by, oh and eat the tapas, all the tapas!
- The Alhambra – it’s been a drawcard for centuries
- The Albaicin – step back into the past in these narrow streets
- The Miradors – sunset from a lookout is where it’s at in Granada
- The Cave houses – discover the lives of the gypsies
- Tapas bars – head to the residential areas for the best options
- The Cathedral – the second largest in Spain
- The Street Art – hot the Jewish quarter for the best work
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Plan your visit to the Alhambra
While we are big advocates of not overplanning our travels, visiting the Alhambra UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984) is an exception. If you don’t plan well ahead your visit will be more expensive and less enjoyable. You may even miss out altogther.
The Alhambra is THE most visited attraction in all of Spain with a ceiling of 6600 visitors per day. Tickets sell out weeks, and in high season, up to 3 months in advance.
Booking your Alhambra tickets
If you don’t want to book a private tour, then the best place to book your tickets is the Official website. These tickets sell out up to 90 days in advance in peak period.
When you book your tickets, you will need to choose a specific time slot for your visit. This time slot is for entry to the Nasrid Palaces, the most impressive of the property. If you miss your time, you will be denied entry so it’s important to choose a time carefully.
So you do not spend your time watching the clock I suggest you try to book the very first or second entry of the day. Starting your day here means you can relax and enjoy your time in the gardens after you have visited the palace.
An added benefit of this strategy is that you will have fewer people in your photographs if you manage to stay in front of the pack. Serious photographers may want to investigate special photography tours.
Tip: We had many challenges booking using Australian credit cards on the official site and in the end bought a Granada ticket because we really wanted to get 8.30am tickets for the Palace and these were running out. This is not a bad option if you are in town for a few days as the extra attractions included are good value.
What to see at the Alhambra site
The Alhambra is not one building but a complex made up of 4 main areas:
- The Nasrid Palace – this is the part you see in most of the photos of the interiors of the Alhambra – easily the most stunning building here. The big drawcard is the Court of the Lions.
- The Alcazaba – the 9th- century fortress with its 2000m long wall, towers and views over Granada.
- The Generalife – two main areas, the Jardín de la Sultana and the Patio de la Acequia or water garden
- The Palace of Charles V. – home to the Alhambra Museum and the Fine Art Museum
Tip: Food and drinks on site are expensive and not very interesting so I suggest you eat before or after your visit.
How long to spend at the Alhambra
Allow yourself at least 3 hours the Alhambra. We started in the Nasrid Palace where we spent 1 hour looking at the detail of the architecture and enjoying the ambience of the spaces.
We then moved to the Alcazaba which is much less intact and were only here for about 30 minutes here mainly taking in the district views.
Next stop was the Generalife which was amazing. We spent another hour here and if you have an interest in gardens or photography you will probably want to as well.
We only made a really quick visit to the Palace of Charles V so if you want to see the museums you will need longer than we did.
Download a free guide to help you plan your visit.
How to get to the Alhambra
The Alhambra sits on Sabika hill, 100 metres above Granada city.
If you are staying in Alcaibin, there is a 15 min, rather steep walk from the river to the Alhambra via Cuesta del Rey Chico. We did this walk in the dawn light and it was very pretty if a bit of a heart starter!
If you are staying in the centre then the bus is your cheapest option at under 1.50 Euro
There is also the local Tren Turistico (Hop on hop off bus) which runs every 25 minutes during the day. A day pass costs A$12 and is a good option for a short visit because once you have done your visit to the Alhambra, you will have transport up to the miradors for sunset. This pass comes free with your Granada card. You can check the map here
Want to learn more about life in Granada in the 1850s? Check out Tales of the Alhambra is a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories by Washington Irving. It was originally published in May 1832 and you can read it online for free
What to do if Alhambra tickets are booked out?
If you have missed the window to buy official tickets and they are sold out, then your best bet is to book a skip the line tour. While these are more expensive they are worth it if you would otherwise miss out.
Alhambra Day tours from other cities in Spain
If you are staying in Seville and you don’t have time to visit Granada on an overnight stay then this 12-hour tour includes a guided tour of the Alhambra complex and the Albaicín.
If you are staying in Malaga you can join this 10-hour tour that offers a guided tour and some free time to explore the city.
Other things to do in Granada
Check out Granada’s Street Art
The most prolific local artist Raúl Ruiz, AKA El Niño de las Pinturas (the boy with the paintings) lives in the Jewish Quarter. This is most certainly one of the bests for finding his large scale work. You can find out more about him on his website.
Other areas you are likely to find murals are in the backstreets of the Alabacin.
Find the best places to watch the sunset
We chase sunsets wherever we go and we have to admit beach ones are often our favourites but the sunsets here in Granada are way up there. The golden hour here throws such beautiful light across the city and the Sierra Nevada Mountains make a glorious backdrop. I suggest you head to a different viewpoint each night you are here.
Mirador San Nicolas
Mirador San Nicolas is the best known and most popular sunset view in Granada. You can either get a good dose of exercise by walking up through the streets of the Alcaibin or take one of the minibuses ( C31 or C32) that stop nearby. We walked up and it was lovely, so many pretty views and glimpses of daily life along the way. We climbed the bell tower of the church opposite the square below and had the view all to ourselves for just 2 euro.
Mirador de San Miguel
If you prefer your views a little less crowded then the San Miguel viewpoint is a good choice. It’s quite a challenging walk up to the abandoned San Miguel Chuch so consider the bus ( N9 bus from the city) but the walk down is lovely. This view is much higher than San Nicolas and worth all the effort. If you don’t fancy walking down in the dark it’s still a great day time view.
Plaza Mirador de San Cristóbal
One of the best viewpoints of the city for wheelchair accessibility. Mirador de San Cristobal but be aware that you can not really see the Alhambra from here, there are lots of trees in the way. However, it is still a great spot to sit and relax for a bit before dinner in one of the nearby restaurants.
Visit the Catedral de Granada
The 4th largest cathedral in the world this Spanish Reninscense style masterpiece was built in the 16th century. It is open daily but with much shorter hours on Sundays.
The Cathedral, the second largest in Spain has significance due to the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I and Ferdinand II are buried in an adjoining chapel that has a separate entry fee. Check the official website for details.
Visit the shops and markets
One of the best markets takes place at Plaza Larga on Saturday mornings from 10 until 3 pm. The market is small but lively and a lovely slice of local life just perfect for people watching.
If you are looking for a shopping centre experience, or need to replace some runners or travel gear there is a very modern shopping centre Centro Comerical Nevada.
Charles disappeared into Miroc, a hat shop that has been trading for over 50 years, that had a great range of hats at very good prices.
The streets around the Cathedral also are worth a wander with lots of teas, spices and souvenirs to be found. We loved the spice market located near the wall of La Catedral de Granada.
Go on a tapas crawl
We decided to book a tapas tasting tour for our first afternoon in Granada we thought it was the best way to find out what to order and places to go back to over the next few days.
Our Spain Food Sherpas walking tour that was a fantastic introduction to the food culture of Garanda. We visited a bunch of local small businesses including an amazing deli were we learned the difference between the various types of Jamon Iberico putting us in good stead for the rest of our time in Spain.
Tip: If you don’t have time for a food tour make sure you visit Iberica: the ham shop at Carrera de la Virgen, 27, its open from 10am-10pm daily and you will not be disappointed.
Take a walking tour
Granada Greeters is a free service offered by the Global Greeter network in Granada. The service matches you with a local who loves their hometown and enjoys sharing its secrets with visitors. It’s best to book at least three weeks in advance; you can request a tour here.
Granada is the perfect city to explore on foot. While we basically just strolled around each afternoon aimlessly and then used Google to help us navigate our way home (not always without getting very lost!) there are some good self-guided walking maps you can follow easily.
Take a tour with a difference
Sometimes a good local tour is well worth the expense, particularly when you have limited time. I highly recommend these two options as being great value for money and time well spent.
Smartphone Photography Tour – If you have not yet mastered the functionality of your smartphone camera this tour is a great way to improve your skills and discover the nooks and crannies of Granada with an award-winning photographer.
Granada Sunset walk – perfect for solo travellers or anyone who would prefer not to have to try to figure out where they are going after the sun goes down in Granada. This tour covers several lookouts and the
Choosing where to stay in Granada
Apartments in the Albaicin
We knew immediatedly that we wanted to be in the old Arabic district so we rented this apartment in the Albaicin. It was in a narrow cobblestone street just one block back from the stream on Carrera Del Darro with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the backdrop and a lovely view of the Alhambra from our bedroom.
I can not recommend this place highly enough. It’s a relatively short walk to the sunset viewpoints above and close the Plaza San Nicolás with its view up to the Alhambra at night
Most Spanish streets are narrow but the streets here in the oldest part of the city they are impossibly so. We saw so many cars reversing back down our street because they just could not fit. Pedestrians regularly squeeze to the buildings or step into doorways as cars pass. This is one spot I was glad we had not rented a car. If you do I suggest you park it outside the Albaicin.
Paseo de los Tristes Apartments
These apartments at the foot of the Albaicin is just a few minutes walk from Plaza Nueva. Our friends stayed in the rooftop apartment with great views from the terrace. The apartments have 2 bedrooms and a full kitchen.
Check availability and prices
Casa Morisica Hotel
Just a block away from our apartment this lovely hotel, owned by an architect who has made sure the restoration has been completed beautifully, features traditional architecture of the 15th century. Book a room with a view and you won’t be disappointed. The service here is excellent. Find the most competitive prices at Hotels Combined or check TripAdvisor for photos and recent reviews.
Spoil yourself at Parador de Granada
If you are honeymooning or looking for something extraordinary, this is the place for you. Located in the grounds of the Alhambra in the old Convent of San Francisco of the XV century this is the most popular Parador in Spain. Being on site and surrounded by the stunning Generalife Gardens you can imagine
While the building itself is decorated with a mix of Catholic and Moorish styles the rooms are modern and well designed. There are only 40 rooms here so it is important to book as early as you can.
There is an onsite restaurant that has good reviews and it’s an easy downhill walk to town (bus or taxi back).
Alhambra Palace Hotel
This hotel is located outside the walls of the Alhambra about halfway up the hill from the city. It offers fantastic views of Granada, particularly at sunset.
Related: Want to see more of Andalusia check out our visit to Cordoba
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