The Moorish heritage that Granada is graced with is evident as you stroll through the old town streets, all laid out exactly as planned in medieval times as well as being crowned by the awe-inspiring Alhambra and its never-ending sprawl of decadent architecture, courtyards, and gardens. And up to the east you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Article by Victoria Wood
Here you can turn back time, soak yourself in culture, escape in nature, take to the streets, feast on local fare, or splash out at the spa, skiing anyone? Granada has it all.
There is so much to see and do in and around Granada that you may well wish you’d booked an overnight stay, or even a three-day trip to the city. The following attractions are the all-time must-sees and squeezing them all into a day trip would be next to impossible.
One of the most impressive palaces in the world, the Alhambra is simply magnificent and absolutely must be top on the list of places to visit in Europe, let alone Spain. It isn’t an easy task to identify exactly what it is as its boundaries encompass a town, palaces, castles, houses, places of worship, courtyards, gardens, water features, and more. You will be very hard-pushed not to be astounded by a visit to the Alhambra; it is like nowhere else on Earth – it must be seen to be believed!
Built between 1200-1300 during the Muslim reign, the palaces were built originally for the Nasrids, the rulers of the Emirate of Granada. It later became a royal court for Catholic kings and queens. The eclectic combination of Moorish and Renaissance adds to its charm and historical depth. Booking is essential to avoid disappointment, book and pay online for tickets.
Neighbourhoods of note
One of the most popular neighbourhoods to visit in Granada is the Arab quarter of Albayzin. It can prove a little hilly for some, but it is well worth the effort as you stumble across Arabic markets, bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops aplenty. The architecture is as captivating as its bustling Medina-esque streets and ceramic-adorned lanes.
At the top of the district, you will find the church of San Nicolás, on the plaza of the same name, that delivers the most epic panoramic views of the Alhambra and beyond to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Take the weight off on one of the many benches while you contemplate how others have done the same for many hundreds of years.
If it is some gypsy culture and authentic flamenco feels you’re looking for, head straight for the famous neighbourhood of Sacromonte. When the Catholics took back the city, this was the area where the gypsy community settled. The slopes of Valparaíso meant that the 16th century settlers had to incorporate the rock face within their dwellings and so to this day you will be able to check out the unique cave houses peppered along the tricky terrain. No two of which are the same due to their dimensions being defined by the rock itself. For a taste of truly traditional flamenco, the caves of Sacromonte are where you will find it.
This was the area where merchants would come from far and wide to sell their products such as silks and spices, known as Granada’s Great Bazaar. The cross streets of the Alcaiceria were a hive of activity which now has significantly reduced to a single but significant lane, full of souvenir and boutique shops. Nowadays you will find gifts, clothing, furniture, decoration, and ceramics and earthenware representing the Moorish history of the region.
Corral de Carbón
Worth noting as the oldest surviving monument of the Nasrid dynasty, the Corral del Carbón was originally a merchants’ shelter and storage warehouse built back in the 1200s. Here travelling traders would store their goods and rest for the evening after having sold their wares at the nearby Alcaiceria.
The stunning arched gates open into a grand central courtyard currently surrounding the lodging serving as the city orchestra’s offices. Here you will often find performances including balmy evening flamenco shows. Check online for upcoming events in this beautiful historic location.
A real mixture of origins and design, the Granada cathedral was built on top of the mosque that stood here in the early 16th century. The second largest cathedral in the whole of Spain, it boasts a combination of two styles as one shifted into another during its construction; the foundations began in the Gothic era and the main structure and interior were finished during the Renaissance period.
Speaking of design and style, the stained-glass windows are something to be celebrated, as are the many sculptures and paintings that decorate the cathedral’s interior.
While you are in the area, pop next door to witness the Royal Chapel where you will find the incredible ornate tombs (designed by Italian sculptor Domenico Fancelli) of Catholic monarchs, Isabella I and Ferdianand II amongst many others.
No trip to Granada would be complete without a stop at the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Here you will find the most southerly ski resort in Europe as well as the highest mountain in Iberia. The scrubs of Granada rapidly transform into olive and oak trees, then as you gain more height you find yourself amidst the pines, look out for wild boar, mountain goats and wild cats.
This stunning national park can be visited all year round depending on what kind of experience you are looking for. Walking trails are aplenty, and the ski season generally lasts from November/December until April.
Practical tips on making your ski experience in Sierra Nevada great here.
And more about its all-year adventuring offer here.
For a modern-day attraction, or even to get out of the sun for some scientific exploration, visit Granada’s science park. Here you will experience many installations and exhibits including a ‘Journey into the Human Body’ as well as learning about historic Islamic scientists from the region. You can also head to Foucault’s Pendulum Building to focus on physics, chemistry, and mechanics. Here the Planetarium is housed with shows featuring 7000 stars projected onto the screen.
Book your tickets in advance to avoid queues here.
Carrera del Darro
Finally, we visit the street that follows the course of the River Darro flowing where the old city walls once stood. Walking the paths alongside is romance at its finest, you’ll see the Renaissance buildings of the old town on the left, pass the Puente del Cadí, a once impressive Moorish bridge the vestiges of which emerge from the woodlands of the Alhambra. This walk is like tracing steps through history, basking in nature and the glory of all the varying types of architecture and religion: a perfect summary of Granada itself.