When it comes to the most beautiful places in Spain, Granada is definitely included in the list. The Spanish city boasts numerous architectural monuments, beautiful landscapes, and hip flamenco bars. It is also a culturally rich city, having both Catholic and Moorish influences all around, whether it be in the city’s cuisine or architecture. Granada, Spain, is most famous for the majestic Alhambra Palace and its neighboring districts. Attracting almost 3 million visitors per year, it is, without a doubt, a city worth seeing.
If you want to know more about Granada and the best things to do in the Andalusian city, continue reading!
Where Is Granada?
Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash
Granada is in the southern area of Spain and in the eastern area of Andalusia. It is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and is at the junction of four rivers, namely the Genil, the Darro, the Monachil, and the Beiro rivers.
From Barcelona, Granada is only an hour and 30 minutes away via plane. This is also the cheapest and fastest option to get to Granada, Spain. Taking a train from Barcelona is also possible, and you can even stop by at Madrid for some exploring. Buses are also available, but travel time can reach up to 13 hours.
On the other hand, Granada is only an hour away via plane if you are coming from Madrid. If you are taking a train, the city is roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes away, and almost 5 hours by bus.
What Is Granada Known For?
Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash
Granada, Spain, is arguably known for the Alhambra, a vast fortress and palace. It was also the former residence of Moorish monarchs. The Alhambra is the only surviving territorial center of the Islamic Golden Age and is a remnant of the Nasrid Dynasty, the last Muslim dynasty in Western Europe. This palace attracts millions of visitors per year and is among the must-visit castles in Spain.
Aside from the Alhambra, Granada is also famous for its cuisine, a fusion between Arabic and Andalusian flavors. This is evident in the use of spices like cumin, nutmeg, coriander, raisins, cinnamon, and more.
Is Granada Safe to Visit?
Photo by Kamila Maciejewska on Unsplash
Granada, Spain, is a fairly safe city to visit and the crime rate is low. There are few to no cases of violent crimes, with the exception of petty theft. Albayzin and Sacromonte are populous areas that can be dangerous at night. That being said, avoid staying in these areas at night especially if you are traveling solo. Keep in mind that although Granada is a safe city to visit, pickpockets and thieves might be lurking around.
Like most cities, be careful when going around tourist attractions, train stations, and crowded areas in general. Also, avoid walking alone at night and always make sure that you never leave your things unattended. Always exercise basic safety measures when heading out.
Best Things to Do in Granada, Spain
1. Visit the Alhambra Palace
Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash
Alhambra is perhaps Granada and Andalusia’s most famous site. This fortress and the former citadel was the home of Moorish royals in the 13th century and has since become a popular site. The massive complex includes several courts, halls, and gardens that a day is not enough to explore all these. Alhambra is also one of Spain’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with the Aqueduct of Segovia and Antoni Gaudi’s works in Barcelona.
Go around the historic palace to learn more about the history of Granada. Find intricately-decorated ceilings and rooms with a distinct Moorish-style architecture. Because of the vastness of the palace, travelers are recommended to join guided tours.
2. Explore the Palacio de Generalife
Photo by Krakauer1962 on Pixabay
The Palacio de Generalife was the summer residence of the Nasrid rulers and is part of the massive Alhambra complex. Like the Alhambra, Generalife features Moorish architecture highlighted by perfectly manicured gardens. Along with the Alhambra and the district of Albayzin, they make up Granada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visit this garden paradise and catch stunning views of the Alhambra. See the highlights of the palace as you go from one pavilion to another. Group and private tours are available for easier navigation. Because the Generalife gardens are a popular tourist destination, make sure to book skip-the-line tickets to avoid queueing.
3. Take a Dip at the Arab Baths
Photo by Shadowgate on Flickr
The Arab Baths are an important aspect when learning more about Granada’s culture and history. To the Moors, water symbolizes purity, and the baths were used to cleanse a person physically and spiritually. When the Christians took over, these establishments were torn down, believing that these were sinful and repulsive. Since then, only a few Arab Baths exist.
If you simply want to explore the ruins of the Arab Baths, head to El Bañuelo, one of the well-preserved Arab Baths in Spain. Although it’s not functional anymore, seeing its architecture and learning about its history make up for a worthwhile trip. On the other hand, if you want to take a bath, head to Hammam Al Ándalus, located near the Alhambra. Enjoy the tranquil atmosphere as you relax at the thermal baths and sip on a refreshing mint tea.
4. Watch a Flamenco Show
Photo by See1,Do1,Teach1 on Flickr
A trip to Granada, Spain, is incomplete without watching a flamenco show! These entertaining shows are an integral part of Spanish culture and are an icon of Southern Spain. Sacromonte in Granada takes the cake for being the go-to place to watch flamenco shows. Whether you prefer a simple flamenco performance or a spectacle accompanied by dinner, there’s a show for every budget.
Head to one of the gypsy caves in Sacromonte and witness a flamenco show. Depending on the option you select, you can have dinner before or after the show, or sip on a refreshing drink as you watch the dancers and musicians. If this will be your first time to watch a flamenco show, take note that guests are expected to be silent during the whole performance.
5. Relax at the Plaza de San Nicolás
Photo by Sara Amaro on Flickr
Plaza de San Nicolás is the perfect place to relax after spending time wandering around Granada, Spain. You can also catch panoramic views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Located in the Albayzin district, the plaza is a favorite place among locals and travelers to watch the sunset or sunrise.
Take a break from a busy day of sightseeing and head up to Plaza de San Nicolás. Aside from watching the breathtaking views, be serenaded by the lively buskers around the plaza. Take note that you have to climb uphill to get to the summit so this may not be recommended for tourists with low stamina. You can, however, take a taxi to get to the top.
6. Indulge in Spanish Tapas
Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash
Unlike in other provinces in Andalusia, tapas in Granada are usually free, served in bars and restaurants. Spanish tapas can include olives, jamón serrano, patatas bravas, or deep-fried calamari and panini sandwiches. In Granada, Spain, bar hopping and having tapas after work is a normal sight, as it is part of their tradition to unwind and enjoy these delectable tapas over an ice-cold beer.
Visit one of the tapas bars in Granada, order beer or a glass of wine, and sink your teeth into the free tapas from the menu. You can also join tours that take you around the best tapas bars in Granada and sample their specialties.
7. Ski at Sierra Nevada Ski Resort during Winter
Photo by yeraysg on Pixabay
Sierra Nevada Ski Resort is the best place to be at if you’re spending winter in Granada. The ski resort is part of the Sierra Nevada National Park, the largest national park in Spain. The ski resort offers more than 60 miles of slopes with gondolas and chair lifts around. Because of its high altitude, the skiing season can last from November until May.
Feel the thrill as you catch the slopes at the Sierra Nevada. Ski lessons are available for those who want to try this out, and private lessons are also available. If you’re visiting in the summer, don’t worry! The chair lifts take you to the park’s tallest peaks and scenic trails that give you the best views.
8. Shop at The Alcaicería
Photo by Enrique Calabuig on Flickr
Granada’s popular shopping center, the Alcaicería, is a must-visit. The original Alcaicería was once a large bazaar set up by the Moors, selling silk, spices, and other precious goods. It also survived the Christian Conquest, but was burned down sometime in the 19th century. Now, it is relatively smaller, but still contains a variety of shops and stalls selling different items.
Shop for Moorish-style ceramics and hand-painted earthenware at the Alcaicería. Stroll past the other stalls and find authentic fajalauza, traditional painted ceramics in blue and green tones. You can also find tapestries, stained-glass lamps, tea sets, and leather goods. Most travelers suggest bargaining for these items, however, they are still reasonably-priced.
9. Explore the Albayzín District
Photo by granadandyou on Pixabay
Along with the Alhambra and Generalife, the Albayzín District is Granada’s treasured World Heritage Sites. Narrow streets are lined with whitewashed Arab houses and cobblestone-laden streets, creating a picture-perfect scenery. Unlike most Spanish cities, the Albayzín District has a strong Muslim influence, evident in the houses and churches that were once mosques.
Go sightseeing or enjoy a walking tour at this beautiful UNESCO-listed site. Stop at Calle Elvira and Calle Caldereria Nueva and recharge with tapas before resuming your walk. At the El Mirador de San Miguel Alto, be in awe of the panoramic scenery before you. When in Albayzín, don’t miss the Carrera del Darro, a small pathway with stone arch bridges and colorful flora straight out of a fairytale.
10. Visit the Patio de Los Leones
Photo by wsanter on Pixabay
The Patio de Los Leones (Court of the Lions) is the main attraction of the Palacio de los Leones. It is famous for its ornate fountain carved with 12 marble lions. Located in the heart of the Alhambra, the courtyard boasts 124 marble columns and its arches showcase the iconic Sebka pattern found in most Moorish-style structures. The layout for the Patio de Los Leones was also said to be set according to the golden ratio. Although there’s no strong evidence that supports the claim, one can’t deny the grandeur of the courtyard.
See this elaborate courtyard as part of your tour around the Alhambra and see the 12 marble lions. Around the fountain, admire the intricate woodwork and stone carvings, considered to be the best examples of Muslim architecture.
11. Find Baroque Art Pieces at Granada Museum of Fine Arts
Photo by Tama66 on Pixabay
Located near the Alhambra is the Granada Museum of Fine Arts, one of Spain’s oldest museums. It houses thousands of renaissance and baroque art as well as sculptures dating back to the 15th century. Because of its proximity to the Alhambra, tourists often visit the two attractions on the same day.
Visit and explore the four main sections of the museum: Renaissance and Mannerism, Baroque, 19th century paintings, and 20th century Avant-Garde. Find the Roberto Alemán’s 15th century statue of St. Mary of La Alhambra, and some notable works by Pedro de Mena and José de Mora. If gallery-hopping isn’t your type, you can hang around the courtyard and take photos.
12. Enjoy the Sunset at the Miradores of Granada
Photo by Paul VanDerWerf on Flickr
Aside from mountain summits and bell towers, you can also catch the sunset at miradores, or vantage points. In Granada, Spain, there are plenty of miradores on the hills around Albayzín. Hours before sunset, visitors and locals head up to the miradores around the district to watch the picturesque sunset.
Before having dinner, visit one of the miradores to catch the sunset over the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Mirador de San Nicolas in particular is the most popular lookout point, offering the best views but also the largest crowds. If you want fewer crowds, the Mirador de San Cristóbal is a good alternative with half of Mirador de San Nicolás’ crowds.
13. Walk Along the Streets of Sacromonte
Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Flickr
Located on the other end of the Alhambra is Sacromonte, Granada’s famous gypsy quarter. They were originally home to Arabs before the Conquest and since then, gypsies moved in and resided in its caves. These caves then became a popular tourist destination, and flamenco shows are often held here.
Explore this beautiful and well-preserved neighborhood. Take note that some people still reside in the underground caves and would prohibit tourists from taking photos of their private spaces. You can also visit the Abbey of Sacromonte, its main monument. At night, have dinner at one of the al fresco restaurants before watching a flamenco show at one of the caves.
14. Hike at Monachil
Photo by Ramon Boersbroek on Flickr
Monachil is a small municipality in Granada, located near the Sierra Nevada Ski Resort. It is relatively untouched and there are only a few residents around, making it a laid-back destination. Monachil is also popular among nature lovers and hikers because of its trails, gorges, and sprawling meadows.
In spring, go on a hike along the Los Cahorros Trail, an 8-kilometer trail that takes you around rock formations and waterfalls. Along the way, cross the hanging bridges, the longest being 55m and is 15m above the ground. Because of its stunning views and level of difficulty, the Los Cahorros Trail is also suitable for families.
15. See the Opulent Basilica of San Juan de Dios
Photo by Derek Budd on Flickr
The Basilica of San Juan de Dios is one of the best and most prolific examples of Baroque architecture in Spain. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary basilica save for the green and white tiles covering the dome. But what makes it stand out from the other is its ornate interiors.
Find frescoes by Diego Sánchez Sarabia and Corrado Giaquinto around the church, highlighted by gold accents and furnishings. When lit by the natural light, the interior patio shines, creating a stunning effect. Head to the sacristy and find a collection of frames and mirrors and discover precious items that survived the many changes undergone by the church.
16. Discover New Things at the Granada Science Park
Photo by Oleg Chian on Flickr
Take a break from old ruins and visit the Granada Science Park, perfect for families with children. This 70,000 structure features a planetarium, educational facilities, permanent and temporary exhibitions, and more. The science park has two buildings: the Macroscopio building houses most of the exhibitions, while the Foucault Pendulum Building has the planetarium and other permanent exhibitions.
Immerse yourself in a fascinating environment as you learn more about the human body, environment, and much more at the Granada Science Park. Children 3 to 7 years old can play with different science experiments at the Explore Room. At 50 meters tall, the Observation Tower offers a bird’s eye view of Granada, Spain.
17. Enjoy a Scenic Walk along the Carrera del Darro
Photo by Pepe Serrano on Flickr
Granada’s Carrera del Darro is perhaps the city’s most beautiful street. The street follows the flow of the River Darro and starts from the Albayzín District to the Alhambra. It also connects Plaza Nueva with Paseo de Los Tristes, making it a convenient walkway. On one side, you’ll see lush trees along the river banks and old buildings that date back to the 16th century on the other side.
Bring out your cameras and go on a photo walk along Carrera del Darro. The street is open 24/7, so you can appreciate the beauty of this street no matter the time of the day. In the morning, enjoy a peaceful walk as the neighborhood wakes up. You can also go on an evening stroll and admire the colorful street lights illuminating the place.
Visit and Unravel the Beauty of Granada, Spain!
With gypsy caves, Moorish palaces, and fairytale-like streets, Granada, Spain, is a melting pot of different cultures from centuries ago. Its colorful history is evident in its monuments, shops, and even from its cuisine. The massive Alhambra complex tells you about the lives of the Nasrid rulers while the ruins of the Arab baths narrate the events during the Christian conquest. Walk around the streets of the Albayzin district and discover the remaining Moorish influences.
Like most Spanish cities, Granada is relatively safe for tourists, although there are still rare cases of petty theft. Tourists should take safety measures when heading out. Nonetheless, a trip to Granada is like seeing two different sides of Spain.