what to do in Granada

Overview

“There's no doubt about it – Granada does enchant. The Alhambra palace-fortress, stretched along the top of the Sabika hill amid its sumptuous gardens, and the warren-like Albayzin, Granada`s old Islamic quarter, are highlights of any visit to Andalucia. There is no other city in Andalucia where the Islamic past feels so recent. Granada also possesses many impressive and historic post-Reconquista (Christian reconquest) buildings. Its setting, with the often snow clad Sierra Nevada as a backdrop is truly special.” The Lonely Planet Andalucia

Or as The Rough Guide to Spain puts it “If you see only one town in Spain it should be Granada”.

There is an infinite list of historic and cultural sites, great bars and restaurants, good shops and it’s a great size for just strolling around. It is known as one of the few places in the world where you can go skiing in the morning and to the beach in the afternoon. But perhaps most importantly of all, you get free tapas in the bars!

Some Granada highlights are:

  • The Alhambra, of course
  • The old moorish warren of the Albayzin
  • The Renaissance cathedral and the streets around
  • Free tapas or the bargain of a “menu del dia” in a traditional family restaurant
  • A flamenco performance

The Alhambra and the Generalife

“The Sabikah is Granada’s crown, and the Alhambra (may Allah protect her) is the ruby at the top of this crown.” Ibn Zamrak

The Alhambra is a world famous fortress and palaces complex perched above Granada on the Sabika hill. The oldest part, the Alcazaba, was built in the 11th century and the ornate Nasrid palaces in the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1492 the last Moorish king Boabdil surrendered Granada, and the cross and banners of the Reconquista, or  Reconquest,  were raised on the Alcazaba tower. The mosque was replaced with a church, the Convento de San Francisco was built  (it is now a Parador hotel) and sometime later a large Renaissance palace, the Palacio de Carlos V was added. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Alhambra fell into decline but in 1870 it was declared a national monument and it now receives 6000 visitors a day – making it reputedly the most visited tourist site in the world.

Alhambra tickets

Tickets to the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens are for a morning or afternoon slot. The Nasrid palaces have a specific timed half hour slot which is rigidly observed. Once inside, you can stay as long as you like.

Night tickets, for the Nasrid palaces only, are also available at certain times of year.

You can book your entrance tickets to the Alhambra in advance at www.alhambra-patronato.es or by phone on (00 34) 902 888 001 (both are in Spanish & English). Tickets can also be bought on the day, but unless you get there very early there is an obvious risk that all the tickets will be sold out, particularly at peak periods like Easter.

Alhambra tickets cost 13 euros for adults, 10 euros for EU pensioners over 65, and are free for children younger than 8 and for the disabled.

Patio de la Acequia, La AlhambraPatio of the lions, the AlhambraGranada cathedral

Granada Citypass (Bono Turistico de Granada)

Another option is to buy the good value Granada Citypass or Bono Turistico de Granada which provides access to:

  • the Alhambra and Generalife
  • the Cathedral and Capilla Real
  • the Monastry of San Jeronimo
  • the Monastry of la Cartuja
  • the Museum of Fine Arts
  • the Archaeological Museum
  • the Science Park
  • plus 9 bus tickets on city buses
  • and 1 bus ticket on the Granada tour bus.

Further details of the City Pass/bono can be found at www.granadatur.com. The bono itself can be purchased in advance at www.cajagranada.es for 32.50 euros.

The Cathedral and Plaza Bib-Rambla

As the last significant area to survive under Moorish rule Granada became a symbol of the Reconquista after 1492. Work on the cathedral began in 1521 but did not finish until 1704, evolving during that time from an original Gothic layout to a Renaissance design. The main façade was designed by Alonso Cano, the Granada painter and sculptor. His San Pablo sculpture can also be found inside the cathedral.

Next to the cathedral is the Capilla Real (1521) which holds the tombs of the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand.

South of the Capilla Real is the Alcaiceria. This was formerly the Muslim silk exchange but now holds a variety of tourist nick-nack shops. Through the Alcaiceria is Plaza Bib-Rambla, a perfect place for a coffee and a muse on the square’s long history – in its time it has been a site of jousts, bullfights and Inquisition burnings.

Plaza Bib RamblaFlower seller in Plaza Bib Rambla

Cultural facilities

As well as having a rich historical legacy, Granada is commonly regarded as Andalucia’s cultural capital. It has a university, the third largest in Spain, founded by Charles V in 1531. The Centro Cultural Manuel de Falla holds regular classical concerts. There are 2 theatres, the Teatro Isabel La Catolica and the Teatro Alhambra. The Centro Jose Guerrero gallery has a permanent exhibition of this Granada artist’s work and a changing temporary exhibition. Throughout the year there are cultural festivals, best known of which is probably the International Music and Dance Festival in late June or early July. Of course, in Spain there are countless local fiestas and celebrations throughout the year. Semana Santa (Easter) and Corpus Christi (early June) are both big festivals in Granada.

Sacromonte and Flamenco

A short stroll from the flat to the Sacromonte (or sacred mountain) district provides the opportunity to see cave houses, flamenco venues and, by continuing along the valley above the river, a wild and beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.

Some sights in Sacromonte are:

The Abadia del Sacromonte or Sacromonte Abbey. It was built in the early 17th century and is an imposing pile on the side of the hill dominating the area. It also has a museum.

Sacromonte has traditionally been a gitano (or gypsy) area of Granada and The Centro de Interpretacion de Sacromonte has a brief to retain and encourage gitano culture. It has an ethnographic museum explaining cave dwelling life and demonstrating the traditional artisan crafts of the Sacromonte areas.

La Chumbera, or Centro Internacional de Estudios Gitanos, on Camino del Sacromonte (958 248140),  is a great venue to see flamenco. The flamenco is authentic, normally starts comparatively early and the theatre has a glass back wall looking out over the Alhambra lit at night. It normally only costs 5 or 6 euros too!

Another good flamenco venue outside of Sacromonte is Corral del Carbon (off Calle Reyes Catolicos, tel 958 22 11 44). Shows are normally limited here to the summer season.

In addition, there are a number of bars in Sacromonte itself which are popular with tour groups (or at least, the tour operators). Additionally, some bars in the centre of Granada offer flamenco shows. The Tablao Flamenco beside the Mirador of San Cristobal, and Pena la Plateria (on Calle Careillos de San Agustin on the corner with Placeta de Toqueros) in the Albayzin are two local venues which seem very popular with groups.

Granada graffiti - woman's faceGranada graffiti - guitar

Monasterio de la Cartuja

This Carthusian monastery was established in 1506 on the site of a battlefield between Moors and Christians, but building was not completed until the 18th century. The monastery is known for its ornate baroque sacristy and equally highly decorated altar and sacrarium. Every inch of the walls is covered throughout in ornate carvings of gold, marble and lavish painted stucco work.

Frederico Garcia Lorca

Frederico Garcia Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, a village west of Granada. His famous plays include Blood Wedding and The House of Bernardo Alba. He also wrote poetry such as Lament for the Death of a Bull Fighter and other poems. Lorca was deeply interested in gypsy culture, was gay and had Republican sympathies. In 1936 he was assassinated in the village of Viznar by a group of Franco’s followers.

There are various Lorca sites to visit, specifically the Lorca museum situated in the house where Lorca was born, the Huerta de San Vicente in Calle Arabial which he stayed in as a child. This is now a rose garden, and in Viznar there is a memorial garden, with views of the mountains, dedicated to those who died in the Civil War.

Getting Around

Gran Via

Granada city centre is well served by public buses. Bus numbers 7 and F go frequently from the centre to the Mirador de San Cristobal, very near to Casa de las Granadas.

Small buses (numbers 30, 31 and 32) run every 3 or 4 minutes from Plaza Nueva up to the Alhambra and into the Albayzin. The nearest stop for Casa de las Granadas is at la Iglesia de San Salvador.  (NB Work on the approach road to La Alhambra (Cuesta de Gomerez) means that these buses take a temporary (until Spring 2009) alternative route via Realejo.)

Bus number 34 – the best bus ride in the world! The 34 does an hourly scenic loop from Plaza Nueva via Barranco del Abogado, with views of the Sierra Nevada, past the Alhambra, along the Rio Darro, into and back out of Sacromonte, through the Albayzin and along Gran Via back to Plaza Nueva. The whole trip is an excellent orientation exercise, giving a feel for many parts of the city, and is an astonishing demonstration of the driver’s confidence and ability to get through the narrowest of gaps. It’s a bargain for only 1.20 euros.  

Tourist Information and What's On

If you want any more ideas or information there is lots of helpful information on the Granada tourist information website. The English version of the site can be found at http://www.granada.org/turismo/Data/INGLES/fset2.html

Pocket Guia - has listings of what's on in Granada each month (in Spanish only) and you can buy it from kiosks around the city.

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Shopping on Calle Mesones - as known as shoe-shop street

Shopping

El Corte Ingles

Ask any Granadino “where do I get xxx”? and they will reply El Corte Ingles. The two Granada branches of this nationwide department store are in Acerro del Darro, near Puerta Real, and at the northern end of Calle Arabial, near the circunvalacion.

Clothes & Shoes

City centre shopping is concentrated around Calle Mesones and surrounding streets, and Calle Recogidas, where the likes of Zara and Mango can be found, offering goods at lower prices than in the UK.

Crafts & Handmade Guitars

Crafts and tourist memento shops abound in the Alcaiceria behind the Cathedral, in Calles Caldereria Nueva and Vieja, heading up the hill to the Albayzin from Calle Elvira, and around Plaza Nueva. Handmade guitars can be found in shops on Cuesta de Gomerez, on Plaza Realejo and on Calle Reyes Catolicos. Calle Santa Escolastica in Realejo also has some trendy nick-nack shops.

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The Alhambra from Sacromonte