Best Things To Do in Granada
Granada's scenic landscape, Spanish charm and historical sites draw travelers in droves. The Alhambra is not only Granada's premier point of interest, it's one of Spain's biggest attractions. Once you've gotten your fill of the palace's rich history, take a stroll in the picture-perfect alleyways of the Albaicín neighborhood or shop the Moroccan goods at the Alcaiceria near the Historic Center. You'll also want to take advantage of Granada's close proximity to Sierra Nevada National Park, or indulge in one of the city's Arab bath houses. And make sure to end at least one of your nights with a trip to Plaza de San Nicolas for unforgettable vistas.
Updated March 29, 2019
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The Alhambra is the crown jewel of Granada. Perched high atop a hill in the center of the city, this UNESCO World Heritage site dominates the skyline. The Alhambra is not only Granada and Andalusia's biggest tourist attraction, it's one of the most-visited spots in all of Spain. It draws about 2 million visitors per year, with some traveling to Granada just to see the Alhambra. And for good reason – it boasts a rich history, magnificent architecture, gorgeous gardens and stellar views.
Aesthetics aside, to really appreciate the Alhambra is to understand its history. The palace was primarily built between the 13th and 14th centuries by the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty (though small parts of it were initially constructed in the ninth century by the previous dynasty), acting as a residence for royals as well as fortress. After the Conquest of Granada, Spanish rulers made the Alhambra more their own – transforming interiors, replacing the on-site mosque with a church and adding other Renaissance-style structures, including an extra palace for Charles V. Many of what visitors see today is centuries of rebuilding and restoration.
- #2View all PhotosfreeThe Albaicín#2 in GranadaCafes, Churches/Religious Sites, Entertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDCafes, Churches/Religious Sites, Entertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
The Albaicín neighborhood is the stuff of Spanish dreams. Narrow cobblestone roads weave through traditional homes, charming plazas, quaint courtyards and multiple historic sites. There are also plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options to be found within. What's more, the neighborhood's placement on the hillside north of the Alhambra affords plenty of vantage points of the UNESCO World Heritage site, including those seen from the popular Plaza de San Nicolas. And believe it or not, UNESCO's World Heritage distinction also extends to the Albaicín. That's because the neighborhood is the old Moorish quarter of the city. Walking around, it's easy to spot remnants of the once thriving Muslim neighborhood (once boasting more than 40,000 residents). For example, any churches you run into along the way were probably once the site of a mosque, including the Church of San Salvador, which still features some Arab inscriptions.
Plan to stop by Calle Elvira and Calle Caldereria Nueva for tapas and shopping and Mirador de Los Carvajales for views of the Alhambra. And for truly panoramic (and unforgettable) views of the city, there's El Mirador de San Miguel Alto, the highest viewpoint in Granada. However you choose to spend your time in the Albaicín, you cannot leave without a walk along the Carrera del Darro. This incredibly scenic pathway resembles that of a fairytale: small, stone arch bridges connect one side of town to the other as the modest Darro river trickles through foliage-laden banks, eventually stopping right below the Alhambra itself.
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Though Granada's storied history should be absorbed as much as possible, the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains are worth just as much exploration. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are part of Sierra Nevada National Park, the largest national park in Spain. The park stretches 320 square miles from Granada to the edge of Almeria and features one of Europe's tallest mountains. Along with the 11,000-foot-tall Mulhacen, there are more than 20 mountains to explore in addition to multiple lakes, rivers and forest areas.
The nearby Sierra Nevada Ski Resort, Europe's southernmost ski resort, offers more than 62 miles of slopes with chairlifts and gondolas throughout. During the summer, lifts transport visitors to some of the park's highest peaks, including Veleta (the tallest after Mulhacen) and their subsequent scenic trails.
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If you're still itching to tour more historical, not to mention architecturally gorgeous, attractions after the Alhambra, Granada's historical center is your best bet. This small neighborhood, adjacent to the Albaicín, features a variety of attractions including churches, monasteries, palaces, cultural centers and houses and even schools. Though one could easily spend days roaming the innards of the historical center, the main attractions to see are the Basilica de San Juan de Dios, the Cathedral and Royal Chapel and the Saint Jerome Monastery.
The Basilica de San Juan de Dios is considered one of the most important Baroque temples in Spain and houses an urn that contains Saint John of the Gods. What stands out most to visitors, however, is its interiors. The interior patio, almost entirely gold, stuns travelers when lit up by the natural light that pours through the church's windows. Many travelers experienced a similar reaction at the Saint Jerome Monastery, the first temple in the world dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The attraction is more Renaissance in style and features an ornate, multitiered altar decorated with figurines of religious, historical and mythical individuals and characters. The Cathedral of Granada is one of the many buildings that was built on top of a former mosque and its adjacent Royal Chapel houses the tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the royalty who were in charge during the Reconquest of Spain.
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Granada's hilly landscape makes for fantastic vistas, and there are few better than the views offered at the Plaza de San Nicolas. Located in the Albaicín neighborhood, less than a mile north of the Paseo de los Tristes, Plaza de San Nicolas directly faces the Alhambra and the majestic snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountain range that sits right behind it. Lush rolling hills and traditional clay-tiled rooftops fill space in between the vista's two focal points. That, combined with the plaza's decorative cobblestones, whitewashed church and lively buskers make for a truly picture-perfect moment.
Recent travelers were in awe of the incredible views of the historic site and loved the plaza's atmosphere. Many recommended visiting at night, when the Alhambra is lit up and the locals come by to drink, dance and play music. Keep in mind that reaching the Plaza de San Nicolas may be tough for some travelers. Visitors described the uphill climb to the vantage point as easy to moderate, so those who aren't confident with their physical stamina should consider taking a taxi. Plaza de San Nicolas is free to explore and is open 24 hours a day.
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The Sacromonte district is actually part of the Albaicín, occupying the northern tip of the neighborhood. But what the Sacromonte really stands out for is its caves, and the flamenco that takes place within. Sacromonte's caves were initially created by the Arabs and primarily enjoyed by gypsies, who arrived to the city during the 15th century. The area is still considered a gypsy neighborhood, though it has become more diverse over time as artists from the Romantic Movement helped popularize the district to outsiders in the 19th century. Flamenco is as synonymous with Spain as bullfights and can be found anywhere in the country, but Granada is where the art form is said to have been birthed and flourished. Seeing a flamenco show in Sacromonte is a cultural experience that simply cannot be missed.
Zambras, or caves used specifically for flamenco shows, abound left and right. Zambras, as well as other restaurants and bars, can be found along Camino del Sacromonte, the district's main thoroughfare. Popular zambras include Cueva La Rocio, Cueva Maria la Canastera and Venta El Gallo. Shows times and ticket prices vary by venue, though expect tickets to range from 20 to 30 euros ($22 to $33).
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There's a history lesson to be had anywhere you go in Granada, and the city's spas are no exception. The Arab baths were once a gathering place for Granada's Arab inhabitants, having been an important ritual in Muslim life and culture. To the Moors, water was considered a symbol of purity and the baths were used to cleanse oneself both physically and spiritually. Once the Christians eventually took over the city after the Reconquest of Spain, many Arab establishments were torn down and rebuilt into different religious and secular establishments. This included the bath houses, many of which were turned into bakeries since the facilities contained a large broiler used to heat up some of the baths. El Bañuelo, which dates back to the 11th century, is the last Arab bath house that has remained largely intact in Granada, and is one of the last in the entire country of Spain.
There are two ways to experience the Arab baths. El Bañuelo is open to tour but the baths themselves are no longer there. That didn't bother travelers though, who found both the architecture within beautiful and history insightful. Some noted, however, if you aren't aware of the history (or simply aren't interested) you might find El Bañuelo a bit boring. If you want to take a dip, Hammam Al Andalus is still active, housing a large bath of its own in addition to standard spa treatments, such as massages. Another option, Aljibe de San Miguel Arab Baths, is equipped with seven pools of varying temperatures, much like the original bath houses. The bath houses are located near the Albaicín. Prices and hours vary by facility.
- #8View all PhotosfreeThe Alcaiceria#8 in GranadaShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're looking to do some serious shopping while in Granada, the Alcaiceria market is the place to go. Upon first glance, the market may seem like a tourist trap. Cheesy postcards and costumey flamenco dresses meet you at the entrance, but go farther into the bowels of its passageways and you'll find plenty of treasures difficult to find elsewhere. The reason for this is due to the market's history. The Alcaiceria was originally a bazaar established by the Moors, a group of Northern Africans, during their reign in Spain at the start of the eighth century. The Alcaiceria initially served as a hub for silk making and exchanging, and was one of the few Moorish attributes that survived the Conquest of Granada (the Catholic Spanish Monarch's push to drive the Arabs [Moors] out of Spain). Today, the market is less than half of its original size, but still flourishes with plenty of Moroccan goods.
Walking through the narrow alleyway, expect to find plenty of kitschy souvenirs but also many Moroccan goods, including tapestries, stained-glass lamps, African-style clothing, tea sets and various leather goods. Keep an eye out in particular for fajalauza, or traditionally painted ceramics, and taracea, ornate wooden inlay goods. These, in addition to leather bags sold in the market, are not only difficult to find outside of Granada, but even harder to find at a reasonable price. Genuine leather handbags in the U.S. typically come with a hefty price tag, while in Granada, you can find a sizeable leather bag for 40 euros ($44).
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