The Alhambra#1 in Best Things To Do in Granada
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.
The Alhambra is big, with many recent visitors saying you could easily spend more than half a day exploring the site. The attraction's main points of interest include the Nasrid Palaces, Charles V's palace, Generalife (a relaxation area for previous kings) and the Alcazaba (the fortress and oldest part of the Alhambra), all of which are included in the daytime ticket. Tickets can be difficult to secure due to the immense popularity of the attraction, and as such travelers strongly encourage reserving in advance. Although there are multiple areas to explore indoors, the palace's perch atop the hill can make the sun quite unbearable; travelers who visited on a hot day advised bringing water to make traversing the grounds more comfortable.
Daytime general admission tickets cost 14 euros (about $15.50) for adults and 8 euros (about $9) for children between the ages of 15 and 12; entrance is free for children younger than 12. Nighttime tickets are available at a lower rate but don't include access to all the areas within the attraction. You can get tickets in advance at any La Caixa Bank ATM, at the Corral del Carbon on Mariana Pineda Street or even on Ticketmaster.es. The Alhambra is open daily but hours are seasonal. To control crowds, only a certain number of people are given access twice a day – 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. is the first time slot and 2 to 6 p.m. is the second. You can reach the Alhambra by walking from the Albaicín neighborhood, less than a mile north, but its location on a hill may be too big of a climb for some travelers. You can also take the C3 bus, which picks up at Plaza de Isabel La Catolica, located in the city's center. For more information visit the Alhambra's website.
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#2 The Albaicín
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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