Hemingway famously advised, “If you were to visit just one city in Spain, it should be Granada”. I have to agree, Granada is a beautiful Andalusian city in southern Spain that is much more relaxed and quiet than its more flashy neighbours of Barcelona and Madrid. It blends culture, architecture, and history of the diverse groups of people who have lived in the area including Moors, Jews, Arabs, Romans and Gypsies.
Granada is best known for its two architectural masterpieces: The Alhambra Palace complex and the town of Albaicin (Albayzín) both recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The name Granada translates as pomegranate and that has become the city's symbol.
Granada was settled at the beginning of the 8th century by Moors (North African Arab Muslims). The area known today as Andalusia thrived with extensive trade routes and partnerships with luxurious amenities and a superior community civilization. For nearly 800 years the city was ruled by wealthy Arabic Sultans. The rule of the Catholic Kings took over just as the Renaissance period of art and culture began. Visitors will see the influences of the Islamic, Renaissance, and Baroque culture in every direction.
Like many old cities, the beautiful cobbled streets are narrow, steep and rarely follow a straight route. It will be difficult to drive and park. I recommend that budget travellers explore the city on foot or by using their bus system. Bus fares are inexpensive and tourist bus passes are available.
El Granado Hostel
I like hostels for their affordability and the opportunities to interact with other travellers. Hostels have changed a lot over my years of travel. Many now offer private rooms and are welcoming to travellers of all ages. For more details about hostels, check out this previous post.
The El Granada Hostel is very close to the Granada Cathedral. The private room was nothing fancy, with bunkbeds and a shared (very clean) bathroom down the hall. The reception area included a bulletin board full of events including shared dinners, hikes, excursions and other activities. The Hostel includes a good-sized kitchen and a couple of beautiful patios for lounging and swapping chit-chat with other travellers.
Plaza Nueva is the center and heart of the old city with the grand Cathedral, Market and lots of restaurants and tapas bars. This vibrant and bustling plaza is a great place to catch street performances and indulge in some enjoyable people-watching. Streets radiating from the plaza include beautiful buildings and shops offering every service and item imaginable.
Take time to stroll along and soak up the atmosphere while admiring the exotic blend of ancient and modern sights, smells, and sounds.
Flamenco is more than a dance. It's an art form that combines passionate, powerful songs, dance and intricate guitar playing. Flamenco originated in Andalusia, so this is the city to place to see a show. There are many choices of shows available. To select, check out the tourist office, viator, or simply choose as you wander by one of the performance venues. We chose the late show at La Alborea for €20.
The show included amazing high-energy emotive performances, spectacular costumes, and was throughly entertaining.
Budget travellers will love the FREE tapas in Granada. The custom in Granada is to provide a small plate of tapas with a drink order. For those with smaller appetites, a couple of drinks with tapas may be enough for a meal. The tapas are pre-set so those with food restrictions may need to find someone to share with.
When a full meal is needed, restaurants are less expensive further from the city center and in the Albaicín neighbourhood. Prices in Granda tend to be lower than in other Spanish cities.
Catedral de Granada
The Granada Cathedral is a stunning building that was built on the ruins of a mosque when the Christians retook Spain from the Moors during the Reconquista. The cathedral is built in a Renaissance style.
The inside is ornate with gold leaf, stained glass, and architectural features with arches and columns.
The Cathedral is open Mondays to Saturday from 10:00 to 18:15 but doesn't open to the public on Sundays until 15:00, after services for the day. Audio guides are available and they also have QR code for narration on your own device. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Cathedral office. Admission is €5.
Mercado La Alcaicería
The Alcaicería Market (Silk Market) near the Cathedral is a Moroccan-style market full of vendors selling goods from souvenirs including carpets, lamps, leather and silk goods. This maze has been operating since the Nasrid period when it was a busy place to exchange silk, spices, and other valuable exotic goods. of narrow streets
Back then, the market was enclosed by gates that were locked at night and guarded to protect the goods and stores. In the mid-1800s a deliberately set fire destroyed the souk and the market was rebuilt with just a single long and narrow street, designed to discourage theft.
Undoubtedly the most popular and oldest part of Granda is the magnificent palace and fortress complex of Alhambra. The name coms from the Arabic word for "red fort" and was the Nasrid dynasty's Royal Palace. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes thousands of visitors daily.
The complex not only includes the Nasrid Palaces but also the Generalife Palacee, the Garden of the Partal and the Alcazaba fortress. It is a huge and sprawling complex. Be prepared to spend the good part of a day if you want to cover all areas. For more details see my post on the Alhambra.
Sacromonte is the gypsy cave community located on the hill on the opposite side of the River Darro from the Alhambra. This is a fascinating area well deserving of your visit. The lower area includes a museum, lovely homes and businesses dug into the hills. As you move up higher, there is an obvious difference in residences as this area has been deemed unsafe for residency by the government and residency is forbidden. Those living there today are squatters, often living in very challenging circumstances.
There are wonderful views across to the Alhambra from the Sacromonte bars and, if you are willing to climb to the top of the hill you will be treated to stunning views of the entire region. To learn more about this area, please check out my Sacromonte post.
Albaicin is the historic Arab neighbourhood built on a hill in old area of Granada. The distinctive architecture and narrow streets are a visual delight with white walls and brown clay roofs. When this part of the town was built its main purpose was for defensive purposes.