Granada and the Alhambra

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The day after Sara joined us in Madrid, we all got on a train to head south to Granada. The lure of Granada is that it is home to an incredible medieval Islamic palace and fortress complex called the Alhambra. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain and was at the top of my list of “Things I Must See” when we started planning our trip. 

It worked out well to have Sara with us on this part of the journey that was more tourism focused, since she would only have six days in Spain as part of just two weeks in Europe. So in addition to getting to spend time together, we were able to maximize our experiences and attractions during that period. 

We spent three nights in Granada, which was certainly enough to get a feel for the city and spend a full morning at the Alhambra. It is such a popular attraction that in the summer you’re advised to purchase tickets well in advance. I bought ours in March from Puerto Rico, choosing our first full day in Granada for the visit. 

Our Alhambra Visit

Private bus up the hill!

In addition to needing advanced tickets, the other challenge of the visit to the Alhambra is getting there – it is at the top of a tall steep hill up narrow winding roads in the old part of the city. Uber is the easiest option, but pricey – it was going to be about 30 euros. So, we walked 20 minutes from our Airbnb near the train station to Plaza Isabel to catch a bus up. Google was just accurate enough to help us find the right one, which we boarded about a minute before his departure time. The cost was just 1.4 euros per person and it only took about 10 minutes. We actually had the little bus all to ourselves! It had to be small to fit on the narrow curving roads and as we ascended, we were very glad to not be walking up the hill.

You can enter any time after their opening at 8:30 a.m., but you have to register for a specific time to visit the Nasrid Palaces, the main attraction of the complex. I chose a 10 a.m. time slot for that, figuring that would give us time to arrive early and see the gardens during the coolest part of the day before visiting the palace.

We arrived shortly after 8 a.m. hoping to be near the front of the line but they were only allowing people with 8:30 a.m. Nasrid Palace times to line up. This gave Chad time to get a coffee as we watched them hurry the Nasrid Palace people in starting around 8:20 a.m., admonishing them to go straight to the palace. Apparently if you miss your timeslot, you miss your chance to see it.

We entered the complex right at 8:30 a.m. and walked through the medina ruins and some of the gardens. We decided to visit the Alcazaba (aka, fortress) first, which worked out well. An interesting thing about the Alhambra is you’re tracked by your passport number and your passport gets scanned at the entrances to the various parts of the complex. So when buying the advanced tickets, make sure to have that number handy and definitely make sure to bring your passport when you visit the Alhambra.

After the Alcazaba we had time to enjoy the Partal Palace and surrounding gardens. We went a bit overboard taking photos but it is a very photogenic place!

We got in line for our palace timeslot about 15 minutes in advance and were still about 30 people back among the 10 a.m. folks. They say they have significantly limited the number of people they allow into Nasrid Palaces in each slot (which are 15 minutes apart), but I bet there were 100 people in our time slot, plus a couple of tour groups who enter another way. It is a crowded place! For this reason, if I were to do the Alhambra again, I’d probably choose the 8:30 a.m. Nasrid Palaces time to avoid the crowd as much as possible. But our 10 a.m. time worked well and we had plenty of time to admire the architectural details and take lots of photos.

After Nasrid Palace we briefly stopped in the Charles V palace and toured the little museum there (where no photos were allowed, but it gave our cameras a good break), then walked back through the gardens to the Generalife portion of the complex. This was the summer palace and also has beautiful gardens and interesting architecture to enjoy. 

After Alhambra

By then it was nearing lunchtime. It was unclear when the next bus would arrive, but the taxi stand outside the complex had clear prices stating it would be about 6 euros to travel into town. This seemed like a great deal for three people so we hopped in a cab and went to find lunch. We had to navigate around some of the parades going on in Granada for Corpus Christi (a religious festival finally found a tapas bar that was open at noon. Our host had warned us that a lot of places would be closed for the holiday. Replenished by beer, food, and paletas, we went back to our Airbnb to rest for a while. 

We went out that night in the old Moorish part of the city and had dinner in a Moroccan restaurant. There are lots of Arab-themed restaurants in the city, but the trick was finding one that served alcohol. We succeeded and while the food wasn’t great, the atmosphere was cute and we had a great time. 

After dinner we walked up to the Mirador de San Nicolás to take in the twilight view of the Alhambra. It was very pretty.

Another Full Day

For our other full day in Granada, we were much less ambitious, but still wanted to see a little more of the city. Sara loves seeing university campuses and there’s an old (founded 1531) university in Granada. In fact, one of its buildings was right by our Airbnb, and we were able to see the outside of its law school and botanical garden in downtown Granada. 

We also visited the Granada Cathedral. There is a 6 euro fee to get in, but it includes an audio guide. Mostly a typical old gorgeous European, but we enjoyed the art and architecture and they had a collection of beautiful large choir books on display. According to the audio guide, the pages are made of skin and they were all illustrated by hand.

After the cathedral, we picked up a typical Spanish picnic from the Carrefour Express, including fresh orange juice (my favorite, and Sara’s too). We took it to a park along the river, but it was not particularly picturesque. A rare wasted opportunity for Granada. But we were able to find a shady spot. After the picnic, Sara took a bus to explore more of the university at its main campus and Chad and I returned to our Airbnb to catch up on work.

That evening after dinner, we went out to see if we could catch any of the celebrations associated with Corpus Christi and came across an amateur flamenco performance in one of the plazas. It was really fun to watch the people perform. We watched a couple of acts, then went around the corner to a nice patio bar for drinks with a free tapa (some kind of friend something) and then came back and watched some more. It was a great end to our time in Granada.

Summary

The Alhambra was definitely worth visiting and Granada makes a very nice base for it. It was interesting to see all the Moorish influence in the city. We got the sense that it is a very typical city for this region of Spain, Andalusia. I had very high expectations for the Alhambra and it didn’t disappoint.

Airbnb Review: This apartment was perfect for our small group (me, my husband, and our friend), especially because each bedroom has its own en suite bathroom. The rooms are very spacious and comfortable with central AC. The view from the living room out onto Plaza San Lázaro is nice. Just across the square is a great grocery store. Kitchen was very functional for simple cooking. Wifi worked well. The location is about 10 minutes on foot from the train station and an easy 15 or 20 minute walk to downtown to get the bus to the Alhambra. We had trouble finding the entrance when we arrived but Asun, the woman who met us, was kind enough to come out front and find us. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/40229025

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