Having spent half a year living in, and traveling around, southern Spain, it’s without a doubt that Granada is my favorite city in this region.
From the windy streets of the Albaicín to the Flamenco dances performed on seemingly every plaza and, of course, the Moorish Alhambra palace lording over the city from its central hill, everything conspires to give Granada a magical quality.
When I arrived in Granada at night at my B&B overlooking the Alhambra, with a half-crescent moon shining brightly above it, I was already sold. As I explored the city in depth over the days to come, I was glad to have dedicated plenty of time to discover this wonderful Andalusian city.
Here are some of best things you can do in Granada, Spain.
Plan your stay in Granada
Things to do in Granada Spain
1. See a flamenco show
Granada is the perfect place to see the Flamenco dance. The area of Sacromonte is one of its birthplaces and home to a unique version of it called the Zambra. It’s typically described as a fusion of Flamenco and Arabian belly dance.
Shows are regularly performed for tourists in small ticketed venues. To be assured a spot, you can book a Zambra show via GetYourGuide.
It’s fantastic to see how the dance is alive and well in Granada, with many young performers busking on plazas and street corners. It’s obvious the city has Flamenco running through its veins.
But for a personal show, it’s highly worth going to a paid event, especially when it’s inside one of the unique cave theaters.
2. Visit the Alhambra Palace
The Alhambra is an epic royal palace and fortress complex dating back to the times of Moorish (Arabic) rule in Spain. It is surely the most sprawling and impressive tourist site in Andalusia and well worth spending a full day inside its walls.
Keep in mind though that visitor numbers are strictly controlled. It’s essential to have advance tickets for The Alhambra, at least to see its most famous part, the inner Nasrid Palace. It can be booked out many weeks in advance, especially for weekend days.
Important: your ticket will be for a specific date and time. You have to be at the Nasrid Palace entrance at this time, which is inside the Alhambra, and not just at the outer gates. You have to take this timeslot seriously or you will miss it!
I’ve actually seen it happen that tourists miss their shot to enter the Palace. If you’re late even by, say, 20 minutes, you will probably be denied entry no matter how much you plead with the staff. This is all done to carefully manage the visitor numbers at this popular site.
The Nasrid Palace is a beautiful example of Islamic art, its many courtyard walls covered with intricate geometric shapes and Islamic calligraphy. It’s worth getting the audio tour and taking your time to absorb all the little details.
If you don’t manage to get a ticket for the Nasrid Palace, it’s still possible to see other parts of the Alhambra. Some parts of it are free to walk around in, offering views of the city below. Tickets to the Albacaza (the fortress part) and the Generalife (palatial gardens) are also easier to get and aren’t for a specific timeslot.
This blog has done a great job explaining everything you need to know about Alhambra tickets.
3. Enjoy free (kind of free) tapas
One thing Granada is famous for is its tapas (small portions of food) given with your drinks for free in most of the tapas bars.
It’s one of the few cities in Spain where this custom is still maintained!
Of course, this tapas is already priced into the cost of your drinks, but the surprise of getting a new snack every time is nevertheless a wonderful experience.
Unlike elsewhere in Spain, the trick in Granada is not to order your tapas a-la-carte. Instead, just order a glass of wine or beer and some tapa will be brought to your table as well.
It’s a bit of a drink-inciting scheme where — so long as you keep ordering drinks in the same establishment — you’ll slowly level up your tapa. Your first tapa to unlock may be just some common tomato on toast, but keep going and you’ll get to the rarer tapas eventually. It’s worth picking one tapas bar and sticking with it to get more and better tapa.
4. Experience a Middle-Eastern Bazaar
You don’t have to go to the Middle East to experience a real bazaar. The Moorish conquest in 711 brought Islamic rule to the Iberian peninsula and with that came a huge influence of Islamic architecture and style on the city’s public spaces.
The hotspot for shopping is the Alcaiceria market. The market was originally a Moorish silk bazaar and despite Spain’s effort to re-Christianize after the reconquest, they decided that the Alcaiceria market was too good to let go. Lose yourself in the winding alleyways and narrow streets of the market and let your eyes and nose do the guiding for you. Brightly coloured silks and ceramics line the shops while exotic spices and smells take you back to the early days of the spice trade.
Another nice shopping area is the Bib-Rambla square. Also known as the “Plaza de Flores” it’s relatively small but always bustling with activity. In the Roman era, it was used for bull running, but now the square where this little market resides is used for celebrations and is a great spot to pick up coffee and chocolate churros. Sit by the fountain, enjoy a snack and watch the world go by.
5. Stroll around the Albaicín
The district of Albaicín is one of the most authentic in Granada. Its labyrinthine and narrow streets make it one of the most fun areas to explore.
It is known as the Arab quarter, a distinction dating back to the Moorish times, though over the many centuries its streets have been home to Iberians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths. Strolling through the neighborhood you can enjoy the white-painted houses, irregular street layouts (with quite a few dead-ends!), and soak in the lively atmosphere.
During Muslim rule, luxurious walled villas were also built that housed a leafy green space that served as a garden for relaxation as well as growing vegetables. This type of traditional Albaicín house is known as a “carmen” and you’ll see quite a few as you explore the Albaicín.
Keep an eye out for the beautiful flower pots that adorn many of the facades!
6. See the impressive San Juan de Dios basilica
There are no shortages of gorgeous churches and basilicas in Spain and Granada has some of the finest.
The San Juan de Dios basilica might look like a normal Spanish-style church from the outside but its interior is definitely something to be marveled at. The baroque-style temple was built between 1737 and 1759 and is characterized by the two towers outside depicting important scenes from John’s life.
The predominantly gold interior shimmers and shines all around and the ornate array of statues, sculptures, carvings, and paintings effectively make the place a museum. There is a 5€ entry fee which includes an audio guide available in different languages.
If you’re looking to keep exploring the area, the Monasterio de Jeronimos is practically right next door.
7. Sleep in a cave house
If you’re looking for a charming and unique area to stay in Granada, it’s worth considering the neighborhood of Sacromonte.
It’s traditionally the neighborhood of the Granadian Romani, who first settled there during the Middle Ages. The area is typified by its many whitewashed cave houses built into the hillside.
It’s still a highly traditional neighborhood where flamenco dances are performed every night in a string of cave bars along the main road. One of the most interesting things is that you can stay in a number of cave houses that were converted to B&Bs.
Just search for Sacramonte, Granada on Airbnb to find them.
I loved the Sacromonte hill with its cute houses and steep donkey paths. Pretty much anywhere here will offer panoramic views of the Alhambra on the opposite side of the valley. As a bonus, it’s really fun to stay inside a cozy cave!
8. Take a walking tour
While some tourists come to Granada just to see the Alhambra, that would be quite a mistake as the city itself is absolutely wonderful.
A walking tour is a great way to get to know the city. However, I recommend skipping the city’s official self-guided tour.
You’ll see information signs with numbers throughout Granada, which correspond to an official audio tour app. Sadly, this app is very poorly designed, with pins placed in the wrong locations, no GPS navigation, and missing or broken audio. This was a little disappointing!
A much better idea is to get a small guided tour to take you around some of the historical sights. By getting a tour from a local, you get a much more personalized experience.
There are several excellent walking tours available on GetYourGuide, which will give you a great overview of the city before exploring it by yourself.
9. Visit the Carmen de los Mártires garden
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle and step into a world of greenery and tranquility, the Carmen de Los Martires garden is the perfect place to stop.
Like many things in the country and Granada, the garden is steeped in history and is much more than just your average run-of-the-mill garden. The surrounding area was originally known as the “Corral of Captives” and was named so after Christian prisoners who remained in Arab prisons. A church would later be built here, then a convent but in the 19th century the space was sold and gardens were built.
The artistically-designed garden features both a British, and French-style garden as well as a lake and charming Nasrid Patio with a maze. Take some photos by the French garden’s pond, enjoy the intricacies of the English garden’s fountain, or get lost in the maze with a loved one for a romantic afternoon stroll.
10. Visit the ancient Arab baths
Known these days as “El Banuelo”, Granada’s Arab baths are an incredibly well-preserved part of history. The ancient baths in Granada are some of the best-preserved in Andalusia as most of the other ones were destroyed during the Spanish Reconquista.
The baths were built in the 11th century and not only served as a place where people went to clean themselves but it also served as a place of informal business where merchants can socialize and make connections.
Currently, there are three rooms people can check out. The cold room which once served as a changing room, the massage room or “tepid room”, and finally, the “hot room” which is where the big baths are.
These days, the baths are a cultural heritage site that you can visit for free. If you are looking to take an actual bath, you can do so at the hammam of the Comares Palace Arab baths, a faithful replica of a historic Arab bath.
11. Escape to the Sierra Nevada
Just a short drive away from the city of Granada is one of Spain’s most beautiful natural features; the Sierra Nevada mountains. There really isn’t a bad time to visit and if you’re looking to get out of the city and into the wild, this is the place to do it.
During the winter months, the mountains serve as one of Spain’s hottest ski destinations mostly around Boraguiles, Monachil, and Pradollano. In fact, the Sierra Nevada is one of southern Europe’s very few ski destinations with service operating from December to April.
If you’re visiting in warmer months, check out the 4-wheeling or mountain biking trails found around the mountains. For those looking for an adrenaline rush, paragliding and mountain climbing are also popular activities.
12. Walk the Los Cahorros trail
Close to Granada is a 4.5 mile (7.25km) trail that passes by waterfalls, hanging bridges, swimming holes, and various climbs by overhanging cliffs. This is one of the most fun walking trails you can easily get to from Granada, although if you have a severe fear of heights it may not be ideal for you as there are a couple of steep parts.
The trail starts in the town of Monachil, which is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Granada. Even though the Los Cahorros trail is a beginner hike, it has an adventurous feel as it winds through the scenic Los Cahorros gorge.
When to visit Granada
I’ve visited in August and in December, both of which seemed to be great times to visit.
In December, even though the city is 738m above sea level, making it colder on average, the temperatures still reached a pleasing 14°C. The trees around the Alhambra showed beautiful autumn colors while the tourist sites were alive but not too crowded.
In August, it’s definitely very hot in Andalusia, to the point that many people will avoid cities like Seville, but thanks to its higher elevation Granada is a lot more manageable during summer.
How many days do you need?
If only have only limited time available, then 2 days should be the bare minimum for Granada (one day for the city, one day for the Alhambra).
There is enough potential for many more days, especially if you add trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains and other nearby points of interest.
Where to stay in Granada
I think the old quarters of the Albaicín and Sacromonte offer some of the best hilltop views and the cutest little streets. I recommend finding some accommodation in either of these neighborhoods.
How to get to Granada
Thanks to the new high-speed rail connection opened in 2019, you can get from Madrid to Granada in about 3 hours by train. From Cordoba, it’s about 1,5 hours by train.
If you’re coming from Seville, you can either take a direct bus, or go by train with a change at Cordoba (both taking around 3 hours).
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