Are you planning a trip to Andalusia or South Spain and wondering which city is worth visiting besides Seville?
Did you hear very good things about an Andalusian city called Granada but you are still wondering whether to go?
Do you want to visit Granada but don’t have time to visit the Alhambra so that you are not sure if it is still worth your while?
Have you been in Granada but the only thing you visited or remember is the Alhambra so now you are wondering if it’s worth coming back and visiting the rest of the city?
Reading this article will help you with solving whatever doubt you may have and then there will be no more excuse not to go and explore the exquisite city of Granada.
Get lost in the picturesque alleys of the city centre and relish it through the story of glorious heritage and culture that each street, square, building and fountain can tell.
How do you get to Granada?
The nearest airport is the Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport, which operates mostly national flights, though.
The closest international airport is the Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport at 135km (84mi).
If I were you, since you are already there, I would take the chance to visit the beautiful city of Malaga as well. One day is more than enough to visit the city (have a look at my article about Malaga clicking here) and then take off to Granada!
From there you can rent a car and get to Granada in roughly 1h30m (best and quickest solution), or take the Alsa bus that takes you directly to the Granada bus station. It’s a 2-hour-15-minute ride and a one-way ticket costs 11.83€. Be advised, though, there are only 4 of those direct buses per day.
In extremis, you could consider flying to Seville and then embark on a 2-hour-30-minute drive (205km/155mi).
When should you go to Granada?
May is the best time of the year to visit the city of Granada.
The weather is warm but still not too hot (around 25 ℃/ 75 ℉) and if you happen to be there on the 3rd you will enjoy one of the most meaningful city celebrations, the Day of the Cross (Día de la Cruz) or festival of the May crosses (Cruces de Mayo).
On this occasion, groups of citizens, generally affiliated with the religious brotherhoods (hermandades) that coordinate the processions of the Easter Week (Semana Santa), compete for the most beautiful cross decorated with flowers. The streets of the city centre fill up with people in their typical Andalusian dresses walking around, visiting the crosses, dancing and celebrating and lovely Andalusian horses parading in the streets. A unique opportunity to look more closely at Granada religious traditions which are still deeply felt and respected.
What is Granada famous for?
Granada is one of the most notorious cities in Southern Spain. It’s located in the autonomous community of Andalusia at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Granada owes its fame to its magnificent Alhambra, one of the most remarkable examples of the legacy of the Al-Andalus, the Islamic state that during the Moorish domination included most of the Iberian Peninsula and, at its greatest extent, also a part of present-day southern France.
For those who haven’t heard of it, the Alhambra is a mid-13th century palace and fortress built on former Roman fortifications by the Arab Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada. Designed in the Nasrid style, the astonishing charm of the complex has inspired generation after generation of artists and scholars and left thousands and thousands of tourists breathless.
If it’s your first time in Granada, and you’ve never seen the Alhambra, check out this comprehensive guided tour.
Is Granada worth visiting without Alhambra?
The Alhambra is the most iconic and acclaimed landmark and attraction of the city, even so, though, it is not the only element enhancing the overall experience in the city of Granada.
Its old town buzzes with magnificent examples of Mudéjar art, an emblematic mix of Spanish and Islamic art used in the architecture through the 13th to the 16th centuries, enchanting flamenco dancers, stunning squares with charming gardens and fountains, delicious typical Spanish tapas places and wonderful Moorish teterías (teahouses). Granada is also well-known for the young and festive atmosphere that the large university student community confers to the city.
In short, I’d consider Granada well worth visiting even without the Alhambra.
In support of this statement, I collected a list of 20 memorable things to do in Granada other than the Alhambra. For your convenience, I decided to sort them by district, other worth-seeing places and some unmissable experiences.
So, without further ado, let’s now have a closer look at each of them.
Get ready to be amazed!
20 memorable things to do in Granada
In the Cathedral District:
1. Visit the Cathedral
The Cathedral of Granada or Cathedral of the Incarnation was built between the 16th and the 17th century on top of the city main mosque, the Nasrid Great Mosque, combining characteristic elements of Gothic architecture with others more typical of Renaissance style and some Baroque touches.
The entrance ticket costs 5€ inclusive of the audio guide.
If you’re interested in a guided tour, check out this 2-hour Cathedral and Royal Chapel Tour, available in English, Spanish, or French. If you prefer a private tour, check out this other one.
2. See the Royal Chapel
A few steps from the Cathedral stands the beautiful Royal Chapel built in the 16th century in Isabelline style. It was originally integrated into the complex of the neighbouring Granada Cathedral, today, though, they have two separate entrances and you can access one from the other.
The Chapel is home of the tombs of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, their daughter Joanna of Castile, also known as Joanna “the Mad”, and her husband Philip I, also known as Philip “the Handsome”.
The entrance ticket costs 5€ inclusive of the audio guide.
3. Have a look at the Madrasah Palace
A few meters from the Royal Chapel, you can find the lesser-known Madrasah Palace, home of the first university in Granada. It was established in 1349 by Yusuf I of Granada, the 7th Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada, who gave the building all the splendour of the Nasrid style.
Today the only remains of its magnificent past are the Oratory, its beautiful mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall that indicates the qibla, which is the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying) and its amazing octagonal dome that still retains its original colours (unlike the Alhambra where the original colours of inside walls and domes did not survive).
The term Madrasah (Madraza in Spanish) derives from the Arabic word “medersa” which means Koranic college or school.
Entry to the Madraza is 2€.
4. Check out the Alcaicería
Next to the Cathedral, you can also find the Alcaicería, an Ancient Arab Market, known by locals as the “Zoco”.
Built in the 15th century next to the Great Mosque, it originally consisted of a series of streets (almost the whole neighbour) and was home to more than 200 shops squeezed into a labyrinth of streets and alleyways bursting with Arabic silks, spices and other precious goods.
In the 19th century, though, a fire almost destroyed it. The only remaining section is nowadays Calle Alcaiceria with its small stalls and shops selling souvenirs, Arabic craftwork, ethnic clothing and knick-knacks.
5. Indulge in a hot chocolate with churros in Bib-Rambla Square
The Alcaicería opens through a tiny Moorish arch into Bib-Rambla Square. A vibrant, pedestrian-only square surrounded by townhouses, lime trees, kiosks and cafes from the 19th century.
Take a seat in one of these cafes, order a hot chocolate with churros (a Spanish traditional fried-dough pastry that matches delightfully with some hot chocolate) and enjoy this beautiful square.
Looking around you can see the cathedral’s single bell tower and facades jutting up over the northeast side of the square, the tiny arched entrance to the Alcaicería in the east side, and in the centre some ornamental lamp posts surrounding a 17th-century baroque fountain. The latter consists of a circle of grotesque figures spurting water, known as the “big giants” (gigantones), bearing on their hunched shoulders a rather undersized statue of Neptune.
6. Burn some calories reaching the Historic Garden of Genil Boulevards and behold the Roman Bridge
At a 15-minute walk from Bib Rambla Square, you can find the Historic Garden of Genil Boulevards, consisting of the Salón and the Bomba Boulevard, and the Roman Bridge declared a Site of Cultural Interest in 2007.
The Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) is located over the Genil river, right at its confluence with the Darro river. Despite its name, it was built in the 12th century, likely on previous Roman remains.
In the Albaicín District:
The Albaicín is the Arab spectacular old district located on a hill facing the Alhambra. It was declared a World Heritage Site along with this latter in 1984.
In the last years of Nasrid dominance, at its height of splendour, the Albaicín neighbourhood comprised a population of more than 40000 inhabitants and 30 mosques. After the reconquest, the Arabs practising Islam were expelled and the mosques demolished and replaced in the same site with churches.
7. Have a refreshing Moorish mint tea in Calderería Nueva street
The Calderería Nueva Street is a narrow street linking the upper and lower parts of Albaicín. It’s famous for its teterías (teahouses) and Moroccan craft shops.
Take some time to taste a Moroccan fresh mint tea with some typical Moroccan pastry such as Kaab el ghazal (gazelle horns, a crescent-shaped thin pastry shell wrapped around a sweet cinnamon-flavoured almond filling) or with a Pionono, a small pastry traditional of Granada.
8. Enjoy the astonishing view of the Alhambra from the Saint Nicholas viewpoint
Located in the middle of the Albaicín, the Saint Nicholas viewpoint (Mirador de San Nicolás) is the most famous, beautiful and emblematic viewpoint in Granada with the Alhambra and the Generalife in front, the city on the bottom, and the magnificent Sierra Nevada behind.
If you go there at sunset, you will be offered a view you will never forget.
9. Watch a flamenco show in a cave at Sacromonte
Sacromonte is known for its gipsy cave houses and its flamenco shows. It received this name, which means “holy mountain”, in the 15th century since people believed its caves contained the remnants of the city’s patron saint, Saint Caecilius.
Though, Gypsies (Gitanos) were not the first to live in those caves. The Arabs started carving out underground homes on the soft stone of the hill long before the arrival of the gipsies in Spain. The Romani simply took the Moorish caves after the reconquest and the expulsion of the Moors from Granada at the end of the 15th century.
The population of Gypsies living in Sacromonte has a long-standing tradition of flamenco, the typical Andalusian folkloric dance and music (song and guitar).
Flamenco has many types (Palos) categorized by criteria such as rhythmic pattern, mode, the progression of the chord, stanzaic form and geographical origin. Some are sung unaccompanied while others have a guitar or other accompaniment. Some forms are danced while others are not. Others are reserved for men and others for women, and others can be performed by either. The Gypsies of Granada are famous for performing a unique type of flamenco called “Palo de Zambra”, which it’s believed to be a continuation of earlier Morisco styles of dance.
Pick one of the many Palo de Zambra flamenco performances held in the cave houses used as bars, also known as “tablaos”, and enjoy the show until the very last second!
Check out this 2-hour Sacromonte Caves Flamenco Show!
A little curiosity: the Andalusian Romani speak a language known as Caló, which derived from India, where they originated.
In the Paseo de Los Tristes District:
10. Have a look at the Memorial to Queen Isabella and Columbus in Isabella the Catholic Square
The Isabella the Catholic Square (plaza de Isabel la Católica) is located at the conjunction of Gran Via de Colón and Reyes Católicos Street.
It was named after Queen Isabella I of Castile, one of the Catholic Monarchs that reconquered the city from the Moorish.
The square main feature is the stone and bronze memorial representing the queen and Columbus at the time of signing the Capitulation of Santa Fé that granted permission to the famous explorer to make his trip to America.
11. Grab a beer in an outdoor terrace in New Square
Despite its name, New Square (Plaza Nueva) is the oldest square in Granada.
In older times it was common for tournaments, bullfights and public executions. Nowadays it’s a popular area with lots of bars, restaurants (especially in Calle Elvira and Calle Calderería) and hotels due to its central location. Grab a beer and take a look around.
On the north side, you can see the Royal Chancellery (Real Chancillería), an imposing building in Baroque and Renaissance style built by Philip II in 1530, overlooking the paved square. In the past, it served as Supreme Court and prison. Today it is the headquarters of the High Court of Andalusia.
On the east side, where the square changes name into Saint Anne, you can find Saint Gailes and Saint Anne Church (Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana).
12. Step inside Saint Gailes and Saint Anne Church
This little Mudejar church was built in the 16th century on the site of the mosque of Almanzora.
The beautiful portal, the coffered Mudejar ceiling and the minaret tower, that later came to hold a clock tower, are the main features of this church.
The entrance is free.
13. Take a stroll through Carrera del Darro and Paseo de Los Tristes
Continue your visit toward Calle Santa Ana and cross the bridge called “Puente de Cabrera” on the River Darro. You will find yourself in Carrera del Darro, one of the most fascinating roads of the city with a romantic view on the river (especially at night).
Walk along the Carrera del Darro and stop at the Bañuelo (see point 14) before reaching Paseo de Los Tristes, which is continuous with the Carrera del Darro. The latter changes its name into Paseo de Los Tristes at the height of the House of the Chirimías, a three-tier brick tower.
The Paseo de Los Tristes (The Promenade of the Sad Ones) stretching in the Darro Valley, between the hills of the Alhambra on one side and the Albaicín on the other, is considered the most beautiful and scenic streets in Granada, along with Carrera del Darro, with good reason. Its colours, aromas, palaces, churches, convents, museums and medieval buildings make it a perfect illustration of how beautifully quirky the city of Granada is.
It is officially called Paseo del Padre Manjón, and before that, it was Paseo de la Puerta de Guadix.
So why does all Granada today know it by Paseo de Los Tristes?
This name arose from the fact that at the beginning of the 19th century when the present-day cemetery of San José de Granada was built on the hill of the Sabica, just above the Alhambra, all the funeral processions on the way to the cemetery had to pass through it. And, as many mourners would have rather said their last goodbyes to their deceased at this point then climb the road uphill to the graveyard, this street wasn’t exactly a cheerful place back in those days. Luckily, today is a whole different story!
If you have the chance, come back at night!
The magical view of the illuminated Alhambra and the gurgling sound of the Darro River will make you fall in love with this magnificent city.
14. Visit the Bañuelo
Continuing down the Carrera del Darro, on your right at the bottom of a private house, you can find the Hammam al-Yawza or Bath of the Walnut (Baño del Nogal), better known, since the end of the 19th century, by the diminutive Bañuelo, due to its smaller dimension compared to the royal baths of the Alhambra.
Built between the 11th and the 12th century, it is one of the few hammams (Islamic bathhouse) saved from destruction by the Catholic Monarchs, as among the Christians they had a reputation comparable to that of brothels. It survived probably only because, when the Spanish reconquered the city, a private building was built on top of it.
In 1918, it was declared a National Monument and restored. Thanks to that, today the Bañuelo is the oldest and best-preserved bathhouse (baño arabe) in Spain and the oldest work of Muslim Granada.
Buying the ticket called Monumentos Andalusíes from the Alhambra webpage, you can visit the Bañuelo, the Dar al-Horra Palace, the Horno de Oro House and the Corral del Carbón for the total price of 5€. The entry is free on Sundays.
More worth-seeing places:
15. Take a stroll through the Gran Vía de Colón Street
Gran Vía de Colón Street is one of the main thoroughfares of the city centre that scratches from just in front of Isabella The Catholic Square down to the Triumph Gardens. It grants access to the Cathedral, the Royal Chapel and the Madrasah Palace through its arteries. It is well-known for the great variety of its buildings, most of which built between 1897 and 1933.
Those buildings diverge significantly both for their typology and their architectural style. Most of them have a residential use, but we also find bank headquarters, administrative services and religious buildings. There are buildings of French influence (such as those of Caja Rural or Cortefiel); others of historicist style: neo-plateresque (Müller Palace), neo-Gothic (Church of the Sacred Heart or the facade of the Santa Paula Convent), neoclassical (Bank of Spain) and modernist (most of the houses).
16. Check out the Triumph Gardens
The Triumph Gardens stand in a place that serves a lot of tasks over the centuries. It was the home of a Byzantine church, an Arab cemetery, a place of public execution and finally a small park with gardens and fountains as of the mid-18th century.
In the meantime, in the 17th century, they built the Royal Hospital, on the hill just above the Gardens, a monument to the Virgin of the Immaculate, also known as the Virgin of the Triumph (over the sin), and at the end of the 19th century a bullfight arena in operation until 1948, when it was demolished.
Finally, in the middle of the 20th century, a monumental 75-meter-long fountain was put into place with plays of light and water, along with wide walks and gardens of undeniable beauty and botanical value. In those Gardens, one can appreciate more than two hundred trees of different species, among which are oleanders, magnolias, plane trees, cypresses, cedars, among others.
In the southern part, you can find the monument to Saint John of God (San Juan de Dios), one of the most important religious figures of the city.
17. Go for tapas
Going out to eat tapas is one of the most popular activities in Spain and an experience you do not want to miss!
The name “tapa” (singular for tapas) doesn’t refer to any particular dish or food, but rather to a small quantity of food that may be cold (such as olives or cheese) or hot (such as meatballs).
Originally, a tapa was a small portion of food that you got for free to complement the drink you ordered and would pay for. Nowadays, though, you must order and pay for your tapas in the vast majority of cases.
Yet, in Granada, they don’t charge you for your tapa. You order a drink and you receive a free tapa as simple as that!
Two popular areas known for their tapas bars are the Plaza de Toros (Bullfight arena), at a 10-minute walking distance from the Triumph Gardens, and Calle Navas, close to Isabella The Catholic Square (Plaza Isabel la Catolica).
If you want to play it safe, though, go to one of the following places for your tapas experience:
1. Bar Minotauro
You can find Bar Minotauro at the number 6 of Calle Imprenta, a few steps away from New Square (Plaza Nueva).
2. La Cueva de 1900 Restaurant
La Cuerva de 1900 Restaurant is at the number 13 of Calle Reyes Católicos, a 4-min walk from the Royal Chapel.
3. Bar Los Diamantes
There are two of them: one at the number 13 of New Square (Plaza Nueva) and another at the number 28 of Calle Navas. They are both good.
18. Taste the legendary churros with hot chocolate by Café Fútbol
Locals say Café Fútbol to be the best place where to enjoy chocolate con churros. You can find it at the number 6 of Plaza de Mariana Pineda, a 6-minute walk from Isabella the Catholic Square (Plaza Isabel La Catolica).
19. Have some ice-cream at Los Italianos
Locals say this to be the best ice-cream in all Granada. You can find them at number 4 of Gran Vía de Colón Street.
Their ace in the hole is the Cassata ice-cream served as a slice of cake place in a cone. Very unusual to my Italian eyes, but very effective when it comes to serving it and eating it on the go.
20. Chill out in a real Hammam
You don’t want to miss the chance to live a tranquil hammam experience in the cosy Moorish-style setting of Aljibe de San Miguel Baños Árabes, located at the number 41 of Calle San Miguel Alta (a 6-minute walk from Bib Rambla Square).
You will be welcomed by the personnel and escorted to a change room where you can put your bathing suit on and leave all your belongings in the lockers. They will provide you with a bath towel.
After that, you will be asked to take a quick shower and escorted to the inside of the hammam where you can find different pools, each one at a different water temperature. They recommend alternating immersion in cold and hot water. Coldwater baths reduce fatigue, improve skin and hair, and stimulate the lymphatic and immune systems. Hot water baths, instead, relieve muscle tension, decrease anxiety, clear nasal congestion, and have bactericidal action.
The whole ambience is infused with aromatic oils to produce a sensation of relaxation and tranquillity when inhaled and absorbed through the skin. There is also a little cosy room where you can go between immersion to have some mint tea.
If you like, you can have a 15, 30 or 60-minute massage made with different essential oils in a separated more intimate environment with the only sound of the murmur of the water, causing a feeling of fullness of body and mind.
The entire experience has a duration of 90 minutes, after which you can take a shower. Shampoo, shower gel, body and face cream are the hammam treat.
You will get out like a new person completely relaxed and regenerated!
Granada is the city of Andalusia that has better preserved its Moorish features and traditions. So much so than sometimes while walking through the old town streets you forget to be visiting a European city. You get, on the contrary, the impression of being stumbled into a Moroccan city and expect for someone to start speaking Arab at any moment.
The Alhambra is a magnification of all that. It’s not, though, the only element that could make you experience this feeling. Almost everything in Granada speaks of its ancient Arabic glory and splendour. So that sometimes one can be tempted to believe that, if it wasn’t for the Moorish domination, very little would become of the city of Granada and Andalusia in general.
Be it as it may, Granada is a place able to win the attention and the heart of even the most distracted and sceptical tourist and there is no way you are going to end up regretting having spent a couple of days uncovering its most inner gems!
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