If you speak to anybody who has been to Granada, actually just anybody who has heard of Granada, they will all ask the same question “What did you think of the Alhambra?” Although we prefer to find hidden gems rather than queue at traditional tourist traps we’re not so silly as to miss experiencing The Alhambra; especially as it was a view we saw every morning from our balcony! The Alhambra is an ancient, world famous enormous palace and fortress complex. Its massive palace parapets are perpetually full of people peering over the walls at the panoramic view of the city (try and say that 3 times faster).
Work originally began on the fortress in the 13th century. It was added to and rebuilt countless times by Moorish and Catholic Kings before it was declared a National Monument in 1870.
Apparently, The Alhambra was meant to be a set for Game of Thrones (the private residence of House Martell in case you’re interested), but, at the last minute was beaten by The Real Alcázar de Sevilla. According to our source this remains a bit of a touchy subject for the Granadinos.
So, we booked our tickets and, my gosh, it was worth it! Our highlights are below along with a list of the Top 5 Things we think you just should not miss whilst visiting this historic masterpiece.
It’s super simple to buy your tickets online (€14 each at the official site) just have your passport at hand as you will need to enter your passport number as a form of ID for the tickets later. Then, if you have a smart phone you can then simply present your phone to the staff and they’ll scan you in using the QR code on the tickets. No queuing to collect tickets just straight through to the gates. Modern technology, eh?
The website colour codes available days so you can see when the Alhambra is busiest. It’s no guarantee, especially in high season, but we picked an orange coloured day and were able to get a feel for the palaces in a way which would have been far more difficult in a busier time slot – we even took some photos which looked like we were alone!
Another option is to visit in the evening when it is a lot quieter – tickets are almost half the price, although some areas are closed off.
You can google The Alhambra, you can speak to people who have visited and you can marvel at the Alcazaba from the city far below. But nothing will prepare you for actually being there. The enormous fortress rises majestically from atop Sabika Hill as though the hill itself was built for it, or even part of it.
To reach the main entrance you have a few options to choose from:
- Walk up the steep wooded hill through the Gate of the Pomegranates which is at the top of Cuesta de Gomérez (on the left at Plaza Nueva next to Los Diamantes bar). It’s a beautiful and tranquil area, full of bird song and the sound of the steady streams of water flowing downhill each side of the shady leafy path.
It’s also a pretty gruelling incline (even for us coming from hilly Wales!) so take some water and stop if you need to – there are plenty of benches. The water in Granada is some of the purest in Europe, so refill your bottle from one of the many fountains and hydrate to your hearts content. In our opinion, this steep mini hike just makes entering the palace grounds all the more special – like you’ve earned it!
- Take the C3 minibus from Plaza Nueva just up the road from Plaza Isabel de Católica. Hop off at ‘Generalife’ . The minibus costs just €1.20 and may be the best choice dependent on the weather especially if it’s hot.
- Of course, you can get a cab or drive too but we're all about keeping to a budget so that we have more to spend on the fun things!
Right, you’ve made it to the Alhambra. Now here’s our list of the Top 5 Things you should not miss whilst visiting.
In no particular order:
#1 Le Medina
The main entrance gate will take you through to the medina. This part of the Alhambra complex was the working and residential area, and much of the foundations can still be seen. They were also a religious centre which makes sense as they are very calming. In fact, the beautifully symmetrical immaculate gardens are the perfect place to relax with a book and some tea. You can imagine the people who have sat before you, dreamers, writers, poets, Royalty…and plenty of weary tourists!
#2 The Nasrid Palaces - Including Palacio de Carlos V, Patio de los Leones, Palacio de Comares, Torre de Comares, Patio de los Arrayanes.
Our top tip is to take a moment to absorb the incredible decoration of the palaces. The walls and ceilings are decorated in beautiful ornate and symmetrical décor.
There are Arabic inscriptions engraved onto muqarnas (the fancy ceiling vaults) and many hidden in plain sight. The most common engraving is “Wa-la galib illa Allah”, which means “There’s no greater conqueror than Allah” there are also messages of happiness, ancient blessings and famous poetry, as well as (obviously) plenty of sentiments giving a big ‘shout out’ to the monarch of the time.
Patronato de la Alhambra obviously cater to tourists like us as they recreate bits of the ornate plaster work and wood carvings periodically for you to trace your fingers over – you shouldn’t touch the real thing!
*Note* Make sure you adhere to the time slot on your ticket in order to enter the Nasrid Palaces. They are about an 800 metre walk from the main entrance of the Alhambra. We came early, wondered around, and then started queuing 20 minutes before our ticket time. Despite booking during low season, and although they were all lovely to us, the staff do have a reputation of being strict – with anything from 2,000-9,000 visitors each day you can see why they need to be!
#3 The Panoramic View from the Vela tower on the Alcazaba
This was the part of the Alhambra we could see from our apartment. Vela means vigil and from the top of this enormous tower you can see the whole city and the silver sparkling motorway, with ant like cars snaking around going about their daily business. It’s certainly one way to feel like royalty far above the hustle and bustle of Granada.
#4 Take a break in Cat Plaza
We don’t know the real name of the busy plaza outside the entrance to the Alcazaba, but this area is a fantastic sun trap to rest your weary legs. You can sit on the low walls (not for the faint hearted) where you will have a view over the city while you get your energy back or enjoy a cerveza from the little café. Try not to fall asleep on the warm concrete lest the resident Alhambra cats think you’re prey.
#5 The Generalife
You'll find the Generalife Gardens on the slopes of Cerro del Sol – the accurately named Hill of the sun. A lot of replanting goes on at the beginning of the year but this spoils nothing of the beauty of the gardens. Later on in the year they are full of the sweet scent of roses, myrtles and blossoms. The gardens were designed as a sanctuary for Kings to escape the pressures of office. As such, there is no focal point in each garden, instead they are a feast for the eyes and the senses. Fountains and streams abound creating the most peaceful atmosphere. Most websites suggest 3-4 hours at the Alhambra – Generalife is one of the many reasons why you should set your whole day aside to experience all of it.
Visit the Carmen de los Martires right next to the Alhambra. See if you can spot one of the peacocks, ducks and red squirrels that hang out there! We have a short article about the gardens coming soon.
Shakespeare wrote “Curious travellers keep Granada in their heart, even without having visited it” We think he was talking about The Alambra and we hope to have shared just a bit of the magic of this place with you by writing this post. Let us know what you think. If you have any Alhambra stories or any treasures you think we may have missed please get in touch!
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