Granada is a historic city, set at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was the last capital of Moorish Spain from the 13th to the 15th century, which has left its mark on the city, in particular the Alhambra, the palace and fortress of the Nasrid kings (pictured). Today it is a lively provincial capital and home to one of the largest and best known universities in Spain.
The city lies at the foot of a range of hills where the rivers Darro and Genil meet. The modern city centre is the Puerta Real (Royal Gate), and Acera del Darro, the main street built over the culverted Rio Darro. Rising above the city, on one side of the Darro valley, is the Albaicín, the oldest part of the city and the original Arab city. On the opposite side of the valley is the Alhambra. The centre of the tourist city is the Plaza Nueva.
Granada can be reached as a day trip from Málaga but, to see the Alhambra properly and experience the city’s nightlife, it is best to stay overnight.
Getting to Granada
The easiest way to reach Granada is by the express coach from Málaga. Coaches leave both Málaga and Granada at least every hour, usually on the hour, and take between 1½ and 2 hours depending on traffic conditions. A single ticket is from 11.57 to 14.91 euros – the more expensive journeys use luxury coaches. The service is operated by ALSA. Tickets can be bought online or from the ALSA machines and ticket windows at Málaga and Granada bus stations. The coaches are comfortable, but can be very busy on Friday and Sunday afternoons from 1500, when you may not get a seat on the first departure. For details of times and fares visit www.alsa.es/horarios-autobuses . A summary of times is here – COACHES Malaga . Several of the departures extend to or from Málaga airport.
The railway line to Granada is being reconstructed and all train journeys (except to Almeria) involve a coach replacement service. The new line may open later in 2018 when information here will be updated. July 2018.
Granada’s bus station is in the northern suburbs. City bus 33 departs frequently from directly outside the bus station. After a few stops change to the LAC bus – In the city centre the bus stops in the Gran Vía outside the cathedral, and in Acera del Darro close to Plaza Neuva. The fare is €1.40. A long-delayed tram route opened in 2017 linking the bus station to the southern suburbs, but it does not pass through the city centre and is unlikely to be of use to visitors.
The plan of the city centre, at the end of this post, will help with orientation.
Getting around Granada
Buses cost €1.40 for any journey (including changes within an hour). A Credibus card can be purchased from drivers for €5 or €10 euros (plus a returnable deposit of €2) which reduces the fare to €0.87 and €0.85 respectively.
The steep Albaicín and Alhambra hills are served by frequent minibuses, which are an adventure in themselves. Services C31 and C32 leave Plaza Nueva for the Albaicín every few minutes. Services C30 and C32 leave from Plaza de Isabel la Católica for the Alhambra every few minutes. The C32 provides a direct link between the Alhambra and the Albaicín.
The Granada City Tour is a hop-on hop-off road train (above), leaving regularly from Plaza Nueva and Plaza Mariana Pineda (near Acera del Darro). It includes the Alhambra and the Albaicín, travelling along narrow streets that an open top bus could not reach. It costs €8 (over 65s €4 for a 24 hour ticket. Departures are every 20-30 minutes and the whole route takes 80 minutes.
Places to visit – a selection
The Albaicín, viewed from the Alhambra
* The Alhambra is the must-see sight. For details see below.
* The Albaicín is like a village within the city, with clear Arab influences on the houses and street layout (left). Small squares such as Plaza Larga and Plaza San Miguel Bajo have cafes and bars, and there are excellent views of the Alhambra complex from the Mirador de San Nicolás. The picture of the Alhambra at the beginning of this post was taken from here – it is best visited in the hour before sunset, when the light is best, and before visiting the Alhambra, to give an idea of its layout.
* The cathedral and Capilla Real (Royal Chapel), where Ferdinand and Isabella, monarchs of Spain when the reconquest from the Moors was completed in 1492, are buried.
* the remains of the 11th century Arab baths, and nearby archeological museum, beside the Rio Darro.
* wander around the streets and squares (Plaza Bib-Rambla and Plaza Trinidad) behind the cathedral, and the Realejo district at the foot of the Alhambra hill.
* The main shopping areas are Acera del Darro (where there is an El Corte Ingles) and the streets between Puerta Real and Plaza Trinidad.
Visiting the Alhambra
The Alhambra is stunning and not to be missed. It was a city in itself, and covers a large area. At its core are the Moorish Nasrid palaces (Palacios Nazaríes), and other areas include the fortress (Alcazaba), the palace of Carlos V, extensive grounds, and the Generalife gardens and Summer Palace.
To protect its heritage there is a maximum number of visitors allowed each day. It is necessary to book your visit in advance – to get any remaining tickets on the day you have to queue from early morning. The Alhambra is managed by the Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife, www.alhambra-patronato.es and their official ticket agents are Ticketmaster and La Caixa bank.
To buy tickets follow the links on the Alhambra website. Select the general admission (visita general diurnal) option. Choose the day you wish to visit and select either the morning (0830 – 1400) or afternoon (from 1400) session. Entrance to the Nazrid Palaces is further limited to a maximum number of people each half-hour and you have to select a time.
Tickets should then be collected from the Alhambra entrance when you arrive. You will need the same credit card with which you bought the tickets and the reference number. They can also be collected in advance from any Servicaixa cash machine. You must pass through the ticket checkpoints within the half-day time slot, and the entrance to the Nasrid palaces within the half-hour time slot. Once inside the palaces you can remain for as long as you wish.
Places to eat and drink
In Granada, almost everywhere, a free tapa comes with every drink, and it is usual for locals to spend an evening wandering from bar to bar eating tapas – many places have their own specialities. You may not need to eat anything else, or if you are hungry, order (and pay for!) a larger plate (racion) from the menu. It is important to be aware that the tapa is seen as a gift from the house. Therefore it can be seen as rude to turn it down when it arrives, or to ask for something different. If you really do not want anything to eat, say so when you order a drink. Enjoy.
In the city centre:
* For outdoor drinking and eating there are umpteen places with outside terraces in the Plaza Nueva, further up the Darro valley in Paseo de los Tristes with fine views of the Alhambra, and also in the modern city centre along Acera del Darro, and the Rio Genil riverside.
* Bodegas Castañeda, in C/Almireceros, across Gran Vía from the cathedral, is a fine old bar with local wines and sherries and good tapas. (C/ = Calle = street).
* Calle Navas is a key destination for the tapeador – try Los Diamantes (always packed), with tremendous fish tapas, and the bizarre El Tabernaculo, where it’s Easter Week every day.
* Other suggestions are Puerta del Carmen, an upmarket café-bar opposite the town hall, Taberna Gamboa outside the NH Hotel, Bar Reca in Plaza Trinidad, and Mesón la Alegría in C/Moras, all of which serve good tapas.
In the Albaicín
* Bar Kiki at the Mirador de San Nicolás has a tremendous location.
* Rincón del Aurora in Plaza San Miguel Bajo is a pleasant neighbourhood bar
For a full meal
* Mesón la Alegría, on C/Navas in the city centre, serves excellent traditional Spanish dishes, heavy on the pork, including stews, sausages and black pudding, at a very reasonable price.
* Las Tomasas in the Albaicín has a terrace with an excellent view of the Alhambra and serves mid-priced good quality Spanish food. Reserve on 958 224 108
* El Carmen de San Miguel on the slopes of the Alhambra, overlooking the city, serves tremendous (and expensive) modern Andalucían cooking. Reserve on 958 226 723.
Places to stay
See the Rough Guide to Andalucía for recommendations in all price categories. For the best combination of price, location and comfort I suggest the Hotel NH Granada Centre, formerly the Hesperia, – www.nh-hotels.com (pictured). Though in a quiet street, like all city centre hotels in Granada there may be some late night street noise, particularly during University terms.
* Many places in Granada keep traditional hours, with shops closed between 1400 and 1700, and restaurants closed from 1600 to 2000. The Cathedral and Royal Chapel are closed between 1300 and 1600.
* There is a large Mercadona supermarket in Acera del Darro, close to the Rio Genil, which sells cheap water, wine and picnic supplies.
* the main souvenir and gift shops (open all day) are in the lane next to the Cathedral and Royal Chapel.
* Across the Gran Vía in C/Caldería Nueva is a group of Moroccan gift shops, teahouses and restaurants.
* The plan below will help you find your way around the city centre.
Photos: All photographs by Steve Gillon except for the following, sourced via Google Images: The Alhambra minibuses are from http://www.peppylocals,com and the Granda City Tour road train is from http://www.123rf.com.
The text, plan and all photos except for those listed above are copyright © Steve Gillon 2015, 2018