In addition to a rich multicultural history, the Alhambra and other monuments, a student-driven nightlife, and skiing and trekking in the nearby Sierra Nevada, Granada offers a break from the summer heat of other Andalusian cities such as Córdoba or Seville. Spring and Fall are also both excellent times to visit. With much more cultural interest than other cities like Malaga, Granada is never overcrowded (although one should still book tickets to the Alhambra at least one day in advance).
• Plaza Isabel la Catolica, at the intersection of Gran Via de Colon and Calle Reyes Catolicos. At the junction of Granada’s two grand boulevards is this small square with a prominent statue of Columbus unfurling a contract with Queen Isabel, outlining the terms of their agreement in preparation for his first voyage to the Americas, an event which likely occurred in Granada. A pleasant fountain surrounds the statue and there are benches nearby, allowing you to relax and take in the passing crowds of vehicles and people.
• Cathedral of Granada. Towering over the surrounding blocks is this spectacular 16th century structure, the second-largest cathedral in Spain and noted for its bright Renaissance interior. Constructed after the Reconquista of Granada to replace the mosque on the site, the cathedral was laid out with Gothic foundations but built in the Renaissance style and decorated with Baroque elements. Upon entering you’ll be behind the main altar, located beneath the towering circular Capilla Mayor (sanctuary) with its magnificent domed ceiling. Surrounding the sanctuary and the pews are a series of chapels with magnificent artwork, and the sacristy (tucked away on your right immediately after entering) holds a collection of fine paintings, mirrors, and furnishings. Additionally, the spectacular facade of the cathedral (on the west side of the structure, opposite the Gran Via) is worth walking around outside to view - based on the design of a triumphal arch, it overshadows the small square below.
• The Alhambra: Part fortress (the Alcazaba), part palace (Palacios Nazaries), part garden (the Generalife) and part government city (the Medina), this medieval complex overlooking Granada is one of the top attractions in Spain, with many visitors coming to Granada expressly to see the Alhambra. The last Moorish stronghold in Europe, the Alhambra reflects the splendor of Moorish civilization in Andalusia and offers the visitor splendid ornamental architecture, spectacular and lush gardens, cascading and dripping water features, and breathtaking views of the city.
The Alhambra itself features the following:
- Alcazaba. The ruins of a massive fortress perched atop the crest of the hill overlooking the city, this is the oldest part of the Alhambra and offers some of the finest views of anywhere in the complex, with an expansive panorama from the top of the prominent tower that gives you a spectacular view of nearly the entire city and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Within the fort’s walls are the ruins of a town which once held soldier’s homes and baths, though today only the outline of these rooms remain.
- Palace of Charles V (Palacio de Carlos V). A more recent addition to the Alhambra, this sixteenth century building was commissioned following the Reconquista by Charles V as a royal residence close to the Alhambra palace. The square two-level structure is done in Renaissance style with an impressive circular courtyard ringed by a colonnade within. The building is also home to two museums, the Museo de la Alhambra on the lower floor with a collection of artifacts and art from the Alhambra, and the Museo de Bellas Artes, a small fine art museum on the upper floor, as well as a couple of changing museum exhibits which regularly feature art with some connection to the Alhambra.
- Palacios Nazaries. The Nasrid royal palace and the primary (and thus most crowded) attraction of the Alhambra complex, the palace is an impressive, at times breathtakingly beautiful work of architecture. Visitors get to see spectacular archways and windows, carved wooden ceilings, intricate molded-plaster work and colorful ceramic tiles at nearly every turn as they meander between lovely rooms and lush courtyards. Everyone starts their tour in the Mexuar, a set of administrative rooms with a beautiful prayer room and a small square courtyard with the golden Façade of Comares, before emerging in the Court of the Myrtles, a rectangular courtyard with a long pool of water flanked on each side by a myrtle hedge (hence the name). At the end of the courtyard you can enter a room to view the twelve Lion Statues from the fountain in the Court of the Lions, which is currently undergoing renovation. Cross to the other end of the Court of the Myrtles to enter the Ship Room, with its spectacular carved wooden ceiling in the shape of an upside-down hull, and the Chamber of the Ambassadors, the palace’s largest and perhaps most spectacular room, which once functioned as the throne room and features a star-studded wooden ceiling, intricately carved stucco walls and beautiful arched windows. From here you’ll pass through a series of small rooms, including the Washington Irving Room, where Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, as well as down an open-air hallway with an excellent view of an adjacent courtyard (the Court of Linda-Raja) and the Albayzín. Passing by the old bath house you’ll enter the Hall of the Two Sisters, a spectacular domed room with an intricate stucco ceiling and lovely views of the Court of Linda-Raja. From here you can navigate around the edge of the Court of the Lions (currently under renovation) to the Hall of the Abencerrages, structurally similar to the Hall of the Two Sisters. At this point you can exit the palace, which will place you near the entrance to the Partal Gardens.
- Generalife. The lush and gorgeous gardens of the Nasrid kings, the expansive Generalife is the finest set of Moorish style gardens in Andalusia, positioned on a hill situated at the rear of the complex overlooking the Alhambra palace. Within you’ll find beds of colorful flowers, more exquisite architecture, leaping fountains and cool shade. There are two entrances to the Generalife, one at the ticket booth on the east side of the complex and another next to the Palacios Nazaries which will take you through the Partal Gardens, a collection of palace gardens with flowing water streams and a large pool of water which reflects a nearby portico. From the Partal you can follow the Promenade of The Towers, the remains of the main wall and its adjoining towers that separate the Alhambra palace grounds from the Generalife. As you cross a bridge over a small canyon you’ll enter the Generalife proper, where you can follow a promenade past the amphitheater to the Lower Gardens, a collection of hedge rows with rectangular ponds at the center and colorful flower beds throughout. Past this is the Generalife Palace, the white structure sitting atop the hill and the highlight of a visit to the gardens, for it is within that you will find spectacular views, lovely architecture, and the much-photographed Court of the Main Canal, with its crossing jets of water that arc over the rectangular pool. Nearby is the Soultana’s Court, another picturesque courtyard with leaping fountains. Above the palace are the High Gardens, where you can find a gorgeous long pergola and the Water Stairway, which true to its name is a beautiful stairway with water flowing down its parapets. The gardens are huge, but the layout is simple as everything in the Generalife can be seen along a long, circular path.
• The Albayzín: Pleasant plazas, white-washed buildings, Muslim character and marvelous views. Situated on a hill above the center of town and across from the Alhambra, the Albayzín is an ancient Muslim neighborhood popular with visitors - and rightly so. Among its narrow, winding streets one will find beautiful white-washed old buildings, splendid Arabic shops and restaurants, scenic gardens, and marvelous views of Granada and the Alhambra. Today part of a UNESCO World Heritage site (along with the nearby neighborhood of Sacromonte, covered below), Albayzín dates back to the fourteenth century and was built as a defensive town and thrived as one of the centers of Granada under Muslim rule.