5 Reasons Granada is the Star of Spain

Granada, the quintessential southern Spanish, Andalusian town, will steal your heart upon first glance; stay longer than a few days and you may never leave.  Granada is exotic and intriguing, yet it is so warm and welcoming that one immediately feels at ease.  The locals are some of the friendliest you will ever meet and they are eager to show off their city.  The architecture is marvelous at every turn and the surrounding landscapes- mountains, rivers and valleys- are peaceful and breathtaking.  Granada is a city meant to be explored on foot; wander the intricate streets and absorb this Andalusian culture.  Granada is a young and vibrant town, which means the drinks are cheap and tapas are plentiful (and delicious!), so grab a chair, and some tapas, and watch this Spanish life unfold all around you.

5. Alhambra

Originally constructed as a fortress in 889 and converted into a royal palace in 1332, it makes sense that the Alhambra is the star it is.  Ornate and intricate, grand yet intimate, this UNESCO landmark sees 6000 people wander across its grounds each day.  Poets have described the palace as “a pearl set in emeralds”; the colors, textures and perfectly crafted Moorish details are a true marvel.  Due to the need for preservation and the volume of tourists who visit each day, visitors must book tickets in advance to guarantee entry; you will only be able to access the Nasrid Palaces at the time indicated on your ticket, so arrive early!  The surrounding structures and sprawling gardens are just as beautiful, and travelers can quite easily pass a day marveling at the great Muslim architecture; just make sure you pack more than one camera battery, you will need it!

Alhambra Granada

4. Albayzin District

Perhaps the most popular neighborhood in Granada, the Albayzin District is Granada’s old Muslim quarter, and protected by UNESCO.  Essentially an open-museum, one could easily get lost wandering the winding, narrow, cobblestone streets, lined with white-washed mansions, adorned with beautifully colored walled gardens.  Located across the valley from the Alhambra and high up on the hill, the Albayzin offers show stopping views of the Alhambra, the city and the surrounding mountains. Chances are good that if you hang around the Mirador San Nicolas, the neighborhoods’ premier lookout point, the flamenco music will be constant, and welcoming.  Most restaurants situated right on the cliff have an unrivaled view, but the costs are high, so grab some fresh fruit and bread at the market, and head out just before sunset to find your own private lookout point- there are plenty!

Albayzin District Granada

3. Sacromonte, Granada

If you desire some true Flamenco music and dance, wander the streets of the Sacromonte neighborhood after dusk- the locals here open their doors to visitors to show off their beautiful and passionate culture.  Home to a thriving Roma community (commonly known as Gypsies), the caves of Sacromonte are filled to the brim with their traditional crafts and artwork; you can expect to find plenty of colorful fabrics and detailed clay work, made locally.  The caves themselves are a draw; located on top of the hill, you can wander around them on your own, or you can go with a tour guide; the guides will often take you inside an occupied cave to show you how the locals live.  The Sacromonte now is very much geared towards tourists, but head further up the hill and you can really get a feel of how this tight-knit cave community lived in the mid 1900’s.

Sacromonte, Granada

2. Carrera del Darro & Plaza Nueva

One of the oldest streets in Granada, the Carrera del Darro is located along the entire left bank of the River Darro, the river that runs through Granada itself.  Many consider this the most scenic street in town; the street, dating back to the 17th century, houses many interesting buildings from that era, with plenty of Arabic influence.  The river can be crossed by two handmade brick and stone bridges, artwork in themselves.  The Plaza Nueva is the oldest square in Granada and the entrance to the Carrera del Darro- it divides the modern part of town from the old.  From here, you can walk to almost all the historical sites in town, including the Alhambra and the Albaycin, as well as many important buildings, like the Royal Chancellery.  The square is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cold beer and some Spanish tapas after a full day of sightseeing; as the heart of town, most people pass by here at least once a day- it is the perfect place to take in Spanish life and culture.

Carrera del Darro Granada

1. Basilica de San Juan de Dios

The Basilica de San Juan de Dios is one of the most beautiful and intricate religious landmarks in all of Spain- the interior of this building literally glitters with gold.  Many people feel that if they have seen inside one church, they have seen all churches, but the same absolutely cannot be said for this gem.  Pay the worthwhile 4 euro entrance fee and step inside a world of intricate murals, ornate gold designs and interesting Spanish sculptures.  If you want, an audio guide is included in your admission fee, available in four languages.  Even if you aren’t interested in religious history, the architecture you see and feeling you get walking through the basilica is enough cause for an afternoon spent here.  Located on the Calle San Juan de Dios, the Basilica is in a central part of town, and offers the perfect reprieve from the hot Spanish heat.

Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com
Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

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