No trip to Andalusia is complete with visiting Granada, and Granada has to be one of the “must-see” destinations in Spain. With religious and cultural history from Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the city is full of unique sites with a rich past. Still, Granada can show its modern side as well. When choosing things to do in Granada, try looking past all the history and looking at some alternatives.
Let’s have a look at what to do in Granada, Spain
The first point about the Alhambra is that it is vast, and it is too big to enjoy a complete visit in a day and appreciate the splendour of the Nasrids’ palace.
The Alhambra, though, is not just a palace. Within the fortress walls are several other hidden treasures and it is our No.1 in things to do in Granada
These are gardens and grounds attached to the palace.
The gardens are befitting of a Moorish king with fountains, water pools and an abundance of flowering bushes and shrubs. At the very top of the gardens is the Generalife palace, where the kings would spend the hot summer days.
Palace of Charles V
This building is sat totally out of place within the calm beauty of the Alhambra. Charles V decided to build a renaissance building within the Moorish Palace. The building itself is fascinating with but a centrepiece of a stunning circular courtyard with many colonnades.
Nowadays, the palace is home to the Museum of Fine Arts, housing over 2000 pieces of art, including sculptures and fine paintings.
From the 13th century, Alcazaba was a military citadel or training school for the Royal guard. You can walk the ramparts and marvel at the sheer scale of the defences.
The Alcazaba tower provides panoramic views of Granada City and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This palace is in 3 separate parts, and a visit will leave one overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the carvings, fountains, pools, courtyards and complex geometric Islamic designs.
It is very wise to check the Alhambra official website for restrictions. Bookings have to be made via the official website, and visitor numbers are restricted each day to protect this important historical building. There are also stringent rules regarding touching and photography, for example.
The Sierra Nevada
Just half an hour away from the centre of Granada lies the Sierra Nevada national park. Mulhacén dominates the range as the highest mountain in Spain, at 3,478m, and it is the most southerly Ski resort in Europe.
The Sierra Nevada Ski station has a 110Km total length of 131 slopes, and 21 Ski lifts provide over 45,000 skiers per hour. There are seven black and 53 red slopes for advanced skiers and 45 blue and 19 green slopes for the more novice skiers.
Being set in Spain, the Sierra Nevada ski resort has more sunny days to enjoy skiing or snowboarding than any other European resort.
As with all ski resorts, the “après-ski” is very important, and this resort does not disappoint, with lively nightlife and plenty of bars and restaurants.
Carrera del Darro
Below the Albayzín district, you find the street Carrera del Darro and one of the most beautiful areas of the whole city. The tiny river Darro flows slowly due to reduced flow, and it has an abundance of bushes and shrubs on the banks. A few small stone bridges still survive, allowing you to pass to the other side, and in places, the street narrows to just a couple of metres wide. The lower end of the road is home to hotels and restaurants, often hidden behind massive wooden doors.
At the upper end of Carrera del Darro, a large plaza opens up in front of you, known as “Paseo de Los Tristes” or ‘the walk of the sad ones’. It is so-called because funeral processions used to pass through here to the cemetery. The plaza has bars and restaurants set on the ground floor of impressive Moorish and renaissance buildings and directly opposite a phenomenal view of the Alhambra.
Tables and chairs line the plaza, and it is an excellent place for an “al fresco” drink and tapa in the shadow of the Alhambra. One trait of this particular plaza is the buskers, and these are not normal buskers, as you may well find yourself listening to a cello or flute playing classical music in the background.
Nevada Shopping Complex
A contentious choice for 4th place given all the historical places to visit but we all love shopping, don’t we?
The Nevada Shopping complex is on the southern approach to Granada and is easily accessible by car or bus. One of the largest commercial centres in Europe, it has all the usual facilities and shops, but with 5,800 parking spaces and 240 shops set in 120,000m2, it has become a large part of the shopping scene in Granada and the surrounding areas.
It has high glass ceilings producing the most beautiful lighting, and there is a panoramic glass wall of gigantic proportions which gives views directly to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
And if that wasn’t enough, it boasts the highest Christmas tree in Europe. At 55m tall, it has to have a beacon to warn aircraft.
It is a sight to behold during the festive season when lit.
Drinks and Tapas
Although there is no reliable history of how “tapas” came into being, it is accepted that a piece of bread or similar was placed over the top of a glass to stop flies from entering the drink. A cover for a drink seems the most reliable explanation and is perfectly believable. You probably do the same now, but with a beer mat instead.
Tapas originated in Andalucia but only in the Granada region have they always been a “gift” from the establishment.
In other words, they are free with soft drinks, beer and wine.
When bars and restaurants are open for serving, typically 13:00 – 16:00 and 20:00 – Midnight, you can expect a free tapa.
Some establishments have a menu to choose Tapas from, and others are more traditional, where you are served whatever the kitchen has prepared. During Summer, this could be Russian Salad or Fried fish, and in Winter, hearty stews and meats on slices of bread. Do keep a lookout for some of the smaller, back street bars. They may look a bit run down but have a charm and personality.
Order a beer made from Granadas’ very own brewery CERVEZAS ALHAMBRA if you want to look like a local. Suppose you’re going to be a connoisseur of Granada brewing capabilities. In that case, you need to order a 1925 “mil novecientos veinticinco” Drunk from the iconic label-less green bottle, and at 6.4%, it is pretty potent. Salud.
Parque de las Ciencias – Science Park
If the weather goes against you, you might want to try out the Science park. Just 15 minutes walk from the city centre is a modern attraction offering an interactive tour. Be warned that the park is vast at 70,000 m2 and may need more than one day to appreciate it fully.
There are seven permanent exhibitions and many temporary ones. There is so much to see and do, and it would be best to plan your trip ahead of arrival.
There is one exhibition which is unmissable though, the Planetarium. With over 100 projectors capable of producing over 7,000 stars, you are taken on a journey across the Granada skyline with significant landmarks as a backdrop.
Your visit will be educational, but it will also be interactive and fun. Children are well catered for with experiments such as showing how much water is in their bodies, and they will be amused and stimulated the whole time.
Electric Bike Tours
There are several companies offering tours of Granada on Electric Bikes. These expeditions provide everything needed for a safe journey, including helmets, fluorescent jackets and complete training.
Most tours last two to three hours and focus on the main historical attractions in the Albaicin and Sacromonte. It is an excellent way to explore the steep streets in these areas, especially if you have any mobility issues.
There are companies providing tours through the forests on the outskirts of Granada for the more adventurous.
Tour leaders often act as tour guides providing valuable and interesting information along the journey.
Sacromonte, or “Holy Mountain”, is another of Granada’s traditional neighbourhoods. Sacromonte became the centre for the gipsy community following the retaking of the city by the Catholic Monarchs. The area is precariously located on the slopes of Valparaíso.
In the 16th century, the area began to be settled amongst the pine trees and cacti by hewing out the rock face and creating cave houses. No two cave houses are the same as the landscape, and the geology determines the dimensions of each cave. If you fancy the full “Gitano” experience, there are often caves available to rent for vacations.
If you are interested in gipsy or Roma culture, the Museum of Sacramonte is worth a visit to understand more about the history and culture.
You will find the best Flamenco in this area, with bars and restaurants having regular shows. You might just get lucky enough to stumble upon someone practicing in their own cave house.
Granada’s Arab quarter is a sight to behold.
Tight, winding alleys, Moorish townhouses and Moorish architecture wherever you look.
There are plenty of small, shady plazas scattered throughout the Albayzin, but there are also lots of steps in this neighbourhood.
It is definitely worth the effort to reach the top for the incredible views of the Alhambra. Should you find yourself tired, there are plenty of small bars and restaurants dotted around, offering respite.
Plaza de San Nicolás
The Church of San Nicolás and the plaza to its front can be found right at the summit of the Albayzín district. There are regular buses from the bottom of Albayzín, or you could take a bit of fresh air with a 45-minute uphill walk! There are advantages to the walk, though. There is plenty of interesting architecture and small plazas with bars and restaurants dotted around.
When you finally reach your destination, the views are spectacular. The Sierra Nevada peaks are in the background of the ultimate view of the Alhambra.
Take time out to sit on the benches and soak up the view, or get that once in a lifetime selfie.
It really is the best viewpoint in Granada.
Have a Hammam
The baths on Carrera del Darro, El Bañuelo, are very rare as most were destroyed by the Catholics as being as unseemly as a brothel. Fortunately, these baths were underneath a private house and so were not discovered.
It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit and look back in time inside an original hammam.
But now you have visited an original Hammam, why not go for one yourself. There are hammams all over Granada that you can treat yourself in. In most, the layouts are similar, with star-shaped skylights and geometric patterned tiles.
You can sip on mint tea whilst lying on a giant heated marble slab or use a steam room, dip in one of the many pools of water and have a massage from the in house masseurs.
Enter a state of deep relaxation and leave a new person.
Corral del Carbón
The Corral del Carbón was once a warehouse and inn/shelter for merchants and the only surviving one in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the oldest construction remaining from the Nasrid dynasty. The exact date is unknown, but it is mentioned in records in 1336, making it pretty old.
Seven hundred years ago, merchants and traders used it to store their goods and rest for the night. Enter through the awe-inspiring double-arched gate into the central courtyard; around the outside were the lodgings for the travellers.
The Corral del Carbón sometimes hosts Flamenco shows in the courtyard during the summer months, which must be a spectacle in those surroundings.
Toast and tomato
Breakfast in Granada is quite an affair, and no one misses breakfast. Traditionally the day starts with a coffee and a small Magdelena cake.
Cake and coffee do not form a breakfast, though. That comes a little later, around 10:30, and you will find the cafes full of noisy chatter and the smell of toast.
There is nothing more “Granadino” than lightly toasted baguette-style bread, topped with copious amounts of cold tomatoes blitzed to a pulp. The toast is then stabbed multiple times to allow the huge quantity of olive oil applied to soak into the bread.
Oh, and the salt, lots and lots of salt.
It is a dish way better than the sum of its’ parts.
Granada Cathedral is the 2nd largest cathedral in Spain, beaten to the top only by the famous Seville cathedral. It was built on top of the Granada mosque in the 16th century. Due to the construction occurring during a transition of architectural styles, it is a part renaissance and part gothic.
All cathedrals are impressive, but this is quite spectacular with a myriad of sculptures and paintings and stained glass windows that are breathtaking.
Hop-on, Hop-off Buses
You will see little Green, white and red buses all over Granada. These are a sightseeing bus service. You can hop on and off to suit yourself with a valid ticket. The buses go through all the main special interest areas and all the main monuments. They offer a free audio guide and free Wi-Fi and are fully heated for the winter months.
Adult prices start at €4, so there is no reason not to see the best of Granada.