Granada should be on your must visit list, if you ever find yourself dreaming of Spain. Seeped in history, the city is famous as the last bastion of the Spanish Arabs, aka the Moors and home to the magnificent Moorish castle of Alhambra, also a UNESCO declared heritage site. The Darro river (more like a creek) separates the Alhambra from the Albayzin neighborhood, an erstwhile Moorish district, with parts dating back to the 11th century AD! Here is a guided Granada Tour on spending 48 hours in this beautiful Spanish city.
GRANADA TOUR: WHERE TO STAY
Much like Lisbon, Portugal we again used Airbnb for our lodging needs on our Granada tour. Our apartment was right next to the historic Albayzin neighborhood filled with winding streets, bustling souks at every corner, narrow lanes and cobbled pathways. Plus, we were also a 20 min walk away from the Alhambra. Albeit a lot of huffing and puffing went in lugging our things down the steep, stony stairs to the apartment, we couldn’t have asked for a better location right in the heart of a neighborhood which immediately made us feel transported to the medieval times. The apartment also had a balcony and a terrace, providing a birds eye view of the Albayzin.
GRANADA TOUR: HOW TO GET TICKETS TO ALHAMBRA WITHOUT BOOKING ONLINE
A few steps away from our apartment we were greeted with a charming restaurant Paprika, which to my fellow travelers delight was 100% vegan! Here I had the most delightful drink ever, a Sangria like concoction with their “ecological wine” and lemon juice (it was so delicious that I came in the next day for a second helping). After getting our bellyful, we accomplished the first order of business by going to the Alhambra bookstore in the city center and getting our tickets to the palace. This is absolutely necessary and should be your first order of business once you land in Granada, specially if you cannot get tickets online. Otherwise you will most likely have to stand in a very long line to get your tickets on the day of your visit as online ones are sold out eons ago, and even then tickets are not guaranteed since they sell out pretty fast, i.e. you might end up having a hissy-fit when you find out that all that patience came to a naught when informed at the ticket counter that the last tickets were sold. For the sake of your sanity and those around you, sneak up to the bookstore (the only one in city center which not a whole lot of people know about, so mum’s the word) the day before to get your tickets (if you are lucky you might get them like we did) or early morning of the day of your visit. Also, get tickets for both the “Generalife” (Spanish pronunciation: [xe.ne.ɾa.ˈli.fe]) and the Nasrid palace, but remember that the tickets are tied to the time of entry to the palace since its highly regulated in terms of traffic. In other words, you cannot enter the Nasrid palace in the Alhambra at any time other than that printed on your ticket, so make sure that you arrive at the main castle gates with plenty of time in your hands to visit the Nasrid palace. The Generalife is open to visiting at any time.
Granada tour: Monasterio de San Jerónimo and the Royal chapel of Granada
Once you get the tickets, make your way to the Monasterio de San Jerónimo and the Royal chapel of Granada, which is also a mausoleum (photography prohibited at the latter). The ornate monastery is a must visit since it hosts some of the finest examples of Spanish Baroque in its sacristy and is surrounded by a beautiful courtyard. We also stumbled upon a fun gift shop on the streets leading up to Albayzin and did some quick shopping there. Take some time to explore the fascinating Albayzin neighborhood to retrace the steps of the Moors, get some beautiful views of the setting sun from the Miradoras (viewing areas) scattered in the neighborhood and grab a bite to eat.
Granada Tour: Alhambra
“Behold this mass of glistening pearl,
Falling within a ring of frothing silver,
To flow amidst translucent gems
Than marbles whiter, than alabaster more translucent.”
-Ibn Zamrak (1333-93), in praise of The Alhambra
Granada is synonymous with Alhambra, the magnificent palace and fortress complex built by the Moorish Emirs, and finally conceded by the last Moorish Sultan Boabdil to the Christian Kings, which also marked the end of Islamic rule in Spain. The architecture, largely uninfluenced by the Byzantine style, is a classic example of Muslim art intertwined with European influences and is a sight to behold with its intricate stone carvings and arabesque, geometric tiles in hues of green, gold, blue, white and black. The Muslim palaces are adorned with tiles inscribed with lyrical verses in cursive Arab calligraphy, comprising of verses from the Quran, paeans of the Nasrid dynasty and witty aphorisms. The most abundant inscription is the Nasrid motto of “There is no victor but Allah”. Alhambra is a UNESCO declared heritage site and the one place to visit if you are ever in Granada. The palace and the surrounding gardens take a good 4-5 hours to visit, so plan accordingly. A map from either the Alhambra book store or the tourist office inside comes in handy, so be sure to grab one. We started our tour at the Nasrid palace, the Court of the lions (the ornate courtyard in the palace) enjoyed the roses blooming in the lush gardens of Generalife (where once nightingales used to sing) and visited the other palaces,watch towers and gardens plus the interior museum nested in the Charles palace.
Granada tour: Darro River Sidewalk
Darro river (more like a creek) is what separates Alhambra from Albayzin and an evening walk along the river bank is a great idea post the intense tour of the palace. During our walk, we witnessed some rad street flamenco dance and a church wedding as we made our way down the street flanking the river, and got glimpses of the Alhambra fortress standing tall and proud on the other side. My travelogue ends here since this was also our last night at Granada before we made our way to Madrid. Read my foodie adventures in Madrid here.
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