Granada is a beautiful university city with a slightly bohemian atmosphere. Granada is well worth exploring as there is much more to see than just the Alhambra Palace. In the main street, Calle de los Reyes Catolicos, you will find many boutiques, tapas bars, and even an Arab bath that you can actually use (see the website of Arab Baths of Spain for more details). If you’d like to do some shopping, there are many small side streets with great stores that are off of Calle Reyes Catolicos. If you want a taste of Morocco, you’ll need to explore the streets Calderería Nueva and Calderería Vieja that are just behind Plaza Nueva. Here you will find tearooms, cafes offering Arab pastries and water pipes, craft stalls and shops selling fragrant spices and shops selling falafel. There is also a bull ring, which is a good 10-minute walk away from the city centre. Driving isn’t recommended as many of the streets are closed to normal traffic.
The Alhambra Palace
The Alhambra rises up like an imposing castle with reddish tones in its ramparts that prevent the outside world from seeing the delicate beauty they enclose. Originally designed as a military area, the Alhambra became the residence of royalty and of the court of Granada in the middle of the thirteenth century, after the establishment of the Nasrid kingdom.
Throughout the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the fortress became a citadel with high ramparts and defensive towers, which house two main areas: the military area, or Alcazaba, the barracks of the royal guard, and the medina or court city, the location of the famous Nasrid Palaces and the remains of the houses of noblemen and plebeians who lived there. The Charles V Palace is also in the medina. The complex of monuments also has an independent palace opposite the Alhambra, surrounded by orchards and gardens, which was where the Granadine kings relaxed: the Generalife.
If you want to visit the Alhambra, it is important to know that tickets the often sell out, so it is easiest and safest to buy your tickets to the Alhambra online before you arrive. You can do this at the official Alhambra website.
Another must see area in Granada is the old Arabic quarter known as the Albaicín. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993. The Albaicín is located on the hill opposite the Alhambra. It is characterised by narrow cobblestone streets that are flanked by high white walls topped with cascading flowers. The walls conceal carmens, a type of house unique to the Albaicín, which comprise several buildings on different levels set around a courtyard filled with fruit, vegetables and flowers. There are many squares with terraces and places to laze about and have a bite to eat. The Albaicín is a painter’s paradise and almost at every turn of the head there is an attractive view, almost always involving glimpses of the Alhambra.
Be prepared to get a bit lost here as you roam. The street pattern is unmistakably Arabic, with tiny alleys zigzagging up the hill, linked by steep flights of steps. Many streets are L-shaped, ending in closed gates which allow no more than a glimpse of voluptuous gardens. Intoxicating perfumes and sounds waft over the walls, tinkling water and a plangent flamenco wail. You may encounter the Palacio Dar-Al-Horra, a mini-Alhambra dating back to the 15th century, which is now an information centre, and the Mosque of Granada. This is the first Muslim structure to be built since all the mosques in the Albaicín were turned into churches 500 years ago.
Slightly above the Albayzin, lies the area of the Sacromonte. There are caves here that are built into the sides of the mountain. Through the centuries, the gypsies lived in these caves. Many of them have been opened to the public and converted into restaurants and locals for flamenco performances. They are decorated with ceramics and traditional copper ware. For more details about these caves, visit the Cuevas Los Tarantos website.