Granada, Spain is a city rich in history with many incredible things to do. Whether exploring castles, eating tapas, or watching Flamenco, there’s no shortage of what to do in this bustling southern Spain city.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect when we entered Granada. Sure, there’s the Alhambra, which was first on our list of things to do in the south of Spain. But even outside of the massive fortress’ walls, we found Granada to be a city steeped in history with strong Arabic influence, stunning architecture, and charming neighborhoods filled with cobblestone streets.
If you’re planning a trip to Granada, Spain, definitely don’t miss these 5 incredible things to do in the beautiful Andalusian city.
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Getting to Granada, Spain
If you’re flying into Spain, there are a couple of options to consider for getting to Granada. Granada does have its own airport, but it’s rather small and expensive to fly into. For a cheaper option, try Malaga. This coastal city is a 1 hour and 30 minute drive from Granada, 1 hour 45 minutes by train, or 2 hours 15 minutes by bus.
Pro Tip: Rome2Rio is an amazing resource for comparing timing and pricing of transportation options between cities!
Always in search of the cheapest flight deal, we opted to fly into Madrid instead. From there we rented a car and drove the 4 hours to Granada. Not the most ideal, but since we were planning on road tripping through southern Spain anyway, it made the most sense for our wallets. We always book with RentalCars.com for the cheapest rate and flexible cancellation policies.
If you’re not renting a car, train connections can be found from Madrid to Granada, though it won’t be the fastest route. You can check train times and pricing with RailEurope.
For another option for getting around southern Spain without a car, don’t over look travel by bus. Buses in Spain are efficient, clean and comfortable, as well as extrememly affordable to getting from place to place. Spain’s main bus company is Alsa, and you can book online here.
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Getting Around Granada, Spain
Once you make it to Granada, getting around is much easier. The historical center of the city is actually quite small, making it very walkable. In fact, in some neighborhoods like Albayzin, with its tiny winding streets, the use of cars is even restricted for part of the day.
You should rarely need a taxi, but if you do, download the Pide Taxi App for a local option.
And if you’re not able to walk the city, Granada does have a bus system that travels even through the narrow streets of Albayzin and Sacromonte. It’s a great option if you’re not able to climb Granada’s many hills. The C30 bus will even take you from Plaza Isabel Catholica up to the Alhambra so you can skip the steep climb. (see all Granada bus routes here)
Weather in Granada | What to Pack
Weather in Granada varies by season, but the city generally experiences milder winters, with temperatures bouncing between 32 and 54 degrees Fahrenheit in it’s coldest month of January. Spring and fall temperatures hit highs in the mid 60s and 70s, making it an ideal time to visit.
Be sure to pack extra layers for chilly mornings that you can shed as the sun peeks out later in the day. And with all the walking you’ll do, having good walking shoes is a must.
Summer in Granada is hot, as it is in much of southern Spain. Be prepared for sweltering temps that reach into the 90s in June, July and August. A wide-brimmed hat, pocket-sized sunscreen, and light, breathable clothing are all musts for Spain in summer.
The Best Things to Do in Granada, Spain
Granada is a beautiful Andalusian city that is a must-visit for anyone traveling to southern Spain. Better yet, it can be easily explored in 3 to 4 days.
Here are a few of our favorite things that you absolutely must do while in Granada.
1 | Visit the Cathedral de Granada and Royal Chapel
While exploring Granada’s old town, you definitely won’t want to miss a visit to the Cathedral de Granada. This towering cathedral dominates the central part of the city with many squares with shops and restaurants surrounding it; you really can’t miss it!
As you enter the cathedral, which doesn’t require advanced tickets and costs just 6 Euros, you’ll first notice how light and bright it feels. The cathedral was built in 1518, later than most in Spain, in the middle of the old Muslim Medina after the Christian reconquest. This makes it unique from other Spanish cathedrals, many of which were rebuildings of former Muslim mosques.
While you’re at the Cathedral, add on a trip to the Royal Chapel, or Capilla Real de Granada. Unlike the cathedral, it was built in the gothic style and is the burial place of former Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I. You can pre-book a guided tour of both the Cathedral and Capilla with Viator.
Nearby, stroll the shops along Calle Zacatin, or visit La Alceiceria, an old Moorish market that used to dominate the area but now spans a much smaller section of Calle Alceiceria.
2 | Eat Tapas in Plaza de Bib Rambla
What would a trip to Spain be without eating copious amounts of tapas?
What are tapas exactly? A tapa is essential an ‘appetizer’ or ‘small plate’, and has evolved into it’s own style of food in Spain. Tapas can be hot or cold, and variety of options are endless.
Some of the most common items we found across numerous restaurants included:
- jamon – Iberico or Serrano
- queso – manchego being the most well-known
- tortilla – baked shredded potato and cheese
- patatas bravas – fried potatoes
- croquetas – fried balls of soft cheese and other fillings
- seafood salads – commonly atun (tuna) or pulpo (octopus)
- salmorejo – a cold sweet tomato soup
The size of tapas plates varied by restaurant, and you could often decipher the portion size by the price. Some menus would even note whether a particular item was offered as ‘tapas’ (small bites for 2-3 Euros), ‘racion’ (sharable plates good for 2-3 people, usually around 8-10 Euros), or ‘platos’ (served as a main dish). For our family or 4, we would generally order around 3 ‘racion’ size plates (or 5-6 ‘tapas’ size plates).
Granada is one of the last few places in southern Spain that still serves various tapas free of charge with a drink order. For example, when my friend and I stumbled into a small dive bar one night (sans kids), we received two reasonably sized pork sandwiches and potato chips with our two glasses of cheap wine: an unexpected surprise.
However, you shouldn’t expect a full meal of tapas for free. Even in Granada, this tradition is slowly going away. In popular squares like Plaza de Bib Rambla, you can expect some olives, bread, and a small tapa for free from most of the restaurants.
Need a guide? This highly rated tapas and wine tour offers a local guide to Granada’s vibrant tapas scene.
3 | Explore Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens
Let’s face it: if you’re coming to Granada, you can’t skip the Alhambra.
Even as you explore Granada’s old town, making your way up to the Alhambra, you’ll undoubtedly notice the rich Arabic influence that still remains in the city. This is because Granada was once the center of Islamic culture in Iberia. Until the Christian reconquest of Spain in 1492, Granada was under the rule of emirs from the Nasrid dynasty, the longest ruling Muslim dynasty in this region of Europe.
Alhambra, or “the red one”, draws millions of visitors to Granada each year. The Moorish fortress’ construction began in 1238, and is the largest remaining relic of Moorish rule in southern Spain, as well as one of the best preserved pieces of Islamic architecture in the modern world.
The highlight of Alhambra are the Nasrid Palaces, a collection of 4 different palaces housing 10 different royal apartments and courtyards. Entry is limited and a timed ticket is required to enter the complex. We booked our tour for 10 am, which allowed us some time to enter the complex grounds and familiarize ourselves before enterting the Nasrid Palaces.
As you make your way through the palaces, each room is more stunning than the next, traveling through a history of architecture. The details in each room are truly something you have to see for yourself to fully appreciate, from intricate wall carvings to delicate mosaic tile patterns. I’d recommend about 1-1.5 hours for the Nasrid Palaces. Strollers are not allowed inside, but you can check them for free at a luggage check on the grounds, as well as rent a baby carrier, if needed.
Another can’t miss spot in Alhambra is the Generalife Gardens. The best preserved Moorish gardens still remaining in Spain, Generalife served as a place for kings to get away from their official duties. You won’t find the same intricate details or architecture features here like you will at the palaces, and it’s believed that the simple construction of the gardens is why they were so loved by the royals as a place of respite. It’s a bit of a walk from the rest of Alhambra’s key sites, so allow approximately 2 hours to explore the gardens.
Finally, as you explore the Alhambra, don’t miss the Alcazaba. Directly opposite the entrance of the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba is the oldest part of Alhambra, thought to have actually existed before the Muslims arrived in Spain. Today, you can explore its ruins, abandoned for several centuries, and climb the multiple towers that look out over the city. The bell atop the most famous tower, Torre de la Vela, rings one time every year on January 2, signifying the date the Christian reconquest of Granada was successful.
Pro Tip: If you need a mid-day lunch break, you can leave the Alhambra complex and re-enter with your same ticket. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Restaurante Jardines Alberto, right outside Alhambra’s southern gate, before returning to explore Generalife Gardens.
4 | Explore Sacromonte’s Cave Houses
Another unique part of Granada that you must visit is the old neighborhood of Sacromonte. Cut right into the cliffside, Sacromonte’s “cuevas” or cave homes have long been home to the Roma or Gitano people (previously referred to as “gypsies”) and other marginalized populations. The neighborhood itself is not huge, but involves quite a work out to explore as you walk along the steep cliffs.
As you travel the main road, Camino del Sacromonte, you’ll find many cave bars and flamenco houses drawing tourists in. In Sacromonte, they perform a variation of flamenco called ‘zambra’, where the singer also dances. And while the flamenco in Sacromonte is most definitely touristy, it’s a unique opportunity you won’t soon forget! Cueva de la Rocio and Zambra María la Canastera are two of the most popular flamenco houses in Sacromonte worth visiting.
Travel up the hill and you’ll find the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte, which gives insight into the history of Sacromonte through pottery and tools used by the Roma and Gitano people in a recreated cave home.
And if nothing else, simply wander the neighborhood, taking in the views of the Alhambra and the rest of Granada from above, especially at viewpoints like Mirador de la Vereda de Enmedio.
5 | Watch the Sunset in Albayzin
Another of Granada’s oldest neighborhoods, Albayzin (or Albaicín) is home to the old Arab quarter, with it’s strong muslim influence still deeply visible in its architecture.
Spanning from the banks of the Darro River to far above on the hilltop, Albayzin’s winding streets lead you from one plaza to another. You’re certain to get lost, and that’s ok – there’s something new to be found on every corner.
While in the neighborhood, be sure to stop for a visit at the Church of New Salvador. Built from a former Muslim mosque, today it serves as a Christian church, but its beautiful Moorish courtyard remains.
Lastly, no trip to Albayzin would be complete without watching the sunset beam on the red walls of the Alhambra. Visitors can view this spectacular natural show from Mirador de San Nicholas, a popular mirador, or viewpoint. Book this guided tour and learn the history of the neighborhood on a sunset walking tour.
End the evening enjoying the view while indulging at a cliffside restaurant. We stopped by El Huerto de Juan Ranas just before sunset and lucked out with a beautiful view from our table, not to mention some delicious food. Restaurant Mirador de Morayma is another wonderful option, albeit, a bit fancier for kids.
Have you visited Southern Spain? Tell me your favorite spots!