Granada, like other modern cities, continues to grow and change with the times. Yet, one thing remains the same: the
This is the most relaxed, friendly and welcoming district. The official language school is here so you see lots of young foreign students on their exchange programs taking time out in the bars and internet cafés, mixing freely with the locals. The residents like to hang around in their doorways, the shops and the squares, passing the time and gossiping.
You can sit outside to eat and drink in peace in any of the restaurants in Campo del Príncipe Square. This district was the city's Jewish quarter for centuries before the Inquisition's reign of terror and persecution. The Christian rulers who conquered Granada in 1492, and their successors, systematically expelled all Jews and Muslims from Spain during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The area around this square then became royal gardens for a while. Now the narrow winding streets and pretty whitewashed houses are nice to wander around without any specific purpose.
There's an atmospheric new Arabic quarter at the foot of the
The rest of the district, further up the hill, is a warren of alleys and cobbled streets running between whitewashed houses and villas with orchard or gardens called cármenes. The wealthy Arabs living here between the 12th and 15th centuries wanted privacy and sought to hide their prosperity in case they became the targets of envy and hostility. So they built high walls around their houses to keep out prying eyes. Look through the gates and grilles and you'll still see the geometrically designed gardens and patios with their fountains, irrigation systems, fruit trees, plants and flowers.
There are lots of pretty little squares up here too. The Plaza San Miguel Bajo, for example, fills up on sunny days with people sitting outside on the bar and restaurant terraces. The square's huge church, like most other churches in this area, was built on the site of a mosque after Christians took control of the city from the Moors in 1492. The Plaza Larga was once an Arab souk (market) and is still the venue for a market on Saturday mornings. You get the best views in the city from nearby
On your way back to the center you'll pass the historic buildings on
THE OLD QUARTER This area has been the city's main religious and commercial center since the 14th century and still offers great shopping for arts, crafts and souvenirs in the narrow little alleys of the
SHOPPING CENTRES AND NIGHTLIFE
Head for the lower, southern part of the city for large department stores like
Granada has understandably become a popular tourist destination and the range of places to stay has grown to meet the increase in demand. You'll find every category of accommodation available, from campsites to youth hostels to simple guest houses and hotels. There's something to meet most needs in terms of price, comfort, facilities and location. If you're looking for something close to the historic sights, you won't be disappointed. There are lots of comfortable, family-run, mid-range hotels within walking distance of the city's major attraction, the Alhambra.
Most visitors only spend two or three nights here, so there's a rapid turnover of rooms and as long as you're flexible about dates you'll always find somewhere to stay. The busiest times are during Easter Week and the Day of the Cross, at the start of May. If you want to see the colorful processions and dancing in the street, book a room well in advance.
If you're not short of money, the most memorable place to stay is inside the Alhambra complex itself, in the exclusive four-star San Francisco Parador. If you're looking for something unusual and different, try El Abanico Caves.
There are several hotels on the Alhambra hill set in leafy surroundings within walking distance of the historic complex: Los Alixares, Guadalupe, Washington Irving, Los Ángeles and the Hotel Alhambra Palace.
For cheaper accommodation that's still within walking distance of the Alhambra and the other historic sights, try Hostal Austria, Hotel Carlos V, Hotel Niza or Hostal Cónsul.
The area around the Cathedral and Royal Chapel has some more expensive and sophisticated bases for exploring the city's cultural and artistic heritage, in Anacapri, Gran Vía and NH Inglaterra.
If you want to be close to the central commercial and business district and the Conference and Exhibition Hall, look out for the eight-story Hotel San Antón with its prime location on the banks of the river Genil and its space-age external glass elevators. It's popular with business travelers and offers great views from the upper floors. For even greater luxury, close to the riverside, choose Hotel Tryp Albayzín. Two central hotels offer rooms specially equipped for disabled visitors, Hotel El Carmen and Saray.
You'll find three accommodation options all belonging to the same chain in the Camino de Ronda district alongside all the big department stores and shopping centers and close to the student nightlife area. Hotel Luz de Granada is popular with tour groups. Business travelers prefer Gran Hotel Luna de Granada. While families like the freedom offered by the self-catering facilities in Apartahotel Luna.
Away from the bright lights and noisy traffic, you'll find peaceful places to stay on the outskirts, including Hotel Sol Inn Alcano, Hotel Camino de Granada (near the airport) and Hotel San Gabriel, which has wonderful views of the Albayzín district.
You're never short of something to do in Granada. The range of entertainment on offer is vast and covers a wide spectrum of formal and informal events. One of the first things you'll notice is the amount of posters displayed in public places advertising pop concerts, orchestras, ethnic bands, theater shows, dance classes, photography exhibitions and lots more. Get a list of events from the tourist office.
Another thing you'll notice is that the locals like to dress up, go out and enjoy themselves. Many colorful traditional festivals are still celebrated with gusto. Even on ordinary weekend evenings you'll find a vibrant atmosphere in the streets and squares and bars. It's a university city with over 60000 students aged between 18 and 25. That means one in every six inhabitants is a student, and you know what students are like, always celebrating something.
Performers and spectators from all over the world flock to Granada during June and July every year to take part in the prestigious Festival Internacional de Música y Danza. The performance venues could hardly be more romantic and atmospheric and include the Generalife gardens and Charles V's Palace. The Festival Internacional de Teatro, the Festival Internacional de Tango and the Festival Internacional de Jazz Granada are just three more world-class cultural events hosted here annually.
The local fiestas are like big street parties where everyone is welcome and everyone gets involved. They all have religious origins but that doesn't stop anyone from dressing up in traditional costume, drinking lots of fino sherry and dancing sevillanas (lively folk dances) without inhibition until the early hours of the morning. That's what happens on the Day of the Cross on May 3rd when the streets and squares are covered with pretty crosses made out of flowers by the local residents. No sooner have you recovered from that excess than it's time for Corpus Christi, another religious celebration with a hedonistic flavor. After watching the processions of saints through the streets, people dress up in traditional costume once more and head out to the special arena on the outskirts of town. There's a children's amusement park with rides for the kids and tents where the adults get together to sing, dance and drink more fino sherry. The atmosphere is always relaxed and friendly and visitors are welcome to join in the fun.
The big student spring festival takes place at the end of March or the beginning of April with the support of the Town Hall, which hosts a weekend's worth of live music, theater, poetry and more. Students also celebrate the start of term in September and October and the end of exams in February and March.
There's a regular calendar of live theater in the Alhambra Theatre and Isabel la Católica Theatre with a selection of classic and modern drama. There's no shortage of cinemas either where you can catch up on the latest releases.
You could spend the day quietly soaking up information in the Archaeological Museum, Manuel de Falla's House and Museum, Federico García Lorca's House and Museum and the Museo de la Zambra (Museum of Gypsy Traditions).
Doing a bar crawl along the famous Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón is a popular way of spending Friday or Saturday night. See if you can make it from one end to the other still standing after stopping in at Soho or one of the many other bars and clubs along the way. Then turn up Calle San Juan de Dios to try El Rincón de San Juan de Dios before finally hitting the dance floor at Granada 10, Planta Baja or Sala Príncipe.
There are lots of outdoor attractions in the immediate vicinity as well. The Sierra Nevada ski resort is fully equipped and just 35km away. There are beaches and water parks on the shores of the Mediterranean only an hour's drive from the city center. For great trekking in pristine countryside, head for the Alpujarras, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, an hour and half's journey by car or public bus.
Granada is a relatively compact city. It's easy to reach virtually all the important historical sights on foot. This being said, there's no avoiding hills, steep flights of steps or narrow, cobblestone alleys, so comfortable, sturdy footwear is advisable. If you don't have the time or inclination to walk, public buses or private tour companies can take you to all the places mentioned below.
Tour 1: THE ALHAMBRA, GENERALIFE AND REALEJO
If you only have time to see one sight in Granada, head for the city's main attraction, the marvelous Alhambra and its adjoining Generalife gardens. The Alhambra complex is made up of three separate parts: the fortress, the palaces and the gardens attached to the summer palace. In 1238, an Arab prince, Ibn Ahmar, of the Nasrid tribe established Granada as an independent Moorish state and rebuilt the existing fortress on this hill at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Arabs called it al-Hamra, the red fort, after the ochre colored walls. The Nasrid dynasty expanded and beautified their hill settlement over their following 250-year rule.
Start from Plaza Nueva and go up the Cuesta de Gomérez, past all the budget guest houses, souvenir shops, guitar makers and craft shops, to Granada Gate. Walk through and turn right to see the Red Towers. Or turn left through the tree-lined avenue to reach one of the main entrances, the Justice Gate. This tower gateway features the Muslim symbols of a key and an outstretched hand, carved in marble. The five fingers symbolize the five precepts of the Koran. Once through the gate you reach the Jardín de los Adarves (Adarves Garden) that leads in turn to the Fortress. This was the Nasrid military headquarters. Beyond the central patio (Plaza de las Armas), you'll see an Arab bathhouse, living quarters, stables and dungeons. Climb up the steps to the defensive walls and towers for the fantastic views over the neighbouring Albayzín and Sacromonte districts.
The second part of the complex is the Royal Palace, which is made up of a number of brilliantly designed and decorated function rooms and courtyards that were used by the Muslim rulers for different purposes. To get here, you have to leave the fortress and follow the signs for the Nasrid Palaces. The first series of rooms, the Mexuar Palace, were used for business meetings and dispensing justice. From here you enter the Sala del Trono, or throne room, where the sultan made his most important decisions as military commander-in-chief. This room opens out onto the Patio de los Arrayanes (myrtles) with its large central pool, which then connects with the famous Patio of the Lions and the heart of the harem section. It was here that the rulers lived, in the Palace of the Lions, a series of rooms including the Sala de los Mocárabes, Sala de los Reyes, Sala de los Abencerrajes and Sala de dos Hermanas. After being mesmerized by the intricate beauty of the palaces, the next stage is to relax and wander through the sultan's luxuriant landscaped gardens and summer residence, together called the Generalife.
The Alhambra complex houses some other impressive buildings of a later date that were built after the Arabs were defeated and expelled from the region by the incoming Christian rulers. The massive bulk of the Renaissance-style Carlos V's Palace stands in stark contrast to the delicate Moorish Royal Palaces next door. The San Francisco Parador was once a mosque, then a monastery and is now a wonderful four-star hotel. The Santa María Church is also worth a look.
The whole of the Alhambra hill is covered in large leafy trees and is pleasant to walk around, especially in summer, to get some cool and shade. Head for the huge Hotel Alhambra Palace and walk below it, along the Paseo de los Coches, down to the Campo del Príncipe square, heart of the Realejo district. This square has lots of bars and restaurants where you can sit outside to enjoy a drink or a meal. The Realejo was the city's Jewish quarter until their expulsion from Spain in the late 15th century. The old whitewashed houses and narrow, mysterious streets give it a special charm.
Tour 2: THE ALBAYZÍN AND SACROMONTE
The Albayzín is the city's oldest district and still retains aspects of its medieval Moorish past. The invading Arabs first built their fortress on this hill. The residential area that developed later is a network of tiny, narrow streets running between Moorish-style cármenes, whitewashed houses with walled gardens and patios beautifully decorated with flowers, plants, trees and fountains.
Start your tour from the Plaza del Triunfo and head through Puerta de Elvira, an early fortified gateway. Walk up Cuesta de la Alhacaba to see some remains of the original Moorish defensive walls and other Fortified gates. Turn right towards Plaza San Miguel Bajo and you'll pass historic buildings like Dar-al-Horra Palace and Santa Isabel la Real Convent before reaching a viewpoint over the old town and the cathedral. Past the convent on the street of the same name, take the first left along Cuesta Madre de la Miel to Plaza Larga, which still functions as a colorful market on Saturday mornings, just as it did in Moorish times. From here, take Callejón San Cecilio to San Nicolás Square for some fantastic views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. Like most of the other churches in this district, the nearby Nuestro Salvador Church stands on the site of what was a mosque.
From the upper part of the Albayzín you see the hillside above littered with caves where the gypsy community have lived for centuries in the Sacromonte district. To visit, take Camino del Sacromonte from Cuesta del Chapiz. This has been an important pilgrimage route since the 17th century and used to be lined with crosses, although only four now remain. It leads to the fascinating 17th-century Sacromonte Abbey and Museum. The best times to come up here are on February 1st (St. Cecil's Day) or during Easter Week, when the pilgrimages and other religious festivities are spectacular. Or you can come to see a flamenco show any night of the week in one of the atmospheric gypsy caves.
To continue the tour through the Albayzín, return to Cuesta del Chapiz, turn left and head downhill until you come to the river Darro. Here, you can cross the bridge and follow the path upstream through some pretty countryside to Avellano fountain. Alternatively, you can stop at a bar for drinks and tapas and sit outside on the Paseo de los Tristes. After resting, carry on towards the Plaza Nueva along the Carrera del Darro, which runs alongside the river of the same name. You pass two more historic buildings on the way that are worth visiting, first the Casa Castril, a beautiful old palace that now houses the Archaeological Museum and second, the Arab baths.
Once in Plaza Nueva, turn right and walk along Calle Elvira to return to Plaza del Triunfo where you began.
Tour 3: THE HISTORIC CENTRE
Start from Plaza Nueva, the true center of the city. It's a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike. You can sit outside at one of the many bars and watch visitors making their way up to the Alhambra and locals heading in and out of appointments at the courts and registry offices. Both the Real Chancillería (Law Courts) and the San Gil and Santa Ana Church are located here.
Walk down the busy Calle Reyes Católicos past the statue on your left that commemorates the agreement signed in 1492 between Isabel of Castille and Christopher Columbus. Take the first alley on your left to visit the old Moorish inn, Corral del Carbón, which is now the main tourist office. To continue, return along the same alley and cross over Calle Reyes Católicos to the Alcaicería. Medieval merchants staying overnight in the Corral del Carbón transported their goods, especially silk, from the Alpujarras, to this market area to sell. This was the city's religious and commercial centre during the Middle Ages, and on the other side of the Alcacería you'll find three important historic buildings side by side: the Cathedral, Royal Chapel and Arab University . The surrounding area is full of small shops selling everything under the sun. Head back through the Alcacería, turn right and walk down Calle Zacatín to the attractive Bib-Rambla Square, filled with flower stalls. From nearby Plaza de las Pasiegas you'll see the impressive Cathedral facade. Take Calle San Jerónimo and you'll pass some of the old faculty buildings belonging to the University. You'll eventually come out at Calle San Juan de Dios. This street is lined with impressive early 16th-century religious buildings within a few hundred meters of each other, including San Justo and San Pastor Church, San Jerónimo Monastery and Church, San Juan de Dios Hospital and San Juan de Dios Church.
From here, you can head north up Calle San Juan de Dios to the massive fountain and the shade provided by Triunfo Gardens, located below the university's main administration offices in the Hospital Real. Or you can turn left and head south down Calle Gran Capitán and Calle Emperatriz Eugenia to the big department stores and shopping centers on Calle Arabial. Further along Calle Arabial you come to García Lorca Park where you'll find Federico García Lorca's House and Museum. He was a locally born, world-famous poet and playwright murdered at the age of 37 by General Franco's supporters at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Tour 4: RIVERSIDE WALK
This walk combines some of the city's minor, less-visited, but no less attractive sights with good shopping areas and leafy avenues. Start at Puerta Real outside the main post office building. Walk south along the Acera del Casino and the attractive tree-lined Carrera del Genil. There are smart shops on either side of the avenue along with Spain's premier department store, El Corte Inglés. Next door, you'll come to the church dedicated to Granada's patron saint, Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, where the wealthy like to get married. The river Genil is at the far end of the Carrera del Genil. There are two options at this point. Turn left and walk upriver, following the leafy Paseos del Salón and la Bomba and then head uphill to explore the fascinating old Jewish quarter, the Realejo. Or turn right and cross the river to reach the Paseo del Violón, where you'll find the Conference and Exhibition Hall, San Sebastián's Chapel and an Old Moorish Fort. Keep going in the same direction and you'll come to the ultra-modern Science Park.