View of the Alahambra

A day in Granada to visit the Alhambra

In 2010, my two friends and I travelled from Australia to Europe, with a half day layover in London. During this trip we visited Seville, Cordoba, Grenada, Barcelona, Ibiza, Paris and then I continued to Scotland, ending in London for three days. This post covers our short trip to Granada to visit the Alhambra.

The Journey to Granada

The bus ride was Cordoba to Granada was absolutely beautiful, with most of the scenery consisting of gentle rolling hills, some covered in fog, some without, with many speckled with olive trees. The countryside looks so peaceful from the bus ride, it was difficult not to fall asleep.

 The route took us through about 5 small towns, with short stops to pick up passengers. About half way through the trip, I looked out the front window and saw a hill covered in hundreds of white houses, with a perfect church perched at the top. I wanted to stop and take a picture but I couldn’t. Ah well, now I see why so many people rent cars to get around in the area!

We arrived in Granada and decided to take a taxi to get to our hotel. The taxi driver knew where we were trying to get to, which was convenient since we only had my Lonely Planet guidebook map to go by. Traffic is absolutely insane and by this point I was very happy we hadn’t rented a car!!

After dropped our bags off at the hotel (yes, not a hostel) and fantasizing over the comfortable beds and real shower, we decided to go for a stroll.

Granada Cathedral
The Granada Cathedral at dusk
We headed in the direction of the cathedral and thought we were lost until we turned a corner, looked right and saw this massive church.
Granada Cathedral
Coming upon the Granada Cathedral was quite the surprise!
After stopping for the menu de dia (two courses, bread and coffee for 10 euros), we continued north to the Albaicin quarter, which is a historic Arab area. Like the other towns so far, the streets are made of stones, and are narrow, some only wide enough for a car and a person squeezed up against the wall as to not get hit by said car. If you want a kebab and some incense this is the place to come!

The lady at our hotel told us to walk to the top of the hill in this area for views of the Alhambra. We kept walking up and up until we randomly came across the place she had mentioned. It’s at a church called Mirador Saint Nicholos and many other people had the same idea. The view looks straight over at the Alhambra.

View of the Alhambra
She wasn’t lying about the views!

After more walking, a peek at some gift shops and more walking, we decided to walk along the riverside which runs along the bottom of the hill where the Alhambra sits. We ended up walking back up to the same hill we had viewed the Alhambra from before and this time there were about 4 times as many people .. all there to catch the Alhambra in the evening light.

By this time were were quite hungry and decided to do a small tapas crawl. In Granada when you order drinks you get free tapas, which everyone gets until they make a batch of something else. There’s no choosing what you get (or at least not at the places we went to). At the first stop it was a cold noodle salad and at the next it was ham and cheese toasties. We’re now used to getting free food with drinks, it’s going to be tough to leave the free food behind 🙂

We had planned on trying to see a flamanco show but by this time it was 10pm and time for dinner (things get started late here in Spain). So we ordered a plate of mixed tapas and by this time we were tired and full. It was a group decision to get to those (VERY comfy) beds earlier for our big day tomorrow.

The next day we had tickets for the Alhambra’s palace for 9:30am and after being told we should be there by 8:30am, we left the hotel before 8am.

We had planned to bring some picnic food with us but the grocery store next to our hotel had closed before we returned home the night before. Ah well, we thought we’d pick up some food along the walk up to the Alhambra. Spain doesn’t seem to wake up as early as some tourists do, and in the 20 minute walk we didn’t pass one shop that was open.

The Alhambra

When we arrived at the entranced, we were welcomed by a very long line. I was hoping it wasn’t the line to pick up pre-purchased tickets (it wasn’t). It seemed to be the line of people who didn’t read in a guidebook or anywhere else that you should definitely book in advance! By 8:30 they were announcing that there were only about 100 tickets left for the day. We were told that they only allocate so many to be purchased on the day, with the remainder sold online or by agents.

After standing in the wrong line for awhile after the guy said “a la derecho” (to the right) when I showed him my pre-booked receipt, we eventually found the correct line. The girls bought us all well-deserved coffees, and after about 15 minutes we were inside the gates.

The Alhambra is palace and a fortress and the Generalife, a huge garden area with more buildings. They regulate the number of people in the palace at a time so it’s not too packed. There were lots of tour groups, however, that we had to manoeuvre around. I’ve come to discover I’m more of a fortress /castle fan than a palace fan.

Almost tempting for a dip
Alhambra stone wall
So many places to sit and explore
Alhambra buildings
Lots of beautiful architecture
Alhambra gardens
Gardens galore
pool at the Alhambra
Another pool at the Alhambra
The Alcazaba is the fortress area, which when you climb to the top, has fabulous views of the city below and over to the area where we took pictures of the Alhambra the day / evening before.
View from the Alhambra grounds
View from the Alhambra grounds

Walking through the palace leads out to the turnoff to the palace, so instead of having to backtrack you should see all the buildings by the palace first, then the palace, and then the Generalife gardens.

We had an absolutely beautiful day to see the sites and by 1pm we were walking back down to the city. There’s only so much sightseeing at one palace!

Since we had to check out of our hotel in the morning, we were ‘homeless’ for the day. We spent a good part of the afternoon in the plaza next to the hotel reading. We did decide that after all the walking in the morning we deserved some churros con chocolate.

They are large deep fried donut things that you dip in chocolate sauce. YUM!! Although the guy brought us a HUGE plate of them. We tried but couldn’t finish them all!

I decided to go for a stroll by myself and ended up at the Cathedral. I figured for 3.50 euros I should go inside and check it out. It looks big from the outside, but it looks super big from the inside. There are about a dozen massive pillars inside, and the ceiling would have been about 8-10 stories high. I would say it was definitely worth the entrance fee. It also didn’t hurt that that there was a W.C. inside. It was located before the ticket booth, so I had to go back through the line of people to get to it. I found it was locked, so I pushed my way back through the line of people (and people do not like randoms pushing past them).

I got the key, pushed my way back, then pushed my way back again to return the key. It was a lot of hassle just to use the toilet! Although the people in line who then saw an unlocked toilet were super happy. I guess that’s my good deed for the year 🙂

We had a 10pm overnight train to Barcelona to catch. A bus runs right next to our hotel and to the train station so we decided to hop on that. Not wanting to miss or almost miss the train like the bus the morning before, we went extra early. This resulted in us waiting at the train station for an hour and a half. We were all so tired from the day to even bother leaving the station and walking around.

Finally 10pm came and we boarded the train. We had a 4 person sleeper and luckily no one else ended up in the room. It was cramped and the beds were small but I ended up sleeping pretty well. I guess that’s what waking up early and walking all day does to you!


We visited Granada as part of a trip to Spain in September 2010. 

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