Exploring La Alhambra and the Narrow Alleyways of Granada, Spain
Upon arriving in Granada, we immediately noticed it was very hot but very dry. We caught a city bus to the center of town, hopped off, and walked the last five minutes to our Airbnb. This Airbnb was small and spartanly furnished but clean and modern – Ikea Chic style. The apartment had all the basics – air conditioning, clothes washer, dishwasher, sleek bathroom, and full size refrigerator. I was concerned the air conditioning wouldn’t be able to keep up with the 95-100 degree heat, but fortunately for us it had a setting that probably translates to “super jet fan turbo blast” in English. Not a bad place to stay for three nights.
Getting Around Town
Our $67 per night Airbnb was pleasantly situated on a quiet alleyway within five minutes of just about everything in town including the main town square, the Cathedral, restaurants, grocery stores, and the bus stop. It’s entirely possible to walk to most places in town and a car would be more trouble than what it’s worth unless you were planning to visit the surrounding countryside.
The main reason we visited Granada was to tour the expansive Moorish fortification and palaces known collectively as La Alhambra. It was a 20 minute walk uphill from our Airbnb or a quick 8 minute bus ride. We have three kids so the choice was obvious – bus it was!
A quick note: most buses in Granada are different than regular city buses ubiquitous throughout Europe and the US. These were shaped more like fancy bread delivery vans hollowed out and filled with benches and handholds. The narrow streets and alleyways of old town Granada couldn’t handle full size buses (except on a few routes that don’t stray from the major thoroughfares).
Granada buses are cheap. If you buy a bus card for €2 (about USD$2.40) you can then add funds to it in any amount €5 or greater. With the bus card, you save about 33% on each trip, making trips using the bus card only €0.79 each (USD$0.92).
Though we didn’t take any taxis, I saw the rate cards and they were surprisingly cheap. From what I recall it was USD$4-6 for a short to medium length ride (from the bus station into the center of town, for example). Once you see how steep some of the streets are, the taxis look like an even better deal.
One day we visited the Albaicin neighborhood – a thousand year old series of narrow alleyways lined with houses sitting on a hill overlooking La Alhambra. From our Airbnb to Albaicin was an easy five minute walk.
La Alhambra – The Main Attraction
We planned the whole nine day segment in Spain around visiting La Alhambra in Granada. It didn’t disappoint. I think the kids liked it too as they managed to trudge through the almost 100 degree weather for six hours (!!). There are water fountains all over the complex which helped immensely in our battle against dehydration.
La Alhambra’s roots are over 1,100 years old and date back to the days of Moorish conquest by the Muslims from North Africa (who controlled most of Spain for around 700 years).
The site itself is huge with one half of it extending a distance of a half mile from the main entrance gate. The other half of the site, the Generalife palace, measures roughly a quarter of a mile including buildings and gardens.
Planning tip: Tickets must be bought a month or two ahead of time during peak summer season, so don’t forget to book your tickets as soon as you can. Their website is cumbersome so allow a few extra days to deal with that. My experience involved a scratchy phone call to Ticketmaster Espana because the online site wouldn’t take any of my US-based credit or debit cards.
We mostly dined on food from the grocery store while in Granada. They had an amazing selection of cured meats and cheeses, olives, pastries, wine, and beer. Plenty of ingredients for homemade tapas! I also picked up some eggs and potatoes to try cooking the Spanish version of a tortilla after tasting it at a restaurant in Malaga a few days earlier.
Restaurants and bars line the slender streets of Granada. We tried a variety of Mediterranean food from a local restaurant. We got doner kebabs, kefta meat wraps, and “hamburgers” (the latter of which were really chicken burgers on a unique yeasty flatbread roll).
Thoughts on Granada
It’s a phenomenal place to visit for at least a few days. The town itself is interesting with its winding alleyways and narrow streets. La Alhambra is a very full day-long visit and a must-see if you make it to Granada. Though we didn’t make it outside of Granada proper on this trip, we were tempted to try out some great hiking trails criss-crossing the mountains and foothills around Granada (but the scorching temperatures kept us away).
La Alhambra is superb. The largest and best specimen of Moorish architecture in Spain. If you can’t make it to Granada, the Alcazaba in Malaga and the Alcazar in Seville are similar in nature to La Alhambra though not as grand in scale.
I’m glad we had a chance to visit Granada and other parts of Andalusia in southern Spain because these areas had a totally different look and feel compared to the rest of Europe. I’ve wanted to visit this region since studying Andalusia in Spanish class two decades ago. It took a while but my patience paid off!
Check out the whole series (so far) of our nine week European family vacation:
- Summer Vacation for 5 in Europe: 9 Weeks, 8 Countries, 14 Cities, $10,000
- Surprising Finds in Lisbon, Portugal
- From the Alcazaba to Sea in Malaga, Spain
- Exploring La Alhambra and the Narrow Alleyways of Granada, Spain
Interested in visiting La Alhambra? Have you already navigated the twisting alleyways of Granada?