Exploring La Alhambra and the Narrow Alleyways of Granada, Spain

This week we’re visiting the third stop on our nine week family vacation in Europe.  After spending two nights in Malaga, Spain, the five of us set out on a two hour bus ride to 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.

Taxis won’t haul your lazy butt up this steep alleyway unfortunately.

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.

I’d hate to be driving on these streets. Good thing those mirrors are retractable.

 

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.

Good spirits in spite of the heat.  This shot was taken in the Generalife Palace with La Alhambra in the background.

 

Looking at La Alhambra from the Albaicin neighborhood.

 

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.

One of many gardens in the foreground with the Nasrid Palace and Carlos V Palace in the background.

 

Part palace, part fort. Great views of Granada abound.

 

Amazing pools. How did they build these 700 years ago on top of this mountain in the middle of the desert?

 

More pools in the gardens.

 

Nasrid Palace courtyard.

 

Intricately carved pillars and ceiling.

 

Courtyard in the Generalife Palace.

 

Good Eats

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.

Exploring the grocery stores in Spain was an experience in itself. Great way to better understand the culinary traditions of a place.  I also learned you DON’T TOUCH THE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. There’s a lady in charge of handling the produce for you. After some begging and pleading from me, she did let me sneak a quick squeeze on the nectarines to see how ripe they were.

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).

Main shopping street in Granada. It’s covered so the intense summer sun won’t burn you up!

 

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:

 

 

Interested in visiting La Alhambra?  Have you already navigated the twisting alleyways of Granada?

 

 

37 comments

  • I’ve never been to Granada only Madrid and Barcelona in Spain or Catalonia depending on how things shake out in the next couple of months over there 🙂

    I love all the pictures and it’s opening my eyes to places that I had never previously considered. I seriously can’t wait to see more and see where your next adventure takes you 🙂

  • I am always amazed at what you do and for so little cost! The AirBNB’s seem to be much more reasonably priced than the ones we have stayed at. And using public transportation is definitely so much more cost effective (especially with a family!) I’m hoping we can do some of these trips at a time when it isn’t so crowded and when the temperatures aren’t so high (like you said – it would have been tough hiking!) Looking forward to the next part!

    • We booked the airbnbs 6 months ahead of time so we got first pick of the lowest cost inventory. Spain was especially cheap compared to most of the rest of the trip.

  • I’ve run into similar produce rules while traveling. Nothing like getting scolded for picking out your fruit. But checking out local grocery stores is one of my favorite travel activities.

    • Agreed. We currently live in China where picking out fruit is a very hands-on process of pick up, feel, put back, repeat. Just got back from Italy where you are supposed to put on a plastic glove before touching any produce. Who knew, until you get scolded? It’s all part of the learning experience I guess.

    • It’s interesting for sure. Spain and Italy both seemed to have hang ups on the fruit-touching. I saw a funny sign in a grocery store in Seville that explained the process of picking up fruit, inspecting it, weighing it if you would like to measure what you’re getting, then bagging it yourself. I guess the tradition of having the fruit lady pick it out and bag and price it for you was so pervasive that people had never encountered the kind of unstaffed produce section seen in this store (and what we see virtually everywhere in the US, Canada, Mexico and most of the rest of the world!).

  • Mrs. Adventure Rich

    Oh wow, this looks incredible! The Generalife palace is gorgeous!

  • I’m really enjoying reading about your summer travel adventure.

    I also just saw a very interesting picture of you Justin or should I call you Mr Simmons on Mr 1500’s post this morning! Good luck in the “race” to 2M. I hope you both achieve 2M simultaneously!

  • These posts are fantastic. Thank you for sharing the ins and outs with us! My wife and I have plans for a week in Berlin and another week TBD somewhere in Europe next year, and this is giving me some wonderful ammunition toward a warm Spanish-speaking destination.

  • Looks beautiful! Having been to Portugal in the summer I can definitely say that covered roadway is awesome. It can be hard to find shade at certain times and being in the sun for a long period isn’t very comfortable. Shopping in the shade is a nice luxury.

  • What a great trip. Looking at your pictures, I was thinking that La Alhambra and those gardens and fountains looked an awful lot like the kingdom of Dorne from the Game of Thrones TV show. Google-fu confirmed that to be fact. It was indeed the filming location for the show. Very exciting.

    • I think the garden scene of Dorne that you’re thinking of was actually filmed at the Alcazar in Seville (our next stop, and hence the next post!). Looks remarkably similar though, and I think the Alcazar could stand in for Alhambra if you can’t make it the 3 hr bus ride east to Granada from Seville.

  • Totally read that as “let me sneak a quick sneeze on the nectarines.”

  • This looks amazing. Planning a trip to Croatia or Greece but you are making Spain look very tempting!

  • Great trip report RoG! I love all the photos! We might just have to visit there some day.

    Our family is currently touring around Japan, and I gotta say — This slow travel stuff is great!

    • Hope the trip is going well! Looking forward to any trip updates from Japan! I’d love to visit but wouldn’t want to do it in the middle of summer when it’s the hottest. I hear all about the heat there from our Japanese friend/neighbor who spends every summer back home near Tokyo.

  • Wow, that is a really nice palace/fort.

    Strange that they won’t let you touch their fruit. Maybe because they know that making fruit forbidden makes you want it more. I totally would’ve copped a feel when they’re not looking.

    We’ll have to check out Granada the next time we’re in Spain.

    • That fruit lady in Granada thought she was giving me special treatment by letting me touch the fruit. I’m like “I do this all the time at home!”. We’re so spoiled here…

  • Beautiful pictures. Did they say why you’re not supposed to touch the fruit? I wouldn’t buy if I couldn’t feel for freshness and firmness.

    • I’m assuming people consider it unsanitary. That or they’re afraid we’ll mess it up. Or pick all the good fruit and leave the bad ones on the shelf. Not really sure and I didn’t think to ask (or I totally would have!).

  • Granada and Sevilla were my favorite cities in Spain when we visited in 2003. Madrid and Barcelona felt like another big city. The smaller cities had more character. The Alhambra is pretty awesome. We didn’t spend enough time there last time. Next time, I’d definitely stay longer. Great pictures.

    • I hope to hit Madrid and Barcelona on a future visit, but very glad we visited Seville, Granada, and Malaga. They stood out a lot more in our research, and we had plenty of other big city Europe experiences in Portugal, Czech, Germany, Netherlands, and Italy.

  • I always hear about the larger cities in Spain, but this looks like a great (relaxed) place to check out. What kind of timeframe would you recommend for seeing and experiencing Granada on a relaxed schedule?

    • I’d allow at least 3 days but I could easily fill a week. 1 or 2 days for Alhambra (it’s big; also possible to do a night visit). A day to explore the town. A day or two to go to the outlying areas for hiking and/or visit other smaller villages. And a day or two of downtime to relax, visit some bars/restaurants, etc.

  • At the supermarkets in Spain you can pick the fruit yourself, normally with a plastic glove. You can get frowned upon if you don’t use it, especially in non-turistic areas. The small grocery stores (fruterías) still have the old custom of picking it for you.

  • Grocery stores in other countries are fascinating. I lived in South Africa for a bit and made a habit of just picking at least one bit of produce I did not recognize to see if I could figure out how to eat it. I love that the stores there and in Italy were so much smaller. I mainly want fresh produce and good meat. All the other stuff just makes me walk further.

    The shaded pathway is brilliant! I, sadly, don’t know much about Spanish history and should really correct that soon.

    • I didn’t see a lot of unique produce in Europe but definitely encountered strange, unknown wild stuff in Mexico. I tried several different fruits and enjoyed trying to figure out what exactly I was buying from the vendors in the markets.

  • Nice place to see for sure. At a new place, I like visiting the local grocery and farmer’s market, and get some fruits. It also gives me the idea about the price and living cost of that place. Driving in that narrow alley needs quite a skill, and would kill me if I were the driver.

    • Yes! I love hitting the local grocery stores and markets. Some incredible values on local foods that we pay 4-5x as much at home in the US.

      And driving there would be scary for anyone I think. So incredibly narrow even for a narrow car.

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