If you are planning a trip to Andalusia, Spain’s stunning southern province, a visit to the Alhambra of Granada is likely at the very top of your list. The Alhambra is the top must-see monument in all of Andalusia, and possibly all of Spain. But the Alhambra is not the only reason to visit Granada. Read on to discover the best things to do in Granada, Spain!
Granada personifies Moorish Spain more than the other cities we visited in Andalusia, and the legacy of Al Andalus is everywhere. Three days in Granada is just about the right amount of time to see all the highlights. You will spend a good part of your first and last days here traveling, because Granada is not on the high speed rail network. We packed a lot into our three days here, but thoroughly enjoyed every single moment!
My 3-day Granada guide assumes you will arrive in the early afternoon of Day One. We came here by bus from Seville, a journey of about three hours, and plunged right into our exploration of Granada. We spent two part-days and one full day exploring the city of Granada, and one additional day visiting the Alpujarras, mountain villages on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GRANADA IN 3 DAYS!
Of course the Alhambra occupies pride of place in any list of the best things to do in Granada, but the city also boasts two lovely ethnic neighborhoods that will enchant you. The city center is always abuzz with activity, and contains Moorish shops, churches, and museums you will not want to miss.
So put on your walking shoes, get your camera, and get ready to explore Granada, Spain!
Day 1: Browse the Alcaicería Market
Your Day One in Granada is a part day, but you can still do a lot! Upon arrival, deposit your bags at your hotel, and start your 3-day visit to Granada with a stroll in an exotic Moorish bazaar.
The Moorish market at Calle Alcaicería, near the Catedral de Granada, is a fun place to window shop and browse the colorful goods on display. Today’s market is confined to a small number of shops selling trinkets, leather goods, ceramics, spices, and silks. However, the original bazaar contained 200+ shops and was spread across several streets between Plaza Nueva, the main square of the city, and Plaza Bib-Rambla. Sadly, it burned down in the mid 19th century, and was replaced by today’s smaller neo-Moorish market.
If you like something and want to buy, not just browse, be prepared to haggle vigorously. Merchandise is typically overpriced, because the market today caters mainly to tourists. I picked up some beautiful scarves here, as well as some Spanish saffron. But even if you don’t buy anything, strolling the exotic bazaar should be on your list of things to do in Granada. The photos you take here will definitely be Instagram-worthy, because there is so much color!
Allow 1 to 2 hours.
If you go: Alcaicería Market, Calle Alcaicería, 1, 18001 Granada, Spain
Day 1: Explore the Barrio de Albaicín
Wandering around the narrow streets of the Albaicín is definitely one of the best things to do in Granada. In this historic quarter, you feel the legacy of Granada’s medieval Moorish connection. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, the Albaicín contains traditional whitewashed houses lining neat streets. A typical house, called carmen, is surrounded by a high boundary wall and includes a small garden.
Just wandering the streets of the quarter, soaking in the atmosphere, is a wonderful way to spend your time here. From many vantage points in this hilly quarter, you get fabulous views of the Alhambra as well.
If you love exploring churches, you will want to stop at the beautiful Church of San Salvador, with its horsehoe arches. Also stop at the Plaza Larga, where you can browse a produce market each morning, or enjoy a drink or a bite at one of the many tapas bars and cafes that line the square.
Two streets in the Albayzín are famous and worth exploring. The Paseo de los Tristes (the Pathway of the Sad) runs parallel to the river Darro. This lively street was once the route to the Alhambra cemetery. But today it is a fabulous place to walk, with lovely bridges and squares. The Carrera del Darro runs parallel to the river as well, and is one of the oldest streets in the quarter. Here too, you will enjoy seeing street performers and hawkers as you stroll. There are lots of restaurants and cafes if you want to sit and people watch.
Day 1: Enjoy sunset at the Mirador de San Nicolás
In the Albaicín, you must not miss sunset at the plaza of the Church of St. Nicholas! From this vewpoint, you get a spectacular view of the Alhambra on the opposite hill, framed by the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. Enjoying this iconic view of the Alhambra is without question one of the top things you can do in Granada.
At sunset, when the rays of the evening sun light up the ochre walls of the Alhambra, you understand why the monument is called “The Red One.”
The picture postcard view from this plaza is much sought after, so be prepared for crowds and keep your belongings close. Walk around the lively square and enjoy the street performers and hawkers. Wait until the lights come on if you can: the Alhambra looks magical lit up.
Don’t forget to step into the church, a mix of Gothic and Mudejar architecture, for a few moments of quiet.
If you go: Mirador de San Nicolás, 1, Calle Mirador de San Nicolás, 18010 Granada, Spain
Day 1: Tour the Alhambra at night
Since the Alhambra is likely your number one reason for visiting Granada, why not grab the opportunity to tour parts of it at night? For me, seeing the Nasrid Palaces illuminated was magical: my most memorable Granada experience. You can choose to see either the Nasrid Palaces or the Generalife Gardens: the tours run concurrently. I recommend the Nasrid Palaces tour!
Unless you are a serious photograher, my suggestion would be to put away your camera for the bulk of this night visit and focus on being in the moment. Without a tripod and a really good lens, you are unlikely to come away with fabulous pictures, but you will treasure the experience of focusing fully on the beautiful architecture and rich history.
You can take the bus back to the Plaza Nueva after the tour. You can also take a taxicab to your hotel (we saw several waiting outside when we exited). Or you can walk down the hill into the city center: some participants in our tour chose to walk to their hotels after the tour, even though it was almost midnight!
If you go: La Alhambra, Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain
Day 2: Visit the Alhambra by day
Arguably the most famous monument in all of Andalusia, the Alhambra should definitely top your list of the best things to do in Granada, Spain. The palace-fortress complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a magnificent testament to Moorish architecture and culture in Spain. You’ll want to spend the greater part of a full day exploring the complex.
Perched on a hillside, against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the complex is large, with a number of structures including the Alcazaba (the fortress) and the stunning Nasrid Palaces. If you splurge on anything during your visit to Granada, it should be on a private or very small group guided tour of the Alhambra. Learning about the history of its construction and getting details on the superb decorations and calligraphy will elevate your experience immeasurably. Plus, you don’t want to miss anything of import!
GETTING TO THE ALHAMBRA
Getting to the Alhambra from the city center is easy. You can take the C3 bus from Plaza Nueva, which will drop you right outside the Generalife Gardens. You can take a taxicab up to the entrance, or you can walk. The walk will take you about 30 minutes, and is all uphill. Since you’ll be walking a lot within the complex, you may want to choose the bus or take a taxicab.
WHAT YOU MUST NOT MISS!
The Nasrid Palaces are the crowning glory of the Alhambra. Your ticket will indicate your entry time into the palaces. Make sure you are at the entrance 15-20 minutes early, so you do not miss your allotted window.
The Nasrid Palaces were the official residence of the Moorish rulers of Granada. Lavishly decorated with arabesque detail and calligraphy, the palaces will take your breath away, and then some. Each room leads into yet another stunning room. The courtyards, lined with lacy arches and decorated with fountains and pools, are beautiful. In particular, you will love the Courtyard of the Lions, with its famous lion fountain.
The Alcazaba is the original fortress. Climb to the top of the watch tower. It offers stunning views of the city, the Albaicin quarter, and the surrounds of the Alhambra complex.
In the Palace of Charles V, a Renaissance style structure, you can browse two museums: the Alhambra Museum and the Fine Arts Museum. I enjoyed the Museum of Fine Arts, which contains Spanish masterpieces from different centuries.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Buy your Alhambra tickets well in advance of your visit. There is a daily limit on the number of visitors, and you want to make sure you can visit on the day you want. You can reserve online. Or sign up for a guided tour, private or very small group. I would not do a regular group tour of the Alhambra. It’s not a place where you want to feel rushed. If you can’t do a private tour, read up beforehand and explore on your own.
In the spring, the grounds of the complex are spectacular, with blooming trees and lots of purple wisteria.
If you plan to explore on your own, arrive when the complex opens for a more enjoyable, less crowded experience at least for the first hour or two. Choose your slot for the Nasrid Palaces wisely. A slot with lots of openings after 10 a.m. is good if you plan to arrive at the complex when it opens.
Consider lunch at the Parador de Granada, the upscale hotel within the Alhambra complex. You will enjoy the break after a morning of walking, and the views from the restaurant are stunning.
Allow at least four hours.
If you go: La Alhambra, Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain
Day 2: Stroll around the Generalife Gardens
The Generalife, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, was the summer residence of the rulers of Granada. These Moorish gardens were a highlight of our three days in Granada. Make sure you buy the combined entry ticket that allows access to both the Alhambra and the Generalife, or a combination guided tour.
The gardens are laid out on the slopes of the Cerro del Sol, with fabulous views over the city and of parts of the Alhambra. The structures here are solid but simple, and the focus is on the beautiful flora and garden elements.
When we visited in the spring, bright beds of annuals provided lots of color. Topiary and fountains and courtyards, all hallmarks of Moorish outdoor spaces, offer lovely photo opportunities.
Allow at least two hours.
If you go: Generalife Gardens, 18009 Granada, Spain
Day 2: Explore the Barrio de Sacromonte
Cap off your second day in Granada with a visit to the Barrio de Sacromonte. Like the Albaicin, the Barrio de Sacromonte is a fascinating historical neighborhood of Granada. It is the quarter inhabited by the Roma. The Roma, originally from India, settled in parts of Europe in the 14th century. The Roma came to Granada in the 15th century, and made the Barrio de Sacromonte their home.
The Sacromonte is famous for its cave dwellings and you must definitely explore a few of them. Visit the Museo Cuevas del Sacramonte to see ten caves from a historical perspective.
End your evening with a performance of zambra, a type of flamenco that originated here. Consider Cuevas los Tarantos or Venta el Gallo, both housed in Sacromonte caves. Although both venues offer dinner and show combinations, you can choose to eat elsewhere and just take in a show (with a drink) at either place.
Allow about two hours to explore and one hour for the show.
Day 3: Visit the Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel
On your last day in Granada, experience the vibrant city center. The Plaza Nueva is lively, and made for people watching.
In the heart of the city center you will find the majestic Catederal de Granada, the second largest cathedral in Spain. A mix of Renaissance and Baroque, the cathedral has a stunning facade.
Next to the Cathedral is the Capilla Real, the burial place of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic monarchs of Spain. A mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles, the chapel houses not only the royal tombs but also lots of works of art.
Allow about two hours.
If you go: The Cathedral of Granada, Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5, 18001 Granada, Spain
If you go: Royal Chapel of Granada, Calle Oficios, s/n, 18001 Granada, Spain
Day 3: Admire the Basilica de San Juan
Less than a 10-minute walk from the Granada Cathedral is the beautiful Basilica de San Juan de Dios, and you must definitely add a visit to this church to your list of the best things to do in Granada.
The interior is stunning and very ornate, with gleaming gold everywhere. The architecture is gorgeous and there are works of art to admire.
There is an entrance fee, but you won’t regret paying it when you enter the church. Be sure to get the audio guide. Make sure you get to go upstairs as well, and donate the one Euro to light up the altar.
Allow about one hour.
If you go: Basilica de San Juan de Dios, Calle San Juan de Dios, 15, 18001 Granada, Spain
With one more day
We spent three nights in Granada and used one of our full days here to do a day trip to the Alpujarras. Granada’s location is one of its draws, and if you have an additional day you can spend here, consider a day trip to explore the beautiful surroundings. You can do a day trip to the beautiful white villages of the Alpujarras, like we did.
Or spend your day hiking and driving in the stunning Sierra Nevada. Or drive to the picturesque Lecrin Valley, with its orchards and pretty villages.
Getting to Granada
Granada has an airport, with connections from Madrid and Barcelona. There are also flights to Granada from London.
Granada is connected by bus to many major cities in Spain. We took the bus from Sevilla to Granada, which took about three hours. The bus was clean and comfortable, and on time. We also took the bus out of Granada to Malaga, our next stop in Andalusia, and the ride was about two hours. From Madrid, it takes about five hours by bus to Granada.
Granada is sadly not on Spain’s high speed rail network. From Seville to Granada, the train journey is about three hours. From Madrid or Barcelona, you would take the high speed train to Antequera, and then a slower train to Granada from Antequera. There is also a direct train between Granada and Madrid, and both routes take around five hours. The journey to Barcelona is really long, so it makes more sense to fly.
Getting around in Granada
While you can walk from the city center to the sights I have listed, you may want to save your energy for walking within the monuments instead. Much of Granada is hilly, and getting to the Albaicín, Sacromonte and the Alhambra all require uphill walking.
The bus system that links the city center to these areas of Granada is very convenient and very affordable and I highly recommend it. You can also use taxicabs.
Where to stay in Granada
We stayed at the Hospes Palacio de los Patos and loved it. It is located close to the city center, and the rooms are lovely. Our room was in the modern building, but the rooms in the older original building looked nice as well.
See reviews on Trip Advisor
The Alhambra Palace Hotel is located close to the Alhambra and has spectacular views over the city. It is a 15-minute downhill walk to the city center, and you can take the bus or a taxicab back to the hotel. This hotel is a great choice if you are driving a car through Spain.
See reviews on Trip Advisor
Where to eat in Granada
In the Albaicín quarter, try Carmen el Agua, which gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor for its views and its fondues. Or Carmen Verde Luna, with its fabulous view of the Alhambra. The cuisine is Spanish, and you will find vegetarian options. Restaurante Bar Leon and Taberna Salinas serve traditional tapas favorites.
For a truly unique experience, visit La Oliva. It’s not a restaurant, but offers a multi-course (17? 18?) tasting menu from fresh local ingredients that you will file under the most memorable culinary experiences you have had anywhere. Francisco will even whip up an entirely vegetarian menu for you if you let him know in advance.
Best time to visit Granada
Spring is unequivocally the best time to visit Granada. Pleasant temperatures allow for comfortable exploration. Fragrant citrus and jasmine are in bloom. The grounds of the Alhambra and the Generalife Gardens are ablaze with color. We visited in late April and found it perfect.
Early fall is your next best option. Summers are very hot all over southern Spain. Winters bring the highest chance of rainfall.
Where to next?
If Granada is your first stop in Andalusia, you can choose to travel west to Seville and then north to Cordoba. Or you can travel east to Malaga and the beautiful Costa del Sol. Malaga makes a great base for day trips to surrounding areas in Andalusia.
And if you are planning a very short visit to Andalusia, read my post on covering the top 5 sights in the province in just 3 days!
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