Granada in Andalucía, Spain is most well known for the 1,000-year-old Alhambra palace complex that rises like an Arabian Nights castle on a cloud against the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You shouldn’t miss the Alhambra’s ornate and elaborate collection of intricately carved rooms, shaded garden courtyards and breath-taking city panoramas.
Luckily, you do not need the budget of a Nasrid king to enjoy the city’s attractions. Two suggested itineraries will guide your explorations of this cultural city with money-saving tips and suggestions for lesser-known attractions. Experience profoundly Spanish culture in one of the few remaining cities that offers free tapas—which is reason enough to visit—and night-owl socialization until the wee hours of morning. Explore a legendary collision of cultures, from cave gypsy’s tragic wails during a flamenco performance and sweet shisha (Arabic flavored tobacco) and mint tea breaks in the twisting, climbing backstreets.
Walk #1: Magic Miradores And Moorish Markets In The Albacin District
Total: About $5.18 + accommodation
Devote at least one day to exploring the maze-like cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses of the Moorish district. Whether you want to or not, you will probably get lost in its tiny streets that land you in shaded squares with fountains, orange trees and dozens of homey bars and restaurants. Granada is one of those cities without a bad view, so as you wander look up at Alhambra, a palace sunning itself on the hillside against a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains. Check out the spectacular views at one of the most popular mirador (lookout) at San Nicolás. Here, you can also peruse artisan tables to the sounds of courtyard musicians as you shoo away gypsies who want to reveal your future with a palm reading.
After seeing the city from up high, descend back down into the heart of the Albaicín quarter for a genuine Arabic tea break, complete with hospitable owners. In the charming As-Sirat (Teteria-Andalusi) in Placeta de la Charca you will find an overwhelming selection of teas and non-alcoholic cocktails to appease the non-drinking Muslim youth. Try the traditional mint tea (about $2.50 USD) with a fig biscuit (about $2.50 USD) or a Cocktail Cleopatra with a honey-and-orange crepe (about $6.50 USD). The colorful tiles, light and airy atmosphere and tasteful Arabic music will make you feel like you are awaiting a meeting with a king in the Nasrid palace.
Ride your caffeine high down Calderería Nueva Street for an authentic Arabic shopping experience on the same street. Wander through the many small businesses on this bustling barrio for handmade Moroccan crafts, Islamic sweets, Arabian spices and Turkish lanterns. If you want to buy some tea to bring home, check out the tea sellers and shops near Plaza Bib-Rambla in the shadow of the Granada Cathedral, where you can barter for even better bargains than those located high up in the Albaicín.
After spending a day exploring the city’s Moorish past, Arabic tapas are not hard to find; however, for first-rate, authentic cuisine, stray off the tourist track at Calle Elvira to find the small Om Kalsum Bar and Cafe. Named after Egypt’s most famous singers, this place does wonders with chickpeas and serves complimentary tapas when you buy a cold mug of local Alhambra beer (or another beverage). You will reap the reward of your hunt when you try the house humus, chickpea cake, the pita-wrapped shawarma de pollo or the crispy, invigorating falafel (one drink and tapa is about €2 or $2.68 USD).
Walk #2: Enjoy A Gypsy Day With Flamenco At Sacromonte
Total: $21.42 + accommodation
As with most beautiful places, Granada has seen its share of battle over the years as people fought over its strategic hillside strongholds. Experience the more soulful side of Granada with hiking the hills of Sacromonte, where gypsies, bohemians and Flemish artists have sought refuge over the years.
In the afternoon at the Caves Museum (5 €/$6.70 USD) in Central Sacramonte at the Barranco de los Negros. This ethnographic museum has an extensive collection of artifacts to demonstrate the history of flamenco and lifestyle of the cave inhabitants. You can poke around rooms filled with basketry, looms and pottery that recreate what a kitchen, bedroom and stable look like in a cave home.
For a romantic lunch, pack a picnic or a buy bottle of wine — only 3€/$4 USD for something cheap and potable! — to watch the sun set at Mirador San Miguel Alto. It’s a short 45-minute walk and totally worth it to climb the highest viewpoint in the city. On the way, you will see currently-occupied cave dwellings alongside the road, indicated by lines of laundry hanging outside and pint-sized ponies nibbling nubby grass outside. As you continue to climb, notice the prickly aloe vera plants, scrubby cacti and other desert-like vegetation that stands in stark contrast to the snow-capped Sierras. When you reach your destination, join hippies and other free spirits on a stone wall in front of an abandoned church to watch the city bathed in a golden light as the sun sinks beneath the horizon.
Although it might feel like a long hike to reach the lookout, returning to the city center goes surprisingly fast. Head toward the Paseo del Tristes, a riverside retreat where you can quietly enjoy views of Alhambra while refueling on free tapas at The Puerta del Vino. Sip Spanish wines and nibble charcuterie and traditional snacks on a beautiful terrace.
As 9pm approaches, move to Le Chien Andalou (8€/$10.72 USD), a hole-in-the-wall venue for the haunted sounds of Grenadian flamenco. This slightly cramped hangout is a cheaper and more authentic experience than the touristy flamenco shows in the hills. You will sit on small benches in a moody, cave-like establishment to witness this tragic dance. The jaw-wiggling wails of an ashen-faced guitarist, castanet-clicking and harsh movements of an intense-looking dancer is not the most uplifting performance, but un-apologetically encapsulates the tragic past of the city’s gypsies.
If you are not in a rush and like to walk, you can reach almost any attraction within the city by foot (and discover interesting sites along the way). If you get tired from hiking up and down the city’s hills, Alhambra Bus manages the four urban touristic transport routes that link the Alhambra, Sacromonte and Albayzin. A regular one-way ticket costs 1.20€ (about $1.61 USD) but if you can save by buying a 5€ travel card that reduces the price of a single trip to 0.79€ (about $1.06 USD).
There are plenty of hostels and bed and breakfasts to chose from in Granada, which start at approximately €12.00 (about $16.08) for a dorm or a private room (if you book well enough in advance). For nicely situated budget hostels, I would recommend the hotel-like accommodations at Hostal Antares (starting at €12.00(about $16.08) for a 4-bedroom private room per night) in the heart of historic town, surrounded by tapas bars and tea rooms. Extreme budget travelers can snag a free place to stay with the non-profit, global network of locals on Couchsurfing or share an €18.00 ($24.11 USD) room in private home booked through AirBnb.
- Mirador de San Nocolas: Albayzín, Plaza de San Nicolás, 3, 18010 Granada, Spain
- Tetería As-Sirat, Placeta de la Charca, off Panderos del Albayzin; +34 958 295 545
- Om Kalsum Tapas Bar: Calle Jardines 6, Granada, Spain
- Museo Cuevas del Sacramonte: Barranco de los Negros, Granada, Spain, +34 958 21 51 20
- Puerta del Vino, Bar de Aperitivos, Paseo de los Tristes, 5, Granada España
- Le Chein Andalou, Carrera del Darro 7, Granada, Spain; +34 617 106 623,
- Hostal Antares Cetti Meriem, 10 – 1a Izda, Granada, Spain, +34 958 22 83 13
About The Author
Katie Foote is a doctoral student who travels the world any chance she can get. Physics trips to India, Taiwan, Brazil and Singapore funded her first international travels and since then, she’s been hooked and found ways to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!). She seeks out off-the-beaten-path destinations and tries to authentically experience new places through a local lens. When she’s not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes to swim, do yoga, experiment with multicultural cuisine and activities, where she currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Check out Katie’s blog to follow her adventures around the world.