*A big thanks to Granada Tourism for assisting with my trip, and for Anil Polat of FoxNomad for inviting me as part of the #BestCity2018 contest!
Picture a place where the wine flows like water — or at least is as inexpensive as soda — and glasses of Rioja are accompanied by delicious free plates of food, enjoyed while starring out over Moorish palaces and Gothic churches.
The best part of this imagery?
It — and more — can be a reality; at least, if you visit Granada, Spain.
Now when researching top things to do in Granada, the number one attraction you’ll likely find is the Alhambra.
Which you absolutely should visit.
That being said, this Spanish city offers so much more than its renowned palace and fortress complex.
To help you plan an incredible Granada trip, here are 14 experiences to have beyond visiting the Alhambra.
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Located in the UNESCO-listed Albaicín district, the Hotel Palacio de Santa Ines is the perfect blend of rich history meeting modern comfort.
The property is composed of two gorgeous 16th-century Mudéjar buildings.
Walking in, the first thing you notice is the lobby, which is also a courtyard with plush red seats, potted plants, and grand columns.
Looking at the walls is like looking into history, as you view weathered Renaissance frescos painted by disciples of Rafael.
Put your head back and peer up over the banisters to see inspiring art and 35 doors leading to uniquely-decorated rooms, a number of which offer stunning vistas of the Alhambra.
Rooms feature uber comfortable beds with blackout curtains — so if you want to really make sure last night’s tapas crawl doesn’t keep you under the covers all day, set an alarm.
Something else to help you get up:
A coffee and tea station in the room, as well as an afternoon coffee service; though, the friendly 24/7 reception can also point you in the right direction if you’d like to caffeinate off premise.
In the morning, savor a free buffet breakfast of sweet and savory items.
Eggs followed by chocolate churros, anyone?
As the property is located in the UNESCO-listed Albaicín district, you’ll be in a prime location to explore the best attractions in Granada on foot.
In fact, the hotel is only five minutes from the famous Granada Cathedral.
Solo Travel In Granada
While I usually travel solo, this trip I actually went with a group.
I have to say, it was fun exploring Granada with a group; really taking advantage of the tapas culture and nightlife.
While Granada is safe and fun for solo travelers, you’ll likely spend less time with these aspects of the culture and more on the heritage and outdoor adventure.
Luckily, there’s plenty of the latter to explore, especially with numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.
Granada Travel Video
Now before you read on…
Check out my Granada trip video above!
You’ll get a first-hand perspective of the destination in 1:35 minutes.
Then, come back to read the full guide on top things to see in Granada.
A Note On Responsible Tourism In Granada
Before visiting Granada, there is something you should be aware of that many tourists aren’t.
There are about 50,000 Roma people living up in the caves of the city’s Sacromonte district.
What’s interesting to me is that everyone — and almost every Granada article — refers to these people as “gypsies,” which is a racial slur based on an incorrect past belief that these people migrated from Egypt (they actually came from northern India).
If you’re curious to learn more about this, click here to read a piece by a Romani woman named Jessica Reidy.
I point this out just so you can be mindful on your travels.
Visiting The Alhambra
Before we dive into Granada’s lesser-known sites, let’s talk a little bit about the Alhambra, just because it’s an important attraction in Granada.
This fortified palace complex started out as a walled citadel, eventually becoming known for its ornate 14th-century palaces showcasing the splendor of Moorish civilization.
Actually, the Moors reigned supreme in Andalusia until 1492, when they were defeated by Christians during what was known as the Reconquista.
Along with the original Moorish palaces and gardens, you’ll see the Renaissance palace the conquering emperor Charles V created in the center.
Today, the Alhambra is one of Granada’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with the Albaicín and the Generalife Garden.
It’s not uncommon to go to purchase tickets and there be no openings for at least one week.
In fact, one friend in our group wasn’t able to visit because of this.
Things To Do In Granada, Spain
Now, if you’re wondering what to do in Granada beyond an Alhambra visit, the following list does not disappoint.
1. See A Flamenco Show…In A Cave
If you want to experience immersive culture in Spain, a flamenco show in the caves of Sacromonte is a must.
Flamenco blends singing, dancing and instrumental music — often guitars.
According to Britannica, it’s believed to have been born from the Romani peoples coming from northern India and, over time, blending their musical culture with that of the Sephardic Jews and the Moors they encountered in Spain.
In Granada, there are a number of places to see a flamenco show, though I highly recommend Zambra Maria La Canastera.
Through this show — which has been taking place for over 50 years — you’ll meet (mostly) the descendants of the famed Maria Cortes Heredia, aka Maria The Canastera.
In fact, you’ll be in Maria’s former home, and many of the rooms are preserved.
Inside, copper pots and pans dangle from a curved ceiling, as performers pass around cups of kalimotxo — a recipe of red wine and Coca-Cola — before dazzling the audience through their one-hour show.
You can get a taste of this flamenco show around minute 0:56 in this video:
2. Learn About (& Eat) Tapas In Granada
Spain is known for its tapas culture, though not every Spanish city is as generous with their tapas as Granada.
In fact, while many big cities make you pay for your tapas, in Granada they’re typically free with a drink purchase.
And they’re satisfying.
Rarely did I just get a plate of olives. More often, it would be a bowl of soup of open-faced sandwich (“montadito”).
Before you set out on your own tapas adventure, it’s wise to learn about the culture of tapas while also experiencing some local spots off the beaten tourist path.
This is where Granada Tapas Tours comes in.
I had a blast hanging out with Gayle Mackie, the company’s founder, and visiting some really unique spots.
Just a few tapas I got to savor:
- A creamy spinach and smoked salmon “cazuelita,” (as in, it’s served in a ceramic dish)
- Eggplant timbale with melted cheese, tomato, and ham slices
- A melva tuna and red pepper “montadito”
- Winter time “cocido,” which is a chicken (and/or pork) and vegetable stew
The vibe of the tour is like hanging out with a local; a chill and fun afternoon learning about local food and wine.
For instance, did you know that 45% of the world’s olive oil is produced in Spain?
3. Go On A Self-Guided Tapas Hop
According to Gayle, there are over 2,000 tapas bars and restaurants in the city, so you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to these free snacks.
Once you gain a solid base of knowledge about Granada’s tapas culture from the tour, you can venture off on your own.
To give you an idea of what you’ll spend, it was common for me to pay about 2-5 Euros for a drink and get a tapa with it at the typical bars in Granada.
- Bar los Diamantes, open since 1942 and known for its seafood tapas,
- La Cueva de 1900, definitely on the touristy side, but a great time and lots of large tapas to go around,
- Cafe Mol, a cute modern tapas spot where you’ll have lovely tapas with an equally lovely ambiance.
Need help planning your DIY tapas excursion?
4. Take In The View From The Albaicín
The Albaicín — sometimes spelled Albayzín — is Granada’s oldest section.
Here, you’ll find narrow cobbled streets showcasing Moorish architecture constructed into the hillside and sections of the original wall that historically surrounded Granada.
Along with opportunities to visit important Granada attractions like the Church Of San Salvador and lovely Carrera Del Darro (street) running along the Darro River, you can take in spectacular views of the Alhambra.
From the main tourist thoroughfare, Calle Reyes Católicos, most visitors head up the hillside to the Church of San Nicolás at sunset for a view.
Nearby, there are also restaurants and cafes to enjoy the vista with a drink.
We popped into El Huerto de Juan Ranas, where along with the sunset we felt so close to the Alhambra and snow-capped Sierra Nevada peaks it felt like we could quickly jog to them.
The rich history of the Albaicín means it’s a great place to book a tour.
A few recommendations:
- Tour Albaicín & Sacromonte
- Islamic Monuments of the Albaicin
- Sacromonte Flamenco Show and Albaicin Walking Tour from Granada
5. Have A Drink With An Incredible Monastery View
At Terraza Monasterio Chill Out Cafe, you can sit out on their rooftop terrace and take in an incredible view of the San Jeronimo Monastery; so close it almost feels like you could reach out and touch it.
Before 8:30pm, you can order coffees, cocktails and Nutella-laced waffles and crepes.
After, savor bites like cheese nachos, Spanish omelets, and mini pizzas, and stay to watch an incredible sunset.
6. Shop A Morrocan Souk In Granada
The Alcaiceria is a historic shopping area in Granada dating back to the 1440s, though back then it was a large Moorish silk and spice market guarded by iron gates.
Today it’s smaller, but has a distinctly different feel from the surrounding streets, shisha cafes and (mainly) souvenir shops showcasing contemporary Neo-Moorish architecture.
In the stores, you’ll find wares like Turkish mosaic lamps, housewares and garments featuring geometric patterns popular in Islamic art, and evil eye jewelry.
Shop and then chill out with some shisha and tea.
7. Take A Break From Tapas At Botanica
While tapas exploration is definitely a must when visiting Granada, don’t neglect full-plate restaurants, either.
This modern fusion eatery offers globally influenced dishes, like a griddled Iberico pork loin with Italian herbs and olive tapenade, and salmon wrapped in nori seaweed and filo pastry then laced with lime-infused coconut sauce.
Pair with local wine, and save room for a “brookie” — a brownie cookie – topped with dark chocolate chip butter cookie.
8. Figure Out Your Favorite Spanish Wine
Speaking of wine…
When traveling Granada, you’ll typically have two red Spanish wine options, Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Despite both favoring the tempranillo grape, they have very different personalities.
While Rioja reds tend to be lighter and brighter, Ribera del Duero reds are often more robust.
These regions don’t only make red wine; however, the most popularly planted wine grapes are red — Tempranillo and Garnacha.
That being said, you’ll find plenty of white wine made with the popular Viura grape in the Rioja region.
9. Save Room For Chocolate Churros
Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, savoring the chocolate churros in Granada is a must.
Some believe churros were invented long ago by Spanish shepherds who needed a replacement for bread.
Others say it’s an offshoot of Chinese Youtiao and was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Portuguese explorers.
While the true story is up for debate, one thing is not:
The treat is delicious.
My favorite spot for chocolate churros in Granada was Café Fútbol, which dates back to 1922.
This cafe and tapas spot gets its name from the fact it sits in a once-unpaved square where kids used to play fútbol (aka American soccer).
Here, you can sit inside or outside and savor crispy fried dough dunked in a mug of hot, thick chocolate.
10. Croissants & Cappuccinos, anyone?
La Fontana was a tapas bar right near my hotel.
Not a single day of my one-week trip went by without me stopping in for a meal, snack or coffee.
But my absolute favorite thing from La Fontana?
A Serrano ham and cheese croissant with a cappuccino.
The sandwich was flaky and moist, while the hot beverage laced with chocolate powder and served with a sweet Biscoff cookie was possibly the best I’ve ever had.
Whether you visit for breakfast, tapas or dinner, it’s good to have La Fontana on your radar for another reason:
During — and even after — siesta time, from about 2pm-8pm, this is one of the few full-service spots still open.
And they have free Wi-Fi!
11. Drink From The Fontana del Toro
Apparently, the small but lovely Fontana del Toro has magical powers; at least, according to a random local Segway tour guide I met on the street.
Pointing to the fountain, he insisted:
“Drink from that fountain, and you’ll come back to live here forever. It happened to my brother and my cousin!”
I don’t know if it’s true, but I wouldn’t mind living in Spain, so I took a sip.
We’ll see what happens!
12. Explore The Cartuja Monastery of Granada
The Cartuja Monastery of Granada is a bit of a day trip, though you can take the local Granada bus.
Specifically, take Bus #8 from the Gran Vía to the Profesor Vicente Callao – Frente Ciencias Educacion stop — not the IES Cartuja stop — and it’s across the street.
On the site of a former Roman cemetery is the Cartuja Monastery of Granada.
The Granada attraction dates back to the 16th century when it was created by Carthusian monks.
Or at least, that’s when it started being built.
Construction lasted for over 300 years, and the site was never completed.
You’ll wander a small garden courtyard and explore a room of paintings, though the true highlight is the extremely ornate Baroque chapel.
I’ve read that it’s often considered “the grandest and most outrageously decorated Carthusian monastery in Spain.”
While I don’t have a ton to compare it to, I can say I rarely spend more than 15 minutes in a chapel and spent about an hour admiring this one.
Note: The sign said not to take photos inside the chapel, so I was good. You’ll have to go see for yourself!
Here is more information on the local bus to help you plan this Granada day trip.
This monastery is rarely visited by tourists, so it’s a chance to get off the beaten path in Granada.
13. Play In The Gardens
While one of Granada’s smaller attractions, Casa del Chapiz in the Albaicín makes for a lovely hour spent in Granada.
Here you’ll find two 14th-century Moorish houses and some lovely gardens that come together to create a declared monument of cultural importance (BIC).
The exterior architecture is nice, but the real treat is the gardens.
Here, you’ll find maze bushes, green arches, and incredible views out toward the Alhambra and overlooking the Albaicín.
As stated above, this is a simple but lovely attraction.
It’s included in your Granada Card if you get one and is free on Sundays.
Otherwise, you’ll pay just 2.25 Euros.
14. Take A Day Trip To The Sierra Nevada
While I typically hike on every trip, I didn’t on this one…
…because we went out until 5am every night and I couldn’t wake up in the morning.
That’s the power of having free food with every drink. You can keep going all night!
Anyway, when you go I do recommend you make this Granada day trip happen.
The Sierra Nevada is an Andalucian mountain range that’s the highest on the Iberian Peninsula.
There are a lot of trails to choose from, though the one I was planning to do was the Los Cahorros de Monachil.
Recommended to me by many locals, the trek takes place in the dramatic Los Cahorros Gorge, engulfing you in high limestone cliffs.
On the hike, you’ll walk along the Rio Monachil as well as across hanging bridges.
Moreover, you’ll see waterfalls, wander through caves, and can even go swimming in the warmer months.
Trek Sierra Nevada offers comprehensive information on hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, including trekking options and how to get there from Granada.
Additionally, you can book a Sierra Nevada day trip tour like:
- Hiking Experience In The Sierra Nevada (to the second-highest peak!)
- Sierra Nevada Hiking Tour (mostly downhill)
- 4WD Sierra Nevada Safari Tour
If you’re more into climbing, head to Los Vados and book a Vía Ferrata excursion.
Further Granada Exploration
While I didn’t have time to partake in the below Granada experiences, I’ve added them to my list to enjoy on a future visit:
- Tropical Coast and Caves of Nerja Day Trip from Granada
- Granada Hot-Air Balloon Ride
- Flamenco Dance Class For Beginners
- Arabian Baths Experience at Granada’s Hammam Al Ándalus
- Multiadventure at Cubillas Lake (Granada)
Getting In: You can fly into Federico García Lorca Granada Airport (GRX).
Or you can fly into Málaga’s Costa del Sol Airport (AGP) and then take a bus. The trip takes about 2.5 hours. You can find a timetable here.
From the airport, you can take a taxi ($30 Euro) or a local bus into the city (~30 minutes; 2.90 Euros). Click here for full information.
Getting Around: Granada is pretty small, so the main sites can be seen on foot. If you need to go further, the local bus has extensive routes. Or, you can have the hotel hire a taxi for you. Hotel Palacio de Santa Inés works with a company that offers a good rate for round-trip journeys.
Language: Spanish; I encountered many people who spoke English, though also plenty who did not.
Safety: I felt extremely safe in Granada. That being said, I never leave home without my:
- Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments
- Vigilant Personal Alarm
- Speakeasy Travel Suppy Hidden-Pocket Scarf
What are your favorite things to do in Granada?
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