Granada, the capital of the province of Granada in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, is a treasure trove of Moorish and Christian history. Replete with centuries-old Moorish palace quarters, churches, traditional Islamic houses, and architectural sites, this compact city will take your breath away! The city’s strategic location, which is set at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, also makes it an exciting destination for visitors. Four rivers – Darro, Genil, Monachil, and Beiro – converge at Granada.
The Moorish old quarter, Albaicín (also known as Albayzín), with its medieval-era houses and winding lanes, has a fascinating tale of its own. It seemed like I had traveled back in time as I made my way through this neighborhood. Located around a hill on the north side of the Darro river, the Albaicín dates back to the Nasrid period (1232 CE – 1492 CE).
The most fascinating site in Granada is the Alhambra, a fortified Moorish palace complex built by the Nasrid dynasty on top of Sabika hill, an outcrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The construction of Alhambra began under the reign of Ibn al-Aḥmar, founder of the Naṣrid dynasty, in 1232 CE. The Alhambra is a self-contained township with most of the amenities of a Muslim city such as a mosque, public baths (Hammams), houses for the workforce, artisan workshops, a tannery, a marketplace, and an advanced water supply system. This ingenious water system helped transport water from the River Darro over six kilometers away! A dam and an aqueduct were set up for this purpose. Palace structures and other enclosures continued to get added until 1358 CE.
A church (Church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra) and other structures (such as the Renaissance palace of Charles V) were later added after the fall of the Nasrid dynasty in the 14th century. The Nasrid dynasty is believed to be the last Muslim dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula.
The spectacular palace complex wrapped in history, with miles of manicured gardens and terraces overlooking the Albaicín, is a sight to behold!
Six major palaces grace the Alhambra, making it a marvelous archeological site. Notable among them are Generalife – the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers and the Comares Palace – the official palace of the sultan and the state. Beautiful courtyards with functional water fountains complement the opulence of the palaces.
Small towers and fortified gates are located along Alhambra’s walls. Among them, the Gate of Justice (Puerta de la Justicia), the Gate of Arms (Puerta de las Armas), and the Wine Gate (Puerta del Vino) are considered to be the main access points.
Intricate designs and rich patterns adorn the floors and walls of the palaces. Wooden ceilings and muqarnas domes make the rooms even grander.
Watch the video and travel through centuries of history at the Alhambra:
Besides Alhambra, Granada has so much to offer! From walking tours of the Moorish old quarter to the city’s vibrant nightlife, Granada is a must-visit destination for first-time visitors and weekend travelers alike.
When to visit Granada
Granada is a year-round destination. Each season unfolds a different experience for the visitor.
How to get there
By Flight: Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport serves the province of Granada. It is around 20 km from the city center.
By bus: ALSA buses run from Madrid all day long and take around five hours to reach Granada. One-way ticket costs €20 per person. Overnight bus costs €37/person. The fastest bus reaches in 4.5 hours and costs around €45/person. ALSA buses also operate from Seville to Granada and it takes around three hours to reach Granada. Ticket costs €25 one-way.
The cheapest and fastest option is to take the ALSA bus from Malaga to Granada. It takes around one hour forty-five minutes and costs €13 per person.
By train: AVE trains operate between Madrid-Puerta de Atocha station and Granada. It takes anywhere between three and five hours by train. From Seville-Santa Justa station, it takes around two hours and forty-five minutes to reach Granada. Trains to Granada are also available from Malaga Maria Zambrano and take around one hour and fifteen minutes to reach.
By car: Granada is around 433 km, 250 km, and 126 km by road from Madrid, Seville, and Malaga respectively.
Where to stay
There are plenty of options available ranging from B&Bs to luxury hotels. The best areas to stay in Granada include the historic city center, The Albaicín, and Granada’s old Jewish quarter (Realejo).