Granada has always been a city on my bucket list. Having studied Spanish for ten years, it is safe to say that I have always been obsessed with Spanish culture, the language and the food. Located in Andalucía in the south-east region of Spain is the city of Granada; a city which is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and is famed for its medieval architecture dating back to the Moorish period, especially the Alhambra. This summer I was lucky enough to visit Granada, so here are my top tips & recommendations!
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Barceló Carmen which is located in the city centre of Granada, and I could not recommend it enough. Firstly, we went with this hotel as we drove to Granada so we needed somewhere with parking (I’ll share a tip with you later on where we actually ended up parking). Secondly, it was located “600m” from the city centre (we really didn’t want a long walk into the city, especially as we visiting in the middle of August). Thirdly, the hotel had amazing reviews on its rooftop bar and pool. On top of this, the hotel had a decent size gym which was another perk (however, unfortunately I didn’t quite get around to using it).
So, what were the highlights of the hotel for us? Firstly, the hotel has an amazing rooftop with incredible views of the city and a small plunge pool which was a godsend (especially as it was 38’c degrees when we were there). On top of this, the rooftop has a fantastic bar which is open all afternoon (the barman was so friendly and made the best cocktails) that we ended up chilling by the rooftop pool late afternoon both days to recoup before exploring more in the evening. In addition to this, the rooftop turns into a restaurant in the evening with spectacular views of the city. If you’ve been out all day exploring, the rooftop restaurant is the perfect place to wind down and admire the twinkling lights across the city. We were also upgraded to a room with a balcony which was an added bonus, but the rooftop had such a chilled ambiance that we preferred to chill out there.
Before we left, I did a little research on parking, as with all cities parking can usually be quite expensive, and parking at our hotel wasn’t cheap at €21/day. We found an underground car park, opposite the hotel called “APK2 Puerta Real”. We ended up paying less than €14 for both days by parking here and downloading the app. In the end, the man at the car park kiosk updated our parking ticket on the system and then when we scanned the ticket on our phone which gave us the discounted rate to pay by card.
Now, if you are not driving to Granada, I would highly recommend staying in the Albaicín neighbourhood. Had we not had our car, we would have probably stayed in this area. The buildings are a lot older here and are built on the narrow, winding streets of its Medieval Moorish past. This area felt like we had stepped back into Granada’s medieval past, but accessing a lot of it wasn’t easy (think, endless cobble streets, lots of steps & high inclines).
Name: Hotel Barceló Carmen
Number: + +34 958 25 83 00
What to do
La Alhambra // @alhambra_oficial
As with any city, there are so many things you can do, but if you’re visiting Granada for a short period you HAVE to get in a trip to the Alhambra. There are limited tickets each day to visit the Alhambra, so I’d advise booking your tickets a couple of weeks to a month in advance (depending on when you go). Luckily, we visited this August when there were very few tourists in Spain due to the pandemic, so we managed to get our tickets a week before (usually they would be completely sold out at this time). We bought our tickets from this Spanish website which I highly recommend. Our tickets were €14/pp which was an absolute bargain and gave us access to all of the Gardens, Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, General life & Palace of Carlos V. At the time of booking, we even had to reserve our entrance time to Nasrid Palaces, so we went with 11.30am. I’d advise booking an early morning slot for entry into Nasrid Palaces, as by midday the Alhambra is busy with large groups of tourists (which is definitely not what you want to be stuck behind).
Tour guides are recommended for the visit as unfortunately there is little signage, however they are not cheap. I came across a few websites which sold guided tours for £170/pp – which is not really what we were prepared to pay. However, if you would like a tour guide, I would recommend Ramon @granada.wanderer, who has amazing reviews of tours in Granada. You can easily spend half a day to a full day here, so it is best to go early morning when the temperature is still quite cool; we arrived at 9am and finished the whole site by 1pm (& we didn’t really sit down at all during this time).
Honestly, I have never been to an UNESCO site as beautiful and exceptional as La Alhambra. It really was the most well-maintained and magical heritage site that I’ve ever visited & I’d highly recommend a long weekend in Granada to see it.
The city centre, the Cathedral & Albaicín neighbourhood
In addition to exploring the Alhambra, the city centre of Granada will also leave you in awe. From walking the city centre around Plaza Nueva to the Albaicín neighbourhood up in the hills, the city centre is rich in history and culture that it’s worth spending a day strolling around. The Cathedral of Granada is located just off Bib-Rambla and is a must see, conveniently it is located next to Calle Alcaiceria which is full of Arabic-influenced bazaars filled with beautiful, Arabic-inspired goods so you can soak up and experience a lot of Granada’s history in this area.
Another area which you’ve got to explore is the Albaicín neighbourhood which is east of the city centre and is accessible by walking the narrow, winding road from Plaza Nueva. The Albaicín neighbourhood is very distinct with white-washed, traditional houses built along the steep hillside, it’s a charming place to explore and to discover the Moorish architecture. We visited Mirador de San Nicolas, which was a fantastic view point to watch the sunset over the Alhambra and the rest of Granada, (it was conveniently located two minutes from the restaurant we ate at that night, Las Tomasas, which was a big plus). Although we didn’t visit any other view points in this area that looked onto the Alhambra, the views at San Nicolas were incredible and there were a few locals there too serenading us which added to the experience. There are many other view points in the area, such as Mirador de San Miguel (which also has amazing views), but once you’ve been inside the Alhambra and to Mirador de San Nicolas, I really don’t think the views will get any better.
Sacromonte is known as the gypsy quarter in Granada, drawing visitors to the hills for music and dancing after dark. The area is towards the east of the city centre, and isn’t too far from the Albaicín area, so it’s a good place to visit after you’ve done Mirador de San Nicolas. There are many venues in the hillside caves that host dramatic flamenco shows along the narrow Camino de Sacromonte road. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic the flamenco shows were not on but some of the bars were still open.
Where to eat
There are so many “plazas” in the centre of Granada that are filled with amazing restaurants that you will be spoilt for choice on where to eat when you visit. A couple of plazas which had that traditional Spanish feel and were full of cafes, tapas bars and restaurants are Plaza de Bib-Rambla, Plaza de Romanilla, Plaza de la Encarnacion & Plaza Nueva. Trust me, if you explore these areas you will find a great selection of seafood restaurants, independent coffee shops, arabic-influenced restaurants, traditional Spanish food and lots of gelaterias.
Bodegas Castaneda // @bodegascastaneda
One of our favourite restaurants, that we just so happened to stumble across as soon as we arrived in Granada was Bodegas Castaneda, it was truly exceptional. The menu comprises of authentic Spanish tapas and an à la carte menu. When we went during lunch time, the tables outside were packed full of Spanish families and there was even a short queue to get seated. We went for the “small” sharing platter which did not disappoint. Unfortunately, having discovered this place within the first two hours of arriving in Granada, it meant that a few of our following meals never lived up to this standard of experience and taste.
Las Tomasas // @cocktailgardenlastomasas
However, one restaurant which did, which was located in the Albaicín area was Las Tomasas. A family member recommended it to me as they went there a few years ago and said the whole experience was so magical that it was like being on a honeymoon!
So we requested a table outside by the railing with views of the Alhambra and made a reservation a week in advance. Las Tomasas is not the easiest to get to (we got a taxi to take us there from our hotel which was super cheap), otherwise it would have meant walking up hundreds of steep steps whilst it was still +30’C. The views were absolutely incredible, and the food was sensational too. They played light acoustic music in the background, and I have to say, it was definitely up there with one of the most romantic meals I have ever had. We watched the sunset across Granada and the Alhambra and it was truly an experience that I will never forget.
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