Housing a population of approximately 300,000 – Granada is a small city by international standards. However, the depths of its beauty, history, and culture rivals that of any big city in the world. Venture from the modern city centre into the winding alleys of the ancient Moorish quarters of Albaicin and into the cave houses of the Romani in Sacramonte. Look up ahead and take in not one but two wonders of the world – the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the crowning glory of the Moorish kingdom, the Alhambra fortress.
Here are 10 ways to fully immerse yourself in the enigmatic atmosphere of Granada:
1. Pick Your Heat Level
The best months to visit are March, April and October as you can enjoy a temperate climate and escape the scorching daytime heat of summer and the chilly nights of winter. Although perched at 700 meters above sea level, the summers are intensely hot with temperatures reaching 35 degrees and above. Summer also coincides with peak tourist season in Granada. To have a comfortable visit, it is best to avoid the months of July, August and September.
2. Eat Little and Often
One of the most delightful culinary traditions in Granada is tapas. Little morsels of deliciousness bursting with flavour awaits you at every tapas bar. Tapas bars are found on almost every nook and cranny of the streets. These wondrous creations are only made better with the Granada tradition of free tapas with any order of drinks (yes, even non-alcoholic ones). Hop from bar to bar to have a tapas adventure.
3. Scale Greater Heights
Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Granada is hilly. Be prepared to walk uphill and downhill when exploring the charming historic quarters of Sacramonte (traditionally a Romani area) and Albaicin (traditionally a Moorish area). Get comfortable with the feeling of being lost as you wander the maze-like streets of these areas and take in the aesthetically pleasing architecture. When your feet begin to ache, there should be a tea house up ahead for you to rest your feet.
4. Book early for The Alhambra
Alhambra means ‘the red’ and the different shades of red of the Alhambra deserves one’s appreciative gaze. Before you step into the Alhambra, observe it in the daytime, during sunset and during the night when the lights are lit. Having taken in its beauty from the outside, you will want to appreciate its inner beauty. To avoid disappointment, it is best to book tickets online before you visit the Alhambra (https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/). Tickets tends to sell out especially during peak periods. It will take at least half a day to marvel at the various geometric geniuses on display inside this marvel.
5. Visit monuments that are not Alhambra
It’s easy to overlook other monuments in a city when the Alhambra overlooks the city. However, Granada’s history reads like a blockbuster movie full of political intrigue, hedonism and great feats. Granada was originally founded as a Visigoth settlement. The Muslim empire took over Granada from the Visigoths in 711 and ruled for 800 years. Music and literature, especially poetry flourished during this period.
Besides the Alhambra, the Banuelo (Arab Baths) and Madraza ( university) are good portals to understanding the lively culture of Islamic Granada.
Granada fell to the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando in 1492. Following the purge of non-Catholics during the Inquisition, Granada has remained a city with a majority Catholic population. The forceful influence of Catholicism is evident in grand monuments such as the Granada Cathedral, Santa Ana Church and Basilica of Angustias.
6. Hit the streets for art
This aesthetically pleasing city’s art is not just confined to fortresses and palaces. Roam the streets of Granada and you will soon run across one of the many works by mysterious yet ubiquitous street artist, Raúl Ruiz. He also also goes by the monikers, El Niño de las Pinturas and ‘Banksy of Spain’. Many of his thoughtful and evocative works can be found in the Realejo, the Jewish quarters of Granada.
7. Immerse in the spirit of ‘duende’
‘Duende’ is a state of heightened emotions that is induced by the emotionally cathartic and transcendental art form of Flamenco. The atmospheric cave houses in Sacromonte provides the perfect setting for one to be inspired by the spirit of ‘duende’ of flamenco. The most common form of Flamenco performed in the historically Romani Sacromonte is of the Zambras style with roots in gypsy wedding ceremonies. You may want to head to one of the peñas, or neighbourhood flamenco clubs for a more traditional experience of flamenco. Shows usually start after 10pm and information is usually not available online. For flamenco shows with dinner and drinks, head to the more accessible tablaos establishment which will also have earlier shows.
8. Catch the sunsets
Sunsets in Granada are rightly an event in itself. Flocks of tourists gather at Mirador San Nicolas (San Nicolas viewpoint) in the Albaicin to watch the sun cast an orange hue on this beautiful city. For a quieter experience, walk uphill from the Mirador San Nicolas to any other viewpoints and you will get the same beautiful view but with a smaller crowd. For the best view, venture further to Mirador San Miguel Alto perched on top of Sacromonte. Your sunset viewing experience will have a soundtrack provided by local troubadours.
9. Espanol , por favor
While English is spoken in most tourist attractions, knowing a few basic Spanish words will enhance your experience in Granada, especially when ordering food in local establishments and when attending a traditional flamenco show at a peña. The Granadino accent may be difficult for visitors to understand but your efforts will be much appreciated and win you some friends along the way.
10. Keep your belongings safe
As you walk around Granada, helpful locals will remind you to be aware of pickpockets. However, do not panic as crime rate is generally low in Granada. The usual adage applies here: be alert and keep your belongings close to you at all times while you enjoy the beauty of Granada!
This article is contributed by Carlyn (@glacialhiker), a storyteller of the past by trade, but from the varied natural landscapes of the world, she draws her inspiration for another calling : hiking through them with an overactive imagination.