Things to Do in Granada Spain That You Can’t Miss!

August 1, 2022

things to do in granada spain

Exploring Granada is a magical experience. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it’s an intoxicating fusion of Medieval and Islamic architecture dating to 700 years ago, gypsy-style Flamenco dancing, hilly cobblestone streets that are laid out exactly as they were in medieval times, and dine in restaurants that have been carved out of caves. There are enough things to do in Granada Spain to thrill everyone!

Granada contains one of the finest examples of medieval architecture, dating to the Moorish occupation – the spectacular Alhambra. This sprawling hilltop fortress (it’s actually a city) encompasses royal palaces, flowering courtyards, scenic overlooks, and reflecting pools and fountains – all connected by labyrinths of pathways.

alhambra

Granada at a Glance

  • Elevation: 2,421′
  • Area: 33.98 mi²
  • Population: 232,208 (2018) Instituto Nacional de Estadística
  • Province: Granada

Where is Granada?

Granada is located in the Andalusia region in southern Spain. Most people do not realize it, but Granada is not just a city, but the name for the whole region which also includes part of the Costa del Sol.

Brief History

Granada’s history goes back for centuries and is one of the oldest cities in Spain.

  • The mystical city was a Moorish capital between the 13th and 15th centuries.
  • In the fifteenth century, after a long siege, Granada was conquered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, making it part of the Christian Kingdom of Spain.
  • The result of that turbulent history is a city with a special mix of Islamic and Christian elements.
  • Currently, Granada is predominantly Christian but has retained its Islamic, Jewish, and even Gypsy influences from days gone by.

Here are my 10 favorite things to do in Granada!

10 City Center

things to do in granada spain

The “new” city, which is certainly a lot older than most American cities, is lovely and a great place to stroll about and grab an ice cream cone. Social life in Granada revolves around Plaza Bib-Rambla which is filled with cafes, restaurants, and bars.

things to do in granada spain

In the center of the tree-lined square is a fountain surrounded by beautiful 19th-century buildings. The plaza provides a connecting point between the old quarter and the newer side of the city.

9 Shop in Alcaicería

Alcaiceria

During 15th-century Moorish rule, the Alcaiceria district was the location for Granada’s world-famous Great Bazaar and old silk market, where merchants would tout their spices and top-quality silk and spices to passersby. Today, the souk consists of just a few alleys full of souvenir shops but is a colorful shopping experience with traditional Arabic souvenirs such as Moroccan stained-glass lamps, oriental spices, hand-painted ceramics, ethnic silk clothing, and hand-made earrings.

8 Costa Tropical Kayaking

costa tropical

Most people do not realize (I did not), but Granada is not just a city, but a whole region of Andalusia. Costa Tropical, aka Costa Granada or Costa Granadina, is an attractive area of azure blue beaches, rugged cliffs, and charming villages.

I spent a fun day in the town and beach of Almuñécar, one of the largest towns on the Costa Tropical.

I spent a little time walking the beach and having lunch in an oceanfront restaurant, but most notable was my kayaking debacle experience.

things to do in granada spain

I set off on a group tour in a tandem kayak with my friend, Daniela – neither of us being extremely proficient at the sport. Had we been on a calm lake, it would have been fine. However, the current of the sea was quite strong, and we struggled. A lot.

When we were offered the opportunity at the halfway point to anchor at a secluded beach and wait for the rest of the party to continue kayaking into the caves and then return for us, we jumped at it. So did two other people, making half of the group staying and the other half continuing on.

things to do in granada spain

Photo credit: Tim Leffel

The beach was pretty enough, small with cliffs rising behind it. But soon we realized that there was not a speck of shade to escape the scorching sun. I spied a large boulder towards the end of the beach and proceeded to crunch my body down to take advantage of the slim sliver of shade. Soon the others were crawling in to join me in this respite. It was cozy, to say the least!

things to do in granada spain

At long last, the expert kayakers returned for us, exclaiming that it was a good thing that we had not ventured on because the currents in the sea caves made it difficult even for them.

But the fun was not over yet… Getting back to shore proved even more of a challenge with the strong currents and wind blowing us back out to sea. It took forever, but at least we lived to tell the tale.

7 Hammam Al-Andalus

things to do in granada spain

The perfect way to soothe your feet and body from a day of all the hilly walking in Granada is to head to an Arab bath house. Hammam Al-Andalus was opened in 1998 as the first Arab bath in Spain five centuries after its closure. The hammam is housed in the 13th-century building at the foot of the Alhambra.

The site contains pools of water found during archaeological excavations, concluding that it is in the same place that the original hammam once existed. The bath houses were destroyed following the Christian conquest as they had a scandalous reputation similar to brothels.

The ancient interior is lovely, with columns gracing the mosaic-tiled pools and an intricate system of paths leading to various chambers. As is normal, photography is not permitted in any area other than the initial waiting room.

The staff suggests that you fluctuate between hot, warm, and frigid-cold temperature baths. I also received a short-but-nice 15-minute massage after my relaxing bath (full transparency: I did not do the cold or hot).

6 Eat in Sacromonte Cave

things to do in granada spain

Perched on the precipitous hills, offering magnificent views of the Alhambra and the Darro River, Sacromonte is the area to head for those interested in gypsy or Roma culture. After the city was retaken by the Catholic conquest, Sacromonte became the home for the city’s gypsy community, which has lived in caves for centuries, able to preserve their rich cultural heritage. The whitewashed buildings are very distinctive and colorfully decorated, standing out against the hillside.

The main street, Camino del Sacromonte, is where you will find many cave restaurants, such as Cueva de la Rocio which also offers a dinner show (see #4 below).

The delicious multi-course traditional Spanish meal also includes wine and is a festive event.

5 Miradors de San Nicolas

things to do in granada spain

Located in the picturesque Albaicin neighborhood, Miradors de San Nicolas (at the Plaza de San Nicolas) enjoys the definitive view of the Alhambra, framed by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada on the horizon.

things to do in granada spain

It can be a struggle to summit the hill via the uneven steps and cobblestones in the heat, but once there, take a seat on one of the benches on the vast terrace and take in the unforgettable panorama that has captivated people for centuries. It’s the best viewpoint in Granada to gape in awe at the magnificent Alhambra citadel across the valley– even more enhanced at sunset, as the earthy colors of the Alhambra juxtaposed against the lush green of the woods below are gorgeous.

4 Watch a Flamenco Show

flamenco

The Sacromonte district is compact and steep with most houses built right into the walls of a cliff. Flamenco originated in Andalusia and Sacromonte is one of the few places where this exquisite art form is still practiced. This is where Granada’s gypsy community resides and if you want to witness an authentic Flamenco performance, the caves are where you should go.

The most popular flamenco Sacromonte shows are at Cueva de la Rocio, Maria la Canastera, and Venta El Gallo.

Cueva de la Rocio specializes in Zambra, a specific form of Flamenco created by the Sacromonte gypsies. This is the colorful style we observed; it was truly a haunting and emotional expression of the tragedies that the gypsy community has endured.

I will say this… they pound the wood floors SO very hard and loud with their stubby-heeled shoes! With spectators crammed on both sides of the narrow room, I found myself inadvertently tucking my sandaled-toes farther and farther under my chair lest they be crushed as the dancers stomped up and down the narrow path!

3 Climb the Cathedral Rooftop

granada cathedral

Lying at the heart of the old town, the 1518 Granada Cathedral is an imposing building due to its massive facade that looms over the square before it, the second largest in the country. The first Renaissance church to be built in Spain after the Christian Reconquista, the Granada Cathedral is considered a Renaissance church but the foundations are Gothic and it incorporates Baroque elements with stained glass windows, sculptures, and El Greco paintings lining its walls. Diego de Siloé was charged with trying to fuse harmony between the styles and his efforts won him critical acclaim.

granada cathedral

Adjacent to the cathedral, the Royal Chapel is notable as it is the final resting place of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Queen Isabella dictated that the chapel be built to house their bodies upon their death. After a temporary interment in the convent of San Francisco in the Alhambra, the bodies were eventually transported to the finished chapel.

granada cathedral

For me, the best part of touring the towering cathedral was climbing the narrow spiral staircase to get to the roof. The views of the exquisite architecture of the structure were spectacular as were the views over the city!

2 Stroll through Albaycin

albaycin

Typical Carman house

The oldest quarter in Granada, the medieval Moorish part of the city, Albayzin, is a charismatic place to explore. Narrow cobbled lanes twist their way through small plazas, traditional white stucco Andalucian buildings with ceramic tiled roofs, boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants.

UNESCO World Heritage List Albayzin is the picturesque old Muslim neighborhood where the Moorish population lived after the Christian conquest ended all Islamic rule in 1492. You can still see the typical Carmen houses along the hills.

Albayzin’s location on a steep hillside offers stunning views of the Alhambra.

1 Explore the Alhambra

alhambra

Undoubtedly, the most famous attraction #1 of the best things to do in Granada Spain is the ethereal hilltop palace fortress known as The Alhambra.

alhambra

The massive citadel is overflowing with historical and architectural sites that contain exquisite examples of Moorish craftsmanship and attention to detail, graceful arches, murals, mosaics, and beautiful courtyards and gardens. Alhambra is one of the best-preserved Moorish monuments in the world. And was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

alhambra

The name Alhambra comes from al-hamrā, which means “the red one,” in reference to the red bricks used for the construction of the palace complex. The Alhambra was started as a small fortress in AD 889 and then rebuilt and enlarged during the 13-century by Nasrid Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar. After the “Reconquista” in 1492, it became the royal court of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I and Ferdinand II.

alhambra

The citadel is massive and will take the better part of a day to explore – and well worth doing so – but here are a couple of my favorite parts:

Palacios Nazaries

things to do in granada spain

alhambra

alhambra

Court of Lions

alhambra

Court of Lions

In the heart of the Alhambra palace fortress, the Palacios Nazaries are a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.

There are three independent areas in the Nasrid Palaces (Palacios Nazaríes): the Mexuar, the Palacio Comares, and the Palacio de los Leones. This part of the Alhambra is magical, filled with intricate designs, inscriptions, carvings, marble sculptures, and details; massive pillars rise up to meet the soaring ceilings; and elegant courtyards with fountains, pools, and patios grace the exteriors.

court of myrtles

Court of Myrtles

  • The Mexuar symbolizes the semipublic part of the palace;
  • The Comares Palace (Palacio de Comares) was the official residence of the king; it was decorated in the typical Moorish style
  • The Palace of the Lions (Palacio de Los Leones) was where the Harem was located. Ironically, it reflects Christian influences.

Generalife

generalife

The former summer palace and residence of the Nasrid rulers, it is here that the sultans came to spend the long, hot Andalusia summers seeking shade.

alhambra

Patio de Los Cipreses

The summer palace features beautiful architecture with delightful archways. The Patio de Los Cipreses is not only a lovely shady spot but it is rumored that Sultana Zoraya was suspected of meeting her lover Hamer here.

The lush grounds are meticulously manicured, featuring stately rose gardens, blooming flowerbeds, orchards, hedges, topiaries, pools, and fountains. Towering elms line the walkways.

Be sure to allocate enough time to stroll through the time Generalife deserves.

What to Eat in Granada

tapas

  • Gambas fritas – fried shrimp (my personal favorite)
  • Jamón Ibérico – Iberian ham
  • Churros (donuts) with chocolate dip
  • Cola de toro – chunks of bull tail
  • Gazpacho – cold vegetable soup
  • Tapas – small plates that are meant to be shared

Where to Eat in Granada

  • La Cueva de 1900 Restaurant
  • Parador de Granada
  • Cueva la Rocio

Where to Stay in Granada

Hotel Eurostars Puerta Real

Beautiful view from my room

I stayed at the Hotel Eurostars Puerta Real in the “newer” part of the city and I highly recommend it. The new hotel was beautifully appointed and the location could not have been better. I was within walking distance of every major tourist attraction, but without having to drag my luggage over the cobblestone streets.

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Disclosure:  The author was honored to be the guest of Visit Granada during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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