11 Great Things to Do in Granada Spain

things to do in granada, spain

Planning a trip and wondering what the best things to do in Granada are? Check below for the a little guide!

Back when I was studying in Madrid, I decided to spend one of my long weekends down in the region of Andalucía. I was eager to visit for two major reasons. The first is that I’d been taking a class called “Arte y Arquitectura,” which had taught me in great detail how unique all this Islamic architecture was compared to the more typical Gothic cathedrals and medieval castles I could find in most of Europe.

The second was that while I was studying in Spain, I’d downloaded an erotic romance called The Love Slave by Bertrice Small and to my Kindle app. Since my study abroad time pre-dated tourist SIM cards and readily available wifi, I had a lot of downtime on the subways and bus rides for reading.

Now the book is obviously not for the faint of heart and as the name suggest, it comes with about a million trigger warnings. I don’t even remember how my 20-year-old self found it, but it was during the time Fifty Shades of Grey craze, so, you know, trickle effect.

Anyway, what stuck out about this novel was how Small brought the world of the Caliphate of Córdoba alive. The book takes place in 945 AD under Abd ar-Rahman III, which was a particularly prosperous time for Islamic Spain.

By the time I was able to go visit, I was excited to finally see the architecture from my class come to life. It was a four day trip with one day dedicated to Córdoba and the rest for Granada. I fell in love and decided I’d have to visit again someday. Fast forward a decade, and when I finally had time to plan an Andalucía road trip, I made the land of pomegranates my first stop.

With two visits under my belt, here are all my tips for the best things to do in Granada.

Quick Granada Travel Tips

  • Getting in: Granada has both a bus and a train station as well as a small airport and a bigger one in Málaga 2 hours away. If you rent a car, follow your hotel’s instructions as some roads are closed off for nonlocal drivers. From the train station, it’s about a 20 minute walk, and from the bus it’s 40 minutes. I remember we took a taxi on the first visit.
  • Getting Around: Granada is a super walkable city once you’re in the city center. You can even walk up to the Alhambra if you want, though every little red bus goes there and will drop you off right in front of the ticket office (Google Maps makes it look a ways off). For the red bus, you need cash.
  • Where to Stay: I recommend staying towards the center as accommodation is pretty inexpensive and you’ll get the best views. We stayed at Hotel Molinos which had its own paid private parking across the street and is super affordable. It’s also right next to I Need Coffee, an excellent spot with ICED COFFEE! For luxury, try Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula or Hospes Palacio de los Patos.

11 Great Things to Do in Granada

1. Learn more about Granada’s history

I highly recommend learning more about Granada and Andalucía’s unique history to fully appreciate this region. I recommend doing some watching/reading before you visit and/or do a walking tour on your first day.

Basically what makes Andalucía so unique is that when Spain was under Islamic rule, the center of control was mainly centered here (particularly around the present day Córdoba). The name actually comes from al-Andalus, which is what the Muslim-ruled part of the Iberian peninsula was called. Al-Andalus lasted from 711 – 1492, and Granada specifically became the final stronghold, lasting as an emirate for 200 years. It’s why you can see a ton of Islamic-influenced architecture all over southern Spain today and why Granada is home to some of the best preserved landmarks.

Even more recently, the city saw a number of famous creators like Washington Irving, who lived in the Alhambra, and Federico García Lorca, who was was raised here. If you’re a K-drama fan, this is also where “Memories of the Alhambra” with Hyun Bin and Park Shin Hye was set!

2. Spend a few hours at the Alhambra

I’m going to write a whole separate guide to Alhambra because it’s truly massive and going to take up at least a whole afternoon on its own. I think we went 3 hours before closing and still ran out of time to see the Generalife.

Basically, the Alhambra is a massive palace-fortress built up on a hill overlooking the city and is one of the best preserved examples of Islamic architecture in the whole world. Pretty ironic given Spain’s infamous Catholic history (*cough* the Reconquista and Inquisition *cough*).

You truly need half a day to fully see this place and no less. It’s massive. Book tickets ahead because it’s very likely they’ll sell out beforehand. I also recommend doing a tour or at least an audio guide so you can get the history of the rooms in real time.

Catedral de Granada, Spain
via Unsplash

3. Visit the Catedral de Granada

Right in the center of the city sits the Catedral de Granada, a Renaissance and Baroque-style church built between 1526 – 1561 over top what was once the Great Mosque. It’s an impressive building and it’s pretty fun to see all the activity out front when you’re walking around. When we went by at night, there was a little dance party going on!

Capilla Real, Granada, Spain
via Unsplash

4. See where Isabel and Ferdinand are buried

Right next to (or semi-attached?) the Catedral de Granada is where the (in)famous Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are buried in the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). You’ve definitely heard their names before even if you know nothing about the Spanish Inquisition. They’re the ones who funded Christopher Columbus’s western exploration, and for fellow Tudor history lovers, they’re the parents of Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Their influence in Spanish history is pretty unmatched, and to this day I would say they’re the most well-known rulers. Unlike other monarchs who are buried at El Escorial near Madrid, they chose to be buried here. I went on my first trip, and it was really surreal seeing their graves so close.

Book a tour to the Catedral & Capilla Real here

5. Wander through Albaicín

I actually hadn’t really heard of Albaicín until after my first trip, so I was eager to go on this second round. When you’re in the Alhambra and look out one of the viewpoints, all those whitewashed houses you see set along the mountain belong to this district.

Give yourself at least an hour or two to wander up and through the many streets. What you’re wandering through is the same layout that was first built during the Emirate of Granada. There are quite few museums, monuments, churches, carmens (historic houses), and more all in this one place.

View from Mirador San Nicolas, Granda, Spain

6. Get a view of Alhambra from the Mirador de san Nicolás

Just like you can see a fantastic view of Albaicín from the Alhambra, you can get a fantastic view of the Alhambra from Albaicín. There are lots of smaller viewpoints along the way, but the best is at Mirador de San Nicolás.

It’s especially beautiful at sunset, but we went midday and were still impressed.

Sacromonte, Granada, Spain

8. Go to Sacromente for flamenco

Part of Albaicín is the neighborhood of Sacromonte. It’s up on a hillside and known for its large Roma community and caves, houses that are built into the side of the mountains. We were there in the middle of the day and it was pretty sleepy, but I’ve been told at night it’s a great place for flamenco and zambra!

Hammam, Granada, Spain
Please enjoy the quality of my 2012 iphone3 photography

7. Spend the evening at a Hammam

On my first trip to Granada, I very excitedly booked my friend and I for a hammam experience. Hammams are bathhouses specific to the Islamic world; very similar to jimjilbangs for Koreans. There are different baths from cool to warm, and in some cases you can opt to be washed and get a massage. Since I’m a big fan of jimjilbang culture in Korea, I was eager to see what the Spanish version would be like!

Spoiler, it’s a lot more touristy as most Spaniards aren’t going to the hammams regularly like Koreans go to jimjilbangs. Most Spanish hammam experiences are around 90 minutes, with mixed genders, and require a swimsuit. However, I think it’s worth trying out especially if you haven’t experienced a bathhouse yet!

Book your own experience here

8. Buy cookies from one of the convents

Did you know you could buy cookies from the cloistered convents around Andalucía? I can’t remember where I heard about this but ever since I did, it’s stuck with me through the years and been on my list to do should I return. Basically you’ll go into the convent entrance and from behind a lazy Susan window, you’ll order your dulces and a nun will take the money and give you a nice box of cookies in return.

There are a few around Granada; just keep an eye out for the “Se venden dulces” signage. I specifically got mine from Convento de Santa Catalina de Zafra, which had amarguillos (almond-type cookie) for sale. Just make sure you know some Spanish and have euros on hand! Check this video to see what buying looks like.

Parque Garcia Lorca, Granada, Spain

9. Hang out in Parque Lorca and visit Huerta de San Vincente

Like I mentioned above, one of Spain’s most famous writers, Federico García Lorca, is from Granada. He was a member of Generación del 27 and, at least from my studies, his most famous work is La casa de Bernarda Alba. (Or maybe that’s just the specific play professors make all Spanish majors read!)

Unfortunately, Lorca was assassinated for his socialist views by the Nationalist militia in 1936. To this day no one knows where his remains are and all that’s left are his works and museums dedicated to his legacy.

One of those museums is Huerta de San Vincente in Parque Federico García Lorca. What was once his summer home, is now a museum that allows you to see what his life would’ve been like when he lived and worked here from 1926 – 1936.

Food in Granada

10. Try some Andalusian cuisine

Andalusian cuisine goes back centuries and most places often serve similar things across the region. Expect fried fished, gazpacho or salmorejo (similar but different), pringá, different types of jamones (ham), and, for those that drink, sherry. If you want to look for specific Granada dishes, check this guide from El Caldero Viajero.

We pretty much ate around our hotel and got a lot of salmorejo and gazpacho because we were both exhausted from the heat. One spot was Bar Los Atralmuces and the other was Café Bar Damasqueros.

things to do in cordoba

11. Do a day trip to Córdoba

Córdoba is about 2 hours away by car, 3 by bus. I did this day trip on my first visit and absolutely fell in love. It’s a really walkable town with a ton of major sights mere minutes from each other. You can easily see the big ones – Mezquita-Catedral, Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, the Jewish Quarter, and the blue flower pot alleys – in just a few hours.

And there you have it all the best things to do in Granada. Let me know below if I’m missing anything, so I know to go on my next visit!

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All the best things to do in Granada, Spain

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