Extreme sports, a lazy beach, city shopping, mountain culture, ensconced in history, filled with architectural wonders, alive with culture, a culinary paradise, this is Granada.
Once the independent Emirate of Granada ruled by the Nasrid kings, this modern city of contrasts has a culture unique in Spain.
The Cathedral is immense, bigger on the inside that you can see from the outside. It took over 180 years to build and is definitely worth a look. On two sides you’ll find herb sellers. Medievo sells herbs, teas, chocolates, and delicious local specialties. The kids will enjoy the suit of armor in the entry. (Medievo has a nice little brochure with a tourist map in it – a great little map with all the sites listed. It’s a big help!)
|CATHEDRAL (Entrance on Calle Gran Vía de Colón)|
|Admission price: 3.50 euros||Tel: 958 22 29 59|
|Monday – Saturday
Sundays and holidays
|10:45 – 13:30 (summer) / 10:45 – 13:30(winter)
16:00 – 20:00 (summer) / 16:00 – 19:00 (winter)
16:00 – 20:00 (summer) / 16:00 – 19:00 (winter)
Around the Cathedral and the nearby Plaza de Bib Rambla you’ll find shopping and a lot of great little bars and tapas restaurants. In Granada, when you order a beer, it comes with a tapa. Yes, FREE FOOD. Sadly, I don’t like beer, but for those that do, this is a win-win. Some of the tapas platters are really huge.
The Albaicín is my favorite district because it is uniquely Granada, a mix of Spanish and Moorish that you don’t see quite this way in other Andalucian cities. Even within the old neighborhood there are contrasts. Wander up the river Darro and you’ll find the old baths, several churches, and a nice string of shops and tea rooms. It’s quieter on this side of town though and if you venture just a block towards the hill, it is silent. Even in this touristy district, you can find quiet in the narrow maze of white buildings with a clear view of the Alhambra on the hill above. Go higher to find Plaza de San Nicolas and the beautiful Church of Santa Isabel La Real. The noisy area is near San Gregorio towards Via de Colon. Here it’s like little Morocco – tiny streets tightly lined with tea rooms and shops. Bright colors, music, noise, crowds, and the smoke of the hookah wafting in the air. It’s very Morocco here – may be a taste of Tangiers without actually going there.
The Alhambra begs a visit. Sprawling across the hill above the historic Albaicín, this palace city put Granada on the map. Plan at least a half day here beginning at the Palacio Real with its stunning walls and ceilings. The beauty and detail will take your breath away. TAKE YOUR CAMERA. LEARN HOW TO USE IT IN LOW LIGHT OR BRING A TRI-POD. Seriously. It’s stunning. You will want photos. After that you can relax a bit and visit the other parts of the palace city. The towers of the Alcazaba provide great views of Granada, the Palace of Charles V houses the Museum of Bellas Artes, and once you exit this area, you can wander through the Generalife and gardens for hours. There are bathrooms and vending machines, but the restaurant within the complex is way overpriced. Pack snacks, have a picnic in the gardens, or head into town for the beer and free tapas.
You can walk to town from the Alhambra, but it might be a little far for short legs. Have a map handy and have someone tell you where the tourist buses pick up. You can take these to the top of the hill at Plaza de San Nicolas and walk through the Albaicín or go to Plaza Nuevo and explore the Cathedral and other Granada districts from there.
Just 30 minutes south of Granada, you’ll find yourself at the beginning of a vast strand of small white villages clinging to the sides of steep the steep mountain slopes. Cubist architecture from the days of the Moors, the houses look like sugar cubes from a distance. If you have the time, these villages are worth seeing. You won’t find modernity or big city glam. These towns are very much like they were hundreds of years ago. Small, and picturesque, you’ll find great shopping, fantastic photo-ops, and probably some decent food.
One of the larger white villages and the “gateway to the Alpujarras, Lanjaron is actually a great place to stay because of its central location to Granada, the beaches, and the rest of the Alpujarras. Biking, hiking, and spa/wellness visits are all possible here. You can also explore the 14C Moorish castle ruin or go on a “treasure hunt” through the narrow streets in town to find the 41 niche shrines and 17 fountains that make this town a little bit different from the rest. Known throughout Spain for its water which is bottled and sold, go in June to enjoy the city wide water festival when you must race from one end of the town to the other without getting wet (not really possible) to earn a leg of ham. The people are very friendly here, but don’t speak a lot of English. Markets are abundant and there is even a small grocery open on Sundays very close to shrine 39.
Cafe Bar Health – recommended by locals
Another larger white village, Orgiva has quick access to the beach, but a longer drive to Granada. It’s beautiful though and I’ve heard there’s a really great pizzeria along the river.
Orgiva (La Alpujarra)
Forty five minutes from Granada these “high Alpujarran” villages are nice because they are small, beautiful, and close together, so you can visit all three easily. From Granada, you’ll drive through both Lanjaron and Orgiva on your way, so it would be quite easy to explore those villages as well especially in the summer months with more daylight.
Pampaneira is the first of the three and has by far the most shops. Go here for rugs and really a fabulous assortment of handcrafts. Jewelry, Moroccan imports of all kinds, pottery… there’s even a chocolate factory. Walk through it if you like taking pictures. There are some very pretty streets with canals running through them and nice views of Capileira.
Capileira is where you want to go for lunch with the most restaurants and the best food of the three. There is shopping here as well and a really nice rug shop with a loom upstairs, so if you’re lucky, you can see the rugs being made right there! There’s also a very nice leather shop here with beautiful wallets and purses.
Even in the summer, there is enough snow in the Sierra Nevada that skiing is possible for the most adventurous tourists. Go in the winter though for great skiing 30 minutes from Granada in the Sierra Nevada’s Pradollano, a snow village with lifts taking off from within the village itself taking you over apartment tops to the slopes above. Everything you need is contained here and parking is ample for those lodging elsewhere.
Snow to sand is possible within an hour, or just spend the entire day at the beach. Even the dreariest days in Granada are sunny and hot on the coast.
When you cruise south from Granada you first find Motril which is rather boring, but does have a decent Italian restaurant one block from the beach.
Salobreña is the next town west sitting up on top of a hill, you can’t miss it. There you’ll find a church and an old castle ruin among the maze of white homes. The beach is nice enough and there’s a really nice bakery/ice cream shop just a couple blocks in.
Head west again along the scenic drive along the cliffs to Almuñecar where the coast is scalloped providing a series of very diverse beaches. This is the best place to go close by. A mix of sand and rock, the treasure hunter will find smoothed tiles and beach glass among the shells and stones. Some beaches have nearly white sand and others black. For a quiet beach go to the local’s beach, the Playa de Cabria east of Almuñecar and lunch at Casa de San Antonio. For a beach lined with restaurants and quaint shopping areas, go to La Herradura. This beautiful cove has an old lighthouse on one end and a taking off point for paragliders.
Iberia Air: Flights to Granada from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Brussels.
Ryan Air: Flights to Malaga from Maastricht. Drive 1 1/2 hours to Granada (The drive along the coast is stunning).