Things to Do in Granada
Built on a hill overlooking Granada and set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada) is a sprawling complex of intricately decorated palaces, pristine gardens, and a once-mighty fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed during the Nasrid Dynasty and later partially destroyed and rebuilt by King Charles V. With its mix of Renaissance and Moorish architecture, the Alhambra Palace is the most sought-after attraction for visitors to Granada, sitting high on most must-see lists for Andalucia and Spain as a whole.
The 13th-century Generalife served as a summer retreat for Nasrid kings when they needed a break from palace affairs. From its perch on Cerro del Sol (Hill of the Sun), the series of terraces, promenades, and gardens spread across 74 landscaped acres (30 hectares) of the Alhambra complex afford some of the best views over Granada.
During a visit to Granada in 1526, King Charles V (Carlos V) chose the Alhambra as the site of his future royal residence. The Palace of Charles V (Palacio de Caros V) stands in stark contrast to the style of the surrounding Moorish Alhambra. It is notable for its 2-level columned circular courtyard and surrounding square structure.
The Albaicín (also spelled Albayzín or Albaycín) is Granada's old Muslim quarter, and its steep twisting streets underscore a medieval past. Founded in 1228 by the Moors, the neighborhood is dotted with Baroque churches inside old mosques and traditionalcarmenes (villas). Albaicín is also known for having stellar views of the Alhambra.
The Sacromonte district of Granada is the seat of the thriving Gitano gypsy community that settled in hillside caves during the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, Sacromonte is also the epicenter of Granada’s zambra flamenco scene, with performances staged at thee tablaos along Camino del Sacromonte.
The biggest draw of Granada’s Albaycin quarter (the old Moorish quarter) is the hilltop Mirador de San Nicolás, a small plaza that lies in front of San Nicolás Church. This lookout point offers panoramic views spanning the city center, the distant Sierra Nevada Mountains, Rio Darro canyon and, most famously, the grand Alhambra palace.
Plaza Nueva has long been at the center of local life in Granada, and its location at the foot of the Alhambra palace means many tourists will pass through it. Laid out in the early Christian era, the square was built over the Darro River and once served as an arena for sporting tournaments and bullfights, as well as public executions.
Granada's Paseo de los Tristes is a riverside walkway along the canyon separating the Alhambra from the Albaicín neighborhood. Paseo de los Tristes once served as the route for funeral processions—hence its name, which means "Promenade of the Sad." Today restaurant terraces tempt passersby with refreshment and sweeping Alhambra views.
Situated side by side, the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel of Granada (Capilla Real) together make an impressive monument to the power of Christian monarchs in Andalucia. The cavernous cathedral houses paintings by Ribera and El Greco; the remains of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón are interred within the chapel’s shrine.
The tranquil Hammam Al Ándalus Granada, located at the foot of the Alhambra and just past Santa Ana Church, is the place to relax after a long day of exploring the Alhambra’s gardens, palace, and fortress. The Arabian-bath setting has pools of different temperatures and a steam room for Moorish-style rejuvenation.
More Things to Do in Granada
Sierra Nevada, known as the Mountain of the Sun by Andalucia’s Moorish residents, is home to 15 peaks that are more than 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) high, including the highest point on the Iberian Peninsula and Europe’s most southerly ski resort. This national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve attracts hikers from around the world.
Also known as Plaza de las Flores (Flowers Square), pedestrian-friendly Plaza Bib-Rambla is at the heart of Granada’s bustling street scene. In the center of the plaza is a 17th-century marble fountain featuring Neptune, and the bell tower of Granada’s Spanish Renaissance cathedral peers over townhouse facades with wrought-iron balconies.
The Alcaicería was once a lively Arab bazaar and the center of the city’s Muslim silk exchange. The original gated bazaar was almost entirely destroyed by a fire back in 1843, and today the restored shops occupy a smaller space, dotted around Calle Alcaiceria, in the shadows of the Cathedral of Granada.
San Jeronimo Monastery (Monasterio de San Jerónimo), the first monastery built after the Christian conquest of Granada, was also the first church in the world consecrated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The monastery is known for housing one of the most exquisite Spanish Baroque sacristies on earth, as well as its courtyard, which is filled with orange trees.
Cartuja Monastery (Monasterio de la Cartuja) is where late-baroque Spanish architecture reaches its most lavish heights. Although work began in the 16th century, construction continued for another three centuries and the complex was never actually completed. The imposing sandstone exterior gives way to a lavish interior of marble, ivory, ornate stucco, and gilt.
Campo del Príncipe—the Prince’s Field—is said to be named for Prince Juan, whose late-15th-century wedding was supposed to be celebrated here (but wasn’t). Today the square is known as a pilgrimage destination during Holy Week, when its 17th-century white alabaster Cristo de los Favores cross serves as the main draw.
Go beyond just seeing Granada’s historical sights, and head for its famous Science Park, the most visited museum in Andalucia. The 70,000-square-meter interactive museum is a veritable playground of discovery that features concepts ranging from physics to chemistry, culture, philosophy and more.
These subjects are investigated in a variety of spaces, both indoors and out. Inside, for example, check out the planetarium, Foucault’s pendulum, special temporary exhibits, and an area with basic concepts and activities that are suitable for younger children. Outdoors, visit the tropical butterfly house, the astronomical observatory, botanical garden, and much more. With loads to do (largely all available in English, too), one could easily spend hours here immersed in exploration.
Situated atop one of Granada’s northeastern hills, the tiny Ermita de San Miguel Alto (Hermitage of San Miguel) is known for its sweeping views. From the church, look out over the whole city, from the Albaicín neighborhood to the Alhambra fortress and beyond to the distant and often-snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains.
Located in Costa Tropical, Aquatropics is Spain's only saltwater water park. Spanning 376,737 square feet (35,000 square meters), the park offers more than a dozen water attractions, including water slides, wave pools, play pools, Jacuzzis, and waterfalls, as well as non-water attractions and amenities for the whole family.
A hallmark of Granada’s Moorish tradition is its use of water—fountains, pools, trickling streams, and, of course, the Baños Árabes (Arab Baths). A soothing hammam, with several pools of different temperatures, is a great way to unwind after walking the steep streets of the Albaicin and feasting on tapas.
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