Standing defiantly at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the city of Granada is a heady 738m above sea level, but just a mere hour’s drive from the Mediterranean coast.
The magnificent Alhambra Palace, the most renowned building of Andalusia’s Islamic legacy, looms majestically over the city. Under its imperious gaze, the heart of the city, a vibrant assortment of souk-style stalls and shops, bristles with energy.
Arabic bakeries tempt passers-by with the promise of sticky sweet pastries drizzled in honey. There’s shisha, waterpipes, carpets and more incense than you could shake an incense stick at.
The street performer plays the mandolin, there’s a stand selling churros, there’s even miniature bulls embossed with the Spanish national flag amongst the Moorish chintz. It’s like a miniature Marrakech with a Latino twist.
There’s the fusion and blending of cultures at every turn, and, thrillingly, there’s free tapas in every bar and restaurant.
It’s hard to miss the Alhambra fortified palace that lords it over the city from an ancient hilltop. It was built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain and the court of the Nasrid dynasty on the remains of Roman fortifications in 889 but it was largely ignored for hundreds of years and fell into disrepair. However the palace, a superb example of Islamic architecture, was renovated throughout the 13th and 14th century, with the aim of creating ‘paradise on earth’.
Allow a few hours to stroll through the lush water gardens, opulent palaces and courtyards.
The Alhambra now a UNESCO World Heritage Site is arranged in three parts as a castle, a palace and a residential annex and around six thousands tourists descend upon her every single day.
Tip: Number of visitors per day is restricted and tickets are sold out 1-3 months in advance. Be sure to book your tickets in advance [pre-book a guided tour here].
The Alhambra’s centrepiece is the Court of the Lions, an exuberant mixture of Moorish and Christian influences divided into four parts, with each symbolising one of the four parts of the world.
Each section is irrigated by a water channel that represents the four rivers of paradise, while, at the centre, stands the Fountain of Lions; a magnificent alabaster basin supported by the figures of twelve lions in white marble. Every hour a different lion becomes the fountain.
It has recently been restored to its former glory and serves, on a small scale, as a representation of the entire technical concept of the Alhambra; divergent human and constructive experiences coming together to form a beautiful whole. In that sense it can also be seen as a fitting emblem for the entire city.
Must eat free tapas
There are many open-air bars situated within Paseo del Padre Marion, a large square located directly under the Alhambra.
At around 7pm the floodlights come on, illuminating the stronghold above and creating a grande spectacle by which to enjoy a couple of glasses of rioja and some complimentary tapas.
Free tapas is served with every beverage purchased in pretty much every bar and restaurant in Granada. It’s not unusual for plates of jamon, montaditos (mini sandwiches) liberally stuffed with ingredients such as lomo (slow cooked pork loin) and manchego cheese to arrive courtesy of the house. Tea plate sized portions of paella and rabo de toro (slow cooked ox tail), are also common among the dishes one might expect to receive free of charge.
The abundant shisha lounges in the old town offer the perfect respite after a day of sightseeing and overindulgence, so don’t hesitate to dive in and get cosy among the soft furnishings.
The sheer number of them also ensures that the quality stays high, with a huge selection of teas and shisha flavours to choose from.
If guzzling minty tea and puffing away on shisha isn’t your bag, Granada’s nightlife, supported by the throngs of tourists, party loving locals and large university population, begins to stir around midnight and roars on until 6am.
Must see the view
Starting from the heart of the Moorish old town trek uphill along any of the narrow, parallel streets for just shy of a km until you reach Callejon Atarazana Vieja.
It’s a moderately challenging walk, but any aches or pains will be forgotten as soon as you take in the wonderful, panoramic views from this disarmingly beautiful plaza.
It’s a truly unique vantage point, affording views of the Alhambra directly opposite, the bustling city below and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.
As an added bonus, just a stone’s throw from the plaza you’ll find the bar El Huerto de Juan Ranas, which boasts the same garden terrace as in the picture above. Head in, kick back and enjoy a well-earned refreshment while soaking up the views from this most spectacular of settings.
Time permitting you can also explore the plaza’s flea market, offering more of the ubiquitous incense and various other hippy chique trinkets. There’s also several more inviting tapas bars in the nearby vicinity.
The Habitat Suites are a modern collection of apartments located on the periphery of the historic centre. They are clean, comfortable, good value and perfectly located for exploring the city.