*I usually leave all the puns to my dad, but on occasions such as this one it was too good (or bad) to leave out.
In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains lies the city of Granada, steeped in history and home to two world heritage sites: the world-renowned Alhambra and the Albaicín district, a maze of narrow winding streets. Granada is a culture vulture’s dream: the beautiful tiles and architecture of the Alhambra are mesmerising; the Basílica de San Juan de Dios is simply breathtaking; and there’s a never-ending variety of things to see and do in this vibrant Andalusian city. Here’s my take on what to see and eat while in Granada, in no particular order:
Catedral de Granada
Granada’s cathedral – and the adjoining Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) – should be on most (if not all) itineraries. The interior of the cathedral is majestic: the altarpiece is lavishly decorated with gold; there are some beautiful examples of stained glass; and the two organs are striking. Entry to the cathedral is €4 (the same price as the Capilla Real); if you’ve got limited time, I’d personally recommend the cathedral over the royal chapel, though both deserve a visit if you’ve got the time.
Stuck for souvenirs? Head to Calle Alcaicería, formerly the Arab silk market and now home to dozens of shops selling trinkets, spices, teas and other such memorabilia. The shop owners are friendly, and happy to help you find the exact thing you’re looking for; prices are reasonable on the whole, but it’s acceptable to haggle if you don’t think the price is right. It’s a complex of narrow alleyways, and has been cited as a pickpocketing hotspot, so keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
Heladerías: two of the best
When you begin to melt in Granada’s unrelenting summer heat (temperatures are usually well into the thirties, especially in July and August) take the opportunity to indulge in some of the best ice cream around. Heladería Tiggiani in Plaza Bib Rambla does an incredible dark chocolate gelato (named chocolate negro brownie), whilst Heladería Seduzione (on Calle Acera del Darro) drizzles chocolate over your ice cream; remarkably, the doughnut flavour ice cream my sister chose actually tasted of doughnut.
Mirador de San Nicolás
Up in the Albaicín quarter, this lookout offers unparalleled views of the Alhambra, a majestic hilltop fortress. From Plaza Nueva, it’s a peaceful stroll along Carrera del Darro (along this street you’ll also see the Baños Árabes, which are free to visit) towards Paseo de los Tristes (a perfect spot for a drink with views of the Alhambra.) Turn left up Calle Horno del Orno and continue straight ahead onto Calle Valenzuela; at the end of this street there are a couple of sharp zig-zag turns to join Carril de San Augustín. Turn left, then take the left turn onto Cuesta Cabras where you’ll reach the viewpoint.
Artesanos de Granada
This is part of a chain (we visited their shop on Calle San Juan de Dios), but it had the best pastries out of any bakery we visited whilst in the area (and we visited a lot!) Try their Liège waffles smothered in chocolate, or any of their other mouth-watering pastries . . .
Memorable meals: 3 of the best
According to our guidebook, Granada wasn’t particularly known for its cuisine, nor was it known for having exceptional service. However, that said, there were several places worth mentioning for their delicious food. For a truly authentic experience, head to Chikito in Plaza del Campillo: there’s not a photographic menu in sight, the staff are friendly and attentive and the food is exceptional. In Plaza Bib Rambla, Restaurante Gallio serves up a wide selection of meats, fish and vegetarian-friendly dishes; if you can’t decide what to try, opt for one of the meats, cooked in carbón de encina. Finally, if you’re prepared to venture further out of the centre, there’s Casa Colón (located on Calle Ribera de Genil) which delivers innovatively presented dishes and a fantastic selection of tapas.
Recently voted as #9 in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist 2015, the Alhambra is the pinnacle of Moorish architecture and a lasting tribute to Spain’s Islamic heritage. Advance booking is, realistically, the only way to ensure you will be able to explore all that the Alhambra has to offer; you can book online, via their website, or by telephone. Remember that you need to pick up your tickets at least an hour before your scheduled time for the Nasrid Palaces; if you’ve purchased discounted tickets you will have to pick them up at the Alhambra itself. Otherwise, I’d recommend going to Tienda de la Alhambra (40, Calle Reyes Católicos) where they’ll be able to provide you with a map and lots of helpful tips for your visit. Allow plenty of time to fully explore the complex; we spent around six hours there.
Carmen de los Mártires
A short stroll away from the buzzing Alhambra, lies this beautifully landscaped park. It offers panoramic views of the Realejo quarter (the former Jewish district) and it’s the perfect place to wander around after a hectic day exploring the Alhambra. With a leafy canopy synonymous with the rainforest, large water features and peacocks strutting around what’s not to like?
Basílica de San Juan de Dios
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this list, congratulations. My personal highlight (of all highlights) from Granada was the Basílica de San Juan de Dios: it’s undeniably a hidden gem of Granada with its unassuming exterior hiding an indescribably ornate interior, featuring beautiful frescos and paintings and all lavishly adorned with gold. The altarpiece alone is incredible; but what’s more is that the rest of the building is decorated in exactly the same fashion – more gold, more gold and yet more gold. Don’t miss the opportunity to take the tour up into the altarpiece itself. Entry is €4 and if you’re only going to visit one religious building, make it this one: you won’t regret it.