Overlooking the sprawling city of Granada, Spain, is the Alhambra: the pinnacle of Moorish architecture and a lasting tribute to Spain’s rich Islamic heritage. This majestic hilltop fortress dominates the city skyline and necessitates a visit: besides its ideal location for a panoramic cityscape, its opulent splendour will leave any visitor in awe (and quite possibly with very sore feet, due to the large amount of walking involved!) Although I wrote about my time in Granada here, I have since felt I didn’t quite do this monumental fortress justice . . . so here is an entire post dedicated to this beautiful (and big) UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With the heat already building up, we began the walk up to the Alhambra; the route was shaded, with fountains and ruins along the way. Upon arrival, we joined the queue to collect our tickets . . . and upon collection it became immediately apparent that a student ticket was in fact only applicable to someone holding a Spanish student card. Lesson learnt: don’t book tickets through the Spanish site if you don’t understand Spanish (as my mum did) and are therefore unable to read the small print. A stone’s throw from the Alhambra’s entrance is Jardines Alberto Restaurante, which is perfect for a cold drink and a bite to eat before (or after, or both) touring the complex.
Since we had arrived well in advance of our allotted time for the Nasrid Palaces, we began by visiting the Museo de la Alhambra and the Museo des Bellas Artes, both of which are well worth a visit if you have the time (or, if like many visitors, you just want to escape the heat and enter air-conditioned heaven.) Likewise, a self-guided wander around the Baño de Comares is an essential item on any Alhambra itinerary, especially if you haven’t yet seen examples of Moorish baths.
The Alcazaba, the military unit contained within the complex, affords superb panoramic views of city, particularly of the Albaicín which was the former Moorish quarter of the city. It once housed the royal guard, though only remnants remain of their living quarters.
After exploring the Alcazaba, we made our way to the Nasrid Palaces; make sure you’re in the queue in advance of your allotted time, because in this case if you snooze, you definitely lose. Once in the Nasrid Palaces, you can spend as long as you like in there admiring the endless tiled floors/ceilings/walls, intricately carved stonework and general palatial grandeur. From recollection, we spent about an hour wandering around, though if you’re armed with an audio guide I’m sure it would take considerably longer! The Nasrid Palaces are estimated to have been constructed in the 13th Century; the fact that much of the tiling and intricate décor remains largely intact is testament to their position as an icon of Spain’s Moorish past.
Within the Nasrid Palaces there were several open-air courtyards, adorned with shrubs and sculptures and bordered by arches featuring intricate masonry. It was a rather astonishing experience: just one arch would be enough to make most people gasp in awe, but the effect of an innumerable number of them was mind-blowing.
Whilst touring the Nasrid Palaces, don’t forget to look up: a lot of the spectacular stonework will be above you! The ceilings of many rooms contained mesmerising tiled ceilings, brought into relief with shafts of light seeping through the skylights.
After concluding our tour of the Nasrid Palaces, we spent the rest of the afternoon (read: several more hours) exploring the Generalife and its beautifully landscaped gardens. En route to the Generalife, there were yet more buildings and towers to explore, which merit a look if you want to do a comprehensive tour of the complex. The Generalife was, in comparison to the Nasrid Palaces, remarkably simple with a whitewashed exterior and limited décor. The garden’s tranquillity was largely offset by the presence of an overwhelming number of selfie sticks, though fortunately it was possible to escape the throngs by choosing an alternative path. To the west, turrets rose out of the vegetation; to the north, a close-up view of the Sacromente quarter, known for its long-standing traditional flamenco shows.
The Alhambra deserves a place on any Granada itinerary; here are a few tips that are worth bearing in mind:
- From the city centre, it’s a gentle uphill stroll to the Alhambra; allow thirty minutes. Alternatively, the hop-on-hop-off tourist train stops outside the Alhambra.
- Advance booking is essential if you want to explore the entire site, and can be done online, via their website, or by telephone.
- The booking refers to the time you are able to enter the Nasrid Palaces; the rest of the site can be explored at your leisure. Make sure you have picked your tickets up at least an hour before your tour of the Nasrid Palaces is scheduled to begin.
- Discounted tickets (e.g. students, seniors) must be picked up at the Alhambra itself. All other tickets can be picked up their official shop in the city centre, Tienda de la Alhambra (40, Calle Reyes Católicos).
- Ideally, set aside an entire day to explore the complex at your leisure.
- Finally, don’t confuse the Alhambra with the small town named Alhama de Granada; when we were in said small town (60km away from Granada itself) we met a couple who had done just that and, presumably, never made it in time for their tour of the Nasrid Palaces.